The trick, she used to say, is to imagine it’s all beautiful, but that beauty has its place, or many places, that there is not one connected beauty, strung through the air and us, etc., but many beauties, splintered out, creating themselves constantly, and it was here, when she said this, that I began to hate either her or myself the most.
“So like micro-beauties,” I’d say.
“No, like stations,” she’d say. “Like each beauty becomes its own station and then that station fuels the place.”
“Like with gasoline,” I’d say.
And so on.
We had just gotten this old idiot dog, and it had gone into the backyard of a house we’d owned for only four months and dug a deep hole into grass that was barely ours and returned, to our broken kitchen, teeth around a faded collar that was, we realized, not his own.
He picked the collar to shreds before we could pull it from his jaw: us in that broken kitchen where we cooked almost nothing, hunched over this shaking thing with sad, dodging eyes, begging it for a kind of politeness it couldn’t know, our dumb hands out, some banal hope of preservation.
But of what?
“Give it,” she said to the dog.
“Give it,” I said too.
That night, or some night like it, she asked me about time. She wanted to know, before sleep, her hand on her stomach, whether I saw time as a promise or a bank statement.
“I see time as a cherry-dipped ice cream cone,” I said.
Or: “I see time as an overweight trapeze artist.”
Or: “I see time as a turd-clogged toilet.”
“I maybe don’t like you as much now,” she said.
“I see time as a thin man chewing food with his mouth open,” I said.
“Stop,” she said.
“I see time as a glowing smartphone,” I said.
She had similar things with sunlight and rain, I found, with distance and closeness, whether our exhales meant more than our inhales. Or she’d talk about patience and how it was a blanket, or how pride was a bruised pear, or a fish. She kept going on in that house with these theories, these kind burrowings of inert metaphor, soft quizzes of faith that I could have passed at any time they were so easy, but who was the me who could have done that? And who was the her who would have stopped asking?
She sent me an e-mail later, after it was only me and that old dog in that house I never wanted, after the dog had become a defiant heap of bald, brittle bone that slept at my feet as it does now, refusing, still, to die. She said in the e-mail that she thought of relationships as scales on which two people weigh and pair their failures, how the lightest of those failures become the early glue of two people, our failures, and so on.
At the bottom of her e-mail was a link to an online store where she sold bits of pottery and homemade keychains.
I remember thinking, I should probably buy one of these.
Mike Scalise’s work has appeared in Agni, Indiewire, Ninth Letter, The Paris Review, Wall Street Journal, and other places. He’s an 826DC advisory board member, has received fellowships and scholarships from Bread Loaf, Yaddo, and the Ucross Foundation, and was the Philip Roth Writer in Residence at Bucknell University.