Two months into our relationship, Lenny and I had our first fight. We had had tensions before, little zaps of static from the current running between us, misunderstandings that could be brushed away with a feather duster. Child’s play. The fight on that Saturday in February was a fight for the ages. Hackles rose, teeth were bared, first blood was drawn and from there it was a full-blown brawl.
The previous day I had been at Fiona’s for a girls’ night. It was more of a sleepover for our kids since motherhood had taught us the art of hitting two birds with one stone. We had taken over the living room with nail polish, feet scrubbers, and good old women’s gab. Fiona’s husband was in another room playing video games with the boys but that didn’t stop us from cackling like old geese. He was one of those quiet, laid back types and he seemed to have accepted his fate with a boisterous wife, if not chosen it.
Fiona had asked how it was going with Alan and I was telling her that it had gone as expected. The first month’s child support cheque had gone through, but the second one had bounced. He had assured me that he’d take it up with the bank and I had rolled my eyes. Again with the stories.
“What’s there to take up with the bank? Si you just deposit the cash?” I’d said.
He’d taken offense at that. Getting hot under the collar when confronted with the truth was a specialty of his. To his credit, he’d made a good weekend dad so far. He’d shown up when it was his turn to spend time with Josh. He’d brought poker cards and showed him how to play Texas Hold ’em. I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of introducing Josh to gambling games so young but then we’d all played poker growing up and hadn’t turned out to be compulsive gamblers. It was one of the games Alan and I had spent hours playing back in the day when dating was hanging out with cheap liquor and riddims playing on a woofer in the background. So I insisted that we not play for money and left it at that.
At that time, Alan took to sprawling in the living room, claiming it as his territory. He left his musk fragrance all over my couches, the same he’d worn all those years ago that he liked to think of as his signature. I shuddered to think that I had ever found it attractive. Could I not smell how attention-seeking it was? If that fragrance was a color, it would be magenta; flowery, and sweet but in an all-together dull way. The kind of scent that makes your stomach roil.
He put his chalky legs up on my table with his misshapen, hairy toes and burdened me with his needs. Sending me up and down in his gruff voice like he had rights in that house. But that wasn’t even the most disturbing part. It was the leering that made my skin crawl. The shameless crassness of it all. Any other man and I would’ve been flattered with the attention but Alan could ruin even that.
“Whenever I catch him, I think of how unrefined I must have been to fall for him and I just feel embarrassed for myself.”
Fiona guffawed at that. “Don’t worry hun. We’ve all punched under our weight at some point. Those are the perils of being a good girl when you’ve constantly been drilled about not being a gold-digger or social climber.”
“I know right?”
Fiona’s husband breezed through the kitchen to get another can of Pringles. “What are you guys talking about?”
“Nothing,” we both said.
“You’ve been talking about nothing for three hours?” he mused disappearing back into the hallway.
When he was out of earshot, we giggled.
“And how are things with Lenny?” she asked.
“Oh, you know…”
“No, I don’t know. Tell me.”
The matter of the safe had been taken care of. We bought it from a supermarket in a mall. It felt like we’d just gotten our first pet together, made just enough commitment – more than a toothbrush, but less than a baby. We were so giddy that no one could’ve guessed we were going to put a gun in it. A diamond ring or maybe the deed to our first house, sure. I had armed myself with knowledge about storing guns in the home, how to keep the ammunition in a separate place, and even perused the Firearms Act. Could I talk about this with Fiona? No. it wasn’t the type of thing you told anyone.
Among other confidences I couldn’t break was Lenny’s confession that he couldn’t sire children. I wasn’t sure at all that I was ready to close up shop and I badly wanted to talk through it with someone. As it turned out, I didn’t have to break any confidence. Fiona, despite being my childhood friend, had other friends of her own. Some of them, like Janet and Mike, she had acquired from her husband’s circle. Couple friends. Friends you are forced to acquire to reflect your new status as a married woman. Another one of those couples was Lenny and Angie. Fiona had known that they had been trying for a baby. She had tried to warn me the day I met him at her son’s birthday party that things were complicated with him. Short of spelling it out for me, I could never have guessed what she meant.
“So he told you everything?” Fiona asked.
“Yeah,” I said confidently. “That’s a good sign, no?”
“I suppose. But tell me this though,” she said running her finger across her smooth chin. “You’re okay with how it all went down? You’re not alarmed at all?”
“Alarmed by what exactly?”
“Well, you know…how they get carjacked and he manages to escape, even though he says he was bundled out of a moving car. But his wife is found dead soon after she confesses that she’s pregnant by someone else? And you know he’d got the gun just a month earlier -”
“Hold up. He what?”
“Yeah. I always wondered if it was just a coincidence. Coz you know they never caught the guys?”
As far as I’d known it had all been a terrible happenstance. I certainly didn’t know anything about his wife being pregnant and by another man? Who? What other man? And the gun? Lenny conveniently left out the fact that he’d owned the gun before the carjacking. Here I was thinking that we were making strides. That he was letting me onto the unexplored reaches of his island. Then this? I allowed him into my home. I let him come around my son and he was still hedging? Still, crafting loops for me to jump through? Mmh Mmh.
That was where it all began. The air was so dry that day that I had a nosebleed. The heat hanged oppressively in the house and no amount of iced coffee could quench my thirst. I was hot and wired, and Lenny was on his fourth maybe fifth energy drink. In hindsight, I see how we set ourselves up.
I broached the subject calmly. When the urge to clap in his face started tingling in my phalanges I clenched my fists into balls and bit my lower lip. But you know how it is. A woman’s temper is like a good car; it can go from 0 to 60 in under three seconds.
“You led me to believe that you bought the gun because you were carjacked. That it was a safety thing.”
“It is for safety, but I never specifically said that.”
“Well if we’re talking specifics, you said if you’d had a gun that night –”
“I said if I’d had my gun that night.”
“That’s not how I remember it.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. And what does it matter anyway? This was before we met. Why are you digging up old dirt?”
“What does it matter? What does it – Mmh Mmh.” I pressed my fist to the middle of my forehead, trying to quiet the spirits threatening to overrun my sanity. “Why did you buy the gun? Huh? Tell me. Tell me. And tell me it had nothing to do with your wife betraying you.”
I knew I was poking the coals of his composure like a fire iron, blowing oxygen into them. He was on the brink of roaring like a well-aerated fire and I welcomed it. In truth, I had been longing for that outpouring. I had always been something of a wild card and I couldn’t bear to be with someone who didn’t ignite me.
“Fine!” he said. Ah. There it is. “I didn’t tell you the whole story because first of all, you are too uptight! I can’t do anything without you hitting the roof. You’re impossible! And secondly, I told you as much as I could and you’re making way too big a deal out of this.”
“My reaction is completely proportional to the magnitude of your lies!”
“I never lied.”
“You didn’t tell me everything. That’s a lie of omission!”
He pressed his palms to his temples. “See? You’re impossible! There’s no getting it right with you.”
“You don’t get to lie and then turn it around on me.”
“What do you want from me?”
“I want you to tell me everything! Tell me all the way! Tell me you seriously considered dropping someone on the pavement like a sack of bones. Tell me you wanted to smite them like the hand of God. Tell me you were blind with rage. That you had a plan you were going to follow through on but didn’t. Tell me that the rage is still knotted up inside you, ricocheting off the walls and you don’t know what to do with it. You don’t know where to take it and it hurts. And you’re tired. Tell me anything. But don’t tell me half-truths!”
I breathed hard, exhausted. Yes, that was what I wanted. He looked at me in astonishment, with a tinge of awe in it.
“You are asking for too much,” he said, but in the way that even he didn’t believe what he was saying.
If you can’t show a person your underside then what do you have? Nothing. And I hated having nothing. I wanted to dissect him like a frog in science class. I wanted to venture where no one had ever been before. That was my kind of love. The kind that burned hot, searing itself into his memory, changing him like the tribal markings of initiation. The kind that flowed like molten lava obscuring all paths so that no one who came afterward would ever find their way to his heart. I wanted my presence to be cosmic and biblical. A threshold that he crossed never to look back. I wanted the topography of his island to be defined by my arrival; before me and after me.
Maybe I was asking for too much. He was too afraid to risk vulnerability on that scale but I knew that anything less simply wouldn’t do. It wasn’t rewarding enough. I thought about him declaring that he’d gone to war for me, all macho, and felt cheated. How quickly men disappoint.
“I won’t take any less,” I said. He sighed.
“All right. Angie was pregnant, and it wasn’t mine. She wanted a baby so bad that I told her I wouldn’t keep her from it. It wasn’t what I wanted. And after six years she’d started begrudging me, started to see that the only obstacle between her and a baby was me. So I said okay. Do what you need to do. She was supposed to keep it discreet, but I suppose at that point it had become a kind of open secret. People are nosy like that.
Anyway one day this dude comes up to us at the mall. We are standing outside the movie theatre trying to choose a movie and he has this grin like we’re in some kind of conspiracy together. He’s in my face. He’s getting handsy with her in an overly familiar way and he’s making jokes about shooting blanks… It took me a while to piece it together, but I did. And I’ve never been so humiliated Em. I have never… I wanted to obliterate him. I wanted his blood on my knuckles. I wanted to hear the bones in his face cracking. I wanted to put a gun in his mouth and see if he still thought shooting blanks was funny. I wanted him to feel the cold metal on his teeth and tell me his jokes then.” An angry vein pulsed on his forehead. “I thought it all out and I was going to do it, to tell you the truth.”
“Then what happened?”
He let out a laugh bitter as ginger that shook his shoulders. “The gun wasn’t made of metal.”
“Yeah. All of that fantasizing and the gun wasn’t even made of metal. It’s made of polymer. Plastic.” He shook his head. “I realized that real life isn’t a John Wick movie so I gave the whole thing up altogether. Within a few weeks, I was putting my wife in the ground and that grinning fool didn’t even feature in my thoughts for months after that.”
“And the carjacking…?”
“Was one of many carjackings that go unsolved in this town.”
We found ourselves in a mandatory pit stop for all relationships. The place where you decide whether you’re going to raise the stakes or cut your losses. I believed him. I’d seen how he’d got when he thought we were being followed. And since he’d rolled his dice and decided to cleave to me, I doubled down.
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