by kathleen maher
illustrations by rhoda penmarq
I knew not to ask, “What’s that, Peter?” when he brought in the first wooden board. We weren’t that casual. Our conversations concerned the world and its needs, global hardship, destruction, and greed. And then, too, history and genius and fundamental, universal truth—nothing personal.
To an astonishing degree, Peter found navel-gazing repellent. “I, me, mine,” he said. “What’s wrong with people?”
When we met, I attempted to argue: People need to talk about their likes and dislikes; it’s how we relate.
But he said, no, it only leads people to demand that everyone believe what they believe. Well, all right; I went along. After all, Peter was the most intelligent, handsome man I’d ever met.
Averse to anyone worming around for validation, Peter naturally disliked revealing his inner life to me or anyone else. Initially, his secretive nature thrilled me—such depth and intrigue.
When we married, we made “non-intervention” our first vow. We would respect each other’s differences just as we respected other cultures’.
Our apartment has one bedroom, a tiny kitchen and tinier bathroom but high ceilings and thick brick walls. Behind the bedroom is a long, narrow, high area, set up as a closet, one half his, one mine.
Once, when he scolded me for examining his toy soldier collection, I said, “No worries, darling, if you need to be furtive.” It was, I thought, just another guy thing.
But he said, “I’m never furtive, Angela.”
Of course, Peter wasn’t really furtive but should he ever wish for a furtive moment, I understood. I understood, too, not to question his privacy.
The stockpile of wood and carpenter nails accruing in his closet’s shadows meant nothing. I imagined it was like a musty, secret shrine. Or something.
As his project developed, however, I worried. Turned out, it was a boy’s fort, secured to the closet ceiling. I surmised but never saw that he shimmied up a rope and pushed open the fort’s trap door.
Our confines were such that I registered without actually watching him horde bottled water, batteries, flares, flotation devices. He acquired a Boy Scout uniform and soon spent—it seemed—his life inside his fort. His troops traded intelligence in muffled voices.
And then, several times he refused to decamp for dinner. This battalion or that, I gathered, had been bombed to smithereens. Well, please. This isn’t how I’d envisioned married life.
Yet since I was married, I tried to remain loyal.
Soon he wouldn’t come to bed due to military conflicts. He continued going to work, though. Until the holidays, when insurrections proliferated.
I’ve been staying at my brother’s and avoiding the landlord’s summons. I can’t run forever, obviously. My coworkers won’t cover for me another minute.
To be honest, I’m afraid here, ready with my door key, the hallway thick with silence and desolation.