The Northville Review
an online literary journal

Michelle Reale

Yesterday, my wife told me she was thinking of leaving me again. She’s been threatening for years.

“Good goddamn,” she said. “Over 3,645 birds have been found dead in the Gulf!” I pretended concern.

“Enough is enough,” she said, filling her big faux leather suitcase.

I popped the lid on a can of beer. In my careful and considerate voice, I tried to reason with her: “You don’t even like birds, honey.. Not really, you don’t.”

She sighed and agreed, taking the beer from my hand and taking a long drink.

This is how we do it. And it works, as long as it doesn’t.

All of last month, she’d rush home from work, eat dinner in front of the television to watch any variety of helmet-haired news reporters on CNN make guesses about when the European volcano with the unpronounceable name might go off, stranding already anxious travelers everywhere.

“If it blows, I bounce,” she said, pointing her fork at the innocent looking mound on the screen, with a few wisps of smoke coming from its top.

“It’s over there,” I said, placing my hand on her thigh. She touched her hand to mine, but not gently. “I can’t help it, honey,” she said.

The cumulative effects of so much bad news had started to get even to me so the next time she reached for the remote control I asked her if we might consider watching anything but the news. She thought about it for a moment, then agreed.

I heated up two Lean Cuisines in the microwave. We never ate a proper meal at the table. I was eager.

She stood in her heels, hands on her hips and her head dipped to the side.

“You okay?” she asked.

“I think so,” I said comically, as I punched the couch pillows, pulled the granny-square afghan over my once muscular legs. I blew on my chicken teriyaki. She fiddled with her garlic chicken, looking tense. I saw she had a run in her stocking.

“Deal or No Deal?” I asked.

“Yeah, why not,” she said, sounding tired.

Howie Mandel, looking like a New Age devil, nodded to his contestants and the game began.

“Did you notice he doesn’t shake hands?” I said innocently to my wife, who was biting her lower lip.


“He’s pathologically afraid of germs,” I said. “Do you have idea the amount of germs transferred in a handshake?” I added without thinking.

She winced with disgust and slid her feet into the shoes that looked like they were waiting for her, right by the door.

“Show just started,” I said.

“I can’t do this,” she said, her voice choked.

It wasn’t like I didn’t see it coming.

Later that night, I watched a rerun of the Dr. Phil Show. A pretty blonde dabbed at the tears rolling down her face, with a handkerchief embroidered with “The Dr. Phil Show,” prominently displayed. The hulking host pursed his lips in concern. I saw a certain look in his large bovine eyes. He gestured with his hands, and the blonde watched him through her tears. I turned the sound off, and followed their movements. I wanted to see if I could understand, without words, what was unfolding, exactly what the problem might be.

A long time ago, my wife had a name for that.

But at that moment, I couldn’t even begin to remember what it was.

About the author

Michelle Reale is an academic librarian on faculty at a university in the suburbs of Philadelphia. Her fiction has appeared in Verbsap, elimae, Word Riot, Eyeshot and others. Her chapbook, Natural Habitat, will be published by Burning River in the spring of 2010.