Flash Fiction in the Second Person

Men only talk about it in whispers because if your wife hears, she will never let you forget how wrong it was to talk about her to anyone. Even if what you said is true, and not said unkindly with ill intent, you will live to regret it. Or not.

You love that woman. You wouldn’t have courted her with flowers, candy, expensive dinners, and crazy dates to things like The Nutcracker ballet. No man in his right mind wants to watch a guy wearing tights prance around on the stage. Especially when the music isn’t that great and the story is ridiculously childish.

You’ll own the childishness you display.

“The only difference between men and boys,” many a wife has said, “is nothing but the price of their toys.”

What’s wrong with that, you wonder. You work forty or more hours every week at a job you like most of the time, but you’d rather be getting your hands greasy working on a project car. Or maybe you’re the guy who dreams of filling a wood shop with everything necessary to construct a killer cabinet—where you would store the things you loved that you didn’t need people to see. No, not your wife.

You want people to see her. Most of the time anyway. She looks great with curves in all the places you admire. Sure, some guys have given you a strange side-eye when you’ve flashed a photo of your gorgeous wife. And maybe she’s getting a little thick in the middle—which you’ll deny vehemently if anyone tries to say you even thought such sacrilege—but you’re not as thin as you once were either. That’s the curse of middle age.

You love her. You really do.

But does she have to ask you questions when there’s no possible way you can answer? And you might not even hear the question. Your ears aren’t as sharp as they once were. Which is a good thing most days when she uses the tone of voice she once reserved for misbehaving children. And you’re not going to think too deeply about the implications of this shift.

Like today. You’re brushing your teeth. The battery-operated brush swirls the toothpaste in all the appropriate cracks and crevices.

“Are we exchanging gifts this Christmas?” she asks.

You glance at her in the mirror. Your eyes meet. Hers are that lovely bluish-green you once thought might be your favorite color.

“It’s not like we need anything.”

But she wants something. You know this with a sinking certainty that’s nearly as sure as your speculation that you won’t guess correctly about what it is. She will smile and kiss you after she opens the gift, but there won’t be a sparkle in her eyes. Not like you’ll see while she watches the kids and grandkids opening their gifts.

“Or were you planning to shower me with a dozen gifts? You know, I have a birthday for that.”

You’ve made plenty of birthday errors in the past, too, but not this year. She sent you an email with a link to some art exhibit she wanted to attend. After double-checking her calendar—because for whatever reason her commitments can’t seem to make it onto the shared calendar you created—you purchased the tickets. You’ve even got a reminder set to call and make reservations as that restaurant where you took her for her thirtieth birthday.

And she says you don’t remember anything. But you remember the important things. Although it’s been clear for a decade or more that your definition of important doesn’t resemble hers. Which should be fine. Opposites attract and all that. Right?

She stares at you and then walks out. The third vibration of the toothbrush reminds you there is another thirty seconds before you’ve reached the optimal brushing time. Should you listen to the dentist or chase down your wife to finish this conversation?

Is it actually a conversation if you haven’t said anything? What would the proper term for one-sided communication be? A lecture? A speech? Maybe ninety percent of talks in marriage.

Once the toothbrush gives the signal, you spit out the foamy paste and rinse as quickly as possible. Your mind races for the answer your wife wants to hear. You don’t want to disappoint her. Surely after all this time she knows that.

You shuffle through the master bedroom, eyes darting, searching for her. She’s at the kitchen sink rinsing some dishes and stacking them in the dishwasher. You marvel at the succinctness of her hand and arm motions, how she bends only enough to place the pieces on the bottom rack.

The door closes with a snap. She nudges the handle on the faucet. Silence whooshes toward you, a marital backdraft you’ve learned to enjoy. But not to interpret with accuracy.

“Yes, we should exchange gifts. The sweats and shirts you mentioned for me are fine.” You swallow and gaze frantically into her eyes, searching, hoping.

She nods. But of course when you want her to offer words of advice, she’s mute.

“I’ll find something on your Amazon list.”

“I haven’t updated it for a while.”

You gulp. “Or the emails you’ve sent me.”

One corner of her pale lips twitches upwards. You’re about to relax and a preemptive flood of relief fills your gut.

“But I don’t really need anything. Don’t go overboard.”

You wish you knew if that meant she wanted you to buy the most expensive item she’d emailed you about or one of those cutesy personalized cat lady sleepshirts. But you don’t. You’re as hopelessly lost reading her as you were on your second date.

Heat floods your neck. She turns away, off to do the next thing.

You apologized for thinking a kiss meant she wanted to head to third base. She accepted. Since then, you’ve perfected the apology, learned it should never include a gift although chocolates are sometimes welcome. Except when she was dieting. Although sometimes she wanted the “healthful” dark chocolate truffles then as a sign you believed she didn’t need to diet.

Your heart plunges into the rapidly draining ditch of your no longer hopeful stomach.

You step into the garage. You’ll organize your tool bench after you wash and vacuum her car. These are things you know for certain will be well-received.

The Christmas debacle hanging like a dagger over your head can be addressed later.

And she wonders why you wait until the last minute to buy her gifts.

You want to ask your buddy what he would do, but that brings you back to where the whole enchilada of misunderstanding started. Men don’t ask other men about these things.

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