February 14, 2017

Husbands

by Julia Dixon Evans

The ninth husband came home early and found me making chicken tikka masala for the future tenth husband. I made him a plate as well and he said, “This is all right.”

The future tenth said “It’s really good, Bee.”

I said, “Thanks guys.”

The ninth husband said, “Is this something I wasn’t supposed to know about?”

“Right,” I said.

*  * *

The tenth husband was the last.

* * *

The night we were married, he said, “I think you should never love again,” and I laughed.

“That’s pretty romantic of you,” I said. “A little naïve.”

“I’m going to cut out that part of your brain.”

I laughed again but not as confidently. “There’s no single part of the brain that makes you love.” I didn’t know, though. I wanted to look it up on my phone but I’d promised I wouldn’t go on my phone during the honeymoon, not even for work, not even for google.

“I’ll cut out all of the parts.”

“Go ahead,” I said, just to be in control.

 * * *

The procedure, surprisingly painless.

“I’m in,” he said.

“Did you clean that?” I asked

“Clean what? You don’t even know what I’m holding.”

“Let me see, get me a mirror.”

He handed me a mirror and said, “I probably just got germs on my hands from the mirror.”

I felt only pressure, more of a tugging sensation than pressing or probing. It was easier than the dentist.

“Why doesn’t it hurt?” I asked.

“I gave you some topical stuff,” he said, leaning down and making eye contact in the mirror. He kissed the uncut side of my scalp. “I can’t believe you’d think I’d go in without pain meds.”

“I mean, inside my bone. My skull. My brain.”

“Well,” he said. “Lucky you.”

I watched as he used some sort of tool, wherever he got these, I don’t know, to extract a thread-thin segment of flesh. Brain. Tissue. Bloodless.

“That’s not where love is,” I said. I didn’t remember anything else.

 * * *

It left only a crescent-shaped incision about the length of a hothouse green bean above my ear. I wore my hair in a high ponytail, one side of my head shaved. I felt punk.

 * * *

I phoned the first husband.

“It’s Bee.”

“Bee, oh my god, how are you?”

“Fine. You?”

“Yeah, fine too, I got remarried, last year.”

“I heard. I got remarried again too.”

“Again? What is it now?”

“Ten.”

“Nice.”

“He removed part of my brain,” I said. “To get me to stop.”

“Stop…?”

“The husbands.”

He laughed. “Good luck to him.”

“I wish I could remember more stuff about us,” I said.

 * * *

Eight more phone calls. All quite the same. And then I started calling each of the husbands regularly, just to hear their voices.

 * * *

“You don’t even answer my texts anymore,” the tenth said.

“Your texts aren’t that interesting,” I said. And I smiled, because I felt like if he was the one who was going to operate on my brain I was going to be the one to win this. “Send me something interesting.”

 * * *

He’d wait until I was in the other room, on the phone with one of the other husbands, and then I’d hear the doorbell-like chirp of a text message muffled against my ear. I’d pull the phone away, still able to hear the former husband—depending on which number it was, because numbers three and seven were soft-spoken and I was generally the one who carried any and all conversations—and hope for boring, hope for angry, hope to watch him go insane, hope for anything other than him being interesting.

 * * *

“I think,” the tenth said, when I was going down on him, “I messed it up.”

I pulled my mouth off. “Messed what up?”

“Your brain,” he said. “I think,” he continued, “ I removed the wrong part. And I made you just fall back in love with the other husbands. I think it’s a memory thing.”

“Hm. I think you’re right.”

“Let me try again soon,” he said.

 * * *

At work the next day, the tenth texted me twice an hour, and I hated that I found them interesting. At 11:30 he sent me a picture of his dick, and the caption Do you wish there was a way to go into your brain and make the old husbands’ peens as massive as mine?

I waited fifteen minutes and then typed, Nah, you’re probably the 4th biggest if I’m remembering right. NBD

At 2:30 he texted me a picture of his balls.

I wrote back Your balls are def the biggest tho

By 3:30 he was just texting me Seinfeld quotes.

At 5, right when I turned off my monitor for the night, my phone lit up with who said “this woman hates me so much, I’m starting to like her”?

I’d never seen Seinfeld and wasn’t about to start. You, I wrote.

By 6, he set up the bathroom while I ate a BLT standing up in the doorway. I watched him pull all the tools from a glass jar of liquid like at the barber shop, something he didn’t use last time, and I wondered if he’d actually stolen that from an actual barber and if so, was it still filled with whatever comb disinfectant they used?

“Ready?” he asked.

“Can I change in case I have to go to the hospital? I want to be in good hospital unders.”

“Those are fine.”

I changed anyway.

I appreciated how he lined up the new incision to match the old one but as soon as I felt the first tug of that familiar painless pressure inside my skull, I didn’t feel right.

The room spun. My tenth husband looked blurry in the mirror, like there were actually eight of him. “Eight times ten. Eighty husbands,” I slurred, giggling a sputtery, wet laugh and I couldn’t see my own face –it wasn’t showing up in the mirror. A blind spot.

“Where’s my face?” I said.

“Stop talking,” he said and it sounded quiet for eight people talking. “Keep still,” and I think even in my blurry descent I knew he was fucking it up.

 * * *

 “I feel fine,” I said, lying in bed, testing the edge of the bandages with my fingertips.

“You shouldn’t.”

“But I do. I like you again.”

“Oh, well,” he said. “Then it’s a roaring success,” and he smiled and I was charmed and in love. “But I’m still worried about what I did to you.”

I watched him glance to the bathroom and I saw it, on the counter: near piles of weird flesh. Brain. My brain. So much of it. The violence of this betrayal would have been easier to take before he fixed the love thing.

“I want a turn,” I said. “With yours.”

“Okay, Bee,” he said. “Whatever you want. I feel terrible about this.”

“Well, it was your idea,” I said. “Not trying to make you feel worse, though.”

He helped me walk to the bathroom, and we didn’t clean up the brain mess on the counter and only dipped the tools in the now-murky barbershop comb cleaner before I began. And there to my left must have been the depth perception chunk of my brain because I dug in too deep the first pass. And next to that piece on the counter must have been my pity because I scooped hard.

“I only feel pressure, like you said,” he said. “It’s weird. Kinda cool.”

And floating in the barbershop jar must have been the part that would’ve stopped me. I piled the pieces of the tenth’s cerebral tissue next to all the pieces of mine, so they were together, mixed up like the DNA of the children we’d never have. Piles and piles (so little blood, all things considered) and then it was mostly his and then it was too hard to scoop when his head was slumped off to the side like that.

“I think I messed it up,” I said from the floor, and then I put my head back against the wall, a dull ache setting in, fatigue overwhelming, and I waited.

 

 


Julia Dixon Evans is the author of the novel OTHER BURNING PLACES, forthcoming from Dzanc Books. Her work can be found or is forthcoming at Paper Darts, Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Barrelhouse, and elsewhere. Twitter: @juliadixonevans

Photo Credit: Maryann Brown