Arrangement

by Jessica Dealing November 26, 2018

A single brown hair on the white comforter revolts her. As if it had fallen off a leper. Or a whore. She doesn’t know if she’s ready for this then. Not so much the sex itself, which she’s done before, but the consummation of a marriage she never actually agreed to. The room is different than she imagined, as if the furniture is nailed to the ceiling or as if it’s all underwater. It feels wrong.

She remembers her mother’s advice from this morning. You don’t have to love something to like it. She wonders how long these words of wisdom have trickled down the female stream of her family. She looks at her husband of—(glances at the clock)—three hours now. He’s smiling at her, chin disappearing into chubby neck.

“Wine?” He wags the bottle, eyebrows raised. She thinks she sees a bulge already in his rented tuxedo pants.

She nods, hopes he can’t tell how urgently she wants the wine. She’s glad now she didn’t wait like she was supposed to. As she drinks, she thinks of the other one’s backyard shed and how those last warm rays of autumn slipped into the ceiling cracks, leaking sunlight at strange angles while glistening across his skin like he was made of diamonds. Her world in those moments was made of diamonds. Surreal. Or maybe hyperreal, each facet spreading wonders of color, of life, through her in waves. She remembers how, afterward, her jeans were always warm when she put them back on because she purposely left them in a shard of sunlight.

There is no sunlight here in the hotel. It is evening and the shades are drawn. Nothing to make the room glow with light. The lamp is a seedy impression of the sun and only seems to create slippery dark shadows around her. Regardless, the air is still somehow stuffy. It smells thick in her nose, tastes like a damp fog. She drinks the wine slowly. It is sweet on her tongue, too sweet for this hotel room, for this occasion. She knows the wine is a time bomb, sips ticking away moments, counting to the one she’s dreading. If she can make it last long enough, maybe he’ll be too tired. But she knows there isn’t much chance of that, really, because he’s waited too long. He’s waited. Nobody really expected him to; they’d look the other way if he slipped, but he’s been good, and a good boy gets dessert.

In this poofy dress she’s a decadent cupcake.

The problem is she thought she had more time. Her first groom ran away. To mask the familial shame, her sister married soon after, the whole town celebrating the matrimony. Or at least the idea of it, the idea—the illusion—of love. She didn’t expect her father to find a new groom so quickly. And now here they are in the hotel room, her first night of being someone’s wife and her wine is already halfway gone.

The problem is her father caught her in the shed with the other. When her father looks at her now she sees a shadow of that look, that day in the shed, like his face is clouded with that expression, and she supposes now the clouds will never dissipate so long as his gaze is on her.

There is still a gulp or so of wine left in her glass and in her mind, she parcels it into even smaller sips. She paces her drinking even slower.

Her husband is already done with the glass he poured for himself, and he scoops her out of the armchair into his pudgy arms. He’s done waiting. His jaw is tense. He’s not as strong as he thinks he is, at least not while she is wearing this behemoth of a dress. White. He will never know. You must never tell him. Her father’s words come back to her as her husband moves determinedly toward the bed, his eyes fixed on the space in front of him. He doesn’t see her arm stretched back behind him, her hand reaching as far as it can toward the glass, all the muscles in her fingers taut. She thought she had more time.

Years later she will be washing a wine glass at the kitchen sink, the suds imprisoning the light from the kitchen window so that when she looks closely she can see the window in every bubble. The light makes rainbows in the soapy water, and she will remember that summer when her world was made of diamonds. Her breath will catch, and her husband will ask if she’s okay and she will wonder how he appears to know her so well when he is, to her, still a stranger. Yes, she will say. Yes, I am fine. She shouldn’t be drinking when the sun is still up, but she allows herself this one transgression.

She turns back to her task and observes, amused, that she isn’t fine. She’s been careless. The glass has broken. There’s a thin river of blood flowing steadily down her fingers, running off into the sink, making angry red clouds in the dishwater.

About the Author:

Jessica Dealing is currently an MFA student at Florida International University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Manzano Mountain Review, and Umbrella Factory Magazine.