by Andrea Goyan
BETH WATCHES MARLIN walk on his stilts.
His head bobs up and down as he passes the kitchen window where she stands, washing the dinner plates by hand. He reminds her of a caged bear as he moves back and forth across her sightline. But she’s the one confined, up to her elbows in soapy water again. ‘Leave ’em. I’ll do ’em later,’ he said. After five years of marriage, Beth knows that story. It’s as full of holes as a flyswatter.
His lips move, and Beth cracks the window to listen. Marlin sings a nonsense song she knows he makes up as he goes along. Just like their lives. She pulls the metal stopper and watches bits of spinach caught in the swirling water as it disappears down the drain.
The stilts come through the door sideways. Marlin in their wake. There’s a moment when Beth thinks he looks like a piece of human sushi stuck between chopsticks. Then he stashes the poles away behind the couch and slides down onto the floor for his stretches.
He moves like poetry. A man who surfs above the fray, shooting the curl of his life. He kicks out of his shoes and wriggles his toes. There’s dirt beneath his too-long nails. Marlin likes Beth to cut them, says it’s a sign of love. More like self-defense, she thinks. Her husband is a nighttime leg thrasher. She’ll acquiesce to his appeal like a good little supplicant, though it nauseates her.
There’s a moment of resistance (before the clipper nicks away at the yellowed keratin and its bits cast about the bathroom like birdshot), where the nail pushes back. In that space, that eternity, Beth flies away, taking her mind with her.
Abundant blossoms filled the fields around her childhood home. Beth’s mother taught her all their names: Fairy Lanterns and Mugwort. Primrose, Buttercups, Deerwood, and Indian Paintbrush. They picked armfuls, and her mother showed her how to braid them into wreaths for her hair. Tiny fingers plied the fragile stems together. Beth pinned her floral crowns onto her curls, and their delicate fragrance enveloped her until the last of the tiny petals fell away, leaving only naked green stalks and copper-colored bobby pins behind.
They won’t make their rent this month.
It’s been harder since Marlin quit his day job to pursue performance art full-time. Harder on Beth. He said all the right things when he made his choice. Wrote her a song titled, “Paying Rent is a Fifty-Fifty Duet.”
Problem is performance art doesn’t pay. Problem is Beth’s office job can’t support them even when she works overtime. Problem is—Marlin doesn’t think it’s a problem.
And despite it all, Beth isn’t ready.
Though the front door is just across the room, it’s still a million miles away.
She defends Marlin to her friends and lies about him effortlessly. Her deceptions smear her in a noxious layer of slime no loofah scrubs away. ‘He’s between jobs.’ ‘We’ll start a family next year.’ But the secret little pill Beth swallows daily tells a different truth. Marlin is the closest thing to a child this marriage will ever produce.
The orange trees in the courtyard are in full bloom.
Beth can’t explain why this day is different or how a single moment struck like lightning, lending clarity and courage it took her years to muster. All she knows is there was a time before and now; the day her brain flipped on the “we’re done” switch.
She turns the padlock, clasps the door handle, and steps free like a snake leaving behind her too tight skin which doesn’t serve her anymore.
A gust of wind scatters the tree’s blossoms, and the falling flowers blanket her head like a passing snow flurry. Beth inhales the perfumed air even though she’s allergic. The momentary joy is worth it.
Andrea Goyan is a writer, painter, and the co-host of Metastellar’s Long Lost Friends. Winner of the 2021 Roswell Award for Science Fiction, some recent stories can be found in Metastellar Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Camp Arcanist, Luna Station Quarterly (issue 048, and 043), and Sundial Magazine. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, a dog, and two cats. Follow her on Facebook @Andrea Goyan Storyteller or on Twitter at @AndreaGoyan or check out her Amazon author page.