Andy Tu - "An Ugly Kind Of Beautiful"


Doing this day in and day out for the last year is like fibbing white lies when you were a child and your mother told you that they were okay. And it felt okay because the one time you told your friend in third grade that her haircut made her look like one of those tiny, carefully-manicured shiatzu's, she gushed into tears and had to be sent home for the day. Still, you didn’t know the difference between feeling bad and shame back then. You still don’t, not really. But this—this feeling is worse than you've ever had. Telling more and more lies until people stop asking questions. Until that private investigator that your late-wife’s parents hired stops greeting you with early-morning calls asking if you have time to spare in the afternoon, only to insist on meeting in the evening instead. It’s some game he’s playing, concocting to throw you off. Upset you. But so far you’ve done nothing but concede to his requests—demands, more like—and you’ve smiled along—that understanding, widower smile, a smirk on a quarter of your face. No problem, you say, but you ask to move the time to an hour later…

He always goes back to the suicide note, plastered crookedly on your refrigerator with a house-shaped realtor magnet like one of those letters she used to write threatening to leave you because she couldn’t stand you anymore and you were suffocating her. What was wrong, though? You always wanted to ask. But she never did say anything or bother explaining the next morning, would be too hungover with her eyes still cracked red, massaging her temples with her index fingers in rolling motions. The first time she did it you thought she was doing the looping finger sign for crazy. It was—what did your therapist say?—seeing what you wanted to see in your partner. Sometimes it’s not really there.

As to what she couldn’t stand of you, or how you suffocated her, now they will always be mysteries to you, packed away from this world like her body in that large, black bag with the white zipper. You watched unflinchingly as those flaps sealed shut like her eyelids. This must have been bad manners, or inappropriate, because the detective wouldn’t stop staring at you. Very inappropriate. You should have been looking away, shielding your eyes with your hands while allowing tears to be seen glittering down your cheeks. That would have been appropriate.

What is the correct response? You never ask yourself this but answer it daily. It's singed into your instinct now.

The private investigator calls you. Exactly 29 minutes have passed since he left the last voice message. A week ago he called you 28 minutes after the first one you ignored. Part of that game he's playing. You remember this precisely, as you remember most things. Precise. Things need to be exact to be correct. Like your trigonometry teacher said in high school: If one calculation is wrong, the bridge collapses. Your phone stops buzzing but then it chimes to alert that you have a new message. Ding. Like soft crystals brushing their edges together in the breeze.  Funny how you still haven't changed that alert even though those glassy sounds remind you of her, although you don't know why. That would’ve been an appropriate thing to say at the funeral, don't you think? It would have made up for the lack of tears and that stupid, oblivious look on your face like you’ve knocked on the wrong door.

You’re still in bed, even though it’s Thursday and the crispy sounds of morning birds and sunrise have blazed away in the hot afternoon heat hours ago. You do this because you can. Because you’ve finally quit your job at the telemarketing company. Your wife’s land in the countryside, and her townhouse in the city, which she’d inherited from an aunt, are now yours. Yes. You live here. You moved in a week after she died, departing from your neighbors like she'd departed, never to look back. And whether or not this was inappropriate, you also do not know. Could've been it hit you too hard, too sudden. Could've been you were running away.

And were you running? It’s a funny thing, surreal not like you’re in a dream, but like you’re in some sort of realm between here and hell and heaven, drifting near some part of the sky where the clouds and air confuse who for what. Because—and here’s the thing you can’t figure out—you’re not sure anymore if you’re really grieving, numb, shocked, living on autopilot from her sudden, unexpected decision to slit her wrists in the bathtub, or if you killed her and got away with it. You remember that the water was shut off. But when she took baths she always left it running, wanting to maintain the heat to that moment just before it’s too hot where you have to pull yourself out and dip back in, your skin pinking from the heat. You’re not sure because even though you practiced her handwriting late at night and threw those scraps of paper into the fireplace, that note the police found was something she would write and not something that you think she would write. How did it end again?

Last night, you dreamed that you were washing your face in front of the mirror, the morning sunlight twitching through the bathroom window even though you haven’t woken up before 11 this week. And when you went back into the bedroom she was already naked, and the water was running. You were at her side, along the edge of the slippery tub, and you almost fell in with her. By now the water level was licking her chin, and she held her slit wrists enthusiastically out for you like they were tickets she’d won to that ballet that she kept trying to drag you to.

Time skips now. You once heard that it doesn't not exist and now you know this is true. Because it never seems like you were back there, fantasizing a murder, or growing unsatisfied within the walls of your apartment together, or that she was. In fact, those nights she went out drunk and came back hungover—were those real? Where was this bar? How would she have gotten home safely? She didn’t believe in cabs—such a rip-off, she’d say.

A show wants to interview you. So that you can help husbands and wives see the signs before it happens. It feel more like an interrogation. It was all so sudden, wasn’t it? the hostess says. What do you want others to learn from what happened to you? But you see that slight glare on the side of the hostess' eye, accusing you, wondering if you did it like that detective and that one policeman—what was his name again?—and your late wife’s younger brother and parents—they all won’t let it go. They can’t let it go. They don’t want to believe that she could have done this to her. To them. Someone must have done it. Someone with motive. You.

You open your mouth to answer, but you don’t have the answer. You never have and you still don’t and you never will. You don’t know what you should say—what’s appropriate— or what she would have wanted you to say if she were still here (is she watching you, now?). But you feel something leaking from the center of your head, halfway between your eyes toward the back of your skull. Leaking out like those rumors about how she was planning to leave you, about why you barely said a word at her funeral and why you said too much during her wake. These things—they ooze in a circular motion, slippery like the edges of that bathtub, thick like her blood must have been as it dissolved into that hot water but thinning as it diluted down the drain.

Tears. They come out of you now, rolling down your cheeks and catching at your chin. You haven’t said a word about life and why no one should be afraid to ask loved ones if they’re having trouble or feel embarrassed to talk about the state of their marriage, because if they’re not happy then they’re sad, and sadness leads to terrible places. No, you haven't said a word. But the hostess rubs your shoulder, apologetically, sincerely, because your tears—although you don’t know what they’re for—they answer for you.

 

Andy doesn't know how to write but sometimes finds stories on his computer.