She sold the water rights to her body years ago, but that didn’t mean her husband wanted them.
John, a man who once accidentally began to taxidermy an animal that was still alive, held these rights with some regret. There was a drought in California and it was occupying all his time. He was a speech writer for a prominent river activist. Yet he washed his work clothes in their own nightly load.
He became morally against condiments. They made him feel sick. To be clear: her husband disliked sleeping with her. And she wanted to know why. She felt like an alien in her own home. She felt buzzy, planetary glee when the shower went on above her and drenched her with water that had once been part of a floating unidentified cloud the color of scuzzy flavored condoms. She tried to initiate. John begged off. “Why won’t you sleep with me?” she said. She tried to sound tough. He would not answer her. He was already a million miles away, going where he went when he slept, in his dreams: the Amazon, where he’d done Peace Corps and protected tributaries at great physical risk. Her body was popular in high school. Tight. Especially among persons on teams who played with a certain intensity. If fucking were a political issue hers would have killed seals in the Arctic Circle. She used to work on car transmissions, like her dad. This gave her a particular type of shoulder that John used to find attractive. Her dad bought her a piece of blue coconut cake for breakfast after their first wreck. They’d been on the way to the smallest still-kayakable river in the state. She popped a child out. She did not need to scream or cry, but she did anyway. “She’s leaking the Clark Fork,” John said to his mother, another advocate of river health. His mother knew the name of every river in the world. She was bedbound but had made the trip to the hospital to see the child. When she got pregnant, John had gone on paternity leave. He felt sick more often. Washing his clothes too much did not help. Her and John’s marriage was populated by swift dinners and skipped PTA meetings and one coddled small animal John had trouble thinking of as a dog. The child aged, quickly, like a mosquito or one of those insects who passes away after two days. The child lived: but not for long. Or, for too long. It died at 18 in a car accident, after a long addiction to painkillers. John begged off sex most nights. She quit bothering him about it. Her body became less than ideal. She woke to him throwing up in the mornings, and she made a pregnancy joke. “You’re the one getting fat,” he said, crankily. Water rights, was the phrase in her head. Water rights. A long loose tail inside her like a spine, whipping around, forking into her moods down through the center of her. The reason turned out to be cancer, a type of cancer that came for your birthday and ate yellow cake and sucked at the frosting. It took his libido, John said. Liar, she said. Liar, liar, liar. She thought maybe he had cancer but was using this as an excuse. She walked in on him in the shower, jerking off. As your marriage ages this is what you do. You ignore. You lie to yourself. You burn and you burn and you put yourself out with yoga and a Keurig and sumo squats. You examine your slack arms. At Costco she sampled Almond Joy creamer and bought the family pack. She took back her body. She started taking spin classes that left her feeling mentally violated, sore at the brainstem from obeying someone for a full hour, or trying to obey. After, she put on the hardcore pornography she’d recorded onto her iPod and lifted weights. She observed thigh muscles of gym men flex. Very built and slightly built and working on everything and obese with bulgy calves—she watched them. She observed their members under their shorts and used this to push herself more. She masturbated next to her husband in bed, thinking of these men in the gym, of how hard they worked to change themselves. She imagined what their penises would be like. Their son someday, ten years before he will die, five before he will become addicted to painkillers he got breaking his pelvis, will see a hyena without a mouth and it will remind him of one day as a child when he told his mother there was a rattlesnake in their yard. She refused to believe him—“It’s the sprinkler,” she said, and he had a fever that day, and the sun bleared madly at him. His dad came home and pried the boards up from the porch and found beneath a pregnant rattlesnake, its belly fat, which he killed with a shovel.
One night she found John changing the bulb of her bedside table lamp. “I miss us,” he said, and he took hold of her by her body and tried to show her that he desired her. After they were done she took her breasts in her hands and held herself. He put his hand on her pubic bone and moved his fingers in a tickling way, wanting to go again. This she ignored. Two hours later, she shifted and got up to get water. More of his semen rolled down the inside of her thigh where it had been, she imagined, maintaining itself in some undercooked fold of her. The next day he wrote the best speech of his life and went into emergency surgery and died. His speech was full of lies, but if you took the lies in the larger context of the world, they were all true. Liar, she said, liar liar liar.