The Weight of You
M. E. Kopp
I count thirty days after you went missing . . . six days after you washed ashore . . . three days after they jailed your wife. Then the investigator shows up, laminated badge and all.
“Here? Or our office?” he asks. Behind me, Mr. Rogers sings in a tinny TV voice about a beautiful day. My daughter chirps along.
“Office,” I say. I feed the dog kibble and the girl some dry Cheerios in a blue bowl. I shake my husband awake from his unemployment siesta. I’ll be back, I say, and I’m gone, tailing the investigator in our Buick.
He dumps me in a concrete box with a window that doesn’t fool me. In its glass, I see what I’ve become, how forty-one years hang beneath my eyes, soften my chin, flap in the flesh beneath my arms. A square fluorescent light buzzes and ages my skin to sallow. A glass of water sweats on the desk. I’ve learned from CSI shows not to touch it; they’ll have my prints fair game. But I am thirsty and drink it up.
Then the investigator shows up, laminated badge and all.
The investigator—mustache too trimmed and eyes too dark—comes in, sits opposite. His slacks crackle like your laundered shirts once did beneath our hugs.
There’s some talk of lawyers. On my end, I say I don’t need any. On his end, he says I don’t need any either. He just wants information.
“By the way,” he says, “can I record this?”
“Linda Anne Bruger,” I say for his record.
“Do you know him?” He pushes across a photo.
There you are.
I don’t know what I expect. Maybe you bloated and gray from weeks churning in the river, features nibbled away by fish. That’s a version of you I’ve dreamed of since the dank Mississippi spat you back out.
But it’s the you I met.
He flips more pictures across the table. Your wife. Kids. I see your life from new angles. That’s a version of you I’ve dreamed of since the dank Mississippi spat you back out.
I sort through the photos, looking for my first memory of you: you in the hotel mirror. I’d just gotten off your dick, my fingertips still wondering at that mole on the back of your head, my lips still marveling at your ear lobe connected to your cheek so I couldn’t take it between my teeth. You dressed and I caught your reflection. You were trim, your ass small and flat.
You felt different from my husband and the difference made me feel like another woman.
“I know him.” I exhale, and the weight of you leaves me. I fear I might lift off the ground and hit the buzzing light.
The investigator’s breath comes across the table: Altoids. Beneath that, the rotten stench of a missed lunch.
I exhale, and the weight of you leaves me.
And I tell you. I tell about alleys outside of bars, the crush of brick against my bare ass, your fingers up my skirt, probing into the darkness my husband was always too tired to touch. I tell about staring through minivan windows at the Big Dipper while my head thumped the cup holder. I tell about hotel rooms and soft beds my body still aches for. I tell about my husband. How I love him. Even now. But love is not always stronger than our weaknesses, and a craving for validation grew like a hungry beast inside me, consuming minutes from the office, then evenings from my girl, then a whole weekend away from my family. I tell how the beast was never satiated, just grew and grew until it took on a shape I recognized: me.
What I don’t tell—I carried your child to its death. I have its weight still soft on my belly, still fleshy around my hips.
“I don’t want you to look like a prostitute,” you had said as you felt for my hand beneath the table. We were at a bar, and you ordered Honeyweiss with a lemon. You passed the cash under the table like we were dealing in drugs, only we were dealing in lives. I laughed so hard that clear snot blew from my nose but it didn’t matter, there were no pretenses between us anymore. You’d seen me pee.
But love is not always stronger than our weaknesses, and a craving for validation grew like a hungry beast.
When the doctors cleaned me out (an expensive cleaning that pinched so far inside me no man’s dick will ever reach the scar) you were too busy writing copy for Kellogg’s Pop Tarts to come. I puked afterwards into a kidney-shaped bowl, which in my wooziness I flipped onto the floor, then giggled as the loose bits of breakfast I was told not to eat spread on the tiles. By the time they let me hobble to the car, I was a mom of two kids, one of them dead.
One of them yours.
Later that evening, I took the twenty dollars I had left from the cash passed beneath the table and bought my little girl shoes. They had Disney princesses and soles that lit up so I would never lose her.
“Am I under arrest?” I end our story. I should be. I’ve murdered several things since knowing you.
“No.” The investigator sits back. Crosses arms. Judges. “But the prosecuting attorney and the public defender, they’ll both want to see you. You understand. You’re motive.”
“I guess,” I say.
Death by a thousand cuts, the headlines read. Seventeen slashes with a paring knife. Your wife tried to carve the truth from you. But I’m the guilty one. I’m the one that dreamed of all the ways to lose you so that you could never find me.
I lived for a week with a baby-sized hole in my stomach before I dug out the slim-line phone packed away in the basement (no cells, you always said) plugged it into the phone jack, dialed *67, then your home number. I’m the one that, when your wife picked up, said “Hello.”
Seventeen slashes with a paring knife. Your wife tried to carve the truth from you.
The investigator escorts me down the hallway; the sun shines evening-pink through the windows. We stop at the glass door; he puts his hand on the bar.
“There’ll be a statement to sign later,” he says.
“Don’t tell my husband,” I whisper.
The man blinks and in his eyes I see my future: first the screaming, then the tears. Nights spent on the couch, then a hotel room, then a friend’s guest room with boxed toys and clothing shoved aside, then the court proceedings my husband wins, and finally, watching my girl grow up in weekend increments.
He pushes open the door. I drive home into the sunset.
My kitchen windows are frosty with the steam of boiling water. My daughter runs in: Cheerios snap beneath her shoes, rubber soles blink in the fog. My husband crumbles meat in a frying pan. I stand so close, the popping grease singes my forearm.
“Spaghetti?” I say. It’s all he ever cooks. Suddenly, it’s all I ever want to eat.
“Yep.” He kisses my forehead. “What happened to you?”
“My sister’s,” I say, and feel the cost of you. The boiling water sounds like the whoosh of rivers and ultrasounds. I touch my husband’s wrist in the soft space between the sinews, where his shirt sleeve ends and palm begins. I want to hold a little longer to these things already gone.
M.E. Kopp works as a freelance editor and writer in Minneapolis, MN. She was a 2016 Pushcart Prize nominee and her most recent flash fiction has appeared in Punchnel's and Yellow Chair Review.
Illustration by Meghan Irwin.