Jonathan Starke

The Shoebox

My husband says he’s leaving me but it’s not because I’m a mannequin. I watch him pull his shirts from hangers and place them on the bed and fold them all neatly in a row. He tells me the love is gone now, that he couldn’t get back any of it if he tried. I tell him that’s nonsense, but he keeps packing anyway.

“I’m gray,” I say. “That’s really a good part of it.”

“It’s not about that. It’s not an issue,” he says, shaking his head as if it helps drive the idea home. I look at the gray paint covering my arms and face. It should have been peach, normal skin color, but the factory had run out and wouldn’t get anymore for a while. I think now of all the times I went into the factory to have my paint touched up so I would look better for him. I made appointments every few months to be re-sprayed, to fill in the chips and the tiny divots of wear that come with daily life. And my husband would never understand the humiliation of having a strange man in tinted goggles spray over his naked body with a metal canister.

He takes all the shirts and places them on top of his rolled up socks and folded underwear in the bottom of his suitcase without looking up at me. He moves back into the closet where he hasn’t bothered to turn on the light. When he gets all the way back in there, I can’t see him anymore, but hear the rustling of a box.

“What else would it be? Could it be?” I say, tapping my plastic hand to my plastic forearm and listening to the tick, tick, tick noise it makes.

“Not that,” he says from the back of the closet. “This just can’t possibly work anymore, and we have to face that,” he says. “At least it’s time for you to face that.” What he says is still not the truth. Ever since the new paint job, he hasn’t been the same. All this grayness has sparked something inside of him he’s been thinking about for years, and it’s just finally clicked now to do something about it.

I look into the mirror attached to our chiffonier that’s pressed against the wall. It’s large and square. As long as I keep getting sprayed, my face will never lose its smooth features, save some physical accident or misfortune. I move my hand up to my cheek and try to feel the smoothness my husband once felt. I wish I was able to feel something, to understand why it is so different to him now.

He suddenly appears from the closet, and I see this in the mirror. I see him over my rounded shoulder. He puts a lid on the shoebox in his hands, and I ask him what’s in the box, taking my own hand down from my face.

“Some photos and some old notes and newspaper clippings,” he says.

I walk away from the mirror and sit down on the floor and lean my back against the wall. It makes a very dull pat against the hard white plaster. “Where will you go?” I say, looking down at the hinges fixed at my bent knees, my arms holding around them as if that’s what keeps them together.

“I’ll be at my brother’s for a while, then I don’t know where. I don’t know what,” he says, and I look up at him, and he looks at me just at the same time, right through my gray eyes and the black and green paint on top of them which makes me seem more real. He places the shoebox beside the suitcase and arranges some things. I can’t really see what he’s doing because the lid is open; he looks like someone who’s trying to pack in secret. I can only see the peach of his forehead over the suitcase lid, and that’s really getting to me.

“It should be good there,” I say, nodding, looking back at the floor. “Good at your brother’s place for a while,” I say.

“Yes,” he says. “A while.”

Then I hear the suitcase close and the latches snap into place. I watch his feet moving in small steps toward me as I begin to lift my eyes to him. He’s got the suitcase in his hand and the shoebox under his other arm. The notes in the box must be the ones I’d put around the house for him: a coupon for a sexual favor on his pillow, a doodle of a crash-test-dummy I’d left on his car seat, the thank you I wrote him for letting me sleep in on a Saturday morning when he had to go to work and made sure to walk over the floorboards so as not to wake me. I wonder why that wasn’t enough for him. Were those not human gestures? And I wonder what I could do now to take away his feeling, so we would be more like one, so he might not want to leave.

I look sadly at the box for a long while as he stands in front of me all ready to go and not saying a word about it. I look at his face, then look at the whole of him, thinking he looks like a man in one of those fishing magazines, standing with his gear all ready, the bait and lures and worms and hooks all stuffed away in the tackle box at his side.

“Go if you have to,” I say. I look over at my wig on the nightstand, hanging off a little iron tree that almost looks like a hand to me now.

“Don’t talk like that,” he says. “You know what it does to me.” He puts the suitcase down slowly as if the weight of it isn’t bothering him at all. He still clings to the shoebox under his arm, but reaches down for me to take hold of his fleshy hand. He wants me to stand up with him. I look down at the rough carpet at his feet and realize there’s nothing I can do now about that suitcase on the floor next to him, about that box he’s got under his arm. I think to myself that I’ll let him hold his arm out there for a while, long enough so it might fall asleep on him, so he might actually have to think of it.


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