“We had this fight in 1979 in Marrakesh,” he said. I laid back, along the arc of the purple fainting couch, wishing it was made of some cool fabric. I needed a bed of ice.
He was probably right. Marrakesh to me was a bright migraine, haggling crammed into bazars thick with the scents of human sweat and animal hair, reflective surfaces embroidered into every turn, piercing me with the sun, mirrors minuscule and grand following me, channeling the sun, white hot and shrill, into my veins.
“Oh Marrakesh,” I say to friends or strangers (they are much the same, they say the same things), “it’s lovely. So old, yet so alive.” These are the kind of things you are expected to feel, as someone who loves abroad. I am an artist, my husband and I travel, thus I am expected to inhabit the world more gracefully than the people I dine with who say, wistfully, “what was that like.” That’s the contract. If I responded with, “It was hot and dirty and I had a headache much of the time,” I would be forced to rescind my creative sash and return to the typing pool.
But Harold would never let me do that. I hate him sometimes, for the way he tends to me. Because it is impermanent. He is always drawn away, to his life outside, all the people and places that need him, while I am in whatever home we’ve made, slave to the muse, and when abandoned by that, solely someone’s wife.
I have never been well.
Now, what they so coyly call the change, another euphemism to lessen the stark horrors that women endure to as not offend the testicled ravages me, and as much as Harold tries to comfort me I can’t explain it to him and so his sympathy lacks a critical depth. I feel as though I am growing a new skin by shedding the one I’ve become accustomed to in raw bits.
I have always been overburdened by feminine ailments. I believe it to be punishment for never wanting to be a mother. I don’t believe in God. So, He punishes me even more. My periods were always irregular, clot-laded, irregular, prefaced by aching and tenderness a week or more.
I have been unwell so often, for so long, I assume he has had mistresses. He would not go for some tawdry string of opportunities, it was certainly a string of relationships, with colleagues. Birdlike, nervous intellects who thought themselves superior to me. I know that I was never his type.
Voluptuous, of the earth, prone to histrionics, I made a fine wife in the early days. It gave him energy to look after me. But somewhere, after Omaha but before Marrakesh, he turned from catering to my whims at his behest to needing to be cajoled.
I don’t remember the argument, how could I, I had a headache that whole year. I just remember being there. How it was not what I expected. I had seen a copy of a painting once, The Favorite of The Emir, a pleasingly doughy white woman swooned across a couch not unlike the one I reclined on here on our Lisbon veranda, fanned by a brown skinned man as the whole glittering blue sea flooded the porticos.
Instead, we lived in a cramped two-bedroom apartment above a restaurant which smelled like hookah smoke, cumin, and burnt oil. I grew fat, despondent, and hot. He spent the duration of his fellowship buried in some library of old books and never took me anywhere.
When I was unhappy in our station I hated him a little more with each passing day.
“You liked me better, before. That’s the difference between us. I’ve always known who I am. You float above yourself, trying to pinpoint who you are. You hate me because I have self-actualized and all you do is scribble away and ponder.”
“I don’t hate you,” he said simply. His too-round spectacle slid down his nose because it’s sweating too much. “I have grown tired of you, though. Indifferent to your pain. And, as that is all you are, a sum of your small sufferings, and detached theories, I have lost interest. I always loved you as a woman. But, as a person, I find you…grating.”
He paused for a long time before saying, in a quiet, kind, tone, “I think it would be better for you, Marla, if you lived in the world.”
I wondered if this meant that he was leaving. I wondered if I could find another who would care for me. I wished I could remember the fight in Marrakesh. It obviously had meaning. Oh, but the migraines.
Later, he came upstairs with a tray of frozen grapes. He fanned me with one of a set of Japanese fans someone had sent him from their travels that I had hung at the entryway in a fit of domesticity. It was a nod to the importance, to Harold, that we always appear interesting. It was more attainable, and noble, than wealthy.
“I’m not leaving,” he said, though I hadn’t voiced my fear to him. I felt a wave of relief so cool it almost calmed me. I had been with him through four dress sizes, fifteen telephone numbers, twelve changes of address, six thousand and seventy-two emails, and one uterus. I didn’t care so much now, if he loved me, or even served me. I couldn’t bear to lose the only human on the planet who truly knew me.
Emily is a freelance writer in the DC metro area, currently working on a novel.