Oh, my heart. When I read these submissions, I am never ready. I am never ready for the rawness, and the glaring cruelty of humanity or the tender precision of love. I wonder if the writers have some kind of catharsis, or if they feel unencumbered, throwing their “if only you knew,” out into the world. Then, I wonder: Does it matter if we know the backstory? Do I need to know this to love another human? Grace and mercy. That’s all I got.
It should have been a pleasant task. On New Year’s Eve afternoon she sat clicking through pictures on the laptop, trying to decide which ones to use to create a calendar for her grandmother. She had meant to make the calendar earlier so it would be a true, on-time Christmas present, but in the whirlwind of the holiday the task had been pushed to the bottom of the to-do list. Guilty feelings about her procrastination dogged her as she sorted through pictures of her children’s smiles, milestones, antics, and accomplishments.
“You should have done this sooner,” her Mother-in-Her-Head voice chided.
“It can be a ‘holiday’ present — a ‘New Year’s’ present. Your grandmother won’t mind if it’s a little late,” her Inner Child whined.
Inner Child winced as the rationalized excuses tumbled out, and Mother-in-Her-Head smirked. She continued to dutifully click, opening folders, closing folders, scrolling through small tiles, wishing the job over and the calendar made by some magical, outside force.
Her husband used the laptop more than she did, so the folder organization was unfamiliar territory. The folders were not labeled logically, and pictures were stored in odd places. As a result, since every folder might contain the very image she wanted, she had to open every folder. Her husband’s inconsiderate (in her opinion) illlogic added a layer of irritation to an already joyless task. Her shoulders tensed, her breath hissed between her teeth, her finger clicked.
The folder named “Music” yielded the discovery. Small images of naked male bodies exploded on the screen. In the seconds it took for her to process what she was viewing, she simultaneously felt embarrassment, curiosity, and rage. She double-clicked on the one named “my big c***”.
He had taken the picture himself, using the mirror in the downstairs bathroom. He had angled his body sideways in the shot to display his erect penis. He had saved and named the picture with pride, she imagined. “And then what had he done with it?” she wondered.
She continued to open and close files, sometimes viewing pictures of her husband, sometimes viewing pictures of complete strangers, asking herself, “Who is he? Does my husband really think that is attractive? Where is he sending or posting these pictures? What if people find out? What am I going to tell my parents? What am I going to tell my children? How could I not have known? How could he do this to me?” And the most dreadful question of all beat in her ears in time to the blood pounding: “whywhywhywhyWHYWHYWHYWHY!”
Her arms went numb, her fingers tingled, her chest tightened, her stomach sank, her jaw clenched, her vision blurred. She shook herself to ward off the shock that was setting in. With resolve, she picked up the phone and dialed.
He answered the phone on the third ring.
“Hi, honey. What’s up?”
“Listen to me carefully. You are going to explain to your manager that your wife just called and that she is ill. You need to go home immediately; it can’t be helped. Then you are going to get in your car. You are going to come straight home.”
“What’s this all about?” he scoffed. She heard the derision, the dismissal in his tone.
“You need to come home and explain the FILTH that I found on the computer,” she replied with effort, enunciating each word so that its weight would be felt, so that her anger would reach him through the phone without her having to shriek with the rage of a hysterical lunatic.
There was silence on his end of the phone, almost too long for her to stand.
“Okay,” he replied curtly. She pictured him pressing his lips into a thin, determined line.
She hung up the phone and sat back to wait for the sound of the car in the driveway.