“Can’t Speak Out,” mixed media, by Eleanor Leonne Bennett, 2011. Used with permission.

by Janice D. Soderling

One day he was cock-of-the-walk, full of jokes and juice, strumming his guitar, waxing the big fins on his red Chevy, knowing another woman in the biblical sense. The next day woebegone, collapsing like a library on fire and the water hose too short.

She pounded the table and the holy book and the hamburger patties with the same frenzy. Daily, she wrote and rewrote her autobiography and read it to him. She used words she didn’t even know she knew: sybarite. She’d been bright in school, and saved her knowledge for her wifehood, as she’d saved herself.

He’d always had an eye for a pretty girl. She herself had been a pretty girl, and in another social class or era or both, might even be called beautiful. But her mouth pursed from habit, her eyes were wont to narrow, and always the army of her body guarded against his every advance. It was a puzzle how their children had come into existence, three anxious little prisoners of war.

The pastor arrived, hands raised heavenward, ferreting into what didn’t concern him, praying and hollering so the wallpaper faded a little more and the canary died. Suffer the children. Each child dutifully took what was handed to him, his allotted share of the drama, like a piece of cake not to be eaten until after the liver and beans. Each took a slice, wrapped in cling film, and put it in his picnic basket, or backpack, or the bottom drawer where memory molders.

The maps were redrawn; the major powers commanded him to surrender unconditionally. Haul the flags, hand over the ceremonial sword, begin the long arduous task of retribution for war damage. He was completely at her mercy; she showed none.

And so it continued for forty more years, the treaty signed and countersigned, but the war not over. Boobytraps and skirmishes, trenches. The children all refugees in other, similar countries. She died suddenly and he didn’t know what to do with himself. So he died too. They are buried side by side, sharing a heavy black stone. Passers-by read and remark how sad it is that marriages these days don’t last like they used to.

omega man

Janice D. Soderling writes fiction and poetry. Her work has appeared in Glimmer Train, where she is a first place short fiction winner, and numerous other venues. She’s an assistant editor at Able Muse. She lives in Sweden.