Coral Bones

Sitting in the middle of the living room floor. Dog milling about anxiously, head down, tail subdued. The occasional hushed, then randomly boisterous talk of the movers packing her things. Her entire collection of sand and shells, collected over more than a decade, sitting on the floor in front of her, each painstakingly placed in a glass jar, with a label dated and location written in calligraphic ink, tied with a piece of twine. Reeling, waiting.

He’d told her they had to split this treasured collection. In his mind, he had been blindsided by her request for a divorce, her actually moving out. He’d never seen the signs even in couple’s therapy, was unable to hear her when she said, anguished, “you’re not listening to me”. He was starting to figure it out, though, and unconsciously started to even the distress-score to his satisfaction. As if she wasn’t already paying through the nose to move, for the massive pet deposit, giving up her car, giving up the house. The credit card statements and medical bills from the past four years had been painstakingly calculated, and of course she was in the red. Crimson. Pride made her agree, and desperation to breathe again and sleep feeling safe and unmonitored in her own bed made her exceptionally willing to just get it over with.

A twist, after he had been so agreeable about everything – her rational mind told her she shouldn’t be surprised. She’d once thought wryly when she heard him arguing with a customer service rep that she’d probably regret breaking up with him; he was so irrational and hateful and childish with the rep, and they had merely rejected prompt cable service.

He knelt in front of her, slapped his knees eagerly, and cheerfully said, “You go first!”

“What?”

“You pick first, and then I’ll go,” with magnanimity.

Last straw, the tears started falling. But not in delicate little droplets, but instead in miserable rivers. She hated this, promised herself she wouldn’t cry, was angry with herself. This was actually happening.

“Do we have to do this?” she managed.

“Yeah, of course. I deserve half.”

Deserve. A wave of nausea washed over her, but she was not about to fucking throw up in the middle of this. She wouldn’t sob and beg; even though she couldn’t stop the tears, she’d rather die than vomit and give that evidence of devastation.

“Go on…”

She reached out for the jar of stones from the Puget Sound closest to her, unwilling to “choose”, but knowing that the longer she waited, the more cajoling and cheerful he would act. She couldn’t bear much more of his affected joviality; it just had to be over.

“Good choice! I really like those. I’ll take THIS one!”

She told herself the one he took wasn’t valuable to her, but this death by a thousand cuts was intentional, another bitter pill of passage. A blur of choices, and after a long time she couldn’t stand the grotesque, blithe roleplay, and just gave up the rest of them. He noted that she took the container of colorful, brilliant paper tubes they’d fed goldfish from at the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial in Taipei, and wanted half of them. She opened the jar and gave them over. He asked that when she finally (manages to overcome her depression and) jar the sand from the most recent trip that he’d like half of that too.

In a daze, she indicated to the movers which of her sand was there for them to pack. It would take half of forever, but only half, because the other half wasn’t going with her. She straightened her back and mentioned to her almost-ex that if he ever wanted to give it away, she would gladly take it, or buy it from him. He declined, saying it was too valuable. He went about his merry business, and she stumbled down the hall to find something useful to do, some distraction that furthered her move. Knowing she shouldn’t, she came back into the room to take one more glance at her lost darlings, and felt the nausea again.

“Do you have the car keys?”

This question, barely even part of reality. “What?”

“To the car. Your keys.”

“What?” Ridiculously repeated, dumbstruck.

“Well, if you’re leaving you need to turn over the car, too.” He handed her the keys to the delaminated beater, in the height of the Texas summer, the one she’d bought more than a decade ago, urged him to get rid of, the “dog car” without air conditioning that he insisted on sacrificially driving as a show of how chivalrous and frugal he was.

Again trapped, between safety and loss, she turned to get her other keys, a few bags to collect her belongings. She’d agreed to give him the beautiful car in exchange for some of her debt. But she didn’t expect it now, today, like this, another foundation of her identity hewn by this cleaving process between one scared and beleaguered woman, one angry and dejected man.

He followed her out to the car, and she opened the trunk, ignoring him.

“Hey, open the doors…”

“Why.” she asked, even though she knew why, looking at him through the tears that molded her face into a rictus.

“I wanna help.”

“Get the fuck away from my car.”

From across the street, a mover stumbled. She hadn’t said it loudly, but she imagined the intensity of her hate had broadcast her statement across psychic bands. He stepped back, mumbled something, and went back into the house.

Unbroken sobbing as she cleaned out her adorable little car, wiping away the snot with old used napkins on the floor, not caring who saw forgetting that there was a box of pristine kleenex in the glove box. She was beyond giving a fuck. She was grateful he hadn’t tried to approach her; she knew from years of fighting tooth and nail with her mother’s ex husband that if he had come near her, she would have tried her very best to dismember him.

She stumbled back to the house to put this abstract collection of rubble somewhere she would remember to take it with her, and one of the movers stepped in front of her.

“Ma’am…did he hurt you?”

The Latin gallantry of that gesture, the obol he offered, gave her strength. She didn’t know how very much of it she would still need, as the day and its aftershocks wore on, but that was OK. The occasional “pinche Chino” when he wasn’t in the room bolstered her, as did the raised-eyebrow proffering of the wedding photo which allowed her to whisper “fuck no” to peals of laughter.

But it really didn’t matter anyway. She was as dead as the fragmented coral in those jars.