Watching her husband snore, it occurred to Martine that perhaps she was the problem. Maybe she just didn’t like people anymore. Everyone was irritating her—the slow cashier, the chatty yoga instructor, even her friends. They wanted happy hours and couples dates and phone calls to check in. Was it not enough to coexist in this world? Did they have to talk, as well? Martine sensed they had about reached their threshold with her excuses for canceling plans—work, migraines, the dog. After a late leukemia diagnosis, Hula had been put down two months ago, and Martine still couldn’t get through a day without crying.
But at least she could avoid her friends. With them, there was no Thanksgiving with the
MAGA-embracing in-laws, no stubble hairs and toothpaste in the sink, no letting the screen door slam no matter how many times she asked him to catch it. How hard is it to just put your hand out to catch it?
Paul wasn’t so much snoring as making small “poofs” with his lips, like a weak volcano emitting little farts. He looked old and vulnerable. Still, wasn’t it better to deal with this now than wait until they regretted more years wasted and possibilities forgone, to wait until they turned mean on each other?
Martine was having her husband bronzed today. She’d found a woman online who claimed she could bronze virtually anything that could fit into her bronzing tank. Of course, some things were easier to coat than others. Organic matter, such as dried flowers or a person, didn’t always handle the bronzing well and might require repeated dipping. But the woman had assured Martine her process would encase the object in pure copper. It was true electroplating.
Martine had read the Yelp reviews and most had been positive — “We are very pleased with our daughter’s bronzed riding boots. We picture her on Gulliver every time we see them,” and, “Every cat owner should have their cat done. The detail is superb, right down to the whiskers!”
— with one complaint from a man whose football helmet had rusted in the snow. His comment had been laced with misspellings and odd comma placements, so she wasn’t surprised he hadn’t had the good sense to keep bronze indoors.
At breakfast, she watched Paul slurp his cereal — a grown man eating cereal! — and slide his thumb across his phone screen.
“Are you okay?”
“Tired,” he said but didn’t look up. “But okay.”
“It’s because you go to bed so late. You need more sleep. And you shouldn’t be on a screen right before.”
Why did she bother?
“I’m almost finished with the garage,” she said. “By the end of today, we’ll be able to pull the van all the way in.”
“Please don’t get rid of any more of my stuff. Just leave it in boxes and I’ll go through it.”
“Will you, though? When?”
He looked up at Martine, and she sighed in acquiescence. The hum of the heater kicked in. A leaf blower moaned in the distance. Tears welled in Martine’s eyes and she studied a light bulb in the ceiling fan she’s always hated. The brass had never looked real, even when it was new. Maybe this would be the weekend she finally replaced it. She looked around the kitchen, through the doorway into the living room. What other changes could she make?
“Can we leave a little early this evening?” Martine asked Paul. “I need to make a stop on our way to the restaurant. I’d go today, but I really want to get the garage finished, and...” She glanced at Paul, but he hadn’t looked up from his phone. “It’s kind of anniversary-related.”
Martine sipped her coffee to stop her mouth. She started to feel guilty until she saw the drops of milk on his chin. “Your chin,” she said and held her napkin out to him.
Martine spent the day sorting through boxes on the baker’s racks they had bought to be more organized. Pictures that stuck together, envelopes that wouldn’t open unless torn — these all went in the trash. She got more ruthless as the day went on and chucked all their old bills, warranties and instruction pamphlets for appliances that had long been replaced, whole photo albums, wedding pictures. She kept only the one of Hula as a puppy the day they picked her up from the animal shelter. Hula had reeked of flea medicine and had a bald patch on her rump, but her long, soft ears had reminded Martine of the Brahman cows that grazed on the farm near her house when she was a child.
Martine swept the now-empty garage then drove the loaded van to Goodwill for the third time that day.
“You sure you don’t want a receipt?” the man at Goodwill asked her. “This is a lot of stuff. You can get a tax deduction, you know.”
Martine tried not to look at his face covered in acne scars and pimples ripe for popping. “No, thank you.”
That should make Paul happy, Martine thought on the drive home. Not the getting rid of his clothes part, but Martine finally conceding that she was never going to have a yard sale.
Martine studied Paul as he locked the door behind them that evening. She fixed the back of his collar then impulsively wrapped her arms around him.
“I do love you,” she said to the back of his neck, inhaling the scent of his shaving cream, savoring the feeling of his hair on her eyelids.
He extracted himself and patted her on the back. “I love you, too.”
Paul got into the driver’s seat, Martine into the passenger’s, and the blue Honda Odyssey pulled out of the drive.
They had only made it as far as the empty lot where the Gubbins used to live — their house razed, the ground flattened and ready for a new cement foundation to be poured — when Martine cried out, “Paul, stop. Pull over. Please.” Even through her sadness, Martine noticed the speckled
design her tears made on her white skirt, little splotches where she could see through to the skin of her legs.
Paul turned the car off and stared ahead as she wept. They sat like that, Paul silent, Martine grieving until she had run out of tears. He turned to her. “What would make you happy, Martine? Is there anything?” Martine blew her nose and stuck the damp, wadded tissue in the door pocket.
“I don’t know what the point is,” she said. “I just don’t know what the point is.”
Paul studied her for a long moment then sighed and took her hand. Martine’s breathing shuddered and slowed. They watched the street lights come on, a cat run inside a house.
“I wish this was enough for you,” Paul said.
“I got a present,” Martine said. “For our anniversary.”
“You didn’t have to get me anything.”
“It wasn’t for you. It was for me. But I think I made a mistake.” Martine looked at him. “Will you switch with me?”
They both got out of the car and passed each other in front of the van as the day crossed into twilight.
Seven weeks later, the blue Odyssey pulled into the garage. Paul got out and brought the dolly around. He untied the rope from the hatch and pulled Martine’s solidly coated form out from the back. With one hand on her shoulder to hold her steady, Paul wheeled Martine around the side of the house, through the gate, and into the garden. He stood Martine between the Oleander bushes under which they had buried Hula and by the bench where he liked to sit and smoke when Martine wasn’t home. He rubbed his thumbs over the markings where the slight holes under Martine’s arms had been drilled to hang her for drying.
“She covered them up pretty well,” he said. “You’d approve.”
Paul had just entered the sunroom, the screen door slamming behind him, when he remembered Martine’s caution about the man whose football helmet had rusted in the snow. He glanced up at the sky, pale blue with just a few white wisps. Scratched his beard. She would be fine overnight.