ACCORDING to Wikihow.com, the proper way to launder a cashmere sweater is hand wash with mild soap, then lay flat on a clean towel. This is more or less what Jane said last night, now confirmed by an independent third party. Can’t she be righteously, indignantly wrong for once? I want to live in a world where my girlfriend bungles the essential facts about an important laundry controversy, and then I go down on her and we watch Hulu and never fight ever. Is that too much to ask?

A coworker comes into my office and asks how the new website’s coming along. I lean over and go ruugggggggh, throwing up into an empty Klean Kanteen. My coworker says, “I’ll come back later.” I write Jane a text that says, I made a mistake! I’m human. People make mistakes! I wait for her to text me back, but she’s too busy scrolling through Instagram, liking pictures of her ex-boyfriends.

Six months ago, Jane discovered my weakness: silence. I can take anything else, but when she doesn’t reply to my texts, I feel like my guts are pouring out of my stomach and birds show up and eat them, so that even if I managed to get them back inside, they’d be full of holes and I’d have to wear a colostomy bag for the rest of my life.

My therapist says this is because I’m “anxiously attached” to Jane, and I say, “No shit, Sigmund.” Jane’s prettier than any woman I’ve dated by a million times. Men stop cars just to watch her try to get a rock out of her shoe.

I try to work, but I can’t see Microsoft Outlook through tears. I try Jane again: I don’t deserve this! You’re the worst! I miss you!

A bubble with three dots appears, then disappears. I wait for the bubble to appear again, but it’s just a fake out. 

This is a thing Jane does. I hate her so much. I want to lick her armpits. I want to clean our refrigerator just to see her smile. 

I throw up and go for a walk. The business park’s prettier than usual. The reason is it’s October. The maple trees are yellow with bright red blotches. It looks like somebody shot Big Bird. 

I think about Big Bird. My God, I hope he’s okay. Remember the episode of Sesame Street where Captain Vegetable knocks over a glass of milk and Big Bird appears and sings an impromptu rendition of “Everybody Makes Mistakes?” What a beautiful song. I’m sure Jane’s never heard it. One time I accidentally put her wooden salad tongs in the dishwasher and warped them beyond recognition. Instead of singing an impromptu rendition of “Everybody Makes Mistakes,” she picked up a plastic measuring cup and threw it at me. She didn’t aim for my head exactly, but it wasn’t the other side of the room either. It knocked over a wine glass, which broke, which she blamed me for, then scowled, which somehow made her prettier.

I sit in the clover field adjacent to the health care billing facility across the street from my office and compose a text message to Jane expressing my feelings re: our fight last night. 

You yell at me too much. I am innocent. Please communicate. I can’t work when we fight like this. I do not forgive you. I have acid reflux so bad I can’t stop throwing up. 

My therapist says I need to stop focusing on Jane’s tone of voice when we fight. I need to be vulnerable and empathize with her instead. 

That’s easy for my therapist to say. He’s never been in a fight with Jane. Last night she went berserk. She flapped her arms like a harpy and screamed “I hate you” every time her wings beat. When I say, “I hate you,” it’s obvious I’m lying. With Jane, it sounds like she means it. 

In the sky, red-tailed hawks fly in circles, hunting business park rabbits. I am down here in the grass with my friends, the hunted. Everyone is mad at us. Rabbits have beady red eyes and scamper around like demons, but all I did was say, “I can’t talk to you when you’re like this!” Then I ignored Jane and stared stoically at the library book I pretended to be reading.

Lately, I’ve been checking out books from the library instead of buying them. The reason is I’m broke. Last February I spent all my money buying a house surrounded by rare, exotic ferns. 

The ferns weren’t always there. When Jane and I moved in, I dug up the front lawn and planted ferns everywhere. Seventeen varieties. Jane hasn’t said anything about them yet, even though the whole point of planting them was so that she’d praise me. 

I lie on my back in the clover field adjacent to the health care billing facility waiting for red-tailed hawks to come down out of the sky and eat my liver as punishment for putting Jane’s cashmere sweater in the dryer, a violation of relationship Rule #2. I wait and wait, but nothing happens. Instead, my phone vibrates. It’s a message from Jane. It says, I hate you.

I can’t stop shaking. Jane’s speaking to me. 

I text back, I hate you too, Sugar Plum. You’re the worst.

The thing about Jane is I want to hold her ankles in the air while I lick the inside of her thighs, inching closer and closer with every lick to her beautiful pink pussy. 

I want to get her name tattooed on my neck in fancy gangster letters, even though Jane assures me that’s appropriation. 

Two days ago, before I put Jane’s cashmere sweater in the dryer, I was outside planting a species of fern called a “ghost fern.” It looks like it’s covered in hoarfrost no matter what time of year it is. 

Jane took one look at it and said, “I’m getting bored of A Handmaid’s Tale. Season three sucks.”

I said, “Yeah, I agree,” but what I wanted her to say was, “Look at that beautiful fucking fern! It’s magical. So much better than Chad’s bullshit ferns!”

About a year ago, we were at our friend Chad’s apartment. I don’t like Chad because Jane lingered too long during a goodbye hug once. 

Jane was six or seven sparkling rosés drunk. She came out of the bathroom hiccupping. Instead of sitting next to me, her boyfriend, she sat next to Chad.

“I love your bathroom ferns,” she said. “Especially the one hanging above the tub.”

“Thanks,” he said.

They were obviously in love. 

When we got home that night, Jane and I tried to have sex, but she said our bedroom was too bright. I turned off the lights, and she said it was too dark. I went to the candle drawer, but we were out of candles, so I drove to 7 Eleven and bought a candle shaped like the number 2 that was supposed to be for some kid’s second birthday, but which I hoped to use for sex. 

When I got home, Jane was asleep. I felt insecure, so I got on Zillow and found a fixer-upper in North Portland for $300,000. It had a big front yard. On the shady side, adequate drainage. A few days later I made an offer and a month later I ripped up the lawn and planted rare, exotic ferns everywhere.

I call Jane. It rings and rings and rings and goes to voicemail. It’s 2019. Nobody uses voicemail anymore. I leave a voicemail anyway.

“Look,” I say. “I’m sorry I put your cashmere sweater in the dryer. I know it’s Rule #2 and we only have two rules, and I broke Rule #1 fighting about Rule #2. The thing is, I just forgot. I’m not perfect. I’m sorry. What do you want me to say? I just want to be in love and watch Hulu and go down on you sometimes. You’re not going to listen to this. You told me you have 48 messages in your inbox that you haven’t listened to dating back to the Obama administration. So, I’m talking to the void right now. The thing is… God, I just love you so much. It’s stupid. I planted all those ferns for you. I just want you to praise my ferns, not Chad’s. Okay? Just once. I’m an insecure maniac, but I’m your insecure maniac.”

I hang up. A red-tailed hawk descends and eats my liver.

Jane and I have two rules in our relationship: 1) don’t go to bed angry; 2) don’t put Jane’s cashmere sweater in the dryer.

When Jane found her sweater in the dryer, she said, “What the fuck? Don’t you remember Rule #2?”

I said, “Sorry, Sugar Plum. I forgot. Quit yelling at me.”

Jane wasn’t yelling, but the word “fuck” sounds loud to me. I’m from Oregon where we whisper and say “I’m sorry” a lot. Usually, we don’t mean it. We say “I’m sorry” like shotgun pellets, hoping to hit something and fix it and make it better.

Jane said, “I can’t believe you ruined my sweater!”

I said, “I can’t believe you’re so mean!”

Then she flapped her arms like a harpy, and I ignored her, theatrically opening my library book. 

This isn’t the worst fight Jane and I’ve had. There was the time I accidentally threw away her favorite stuffed animal from childhood, and she locked me out of the house, and I had to sleep on the porch wrapped in broken down Amazon boxes that I pulled out of the recycling bin. Or the time I accidentally broke her grandmother’s tea set, and she hid my antidepressant medication, and I went into a downward spiral and had to be institutionalized and made some really incredible paintings that resulted in an art show the Portland Mercury described as, “Like a bad mushroom trip, only bleaker.”

The phone rings. It’s Jane. 

“Hey,” she says.

“Hey,” I say.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you last night.”

“I’m sorry I ruined your cashmere sweater.”

“Are you actual sorry or Oregon sorry?”

“I’m not sure. I think actual.”

A crow shows up and plucks out one of my eyeballs. It’s fine.

“I listened to your message,” says Jane.

“You did? You never listen to those things.”

“I listen to yours, jerk. What are you talking about? Every time you plant a new fern, I tell you how nice it looks and how much I appreciate you making our yard beautiful.”

“No, you don’t,” I say.

“Yes, I do.”

I think about it. She’s right. Ever since I started planting ferns everywhere, it’s been nonstop praise from Jane about what a good partner I am and how grateful she is and how I’m her Fern King. She even made me a birthday card that said: Happy Birthday, Fern King! I only have one complaint about you. Your dick is so huge. Otherwise you’re perfect. I couldn’t love you more. Really. Yours, always. Jane.

She drew a picture of ferns with a naked lady coming out of it: her.

I get so jealous.

I get defensive instead of being vulnerable.

“Let’s fool around later,” I say.

“Okay,” she says.

“I have a number two candle.”

“I don’t know what that means, but I love you.”

We hang up. I haven’t done any work today. It’s noon. People are leaving the business park, going to lunch. I’m dying in a clover field, getting eaten alive by birds. I love Jane so much I throw up sometimes. This is our love story. I’ll never put her sweater in the dryer again.

Kevin Maloney
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