My wife and I bought a house, an old Dutch colonial with a handful of dormer windows and a sturdy gambrel roof. These were words I had never heard before and didn’t know the meaning of, despite spending the last thirteen years of my life rattling down the street in the cab of a garbage truck while similar looking houses loomed above me in the frozen, bluish-black gloom of the early, upstate New York morning. My wife, Krista, already knew all these architecture vocabulary words thanks to the numerous college degrees she had acquired over the course of our twenty-five-year relationship that began when her My Little Pony eraser bounced under my desk on the second day of homeroom in fifth grade. Krista has degrees in art history, interpretive dance, exercise science, architectural history, cinematography, and a few others. For years she had told me learning was her greatest passion in life, but two weeks ago, a few minutes after we made love for the final time in our old, disgusting, cardboard box of an apartment, she admitted she had lied to me for the past twenty-five years, and her true passion in life is wasting her stockbroker dad’s money by acquiring various college degrees and ignoring them completely. Despite feeling used and angry and sad and betrayed, I told her it was okay. I told her I understood. I told her I wasn’t mad about her twenty-five years of lying. What else could I do? I’d still be living at home with Mom and Dad if Krista’s eraser had bounced the other direction and ended up underneath Andy Carr’s desk instead of mine. But now that me and Krista have borrowed more of her dad’s money to buy this paralyzingly expensive house together, I wonder what else she’s hiding from me in her suddenly exotic and unknowable insides.
Mom always says that no matter how much time you spend with someone, you can never truly know who they are. Mom also passes her days stumbling from room to room of my childhood house, dodging Dad’s watchful gaze, and stealing gulps from the bottles of brown Listerine she hides in the linen closet and the pasta cabinet and behind the washing machine. Despite all that, I’m pretty sure she’s right about the secret nature of the self. Because as much as I love Krista, her interpretive dances, and her many useless degrees, I can’t deny that my true passions in life have recently changed as well. In descending order of importance, they used to be Krista, the buffalo wings from The Luna Café, and watching the Rangers game in my recliner with a twelve pack of Corona at my feet, but now my true passion in life is our real-estate agent, Astrid, the breathtaking woman who introduced me to all those mysterious architectural words I had never heard before.
Astrid is a six-foot Norwegian beauty with an intoxicating accent, a sharp bob of platinum hair, and a half-inch gap between her two front teeth. Each time she led me and Krista on a walkthrough of a prospective house, her words injected into my mind the image of a jagged outcrop of black, volcanic rock squatting in the middle of a Nordic snowfield. I don’t know why, but this image, paired with the sound of her voice, always wiped away all the anger and depression I felt that day, and swaddled me in a wonderful feeling of calm and relaxation.
Because of these emotions, I called Astrid on the phone almost every day of the five months me and Krista searched for a house. But ever since me and Krista made the down payment and moved into the new place, things have changed. I still call Astrid every day with some phony question or concern, but now I have to hide in the linen closet or the laundry room whenever I talk to her, because the sound of her voice gives me an erection. Once the call ends, I get a nice little buzz going by guzzling some of my green Listerine I have hidden there, and then I bite down on my thick leather wallet and masturbate into a bath towel. Though I know Krista could catch me at any moment, I can’t stop. Astrid is the only thing left in my life that is beautiful and sacred and exciting.
I haven’t told Krista about this new awakening in me. Instead, each time we make love, I close my eyes and imagine the sounds Astrid would make in the throes of an orgasm as powerful as my towel-bound ejaculations. I imagine her whispering strange, ice-crusted words into my ear. I imagine her breathless voice huffing alien exclamations in her native tongue. I imagine her repeating the words gambrel roof, gambrel roof, gambrel roof, as if it was a magic spell that could transport me away from here, and rescue me from my life.
Steve Gergley is the author of A QUICK PRIMER ON WALLOWING IN DESPAIR: STORIES (LEFTOVER Books ’22). His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Atticus Review, Cleaver Magazine, Hobart, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found at: https://stevegergleyauthor.wordpress.com/