Gone Lawn
a journal of literature
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Gone Lawn 16
Autumn, 2014

Featured painting, Old Dream Collector by Andrea Wan.

Featured Novel Excerpt
New Works

Susan Emshwiller

Something Broke

It started with the sound upstairs. The crash and tinkling of flying bits. His coffee cup? His french press again? No, something lighter. A glass?
From below, I hear his curses and then the sweeping over my head. Broom pushes moving shards of something.
But I don't get up. I'm not who I was. I don't need to find out and blame and then forgive. I can sit here and be fine.
Whatever broke. I'm fine.
No cup or glass of mine is that crucial. Nothing I can't live without.
I picture all my favorites. The teapot from those six dismal weeks in Eugene. The flea market teacup from France flown back wrapped in underwear. The delicate small vase I use as my end-of-day special glass. The one with the chip on the rim. No matter how I lift it, that chip part ends up at my lips.
Upstairs, the sweeping stops and the shards clatter into the trash. I'm curious, of course. Is it his bear coffee cup, (I know he'd miss that!) or one of the Target candle glasses?
But I'm fine. I don't need to look.
Whatever is broken, it's nothing important.

The morning slinks by. Time for a snack of string cheese and barley tea.
I go up.
He's in his room, so I'm safe to look. But I don't need to. That's childish and vindictive and controlling.
I look under the sink. The garbage is full of food clutter from the drain catches, fruit flies, and paper towels. Nothing broken.
I move to the recycling bin, which is not under the sink, which means I'm really totally one hundred percent doing this— going through garbage to FIND OUT SOMETHING.
The recycling bin is full of advertising circulars, Pennysavers, club soda cans, my wine bottle and shards of something. I pull up a piece. The chipped rim of my favorite glass. My special glass.
Remember, I think, you already imagined this being broken and it was processed and you are ok with being without this glass.
I remember.
I go downstairs again.
I wonder how he'll tell me.
"Honey, I broke your favorite..."
"I don't know if this was your favorite but..."
"I'm sorry, I broke..."

The late afternoon trickles by. He tells me he's going out for groceries. "Burgers for dinner?"
And I can't help myself.
"Have you seen my glass, the one I always use?"
"The vase with the cut designs. I always use it. I can't find it," I lie.
"Haven't seen it," he lies.
And I know I'm forcing the hand and he's not playing and after he leaves I say out loud to myself, "You shouldn't have." And I know that's true.
And the day steps toward dusk and he returns with dinner and I'm drinking from a DIFFERENT glass than usual and am somewhat aloof and waiting.
Just say you broke it, I think. I'm not your mother. I won't scream and have a tantrum.
And for once I don't get the mustard and ketchup out for him, although I can't help but toast the buns even though I don't eat them, because I do them better.
And he gets his own ketchup and mustard and even a plate for me - which feels nice and might be a message only I'm eating my burger as a salad and that's why I'm cutting the arugula and iceberg in TINY - TINY - SCRAPS in a BOWL, so he should have noticed and saved the plate.
Halfway through his burger he asks, "Find that glass?"
And I play along saying I haven't and that I even looked in the yard.
And he says how he lost his favorite glass a while back but found it later.
And I nod pretending that might happen.
And dinner passes with the swamp cooler hardly making a dent in the heat because of the humidity.
And after dinner we're both asking "Are you ok?" and "Do you want to talk?" and "It's just the damn heat that's getting us both cranky." And he puts everything away in the fridge but my arugula and blue cheese and iceberg which is okay because they're mine, but he doesn't put away the uncooked leftover hamburger. I allow that maybe he thought I might want more but we already said we were full and that it's hard to eat in this heat and so I get up to put away OUR hamburger meat and something pricks my foot.
I'm barefoot and hopping OW OW and he's asking WHAT? and I know what without looking but I sit and the clear shard of glass is in my heel and I, who am always so annoyingly self-reliant, say, "get it out." And he goes off and, unlike usual, I don't fix it before he gets back. I wait and he arrives with a toenail clipper and I remind him we have tweezers and I know it sounds bad the second I say it but I can't help it. And he pulls the shard out with the clippers and asks, "OK?"
"It hurts," I answer, just to be mean.
And he leaves to put the WRONG TOOL away and I get up hobbling some and start sweeping the kitchen so he'll know I'm STILL WORRIED ABOUT GLASS.
And I know this isn't the best way to deal with things.
And I know he knows that as well.
And he comes back and ask what was in my foot and I say it looked like glass.
And he passes by my broom and dustpan and takes the recycling can out. Takes the evidence out. And the front door slams and I hear tinkling of glass as it falls in the bin outside.
And I know I'm wrong to pretend I don't know and I know he's wrong to pretend he doesn't know and how will we get out of this mess? But I don't say anything. And he doesn't say anything.
And then he's back from the driveway garbage cans and we're talking about the heat and the family and something in the news and all the while it's really about broken glass.
And after a while one of us asks if the other one wants to watch a movie on TV and the other one does so we set it up, closing the curtains, making beds for the dogs, and settling in to stare at the flickering screen.
And we both pet the dogs and say "There, there," and stare hard at the blue unfolding action, trying to forget about the shards.

And that's the end of the short story.
I write it all out and hand it to him.
"A short story," I say. "It's not all totally true. It's for effect. Fiction, you know? Don't get mad."
I go to the living room while he reads at the kitchen table and he coughs twice then calls me in.
"Fiction, huh?"
"Yep. Well, really only the part about watching TV. I added that to make it more of a story. Like the broken glass is a metaphor for the entire marriage. One of those bleak short short endings."
After that, he says he doesn't know why he lied and I say the same and then I get a tingle and tell him so and we go in and change the draft pattern of the swamp cooler and it doesn't do a bit of good because we end up slippery and sticky and smiling and he can't keep it up and I can't come but we kiss like way back when and decide not to end on a bleak short story note.
Someone else can write the bleak stories.
Right now he's out back in his skivvies, checking if our dogs have got skunked and I'm revising this story to say Yes instead of No.

Susan Emshwiller is a screenwriter, (co-writer of the film Pollock) playwright, and filmmaker. Recent/forthcoming publications include "Dining Alone on Valentine's Day" in Furious Gazelle, "Music Theory" in Independent Ink Magazine, "Dominoes" at Dramatists Play Service, and "Defrosting Popsicles" at Playscripts.