March 17, 2009

Broken glass

The New York Times reported on July 16, 2007, on the front page that Japan is attempting to move to jury trials, but the jurors in a mock trial were reluctant to express their opinions. “They never engaged one another in discussion. Their opinions had to be extracted by the judges and were often hedged by the Japanese language’s rich ambiguity.” On the jump, I read: “Under the proposed system, randomly chosen citizens will sit on the bench next to judges, decide cases together and hand out sentences.” Reasons are given for the reluctance of jurors: respect for authority, submissiveness as part and parcel of the national character.

When we were married, D. crushed the glass. I read now: Any glass may be used for the Jewish wedding glass, although most couples choose a special glass to be broken and kept. It is commonly wrapped in a cloth napkin (to avoid dangerous glass shards) or enclosed in a pre-made cloth pouch. At the end of the ceremony, the groom stomps on the glass to great applause.

I am writing about the wreckage of a marriage. Restate: The wreckage of my marriage. My marriage. The paradox is clear: no marriage is owned by one of the partners.

I thought that fiction would give me my due. So I began to write a story about the bartender (note that I have already written about him here; see “The Bartender.”). Here is the fragment of the story:

The bartender said to the woman he was with, a buxom blonde, taller than he, while he fiddled with a book, a novel, Fitzgerald she guessed from the Fitz that showed on the spine, though mostly she noticed how large his hand was on the binding of the book, “Nothing is sexier than a woman in a man’s button-down, in my button-down. You oughta know that by now.” So, they were lovers.

She watched from her table in the Martin Luther King library where she sat with her legal brief, the one she didn’t know how to write, that damn environmental stuff that she was always on the wrong side of at Dewey LeBeouf, her law firm around the corner from the library. She’d leave in the evening to escape the corporate banter, to try to figure out how the hell to defend Big Oil. When he looked her way, when his glance hung there for a bit, she smiled and was sure she’d never see him again.

But there he was behind the bar at Kincaids when she ordered the Kendall Jackson red Zinfandel and he said, “A ways from the library tonight, huh?”

“The library?” She wasn’t about to admit she had noticed him. She was in enough trouble. Her lover of ten years had moved out of their condo last week and informed her they would need to sell it. She was about to be homeless. Oh, she knew that she could find a place, but she felt like a baby left out on a doorstep. She felt childish, worse than childish: infantile. Abandoned. She wanted to say it out loud to the bartender. I’m abandoned.

“Would you like to look at a menu?” The bartender resumed his professional stance, turned to get her the expensive glass of wine and she saw that he walked with a distinct limp, a kind of wobble as if one side of his body were more heavily weighted than the other. She noticed that he was short. He had seemed so tall at the library when he spoke so firmly to the blonde with what she viewed as one of the most seductive lines she’d ever heard. Okay, maybe not. Maybe the truth was it was a sentence she wished Guy had said to her. Who goes out, anyway, with a guy named Guy? she asked herself as she sipped the red wine he had now handed her and stood before her with a menu in his hand. Those hands again. She was in love with his hands.

“Parapraxes,” she said, “is what I need and I’ll take the menu.”

“So, you need to forget?”

“How would you know what I need?”

“Parapraxes. You said that. But what you really need are the fried clams.”

You should know here what she is not saying even to herself: Guy has not made love to her for five of their ten years together without great effort on her part that includes his rejection of her La Perla garter belt and bra that set her back a pretty penny and that ended making her feel less than pretty, and yes, believe it or not, she is quite a dish and knows it.

Why did she stay? That is the question.

She would tell you that last night she dreamed she was in the courtroom without a script, that she opened her mouth and nothing came out in front of the judge, in front of the jury, in front of her colleagues, that she searched her mind for the quote she’d use and all she could come up with was Charlie Parker’s line, If you haven’t lived it, it won’t come out of your horn.

I wrote that and went outside. A black SUV with blackened windows moved off. Its rear window shattered onto the asphalt with no apparent cause except the startle of the engine. Tiny pieces of broken glass, each one a perfect triangle lay where I stood. The SUV stopped mid-street. No one got out. It moved ahead.

This is my subject: The broken glass, the wake.

As for parapraxes: Get this. D. lost his wedding ring in September, a month before the galleys of my book came out, a month before he kissed my friend after a party—It was not merely a kiss; they were making out on the couch while I washed dishes in the kitchen. I stood behind the couch and watched. Then I went outside and waited.

If you want to know the truth about the bartender, read backwards: I wrote about him. If you want to know the truth, look elsewhere or get you to a Japanese jury.


  1. The passage that struck me most is the one discussing the absence of love-making in the marriage.
    This has been a theme in a good bit f Mary's writing- the reluctance, lack of interest, failure by men to make love to their partners.
    From what I gather and in my own experience this situation is not at all uncommon.
    And it seems to point up a big difference between the sexes.
    I think for a woman being made love to in a long term relationship tellls here how much she is wanted and how desirable she is.
    I Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind htere is a bit of dialogue in which a woman, who has not been touched by her husband in a long time, talks about how being made the object of desire makes so much of the durdgery of daily life bearable.
    I remember when I saw the play perhaps 20 years ago, how big an impression those words made on me and the insight it offered.

  2. the damn "t" word.

  3. Man wants to be respected, woman wants to be appreciated, not betrayed. I try to picture you standing behind the couch, watching and helpless. Then you go outside, waiting and defeated. Your expression: it is a quiet surrender that jumps off the page.

    Watching, then waiting. 2 verbs, painfully distant, passionately expressive. Silence is everywhere, but the noise is deafening. Your friend, his touch. Outside I picture you waiting for something better....

  4. Sam,

    How insightful, how beautifully stated. Thank you!

  5. "I thought that fiction would give me my due."

    She is consumed by the story in the Talmud, the question of what she deserves, of how much water to drink (if any). And each time it comes up I find myself wishing more and more to both comfort and shake her. This question draws me to her, this question that leads her nowhere each time, but that she comes back to with each loss...I find it selfless because it's not a question of why. It's her question of what, what do i deserve? She doesn't know. And I read each post and see that question come to her in so many situations that I close my eyes and think of Sisyphus and the rock and that makes me feel I am punishing her because I know she won't find her answer. It's knowing that she can't find the answer she needs - that is what catches me and keeps me reading about her. And hoping for her. Each and every time.

  6. I don’t know If I said it already but …I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say great blog. Thanks!


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