Artist: Mike Lee

Lips Closed, Teeth Biting Tongue

"What is this? Another bullshit Catholic martyrdom moment where you come in to rescue me?"
I was told by a friend to respond with a blank expression. Lips closed. Teeth biting tongue.
I continued boxing the books, focusing on the hardcover first editions. The record collection and Frank Kozik posters went to Brooklyn yesterday. They paid me $1,500 for the eleven crates of thirty years of vinyl and CDs; Kozik for 300. I didn't argue.
"Don't let our daughter see this." What she didn't know was she helped me move the records yesterday. Carried the small boxes to the taxi van, and I bought ice cream from the truck around the corner in Williamsburg.
I wanted to say that my wife stank of booze and sweat. So glad we no longer share the same bed. I slept on a blanket in the living room. The futon was uncomfortable.
"Don't you have an answer for me, Saint Peter?"
Lips closed. Teeth biting tongue. Meantime, goodbye Kerouac, Hesse, Anais Nin. The latter I inherited from my mother.
I like to know where the money went from the joint account. Every Friday, I deposited money for bills. She wrote the checks. The apartment lease is in her name.
I close the box. That makes nine boxes. Most of the remaining books. Everything I worked for since high school. Well, there's more. Buffalo Exchange may buy the suits. I only need two.
Arms crossed, she watches with pinhole eyes. She's blind in one.
I stack the boxes on the dolly and move them to the front door. She doesn't move to help.

Several days later, after selling everything I owned of value, the back rent was paid. I never found out what she spent the money on, or better, who.
When I returned from the legal department at the complex, I gave her the signed stipulation.
She sat on the futon. Beside her is a small table with a single drawer.
She didn't look at the paper. Instead, she folded the single sheet, opened the drawer, and slid it in.
Lips closed. Teeth biting tongue.

Several years later, I had a process server hand her papers in the kitchen. Those did not go in a drawer.
"You're divorcing ME?"
Lips closed. Teeth biting tongue.
We finally settled, with me getting custody of the daughter, her parental rights removed, an apartment I never wanted, and the responsibilities of single parenting transformed from de facto to de jure.
I remember when she and her lawyer left my lawyer and me to fill out the stipulation ourselves the judge, clerks, and the courtroom guard stared at us.
We finished. My lawyer handed over the papers and said our goodbyes. It would be sixty days before I received the final decree.
I decided not to take the elevator. As I passed into the stairwell, my soon ex-wife sat on the upper stair.
"Maaaarrrrk?" She was sobbing.
Whatever. Lips closed, teeth biting tongue. I did one thing differently, however. I made a point to stomp on the landing when I reached the next two floors.
I opened the door into the street. It had rained, but now the sun was out.
Almost 18 years of my life just washed away.
My office was near. I returned to work. My daughter was waiting for me in my office, reading Dostoevsky. Apropos.

About the Author

Mike Lee is a writer and editor at a trade union in New York City and the chief blogger for Focus on the Story. His work appears in or is forthcoming in Red Ogre Review, BULL, The Quarantine Review, Drunk Monkeys, and many others. In addition, a story collection, The Northern Line, is available on Amazon and other online bookselling outlets. He also was nominated for Best Microfiction by Ghost Parachute.