Once the corners of Kamilka’s mouth started dropping down, nothing I could do would turn them up again. When she wasn’t yelling at me, she was sighing and when she wasn’t sighing she stared through my face onto the wall behind me.
Courting, I almost had to take a number to see her. I was besotted and stole her from more eligible men. I did not have to bend down for a kiss and I am a six-footer. Green eyes squinting like a cat’s, dimples, laugh that rocked a room. The old ladies with the watchful eyes called us the handsomest couple in town and I felt lucky to marry her.
Then she put on a whole whack of weight. She could not have children. Poison seeped into her mind and she grew convinced her husband was no damn good.
I’m not a man to give up once I’ve started in on something. We’d had good times and I signed up for better or worse.
The death of Strela, my black lab, changed everything. He squeezed himself into a corner by his dish and did not get up when I called. His tail wagged, his eyes looked at me full of apology, he rasped, and he died.
I’d had him all fifteen years of the marriage. I loved him as the son I never had. He yelped with excitement when I came in at night; he slept at the bottom of my bed once I started sleeping in the study; his eyes glistened when I told him of laughter lost, plans postponed, travels terminated. As I was burying him in the back yard, tears dropping on the shovel rattling in my hands, I made a decision: walking the dog was done and so was listening to the bitching. By the time I had the mound just so, I resolved to see Frank, a lawyer friend, to have him tell me how not to lose my shirt, and then to pack my bag.
God, no doubt, had a real belly laugh about that one. I walked into the house, to change out of the burying clothes before going into town for a few beers, and Kamilka is on the floor, her face peony purple, curled in a fetal position, her fingers an eagle claw, gasping for breath.
Six months later I was still sitting by her bedside, wiping drool off the face and neck, listening to the rasping. Couldn’t leave an invalid with a brain fried, no way. Then Dr. Krtek started in on me. “That halo is gonna get tarnished after a while,” he said, “if you just sit by her and do nothing for yourself. You’re gonna start hating her and hate eats you up.”
“Hell, there’s not a weapon I hadn’t used on her already,” I said. Well, no, I didn’t say that. But I wanted to.
Was a few weeks before I left the house, smiled at the agency woman tucking the blue blanket round Kamilka, wishing me a lovely evening, and I put my face up to the drizzle, watched the shimmer in the forsythias. I had no place to go. I stood for a while, listened to the excited bark of the dog next door. As I walked, forcing one foot in front of the other, I had a clear vision of Kamilka, when times were good. I turned to go back to her when a pub door opened, letting out a blast of laughter and sultry singing. One beer, I thought, just one.
You knocked my breath out when you came to take my order. I almost called you Kamilka even then, knowing that I’d left her disfigured, back at home. Kamilka of years ago, that’s what I saw. The same eyes, the dimple and the raven hair which you’d pulled into a tight bun and which my mind saw you loosening, my fingers running through it as it cascaded to your waist and you yelled “yes!” I heard laughter for the first time in, seemed like years. And I was the one making you laugh. I was young again, I was mighty. We glided as one on the dance floor; we shuddered in your bed. But eyes open or eyes closed it was Kamilka I always saw in our weeks together.
I woke from a nightmare to fingers being almost broken as you were pulling them off your throat. You forgave.
I retched when you kicked me in the genitals to get that pillow off your face in another nightmare. You forgave that, too.
But seeing her, screaming “Kamil-kaaaa” as I spurted into your body, my breathing stopped and I was in the dark tunnel from which there is no return. I jerked my face aside before the slap, saving a nose-break.
I scrambled off the bed without speaking, snatching clothes from the floor. I slammed the door behind me and slinking home I was certain of being the butt of a cosmic joke.
I don’t have a dog to confide in any more. It is dawn and I am writing you a letter you’ll never read. Only in writing can I say that the center has always been Kamilka and you’re not Kamilka.
I’ll sit by her bed. I’ll look at the drooping eyelid and the upturned lower lip. I’ll watch for signs of His crooked interfering fingers. In every season to come I’ll breathe in fragrant blooms, and ponder the ways of God. My waking and dreaming moments are one. My thoughts won’t stray to you.
published 28 October 2011
Where a baby should be, I imagine a bear trap.
Everything that touches the trap--that comes within a foot of it--is mangled and shredded. For me, this “everything” is food. I keep sending massive amounts down the well of my throat, hoping to exhaust the bear trap so that a space might be cleared for a baby, but all my efforts are useless.
Instead, I just get fat.
My husband says, “Kamilka, Kamilka, what’s happened? Why are you letting yourself go?”
What does he know? He grew a beer belly less than a year after we married. Wiry hairs like black spider legs grow out his ears and along his lobes. His teeth are pus-colored from constant smoking. I do not care that he fails to put the toilet seat down, but the pee-splattered tile really tries my patience. I tell you, he’s no soft sell himself.
When we were younger I would not have been able to overlook such things. I was pragmatic and forward-thinking. Men called me beautiful, complimented my figure, courted me aggressively and competitively.
But I was choosy. I ran each potential suitor through a tick list.
My husband came out on top because he matched me in appearance. Grooming actually meant something to him back then. When I said I wanted babies more than anything, he blinked twice and said he did, too.
I see now that he was a natural born liar. Maybe all men are. They lie to get what they desire, and once they’ve achieved their conquest, they carouse all they want, come home, plop down on a couch, drink more ale and fart into the fabric, deeming themselves content.
No, he never wanted a child. He couldn’t even have a child. I found out about his sporting accident after we’d been married, how his testicles were so damaged no sperm, not even a Michael Phelps-gifted sperm, could swim through those dried up ducts.
“Look,” my husband said, one night after a squabble, “I’ve bought us a black lab, instead. It’ll be as if he’s our child. I’ve named him Strela, for your favorite uncle!”
He even got that wrong. I have no favorite uncle, and Strela is the one whose wrist I broke as he tried slipping a hand down my blouse when I was but a young girl.
Never mind any of that.
I have been online a lot lately. The internet allows a person to amend and correct what the universe gets wrong.
I’ve arranged for sperm donor. The photos show him as a handsome, Slavic-type male, blonde if perhaps a bit pale. But he’ll do.
Also, I’ve hired someone to eliminate my husband. I picked the assassin out of a look book of photos. None of the felons appeared all too menacing. Some actually wore the practiced poise of a fashion model, smirking confidentially.
The killer I’ve selected sends me cryptic messages. “Don’t worry,” he says, “it will look natural enough. This is my living. I am professional.”
I’ve been running a hard bargain, negotiating the price. Who knew having someone murdered could be so inexpensive?
Tomorrow morning we are to meet at breakfast and finalize the details.
I let myself smile, thinking about breakfast and what I will order, how I will meet my husband’s killer, how the sperm donor will show up the following day. As they say, it’s never too late to be who you always wanted to be, to have what you always wanted.
Those are the thoughts going through my head as I watch my husband out back burying that stupid dead dog. That’s what I’m thinking when a bolt rips through my head, then heart, coloring everything an endless shade of black.
published 28 October 2011