Phil opened his eyes to see glass just inches from his face. He looked left, then right. He rotated his eyeballs three hundred-sixty degrees. He saw glass in all directions. Although the glass was clear, he could see smudges, and the lip running along the top of the bowl. He felt disoriented. He looked down: saw no body. Mary’s digital alarm clock was next to him, on her bedside table. Is my head in a fishbowl? I must be dreaming. I’ll just close my eyes and return to sleep.
Before drifting off, Phil remembered arguing with Mary over supper last night. It was a pitched, hurtful battle, starting, as it usually did, with the toilet paper.
“You left the toilet paper going the wrong way,” Mary had said. “It’s supposed to hang over the top of the roll.”
“But I put the seat down,” Phil said.
“Yes, but the toilet paper was wrong,” Mary said.
“I don’t want to talk about this right now,” Phil said.
“You never want to,” Mary said, impaling a brussels sprout with her fork. “You never want to talk about anything.”
“That’s not true.”
“Especially not about feelings,” Mary said, “because you have no feelings. You’re empty inside, Phil–just a head in a jar. Empty; selfish.”
“Selfish?” Phil said. “Was it selfish when I offered to support your new pottery studio? How about when I said we could try to adopt, after the fertility treatments failed–after ten years and enough money for half a house?”
“You were always the master of the Grand Gesture,” Mary said, “but you’re selfish with your feelings. Do you even have them?”
“What the hell does that mean?” Phil said, raising his voice. “Jesus–it’s never enough, is it? You’ve never been happy, Mary. You’ll never be happy. I’m sorry we couldn’t have children. I’m sorry the adoption fell through. I’ve tried to–”
“You have no emotional intelligence,” Mary said. “I do all the worrying. I bear all the anxiety. You go to work, make money, that’s fine, but it’s all you do. That’s not a marriage, it’s not being on a team. Do you know, in our nineteen years together, I’ve never seen you cry? You’re the only man in my entire life I’ve never seen cry.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Phil said.
“I cried when Nemo died,” Phil said. “I cried quite a lot,” he said, a bit smugly, whether because he thought he had just proved Mary wrong, or himself right, or perhaps because he thought he had just confirmed his humanity.
“Right, OK,” Mary said, “once! Once, you cried, when the dog died. And what grown man calls a dog, Nemo?”
“Nemo is a fine name,” Phil said. “And there’s no death.”
“What?” Mary said.
“There’s no death. In Finding Nemo. It’s a great movie, and a great dog name.”
“Not for a Great Dane. You must grow up, Phil,” Mary said heatedly. “Who has ever heard of a husband who won’t cry in front of his own wife, except over a dog named Nemo? And, and, and–the fucking toilet paper. You always turn the roll around the wrong way, every time.”
Recalling Mary’s return to their eternal battle over the toilet paper roll caused Phil to roll his eyes, as his head floated in the jar, like Nemo darting in and out of plastic coral when he is imprisoned in a dentist’s aquarium.
Phil closed his eyes. He re-opened them in Italy, sitting on a high window ledge, on a temperate Venetian morning. He opened the shutters, the better to see and hear the musician playing accordion as he strolled along the cobblestones below. The warm breeze fluttered the pink chiffon curtains across his cheek. He swept the curtains aside with the back of his hand as he looked behind him, at Mary, asleep on their honeymoon bed. As she rested atop golden satin sheets–hair the length of a hollyhock stock, as black as the impenetrable blackness of black hollyhock petals, as it trailed along the length of her long, bronzed limbs–he wished he could paint her portrait. He couldn’t paint. Couldn’t draw a straight line.
He looked out the window, at a man paddling a gondola along the side canal which ran by the hotel. Phil’s heart ached with such bliss, he thought if he’d died on the spot, it would be just fine. He’d already reached the top of the mountain. If he fell off, so be it. There was nowhere higher to ascend. He knew this love would last forever.
“I’m in the mood for Chinese tonight,” Mary said. She sat on the edge of the bed, flicked on the table lamp by the alarm clock and the fishbowl. “What do you think of cashew chicken with rice?”
“I don’t think I’ve the stomach for it,” Phil said.
“Coward!” Mary said, “it’s not that spicy. I guess we could have Pad Thai.”
“No, I mean, I haven’t a stomach, at the moment,” Phil said.
“You never did,” Mary said, bitterly. She began to cry.
Phil closed his eyes again. He re-opened them at their wedding. Mary stood by him, beneath an altar of hollyhocks. They held hands, facing each other, in front of dozens of smiling, chattering family and friends, sitting on lawn chairs as they waited for the Justice of the Peace to speak. As Phil closed his eyes beneath the altar, he saw far into the future. There was Mary, resting in an armchair by the fire of their farmhouse. Her long hair was now silver, her face wrinkled, but sitting next to her by the fire, Phil saw only the raven-haired beauty shining atop golden Venetian sheets. Nothing had changed. Theirs was an undying love.
Children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren bustled noisily about on the farmer’s porch, then came in twos and threes to give hugs and kisses and love–boundless love–to Mary and Phil. Then all were sitting at the long dining table. Platters of roast turkey, stuffing, and homemade cranberry sauce were passed from one smiling relative to another. Phil beamed. Surely his heart would burst. We’ve done well, haven’t we? Look what a lifetime together has wrought. He leaned into Mary, and whispered, “we’ll love each other this way forever.”
“You’re wrong,” Mary said.
Phil opened his eyes to see the smudged glass, the clock, the lamp, and Mary sitting on the edge of the bed, eating Pad Thai with chopsticks from a white take-out carton.
“The crab,” she said.
“What do you mean?” Phil said. “Pad Thai has crab?”
“In Finding Nemo, Phil. The crab. It dies. Eaten by a shark.”
Phil closed his eyes. He didn’t know what was real. He didn’t know if he was dreaming. He hoped he was dead.