I reached out across the sheets and put my hand over the small of her back just above the skin, her camisole cinched, my mind in full focus as I encountered her aura. I breathed deeply thinking maybe this is the road back. It’d been awhile. I tried to think how long it’s been as I glided my hand above her butt feeling static generate from her panties, holding my hand just above contact like maybe the magic of silk and electro-magnetism would change things.
In the beginning of our relationship she would turn to me late at night and ask questions like “Do you think I have nice hands?” And words would slide out of my mouth, “slender, soft.” She would listen and take it in and I could feel her smiling in the dark and we would make love.
We agreed, before we committed to each other, to live our relationship outside convention. The first step was not to get married. We made a list, Nina insisted, a list of everything we didn’t want: the corporate world, jobs with time cards, doctors with pills.
It worked for a while. We lived in Pago Pago. Then, the problem of pregnancy, medical care – we moved to Hawaii.
“Do you think I have a nice penis?” I asked with my hand above the small of her back.
I hoped for a giggle or just a sarcastic reply but she didn’t say anything. I couldn’t feel her smile; I couldn’t feel her at all.
She rolled, caught my hand and pushed it aside.
The rent was due, jobs were tight and I was losing it. I lay in bed and listened to the dogs bark.
“A quickie would work,” I said after concluding pity was the approach.
She turned on the light. Her big brown eyes took me in. “A quickie? I service you in lieu of who you are?”
“That’s sarcasm, right?”
She gave me a gaunt look; trapezoidal lips that had nothing more to say. She turned off the light.
“Maybe we should add it to our pact, no sex. Just so it’s official,” I said.
Our dining room table was square; wood, handsome except the chair pads were torn and released a dust of burnt-yellow foam. They bled synthetics like the plastic caught in the Pacific Gyre that swirls for years then washes ashore at Kai Lei; soy bottles from Korea, tiny yellow elephants from India , rope, bowling pins, fish nets, dolls, vodka bottles from California. Synthetics were all over the house, in the bed, in the tub, on our feet.
We drank Vodka Tonics during the ocean film festival in Waimea. The alcohol added to the overall depression, films hissing truths – the planet’s going down faster than you think; rising CO2 in the air and sea, global warming, climate refugees, and people carrying on like nothing’s wrong.
We came home after a film on the vanishing bees and this fly started buzzing in the bedroom.
“Why did you let that fly in?” I asked Nina.
“What fly?” She asked.
“That one,” I pointed across the room.
“I didn’t let the fly in.”
“Flies disgust me. They carry pathogens, bacteria, germs. They displace bees.”
She bolted for the door.
“Turn the light out,” I shouted.
She slammed the door just before throwing a book at me.
Later that night I tried to coax her from her sleeping bag on the living room floor.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
She rolled and faced the wall.
“I was testing a character profile,” I said. “A guy named Malu, has a phobia for flies, reacts to a late night buzz in his bedroom.”
She rolled over, “Asshole.”
“Did you hit me with Jack London or ‘Beaches of the Big Island’?”
“Look Sergei, we’re not in tune with our dreams or with each other,” she had said.
I listened to the rain. A cow mooed in the distance.
Maybe we’re just incompatible, I thought, like our chemistry oxidized with the vog, the volcanic ash spewing out of this island, or maybe the stress of no work and endangered big eye tuna and global warming and everything – on the verge of collapse, we’re all feeling the power of this thing – Aleuts, Bangladeshis, Pacific Islanders, climate refugees by the millions – we’re in the end game, the earth is going down and this mounting pressure has fractured Nina’s super sensitivity to the planet and caused her to become frigid.
There, practical male sniffs out problem; environmental stress, stresses relationship. I exposed the mechanics. At the same time I recognized a pattern in the way I think – contexts nested in my mind, like padding to prevent too much probing, presuppositions that guaranteed a certain result. I nudged up against this truth, this gyre, but I couldn’t swim out of it.
The rain pattered against the roof. I wanted to unravel.
Nina cleared her throat. “I just want you to know,” she said. “I can’t go on like this.”
“Neither can I,” I interrupted. There was a worm in my abruptness but I couldn’t process it. I sputtered and offered, “I’m applying at the restaurants tomorrow.”
“Sergei,” she said. My name hung in the dead space of the room; no barking, no mooing. The rain had stopped. She stared at me in the dark. I was caught in my name, who I was, who I am.
The phone rang.
Nina turned on the light. The kids woke.
“Two thousand a month?” I asked. “Factory trawler, South China Sea, the Pacific Integrity.”
I put my hand over the phone and whispered. “I can send back eighteen hundred.”
Nina watched me.
“Today?” I asked.
“Hilo, Honolulu, Taipei, Kaohsiung.” I repeated.
I looked at Nina. She didn’t say anything. She just looked at me and at that moment I remembered it was Valentine’s Day almost a year ago since we last made love and then I realized, we would never do it again.
– Richard Mark Glover
Author’s Note – “Synthetics” is about the negative capacity to let all ideas, often challenges, flow through the mind without being jacked by presuppositions. Like thinking about thinking even when we’re depressed.