My neighbor Charlene asked me to take a photo of her. It was so her dear husband could have one for his desk at work.
She said it was part of their therapy. They are those kind of people, the kind who think their perfectly natural distrust in human beings is neither perfect nor natural, and that therapy can erase this distrust, ushering in a new era of domestic bliss and better cuddling after sex. You know—a stronger, sturdier sense of self, sucked from others.
The therapist had suggested tangible ways to help Charlene feel emotionally safe in the relationship. This translated into me taking a photo of Charlene wearing lipstick in her bedroom.
This is what I get for being home all day.
And having to hear about it all the time, I get that, too. The specific gist is that Charlene feels her husband loves their daughter more than he loves her. “All that cuddling he gives her after sex?” I want to ask, but do not. I’m a good person, but obviously not a trained therapist.
So I put a movie on for the kids and went next door and took some photos of Charlene standing against her bedroom wall, which is painted a bloody uterine red with a shiny gold wash over it, in an effect I like to call “Crime Scene in a Brothel,” but only to myself. She kept saying things like, “Did that one turn out good?” And I kept saying things like “So good you’ll have to give me one for my desk!” And then she said, “I feel so close to you, like we’re sisters!”
What I got for that was a framed photo of Charlene for my own personal use.
I tried to be a good person and actually put her photo on my desk, but there wasn’t room for both a photo of her and my framed photo of Sartre. I ended up setting hers on top of the printer-scanner on the utility desk in my kitchen. It means that all day long, out of the corner of my eye, I see Charlene’s smiling and lipstick-ed face mugging it for me or her husband (who knows which?) and that I have to move her every time I print the lunch menu from the kids’ school or the bank account.
But what can I do? She looks for it every time she comes over.
That, apparently, is what good people do for each other—keep their eagle eyes peeled for pictures of themselves in other people’s homes.
My ex-husband came to pick up the children at the appointed hour, wearing the khaki pants and blue button-down of Expert Anonymous Office Man, as is his custom. He saw the photo on the little utility desk and laughed his ass off. “Sartre I get,” he said. “But Charlene?”
“We’ve become like sisters,” I said.
It was none of his business anymore whose pictures I displayed. I could display a picture of two golden retrievers humping, a very large picture, even—an 18 x 20, hung over the sofa—and there was nothing he could do about it anymore, especially if the dogs were important new friends of mine, dogs I had grown to love in my new life as a non-married woman with the free time and space available to develop important connections with a new and wonderful community of humping dogs, a community that he did not have—nor never would have—the wonderful pleasure of knowing, especially given his uninspired attire.
“Sisters, or ‘sistas’?” he asked, and then, as usual, backpedaled with, “I don’t even know what that means.”
“Meaning has never really been your ‘thang,’” I said, and then—briefly—had the vague awareness that if I were cursed with the can-do moxy of the self-improving and hired a therapist, he or she might make something delicious out of all of this. This was an interesting exchange between us here; I could sense that. Perhaps it was even a humorous one.
“Touché,” my ex said. Then he raised his eyebrows and pointed to the ceiling, clowning, like a white-bread Groucho Marx, “And I don’t know what that means either.”
He opened the fridge, took a gander in it, saw nothing of his interest, gathered the children, and left.
Afterwards, I went to my desk to print out the lunch menu for the week, and saw that the kids had been playing around the kitchen utility desk and had left there these pirates made out of clothespins. The clothespins had transformed into pirates when the children had glued tiny felt pirate clothes and tiny martini olive swords to them during some sort of artsy-fartsy daycamp their grandparents had sent them to, a camp specifically for children like them—the poor little heathen children of divorce.
I brushed my hand over the usual detritus to collect the clothespin pirates and their tiny felt pirate clothes, and then I threw them into the garbage. I thought about how the glue didn’t stick to the felt very well, or for very long, so little pieces of cloth shaped like eye patches and boots and Napoleonic hats, all smaller than a pinky fingertip, stick to my forearms as I sit at the utility desk and print the lunch menu or check the bank account, and how those tiny martini olive swords jab me—without the benefit of actual martinis—and how when the tiny felt clothes fall off those clothespins pirates, the clothespins cease being pirates and become just clothespins again, and how those naked clothespins have no real utility either, seeing as we’ve all been living with the miracle of the clothes dryer since Lucy Ricardo squeezed out Little Ricky, divorced Big Ricky, and then spent the rest of her years chain-smoking wisecracks around the house in cute little capri pants.
And I thought about taking a trip. Yeah, I thought about maybe taking a trip somewhere.
I don’t know.
Stephanie Wilbur Ash is one of the founding creatives behind the Lit6Project, Electric Arc Radio, and PowderKeg Live!, and co-creator of the original musical Don't Crush Our Heart! Her fiction, reviews, features, and essays are locally and nationally published. Track her movements at www.stephaniewilburash.com