Readings — From the December 1989 issue

Diary of an Ex

Her voice is flat and coolly distant, so I imagine things aren’t over between us.

F. said he ran into his former wife in the street, in New York, and they talked. They talked as if neither of them knew how to say nice to see you, I’m expected somewhere, good-bye, good-bye. They went to a restaurant and ate and talked some more, and they went to her apartment, and they made love. Then she said, “So why did we get divorced?” F. smiled at me and shrugged and said, “See?” as if he were an idiot of circumstances, schlepped into confusion and pain by his cock. “You know how long I was divorced before I remarried?” he asked. “Not three days,” he said. I was sad for him and for her. Also for me and her, and her, and her. The feeling widened like circles about a leaf fallen onto the surface of a pond.

Whatever was wrong was wrong from the instant we met, but like kids with big eyes we plunged into eating. Later she said, “I knew it instinctively. I could feel it was wrong.” Even then she reached me, her voice speaking–beyond the words–of her. I must have the heart of a dog. I live beneath meaning.

The distance between us is neither long nor short, merely imperishable, like the sentiment in an old song.

J. invited his former wife and her lover, a nice guy with two kids, over to his place for dinner. He cooked a turkey and prepared a garden salad and built a fire, and they sat watching it after dinner, chatting, sipping cognac. His wife and her lover stayed the night. J.’s house is big, lots of extra rooms. He says they talked for hours, but something was wrong. He keeps thinking about it. “I don’t know,” he says. “Something was wrong.” I laugh. He laughs, too, but I can tell he doesn’t quite know what’s funny.

Afterward, she tells me she once made love in this bed and it collapsed on her cat, who was asleep underneath, and broke its back. Since then, she says, sex hasn’t been the same for her. Then she jumps out of bed and goes to the sink, grabs a knife, and looks at me with a weird smile, her teeth gleaming, chilly as the steel, welcoming me to the wilderness.

Alone you hear yourself chewing and swallowing. You sound like an animal. With company everyone eats, talk obscures the noises in your head, and nobody looks at what you’re doing with your mouth or listens to it. In this high blindness and deafness lives freedom. Would I think so if I hadn’t left her? I eat standing over the sink.

I went to the supermarket and bought lettuce, bread, eggs, milk, and much else, and carried the sacks out and loaded them into the trunk of the car, and drove to the apartment and cooked dinner and ate, and then did paperwork, writing checks for the monthly bills, and then addressed envelopes and put stamps on them, and then I read until about midnight when the phone rang, but I wouldn’t answer it, I knew who it was. I wanted no enchantments. I wanted to wash the dishes. I washed the dishes and put them away, and then I scrubbed the sink until it was completely free of stains and no duty remained, and it was left only to go to bed, masturbate, sleep.

Driving to work I brush my teeth because I am invisible. I locked myself out of my office and
my car because I don’t exist.
I lost my checkbook and sunglasses because there is nobody who needs them.
I forgot my appointment because nobody wanted to meet me.

We study criminals as if they rob, murder, and rape out of some need to be understood. I also wanted to be understood in my worst.

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More from Leonard Michaels:

Readings From the December 1992 issue

After a Fight

Readings From the December 1987 issue

Literary Talk

Readings From the March 1987 issue

Jealousy

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