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JUNE 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 6



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ROBERT ANDERSON, a writer and photographer, is a contributing writer to Renaissance Online Magazine. Anderson lives in Ottawa, Canada and works as a photographic retailer.
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Puerto Orbigo

ROBERT G. ANDERSON

She watches him sleeping naked. His penis rests limply against his thigh like a placid sea creature. She considers taking the scissors from the sewing kit and doing to him what that Bobbitt woman did to her demon. But on this tiny island country, she knows she would be punished more severely for such an action than she would be at home. In this country a woman who snipped off her husband's penis with a pair of complimentary hotel sewing scissors would surely suffer a harsher sentence than a male adulterer ever would. Besides, it is not the penis that is to blame. She would accomplish more if she were to dig out his eyes or cut out his tongue. Those are the instruments of betrayal. The penis is nothing more than a hapless appendage instrumental in strategic strikes committed long after war has been declared. The trouble-inducing negotiations of betrayal are conducted by the eyes and the tongue. Maybe, for this reason, at this moment, the camera would be more appropriate. A camera does not judge, it simply reveals. She knows she wants to hurt him and exposing him to others could be useful. They would have to see what she sees. Then there would be no place for him to hide.

The week it happened they had been fighting about silly things. Nothing that mattered. Simply the things that creep into every marriage. The things which gnaw away like rats on the wiring of an old house. It would pass and things would be normal again, eventually. She just had to give him time. When he had pulled her onto the bed by her hair and her arm struck the headboard with enough force to cause a fracture, he had seemed as shocked as she was. It was one of those things that snapped the world into focus. Those things were necessary to give you perspective. He had cried as they drove to the hospital. He had apologized as though it was more serious than it was. He had given her every reason to believe that he was deeply sorry. She had felt silly with him fawning over her while the technician had taken the X-rays. She had actually raised her voice at the technician in defense of her husband when, once they were alone, the technician handed her a white card with the phone number of a domestic violence support center printed on the back in an egregiously condescending script.

"It was an accident. My husband would never hurt me," she had said. "He's not that kind of man." Then she had shredded the card and dropped it into the waste basket.

It was only two days later; her arm still immobilized in an uncomfortable metal brace. She remembers leaving her job at the bank late in the morning to surprise her husband at his downtown office. She wanted to take him to lunch. She wanted to interrupt his day with her presence. To remind him how much she loved him. It was the impetuous sort of thing common to boys and girls in the sweet beginning moments of love. When the happiness of first love can pierce a darkened room like a blast of fresh air or honest light. She thought he would appreciate seeing her. She thought it would be good for him to see that she held nothing against him for the accident that broke her arm.

At first it was as though she was walking through a dream. The crowded lunch-hour streets of Medford were a quivering sea of heads stretching out along the wide sidewalk ahead of her as though united under a single soul. The two figures emerged from her right, through the same revolving doors she would have entered. They turned right, heading away from her. They seemed familiar to her. But it was the lop-sided collar on her husband's navy blue trench-coat. The same collar she had straightened before a kiss as he left the house that morning. The collar always sat askew of his broad shoulders if she were not there to press it flat for him.

She followed him and the other woman simply to catch him and tell him that she had come to see him for lunch. He would smile and embrace her for the pleasant surprise and introduce her to this colleague of his. They would have lunch together. He would kiss her before returning to work and they would each spend the rest of the day reminded of the other by the smell of cologne and perfume that would linger in their clothes. There had been other colleagues.

At the corner the light turned red, breaking off a part of the throbbing mass of people that had moved as one. They were trapped waiting on the light. She would reach them in seconds. Touch him on the shoulder. But she stopped. In the waiting he had found an opportunity to take the woman's face into his hands. He pressed his lips to the other woman's lips. Their eyes were closed as long as it took the light to change, and then they were laughing. Swept along on a new wave of people seeking to cross the asphalt chasm which had temporarily opened before them.

She had watched in disbelief. The throng pushed on from behind her, angered by her unmoving, obstructing stance in the middle of the sidewalk. She stood there watching them disappear until the light changed again, stranding her alone.

* * *

The trip to Puerto Orbigo was his idea. It surprised her. She had said nothing to him about the day in the city. All afternoon she thought she had been mistaken. It could have been another man, and another woman. Until he came through the front door with the collar of his navy blue coat turned up on the left side because she had not been there to fix it. It could not have been any other man.

He was excited by the vacation. They had not been together on a beach since their honeymoon. Their young, sun-darkened bodies rich with the scent of ocean salt and lovemaking. She craved for how she had felt then, when she believed he loved her.

Now she is in a warm hotel room, a thousand miles from home, the air soaked with salt. She wonders if the pointy-breasted whore (which is how she thinks of the other woman now) knew he was married and was able to decide that was unimportant. Except for the scissors, the only revenge she has contemplated would involve the boys who work part-time in the bank after school, with their expensive Calvin Klein shirts and Hugo Boss ties and a brash, youthful cockiness. She's seen their transient gazes out of the corner of her eye when she wears her short skirts. Another teller told her that she overheard them say she was "sexy." She hasn't heard that word attributed to her since she was their age. The boys are handsome in their own high-school-boy way.

She can hear the roar of the ocean through the window. The sound of some tropical bird calls from the distance. She removes her bathrobe and straddles her husband. She guides him inside her body with her hand and he feels warm and fleshy. She begins to rock slowly back and forth, bracing her hands on the soft, dark line of hair on his chest. He stirs and she can feel him growing harder inside of her. Her long hair hangs down around her face, just inches from his, and the room has become vertical lines of light as though she is watching a sunrise through prison bars and a translucent membrane.

She imagines the other woman here, on top of him. She wonders if that woman felt different to him. Did she bring him more pleasure? Did she say the things he wanted to hear or did she offer him a silence he has craved all along?

His eyes are open and he smiles up at her. His hands feel rough against her nipples and he is raising his hips in an alternate rhythm to hers. She would prefer if he would remain still, but he is thrashing and moaning now. She thinks of the other woman again and can't help but to believe her husband is being insincere about this, too.

When he is still and she can feel him retreating from inside her, she rolls off of him and he leans over to kiss her.

"You're beautiful," he whispers.

The waves pound the beach, disagreeing.

"I love you," he says.

A new bird is calling in a different foreign language, much louder than before. Possibly it is in the tree just off the balcony.

Her husband rests his head against her shoulder and before long is asleep again. She can smell the sweat on his skin. It repulses her.

She climbs from the bed and walks to the bathroom. The water from the faucet tastes too different from home to be safe. She washes her face and the back of her neck. She turns off the tap and unwraps a drinking glass from its stiff, tissue paper with the hotel's name and crest printed in rich gold. She looks at her reflection in the mirror through the glass. The light is distorted and twists her features into exaggerated and diminished lines sparkling with the rainbow colors of a prism.

The glass breaks into several large, jagged shards against the white porcelain of the sink. They glitter there like diamonds until she plunges her hand into them and draws it through the sink, pressing as hard as the awkward angle will allow. At first the glass feels hard and cold against her skin, but as the flesh is parted, splitting up the entire length of her forearm, she can feel it warming with blood. Several smaller pieces of glass are embedded deep in the skin and she shivers when a jagged point, supported by the thick, still intact base of the glass, scrapes against the bone.

She doesn't realize her eyes are closed until her husband's voice awakens her from the trance. The white sink is a maroon colour now. There is so much blood. Her husband wraps her arm in a towel which quickly turns the colour of the sink.

"Jesus! What have you done?" he screams, his voice stammering with shock.

"Can we go home?" she says, her voice calm and even.

He looks at her as though she is dead. She is saddened that he is so far away from her now. He has become a dark, indistinguishable figure hovering on the horizon line.

* * * *

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