by Rachel Pastan
Once, they’d read aloud to each other all the time: letters, menus, fliers posted on telephone poles along the streets. Missing dog, black, one white ear, answers to Shayna. For sale, stereo cabinet, some damage. Telugu lessons, $10/hour. Telugu, they’d said, maybe we should learn Telugu?
Now, the sun streams in through the windows onto the stained tablecloth, onto the chipped cups and the tarnished spoons and the damp sugar in the saucer they use for sugar, and they no longer speak to each other even in English. She doesn’t even read him the headlines. ñShe won’t—can’t—read him the words banged out on her personal teletype machine, the banner that runs along the inside of her brain. Baby baby baby baby baby it says. But there won’t be a baby, and even her desire has been burned almost away, bleached down like the corpse of an animal in the desert, to the bare white bones of the single word.
“Busy day?” she asks, seeing him look at his watch.
“Don’t worry,” he says. “I won’t be late.” His voice, its scalded hostility, accuses her of caring. But he is mistaken; she doesn’t care.
Be late, she thinks. Belate, belated, beloved, be lost.
He gets up, dusts his clean hands. Belches. Checks his tie.
No one answers to any name here, certainly not the sun blazing across the table, jumping sideways toward the glinting knives when it thinks she isn’t looking. Not the plant in the corner, its flowers dangerously red. Not the blind shriveled thing in her chest that used to open like a rose when he whispered in her ear—Oh, baby—in any language in the world.
Rachel Pastan is the author of two novels, Lady of the Snakes and This Side of Married, and many stories that have appeared in The Georgia Review, Mademoiselle, The Threepenny Review and elsewhere. She teaches fiction writing at the Bennington Writing Seminars and is Editor-at-Large for the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania, where she writes the blog Miranda.