by Steve Gilmartin
She heard her husband clear his throat and looked up. He was offering her something from the end of a fork. “It’s a present,” he said. She thought he was simply sharing food of some kind and said, “No thanks.”
Her husband switched on the small lamp that had been on the floor and which he now held, directing its circle of light so that it framed the object. "No," he said, "it's really a gift."
She pulled the object from the prongs and tried to look at him, but his face was hidden in the dark behind the glare of the light bulb. The four silvery prongs of the fork arched toward her like the awakened apparatus of some deep-sea creature. She looked down at the object in her hand—it was puncturable, that was all she could say with certainty.
She waited for some sort of interior illumination to occur, but the object stubbornly resisted her attempt to penetrate its surface. Instead, it seemed more and more to her to simply be a vehicle for the four tiny holes made by the tines of the fork. That is to say, the object receded into a kind of invisibility in relation to the punctures. She watched the holes grow larger and larger and found herself studying their contours as if she were a scientist. Perhaps this was a gift meant to change her eyes into a microscope.
“You’re so quiet,” he said. “What do you think?”
“It’s amazing,” she said.
“Maybe you’d like to study it,” he said. “On your own.”
“It’s amazing,” she repeated. “I like it. I really like the holes.”
“I made it,” he said.
“Yes, I know.” She shielded her eyes. “That light...”
Immediately the lamp was switched off but her husband remained silent. She thought she detected a strange sort of breath noise, strong and steady exhalations beginning abruptly and lasting five to ten seconds before ending just as abruptly. They seemed like machine breaths. A phrase slipped into her mind: “in the early days of the marriage,” it said. She shook herself as if she had been dozing. “Are you there?”
“Where would I go?” he said.
She didn’t answer for there was something in her voice that had distracted her. It seemed to have assumed an unnatural resonance, almost as if her words emanated from the center of the object in her hand, thrown from its four tiny holes. She felt the holes with her thumb and rolled the object over so that they rested against her palm. “The object reminds me of a baked potato. Is it edible?” She said this without thinking, talking only to test her hypothesis about her voice. It was clear and unmuffled. She felt no flow or vibration from the holes.
“The object?” her husband said.
“The present you gave me.”
“It’s not meant to be cooked. As I said, I made it myself”—she heard him rise from his chair—“and in that sense it’s already been cooked.”
He was pacing now. Who knew what other gifts he might be mentally activating for her, particularly since she had apparently not reacted appropriately to the one already presented. She caught herself, displeased by the path her thoughts were taking.
She began tossing the object gently into the air, not more than an inch or two, and catching it again, letting it slap against her hand. He stopped walking and sighed, and she heard him retake his seat.
“Perhaps I can’t understand your gift with you here observing me,” she said. “You said so yourself.”
“Exactly,” he said, adding, “I used only the most durable and flexible materials.”
“Turn on the overhead,” she said, “I want to look at it in the light.”
He went to the closet and put on his coat. “Fine,” he said. He walked to the door and turned on the light.
“Don’t go,” she said, and placed the thing on the floor, unable to look at it.
“Why? You’re not frightened, are you?”
“Yes. I don’t want to be left alone with it. I don’t understand what it’s supposed to do, other than frighten me.”
“It’s strange, isn’t it,” he said.
She picked it up and tossed it to him. He slipped it into his overcoat pocket. “Take the fork too.” He came and took the fork from the table.
“It takes a little getting used to,” he said, going out very suddenly.
She leaned forward and felt an exhilarating rush of energy in her chest and mouth. There was a short silence and then sharp, insistent pounding from one of the walls. That would be the Sharnoffs, who fought so loudly about everything.
Steve Gilmartin's work has appeared in elimae, Fourteen Hills, Double Room, Mad Hatters' Review, Drunken Boat, BlazeVOX, Otoliths, e ratio, Cannot Exist, poemeleon, Able Muse, and Eleven Eleven. He lives in Berkeley, CA.