Paper to Wood


At the wedding, Gibb's cousin is bit by a dog, an event he interprets as a sign of good luck. It's an outdoor wedding and the dog is a stray who runs off while people tend to the cousin, who is taken away for stitches. It's a time of bedlam, full of wild dancing and laughter that hurts his face. They pluck at the Cornish hens and kiss when people clink the glasses with spoons. Fireworks put new constellations in Ontario's skies. Iris' father is on his best behavior while her mother hovers above; buried nearby, her spirit doesn't have far to come.

"There was an accident," Gibb tells his sister. "He was even arrested but the courts let him off."

Diedre studies Ellington Cook, who appears splendid on his second wife's arm. "Is that why the sister isn't here?"

"Justine thinks he did it," Gibb nods. "For Iris, the jury will always be out."

When it comes time for their speech, Iris and Gibb make it together. Gibb has learned enough sign language that he can play interpreter; he did the same when they gave their wedding vows. Gibb was in the army when they met and he has never told anyone that he almost marched on when he learned that, owing to a birth defect, she can't speak. It is a shame he'll take to the grave; now, in her hometown, he can't imagine having made another choice. The night is alive with cicadas and paper lanterns cast long shadows in the surrounding woods. Gibb is electric and Iris is magnificent and even the sound of that distant barking dog can't dampen his mood.

The following morning, they drive to Toronto to see Justine. Chemistry teacher by day, she has been trying her hand at the wicked stage and is playing the role of the Second Witch in a production of Shakespeare’s Scottish play. They arranged for their first leg of the honeymoon to coincide with opening night, after which they'll enjoy a tour of the New England coast. It's a thrill to arrive in Toronto. Gibb doesn't love small towns and is happiest among clatter and noise. Their feet are on horses as they trot through High Park before leaping aboard a streetcar and galloping east. They drink beer in a pub, eat by the waterfront, and finally come to rest in the lobby of the South Audley Playhouse. The theatre is in the Distillery District and carved out of a button factory's remains. It's an intimate hundred-seater; the lighting grid sits twenty feet over their heads.

Justine has given them excellent seats. Fourth row center, close enough to see the spittle and sweat when it flies across the stage. The production opens with drums and fog and, when the witches appear, Justine dazzles them by breathing fire, a skill Gibb never knew she had. She gives an encore when delivering the prophecy that the show’s eponymous hero will someday be king evermore. From here, the story of ambition and murder spirals toward its inevitable end. The Scottish Play is a moral one, for all its blood and excess. Shakespeare is warning of our own eternal double nature. No one is what they seem. It's all very boring for Gibb, though he likes the violence, and the opening battle reminds him of Afghanistan's terror and heat. He drifts between the story and the hand holding his. His wife's hand. He's a husband now; the idea overwhelms.

During intermission, Gibb leads Iris to a secluded spot where he kisses her against a wall. They lose themselves for a moment until they are interrupted by the short woman who was sitting in the fifth row, directly behind them. She makes a request: since Gibb is so tall, might they change seats? Gibb can hardly pass up the chance to seem gallant in front of his new wife. He apologizes for the public display of affection and explains that it's their honeymoon. The woman waves them away with a delicate hand.

"I was a newlywed once too," she says. Her tone is wistful; the once was a long time ago.

Halfway through the second act, Justine appears again with her fellow witches. Dexter Porter, the man playing the lead, demands to know if anyone will discover he has murdered the king. As is the way with witches, they give a cryptic reply before disappearing into the fog.

“Where are they?" cries Dexter. “Gone? Let this pernicious hour stand aye accursed in the calendar!”

At this moment, everything goes black. Gibb hears a terrible sound that he takes for a clever effect. The lighting technician brings up the next cue, but this is a bright design that bears witness to the grotesque sight in the fourth row. A spotlight has fallen from the overhead grid. Twenty feet is not a lot but it's enough to crush the skull of the woman in the fourth rowthe woman sitting where Gibb was only a few scenes before. It comes to rest in her lap while the metal casing burns through her skirt and skin.

The man next to the short woman—her husband? That newlywed from so long ago?—cries out as Gibb leaps towards the woman. He was trained as a field medic, after all, but it isn't hard to tell it won't do any good. The lights in the auditorium rise and a murmur shoots through the crowd. People begin to cry. Iris is white as Banquo's ghost. It seems to Gibb everyone is looking at him. The walking ghost: the man who should be where the dead woman is now.


It's the latest in a long line of disasters that have plagued the Scottish Play since it was first banned by James I. It is Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy and is said to be so cursed that actors everywhere are terrified to speak its name. Those associated with it have been maimed, strangled, burnt, killed, and/or crucified by the critics. The most famous victim was Abraham Lincoln, who quoted the play less than a week before being shot by an actor who had played the title role to great acclaim. Now it has killed Lacey Rosenberg; Gibb overhears her shocked husband repeating her name.

The performance is cancelled. Tickets will be refunded or exchanged. Gibb takes Iris into the lobby and stands with his arm around her. He reaches for her. He's a husband now; he has a duty to protect. Opening night is press night and all the reporters have stayed. One show has ended but another has just begun. Justine emerges, pale from the greasepaint she still hasn't removed. She begs to go home but she's in such a hurry that she forgets to remove her costume and they're halfway to the streetcar when she realizes she's still dressed as a thirteenth century witch. Back they go, arriving at the stage door just as Dexter Porter stumbles into the street. In the light of the alley, he looks ghastly. His eyes shadowed; his cheeks rouged to a bloody pink.

“Her brain was mashed," he says. "Half her face is gone."

Iris and Gib wait while Justine goes inside to change. Dexter stays nearby, staring wide-eyed into space. Gibb knows that Dexter and Justine are friends. He was in prison for a time and Justine had been volunteering with a legal firm that was doing pro bono work. This was after she started teaching but before she tried acting. Law. Teaching. Acting. Justine has always been on the move, uncertain who she wants to be. Dexter is large and hulking with a shaved head. He's a fine actor and Gibb wonders what he did to end up in jail and if the producers know about his past and if this was why he was cast as a man who kills his way to the top. He puts an arm around Iris. Comfort. Protection.

“I was almost obliterated,” he thinks.

Iris would be saying what Lacey had. I was once a newlywed too.

Justine returns and says she's decided to help Dexter home. Gibb watches them leave, arms around each other. Apparently, Justine and Dexter dated, though Gibb isn't sure how this worked with him being on the inside. In any case, the relationship is now platonic, or so they claim.

"I thought they were just friends now."

Iris shrugs. They're close but Justine is a world of secrets. She doesn't want him to be alone, Iris signs.

"And we don't? We're the ones who almost died."

But we didn't.

"We should never have come here."

It still would have happened.

“Yes. But it wouldn’t have happened to us.”

In silence, they make their way back to the hotel. All night Gibb has managed to maintain his composure but inside the room he finally cracks. Iris is wrong. If he hadn't been there, tall thing that he was, Lacey Rosenberg would have stayed in the fifth row. He prepares for bed, running the floss through his teeth and staring at the blood he spits in the sink. Out damned spot. They didn't even make it to that famous scene. In bed, Iris claws at his pajamas. Having come so close to death, she's leaping in the other direction. The sex isn't gentle. One can't be gentle when reclaiming life; it always has to be seized by force. Gibb sees Lacey in the dark. Iris is a shadow. Her hands are busy and he hunts for her face.

The honeymoon is a maudlin tour. Gibb is lousy and his mood infects Iris and they return to Montreal with their first fight under their belt. An unhappy message awaits: his cousin is in the hospital. Infection. Iris calls home and her father spearheads a campaign to hunt down the dog. The cousin recovers but they never find the beast and Gibb dreams of it, rabid and transient, making its way to Quebec. He soon has insomnia and patrols the apartment at night, thinking up smoky terrors that involve dogs and people dying in Scotland and a woman who was once a newlywed too. Lacey Rosenberg. The woman he killed.

Stop calling her that, signs Iris. God gave us a second chance.

And what was so wrong with their first chance? They seemed to be doing pretty well on their own. Perhaps this is payback for some mistake he made overseas. Gibb's rotation was a bloodless time, at least for him. Which is not to say it was innocent. But he was lucky compared to some. No injuries. No addictions. Maybe that's why this happened. Someone in the celestial hierarchy noticed he had gotten off easy. He spends a lot of time watching the windows and doors. The new husband on guard for whatever might be coming in the night.


After his tour was up, Gibb moved in with Diedre but a year later Iris's roommate moved out and Gibb took her place. Their love nest isn't his and he still feels like a landed immigrant, green card and all. It's a second-floor duplex and Iris is friendly with the older couple who lives below. The rent is cheap and Iris has such sentimental attachment that she doesn't feel the drafts or hear the dripping sink. It's a dreary place that creaks in the night when he's wandering around, imagining terrible things. It doesn't help that he has little to do. Iris is a musician who gets steady work and makes up the rest of her income by giving music lessons. She has a math degree and runs a part-time business helping musicians manage their income. She reads often, critiques culture on her blog, and is thinking about an MFA. Like Justine, she is always on the move. Gibb, on the other hand, has few worlds of his own. Diedre works too much and the rest of their family has scattered. The friends he grew up with have gone. He finds a job bartending on Saint Laurent but it's dull work. He opens beer bottles and counts tips. He spends a lot of time reading about the war, still raging at the other end of the world.

From Toronto, word comes that Justine and Dexter are dating. Justine still teaches and acts in the summer, but Dexter is making it his profession. He's got the look to heavies and thugs. Iris signs when she talks to Justine over Skype while Justine is so loud that Gibb hears it all. Suddenly, she and Dexter are traveling. Then they're living together and then they've eloped in Banff. Dexter takes her to an awards show and posts pictures of them astride celebrities in tuxedos and gowns. Canadian celebrities, sure, but Gibb still imagines glamorous nights. Gatsby-esque parties. Justine breathing fire to applause. Lavish delights.

Their own social events include evenings with musicians and afternoon tea with the couple downstairs. The Amestoys are an old European couple who lean on each other as they walk. Mr. Amestoy is blind and gets around with Arthur, a merry golden retriever. He used to work in music, so he and Iris have always gotten along—they use Mrs. Amestoy to help them talk. She has a garden and the house always smells of flowers and freshly baked things.

"We're having a party," Mrs. Amestoy tells them one afternoon. "You'll come. Our pearl anniversary."

"Thirty years," muses Mr. Amestoy. "You'll get there some day."

"They'll have to survive the paper year first," says his wife. "Remember ours, Bear?"

"Remember it? Didn't think we'd get out alive."

"The first five years are the hardest," Mrs. Amestoy tells Iris and Gibb. "Survive that and the sailing is good and smooth."

This is clearly a line she's trying out. Later, at the party, she uses it in her speech to the guests. Iris and Gibb stand in the back, out of place as the youngest people in the room; the Amestoys' children are almost as old as the marriage itself. Gibb has the cruel thought that this is the beginning of the end for the Amestoys. Our eternal double nature. No one is what they seem. It's the mood he's in, brought on by the malaise that has been darkening him for weeks. Later, he looks up a list of wedding anniversaries. Year One is the paper year. What a horrible symbol. Paper is flimsy. Easily wrecked. From the other room, Iris's clarinet fills the apartment as she rehearses for an upcoming job. The tone is confident. Good and smooth. Music is stronger than the paper it’s written on. Gibb tries to cling to this idea; that night he hums as he wanders the apartment on patrol.


Gibb once thought he'd be a writer and, on the morning of their one-year anniversary, he sits down to think up material for a book. The blinking cursor lulls him into a stupor. Coming into the room, Iris sees the blank screen and leans over him to type.

Lots of good books about war.

"That's exactly the problem." He closes the laptop and turns to her but she's already halfway out of the room. Always flitting from one task to another. "I can write about the war, but I need to write about other things too."

Such as?

"I don't know. Melting ice caps. Pandemics. Epic family struggles against a backdrop of cataclysmic change."

They're in the back room, the one circled with windows that give them a view of the Amestoys' garden, with its tomatoes and crocuses. Where time stands still. Iris rests her head against his chest. His fingers find the edge of her shirt and snake their way up her chest. They kiss as they did in the minutes before Lacey Rosenberg died.

"Maybe we need to start our own family. Then I can write about them."

Iris chops the air twice. Someday. They're still young; she wants to enjoy being free.

She drifts off into the apartment, leaving Gibb alone. Something moves in his periphery. A spectral shape against the glass. That kiss was their first in a while; a year of marriage and already it feels like a struggle to get her into bed. He imagines all the places in the apartment where they could be having sex and wonders why they aren't. Later, Justine and Iris talk over Skype and Gibb finds her Instagram feed where he sees pictures of her at an awards show, stunning in a low-cut gown. He pictures her and Dexter clawing at each other in a hotel, full of vigor and sweat. What would they do if they lost the urge, he wonders? Probably turn to the theatre. He looks up love scenes from Shakespeare and downloads a handful onto his phone.

That night, they prepare to go for dinner to celebrate the day. Gibb finds Iris in the bathroom, wrapped in an oversized robe that makes her resemble a balloon. One foot is on the counter as she shaves her leg.

"Teach not thy lips to scorn, for they were made for kissing." Iris scrunches her face, but Gibb goes on, striding into the tiny room and over-acting so his voice fills the room. “Lo, here I lend thee this sharp-pointed sword; which if thou please to hide in this true bosom."

Iris bangs on the counter several times and makes a dismissive motion with her hand. Get dressed, it says. We’ll be late.

"I lay it naked to the deadly stroke and humbly beg the death upon my knee."

Sawing the air with his hands, he knocks her arm. She sucks in air and saliva in a violent slurp. It's the closest she can come to a crythanks to him, she's just cut an ugly line into her shin. Gibb presses a towel against the wound, but Iris pushes him away and gives him a hard look, eyes wide and hands outstretched with palms to the sky. Unable to explain himself, Gibb makes his retreat. They have a terrible time at dinner, especially when she tells him he chose a scene from Richard III.

It's not a love scene at all. Richard is only pretending to love Lady Anne because it will take him one step closer to the crown. They don't make love that night and, while on patrol, Gibb comes into the room to find Iris's bandage has loosened and there's blood in the sheets. They're beyond salvation. Later, Iris glowers as she throws them away; they were a wedding gift and the nicest they owned.



Year Two. Iris struggles to find work and Gibb has his shifts reduced at the bar. Money troubles arisea broken down car, an emergency root canaland they put the baby question on hold. The sex, when they have it, is tense and protected, during which he imagines something is at the foot of the bed, watching them like a voyeur. I was once a newlywed too. Sometimes, when he's alone, he becomes certain there's a presence behind him. He becomes suspicious of thingsan impression in a seat cushion or a footprint in the mud. He's not like Justine or Dexter: He's a poor actor and he sees Iris watching him with a pinched and curious face.

Year Three. Their leather year. For their third Christmas, Justine and Dexter surprise them by coming to Montreal. Gibb knows the storm gathering around his home is clear. Their tree is shabby and there's nothing beneath it. The washer broke and a clothesline hangs in the front room. Socks dangle like faded pennants. The windows have a film of condensation, giving the place the appearance of a gothic tomb.

“Why didn’t you say you needed help?” Justine is already going through her purse.

“It's not bad as all that," says Gibb. “We just need to find work."

Iris claps from the kitchen to get their attention. We aren't discussing this now.

“I'm trying to get Eye to leave," Gibb says.

"Eye?" says Dexter.

Iris signs and Justine translates. "Gibb thinks they need pet names."

"The neighbor calls her husband Bear," says Gibb.

"You could probably come up with something better than a letter," says Dexter.

"It's not about the letter," says Gibb. "She's an iris. It works on two levels."

"Because that's what you want in a nickname," says Justine. "Something you have to think about."

Iris laughs her silent movie-star laugh.

"Where would you go?" asks Dexter. "If you left?"

Gibb shrugs. "I've got U.S. citizenship. We have lots of options."

Iris drops his tea mug in front of him. She's filled it to the brim, making it too full to lift. Gibb has lean in to give it a good slurp.

"He still wants to be a writer,” Justine says to Dexter. "Leaving will give him something to write about."

"Who wants to read a book about leaving?" asks Dexter.

"The idea is I'd write about where we'd end up."

Iris claps to get their attention. I like Montreal.

"What'd she say?" asks Dexter.

"She doesn't want to go," says Justine.

Outside, Mrs. Amestoy is poking through the garden and Iris takes Justine away so the two can be introduced. Gibb is left with Dexter, who stands out in the shabby room. His acting career has been going well. His suit is crisp; his loafers are polished to a shine.

“It's the holidays," says Gibb. "We're just stressed out."

“Forget it. Justine and I fight every day.”

“Sure you do."

"We married into the same brood, pal. I’d bet our marriages are exactly the same. We're trying to have a baby. I don't mind the effort, but I wish she wouldn't treat it like a campaign. She tried to fuck me at three in the morning cause some app told her it was a good time."

Gibb, who can't remember the last time Iris initiated sex, offers him a beer and they drink in silence. The ex-con and the ex-solider. Like Dexter, Gibb was away for a long time. But Dexter has succeeded in his return. He's shaken off the prison gloom and looks ruddy and hale.

"How'd you do it?" Gibb asks.

"What's that, pal? Do what?"

Gibb doesn't know how to explain. Before he can find the words, there's noise from the back door; the women have returned.


Leather turns to silk. Year Four. Iris turns her accounting skills into a job for a music publisher. Gibb takes up bartending again, this time in the downtown core. He starts gaming and plays at War with people online. They fall out of habit of discussing children and Gibb senses a new gulf between them in bed. One night, he finds she's thrown the covers off and is curled with her knees to her chest, the hem of her nightdress bunched around her thighs. Gibb pulls the blanket over her only to have her spring awake, cowering as if in fear of a loaded gun. She signs something about a bad dream.

Not long after, Dexter arrives, dragging his luggage behind him. It's a wet Sunday afternoon and Gibb is at war while Iris hides with her clarinet, working on a composition. When Dexter appears, she springs from the room. Her smile is the first Gibb's seen in days.

Where's Justine? Did you drive?

Gibb translates for Dexter, whose face falls.

"I was hoping she was here," he says before collapsing into a chair. The trip has robbed him of his strength, and he appears badly drawn, like a hastily conceived sketch. Iris and Gibb haven't seen Justine in weeks and her last conversation to Iris was almost a month ago. Gibb pours him a drink as Iris barricades herself in the bedroom to track Justine down. There will be no eavesdropping now, thinks Gibb. If she finds Justine, their conversation will happen entirely in sign.

"I should have known better," says Dexter, his breath sour. “She knows this is the first place I'd look."

“What happened?”

“Things end, pal. I think we've burned ourselves out.” Dexter reaches into his bag and takes out a hardcover copy of the Scottish Play. Pages have been torn loose. There's writing scrawled over the text and Dexter holds the book away from himself, as if it was poisoned, some evidence of an unnatural act. “She defaced it. She didn’t have to do that. I know I deserved it, but even so. It’s all I have left.”

“Of Justine?”

“Of Lacey.”

“Lacey,” says Gibb. “Lacey Rosenberg?”

In some circles, Lacey has become a legend, another cautionary tale to bring credibility to the claim that the Scottish Play is cursed. There's the line prompter who had a heart attack. The set designer who killed himself. Now the woman who changed seats only to have a light fall on her head. But to Dexter she's always been something more. Gibb shudders when Dexter describes how she's been haunting him. They really are alike: they've spent years thinking of Lacey Rosenberg in exactly the same way.

“She’s the woman I killed,” Dexter says. “She was only at that theatre because of me.”


Gibb tells Iris he's taking Dexter for a drink. In a microbrewery, Dexter's voice becomes animated as organic beer unleashes the performer within. Lacey was an acting teacher who had come to the prison to as part of an outreach program that brought the arts to inmates. No, she didn't teach Dexter about the Scottish Play. She taught Hamlet instead and it was this that inspired Dexter to try his hand at acting when he was released.

Months later, Lacey saw Dexter on the street; she hadn't even known he'd been paroled. He was on his way to audition for the Scottish Play. Nerve wracked, he was oblivious to everything as he muttered his lines.

Our fears in Banquo stick deep,” he said, and Lacey Rosenberg immediately recognized the voice. But Dexter hardly recognized her. She had dressed austere in prison but on the street, she was decked out like a chevalier. Feathered with rich jeweled drops on her ears. She gave him tips on the audition and he offered to contact her to let her know how it had gone. When he saw she was wary of giving him her number—he was, after all, only a few months out of jail—he suggested they meet again on the same corner the following day.

“We met on that corner a lot," Dexter tells Gibb. “Eventually, we’d walk through parks and department stores. She was real cautious to make sure it was just a friendship.”

"Because she was married?"

Dexter toys with the copy of the Scottish Play. “God, she was such an academic. She only knew Shakespeare as literature. She had never thought about what you have to do to make it live on the stage.”

For the whole month, while he rehearsed the play, they discussed murder, witchcraft and the brutality of lust unchecked. Dexter did nothing to hide his lingering stares.

“She knew how I felt," he tells Gibb. "And she wanted me too. It was that husband. Never gave her a day of romance. Didn't kneel to propose. I think meeting me gave her some kind of thrill. But it had to be a controlled kind, like driving a fast car. She wanted to know she could take the foot off the gas. She began to tell me I was a precious thing. But we never touched.”

Two weeks before opening night, they planned to meet but found the café they liked had been shut down. Thunder rolled like gunfire and the sky looked black, so Lacey suggested they have coffee at home. At the time, Dexter was in a halfway house and couldn't have guests. So she took him to her house instead. The husband was away. "The man," Dexter says to Gibb, "was always away. That was the whole problem. The night they went to my play? That was the first time they'd been out together in months.” Soon they were inside Lacey’s yellow kitchen and Dexter was watching her make hot cocoa, her favorite drink for a rainy day. Chocolate and steam filled the air. The kitchen was small, and the storm compressed them, driving them close. As rain crashed on the windows, he kissed her mouth. They made love standing up while the storm continued to rage.

Dexter tells Gibb that Lacey gave him her copy of the Scottish play the day before she died.

“Actors do everything in reverse. Instead of ‘good luck’ they say, ‘break a leg.’ So, I guess it's right to use a cursed play as a lucky charm.”

“Do you think she was going to leave her husband?”

“She told me she was going to tell him everything, but I don't think she did. I went to see him after she died. He was so miserable. He hadn’t even washed the dishes. They were rotting in the sink. I told him she'd helped me in prison, and I was paying my respects. He barely heard me. He kept saying he had killed her. That her death was his fault.”

“His fault,” says Gibb.

“He's the one who bought the seats. If he had put them in the back row, she wouldn't have been there to change seats with you."

“I shouldn’t have changed seats at all. If anyone’s to blame, it’s me.”

“She only wanted to see me,” said Dexter. “It’s nobody’s fault but mine.”

Justine knows all about Lacey and she did her best to help him cope. This is what brought them back together. Time, though, has robbed her sympathy. That's the way it is with grief. Widows were once expected to wait a year and a day; anything else was overdoing it. Dexter is overdoing it too. Justine says he's been shouting Lacey's name in his sleep. His marriage has become a triad, with a presence hovering over everything else. Gibb thinks of his own minor hauntings. The nightly patrols, the odd specter in the glass. Dexter is tomorrow's mirror: one day, thinks Gibb, this could be me.

At home, Iris has set up the sofa-bed. Later, huddled in the bedroom, Iris and Gibb talk in sign. Iris tells him Justine has gone, of all places, back to their hometown. A clever plan. It's the last place anyone would look. Iris agrees to tell Dexter that Justine is all right but makes Gibb vow not to reveal where she is. Justine doesn't want him to know.

I thought they were happy, signs Gibb.

People think that about everyone. Mrs. Amestoy wants a divorce.

You're kidding. Gibb recalls his prophecy at the party but feels no joy at having been right. Our eternal double nature. No one is what they seem.

People probably think we're happy too.

Gibb starts. We're not?

Everyone puts on a show. The Amestoys. Justine and Dexter. It's just an actor's trick.

"And us?" says Gibb out loud. "Eye? Are we actors too?"

But Iris has shut out the light; if she's replied, he can't see her hands.The next morning, they break the news over tea and toast. Gibb thinks Dexter might fight to learn where Justine has gone but he takes the news with a nod. Then he asks Gibb to take him to the airport; he wants to go back to Toronto so he can be there if Justine returns. If.

On the drive, Gibb keeps turning to watch Dexter, trying to shake away all those signs of himself. He wants to give advice, but what can he say? Recite Shakespeare? The one time he tried that, he chose the wrong play and left Iris scarred. At the departures gate, he watches Dexter trundle away, a man with an expression as heavy as a weighted trunk.

With the roar of airplanes still in his ears, Gibb heads back home. He wants to find Justine's emails to Iris. Go back over the story. Everything about them is suspect. Those posts from award shows. Vacations. Even their visit last Christmas. Had it all been an actor’s trick? Iris is right. Marriage is another type of theatre. In Greek drama, the story happens elsewhere. It's up to a messenger to come in and make reports. But marriage has no messengers, so the audience never learns about the important scenes. The chaos is unseen, hiding in the wings.

At a stoplight, he notices Iris has texted to tell him she's packing a bag. His heart beats in his ears, just like during a firefight, and he has to remind himself that it's sensible, Iris would want to be with Justine. He looks at himself in the rearview mirror and sees another specter: this time, it's Iris in the distance, retreating with her secret life, some hidden collection of passions which have been happening offstage.

He pulls into a parking lot. I’ll come with you, he texts.

It should just be me.

Are you coming back?

What kind of question is that?

When he reaches the house, his wife is gone. The bedroom is a mess: a barren vanity, a bureau with empty drawers. She's taken the clothes he likes. That charming, pleated skirt, the blouse from their first date. The laundry is still on the lines and the kitchen is a mess. Gibb remembers how Dexter described Lacey's husband. Miserable. Dishes rotting. That won't be me, he decides, and for the next hour he scours the sink and bleaches the inside of the mugs to remove the stains of Iris' tea. He folds her cream-colored slips and remakes the bed. By morning, the sun is aching in its brightness as it breaks through the house. He hasn't slept. The place looks almost new. Stripped of history. A new place waiting if she returns.


Something catches his eye. Sunlight reflecting off polished keys. On their first date, she played for him and he had the sense of being in a foreign land, as if, through music, she was speaking in another tongue. Now she's wandered into the world without it, like a soldier going off base unarmed. She needs this, he thinks. Wherever she goes, without or without him, she shouldn't leave this behind. Or is this a sign that she's coming back?

The calendar tells him their fifth anniversary is almost upon them. Their wood year. The year when things either become hard and sturdy or kindling for the fire. The anniversary after that will be sugar. Because once you survive the first five years, the sailing is good and smooth. Or so they say. Now Gibb is on patrol again, standing by the window, holding the clarinet as he waits for his wife's return. Maybe, when they tell the tale of their marriage, the first five years will be kept offstage, the troubled time they leave in the wings, with no one to report the story of the time things went so wrong.

JOEL FISHBANE is a novelist, playwright, and screenwriter. His newest novel, The Thunder of Giants, is now available from St. Martin’s Press. His short fiction has been published in a variety of magazines, most recently New England Review, 87 Bedford, and Shift. For more information, visit