Fuji Bay in Sioux City, slow Monday night, and The Bachelorette’s on TV. She’s stopped on her way back from the airport, in an attempt to self-soothe with sushi. Earlier in the day, she said goodbye to The Beloved in a different airport, then dozed on and off through two uncomfortable legs. Saying goodbye to The Beloved is always dreadful. She feels it coming on as early as the day before—a red spread of despair, like acid on litmus, and by the time they arrive at the airport her chest is clenched into a tight fist of misery and she feels sick to her stomach.

 

*

 

On the flat-screen mounted high in the corner behind the hostess stand and cash register, a woman in a shiny dress sits in candlelight at an outdoor table with a man whose head is meringued with too much hair product. Shiny Dress’s blonde hair riffles as if to infer the presence of an ocean breeze somewhere slightly off camera. Meringue Head says something awful to Shiny Dress. She can tell it’s awful by the way Shiny Dress’s smile slides off her face and falls into her salad like a sad little crescent of avocado. She can tell by the way Shiny Dress—bless her heart—attempts to save face by pretending to laugh, by continuing to flirt, even though her eyes are now somewhere else. Turned inside herself, maybe. They are the eyes of something crouching, something watchful and vigilant. She’s glad the sound’s turned down so that she isn’t able to hear the awful thing Meringue Head has said to Shiny Dress.

 

*

 

The restaurant is empty except for a couple seated to her left. The man wears a blue Anderson Heating & Cooling shirt. The woman has a red tattoo on her forearm that says TRUST. When Trust gets up to use the restroom, she notices there’s a man’s face tattooed on Trust’s shoulder blade: dark-haired, Latin, mustached. She can’t tell if the face belongs to Anderson Heating & Cooling or not. She wonders which thing is more awkward: having your face tattooed on your lover’s back, or having another man’s face tattooed on your lover’s back. On the way back from the restroom, Trust meets her eyes and breaks into a wide grin.

 

*

 

Sometimes she comes unraveled at the airport, sobbing, causing a small scene in the terminal–a brief moment of diversion for bored travelers otherwise tractor-beamed into their cell phones. Sometimes The Beloved cries too. In general, she disapproves of unrestrained crying at sites of mass transportation. In fact, there are airports she now feels compelled to avoid due to excessive displays of emotion. Sometimes The Beloved, who is not a good flyer, shuts down and takes a Klonopin. Sometimes, she tries to pick a fight with him when he has shut down and taken a Klonopin. But trying to fight with The Beloved at the airport when he has shut down and taken a Klonopin is like fighting with tofu. Lately, she simply accepts his offerings of coffee or scones or croissants and tries to remain calm. It’s not that she no longer feels like a wild trapped bird is trying to beat its way out from inside her chest, it’s that it’s simply too exhausting to allow herself to become emotionally scooped out to that degree—like a honeydew melon-balled down to its very rind.

 

*

 

On The Bachelorette, Shiny Dress and Meringue Head ostentatiously toast each other, then drink in unison from their wine glasses. Meringue Head leans in for a kiss. She doesn’t think that Shiny Dress should necessarily kiss Meringue Head, and as kisses go, it looks staged. Junior high kids playing spin the bottle and clumsily sucking face—wanting to be seen in the act of kissing, as opposed to necessarily wanting to kiss the person they’re kissing. Shiny Dress and Meringue Head confer for a moment, then awkwardly kiss some more. After that, they get up from the table and walk off set, holding hands. Shiny Dress’s heels are too high, so that she gives the impression of simultaneously clumping and limping.

 

*

 

Trust has ordered sunomono with jellyfish to start, and the waitress brings out a small bowl of hot rice to Anderson Heating & Cooling. He liberally pours a salty spiral of soysauce over the steaming white grains, then eats it with a spoon and the kind of attentive relish that makes the rice look delicious. They sip their cold Sapporos and soon the waitress arrives with a platter of norimake—Philly Rolls and Dynamite Rolls.

 

*

 

At the airport, The Beloved says that now, more than ever, he feels a particular urgency to address his situation. His “situation” is how he talks about his marriage. “The other person” is how he refers to his wife. He used to refer to his wife as his “then-wife” but since she felt compelled to point out how misleading this was, he now calls his wife “the other person.” He says he’s going to get a realtor. She wonders how long it will take—after returning to his too-many hours of work, to the daughters he parents with such care, to “the other person” who leaves chicken breasts in the trunk of their car until the maggots arrive—for him to succumb to the deadly torpors of his day-to-day existence. She wonders how soon it will be until he represses this particular conversation altogether. He’s possibly the sweetest person alive, so part of her feels ashamed for having these thoughts. His sweetness is what makes him dangerous, though. He’s the emotional equivalent of the La Brea Tarpits, and so another part of her has learned to put on glamorous dark glasses and coolly observe the drowning of the mastodons from a safe distance behind cynicism’s fence.

 

*

 

Stray salmon roe bob in her soysauce like translucent orange buoys and she fishes them out with her chopsticks and pops them one by one into her mouth. Shiny Dress and Meringue Head are now exaggeratedly cavorting on a beach somewhere. Shiny Dress wears a tiny orange bikini. Dolphins are involved. It’s like a Star Trek Holodeck. She wants to sneer a little at Shiny Dress and Meringue Head, but really, she’s probably just as much of a cliché. What would her reality show look like? She’d probably have to wander around all day wearing a scarlet letter while the villagers pelted her with rotten produce. Her friends have started to become embarrassed on her behalf. Her Japanese Mother likes to tell her that she should star on The Bachelorette, but only after being on The Biggest Loser. Her Japanese Mother thinks this is hilarious.

 

*

 

Anderson Heating & Cooling has a small transistor radio attached to his belt. It plays Mexican radio. Love songs. He nods his head and whistles along to the tunes. Occasionally he sings parts of the songs out loud to Trust. When he does this, Trust laughs and sways in time to the music, snapping her fingers.

 

*

 

She says goodbye to The Beloved outside a pretzel stand at the Washington Dulles Airport. As soon as she saw the pretzel sign in the terminal, she knew he would pick out a pretzel for himself while she went in search of a latte. She liked watching how happy he was while eating his pretzel. He decides to go back and get a second pretzel before his plane boards. To calm his nerves, he says. He’s broken into a cold sweat. He doesn’t want to go back, he says. He’s rocking a little and he’s taken a Klonopin. She loves him more than anyone. Her last image of The Beloved is of him standing underneath the neon pretzel sign: His worried face under a neon pretzel. The neon pretzel under a neon halo.

 

Lee Ann Roripaugh

LEE ANN RORIPAUGH is the author of four volumes of poetry: Dandarians (Milkweed, Editions, 2014), On the Cusp of a Dangerous Year (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009), Year of the Snake (Southern Illinois University Press, 2004), and Beyond Heart Mountain (Penguin, 1999). A fifth volume, tsunami vs. the fukushima 50, is forthcoming from Milkweed in 2018. She was named winner of the Association of Asian American Studies Book Award in Poetry/Prose for 2004, and a 1998 winner of the National Poetry Series.The current South Dakota State Poet Laureate, Roripaugh is a Professor of English at the University of South Dakota, where she serves as Director of Creative Writing and Editor-in-Chief of South Dakota Review.

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  • Date - August 27, 2018