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Bear In The House

In Fiction on June 29, 2009 at 3:52 pm

My husband, Josh, couldn’t show up for his own birthday party. He was present at the dining room table all right, but just in body. Even when it came time to blow out his candles, he stared at the kids and me, giving us that vacant what?

“You’re doing the Granddad thing again,” Teddy, our six-year-old, said.

My father was at end-stage Alzheimer’s. While my husband, a fiction writer, was technically healthy.

I dropped the lighter on the table. “Why don’t you just go back to your computer? Why even pretend?”

“No, no.” He closed his eyes, moved his mouth close to the candle flames, and exhaled hard.

We all knew what he’d wished for. What he always wished for: the novel.

__________

Several days after his birthday party, an egg-sized bruise appeared on his forehead.

When I questioned it, his gaze skittered away. “Research.”

The next day, he swapped out the regular light bulb in the basement for a yellow-colored one and locked himself in down there, acting out the POW interrogation scene for his book. He stayed down there for two whole days, refusing food or water, and making horrible sounds. For the kids’ sakes, I tried to act like everything was normal. I could tell by the way they looked at me, though, that they didn’t know who was crazier: their father or me.

Shortly after that, he stopped performing even such basics as brushing his teeth. Sometimes he’d go into the bathroom and walk right out again, not knowing what he’d gone in there for, and return to his computer. He devolved to staying only a couple of hours a night in bed, and during the rest of the moon’s shift, I’d hear him tapping on his keyboard, the sound echoing throughout the house, a burglar.

I avoided talking to my friends and co-workers, and especially my family, not wanting to hear “Josh still writing, acting crazy?” When I needed gas, I’d ask the station attendant to fill my engine, chit-chatting to him all the while. At school drop-off and pick-up, I’d jabber with the crossing guard. At least until I got a note from the Principal asking me to desist for safety reasons. At the worst, the bank tellers ducked down behind the counter when I appeared. I adopted a Yorkshire Terrier puppy. She filled up some of the dead feeling. Josh kept tripping over her.

During arguments, I tired of trying to make sense and instead said things like “being married to you is like driving drunk”. Sometimes I blared the stereo at maximum volume, trying to blast Josh away from his writing desk, but only succeeded in giving myself a migraine and making the boys cry. I snapped pictures with our camera, and showed Josh what he looked like when he zoned out. He apologized, and promised to try harder. He didn’t.

__________

At the insurance company, Josh’s employers threatened him with termination, citing how much his productivity had declined, how many clients he’d lost, and the new ones he’d failed to acquire. They ‘congratulated’ him on the fifty-some stories he’d published online in the previous six months, and called him on the amount of time he was spending at work writing and submitting and networking with his online communities; they’d checked his hard drive.

At home that night, Josh got drunk on warm beer, and admitted what had happened.

“You’re going to lose your job over all this writing,” I said.

“I’m good, God dammit,” he said. “Great even, but what would you know?”

I’d stopped reading his work, unable to put together who I thought he was with what came out in his writing; it scared me.

“You’re going to lose your soul,” I continued. Used to be I’d add that last part for dramatic effect, but by then I meant it.

“Your sons,” I added. “What about them? They’ll be grown up and gone before we know it. You won’t get this time back.”

I pressed on. “Did you ever think that one day our boys are going to be old enough to read this shit?”

His eyes bulged. “Shit?” he said. “Shit?”

I grabbed a pen from the kitchen counter, and tapped it against his head, demanding to know if the man I’d married was still in there.

“That’s it!” He mumbled something about a pastor and a Bible, and rushed upstairs to his computer, leaving me holding the stupid pen. It didn’t even have ink; done spelling things out.

Born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, Ethel Rohan received her MFA in fiction from Mills College, CA. Her work has appeared in or is forthcoming from over fifty online and print journals including elimae; PANK; DecomP; DOGZPLOT; Storyglossia; Word Riot; mud luscious; and Ghoti Magazine. Her blog is Straight From The Heart In My Hip.

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  1. so fucking brilliant. so many pretty parts. i think i am your husband.

  2. I’m going to be a lot nicer to my writer-boyfriend after reading this. Having to advise him on which shade of shirt makes him look the most photogenic before he goes to be interviewed is clearly getting off very lightly compared to this.

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