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This morning, Wendell isn’t in his corner. He’s not in the closet or the bathroom or behind the laundry room door, or in my office, so that means there’s only one place left to look, and sure enough there he is in the bedroom. He’s standing about a foot from my husband, who is sitting at his work station, the top half of his body swallowed by the VR unit. He’s lost in his Disembodied world, counseling newbies, leading discussions, giving tennis lessons, coaching the triplets, and hardly ever having sex with his actress wife.
“I found some information about Battleship,” Wendell says. He still has the bag on his head. I feel like everyone is underwater but me.
I’m rarely this close to my husband while he’s at work. I know he can’t hear or see me; he’s in his world and I’m in this one. “I also found out about Rockem Sockem, and music that makes you dance and dance.”
I want to know about these things.
Then he just stops talking.
“What do you need me to do?” I ask, but he doesn’t answer. “You’re a stupid piece of shit,” I say, hopefully. “You’re just a piece of metal with no soul. You’re not real.” Nothing. “I don’t know what you want from me,” I say.
I take a pair of metal nail clippers and scrape along the side of his body, leaving a long white mark. I’ll lose my deposit, but to hell with it. I write IDIOT on him in permanent marker. This doesn’t seem like enough. I pull the bag off his head and his glowing green eyes stare, blink. I slap him across his head. I slap him again. It’s a game, I tell myself, like happy children used to play. Just figure out the rules.
He doesn’t say anything.
I go into the kitchen and turn the kettle on. When it whistles, I carry it into the bedroom and pour boiling water over Wendell’s head; steam rises all around us, and hot water soaks the carpet. From inside his VR unit, my husband lets out a long sigh.
Wendell says, “Battleship was a guessing game, thought to have its origins before World War I. It’s a game of strategy. In 1967, Milton Bradley produced a plastic version. The game was played on grids. The goal was to sink your opponent’s ship.” And he flashes a commercial on the wall of the bedroom, two little boys sitting by a lake, one saying, “J1!” and the other saying, “You sank my battleship!” and falling backward into the water while the other boy laughs and laughs.
“I don’t understand this,” I say. I stomp my feet, and I wonder if my husband’s world is shaking somewhere, if maybe one of the triplets missed making a basket. “And I still need to know about the Donny and Marie lunchbox. What the fuck is that?”
But Wendell goes quiet again, and after I slap him a few more times and knock him over and call him a piece of trash I know we’re done for the day, so I put him in the closet with the old computers and the vacuum cleaner. I take a deep breath. Something is happening, a feeling like when my parents taught me math problems and finally, finally, I could solve them.
At dinner, my husband compliments the pasta and asks me how my day was.
“It was great,” I tell him, because I have realized this is true.
He says, “You seem like you’re in a good mood!” and I say, “I am.” My heart is beating so hard that I can hardly eat. I say, “Tell me about your day, honey.”
He stares at me, fork suspended.
“Really,” I say. “Honey, sweetheart, love.” And I sit back while he tells me—first nervously, then with enthusiasm—about the triplets playing basketball, and about his wife’s new red hair and how he’s trying out for a play they’re putting on at the Home for the Disembodied, so he might be home late some nights. “That’s really, really great,” I say, because I’m happy for him, and for me, making such progress, finally.
And later, when we get into bed, I crawl on top of him—how long has it been?—and press a gentle, gentle finger over his lips, his neck. “What?” he says, his eyes wide. My blood is rising, my fingers are tingling, my husband’s pulse a sparrow beneath my hands. “Oh, no, I don’t think so,” he says and rolls over. “Is that okay?” he asks, his back hunched toward me.
“Of course,” I tell him. “It’s fine.” I stare at the ceiling. My husband’s breathing turns to snores. “It’s fine,” I say again. And what I’m thinking is that tomorrow I will ask Wendell more questions, knowing that all the answers will confuse and infuriate me. When he goes silent I will pound his head into the wall, hard enough to leave a dent; I will wrap him in plastic; freeze him in ice, burn him, call him terrible, terrible things—whatever it takes until he throws all his cherries in the air and tells me I’ve won.