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Today's Story by Benjamin Wachs

"I think the gnome is cold," I said. "I'd better go get it a blanket." And she signed.

Children’s Stories

In the end, it wasn’t the knights in shining armor or the friendly dragons that did it:  it was the pink bunnies that made my wife divorce me.  I write children’s books, you see, and so I’m always coming home with something new to put in a story.  At first she thought it was cute:  “Oh,” she’d say, “look at the little-biddy-friendly hedgehog!  Come over here and give me a kiss.”  And at night, after  eating a steak dinner with snow peas and Pepsi, we’d all sit around the fire and cuddle while I’d write about how even hedgehogs need love.  Or why hedgehogs should listen to their parents.  Or why the best way to handle hedgehog bullies is to ignore them.  She loved it.

I don’t know when things started to change.  Heck, I only found out about it when I came home one day with a new friend, and instead of getting all excited, she said “Oh, a happy gnome.  How original.”  That clued me in pretty quickly that something wasn’t all right.  She seemed out of sorts, though, so I thought maybe she was just allergic to gnomes – it happens – and so that night I shooed the gnome out of the bedroom and after we’d turned out the lights I told her that I’d never bring another one home again.

“It’s not that, honey,” she said, lying on her side of the bed.  “It’s just that, well, I don’t know, maybe I’d like something a little more. . . exciting.”  And she reached over and started to stroke my arm.

I heard a whimpering from the hall.  “I think the gnome is cold,” I said.  “I’d better go get it a blanket.”  And she signed.

So the next day I brought in a singing butterfly, who I felt sure would learn that a song in your heart can keep you warm through the coldest winter, if you’re singing for your friends.  He was all excited, because I’d told him what a wonderful cook my wife was, but she said she had a headache, so he and I had to go out.  I took him to an expensive restaurant, and all the waiters were excited to have such a well dressed customer, and all the children ran up to meet him, and all the parents wanted to know where they could buy the book.  So, you see, it wasn’t that he was a bad butterfly.  When we came home I found that my wife had eaten 5 pounds of chocolate.  Then she wanted to talk about the running of the bulls in Spain while I was trying to go to sleep.  I told her it sounded too dangerous (somebody could get hurt), and she said she should have expected me to say something like that, and then rolled over and wouldn’t talk.

The next day she broke.  When she woke up the butterfly was singing in the shower, and the hedgehog had eaten all the pancake mix, and the silly little centipede was playing rolly-polly in the basement with the grumpy little frog, and the bell ringers had begun to play the one about the tailor and the calico cat, and the gnome was in the fridge arranging all the mushrooms into a ring and the house was just a mess.  I could understand her being upset about that.  So I told her I sympathized, while she was trying to change her contact lenses in a sink filled with mermaids, and that I would try and do something about it.

So I went out to find some help.  I walked every place I knew: the little gnell, the grassy hill, the gentle river, the big back yard, the animal schoolhouse, even the forbidden kingdom – or at least I stopped by the gate, but I didn’t go in because it looked locked, as usual – and eventually I found them.  It took longer than usual, but there they were.

Of course I thought my wife would like them.  There were lots of them, and they were ready to help around the house.  So in I walked, followed by a family of cute pink bunny rabbits dressed in aprons, and lickety-split, before I could say “Hi, honey, I’m home!” they began to do the dishes.

She began to cry.  That was it, she said, she couldn’t take it here any more.  So she packed her suitcase full of all her favorite things, the orchid she’d been given by her prom date, her autographed picture of Rosa Parks, the postcard her mother had sent her from Ethiopia while working for the Peace Corp, and she locked it down tight.  She told me that she couldn’t stand my books any longer, that she hated all the good characters and didn’t want to live with them, and just before she slammed the door behind her she said she wanted a divorce.

When the door slammed shut and latched automatically, all the friendly creatures came out to see what the thunder was.  They had never heard anything like it before, and I should have explained it to them, but I couldn’t find the words.  I stood there, in the middle of the living room, and I couldn’t find the words to say anything.

And this began to bother me, you see, because I’m a writer, and so I needed to know what to say.  But I couldn’t think of any way to describe the look on her face, or the absence of her smile, or that I couldn’t remember her laughing for weeks.  I couldn’t put a name on what she’d done.  So I went over and got her picture from my night stand to try and explain it to them.  “You see Marion?”  I asked them.  And then I ripped the picture in half.

And then I broke her favorite cup, the one with the blue stripes, and then I couldn’t stop, so I ripped her dresses and I broke the picture I had bought her for our 5th anniversary, and I lit her books on fire, including her diary, and then I smashed the TV, which only she ever watched, with a baseball bat.

They were all quiet when I was through, and moved back into their hiding places, the fridge, the basement, the cracks of the white picket fence, without even saying good-bye.  The mermaids covered their breasts when they dove into the bathtub.

None of them will talk to me now, and no one meets me when I go looking for new friends.  They hide from me, and we don’t even speak the same language anymore.  All I can hear are growls and hisses and grunts.  My writing comes in spurts and shadowy images, and I hear the goblins singing from the forbidden city late at night, where my wife has gone.


Benjamin Wachs has written for Village Voice Media, Playboy.com, and NPR among other venues.  He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.


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