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Civil by C.S. Houghton

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by C.S. Houghton

Ethan laughed and laughed. He made a leafy tossed salad with baby carrots. The snap of carrot was the crack of bone.

“What do you mean by that?” Ethan asked the narrator.

Nothing. I still keep picturing you as Ethan Brand, from Hawthorne. That’s why I had you laugh.

Ethan laughed steadily through the night. When his wife came home he tossed the smaller carrots into her gaping mouth from across the room.

“Stop it,” Ethan said. “Liz’s mouth wasn’t gaping, and I only threw them across the counter.”

Ethan churned and bubbled.

“I’m not churning, nor bubbling!” Ethan exclaimed. “And I’m losing track. What time is it now? Is my wife here with me or did you brush over that?”

Ethan felt stabbing pains of guilt and shame. Neglect is a crime. For every night he spent with his wife, there would be ten spent in the office.

“I don’t mean to neglect her. I love my wife. The bills started piling up and I had no choice,” explained Ethan.

“Is she here now?”

Ethan’s wife had no plans of coming back that night. He’d struck her hard in the face with a cucumber. The force of his own cucumber pitch almost enough to knock him over.

“I didn’t throw a cucumber at her. That’s not why she left,” said Ethan. “She needs something from me, and for some reason I never seem to give it.”

The stars blinked out. Each pinprick expired in a flash of blues and greens. Ethan sat down under the night sky. The ground felt solid and the grass wet with an icy film. Ethan lay back and watched the moon through the misty cloud of his own breath.

“I’m cold now,” Ethan said. “I want to go back inside my house. I need to use the phone. I’m going to call Liz.”

The numbers on the phone would blur. Ethan would find himself overcome by an avalanche of emotion and he wouldn’t dial. Instead, he would take a few sleeping pills and lie in bed, thinking about carrots.

“Well, let me go inside and at least try to call her. For hell’s sake, I’ve been through a lot of crap already tonight. I’ll judge what I can and can’t do,” argued Ethan. “My wife is my business.”

Ethan thought about his wife’s affair. It made him think of salad and sticking carrots in her ear.

“I’m not even going to address that.”

The moon blinked out. It went with a sis-boom-bah.

“Why can’t I dial? I can barely make out the numbers.”

His tears felt icy and stung his cheeks. He set down the receiver, after all.

“I can’t let her hear me like this.”

Ethan didn’t want her to know that he knew what she didn’t know he knew about what she knew was an affair with someone he knew.

“I just want things back the way they were. I can’t even face her. Damn it! I can’t even look at her in the eyes anymore,” Ethan yelled. “You want to know why the hell I’m always at the office? That’s why! So screw you. You hear me? Screw you!”

Eliot’s voice warbled and wavered. He took some sleeping pills and went to sleep.

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