A Non-Orientable Surface

by Mari Christmas

My husband manages a cheap hotel off the interstate five days a week, and every Wednesday night he visits the community center pool. Some days I meet him there. I like to watch him push the water around. It helps with the arthritis, he says, sculling the surface, making frog legs. He believes I deserve an office job, something that allows me to move between cities while wearing a thin blouse. We hardly speak. This is because of all the guilt. I look out across the pool. Children shiver in wrinkled suits, sucking their hair. Inside, it is airless, hazy, the windows fogged. The water a dark tangle of rope. Even though I cannot see him, I know he is there.

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After swimming my husband will stay in his small room, equipped with a desk and a plastic lamp, and berate his romantic Romanian pen pal over the phone. He feels the need to give important looks, to demonstrate his rigor over a crowded table, and so forth, even internationally. “If you piss in the corner, I piss in the corner,” he tells her, speaking in English. For two bars of chocolate a month she puts up with all of that. He refuses to learn her language, as he cannot be bothered with the gender of specifics.

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