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My husband writes the names of his nine demons on post-it notes and burns them in the kitchen sink. He eats only apples.
An apple a day will keep them away.
That’s the doctor, I remind him.
It’s all the same.
A priest sent us incense and holy water and clippings from his own beard. This priest had good reviews online, but he rarely returns my calls. So I am left to my own devices.
I Google Exorcism with Holy Water.
I search Speaking in Tongues
and Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor
and Lead Poisoning.
I search Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit and somehow end up in a chat room about Lyme Disease. At first, everyone in the chat is polite. Then they begin to call each other names, and it frightens me. Still, I search my husband’s body for ticks, combing through his thinning hair with a toothpick until he falls asleep in my lap.
Today my husband is jumping on our bed, laughing like a jackal. He seems to have forgotten my name. He calls me Persephone and asks for pomegranate seeds. And of course more apples.
The word Liminality has been scrawled on the wall in black sharpie. I wonder how I will explain this to the landlord. It is a word that begs for context, but I have no context to offer.
Finally, the priest calls in the middle of the night, apologizing for his delayed response. He was busy praying for a hurricane to turn around.
Father? Can I call you Father? I need to make a confession. At the university, I explain, we lay on the graves of Civil War generals and decomposing poets. We poured ourselves a large glass of the blood of Christ and took it to our forest bed of leaves and straw. You see, this is all my fault. His mother kept garlic in his pockets, but I thought it was an old wives’ tale. I wanted to be a fresh, celestial sort of wife with nothing but the latest fears. I promised to rub salt on his brow, but I worried it would make him old before his time.
If you want to be whole again, wave a raw egg over his body. Tie seven knots in a piece of string and bury it.
It’s not my land, I say. It’s our landlord’s land.
Or is it the lord’s land?
Then he is gone.
The next morning, our conversation feels like a dream. I’m in the garden, digging, when I hear a cry for help. I go to him. “What is it?” My husband looks confused. He can’t remember if he needs me. He can’t remember if he ever needed me. There it is again. It’s only the mating calls of the neighbor’s peacocks, the same every February. By March, they will have forgotten.
I toss in the knotted string and the egg. But the hole demands more: Jack Daniels and all of our sharp knives and his collection of books. The Satanic Verses. Leaves of Grass. That pervert, Nabokov. Dante, because Fuck his contrapasso.
Later, I sit in an empty bathtub. Hey Siri, who will inherit the earth?
It didn’t work, I whisper into the phone when the priest calls. As proof, I list all the foul names and accusations my husband has hurled at me. I hurl some of my own. I’m sorry. I’m just tired. It’s these late nights. I can’t sleep because I’m always waiting for your call.
The priest changes the subject. Today he laid hands on a woman who couldn’t stop setting fire to things.
Did it work?
No news is good news. He sounds quite smug. Oh, and about dear husband: feed him the names of saints on strips of rice paper.
That I might sleep, he reads from Revelation. A red horse, a white horse, an ashen horse.
I dream of the priest laying hands on my abdomen and wake, moaning.
It’s dawn. The peacocks are in a frenzy.
My husband swallows all the saints, washes them down with milk. He coughs up Saint Anthony and Saint Augustine. Even Saint Jude, the saint of hopeless cases. I call the priest to ask why my husband’s body rejected these saints. His voicemail is full, but I see he’s been commenting on political memes. He is typing as we speak.
I am sure the peacocks are yelling Help. I can’t stand it, so I pack my husband and a sack of apples into the car. When we reach the coast, he recites Edna St. Vincent Millay. We squint at the sea.
I arrange nine apples on a towel. Their names are Redlove and Hidden Rose and Envy and Beauty of Bath and Glory to the Winners. There is an apple called Liberty and an apple called Jazz. A love-letter of apples. I send a picture to the priest. I promised myself I wouldn’t, but I am so lonely. He replies: What is this you have done, Daughter?
My husband ignores the apples. When he removes his shirt, his vertebrae are like beads on a rosary. I count every one of his ribs.
He wanders down the beach, and I worry I will lose him among all the grains of sand. Gulls circle. Kelp flies collect around the apples, so I lay my body over them. I can feel my heartbeat in all the places where the apples press against my skin.
Far away, my husband flirts with the sea. She folds around his ankles. Licking his wounds. All the places he’s carved his skin with a box cutter.
I can’t hold off the flies. I toss the apple called Envy and watch them descend as my husband dives beneath a wave.
If only I had thought to be an ocean, I could have withstood his insults. I could have harbored his ill will gracefully.
Myself, I am entirely bereft of salt.
* * *
Originally published in The Blood Pudding, April 2021. Reprinted here by permission of the author.
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