Harvey was reminded of miniature golf courses. The large, cartoonish figures scattered around the courtyard were separated by three or four types of shrubbery and a thin chicken-wire barrier to keep out vandals and pests. Small paths branched off in different directions leading to one plaster sculpture or another. He wondered for a moment if he should feel guilty. They were gods, after all. His mind did something like a shrug.
Pearl straightened her hair in the bathroom mirror. She carefully rearranged the pieces of metal holding it in place and thought about pistons. She didn’t know much about pistons, but she imagined infinite rows of them efficiently doing their job, whatever that is.
Between Pearl and Harvey was a sign that said “Do Not Pluck Flowers.” There were no flowers to pluck, but the couple immediately thought of chickens. They did not consult one another, but they may have felt a warm camaraderie if they had.
Over a loudspeaker someone prayed in monotone in a language they didn’t understand. They’d learned only important words, like the names of a few common menu items and a polite way to say hello, but none of these words were used in the prayer, and they were not moved by the lyrics about goodness and equality, even though those subjects were exactly the kinds of things they cared about.
They fought on the fifth day of their trip in a small town in the northern part of the country. Pearl wasn’t sure it was a fight because, it seemed, she was the only one who was upset. She lay down on the floor when he left to get breakfast.
Harvey had said, “That doesn’t matter now.”
Pearl said, “It does. Because I still feel like shit.”
There are a lot of songs to the effect of what Harvey was trying to say. That the past is history, and a lot of other trash.
Pearl said, “Don’t touch me,” and “I’m not coming to breakfast.” and sat down to count, on her fingers, all the men she’d been with before Harvey that he was sure didn’t matter. Her feeling was only a variation on that.
When Harvey left the room she carefully rehashed every mistake she’d ever made, including but not limited to: sex with the wrong people, unkind words to her parents, incorrect answers on exams, inability to believe in God, running stop signs, and dropping eggs. She called upon all the guilt of her entire life and wept with the her of every error.
At breakfast everything was seasoned like curry and Harvey wondered What did I expect? But it was too much. He wanted something ordinary. A pizza, ice cream, a salad. He thought about the man subletting their house back home enjoying a hamburger in their kitchen. He thought about the endurance of cockroaches. That they would probably outlive all other life forms. That they were probably infesting their little one-bedroom house at that very moment. But he also thought What the hell have we done?
Everyone told them to go somewhere nice on their honeymoon. Somewhere they could relax. Somewhere with umbrellas in the cocktails, where it’s safe to drink the water. In so many ways he was not sure what he’d signed up for.
When Harvey came back, Pearl wondered what he’d do. If he’d rehearsed something to say or expected that she had. He crouched near where she was still lying on the floor and took a foot in his hand. She was glad to be wearing clean stockings. He moved his hands up her body and shifted his weight to sit beside her. She closed her eyes and saw a pile of kidney beans. She remembered her sister saying “Okey dokey cokey lokey,” and the mentally challenged boy who lived next to them in California singing to the tune of Row Row Row Your Boat, “Sew, sew, sew your ears,” which always made her think of buttons.
Then Harvey said, “I love you.”
When Harvey said “I love you,” Pearl remembered why she’d been upset and began to cry afresh.
Trying to control her voice she said, looking away from him toward their beautiful view, “Somehow I forgot what a horrible sack of shit I am. Who let me forget that? Was it you? Did you let me forget?”
Harvey did not know if this was a compliment.
– Tatiana Ryckman was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is the author of the chapbook story collection, Twenty-Something, and assistant editor at sunnyoutside press.
Copyright © 2014 by Tatiana Ryckman from Twenty-Something. Reprinted by permission of ELJ Publications, LLC.