I think my brain is eating itself.
I also think Sam is smiling. Inside her own head probably laughing too, yet still she concentrates. Hard. Focus is important right now. In the backseat of my Chevy Dually she lines out two rows of white girl on her cell phone with the precision of a surgeon. Dome light in the cab is off and I can’t see her full, beautiful lips. I wish I could. Her smile shakes the earth. Maybe she isn’t smiling. Her small and tan fingers guide the credit card back and forth, side to side; slow and smooth paint strokes on a dark reflective canvas made of touch-screen glass. She never takes her eyes away from the art. Not once and I’m jealous. I fantasize about becoming that lifeless device she’s using so much care and effort not to drop, and not the first time, either. My thoughts about her lately have transformed into vigorous passion; I cannot think about anything but her palm locked tightly around my edges, holding me with undivided attention until she finally inhales that precious, chalky dust.“Truth is dead; the internet killed it,” she says. “Haven’t you figured that out yet, Thomas? All lies.”
I want to respond the article concerning human brain cells devouring each other after snorting this shit was from a medical journal, but I don’t.
“Hurry up. We’ve been out here too long.”
She hands the phone over; I shake my head no. I’ve had enough. Enough of everything about our situation really, but a thought I don’t say aloud. We’re on our first sneaking-out-don’t-get-caught-by-our-spouses-excursion this evening, and I’m done.
“Fine,” Sam mumbles, pulling the phone back and snorting the rest. She licks the phone’s screen, a honey bee finishing up a pollinated flower. “Can’t feel my teeth. I shouldn’t have done that one. Thanks Thomas, you’re an asshole. Come on, quick, they’ll catch us.”
We make our way back inside the club and immediately separate. I never take my eyes off her. I stand near the bar in the back, away from the dance floor. My wife Tracy is somewhere on the salted hardwood with a stranger, sliding across to country music, not thinking about me. Sometimes I wish I’d get caught on a trip to the truck. So I knew she was paying attention. So she knew I existed.
The prettier waitress working this side of the building delivers the beer I’d ordered before sneaking out. Before scuttling off back into the crowd, she winks as if she knows every bad thing I’ve ever done in my life. Maybe she does by now. Sam and I have been “car-fairing” for almost two months. She likes to name everything and that’s what she calls what we do. Because we don’t have sex. We don’t touch each other. We meet up at this same bar and do coke until we run out on out Fridays and Saturdays in my truck while our significant others forget we’re significant.
We mainly talk about insects. Just bugs, but I love the conversation I’m not getting at home. And we’re both fascinated by them. Last week Sam told me everything she knew about the Luna moth—the big green ones I sometimes find on my screen door that never seem to move. When they rise from their cocoon they live for only a week. They have no mouth and don’t eat. Essentially, they are only alive to mate.
“Could you imagine a life like that, Thomas? Never eating? Never speaking? Do they make sounds? How do they find a lover?”
I watch as Sam sits at a table on the other side of the club. She looks sad, lonely, and silent—like me. We make eye contact and she smiles. I feel the ground underneath moving. Her husband is laughing and teaching two women behind her how to play pool; correcting them about the proper to way to shoot. Sam told me once that’s how she met him.
My wife decided to get in shape about six months ago. Lose some weight. Every night after dinner around seven Tracy went jogging. Thirty minute runs. Sometimes an hour. At first I admired the effort, and encouraged her.
“You should come run with me, Thomas. Get rid of that belly.”
I wanted to. I did. But work found its way back home with me, night after night, and after eating I was forced in front of the computer. I got so caught up finishing that I wouldn’t even hear her return. I blamed everything on my job, though I knew it was more than that. I’d become thick and heavy since our wedding four years ago.
“You don’t pay any attention to me. Always working; always in front of that damn screen; just sitting there getting bigger. It’s unhealthy.”
The words attention and bigger stung as if they were angry hornets tearing into my flesh. I’d felt the same way for a while too, like she’d forgotten me. And I knew I was overweight. I couldn’t fit into half of my shirts anymore. I felt if I could just lose a couple pounds, she might remember me like she used to. She might really talk to me, and know I was there. I’d do anything for that.
At work I began taking the stairs, thought the added steps might help shed some extra skin. I also asked a co-worker who shared a cubicle with me about how he’d lost so much, and so fast. He told me he was using an older South American diet, so I began trying that too.
But most importantly, I decided to give Tracy all the attention I could.
I first noticed she would stay gone longer than the usual hour run. I praised her for increasing her endurance. Tracy smiled and said nothing. I watched her undress and saw how skinny she had metamorphosed. The sight of her made me feel even more bloated. I started parking farther away at work—more walking, more exercise.
She’d leave the house at random times, sometimes not till nine when the street lights came on. Our neighborhood wasn’t known to be dangerous, but still, I worried. I mentioned bringing mace with her once and she just laughed.
I came home from work earlier than normal one afternoon and she wasn’t there. The Fitbit I’d bought for her to help keep track of her runs was still on the charger, blinking. She was never without the device so I decided to use the opportunity and find out how many miles she’d ran. I wanted to buy her that many flowers; surprise her; celebrate her hard work.
I discovered she wasn’t running very far. Maybe four or five blocks a night, if that. In a couple months she had ran a total of one mile. One.
When she came home I had her favorite dinner ready. A single rose stood in the middle of the table.
While eating I asked about her day, what she had done, had anything exciting happened?
“Oh, nothing,” she said. “Same old, same old.”
I’d already finished my plate and was reaching for seconds, and she’d only eaten half. I stopped myself and put my fork down. I asked her what was wrong, was the food okay? She only grinned, and went to the bedroom to put on one of her running outfits. I felt fat.
I waited a minute after she took off for her run. Then I followed her.
Sam is sitting outside the grocery store on a coin operated toy-ride that resembles an exaggerated dragonfly. The front end has a face with huge eyes; one slightly covered by a piece of paper that someone has written in permanent marker—out-of-order.
She jogs to my truck, opens the door, and climbs inside.
Why tonight, I ask, it’s only Wednesday?
Sam instead replies, “Oh my God, Thomas. The Voodoo wasp. You’ve got to look it up—turns caterpillars into zombies . . . is that not the greatest? Eats their brains! Please tell you me you can top that?”
I shift into first and we take off. I’ve been too busy to look up insects. And I don’t see her car in the parking lot.
“I walked up here; I had to get away. I just can’t handle him tonight without any.” She lights a cigarette without rolling the window down. There are bruises on her inner arm. Light yellow with a circular brown border, coffee-colored and matching her wavy hair. “And,” she asks, watching the street lights pass by as we drive, “did you get any?”
Of course I did, anything for you I want to say, but don’t. I lower her window with a button on my side, just enough for the smoke to rush out. I reach into my pocket for the cocaine and toss the baggie over. Pieces of grass come out as well.
“That’s all? We’re going to need more than that.”
I’m not doing anymore, ever, I tell her. I can’t. I’m sorry.
“And the weekends? I can’t do them alone, Thomas.”
I’ll still be there, I promise her.
I drive her to the house where I buy the coke. So she can get it herself, I say, but she’s not happy. Sam doesn’t smile when she meets the guy, or when he promises her he’ll give her the same deal he gives me.
Driving back to the grocery store Sam is silent. I think about how we met. I was walking outside to my truck to get some fresh air, while my wife danced inside the bar with strangers. Sam was bent over near the dumpster, vomiting. Another drunk barfing in the parking lot. I decided to keep walking. I had my own problems. But then she dropped to one knee, struggling to stand up. Left hand was high above her head sticking to the side of the trash bin, and she wore a tight green dress; she looked like an injured praying mantis. I felt sorry for her. I stopped and asked if she was okay, did she need anything? She said she only wanted to be happy. And not drunk.
I told her I had something to sober her up, and she came to my truck that first time.
I park at the grocery store and turn off the engine. She lights another cig and doesn’t move to get out. A couple of kids are playing around the broken-down dragonfly. They dangle from its pink, dilapidated wings. Where are their parents, I ask first; then about her arm, about the bruises?
“Tied me up. He likes it rough, okay?” She pauses for a minute, waiting for reaction. When I don’t respond, she adds, “I do too. And this,” she says, holding the baggie. “This makes me numb.”
Finally again, she smiles. I can almost see the earth shaking through the dirty windshield as she gets out of the truck and starts walking. She begins twirling around in the parking lot, aimlessly as if a dancer without a floor. Bathed in the yellow tint of my headlights, she laughs into the starless city night.
Security lights flickered on as I followed my wife, staying far enough behind so that Tracy couldn’t hear me. She took long quick strides and kept a steady rhythm, and by the third block I was breathing hard. I was out of shape even though I’d been taking the stairs at work every day. I weaved in and out of parked cars, and remained out of sight. I watched as she turned right at the stop sign and kept advancing.
I moved as fast as I could, trying to keep up. She was fast. As I neared where she had veered right, I arrived just in time to see her take Allocosa Street at the next block. I hadn’t been down the road but once, as it eventually ended in a dead end. None of the houses in this area looked familiar, and we didn’t know anyone who lived in the addition.
I kept running until halfway down the block I succumbed with exhaustion and had to walk. I thought about what I would do if I did catch her with another man. Would I be in a condition to do anything really, as out of breath as I was? My legs were burning, and heavy like stones. I could barely lift them. My heart was pounding.
There were only two houses in the dead end of Allocosa, big and facing each other. They looked almost identical; both with massive glass windows in the front and lights on inside. I chose the left one, because of distance, and movement inside.
From outside on the street, I watched as my wife laughed and sipped from a plastic bottle of water inside the front room. I couldn’t see who she was laughing for. I snuck up the driveway, anger building, and hid behind one of the dark green bushes that littered the yard. As I moved into position, I could see the man she was talking to. I also saw his lover, for they had to be. The man was holding hands with another man, radiating unyielding attention for him.
I watched as the first man took my wife’s wrists, removed the Fitbit, and danced with her. Tracy moved with the elegance of a springtime butterfly, bright and pink in her running outfit, twirling around in circles. They continued until the music faded, and the other man adjusted the radio to start another song. They danced for an hour, gliding around and stopping here and there for her partner to explain different moves; to correct her. She looked the happiest I’d ever seen her. I loved watching her dance, and never took my eyes off her.
I pushed as far back into the bush as I could so that she wouldn’t see me as she took off to jog home. I waited until she disappeared down the street and then crawled out. The baggie of cocaine I’d forgotten about fell out of my pocket, and I could feel my heart still racing from the previous run.
For a moment I thought about leaving the stuff there, lost forever behind the dance instructor’s thick shrubs. I hadn’t lost as much weight as my friend from work had promised, and I felt sick and guilty. I knew I had to tell Sam I was done. I grabbed the bag along with a handful of grass, and forced it inside my pocket until I would see her again.
Friday night, and I’m standing in the bar near the back, waiting for the right moment. The building is packed as usual, and the heat from the dancers on the floor hits me in waves of warm breeze. I watch my wife dance with a stranger in a cowboy hat, sweat dripping from her forehead, concentrating on only the music and the rhythm of her partner. She moves with perfect, steady grace.
Sam stands close by with her husband. They’re on their way out, but I know she wants to watch my wife, too. She doesn’t acknowledge me, or say hello, and that’s okay. I nod to her anyway. Sam has one of the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen, and I can feel the earth below me shaking from the loud music. The prettier waitress on this side of the bar taps on my shoulder, and asks if I want a beer. I shake my head no. As she turns to walk away, I notice a Luna moth on the back of her shirt. They have no mouths, never eat, and discover love in silence.
When the fast song ends and a slow one begins, I meet my wife on the salty wooden dance floor, and grab her hands. I pull her small, tight frame to mine, and I can feel her against my large stomach. She looks surprised, but doesn’t say anything. We take steps in slow circles to the music, and I feel her palms locked tightly around my edges, holding me with undivided attention.
Kevin Phillips lives in Choctaw, Oklahoma and attends Oklahoma State University where he is seeking a MFA in Fiction. When he isn't writing, he works as a bartender and plays guitar for two bands: One country and one heavy metal. He is addicted to rare, beautiful words and spends most of his free time lost in books of poetry wishing he could write them, or fishing Thunderbird Lake wishing he could catch something.