The way we used to be was simple. We tiptoed light as swash about the house-the air between us humid with all the things left unsaid. You took your pills. Once you told me the brain generates enough electrical impulses to light up a bulb. I am not sure about that but when we kissed each other with hungry gaping mouths, my heart beat hard and fast. We traded our stories like currency, howling in sympathy at the absurdity of life. You read the paper and muttered about the stock market. I worked the crossword puzzle and looked up how to spell words like ‘latibulate’.
But one day, you say ‘this isn’t working out.’ What? The marriage? I don’t want you to leave down the front steps. I would like for you to go through the crawl space first so you can emerge halting and hesitant, covered in cobwebs and all the filth of daily life I will have to live on my own. I remind you to pack the cerulean pills that increase serotonin to your brain. You look at me oddly as you throw them into your bag. Later I get a text that says I am ok. We can talk if you want.
You have left me something on the kitchen counter. Under a note that says ‘for you to keep. XO J’ is a tattered brown box. Inside are your salt shakers. Not salt and pepper shakers. Salt shakers. You hate peppers of any sort and especially black pepper. Once I asked you why. You said ‘capsaicin of any kind tricks your brain. It makes it feel like your whole mouth is on fire.’ It’s why you hate the medicine. You don’t want your brain to feel offended that it couldn’t fire neurons fast enough. You are a realist, a purist, a brackish snob of sorts. You once told me that salt mines preceded coal mines. Salt has an ancient, piquant story that I don’t care about but I do happen to know that pepper contains piperine and not capsaicin.
We have thirty salt shakers- one for each year of our marriage. Why do we collect things anyway? Nostalgia? Consumerism? There is a psychology behind collecting. Freud would say it has to do with overly harsh potty training as a child. I call bull shit on that. Why do we insist on revealing our dark, weird sides to others when we could just cozy away and live a tender sort of chaos for the rest of our lives?
The therapist says we make love to ignore our issues. We are straight up drinking from a tap that is full of mildew. Dirty mouths. Hungry gaping mouths. Greedy, always greedy for more. Weight on each other. Weight against each other. I grow silent and turn inward when I am angry, you grow loud and angry so you don’t get sad. Did we gaslight each other? I don’t even know anymore. The pictures of our first home-the babies we never brought there. The brass tags for the dog we didn’t want but who we loved for 10 years. Cherry ChapStick for your cracked lips. Artificial tears for my parched eyes. Paid receipts from the weeks of your inpatient treatments. A wreath made of wine corks from the years I drank too much and called it self care. Peppermints for your dry mouth. Gum to keep my mouth silent. We have been saying a long goodbye for thirty years and never knew it. All the junk we stuffed away for another day, the things left unsaid at the kitchen counter, discarded pieces of a life-evidence we were here.
You like the newspaper because black and white text takes up space and gives rhythm to a day. If you realized you were being tricked by news but not the truth, you never acted outraged over it. You once cut out an article about salt mines. You posted it on the fridge and said ‘did you know there is a 400 million year old ocean beneath West Virginia?’ I didn’t know but I didn’t say so or ask any further questions.
I like crossword puzzles. Wordplay is tricky and messy. You have to know culture and appreciate nuance. You could take a whole week to stew on a puzzle if you don’t cheat. This clue took me two days to figure out: ‘what is a metaphor for a tricky problem. Four across.’ The answer, by the way, is ‘knot.’ You have to know where you're going to know how to get there. One inky mistake and you have ruined the whole page.One bite and your whole mouth is on fire.
About the auhtor
Kara M. Angus is a writer living in West Virginia with her husband and four children. She enjoys reading, running, gardening, and volunteering at a local non profit.
Did you enjoy the story? Would you like to shout us a coffee? Half of what you pay goes to the writers and half towards supporting the project (web site maintenance, preparing the next Best of book etc.)