It’s like this, Sara says. Joel has a bad day, someone gives him shit at work, a customer is a freak about the service warranty, you know, something like that, and he’s hurting, all wrung-out, so I take over dinner and dishes and let him sit and chill. He gets what he needs without having to ask for it. When I have a crap day—and I have a lot, you know? Those people who come into my branch all have ambient temperature IQs. Hell, the other day, this woman says she wants to put money in her account and then take it right back out again, and I said, “Ma’am, that’s called ‘cashing a check.’” She’d never heard the term before. Grew up in a barn. Or under a rock. What was I saying? Anyway, I have a bad day, then he takes over. He tells me to sit, brings me a glass of wine, sometimes I even get a complimentary foot massage! We sense the other’s trouble and move toward it silently, like a creature in the sea, responding to radar, making changes in how it behaves. We’re like one creature. I realized that the other day. I was overwhelmed. I wanted to sit down and have a good cry it was such a beautiful thought.
What Sara doesn’t tell her friend is this isn’t how things work between her and Joel. She’s the only one who does any mood sensing. She waits on him hand and foot and he doesn’t lift a finger to help her when she’s had a bad day, when she’s had a good day, when she’s had a so-so day. As the words leave her mouth she knows she’s fibbing but the fib is delicious in the moment. She gives herself a new reality with each description, each tale. This is gold. This is worth the prick of conscience that comes later when she realizes she lied through her teeth, or even later when the truth crawls into her mouth like a bitter black stone, reminding her of the slob she married.
She’s tried talking to him, cajoling, shrieking, weeping, throwing a plate to the floor, begging. Nothing moves him. The sea he swims in is murky, full of new and used cars, customers, sales meetings, delayed bonuses, canceled bonuses, promotions tried for, promotions denied. His sea needs a reset, a flush-out, a few drops of elixir to make sparkling colors where mud now floats and reluctantly swirls.
When Joel talks to his co-worker about Sara he praises her willingness to fade into the background when he has friends in, or his brother and sister-in-law who tend to be drunk and loud, or the neighbor, a widower who likes to knock back a few beers on their porch every other day. Once they’re alone again she emerges, bright and shiny as a new penny. That’s how she was when he first saw her, standing behind the counter at the bank, pretty, clean, and fresh. Wouldn’t it be great if women would always stay that way? Never grow old? Never change? The co-worker thinks it would be even better if men never changed, either, but before he can say so Joel gets called to the floor to talk someone through the new model.
Sara turns into a penny the day Joel turns into a starfish—a big purple one. Needless to say, the marital bed becomes complicated. Coin of the realm and a rock-clinging beauty? They manage, though. Fantasies conquer all, especially for those who demonstrate, unwittingly, that devolution sometimes has a place in the scheme of things.
Award-winning writer Anne Leigh Parrish has two new titles coming from Unsolicited Press: the moon won’t be dared, a poetry collection, October 2021; and an open door, a novel, October 2022. Her latest novel, a winter night, released in March 2021 from Unsolicited Press, is the most recent installment in her popular Dugan Family story. She is the author of seven other books and lives in the South Sound Region of Washington State. Find her online at her website, Twitter, Facebook, Medium, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Goodreads.