Early Saturday morning I'm staring into my coffee cup pondering the serious problem I haven't put in enough milk. I'm deep in coffee dilution meditation when Charlene tells me about the father-daughter hoedown
. She casts it as a reminder rather than new information, and we're back to husband/wife power struggle I can never win
, if only because winning is worse than losing
I love my Mina. Of course I'll drop everything for the hoedown Charlene must have told me about. And Charlene's yelling at me for saying that it's no problem, I'll be ready to take my oldest daughter to dinner and the dance tonight. She's yelling because I forgot and wouldn't have remembered on my own. But as I'm unemployed and nearly worthless as a human being, time is a commodity in which I hold a lot of stock. No harm, no foul, I'm thinking.
Wrong. Be wrong, Billy-bob Hoobler, and take the punishment.
I keep saying, "No problem, honey. I'll take her. It's okay, we're going." God knows how many times I say it as Charlene gets more and more angry. She keeps yelling and I know it's not about the hoedown. She's hurting and I can't help her because I did it.
My head is full of wolves. They're lanky. Energy in their legs ready to ignite like fusion. Grey and white. Their coats are irregular. They bear the scars of struggle, bits of torn fur puff out white and fluffy from their shanks, mottled and bloody where hair meets skin. In the night their eyes soak up the moon and glow blue. Their teeth, the fractured ridges of calving glaciers.
All of a wolf's problems kill him. Between battling his issues he has the pack and the moon. He stays alive for those.
I wonder why.
"You're spending too much time with that woman," Charlene says. "What do you do with her?" She's starting to cry, but not going to. Not yet. Not in front of me. It's not worth it yet.
"By 'that woman' you mean Kat? I tell Charlene. "Are you worried I'm having an affair with her? Damn. It's just Kat, honey. We've both known her for a long time. She was your friend before she was mine. What's gotten into you?"
"You're changing, Billy-bob. Something's happening. You're not in control anymore. You're spending your days writing when you should be looking for a job. Who's going to pay the bills when we run out of money?"
"We'll be alright. There's plenty saved. I just need some time."
"Alright," she stamps a foot, takes a tissue from a cardboard box on the kitchen counter and holds it to her nose. "I'm scared. I don't know what's happening. You went away to Antarctica and now everything's different. You lost your job and you're spending time with a single woman every day and you're off thinking you're going to be a writer when you know you can't support us on that. I want it back the way it was. I want my husband back."
And I don't know how it was except the parts I didn't like I don't want back.
"I love you Charlene. I'm not going to sleep with Kat. I haven't. I just like talking to her. She's an editor and we talk about my writing."
"There's lots of different kinds of infidelity, William Hoobler," Charlene says, wiping the tissue against each of her reddening eyes in turn. "Some hurt more than others. You don't have to fuck her to be unfaithful to me."
I say, "I'm not fucking her," because it's the only true thing I can summon. Lies don't come to me easily. Never been good at it, so I have to grasp at the flimsy truths that fall from the shelves around me. And I know what she means, exactly, and I can't tell her I've been entirely faithful in those ways. It's that fricking "covet" thing. God damn me. Now I get it.
"I'm not. I'm really not," I say, and I'm still saying it when Charlene threatens me, walks out of the kitchen, and barks something to the kids who are innocently watching television in the other room.
In my brain I see a ridge in the moonlight. From the base of the hill the horizon climbs half way to the zenith, an irregular line of brightness across a star salted void. Charlene climbs the boulders and fissures. Her tail sways, white at the tip. There's another scar in her coat, now. She got it defending the pack from an invader. Almost killed him before she realized it was me.
She climbs her mountain alone. I can't go with her.
She's going to go absorb the full moon. Ask the great spirits questions about the mysteries she's lived and never understood. Sit and listen to the nothing that becomes an answer if you imagine it is.
And then she'll cry.
I feel hollow.
There's still not enough milk in my coffee.
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