Walter is about to embark on another business trip. They come up with a certain regularity and he’s been talking of quitting and finding a job that keeps him closer to home. How important is soap anyway has become his mantra.
This morning he wakes up fretful, looking sweaty around his jawline. Several times he punches the pillow.
“What’s the matter?” I stroke his arm.
“Ellen, you know how much I hate leaving you.” And his large brown eyes brim with liquid that never quite spills over due to the excessive thickness of his bottom lids. It’s a condition. The technical term escapes me.
“Well, it is your job,” I say using my soothing schoolmarm voice.
With that, he pushes the covers off and jumps out of bed. Standing in our spacious blue bedroom he’s looking appallingly bad. Rumpled pajamas. Brown hair shooting in every direction. Wild, wet eyes that seem to be surveying the perimeters.
I try cracking a joke. “No terrorists here. The metal detectors are all in working order.”
He seems to be ringing his hands though they hang at his sides rather uselessly.
“Look,” he says. “You’re a gorgeous woman. Men stare when you walk down the street.”
“Oh, don’t be silly.”
“I have seen this happen every day of our marriage.”
I slip out of bed to come beside him. A smell I can only describe as a tamped down fire envelopes him. Surreptitiously, I try sniffing his breath by raising on my tiptoes but he’s too tall. The morning is looking lovely. “Try to be happy,” I tell him. Sunshine pours through sheer curtains and pools across the dark furniture. I stare at a slice of sun on the powder-blue carpet.
“There’s only one thing to be done.” He rushes toward our California closet, saying, “this has been put off for way too long.” Then he flings open the left louvered panel door, his designated side, and reaches toward a high shelf. I watch him take down a white box with large, scrolled black lettering. He kneels on the carpet and pulls the top off. “I bought this for you.”
“For me? What is it?”
He holds up what appears to be a type of old-fashioned corset, something a woman might wear in the 1800’s. “Come here, Ellen.”
I walk toward him with trepidation. He lifts my nightgown and buries his face in my belly. “I don’t feel like having sex this morning,” I tell him backing away.
“Good,” he says. “Because there isn’t time. I have to catch a noon flight. Goddamned soap!” And with that he wraps the corset thing around me so fast it’s like he took a course in corset wrapping.
“Ouch! This thing is horrible, get it off me! Get it off!” I struggle to wrench free from his grasp but Walter’s large hands are quick and deft, pulling strings, tightening. I scream again. “What the hell are you doing?”
All he says is, “Hush.”
“Get me out of this thing, Walter, or I’ll kill you. I will. I’ll get a knife and slit your throat.” Now I’m crying because in twelve years of marriage I’ve never threatened my husband with anything more violent than a rolled up newspaper.
He tries to kiss my breasts but I smack his face hard. He looks startled, but only for a second.
“When I come back I’ll release you.” He stands up saying, “I’ll unlock your chastity hidden behind this belt and once again your beautiful body will reveal itself. Only to me.”
Susan Tepper is the author of 8 books fiction and poetry. She loves Oddball and all things odd, and had been published many times in this delightful zine.
Edward S. Gault is a poet and fine art photographer. He lives at Mosaic Commons, a co-housing community in Berlin, Ma. He has a wife Karen, and daughter.