The De-militarised Zone“He was not very pretty,” she said reluctantly, and wrapped the phone cord around and between her fingers. Silence echoed across the fly-over states. “What’s Seattle like this summer?”
She could hear the confused look on his face. He pitched his voice low, as one always does when placating the insane. “About the same as every summer. Who wasn’t very pretty, exactly?”
“L’homme avec qui j’ai sorti hier soir.”
“Your French still sucks.” He could be brutal when he felt the truth excused it. “Why did you go out with him if you didn’t find him pretty?”
“The same reason I married you even though you were gay ?”
His awkward laugh failed to break the tension, but she chose not to pursue it. “It’s been a while since we spoke. Are you all right?” She didn’t really want to ask. Not that she didn’t care, but she was pretty sure he didn’t feel she had the right to know any longer. The question was mostly enlightened self-interest, anyway. He still had her stuff, and as shipping costs had in no way been lessened by the rising price of oil, she didn’t really see any way she was getting her silverware and her shoes back soon. His well-being was her guarantee of safe storage.
He let the question hang in the air for long seconds, nearly a full minute. She toed the curled edge of the linoleum with her sneaker. His answer did not surprise her. “The transit of Venus was beautiful. The Vernal Equinox was hard on me, though. I didn’t expect it to hit my liver so hard. “
She took a sad breath and dove back into the crazy pool. “You probably should have. Liver is the Yin of the Wood element. Wood is Spring, remember?”
There was an odd click in the phone line. Simultaneously, they tested the waters. “You there?”
She grew sadder, still, remembering how they would have giggled about synchronicity before the legal stuff had messed everything up. People thought it had been the divorce that was so tragic. Only the two of them knew it had been getting married in the first place that was the mistake.
To be fair, her parents felt it was a bad choice, too- but for different reasons, and not the kind she was likely to account as reasonable. She needed the call to end. “I’m going to go. Are you feeling in a suitable place in the conversation to do that?” After three years of separation, she still couldn’t stop herself from being careful for him.
As usual, he wielded spiritual wakefulness and politesse as weapons. “Thank you for asking. I’m fine. We will speak again before the year is ended, Dark Eyes.”
She winced. The appellation was beautiful, but its intent felt skewed. It used to be a sweet nickname. Now, it re-established comfortable distance.
“Good night, then.”
“No more ugly people,” he said, before she could hang up. She was tempted to set the phone down anyway, but she didn’t believe you were mannerly for the benefit of other people, and she wasn’t about to change herself for this particular set of circumstances.
He repeated himself, ever patient. In his educator’s voice. She thanked her God privately that she was no longer attached to him.
“I never said he was ugly, “ she clarified. “He was beautiful. I just didn’t happen to like him. His face had nothing to do with it.”
He would never admit aloud that he still thought of her as his wife, at least not in her hearing. But someone else was courting her, and he was not ready to let her be self-destructive with his own resources. He planned to need her next year. “Just be careful, okay?”
“That’s about the most normal thing you’ve ever said. I will. Good night.”
She hung up before he could answer, then felt guilty and slid to the floor, scraping the underside of her leg on the crappy tiling. The handset rattled in its cradle and fell to the floor beside her fingers still twined in the cord.