MY WIFE IS A leak. I mean, she’s leaking. Halfway through the early bird special, Mabel doubles over and spills clear, tasteless fluid from her nose all over her leafy greens. Granted, we’re not exactly brimming with piss and vinegar like we used to, but we still have our faculties about us. I say, “Honeybee, get a hold of yourself.” She pinches her nose with her index and thumb, hobbles down the hall to the ladies room and yells, “Don’t start without me.” People! Always got to wash them at their ends. Just out of nowhere, and still.
For the gossips, it’s the talk of the town. A real barnburner. Have you heard about Luce’s wife? Incontinent woman near drown the bus boy. Needed mouth-to-mouth just to revive him.
With tissue dangling from her nostrils, Mabel asks, “You still think I’m pretty?”
I turn to Mabel, I say, “Those chicken shits don’t know a thing.”
But still, the leak. In her youth, Mabel used to model high contrast women’s clothes on TV, before it made the jump to color. Brightest outfits you’ve ever seen. I’d joke, “I’ll never lose you in that, ha, ha.” She was commercial; she was beautiful. Now we’re fiddling in the tool kit for a C-clamp to plug her nose.
“Did you take your allergy pills today?” I ask.
“They make my tongue feel fuzzy like velcro.”
“Doc says they’ll help with the constant drip.”
“That limp dick, and his five dollar words. Shoving his degree in my face. Talking about my un-control. My material expressiveness.”
“What did you eat today?”
“Plums, candied walnuts, a beet salad. Tin of sardines. A finger or two of brandy.”
“Are those allowed?”
“Doc says women consume in excess. That’s why they gotta flush themselves out all the time—this clamp is killing me.”
“C’mere.” I gently pull off the clamp and bring her close, letting her wipe her nose on my shoulder. “We’ll fall asleep, tomorrow will come regardless.”
In the morning, a wet blanket. Oh.
“Mabel, what happened?”
“My body’s embarrassing itself. I’m losing it.”
“You make breakfast. I’ll change the sheets.”
In the washroom, wringing urine out into the basin. Is this love? I read once that when a woman soils herself, not only does she lose control, she also releases many of the virtues she possessed prior to her looseness. A gossip of the bladder. What’s that skip rope rhyme?
with barely hood
she pyst where she stood
than she began to weep
I don’t know about all that. But the nasal drip. And now the bed wetting. Dignity’s a funny thing. I need to hold her up through all this. Dig her out. Keep her state of quality exhumed from the corporeal waste of the female body. Like separating yolk and egg. She’s still my girl.
In the kitchen, Mabel is sautéing diced onions, peeled garlic, and shallots. She’s crying.
“I swear it’s just the fry-up,” she says.
“I got you something. It’s your nose clip from when you used to swim. Should be softer than the clamp.”
“I miss the water.”
“You were incredible. You looked so at home—and those neon bathers. Just a flash of color.”
“How do I look?”
“I can’t keep anything in. I’m a sieve. I’ve got too many sluices to let it all out.”
“You’re full of life. You always have been.” I put one hand gently on her stomach, the other on the small of her back. “You’re making breakfast. You’ve made me a husband. You’ve made us a home. You’ve made a daughter. You’ve got little planets growing in here. You can make it all.” Between my hands, water sloshes back and forth. Her solar plexus, and all the functioning viscera, hums along to some grand maneuver. She teems.
In the parking lot of the market, I run into Nance, Mabel’s friend from bridge.
“Just devastated to hear about Mabel. Gruesome, really.”
“I’d prefer to keep this in the family.”
“Oh, yes, yes, I agree. I think we’re all doing our best to contain her …” cupping her leather-gloved hand around her mouth, “… embarrassing humours.” Nancy cracks a smile so sharp it splits a line in her make-up. “And my, how are you doing through all this misfortune?”
“This really isn’t about me.”
“Oh dear, but it is. The things we love are always a reflection of ourselves. And the ones we love, even more revealing. Certainly you must hear what they say down at the lodge.”
“I’m not interested in the squabbling of the hen house.”
“Well. If that’s how you feel. But you know what they say, ‘the whore is the leakiest of all female vessels.’ I’d just hate for Mabel’s good name to be thought of as something unchaste, and hyper-effluent. Such a sweet, simple girl.”
When I get home, Mabel is reclining in the armchair, with the TV playing for no one, everyone.
“Can you even see at that angle?” I ask.
“It helps the drip. Plus, I know this Jeopardy by heart. It’s those two handsome boys versus the IBM computer.”
“Oh, the computer. By a long shot. I remember reading in the paper, something about ‘soft filtering.’ Or distilling natural language. It takes the whole world in, and leaves with the answer. Isn’t that something?”
In front of the computer, I start to type
how to love someone
and then the internet suggests
with depression, with anxiety, with attention deficit disorder
, but I think I was really looking for:
. I find a quote by someone named Shannon L. Alder: “If you’re going to love someone or something then don’t be a slow leaking faucet—be a hurricane.” Then I find an article titled ‘How to Recover from Leaked Nude Photographs.’ How would the supercomputer answer this? In the form of a question. I move the cursor over the prompt that says
, and then the computer asks,
are you sure you want to go to sleep?
yes, yes, yes
until the screen goes dark.
“Luce. Are you awake?”
“What is it?”
“I need you to go to the store.”
I haven’t had to buy tampons in twenty years. The boy who rings me up says something like, ‘Getting these for your granddaughter?’ and I say, ‘Fetch me the key to your bathroom,’ because nothing is lower than being in charge of a toilet. In the stall, some gibberish is etched into the partition.
her nose somedele hoked
and camously croked
but ever dropyynge
Another brazen act of vandalism. This town is dissolving.
I wake up to the swish and gargle of the washing machine. We’re always cleaning now. It’s not so bad. The nice thing about laundry is that it’s a non-activity. You can be doing laundry while you, say, slow dance with your wife to the radio. The laundry is still doing itself while you gently dip her head back, and still going while Modern English croons
you’ve seen the difference and it’s getting better all the time
, and even still while you sway together, knowing yes, we’re delicate, but also yes, we’re powerful. It’s very different than doing the dishes, which requires all of your body but almost none of your mind. Which is to say nothing of scrubbing the tub, which asks everything of you.
“Luce. Do you remember when we first brought Sarah home?”
“We were so worried. We couldn’t get her to eat for days.”
“She wouldn’t latch.”
“And then the thrush.”
“Look at me now. I’m overflowing.”
With the swimming clip, the adult diapers, and the tampons, Mabel’s been joking that’s she’s more machine than woman now.
“According to the Greeks, all this blood and phlegm means you’re just too sanguine. Too courageous. Too playful.”
“I feel choleric.”
“How’s your liver?”
“Full of yellow bile.”
“I knew it.”
“Luce. What if this doesn’t stop? I don’t know how much more I have left.”
“Listen. If I die, you must bury me in my prom dress.”
“Because Nance thinks I can’t fit into it any more—and I can.”
I need to learn how to love like a hurricane but I don’t know how because I’m so goddamn tired. Mabel isn’t the only one falling apart. That’s not what I meant to say. I mean, I too wake up with desperate bones. Everything’s thinning, the hair, the skin, the vision. Even the skin of my teeth is getting thinner. It will never be said because it’s the thing we both know, and the things we know to be true aren’t worth saying aloud. I can’t get sick. Together, we’re a person at best. A ship needs one good man rowing. Clean forget the tempest. Above all, we need good weather.
Mabel’s been drinking a strange concoction she calls a ‘drain plug.’ After I’ve already made the morning coffee, she’ll take the leftover grounds and twice-boil them in a pot with two tablespoons of chicken grease and a pinch of cornstarch. Washes the whole thing down with a bowl of porridge and some saltine crackers.
She says “If it chokes up the sink, why not me?”
We need to get out of the house. I call the receptionist down at the lodge to see if the pool is open.
“Unfortunately, we do not have any senior swim openings right now.”
“Listen, Luce. We’ve been made aware of Mabel’s condition. In an effort to keep things sanitary for our other members, we think it’s in everyone’s best interest that …”
In the living room, Mabel is playing a card game called Concentration. You lay all the cards in four rows of thirteen cards. You flip two cards face-up at a time—if they are of the same number and color, then you win the pair. It’s a memory game. She’s solves the whole thing in under a minute. Her hands fly in between flipping cards, and licking her fingers for grip. From the next room, all you hear is the gentle rattle of her jewelry.
“Get your things together.”
“Jesus, what is it?”
“We’re going to the beach.”
Her eyes haven’t shone like that in a long, long time. She was all movement, stuffing extra napkins, pads, and allergy pills into a fanny pack. Before you know it we’re in bathing suits, in sunscreen, in sun glasses, in sandals, in the car.
“Can you believe it, Luce? A day at the beach. After everything—”
“We’re long overdue for a—”
“Well, yes. Just know that I realize how—watch the road.”
“I am. What with my license registration coming up, and us getting older. Who knows how many more times we’ll be able to do this.”
“How do you mean?”
“You know, care taking takes time. We gotta—”
“You’re riding the median. Let’s not forget who is actually going through—”
“Okay. Easy on the gas.”
“Who’s steering this thing, you or me?”
Mabel fiddles with the radio and suddenly The Paris Sisters are singing I love how your eyes close / whenever you kiss me . She hums along for a moment, readjusts her nose clip, wipes spittle from her chin, then asks, “Luce, do you think I’m a burden?”
“What’s gotten into you? Don’t sour today—”
“That’s what love is, you—”
“Bear one another’s burdens.”
As I’m pulling into the parking lot, the radio is fading out. We gather our stuff and trudge through the sand in silence. Maybe we haven’t been out in a while, but the sun seems to be tearing a hole in the sky. Quick beads of sweat run down Mabel’s arms as she drags her folding chair behind her. Sweat crawls into her eyes, the backs of her knees, between her toes, points of her elbows, ridge of her nose, crest of her ear, ends of her hair, nape of her neck, and across the blonde gossamer hair of her upper lip. She glistens. When we reach the shore, she sheds her outerwear, clip and all.
“I’m going in,” she says.
“I might just rest my eyes here for one moment.”
Mabel walks down to the shore, slick with sweat, nose dribbling, tugging on the ends of her neon bathers. She’s almost skipping. It’s nice to see her like this. Bright and awake. I’m so tired. And the sun’s burning heavy on my eyes. Watching Mabel slip into the glassy stream. And those trunks—what color. Rest for a spell. My mermaid, at a distance. Head bobbing, by the buoy. Ingress and egress. So drowsy. Too much of water. Mabel, further still. Brilliant and unpolluted. Clean and invisible to the naked eye. Shimmering, out. Warm sea glint, out. A flash, out, out.