Sarah said I needed exercise.
She said that if I thought the sun was trying to eat me, then okay, I could go out at night if that would help, but that I needed exercise. She said endorphins would be good for me.
I don’t suppose I’ll be releasing endorphins any other way any time soon. She closes up around herself when I’m near her.
I was not expecting a reply to the pen pal form.
What parts of yourself are you covering up with Shakespeare quotes and the old chestnut about the finger and pointing and the moon?
I think that the part of Sarah that she’s covering up with her cooking is the part that doesn’t know why she stays with me. I think that the part of me that I am covering up with my silence is the part that couldn’t exist without her.
I am sorry. I never have been good at social niceties. That was probably not the best way to start a relationship, was it? Let’s try again.
I see you think you know the ancient relationship secrets of the rats. I am sure that your Johnson enjoyed his super ball. I hope that he did not feel that New Cardboard City was just another cage.
That is a very apt name, I think. New Cardboard City. Tell me, did you make a little cardboard populace for your Johnson to terrorize?
Sarah sent me out of the apartment with a ball to play with. I am out here in New Cardboard City. Playing away. Thinking about possibly terrorizing the local cardboard populace.
The moral of the story about your students is that I am supposed to listen to other people, I know. If I just listen to others, they will understand and not be cardboard anymore, and then I won’t be alone in the hungry light of the sun.
That’s a very cardboard sort of thing to say, don’t you think? I can see one of the little cardboard people in New Cardboard City saying it right now. A cardboard teacher, perhaps, standing over a small cardboard student, saying “You must play the games that the other children like and you must talk about the things that they are interested in. You must stop with your talk of transmuting waffles into gold and finding the paths between universes. That frightens the other children. You must be a proper cardboard child who does proper cardboard things. Or else.”
I do hope your Johnson ate such people.
I am sorry for the loss of your wife. It sounds like you were happy together.
I am not very good at playing with this ball Sarah gave me.
I am taking your advice. I am listening to the cardboard people.
They say things like, “That will be twelve of the imaginary numbers that we have collectively decided to base our worth on, sir. Thank you.”
It doesn’t seem to be helping.
You speak of Nothing as if you know it. Perhaps you do. Perhaps we have different Nothings, and you know yours, and your Nothing is a warm and welcoming place.
Mine is not.
Have you ever wondered what it’s like in universes other than ours? I did, when I was a child. I could not seem to live in this universe as others did. My cardboard suit did not fit.
So I set it on fire.
I am sitting on a bench in the plaza, eating tajine from the Moroccan food stall. Watching the other people in their cardboard suits.
The bit of the planet that I live on is turned away from the sun right now so it can’t get me, but I am not sure that I trust the electric lights that much either. They are very cold and bright, and they buzz loudly in their hunger.
My Nothing is a dark sharp place, with shadows that writhe between leaping licking flames. What is your Nothing like?
The elephant fountain burbles endlessly. I watch the water for a while. Maybe that’s what your Nothing is like. Water falling and getting sucked back up in pipes and falling again, over and over, and it’s all very peaceful and calm and burbly.
I think I will go back up to the apartment and take a bath now. Releasing endorphins is sweaty business.
The buzz and crackle of fluorescent light follows me all the way home.
When I step out of the bathroom, Sarah is there. She is dressed in her pajamas, she is holding a glass of water, and she is angry.
I try to figure out what I did. I went out and played with the ball. I released endorphins. I thought I was supposed to do that.
I see the dishes on the dining table, and I realize. She expected me to come back for dinner.
I could walk past her and go to the computer in the bedroom and type all this out to you. I could go back out the door and down to the street. I could get defensive and blame her for not reminding me.
But I am trying, so I pick up the dishes and take them over to the sink.
She still hasn’t said anything.
I think I am confusing her by washing the dishes. Maybe that’s why she’s not talking.
That is her very serious tone of voice.
“Your therapist’s office called today and left a message. You haven’t been to your last two appointments.”
I put the dishes down in the sink.
“Do you want to tell me why you aren’t going? We still have to pay for the appointments, you know.”
I listen to the water falling from the faucet. It splashes down on the dishes. One of the forks clinks against a plate.
“Is this not important to you? Am I not important to you?”
I turn the water off.
I could say, “Yes, you are important. I’m sorry. I should have told you.”
I could say, “The endorphins didn’t help.”
I could say, “Whenever I go to sleep the fire comes, and I can’t get away from it.”
I don’t say any of those things.
I say, “I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t go through my phone.”
She sits at the table. I turn the TV on, so I have an excuse for not looking at her.
She says, “You are going to go to therapy. You are going to come home for dinner. You are going to talk to me.”
She takes a swig of her water. I hear her swallow. It’s a very fierce sort of swallow.
She slams the glass down on the table.
“Or I’m going to leave.”
After that, she went to bed. She stayed awake for a while, reading. I heard her crying.
I didn’t come in here until I heard the snores.
I hope I haven’t scared you off, Jasper. Writing these things out and being able to pretend that someone out there heard them helps. It does.
Tomorrow I will call the therapist’s office. I will figure something out.
I think that the part of me that I am covering up with my silence is the part that couldn’t exist without her.