Fall 2017 (Volume 21, Issue I)




She closed the book and placed it on the table. As she stepped into the den, she said to her husband, “Someone else has gone and written my novel.”

He sat on the couch, his head tilted back, their baby daughter asleep in his arms. The television was on, an old British science-fiction show they’d bought on DVD and watched between his shifts as an E.R. resident a few years ago, before the baby, before life got hard from the inside.

When she saw the thin rubber tourniquet around her husband’s arm, her eyes stung with anger. He hadn’t promised never again, but he had promised never again with the baby right there.

She picked up the child without waking her and took her upstairs. When she returned, she walked up to her husband and smacked him as hard as she could across the face, partly to show her anger, partly to wake him. His body slumped to the side. She slapped him again in panic. She looked at her hand. All the stinging—her eyes, her hand—stopped.


After the funeral, people gathered at his parents’ house. His old college friends talked about the stranglehold of addiction. She nodded but knew that explained only part of anything. Her husband had medicated himself and made a mistake. Rehab didn’t work well for physicians. They’d moved to a new town that had ridden the booms and busts of mining for a hundred years and kept going. But he’d returned to the emergency room, negotiating with fate. “If only I’d called him,” several of his friends said, as if a voice from the past would’ve reminded him to be someone else.

In his friends’ memories, she saw glimpses of her husband. They mentioned peculiar things he said and did. They liked him all the same. All the same, she thought, nodding. One woman recounted, “He came to my mom’s house one weekend to decorate her tree. While we were sorting ornaments and untangling hooks, he hung saltine crackers on the tree. My mom left them up. Who’s to say what belongs?”


Later that night, when it was just family sitting around, her sister-in-law said she’d recently read a marvelous novel. “Have you read it?” she asked.

It was the one she’d been finishing when her husband put a needle into his vein and left her.

Listening to the din of voices, she thought of her husband’s favorite song, the one his college friends had mentioned. Her husband had made people wonder whether he was serious. Love really is like a rock, she thought, hearing the song in her head. Hard and heavy, with something sharp and bright running through its core. Looking across the room, watching family members pass her baby from person to person, she knew she couldn’t depend on anyone but, nonetheless, had to rely on everyone.

“I’ve read that book,” she said. “When I finished, I adored it for five minutes.”

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