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As much as Bobby wanted to deny it, no sane woman would massage the side of her face with a salad fork while staring at the closed curtains draped over a kitchen window. For a moment, his stomach reached up and grabbed his rib cage and shook him from the inside out, and he thought about what his mother had said when he first told her he was going to marry Ella.
“You might marry Ella, but she will never marry you. She will never really marry you.”
“Ella is different, Bobby.”
“What do you mean?”
“Look at her, Bobby. Just look at her.”
And now, as he watched his wife humming to her dim reflection caked with dust and vomit-like spatterings from last night’s pasta sauce, he understood. Ella had never married him, despite the band glinting from her finger that was now wrapped around the fork handle like an emaciated white worm. She could not afford to give him the attention he deserved. She had never been able to. She was too busy feeding it to the things in her head. She was busy giving it to the forks and the curtains and God knows what else.
“Geez, Ella,” the words came scraping out in a raw whisper, grazing his tongue on the way. “Honey ... Ella, baby. What are you doing?”
Their wedding had been an awkward, pastel-tinted event that few were invited to and even fewer attended. The guests melted in plastic lawn chairs scattered across the gardens of a local church as Ella walked barefoot down the “aisle,” a patchy path of grass sprinkled with carnation petals and gaudy pink sequins. She wore a small veil adorned with plastic roses and a silk lavender dress that looked more appropriate for an Easter mass than a wedding. They took their vows in front of a stone fountain bubbling over with stringy algae and pennies, green from oxidation.
The ceremony was short, but he didn’t recall any part of it - except the end. Perhaps nobody recalled any part but the end. God, why hadn’t he realized it then? He remembered that Ella kissed him and then the entire garden heard her sigh and exclaim, pink-cheeked and breathless as if she were realizing it for the first time, “Oh, I really do love you, Bobby.” Then she smiled at him, almost darkly, eyes sparkling from her ringlet-wreathed skull. In a second she had jumped from his arms into the fountain, her dress soaked and stained with green, waving her arms as if to fly and screaming, “Marcello! Marcello!” Bobby recognized it as a reenactment of a scene from “La Dolce Vita,” a black-and-white Fellini film they had watched together early in their courtship.
This was when he went into the fountain. He went and carried her out. His thoughts were as mechanical as his steps as he found himself calf-deep in the water with Ella. He did not smile, but purposefully scooped her into his arms like a rag doll and kissed her delicately. She laughed in his mouth and bit him on the lip, lightly breaking the skin. He winced and turned his head, wiping away the small bubble of blood that tasted like silver as he watched his mother walking out of the garden. As she swung open the iron gate submerged in green-black moss, her shoulders jumped with soft sobs. She was not the type to cry when she was happy. His heart pounded thickly in his chest as he considered the other reason for her tears.
Ella still hadn’t replied from her place in front of the kitchen window, the prongs of the fork raking the dull skin of her cheek and leaving white streaks that faded to pink.
She turned, breaking her gaze with the curtains, and smiled, still dragging the fork across her skin.
“It feels good, Bobby.”
He stood as if between two panes of glass, shoulders straight, skin prickling.
She opened her mouth and varying pitches fell from her throat, tumbling into the room, bouncing violently off the sink, the microwave, the countertops. Bobby looked on with mixed horror and nostalgia, as the laugh triggered memories of their innocence as a young couple.
Before I knew.
She walked over to the doorway, labored from the energy exerted in her hiccuping cackles, and extended the fork toward him.
Bobby stared at the utensil, Ella’s face blurred in fuzzy patches of peach and golden-yellow behind the glistening metal prongs. He set down his briefcase and took hold of her shoulders as if to shake her, but instead firmly pulled her to his chest, the fork digging uncomfortably into his collarbone.
“Forks are for eating, Ella,” he said into her hair.
“I know, but feel.”
She wriggled her arms out of his embrace and reached up, scratching the fork across his chin, trailing it in squiggles and swirls over his cheeks and forehead.
“Stop it. Sweetheart, please,” he winced, not in pain, but in suppression of a strange and disturbing desire to laugh and cry simultaneously. She continued to scrape the prongs over his stubble, his pores, the wrinkles that had recently developed around his mouth and eyes.
“Bobby,” she said tenderly, droplets of molten honey heavily sliding off of her tongue. “I’m not crazy.”
“I didn’t say you were,” he replied.
She lifted the fork away from his face and drew it to herself.
“Do you still love me?”
“Of course I do.”
(Also too quickly.)
“So what if I am crazy? I mean, really, really crazy. Would you still ... I mean, would you still love me?”
Her cheeks were laughing, but the veins, the blood vessels beneath, were in hysterics.
“Yes. Yes, I would.”
He cleared his throat and looked at the blue kitchen tile. She lifted his chin with a cold finger.
“So, what’s the problem?”
“There is a problem, isn’t there?”
“The problem,” he rolled the words around in his mouth like a pair of hot dice. He stood for a moment, wavering, ill at ease, and then abruptly took the fork from her hand, lightly kissed her forehead, and left the room.
The problem rotted in the doorway as he changed his clothes upstairs, and the stench of it mingled with the tangy odor of leftover spaghetti heating up in the kitchen. He ate it straight from the microwave, still steaming, still reeking of decay and tomatoes. He ate it quickly, and he ate it with a fork.