by Len Kuntz
I find my wife sequestered in the pantry, naked on the floor, a garrison of soup cans encircling her.
Her knees are pulled up under her chin and she’s studying the backs of labels.
‘Have you been here all night?’
She doesn’t acknowledge me, just reaches out and fingers a can, as if it’s written in braille.
‘I made you a map. Remember?’
I notice her pajamas looped over the end of a broom in the corner.
‘Well, not a map exactly, but what to do, where to go when this happens.’
Elle starts humming, low and slow, and I recognize it right off.
‘If you want, we can go see him later today, after work, but maybe you should sleep first. A nap at least. Have you even slept?’
Elle begins removing soup cans from their stacks, repositioning them on a different side of the fortress she’s built.
I had no idea we owned so much soup, but in a way, it makes sense. In a way, everything does.
‘Elle, Babe, I know you can hear me.’
Elle continues with the cans, her bony arms robotic, while humming It’s Not Easy Being Green, Nick’s song, the one he performed, donning a Kermit costume, for a school play.
I want to ask if she’s been skipping her meds again. I want to ask how I’m ever going to be able to help her when she won’t let me. Instead, I step out of the pantry and dial work, telling them I won’t be in today.
When they were young, Nick and Elle did everything together, sometimes without ever even moving. That twin thing, thoughts unspoken, bouncing back and forth across the couch. Mac and Cheese for their latchkey dinner, and if that was out, soup.
I’ve never really appraised the pantry before. Aside from all the soup in here, there’s Costco-sized jugs of everything—ketchup, edamame, toilet paper, tampons. I’m claustrophobic and feeling it now, the shrinking, the weights pressing against my chest and skull. Looking around, the pantry makes me feel frail and tiny, like a mantis crushed between pages. All of it makes me wonder how much else I haven’t seen or noticed.
‘I know you miss him,’ I say.
I want to say, I do, too. But that would be a lie. Nick’s habit made him unbearable until it made him dead. But a twin’s love? I can’t say about that.
I don’t know why Elle’s naked, what that has to do with any of it. There’s what I know and what I don’t know and what I presume to know. I could use a map myself.
I take off my tie, suit coat, belt, pants, all of it, until I’m naked, my scrawny legs and arms instantly goosepimpled. The pantry floor feels like a sharp slap on my ass as I sit down.
I raise my arm and wave a hand at Elle, who is barricaded by soup cans.
‘Hey,’ I say.
Elle pulls down three more cans and redistributes them to another section of the looped wall.
When I feel myself start to cry, I bite down on my tongue and keep my incisors pinched until I taste blood.
Everything looks glassy, smeared. The pantry keeps shrinking, closing in. I know in a second I’ll have to run out if something doesn’t change.
I try sending Elle thoughts across the space between us but all I feel is a rabid pulse in my forehead, a manic throbbing at the base of my throat. I try swallowing but the air bubble goes nowhere.
Finally, I say, ‘Hey, Sis.’
Elle’s head raises, as if from a pulley or puppeteer.
‘Can I play?’ I ask.
Next, she blinks, her eyes clearing, face shifting into something like normal.
‘You’ve been cheating, starting without me,’ I say.
Elle smiles, a smile I both know and do not know, though right now I don’t care.
‘Hey, Nick,’ Elle says. ‘Where’ve you been?’
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press. You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.