SOUNDS FROM A MARRIAGE
What he hated most was the sound of her chewing. The clicking of the jaw unhinged by a gymnastics accident, counting the mashing of the molars like a tambourine. Then the crinkling. Plastic was bad for the environment but worse for his ears. Her hand sticking into the bag, reaching for the bottom with wet fingers, ponytail dusting the wall, all that snacking noisily canceling out his noise canceling headphones. His ears were ringing. He was constipated.
"All she's good for is snacking," he thought. They had married that past spring. The thank you cards were on the kitchen table. "Sitting on the couch and eating snacks, one after another. Snack, snack, snack. 'Just a little one,' she says, and then downs the bag."
The cupboard had a snack shelf, second from the top, below breakfast. His idea. There were corn chips, Taki sticks, crackers for the hummus in the fridge, veggie straws—"They're healthy," she had said—mango slices, almonds, mixed nuts, and one fourth of a jar of peanut butter. He knew the sounds the snacks made, the way they poured, the way they chewed, the particular sound of the bag as it was rolled and clipped. He winced as she cracked the first veggie straw. Like a zit on his lip he couldn't ignore her.
No, he reconsidered, the issue wasn't snacks. All her noises were the issue. She was train whistles, kettles, fire alarms, and cats in heat all at once. Even the way she flipped light switches annoyed him, a kind of careless slap that exploded. (And she never turned the lights off. )
"Are you mad at me or something?"
"No, I'm not mad at you."
"Are you mad because you can't go?"
"I'm mad in a cosmic sense."
"If I could give you some of my poop power I would."
She farted like a trombone tunes. G flat. C sharp. A minor. He was silent, an old man before his time letting out the dust that soon would take him. She was all cartoon. He was all Rembrandt. Somehow they shared a bathroom.
Had he tried the prunes, she asked? Yes, he exclaimed, and the almonds and the kombucha and the stool softener and plenty of water and hot tea after a meal and the milk of magnesia was locked and loaded if the need persisted. He poured a shot of vodka. A Polish folk remedy. The vodka was room temperature warm, and he gagged as she broke the seal on the hummus.
He doesn't get out of bed until he hears her close the latch, taking with her the sneezing, nose blowing, knuckles cracking, all those sounds of the body’s—sometimes slow, sometimes fast—sagging decay. Then the sounds in the apartment were supposed to be his own. But when it wasn't her it was the crying of their cats, or the landscapers mowing the same stretch of lawn beneath his window. They had left the city for the country but the noises had never been louder.
"Want to hear something gross?" she asked. "If you shave Miles, he has translucent skin. If you stretch his skin you can see the organs underneath." She pet the cat, tumbleweeds of albino hair floated above the kitchen table.
"I'm eating." He nibbled.
It was 9pm, the next day. The floor creaked as she leaned in to pull out the pale blue crate and sift that night's pickings. He was trying to read Bartheleme, “The world in the evening seems fraught with the absence of promise, if you are a married man.” The cabinet door needed WD-40. His stomach punched his belly. He was certainly dying. She would find him half buried in his own bowels before bed. Let the aneurysm baking in his brain kill him now, please. The bag crinkled. There was a knock on the door: Amazon.
"What's in the package?"
"Let me see your finger. Your hands are all ashy." The silicon ring was coated silver. "Look, it fits."
"It feels weird."
"At least it's not metal."
The odd thing was that the sounds only annoyed him when he couldn't see her: when she was all sound. As soon as they were together his trauma fizzled because the sounds matched a sounder—were no longer something but someone.
They got into bed, facing each other as they always did. She slept on the right, he on the left, closest to the door. On his finger, the ring was snug.
"I love you."
"Love you too."
“Sweet dreams.” They kissed.
The next morning, he was finally able to go.
Sean M.F. Sullivan writes from Colorado. His fiction has appeared in the North Dakota Quarterly, Horror Sleaze Trash, and Maudlin Press, and is forthcoming in Expat Press and Bear Creek Gazette and Terror House Press and A Thin Slice of Anxiety. His website is seanmfsullivan.com and he can be found on Twitter @seanmfsullivan.