New Things by Len Kuntz
I laugh, of all things I laugh when my husband tells me he’s been sleeping with prostitutes.
“It’s true,” he says, sheepish and scalded. His head is bent and I notice his bald spot, big as a crust of bread. “There were a lot of escapades.”
Escapades? Who talks like that? “Oh, yeah?” I say, my voice getting big and husky, betraying my skepticism. “Where’d you get the money?”
“I’ve been embezzling at work, that’s another thing you should know.”
This makes me guffaw full-throttle. Snot hits the back of my hand.
He leans forward, not finished. “And they’re male prostitutes. Well most. Some were transsexuals.”
A home movie furiously unspools in my mind, flashing images of my husband’s ex-girl friends, his old prom dates (he keeps a box of photos and memorabilia in the garage) and it’s like the end of CSI where all past clues come together fragmented yet so orderly and obvious as to make one ashamed for not having come to a similar conclusion. All of his past loves were overly-pale, with vacant deep-set eyes and horror film protruding skulls, and now that I think about it, more than a couple were sans Adam’s apple. “Holy shit,” I hiss.
“Yeah, I figured you say that.”
A squirt gun rifle with an overly large water cartridge, a Janet Jackson cd, Parcheesi, a stack of frigid salami slices, two pair of hunting boots and a pair of in-line skates—I stole this random cockle shell collection when I was eighteen. We lived in Newton and the strip mall there was a buffet of tawdry retail. I went from store to store grabbing items, figuring security would pounce any second and escort me to a hidden anteroom for interrogation. In addition to material goods, I wanted to feel in possession of information someone else wanted. I craved the grilling: “Why’d you do it? What’s the theme here? Who put you up to this? Why hunting boots?” I wanted to feel the unforgiving bite of handcuffs cutting across my wrists. I knew other girls who sliced themselves with glass after their parents had divorced, but it seemed pathetic and cliché to me. I craved a capitalistic response. When I was not apprehended or even noticed—all the while hefting a garbage bag of loot that would make Santa jealous--I went home, dumped the goods onto the living room shag, sprayed some lighter fluid, and lit that shit on fire.
I ran away, left for Seattle. Kurt Cobain was there. I could relate. I was seventeen and I smelled like Teen Spirit. No one came after me.
Years later a therapist asked, “Did you ever tell anyone?”
“Why would?” I said, leveling my voice so as not to sound too wounded or alarmed. The therapist stared at me like a constipated beetle. “Besides I just now told you, didn’t I?” I loved being the one to ask the questions and I knew it pissed my therapist off to no end.
My husband likes to be sucked on. I give him hickeys everywhere. Personally I don’t know how he can bear it. Out of the shower he looks like a shotgun victim on the mend. He says it feels freeing and Salvador Dali-esque and I know he’s telling the truth because afterward or during a particularly potent suck, his hard-on stabs my knee or gets a life of its own, humping my bristly calf muscle.
Two nights after his confession about transvestite hookers and corporate thievery, I do an especially excellent job of sucking the callused heel of his right foot and he screams a few words of The Star Spangled Banner--“Oh say can you see!”--and writhes and rips a pillow seam so that stuffing vomits out in feathered clumps. I listen to his convulsing. I play connect the dots with my eyes, making a sail boat from the pattern of sweat beads on his forehead.
“Wow,” he says when he can finally speak.
“You can say that again,” I say, just to see if he’ll take the bait, but he doesn’t.
We’ve been married twelve years and we’re still learning things about each other. I think that’s one secret of successful partnership, that sense of perpetual curiosity. When you give up on wonder, you’re sunk.
He rolls onto his side, panting softer now, like a delighted and expectant dog. His breath smells of road tar and Italian salad dressing. I can overlook these things.
What do we really know about each other—not just Phil and I, but you—you and anyone? Pick a person and tell me what you know? I bet you’ll pull out the best bits. I bet huge parts will be missing, or distorted, and then either way you won’t really know, I won’t know, only that other person will know, and maybe God will know.
The last words I heard my mother speak to my father were these: “I never loved you.”
She could be dramatic when she wanted. She’d even managed to stage a theatric suicide, dressing in pearls and a full-length ball gown before hanging herself from the dining room chandelier.
If I knew then what I know now I believe I’d have been able to save their marriage. It’s not that I feel superior, far from it. I’ve just learned several valuable lessons about courtship and romance, spiritual warfare even.
At least that’s my belief.
I take Phil’s hand and I suck his fingers, slathering hardily at their webbed connection points. My saliva glistens, looks like flotsam and jetsam. It’s not humiliating to be dutiful as long as you have your own selfish motives.
Phil watches me perform. My husband’s eyes sparkle and shine. Then he withdraws his hand.
“Not now,” he says. “I’ve got a headache.”
Len Kuntz has been fortunate to have a spate of good luck with pieces appearing, or forthcoming in over twenty lit journals including Prick of the Spindle, Mud Luscious, elimae, Word Riot, DOGZPLOT and others.