Be Mine

New Fiction
Portrait of A.M. Homes by Michael Halsband

 

THERE’S SOMETHING you don’t want to tell me,” she says.

He says nothing.

“I’m not an idiot,” she says. “It’s not like I don’t know what’s going on.”

He sits up in the bed.

“You’re leaving it up to me,” she says, “You want me to be the one to say it.”

He looks at his bare chest and does tricks with his belly, the muscles ripple up and down like a wave washing ashore.

“You never loved me,” she says, “That’s the thing you don’t want to tell me.”

He shakes his head.

“There’s more,” she says. “It’s not like it’s breaking news. I knew it from the start, it could never be that easy: easy would make you like every other guy, who can get it up but just can’t get the words out.”

Tears run down his face and onto his chest.

“Really?” she says, genuinely surprised.

“Really?”

He gets up and puts his pants on.

“So that’s it,” she says.

He pulls on his T-shirt.

“It’s okay,” she says, “I don’t expect you to get down on your knees and say you love me.”

He puts on his shoes and looks at her.

“I don’t know what love is,” he says, “Does that make it any easier, I don’t fucking know what love is?”

“Fine,” she says, “but it’s not like you get all this for nothing. I expect something.”

“What?” he asks.

“Breakfast,” she says.

 

“What about the baby?” she asks over coffee and toast.

“What baby?”

“The baby we didn’t have.”

“It doesn’t exist,” he says.

“Yes it does,” she says.

“Not really,” he says.

“The baby exists — it just hasn’t arrived yet.”

“Are you pregnant?”

“That’s not what I mean. . . .”

“Then it doesn’t exist.”

“It does,” she says, “it just hasn’t been mixed, the pieces haven’t been put together, we have all the parts.”

“It was an experiment,” he says. “An experiment that failed.”

“It didn’t fail,” she says.

“We didn’t really try,” he says. “How can we have a baby if we can’t have a conversation?”

“It’s not the same thing,” she says.

“It’s harder,” he says.

“Not really, people do it all the time.”

“Really?”

“If we have a baby then we’ll have something to talk about. Did the baby poop? Did the baby smile? Did the baby have a good day at school?” she says.

“It doesn’t last forever,” he says.

“Nothing does,” she says.

“The baby will grow up,” he says.

“It will leave home.”

“We’ll be back where we are now.”

“We’ll have more in common, a lifetime of memories. Remember when the baby threw up, remember when the dog ate the shoe, remember when the cat shat in your closet?”

“I’m not sure that’s enough.”

“Grandchildren?” she suggests.

He bends to kiss her. “I’m late,” he says.

“What do you want for dinner?” she asks as he’s out the door.

“The usual.”

 

“I’m getting old,” she says at night, as they lie side by side. She is reading a book, he is pretending to sleep.

“One day at a time,” he says.

“Faster,” she says, “Like it’s speeded up, every hour, is doubling up, speeding forward.”

“You’re starting to remind me of your mother.”

“What about my mother?”

“She always thought she was dying,” he says.

“Well look what happened to her,” she says.

“She was 97 years old,” he says.

“Death is death at any age. She was very much alive until she died. Feel my fingers, they’re like ice,” she says.

“Your fingers are always cold. You’ve got a long way to go.”

“How do you know?” she asks.

“I’m being practical — people your age and in your condition don’t just die,” he says.

“What condition am I in?” she asks.

“Good condition,” he says.

“I could be hit by a truck.”

“Why don’t you go stand in the middle of the street and see what happens? Maybe you’ll get lucky.”

“You’re just trying to get rid of me,” she says.

“I’m trying to sleep,” he says.

“Fine. I’ll go stand in the street but I doubt anyone will hit me; more likely they’ll swerve and squash some poodle out for a walk and I’ll feel guilty — like I’m the ass for standing in the middle of the street. There has to be another way.”

She pauses.

“Just live,” he says.

 

Silence.

 

“You have the worst ideas and you’re so fucking optimistic,” she says.

“You think everyone can be just like you — perfect.”

“I’m glad you think I’m perfect,” he says.

“I don’t think you’re perfect — you think you’re perfect.”

He rolls onto his side.

“Don’t do that,” she says, “don’t be so fucking condescending.” She sighs loudly.

“Why are you so annoying?”

“Am I?” he asks.

“Yes, you answer every question with a question.”

“Do I?”

“You just did it again,” she says.

“Did I? I wasn’t aware. . . .”

“How can someone training to be a shrink be so unaware?”

“I compartmentalize,” he says, “I separate work and home.”

“You work from home,” she says. “Let me ask you something, why did you marry an artist?”

“I didn’t know it would be such a responsibility,” he says.

“What do you mean a responsibility?” she says.

“To be not just the spouse but also the material,” he says.

“Any regrets?” she asks.

“Plenty,” he says.

“I should have given you more to work with. I should have behaved more outrageously.”

“When?”

“At dinners, in public, in bed. I should have given you something to really write about,” he says.

“Is it too late?” she asks.

 

The night passes.

 

“Oh,” she says, at dawn when she rolls over and sees him.

“Oh, what?”

“I didn’t realize you were there.”

“You were expecting someone else?”

She says nothing.

“I live here,” he says.

“This is my side of the bed.”

“It wasn’t always,” she says.

“What does that mean?”

“We used to switch.”

“That was years ago in the old apartment. Someone had to take the hot side and someone had to take the cold, one was by the window the other by the heat pipe — it was a coin toss.”

“Is that how we ended up here?”

“Where?”

“With you sleeping with your back towards me? We used to sleep face to face, you’d fall asleep looking me in the eye. Or you’d be behind me, your arm around me, spooning me. . . .”

“We were on a moving train. I was keeping you from falling out,” he says.

“Call it what you will,” she says, turning on the television to hear the morning news.

“Do you ever stop complaining?” he asks.

“No,” she says, horrified. “It would be like I’d given up hope.”

“Or accepted things the way they are.”

“We should get a pet,” she says.

“A pet?

“Yes, like a dog or a cat.”

“I don’t know if the lease allows animals.”

She shrugs, “I need something living to tend to.”

“What about a plant?”

“Something that can look me in the eye.” “

How about fish?”

“Something warm that I can cuddle, something that will love me.”

“You need more than I can provide,” he says, sitting up. “And by the way, I have needs too — needs that aren’t being met.”

“Oh,” she says. “Like what?”

“To not have someone wanting something from me all the time, to not be inundated with senseless chatter.”

“Should I change the channel?” she asks — pointing to the TV.

“No,” he says. “Just turn the sound off.”

 

“Honestly, it was inevitable,” she says, staring at the muted television.

“Was it really?” he asks.

“I knew from the beginning,” she says “That’s what they always say,” he says.

“You couldn’t exactly miss the cues.” “Some could,” he says.

“Not really,” she says, moving towards him in the bed.

“There’s no escaping?” he asks.

“None,” she says, closing in.

“Unfortunately, we’re out of time for today,” he says.

“I have news for you,” she says. “I won’t be coming back.”

“We’ll talk about it next week,” he says.

“I’ve found someone else,” she says.

“He who laughs last,” he says.

“Fuck you,” she says.

“It’s about time,” he says.

 

And before either can say more, his mouth is on hers and hers is on his and together they are eating their words.

 

 

Article Tags : literature
A.M. Homes

A.M. Homes is the author of ten books, including, most recently, the novel May We Be Forgiven and the memoir The Mistress’s Daughter. She’s the co-executive producer of the new television show Falling Water on USA, teaches at Princeton, and is cochair of the board at Yaddo. Be Mine is new fiction.