I’m lying in bed, just me, next to my ugly little husband. Aw, I’m being mean, aren’t I? He’s not that bad, just hairy around the neck and soft in the belly, and his face isn’t too symmetrical. But I’ve seen worse. And I’m used to it all, the way his nose folds into his lip, his hair sticks out by the ears. It’s comfortable, comforting, like the horrible wallpaper at Grandma’s house. It’s just that tattoo that bothers me.
He sleeps shirtless, so when I’m awake at night, I always see it, a penguin on the left side of his ribcage. He was drunk one night in college, and his buddies roped him into getting it. He regrets it. He’s gotten no other tattoos. But still, what a lapse in judgement! If he did something that stupid once, he could do it again. That’s what really bothers me.
No, no, that’s silly. My husband is stable, dull, a dutiful draft horse in human flesh. I’m the one who would mess up.
I was the one to lose her shoes on the wedding day. Couldn’t find them fifteen minutes before I had to be at the altar, can you believe that? I had to get married in flip flops. They weren’t even my flip-flops, just a pair I found abandoned in the church basement. Thank goodness my dress was long, dragging on the ground, concealing my feet. No one ever knew, not even him.
The blanket pools around our feet. It’s July, we both sweat. I wrangle the blanket up to his chest -- I can’t bear to look that penguin in the eye any longer. The flip-flops are my little secret, and the penguin is his. No one knows but me, the tattoo artist, his college buddies. What a bizarre group to be tangled in conspiracy with.
I can’t sleep. It’s a full moon tonight, and I slip out of bed to look at her yellow face through the window. She hovers just above the Witwickys’ house. It’s a nice house, lawn big enough to hold a pony if they wanted. But they wouldn’t want to. That’s silly.
Dave and Janet Witwicky moved in a few months ago. They’re the only other young, childless couple in the neighborhood. I was immediately in competition, and immediately lost. Janet licked the soles of all the right people in the Home Owners’ Association, and suddenly she’s invited to all the luncheons, she’s hosting the Ladies’ Club bake sale, she’s with the moms at the Walk-a-Thon fundraiser. And they have a ping-pong table in the basement.
Dave once asks me, Come on, dontcha wanna play? And I say no, I’m really not good at ping-pong. And that’s the truth, I overestimate my hand, swing too hard each time. The ball flies! Bounces off the wall, over my opponent’s head, flies into the ether. It’s embarrassing for everyone.
But then Dave and Janet had a dinner party and oh they’re being such great hosts and keeping our friends so well-entertained that me and my husband didn’t have anyone to talk to but each other and why would we talk to each other if we live together. So we went down to the basement to play ping-pong by ourselves. He adjusts for how hard I hit, stretching his arm just a little further for my soaring balls. He hits gently so the ball slows down before I whack it back, hard.
Laughter exploded above our heads. Dave must have said something funny. Janet has a piercing, shrieking laugh, like a nervous parrot lost and seeking help. It rang out distinct from everyone else’s. It seems the only thing bizarre about her. Everything else is stitched together perfect.
I asked my husband then, after I sent a ball catapulting to his chest, if he had any secrets he'd never revealed to me before. No, not really. Do you? I told him no. The flip-flop thing seemed suddenly trivial.
It was just us in the basement, a nice, carpeted basement, painted creamy white, with a couch and a television and framed posters of stock-photo flowers. There was an artificial floral scent, heavy chemicals in the air, a nice smell, just dense. It would give me a headache after too long. The whole house would -- it’s so clean, too clean, like no one real lives there, and with that flower scent soaked into the walls.
They had one photo of themselves, just one, a wedding photo, small and framed in fake gold. It cut off at the bottom, but I’m sure Janet’s shoes were lovely. They held each other by the arms. I wonder where they honeymooned.
My husband and I, we couldn’t afford anything more exotic than Florida. I messed up the plane tickets by a day. My parents didn’t live far from the wedding venue, thank goodness, and they let us spend the night. They don’t have a spare bed or anything, so he and I squeezed into my old childhood bed, wrestling for comfort atop a twin-size mattress.
Oh look, there’s Dave and Janet walking into the backyard. They have lawn chairs facing each other, waiting like patient dogs. Perhaps they’ll go sit, hang out, talk, plot how they can charm more neighbors into their basement ping-pong games. Do they see me staring from the window? Should I wave? No, that’s weird.
Dave and Janet don’t sit down. They tear their clothes off. No, not tear, rip, burst out of, fur sprouting where bare skin was, fur blooming like mold on their faces and chests. There’s two wolves running rabid, glistening grey under the full moon’s kind glow. The yard is big, thank goodness, lots of room.
I pull the curtains shut. My husband has turned on his stomach, muttering in his sleep, suffocating the penguin against the sheets. I slide in next to his moist, hot form, push the blankets down again. I have three secrets now I guess: the flip-flops, the penguin, the werewolves. I wrap my arm around my ugly little husband and feel him breathe beneath me, safe and small and totally unaware.