by Sara Cappell Thomason
In the final year of our marriage, I was prone to starting conversations with Kelly on topics he knew nothing about. Usually, it was something I had just read in The New Yorker. I’d bring up the artist Ai Weiwei for instance, his precarious status as a Chinese dissident, and when Kelly just nodded, said interesting, but had nothing to add, I would sigh, sometimes even act exasperated, as if I was basically all alone on Earth because he could not keep up with high culture. In reality, he was getting up every day at 5am to go to the gym before heading to the office, while I slept in and hung out at Starbucks.
Recently, he started his own defense company, one that made mine removal devices—robotic claws, while also providing bomb proof hulls as add-ons to tanks driven overseas. In the rare instance that he was actually home, he talked only about work—how difficult it was navigating the websites of foreign powers, and I was often so bored that I peppered my questions and comments with obscure references for fun. Usually, from Beowulf. When I did this, Kelly might pause for a second and narrow his eyes, but he never stopped and asked me to repeat what I’d just said, so I considered these to be fun little Easter eggs I hid in our conversations on the off chance I might make him laugh. These were all things a normal person would recognize, I reasoned—Beowulf was taught in High School, and I had read it no less than three times in college without even trying. But really, I was aware of what I was doing—landing purposeful little punches, while also blowing the most desperate of dog whistles. I was at the height of my pretension, waiting for some sort of intellectual recognition from Kelly that would never come.
I was also prone to interrogating him about global atrocities and how they related to his company—Zephyr—making it obvious that I was his moral superior as well as the foundation on which our collective conscience as a couple would rest. His work happened to be World War/Global Annihilation adjacent, and I was okay with it, as long as Zephyr stayed firmly in its lane, i.e., remained a defense company in both principle and action. I supported him as long as he could prove his path was not incentivized by vast quantities of souls exiting the bodies of our enemies. Barring that, I was fine. Of course, I had questions about how this might inhibit the expansion of his business in the future, and what he may or may not tell me over time.
One evening he came home stressed out, complaining about the perils of being a small business owner—something about a huge potential deal with Saudi, one he knew he wouldn’t get. I poured myself some water and dropped into a seat at our kitchen table, but instead of listening, I started in on the Crown Prince. A lot of shit had recently come to light. He was not a nice guy.
“So, who cares,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “But still. It feels like lost potential.”
“You’re not selling rockets,” I said. “No way.”
“I can’t,” he said. “It requires special permits. It’s too expensive.”
“Not ever,” I said.
“So, I won’t,” he continued. “But not because you won’t let me. Let’s make that part clear.”
“Fine,” I said, and narrowed my eyes. “I’m not requiring you to tell me why.”
“Okay,” he said. “Geez.”
Kelly leaned against the counter and untucked his shirt. He scratched his head and checked his watch. Then he looked up at me and smiled.
I lifted my cup. “That was a good King,” I said. I was smug with humor.
“What’s that supposed mean?” he asked. Now he was frowning, and I was annoyed.
“Nothing,” I said, but of course this was a refrain from my beloved Beowulf, the repetition of which came to represent the smoothing over of history, of reputation, a kind of lionization that resulted in myth, etc. etc. I didn’t explain this. Instead, I said, “Want some mead?”
“What?” He asked again, but I ignored him, walked past him to the fridge, and grabbed a pair of IPAs. I brought them to the table.
“Should we order Thai?” he asked. “That eggplant thing?”
“I don’t care,” I said, even though I did. I loved Thai. He knew that.
I was being a dick, but he traveled incessantly. I was by myself a lot. At this point it was summer, and I was pretty bored.
The next day he left for Saudi, and I did what I always did—drank lattes and inhaled The New York Times, Scientific American, The Atlantic, TIME. I wasn’t lazy, although that’s exactly how Kelly often made me feel. His job was all consuming, sure, but conversely, he’d have to admit I was making pretty active use of my consolation prize when he was gone—the freedom to do whatever I wanted—to read and read and read—and I treasured the bundle of shit I learned, nursed it like a wayward wolf, turned it fierce and foreboding: the rise and fall of Ramses II, Saladin, Saddam Hussein, Erdogan, the Peshmerga, the Kurds, the coup. I could go on and on and on, and when he returned, I did.
I talked at Kelly—really let him have it, tried to teach him what I wanted, which was just for him to stay.
Sara Cappell Thomason holds an MFA in fiction from Sarah Lawrence College. She was awarded second prize in the Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest, and she was the winner of the 2022 New Flash Fiction Review Prize. Her work has previously appeared in Electric Literature, Tin House, Witness Magazine, SmokeLong Quarterly, and The Citron Review, among others. Currently, she lives on Isle of Palms, SC where she is working on a novel about prehistoric monsters. She can be found on Instagram and Twitter @saracthomason
Image source: Maarten van den Heuvel/Unsplash