BY ANDREW ROE
He’s in the kitchen, washing dishes; she’s in the family room, watching TV in her bathrobe and chain-smoking Newports.
“Oh my god,” she calls out.
“I’m not even going to say.”
He can smell the menthol. He can hear the reluctance in her voice. Reluctance mixed with a desire to say something, to share.
“What is it?” he asks.
“The words. Just saying them.”
“Tell me. You know you want to.”
The dishes are now done. He’s about to go in the family room, but then stops himself, thinking this might be a conversation that should happen without them seeing each other.
“Okay,” she says. “Are you ready?”
“Mother microwaves month-old baby.”
This was a thing for her. To read the scrolling headlines that appeared on CNN, Fox, whatever. She’d read out loud all the horrible happenings in the world and somehow it made her feel better. She took solace in the fact that their lives, though by no means ideal and still filled with frustrations and challenges and financial touch and go, wasn’t as bad as what she read about. Their “bad” was nowhere near the bottom. Things could always get worse. Tragedy was entirely subjective.
But these headlines had the opposite effect on him—they made him feel like shit. They went right into this skin, penetrated upon impact. If these things happened to other people, could they not happen to them as well? He couldn’t brush it away like she could. And that, he figures, is how they were different, how they navigated the world, how they made sense of it all, the mad rush that stormed them at the end of the day.
“There’s more,” she says. “The war. Iraq. Afghanistan. Bombings. Death tolls. Drunken celebrities. It doesn’t stop.”
He’s still in the kitchen, hiding out, trying to find the right pause so he can come into the family room, insert himself at the best possible time.
“And this: ‘A giant ice shelf the size of 11,000 football fields has snapped free from Canada’s Arctic, scientists said.’ What are we supposed to do about that?”
But he didn’t tell her it bothered him. So she kept on doing it, reciting and repeating. And tonight he’d have nightmares about babies in microwaves and giant ice shelves destroying cities, about things that should never happen, not even in dreams.
He takes a deep breath and walks into the family room, finally, and slinks down next to her on the couch. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know what they’re supposed to do.
A commercial saves him. She lights another cigarette and picks up a coupon booklet, scanning for deals, seeking savings. Today she came home from work early and took a nap.
“We’re doing okay,” she says. “We’re doing all right, aren’t we?”
He looks over at the booklet and sees ads for carpet cleaning, gym memberships, sushi. The people’s faces in the ads appear purposeful, full of secret meaning, like they know something the rest of us—the people looking at the ads or reading the scrolling headlines—don’t know.
“Yes,” he says. “Yes, we are.”
The commercial break is almost over. He picks up the remote and waits for her to notice.
Andrew Roe lives in Oceanside, California. His fiction has appeared in Tin House, One Story, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review and other publications. He keeps a sporadic blog at andrewroe.blogspot.com.