The Dinner Was Lovely by Adam Rodenberger

My wife – I don’t know what she wants from me. She sits in her usual spot wearing a new dress. I know it’s new, but I play along the way I always do. The bank called earlier in the day about suspicious activity on my credit card. ‘I don’t shop at Saks 5th Avenue,’ I tell the woman on the phone. She asks if I’d like to cancel my card. ‘No,’ I say. ‘I’m married to the thief.’

It’s a nice dress, however. Perfect for a funeral.

I let my hunger come to the forefront of concerns, but tonight’s dinner is a prime example of why she shouldn’t cook. More jerky than chicken, it the subtle hint of fouled meat and half the pepper shaker. It’s taken me several fingers of scotch to drown the taste and I am finally feeling my taste buds return to normal.

I get up from the dinner table, add ice to my tumbler and pour another drink. I view it more as a sedative than a sin to be enjoyed. I have been suffocating in my dreams lately, gulping air quickly as soon as I wake. My therapist says it is a subconscious metaphor for something else that may or may not be going on in my life. I tell him that if he is going to state the obvious every time I come to visit, perhaps I should just self-medicate as he already knows everything about my life. She and I see the same therapist, but never together, never at the same time. We never speak about our sessions with each other. He advises against it, but the warning is unnecessary as it assumes we even talk to each other.

*

My husband drinks his bourbon like a man-giant. He sits across from me at the far end of the table and won’t finish the meal I’ve prepared for the two of us. The clink-clink of his ring taps his glass, sings in chorus with the ice cubes drowning in his drink. “So you won’t?” I ask.

“No.”

Clink-clink.

A sip. He runs his finger along the rim of the glass and licks his lips. He hasn’t licked mine since Christmas, and even then as if I were a chore.

Clink-clink.

No sip this time, only the twinkling dirge of an empty glass and a thirst for more. “Did you go today? How was it?”

“Where?”

“To your mother’s. You said last night that you had to go over there for something or other. Is she well?”

“Yes and yes.” He is irritated by the questions and stands slowly, carrying the now empty glass to the counter. ‘Weakness is a weakness,’ his father would say. ‘Never show it if you have it.’ I used to call them heathens behind their backs while laughing behind an unsmiling face, watching them out-man each other until testosterone Pollacked the rooms of the house.

Clink-clink.

The ice freefalls into the glass, bounces around the edge and seems to sing. A part of the house groans and creaks as I straighten the napkin across my lap, brushing out the wrinkles and smoothing it out against the hem of my skirt.

Clink-thud.

*

She tosses witless banter my way across the long table, faux smile stretching in a strange, Cheshire way towards either ear. It is the smile she uses when we are having an argument (a “disagreement” she calls them) in front of mutual friends, the one that cannot be misinterpreted as meaning ‘I’m having a great time right now,’ the one that seems to be preventing the constant quiet in this house from deafening us both. It is the same one she gives me as she takes my plate away from the table, but changes into something more reptilian as she leaves the dining room. While brief, the thought of poisoned food crosses my mind and I brush it aside while slurping the scotch like an antidote. Damn this woman.

Her small talk is miniscule, both in content and context (which I am thankful for), but she is always around, a parasite with no real purpose other than to just be. The few times we have actually talked over the last year have devolved us into fuming statues, locking up a marriage that is already banging on the walls, hoping to be heard and released by some good Samaritan.

*

He returns to the table with woozy balance. His drink sloshes up along the rim of the glass, spilling acrobatic drops onto the tablecloth. He picks his napkin up from the chair and limp-wrists it onto the table before sitting. “New dress?” he asks, not looking at me. He is smug, sardonic without meaning to be. The first sip curls his lip into a drinker’s sneer. It is ugly and appropriate. The glass sweats in his hand, as if afraid of being held too tightly.

“No. I’ve had this since the fall,” I say, lying. He nods and swallows, throat bobbing up and down. It is vulgar and natural and I still find myself compelled to dress up for him, to try and impress him. It is a black dress, tight around the hips and waist with a low-cut top and barely covers my thighs. Any other man would have wanted to skip dinner and have me for dessert, and yet still I try to please.

The smell of the steak lingers. It was not a good meal, but we forced it down anyway out of decorum. It was an intentionally botched recipe. I wanted to be the main course: silver-plattered and served with honey-glazed ass perked high, a red apple gag to keep me silent while being fed to the hungry.

I genuinely toyed with the idea of a naked me on the table, but he would’ve taken the apple and left me to get cold. No poking, no prodding, no carving of the thigh meat to be devoured. I am still marinating in my own juices.

Clink-clink. Clink-clink.

“Do you have plans this weekend?” I ask, catching him mid-gulp. Over the rim of the glass, he rolls his eyes towards me and chugs. A rivulet of liquor slides below his lips and down his chin. He wipes his mouth with the back of his suit jacket. He is slipping into caveman politics now and I stop myself from smiling as I know he won’t be awake much longer.

“It’s only Monday.”

Clink-clink.

I run my tongue along my teeth; I can taste the disappointing meal coating my mouth and silently apologize to every tooth. “I know,” I say calmly. “But that doesn’t mean you can’t already have made plans.”

He says nothing and swirls the liquor around. I get up to clear off the table, taking my time to bend over slow and deliberate when I grab his plate. I feel my skirt slip up my thigh as the faint smell of cologne along his collar cuts through the scent of lingering food. It is not his, it smells wrong on him. Too sweet.

I inhale slowly, imagining for a moment tropical forests bisected with tiny rivers that lead to hidden, shadowy lagoons and horny, selfless natives. He turns his head to look at me and kills the fantasy. His look is a flat nothing, a blank ambivalence. I am the unnamed server at a restaurant that he won’t bother to tip. He is beyond drunk, but how does one stop a falling comet?

Clink-clink.

*

One night we fought over the prospect of having a child, but I couldn’t bear it and left as soon as our voices became a cadence weapon for the neighborhood to hear. I never wanted children, even when she and I first started dating, and I rarely change my mind. I had to remind her about the first time I saw her interact with a child. He was four and she was 35…for the third time.

The child (Roger, if I remember correctly) was spoiled and over-aggressive, but one could almost smell the distaste pouring out of her. He wouldn’t stop yelling nonsense at her. He acted the way a four year old would, I suppose, but she bit her bottom lip in confusion and raised her hands in defeat as she knew of no calming method, having never been trained in the art of domination. She burned her cashmere gloves when we arrived home even though they’d only touched the child once during their introduction to each other.

We are truly a mess made in heaven.

Of course I’m the one that the gossip wives cluck their tongues at as I come home from work while she does…whatever it is she does during the day. I offered to pay for cooking classes and yoga classes and quilting classes; anything to get her out of the house for awhile. Doing something, anything. I despise lethargy and she wasn’t always like this, but she refuses my offers and says that she’s completely content keeping the house in one piece during the day. I remind her that it takes more than a day for a house to fall apart. She just nods and smiles and then disappears into another part of the house for hours.

She mumbles something from the other room. I try to ignore her, but she is apparently talking to me and not to herself. It is an annoying habit she has nurtured with vigor. “Would you like anything special for breakfast?” she asks, leaning against the doorframe, almost caressing it. I down half of my tumbler before shaking my head no. I fight the urge to say, ‘Yes, something edible this time.’

She will read the newspaper in the morning before I have a chance to wipe the sleep from my eyes. The paper will be a mess, a catastrophe of mismanaged news and half-scribbled in crossword puzzles (in pen, even!). This is a static way to start the day and bitters my first cup of coffee until I have put everything back in order. I find the editorials mixed in with the comics and the continuation of a front page article across from football highlights from that weekend’s games. She never discusses current affairs with me, so of course it feels willful, an intentional disregard for my morning fluidity. But I have no proof, so I don’t push it.

The toast will be either just under-browned or just under-blackened. There is no middle-ground there and no amount of butter affects the taste. I tried dipping it in my coffee once to soak the blackest parts, but it only fouled up my drink and left bits of crumb swirling around in a thin galaxy of shimmery yellow that floated on the surface. It’s enough to make a man fix his own breakfast. Almost.

I tried one morning, but found that I didn’t know my way around the kitchen the way I used to. The bread was not in the bread cabinet, the coffee was missing from the pantry. We were out of eggs and the milk had clumped up into a putrid experiment of sorts in the door of the refrigerator. There was no frozen orange juice in the freezer and I couldn’t even find a piece of fruit to gnaw on while searching for ingredients best suited for a noble meal. I settled on leftover pasta and sauce, refusing to call it a true meal. It was closer to macaroni and tomato paste with an overabundance of oregano for color. Spaghetti unfit even for a child. She has assumed command of the kitchen, but cannot cook to save her life.

The clank of dishes in the sink breaks my reverie. I watch as she loads the dishwasher in her new black dress and then dries off her hands. She leaves the room and I hear her head upstairs, a creak signaling each floorboard beneath the thick carpet. The steps have gotten worse since we moved in and while my original plan was to replace each step, I find myself busier at work and less inclined to do anything when I arrive home. Fixing every problem takes a backseat to keeping her inane conversations to a whisper.

Forget the fact that I’m fucking my secretary, or that my secretary’s name is Ken. Forget the fact that he looks better in a suit than I do and that I did, in fact, hire him because of his looks. Between breakfast and dinner, my days feel normal, even if they aren’t by most standards. Most people dread going to work; I get happier the closer I get to it in the mornings. By 9am, I’m in my office having my mandatory ‘meeting’ with Ken about how I’d like my day to go: a deletion and addition of meetings and ‘lunches,’ and a general playbook of the day’s events. By 9:20, my pants are undone and he is underneath my desk while I make the morning conference call with the other partners. I am never more relaxed or at peace with the world than at 9:35am on any given day.

I put my empty tumbler into the sink; a little something for her to do tomorrow. My balance is fuzzy as I plod across the carpet on uncertain legs that somehow get me to the stairwell. I grip the banister and look up the stairwell towards our room at the top. It is dimly lit by one of the lamps on our nightstands and I notice her shadow playing on the ceiling as she undresses. She usually waits until after I’ve gone to bed, but she is modest in strange ways.

Each step creaks under my heavy steps and finally I crest the top stair, seeing fully into the room. She is in her robe, tucked into the bedding and ready to read, oblivious to my ascension. I loosen my tie and remove the cufflinks from my shirt, tossing everything onto the dresser just inside our doorway. The tie slips off onto the carpet and I toss my jacket in the same direction. This is my drunken march to our bed where I let myself make the same graceless move as every night before, falling into the pillow without stripping down, without saying goodnight, without anything other than sleep on my mind.

*

The percussion never changes. It is tinny and chilled, echoing through the other rooms in the house long after the dishes have been put away and I have changed into my robe. I wait a half hour after the symphony stops, and then turn in for the night, reading by the dim light of a single lamp when he eventually stumbles in to join me. I try to ignore him but end up reading the same paragraph three times before he passes out, face up and snoring and still wearing his office clothes.

He tosses and turns in his drunken slumber, legs scrambling the sheets as they choke the life out of his legs. I get up to close the door to our room, a thing he never does, and then crawl back into bed, not bothering to undress him. His jacket is already off, slung to the floor and along with his tie. He will trip over them in the morning while I am making breakfast. My smile will eclipse the size of the curling bacon in the pan when I hear the thudding echo from the room above.

Tonight however, I fix the sheets and read him his marital rights. I have to make sure he’s passed out in order to make any headway, but my unheard soliloquies are a kind of therapy. I yell and hurl insults at a sleeping bear, knowing it won’t wake mid-hibernation. His snores are proof that I can vent in safety. I dissect and accuse, thumping his forehead and getting no response. There is a measure of gratification in dominating his drink-addled body. I whisper my complaints seductively, tainting his dreams.

“Why do you continue to eat my shit meals? Why do you continue to stay? I smell him on you. I play dumb so you don’t have to, but you’re not even trying anymore.”

Thump-thump.

“I keep you around because you’re too weak to leave on your own. You try so hard to be a man without knowing what that entails.”

Thump-thump.

“Why do you continue to drink yourself numb every night? The whiskey dick was a good excuse for awhile, but you can’t keep it up.”

Thump-thump.

This symphony is different. The percussion is warmer, denser. With moon as conductor, the snores betray him and I undress, hanging my robe on the back of the armchair near the window. I slide up against him, thump-thumping him one final time before clutching at his hair and grabbing the nearest hand. He’s not wearing his ring.

I slide his hand across my body. He is my slave in waking dreams and he does what I want. His fingers fit in every crevice perfectly, rubbing in just the right way as the ceiling fan above takes us into the final movement of the evening. The crescendo is slow in coming, but sweet in the approach and I imagine the brass section playing quietly from my walk-in closet.

He will lay in one place all night long, an unmovable monolith. Tonight he is face up and his lips raspberry with every exhaled snore. I straddle his mouth gently, feeling his lips vibrate against mine as I force myself into patience. If he were a willing giver, I would face-fuck him until he could no longer breathe but I’m not trying to kill him tonight, I just want to feel something real, some tangible experience. I want the man I married to be a part of it for once. I can’t find a way to ask him to leave and he won’t do it on his own, so we keep up this sad façade.

His body is warm and I can feel his cheeks against my trembling thighs. He is useful when asleep, my husband marionette. I finish and roll over to my side of the bed, exhausted. Out of breath and my body half-flushed with excitement, I wonder if this is what necrophilia feels like.

*

I have been suffocating in my dreams lately, gulping air quickly as soon as I wake. My therapist says it is a subconscious metaphor for something else that may or may not be going on in my life.


Adam RodenbergerAdam “Bucho” Rodenberger is a 36 year old writer from Kansas City. He has been published in Alors, Et Tois?, Agua Magazine, Offbeatpulp, Up The Staircase Quarterly, The Gloom Cupboard, BrainBox Magazine, Cause & Effect Magazine, Santa Clara Review, Crack the Spine, Penduline Press, Lunch Box, Eunoia Review, Serving House Journal, Aphelion, Glint Literary Journal, Fox Spirit’s Girl at the End of the World: Book 1 anthology, Slice Magazine, Sheepshead Review, Meat For Tea: The Valley Review, Bluestem Magazine, L’allures des Mots, Phoebe, and has been shortlisted for the Almond Press “Broken Worlds” fiction contest. He blogs at triphoprisy.blogspot.com.

 
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