Matt hated the closet. The smooth glide of the doors belied the lies and frustration inside. It wasn't just clothes. The dozen or so shirts he regularly wore (mostly solid-color polos) were easy to navigate, but the back, where all the funeral/wedding shirts and jackets hung, was difficult to get to. He hadn't worn the ivory shirt since Jesse's funeral, but he hadn't gotten rid of it, either. It seemed odd that the shirt had never come up in therapy. Maybe Joan never mentioned the shirt because he kept it where he had to hide his things. It wouldn't have been so bad if he were just hiding something from Joan. Then he could've put it in the basement, behind some tools or in one of the storage bins where he kept things from his father. After all the damned therapy, he had to keep the last toy behind the porn that he had to leave in a place that Joan could find, if she was looking. She wasn't supposed to look, because part of her therapy was developing her own interests and pulling back so that he could successfully compartmentalize his portion of their lives. Joan had been able to take to the therapy without having to compartmentalize like Matt did, although Matt knew that he was supposed to respect and not resent that. He wondered if she did look, though, trying to discern his taste. These concerns made him buy regular, one-on-one pornography instead of exploring some of the specialty magazines, like the Asian teens or orgy-based ones. He thought that the Asian teens might've been okay, but that the orgy ones might've been too joyful to be part of a legitimate self project. It made him hate Masturbation Therapy.
He cleared his throat a little as he moved the small box of porn out of the way to look down at the remnants of his dead son's toy. It could've been a present they were hiding for Christmas. He remembered watching it turn in the microwave. It didn't really melt; it more folded in on itself, too flimsy of an outside without anything inside. The fold had started slowly, then taken a quick, comical turn where the melting eyes crossed, and the face looked grumpy. This had been in the middle of Erasure Therapy, when the taboo had been broken and there still seemed to be a lot of toys left. It was exciting in its own way, but it was shortly after Mr. Potatohead that Matt recognized the finite supply, and he had dug it out of the garbage. Now, he just stared at it and thought that it should've had a candle inside it, or that it could've been part of an art school kid's thesis. “Modern Masculinity in Three Parts," he mumbled. Maybe Donkey Kong would be Part Two. Matt reached in and touched the half-melted thing; it didn't feel all that different than any other kind of plastic. He should've blown it up with firecrackers like they'd done with the Play-Doh. Though it would've taken a lot of firecrackers. Matt wondered if there was some kind of support group for people going through Erasure Therapy. If there was, the therapist should've mentioned it, and if there wasn't, then what kind of therapy was it? But he couldn't bring that up.
Matt ran his fingers along the ridge of the toy, and then he pushed the box back in front of it. He tilted the cover just a bit. The invite might make Joan less likely to look. Not that it mattered. He closed the closet doors and sat on the bed. He needed to wait a few seconds, then flush the toilet and wash his hands. Joan was making dinner, but she was probably listening. This would set her mind at ease. He bounced on his bed just a little bit, and then he sat for a moment and breathed deeply. He felt a little like passing out. The walls looked bare after they'd taken down all the family photos down. After Jesse's death, the therapist had said that they should take down the pictures one each week to balance moving on with reducing the sense of shock. It had worked, for the most part, but now, as he looked at the walls, he had no idea who he and Joan were or what they liked. There had been a time when he couldn't have imagined not having some band's poster on his wall, but he generally didn't listen to the bands whose posters he owned anymore.
Matt stood slowly, hoping not to feel woozy. After standing for a few seconds, Matt felt steady enough to go to the bathroom. The bathroom's theme was green this week. The towels and the toilet cover, anyway. Matt washed his hands and dried them on the guest towel. He smoothed it out and scratched his chin. He and Joan had tried to keep up with their personal maintenance so that people would ask them how they were doing less than if they looked like hell. Some weeks, though, it felt comforting to indulge in a little self-neglect, which the therapist said that they could do, but sparingly. Some weeks Joan and Matt had unspoken competitions to see who would sleep less. Matt thought he was winning this week, having several nights of staying up to watch awful, old horror movies on TV. At about four-and-a-half hours per night, he had the satisfaction of the weary, but he wasn't sure if Joan was playing. She'd only had half a cup of coffee this morning.
Matt went downstairs and immediately smelled the chicken. Joan had taken really well to cooking the grown-up dinners so they could live the life of the fully realized. He wondered if they'd have the larger, chewier garlic bread or the thinner, crispier bread. He liked the chewier, but Joan likes the crispier. Jesse had liked the chewier, though he'd eat either kind. Matt walked over to the kitchen, where he wife was chopping carrots. There was a growing pile next to an already cut pile of celery. The peppers were still whole. “Looks good," he said. Joan smiled at him, then went back to chopping. He wished that she'd listen to music or watch TV while she did this. Since they'd destroyed all the toys and gotten rid of most of the photos, they were supposed to begin doing things like listening to their music and watching their movies more. But it was hard to accurately remember a life before Jesse. Matt went to the dining room window and looked at the yard. They'd have to rake that weekend. After Jesse's death, Matt hated housework more than he did before or during Jesse's life. He wanted to move into a condo complex, but he didn't know how to even bring that up with Joan. It would, of course, require therapist input, which could taint the whole move.
“You want some wine?" Matt asked. Joan finished the carrots and slid the leftover tops into the trash. “With dinner," she said. Matt nodded and went to the living room. He sat on the couch and looked at the TV, dark and blank. The last good day he could remember having with Joan was when they'd grilled the Transformers over marguerites. The backlog of toys had seemed infinite then. There probably seemed about five minutes before he should start pouring the wine and setting the table. The living room, unlike their bedroom, had some decorations, mostly nature pictures and some bland fake plants. He was okay with the wreaths, but the branches with berries bothered him for some reason. After a minute or so, he took out his cell phone, lost two hands of poker, and then picked a few bits of lint off his shirt. His reflection in the TV seemed to have an incredibly small head. It must've had something to do with the curvature of the screen. He thought of the melted potatohead upstairs, hidden and useless, but nothing he could part with. He wished they'd donated the toys to charity, but the therapist had advised against it. Still, dumping melted plastic into their garbage bin was depressing, like a hangover.
With nothing better to do, Matt went to the kitchen and took a bottle of wine down from the cupboard. He opened the bottle and took out two glasses. Part of the problem was not being able to go back. In a different life, he'd be drinking fine wine only, and he'd smell the aroma, appreciating it before he appreciated it. In another different life, he'd drink anything, wine or beer or liquor, but be so exhausted by the time he had some, he'd be happy just to be having some kind of booze. As it was, he recognized they could have better, but he wasn't all that sure that he cared that he was drinking something subpar anymore. Even with what the therapist said, it was hard to tell the difference between depression and acceptance. Matt poured a little more in the first glass in order to make sure that the glasses were even. He took the glasses to the dining room table and set them down. Then he went back for the silverware. Probably they could do everything they needed with a fork, but he took out two of everything. Sometimes the extra dishes were helpful. It occupied a bit more time. As he set his knife on the table, he spun it a bit, then stopped it with a spoon. There was a dull clang, and he set everything straight. He went back to the kitchen and put plates down by the stove. “How was work?" he asked.
Joan frowned a minute, then started plating the meal. Chicken first. “Decent. I think Danielle is sleeping with Andy."
“Oh," said Matt. He tried to think of who Danielle would be, but he couldn't call up either a face or a job title. Andy was the office manager, thought it seemed like he might've slept around before. Matt tried to remember how Joan had indicated an office affair when Jesse was in the room. The company ink is what he thought she said. “How can you tell?"
Joan chuckled. “She's started filing her nails at her desk." She put down some green beans and some potatoes on both plates. The potatoes did look good. He wondered if therapy would eventually require them to worry about their weight. Strategic Motion Therapy had been awkward and made him too aware of their bodies. They could, conceivably, have another child, but he couldn't imagine having that conversation. “I never see her do much anymore," said Joan.
Matt wondered how old Danielle was. As a child, would she have played with Barbie, Beanie Babies, or would she have been old enough to have played with Strawberry Shortcake in her original run? “Think anything'll come of it?"
Joan exhaled. “God, I hope not." She dumped the salad fixings into bowls, then topped them with a little cheese, croutons, and some dressing. Italian tonight, which was fine with Matt. He didn't like French, but otherwise most dressings were of roughly the same quality to him. The dressing made him think of the conjunction of pornography and women serving food. It seemed to be more about dominance than general indulgence. The idea that a woman would always want to serve a man in every way. Matt had seen that kind of porn in looking at possible magazines, but he never really enjoyed it. He didn't think he'd get into BDSM even if he and Joan weren't together. As he took the plates over to the dining room, Matt felt a soft panic about how they'd fill dinner time. After months of therapy and trying to work through their grief, they still hadn't really landed anywhere. Neither bottoming out nor finding a clear passion or purpose. They'd never really imagined an alternative trajectory for their lives. He tried to think of what he'd seen on TV or heard on the radio. Aside from his tiny head on the screen, it seemed to be the same as ever, financial worries, inept politicians, and divorcing celebrities. There didn't seem to be anything to latch onto. When they sat down, he began to cut his chicken. As he took a bit, it was moist and warm, a pleasant, subtle flavor. Not the usual overdose of rosemary that Joan could resort to when she was trying to feel like she'd flavored the meal. This more dull taste was enjoyable. He peeked over at Joan a bit to see if she was watching him. She had her face turned towards her plate, which made Matt assume that she was paying close attention to what he was doing. He looked back at his plate as well. As he stabbed a potato, he said, “I think I'll destroy my golf clubs."
There was a long pause. Matt tried to tell if the low whine he heard was real or just his ears straining for something. Eventually, Joan said, “Why is that?" Her voice was a little high, but slow and even. Matt bit his potato and chewed, wondering what his argument would be. Hearing her question, it struck him that he wasn't even sure what response he wanted. The therapist might've said that he was making his grief his own by challenging the boundaries of mourning. Or maybe the therapist wouldn't have yielded that much power. “Well," he said. “They're really not what I want. It was a getaway or a break, and I don't really care for it anymore."
Joan stirred her salad, which was unnecessary. “You could stick them in the garage, in case you wanted them later."
Matt found himself becoming angry. He broke his bread again. It was the crusty kind. “I guess it'll help me to start something new, which is what I want."
Joan picked up her wine glass, swallowed her food, and took a sip. She chewed some more and then said, “What do you have in mind?"
Matt brushed off his hands. “Never mind."
There was very soft scraping on the plate, then Joan quietly said, “Don't pout."
Matt held his glass by the stem and rotated it, watching the surface of his wine ripple. “Things aren't working."
Joan picked her fork back up, but didn't actually put it to use. “Remember that therapy takes time. We still might be able to reestablish our regular social and sexual patterns if we just stick to the program."
Matt closed his eyes. That phrasing, social and sexual patterns, was very obviously from the therapists. He almost said, “Maybe I should take up water colors instead," but he knew that would be petty. Breathing deeply, he felt like the room was starting to tilt slightly, and he had to open his eyes. Joan was gently stabbing a green bean. The fork clicked onto the plate. “Let me do something quick," Matt said. He got up and went to the basement. It was cool and smelled just a bit musty. It smelled like something his parents could've named, but Matt couldn't settle on anything. He grabbed a pair of hedge clippers and took out his nine iron. He put the club between his legs and tried to cut the handle off. The handles wouldn't budge. Matt rearranged his grip, holding them thumb side up so that he could get a bit more leverage. He tried to remember what the salesman had told him about the club's shaft. It felt so light. He set down the clippers and took the club from between his legs. He set the club on his workshop's counter, and he picked up a hammer. He put one knee on the handle, feeling the hard, focused pain of the club, interrupting the dull support of the table, and then he started to beat the club. His first swing glanced off and did very little. His second landed squarely, but shot pain up his leg without leaving any sort of dent. It occurred to Matt that the therapists could've been lost, desperate for a sense of stability, just like him. This idea made Matt hate the therapists. Finding no real impact, he took the club to a wall, leaned the club against it and tried jumping onto it to get it to break. The club shot out and he almost fell over. He wished that Joan had come down. She knew to run over Jesse's bicycle with the SUV instead of taking all day beating it with a hammer. Having gone this far, he didn't want to go back upstairs without at least bending it. He looked around at the tools and tried to think. How could he melt but not destroy a plastic figure, but no do any kind of real damage to a long, narrow stick was agonizing. Matt picked up the club and twirled it in his hands. He watched the head rotate, and he started to cry. Not a loud sob, but a quiet, convulsing type of cry. He had reached a point of actually feeling good in his tears, feeling like he had landed somewhere when Joan came down. He covered his face but didn't stop crying. Matt dimly noticed her touching his shoulder, and he leaned towards her. She put her arms around him, and he let himself go, though he couldn't tell if she was crying with him or not.