Many Husbands Look Alike.
Last night, Brenda was flipping through one of her magazines and there was a photo spread that showed the various gowns that nominated Academy Award actresses had worn to previous awards shows. “Isn’t that ugly?” she asked, and poked at a picture with a finger that left behind a greasy fingerprint of salt.
“Hideous,” her husband said, and brought a handful of chips to his mouth.
“That’s gross,” she said, picking the grain of salt off with a nail, and then looked at his mouth. It was like he mashed the chips into his face as much as ate them, she thought to herself.
“Terrible,” he said around a mouthful of chips. She turned from the TV to watch him more closely. “You really think so?” she asked, and he answered, “Criminal,” and then, sensing she needed more from him, added, “there ought to be a law.”
“What are we talking about?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him.
“What are we talking about?” he echoed, but froze a little on the couch beside her.
“You don’t know, do you?” she asked, and leaned in closer.
“You don’t know?” he answered, but there was a shiftiness, a sense of panic in his eyes as she loomed closer. She was on him a second later, a napkin in her hand to wipe the grease off his face. He let her, face frozen by shock, his mouth half-open. She saw something metallic in his mouth, something silver, and darted her fingers in to catch it. “What’s this, then?”
“Don’t,” he said, or that’s what she thought he said. Her fingers pressed his tongue aside. He might have been saying “dote” or “tote” or maybe “dope,” but she was pretty sure it was “don’t.” She pulled on the silver thing and it pulled open. Open, like she could see his chest through the bottom of his jaw, a small tunnel opened in the flesh, and when she pulled more, it got larger. Her husband let out a gust of air, something between a sigh and a fart, and his jaw split in two, a left-hand and a right hand-side, each with a small set of metal teeth, just like a zipper, and that’s what she held in her hand, the tab of a zipper.
She pulled more and his throat split open, then his chest. There was a surprising bit of business at his crotch: the zipper zagged so that his dick was on one side and his balls on the other. Soon it was done, except for a stretch of still-attached territory that ran the length of his spine (she’d found another tab, much like the first but going in the other direction, and split his face up the middle, looked for his brain inside but found nothing like it).
On the inside, he really was like any other moderately priced piece of luggage. There was a pouch for your toiletries, which she rifled through but found only a couple coins and a pen cap. There were a few tears in the lining, a rather handsome fleur-de-lys pattern. And that was it, the sum of him: a couple coins, a pen cap. She lifted one of the coins and held it up to the glow from the TV: it was a shilling, or maybe a sixpence, from their honeymoon in Bermuda.
There was a slip of paper, sticking out from the mesh netting where she’d put her toothpaste and floss. She pulled it out, a folded over receipt, and when she opened it, she saw the inside was covered with her husband’s hardly legible script:
“When I thought about you finding out, I thought it’d happen other than this,” the note said.
“You never thought I’d found out. And it’s differently, not other, you asshole. Adverb, not adjective.” She couldn’t believe she was doing this, having this conversation with her husband, or whatever this was. Another strip of paper poked itself suggestively from the mesh pouch.
“I know your mad,” it read. “It’s not about parts of speech your mad about.”
“No shit, Sherlock.” She considered his grammar. She was mad about that, she decided, and had a right to be. But that wasn’t the main thing. “The worst part?” she confessed. “I shouldn’t even be surprised.”
Another receipt sprang from the pouch like a receipt at the ATM. How many of these were there, she wondered. She pulled it out to read it. “But you were surprised. Doesn’t that mean something;)”
“I can’t believe you’re winking at me. Like I’ll just forget my whole life is a lie.” She crumpled the receipt and shut the lid before another receipt was extruded by whatever in him was producing them, like he had some spidery paper spinnerets somewhere. She knew what he was doing: He would keep trying to say the right thing till she accepted his excuses, till she took him back. Not this time.
The next morning, Brenda drove to the airport with her husband in the trunk. She was confused when she approached the terminal, unsure for a moment whether she wanted the lot for arrivals or departures, but finally chose arrivals and parked in short-term parking. She didn’t think she’d be there long.
Brenda walked through the sliding glass doors to the baggage claim area. No one was watching the luggage carousel, so she strolled by casually and left her husband alongside another bag abandoned by someone else, and returned to her spot where she could see passengers arrive and watch luggage ferried past on the serpentine track. And then she waited.
Soon deplaning passengers began to walk past Brenda, barely noticing she was there as they reunited with family, with luggage. She eyed them all. At first, she had her eye on a blandly handsome young man with a sleek hound’s-tooth check roller bag. But then she stopped herself, and consciously looked for something larger, without wheels. Something harder to push around. To push away.