M

Silhouette

by Matthew Barrett
 

When I’m home, I put my suitcase down and Marilyn asks me how the conference went and I tell her it was fine. She wants details, though, so I mention the happy hour on Tuesday, how John Matthews, my boss, got so drunk he climbed on our table and stuck his finger in an empty light socket to see if he’d get electrocuted. He didn’t, I tell her, and she says, My gosh and opens the bathroom door and steps out in her robe and kisses me twice on the lips. You didn’t get into any trouble yourself? she asks, so I tell her about the presentation and how I’d forgotten the fourth slide, and she laughs and says, I guarantee they didn’t even notice.

It’s in the details—that’s how I survive. I give her the right amount, and she believes me since they’re true. It’s the secret to a happy marriage: to not pretend you’re a saint. To mention your shortcomings, your boss’s failures. When you’re honest, she accepts you more.

We get into bed and she kisses me again and I turn the TV on and we watch the next episode of Mad Men. She says, I almost watched it without you but I waited, and on TV, Don Draper’s in a doctor’s office getting his blood pressure checked, and I know what the doctor’s going to say before he says it, that Don drinks too much and smokes too much and probably isn’t in good health. It’s funny, because he looks healthier than anyone I know. But I guess he’s just hiding it well beneath the surface, like John Matthews when he’s not on top of a table.

I try giving her a few more details so I don’t feel like I’m keeping too much from her. But I know not to hint at anything larger, at least before we go to bed, when her dreams might show her what she hadn’t noticed earlier.

I was hit on, I say and she takes my hand.

Again?

I had to flash her my ring.

What’d she do?

She backed off. Eventually.

Eventually?

After I told her a second time.

Well, that’s good.

Yeah, I tell her and she waits for me to say more, even rolls toward me and searches my eyes. I look back into hers. I don’t hide, I present myself in the open. She turns off the lights, and then the TV, and I can tell she’s looking at me even though I don’t see her, and when my eyes adjust to the darkness, I see she is and I wonder if I said too much.

I pretend, too, she tells me. Like you do.

There are things I want to ask but I don’t know the right balance, if I should focus more on her or on me. What do you mean by pretend? I ask and she smiles. Her teeth catch the window light, from either a street lamp or the moon. She holds it in her mouth and when her lips finally shut, she swallows the light whole.

We’re both into make-believe, she says, and as I reach for her arm, my hand turns hot, too hot for me to touch her, and she rolls to the other side, a hazy silhouette I have not seen before.

 

Matthew Barrett’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming in River Teeth, SmokeLong Quarterly, the minnesota review, Great Jones Street Press, The Maine Review, Wigleaf, Best New Writing 2018, and elsewhere. He lives in Sacramento, CA with his wife, dog, and son-to-be, and holds an MFA in Fiction from UNC-Greensboro.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of “Silhouette”?

The day before I wrote “Silhouette,” my wife was binge-watching Mad Men in the other room, and when I went to make my lunch, I saw Don Draper in a doctor’s office, getting scolded for drinking and smoking too much. It was hard to imagine that Jon Hamm wasn’t in great shape, and I thought, what is his body hiding? The next day, after spending hours writing stories that were going nowhere, I switched gears, thought about what sort of scene Don Draper’s presence might parallel or illuminate, and just began to write. It was one of the fastest stories I’ve written, over the course of a couple hours, which has made me think that scrutinizing over every detail has unnecessarily complicated some of my other stories, and that it might be better to write without worrying so much about each word. Of course, worrying about the words came later, but it was nice to get everything on paper before fussing over the details.

News

Congrats to Christopher Allen for having a work from HOUSEHOLD TOXINS being chosen to appear in BSF 2019 from Sonder Press.

Check out the write-up of the journal in The Writer.

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