November 2009

Martin Brick


Martin Brick recently completed a Ph.D. at Marquette University and is now Assistant Professor of English at Ohio Dominican University. "Ten-Year Plan" is part of a collection of interrelated short-shorts and flash fiction. Other pieces from the project have been published in Pindeldyboz, The Vestal Review, Sou'Wester, the Orphan Leaf Review, and other places.

Ten-Year Plan

How can it take someone so long to leave? I used to wonder about him in the morning as I tried to linger in bed. I heard Jay in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in his office down the hall. I had to wonder what he did. He's a man. There's no primping and preening. No make-up to put on. No exfoliating creams. No need to stare long and hard into the mirror trying to decide how many eyebrow hairs had to go. Men are supposed to take a quick shower, throw on a tie and shirt, grab a cup of coffee and go. But he never did the coffee either, which probably should have tipped me off.

Coffee was part of the ten-year plan, a seminal part, in fact. At twenty-two it was a coffee-shop whim. With friends, feeling elated, freshly out of college, starter jobs that dragged us down, but we were still able to stay out to all hours. On a napkin we penned our ten-year plans. There were the years to explore, years reserved for Europe, or the Peace Corp for the more generous of us. There were years to waste. Drinking. Crummy apartments. Lots of live music. There were requirements to fulfill. At least five boyfriends, one slick and cool GQ boy, one naïve but hunky kid fresh from Iowa (and relish the chance to show him what experienced women know), one moody artist, one sensitive type, and one intellectual, like a philosophy grad student. Experience them all and weigh the virtues and drawback of each. Perfect way to know what the one-and-only for your marriage at 32 ought to be like.

Problem is I really fell for the naïve farm boy. He wasn't Woody-from-Cheers naïve, but his bedroom résumé was a little thin. Nevertheless, he was ambitious, which is exactly what I wanted. And he was sweet and had a plan. A degree in accounting, he took a job with the regional IRS office. Not the kind of a guy to have a ten-year plan, however. More like a fifty-year plan that isn't punctuated by much except marriage, home, kids, investment, retirement, and death.

But I thought it would mesh with my ten-year plan. A little on the traditional side, Jay didn't mind my staying home. Which is good, because that meant I could chase those other goals on my plan. A focus on my photography. Solo shows. Maybe I could catch up with my old friends and we really could start up that counter-cultural magazine we always said we would.

This morning when I couldn't hear his sounds in the bathroom or anywhere, I knew he wasn't there. Before I ever got up and found the note, I knew he was gone for good. And I had to wonder, why does it take someone so long to leave?

He always managed to wait me out. I'd get out of bed and he'd be cheery and conversational. He'd ask what I had on the "agenda" for the day. I think this is what bothered me the most, probably because I don't think he ever understood what I wanted to do. Photographic expression was never like accounting, with a plain and clear purpose, so I became embarrassed. Like it was worse than a mere hobby, it was like a personality. Like an annoying laugh or bad breath or something someone you love might have and make you cringe in public, though you'd never say anything.

He made me coffee before he left. What a gesture of love, but it annoyed me to no end. I can't explain why, just as I can't explain why I hated rising with him still in the house, and can't explain why I hated the way he always needed to give me a very deep, long kiss before he left. When the phone rang in the middle of the day, I could never answer for fear that it might be him. I can't tell you exactly what troubled me so much. Maybe fear that he'd ask a hard question, but it would be a common question. The questions you don't ask yourself because they ruin your day.

Maybe we had a relationship like you have with your parents. That's the most normal analogy I can imagine. You're afraid he/they will ask something like "How are you feeling?" and you answer "okay" (you do, in fact). But that's just a pat response, and someone you love deserves more. You don't want to burden them with an analysis of okayedness, but you sense they don't buy the "okay" in the first place. You feel guilty and suddenly you're profoundly not-okay. This kind of guilt puts you right back into bed with a pulp novel and it becomes really hard to be productive.

And to think he wanted us to have a baby. When I was 27, which was way out of sync with my ten-year plan. And I almost gave in. In the back of my head there was a voice that said it would give us something to talk about. The child would be like an intermediary. We'd talk about the child, and it would be so much easier for me to be me, because I wouldn't have to explain myself to him any longer. I'd finally recede back into the shadow, where it's easier.

Odd how you can share so much with strangers. At book club, it's just women. All women, married or single, but all in need of this twenty-first century "feminine" connection. We read books with isolated 30-something narrators onto which we project our own lives. We share our souls in the cushy chairs at the Barnes & Noble and then go home and, I think, most try to get their husbands to share their souls too. Not me. I've taken rather well to the young man who works in the Starbucks connected to the B & N. I order a tall dark roast every week and he jokes with me. Then we meet outside, both trying to steal a quick cigarette. It is so refreshing to let someone know that I like cigarettes, because I constantly hide them from Jay. What do you say to a man who doesn't understand vice? I know it's a vice, I know it's bad, and that's exactly why I like them. The rush of decadence is so much more exhilarating than the spin the nicotine gives me. But I don't think Jay has ever felt that kind of high.

The thing with the man from the Starbucks, it's innocent. I don't think we ever touched apart from him placing change in my palm. Yet we talk every week. I lied to him. Told him my first kiss was years earlier than my first kiss really was. Told him I have a 50-gallon tank full of exotic fish. Told him my father was a Chilean political refugee. Told him I had my tonsils removed at age eight. Why? Why do anything, except because I can. I love that feeling.

Why didn't I just leave first, rather than waiting for Jay to feel the death of whatever we once had? I don't know. Lack of planning I guess. Feeling vaguely discontent, but not knowing what else to do and not really wanting to do anything else. Maybe subconsciously wanting someone to take my former plan and crumble it, eventually handing me a new blank sheet. I'm forced to fill it now. The new ten-year plan.



Martin Brick: Poetry
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