Darling by Erin Lyndal Martin
It was her fourth day off the meds and the second week of his mindfulness phase. She thought the slow taper she’d done would insulate her against any weird sensations, but even the act of taking the last dose made her angry. Angry as if the rest of her life had been ripped away from her. She was giving up the meds because she wanted to get pregnant, but it was hard to make meaning of that now. Someday she could say she did it for her soft, chubby, giggling baby tugging him or herself along on the carpet. For now, she was putting herself through hell for the possibility of an embryo. When her head buzzed, she thought “baby,” but it felt like a punishment.
He’d agreed with her choice to go off the meds, and he had been there for all the med changes and goofy side effects over the years. But his desire for enlightenment had sent him hovering somewhere above her. He sequestered himself away to meditate. When she napped, he made little inspirational cards of Thich Nhat Hanh quotes to leave around the house. Sitting on the toilet put her eye to eye with one that said “Life is only available in the present moment!” He had punctuated the exclamation mark with a flower instead of a mere dot. He tucked notes in the tissue box, “You are more than your suffering.” Above all, he placed his hand on his heart and finished the sentence “Darling, I care about your” with whatever malady was afflicting her.
Withdrawing from the meds had driven her startle response to extremes and jacked up her anxiety, the same anxiety she usually masked with the medication. Her veins felt like they’d been replaced by electric eels. Sex was the only thing that grounded her at all, but she couldn’t even come right now. He would have sex with her, tender sex in which he cared about releasing her body’s tension. She would bite her lip in effort, feeling sore already but still in damned pursuit of her orgasm. “Darling, I care about your orgasm,” he would say. It was a joke between them that had gotten serious.
When they first got married, she had wanted plants in their bedroom, vital, living things they had to care for. But he said that feng shui advised against it because that brought too much yang energy into a room designed for rest and romance. As a compromise, he brought home a lucky bamboo plant, five-stalked, and put it near their computer printer. That was all before the mindfulness phase hit, but in retrospect, she should have seen it coming. But why did it have to happen when her body’s serotonin systems were going wack, when whatever parts of her brain had been chill were now going haywire? She wanted to draw him a violent picture of how it felt on their bedroom wall. Let him dissect the feng shui, let him be mindful, let him keep on being tender with her even as she never wanted to think about her mind again.
She found herself being quieter than usual. It was an attempt to compromise for her loud neurology, her sense that everyone could see the blinking lights and error messages streaming from cerebellum to body. She entered the apartment one Sunday afternoon, trying to be gentle with her footfall. He was in the living room, trying to build a bookcase. He took slight notice of her but was too absorbed in his task to do much but give a little smile. Soon, he picked up a hammer, and the next thing she heard was his loud cursing. “Jesus fucking Christ! Can they make a shittier bookcase kit or do they want me to bruise my whole entire fucking body just because I had the gall to want our books on a shelf? I should take this shitbag back to the store. I should write them a fucking letter. Or sue.” This all came out in one breath, almost like he hadn’t realized it.
She crossed the floor to sit beside him, knowing finally that his mindfulness, just like his feng shui, meant that he was terrified too. Terrified she wouldn’t be okay, terrified he couldn’t soothe her, terrified they couldn’t handle being parents. He sat there, pouting at the partial bookcase. She put her hand on her heart. “Darling, I care about your bookcase.”
Erin Lyndal Martin is a creative writer, music journalist, and artist. Her flash fiction has appeared in Fiction Southeast, Whiskeypaper, Smokelong Quarterly, New South Review, and elsewhere.