Read More: A Brief Interview with Suzanne Warren
I live in the country of husbands. Everywhere I go, it’s husbands, husbands, husbands. Other women’s. Not yours, not yours, mutter the billboards. Not yours, not yours, whisper the TV sets. Ours.
My car is specially equipped with a single, driver’s-side air bag. I live in the Alone People’s condo, one exit north of the Proud Song Black People’s condo. “You’re not lonely, you’re just alone!” crows the sign on the patch of lawn by the highway.
I live in the country of husbands. I didn’t recognize this state of affairs at first. The awareness has dawned on me gradually, like a gallon of milk going sour in the back of the fridge. Things started to shift about ten years ago, when I turned thirty. Married acquaintances became reluctant to appear in public with me. Some didn’t dare invite me into their homes. The local news began airing stories of single women who entered the houses of married couples, fucked the men, and drowned the babies. It’s not you, my friends told me. But we just can’t take any chances. There are children to consider.
The choices aren’t many for women like me, but I make them.
I am not a good woman.
At work, I admire the tie of my office mate. He has glossy golden hair, salon-tanned skin, and a perpetually bulging crotch. “Gosh, do you like it? My wife picked it out for me!” he cries. He pivots on his heel and skips away.
On Saturday I dine with my work friends Wanda and Lani. Wanda’s husband is at home, sick. We go to Telly Savalas’s Joint, the only place in town that serves mixed parties. I sit on one side of the booth and Lani and Wanda sit on the other as we wait for Lani’s husband. When Tigger arrives, breathless, he pauses and glances at the empty spot on the banquette next to me. Then he squeezes in next to Lani and Wanda. He nuzzles Lani’s cheek in greeting, making slurping sounds. Lani closes her eyes and giggles a little as Tigger’s saliva dribbles down her cheek. From her squashed position across the table, Wanda offers me a polite, weary smile.
I cannot take all this gloating priapism, all this smug uxoriousness. Give me hatred and discontent.
On the conveyor belt at the supermarket I place the week’s groceries: Lonely Girl brand Disappearing Dinner for One, Lonely Girl Cat Dinners for the Obese Cat, and Lonely Girl Golden Tinkie Pops.
“Wow! You sure like the Lovely Girl brand of products!” hoots the checkout clerk.
“It’s Lonely Girl. Can’t you read?” I grab my grocery sacks and march out of the store, but in the parking lot I experience a twinge of regret. The clerk was only trying to make conversation. Besides, he had a sweet, forlorn face, like a man who’s used to being disappointed.
The next week at the supermarket, I deliberately enter the checkout line of the sad-faced clerk, even though it’s longer than the other lines. His eyes light up when he sees my Golden Tinkie Pops sliding toward him on the conveyor belt. “My wife won’t let me eat these,” he sighs wistfully. I look at his hands, calculating what to say next. His big, rawboned fingers look both foolish and powerful, like a teenaged boy’s, but when I glance at his face, I see he’s about my age.
I grab the package from the belt, rip it open, and extract a Tinkie Pop. “Here, take one,” I say. “I have plenty at home.”
He looks at me disbelievingly.
He glances toward the manager’s cage; her back is turned. He tears off a strip of wrapper at the stick end of the popsicle, places the ripped edges to his lips, and blows a quick puff of air. The paper balloons around the Tinkie Pop. He slides it off and inserts the pop in his mouth, his eyes drifting closed. “So good. So good.” Brilliant yellow liquid crests at the corner of his mouth.
I giggle uncertainly, but I can’t take my eyes off him.
Two weeks later, I’m driving home from tango aerobics class when I hang a left onto a block of narrow, shabby rowhouses. After the superhighway was built through this area ten years ago, it was renamed Marriage Transformation Towne. Feuding couples and estranged spouses move here after all other apparent possibilities have been exhausted. Then they either wait out the end or, newly reconciled, return to the bland, bright embrace of their subdivisions and condos. When Lani’s husband Tigger was spending his nights on the town, crawling home at three in the morning from the strip club or the casino or who knows where, the condo association asked Lani and him to “take a leave of absence” while they worked things out. It’s best for everyone if the process is shielded from others’ eyes, read the notice. Marriage transformation is catching and incurable, like typhoid.
Some women binge, some take pills. Me, I cruise the rundown streets of this neighborhood of disillusioned wives and lost husbands. Half stray dog, half stalker, I scan the sidewalks and front stoops.
A couple of months ago, I was issued a citation for loitering with intent. “Get your own husband,” muttered the policewoman as she handed me the ticket. “Quit poaching on ours.”
Like I said, I’m not a good woman.
When my neighbor Sheryll threw out her husband because she was convinced he slept with me when really all we’d done was had some beers late one night, he ended up here. After he was here, of course, things between us took their natural course. Now he’s back with her.
There were others: Ronald, Humphrey, Salvatore. Patrick, Glen, and Titus. I was faithful to each of these guys when I was with him. But something about this neighborhood is catching—the temporariness of the place clung to us like cigarette smoke, and either I began wondering if they were ever going to go back to their wives, or they returned of their own accord.
After about ten minutes of driving, I spot someone on the sidewalk. His hands are thrust deep in his jacket pockets and his shoulders are hunched up near his ears. He looks like he’s been outside a while.
The man stops and turns to look at me. Am I surprised by who it is? No. Am I glad to see him? Maybe.
I slow my car and lean out the window. “Need a lift?”
“Hey,” he says. “Thanks for the Tinkie Pop the other day.”
I scan his face, his sorrowful eyes. “Locked out?”
He shrugs. “My wife . . . ” His eyes become unfocused, sadder still. […]
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Suzanne Warren is a Seattle-based fiction writer and essayist whose work appears or is forthcoming in Narrative, Gulf Coast, Post Road, Versal, and The Cincinnati Review. Writing awards include fellowships at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Ucross Foundation. She teaches at the University of Puget Sound and is currently at work on a collection of short stories entitled Bad Gift.
“The Country of Husbands” was a runner-up in the 2017 Editor’s Reprint Awards and originally appeared in Gulf Coast.
Read More: A Brief Interview with Suzanne Warren