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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 29, January 31, 2017
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The Crush

 

by Nancy Scott Hanway


 

 

            I know my marriage is over when I get a crush on the marriage counselor. It hits me as I am getting ready for our appointment, feeling the dread that always comes upon me when I have to drive somewhere with my wife. In the car my wife can never stop complaining—about other drivers, potholes, the vinyl-clad raised ranch that stands beside a decaying farmhouse. But most of all, she likes to dissect transportation problems—how each on-ramp and stoplight signify the idiocy of highway engineers,

and, mainly, how mediocrity of purpose has overtaken the world. She is very often right.

 

The marriage counselor is a calm, red-haired woman with a beautiful body that she hides beneath long shapeless sweaters that flutter as she moves. Her name is Linnea: a fanciful but peculiarly Midwestern name. My wife has always commented that these are expensive clothes, and I can hear the jealousy in her voice that she can’t afford to buy nice things, in part because she married me, a man so seriously underemployed that my mother-in-law regularly sends us clippings from the Chicago Tribune with titles like “The Curse of the Master’s Degree,” along with occasional checks to help us pay the mortgage.

 

Linnea has a sweet smile, and when I talk about myself she leans forward, hands on her knees, listening. That’s when her sweater falls open, and I take a quick look at the shape of her lovely chest—she’s wearing a thin, white T-shirt underneath—before I look away. I am hoping she won’t notice. She asks me to speak first, and my wife grows restless and angry. When we leave, my wife complains that Linnea is on my side. This isn’t true. I don’t think she likes either one of us.

 

            About two months into our counseling, my wife and I travel to Paris—a tenth-anniversary present from my parents—where we fight so bitterly that afterward we catalog major monuments by our spats: “Les Invalides, yes that’s where you stalked off and left me to buy those tickets by myself,” she says.

 

            “She wouldn’t talk to me the entire time we were in the Louvre,” I tell Linnea.

 

            Linnea leans back, disappointed as always that we’ve taken that sharp turn into self-pity. Then my wife says I fight because I feel emasculated by her stable career, by her promotions, even though she doesn’t earn enough to support us both. But I know I fight because she can’t stop complaining about the French transportation system. She claims I misrepresented the beauties of the Metro, that all my stories about Paris made her believe it was mystical and serene. That this is the story of her life with me; in fact, she says, it’s all about stories and never about kindness.

 

            “So let’s really talk about why Paris wasn’t a success.” Today Linnea is wearing a sweater that actually shows off her figure. I wonder if this is some kind of sign to me, whether she’s coming on to me unconsciously, and then I kick myself for being so lame, so obviously a guy on his way to divorce, the kind of guy who assumes women are interested when they’re not. I can’t focus on what she’s saying, because I’m watching her lovely body again. Actually, that’s not right. I don’t want to listen, because she’s talking about how my wife and I have lost trust in each other, that we lack an intangible but essential ingredient of love. And while it’s true, it doesn’t help us: Stories are for making life more bearable, and this one simply exposes a sad fact with an inevitable end.

 

            I love my wife, and what we most lack is not trust but communion. In Paris, my wife can’t see the city that I do—an ancient, cobblestoned, iron-peaked city of medieval churches—because she is too busy critiquing proofreading errors in our guidebook and worrying about whether we will get our VAT refund when we return through customs. And the irony is that while she claims that, unlike me, she resides in the ordinary world, it’s clear that she lives at one remove, in an improved, more efficient land of her own design. It’s just another type of story.

 

            When Linnea leans forward I can see her stomach muscles tense, beneath her sweater, and I wonder if she runs. I can see her jogging out her front door, telling her husband, “I’ll be back in an hour.”

 

            Or would she have to tell him? They know each other’s rhythms; they have an order to their lives. Every evening at six she goes running, miles from their house, on a country highway lined with sunflower fields. Sometimes he drives out to find her, just because he’s worried all of a sudden that something has happened. Long before she can hear the car, he can see her in the distance. He admires her graceful stride; he watches her shadow slanting against the fields. When he pulls up beside her, she slows down and turns with her kind, open face to greet him.