The Last Word

Credit: "Their First Quarrel," a 1914 print by Charles Dana Gibson.


He is mad at her because she says that he always needs the last word.

Which isn’t true.

Not true.

Not true at all.

You’re doing it, she says. Just now. With all that truth business.

What? he says, following her out of the kitchen and into the TV room.

It, she says.

It? he says.

Ugh, she says. She picks up the remote and throws it at him. A bad throw because he steps out of the way.

It cracks, the remote and, really, he can’t understand it, whatever the it that she’s so mad about is. They had been fighting in the kitchen about what? Some kitchen thing. Cooking maybe. Though possibly cleaning. Though possibly neither. Who knows because now they’re fighting about something else. The isness of this fighting canceling out the wasness of the last one. As when one channel flips to another channel. As when you walk into the TV room and change the channel from a cooking show to a police show, because cooking shows are boring and it’s a mystery how anyone, she, could insist on liking them.

Police shows, on the other hand. The procedures.

Cooking has order, she says. Cooking has laws.

She continues moving away from him. She moves into the bedroom, then out of the bedroom, then into the bathroom. She sits on the toilet. Pulling her hair because he is standing in the doorway, blocking the doorway, talking, wanting her to talk about it.

Stop it, she says.

Stop what, he says-kind-of-shouts.

Talking, she says.

But we’re fighting, he says.

Yes, she says. Exactly, exactly. Fighting, she says, is a type of silence. By which she means rhetorical silence. Thus literal silence is, rhetorically speaking, the purest way to fight.

But we need to talk about it, he says. Talk about our fighting so that we understand what we’re fighting about.

With her free hand, the hand not pulling her hair, she reaches onto the sink and grabs a hairbrush. This time a better throw.

Listen, he says. Maybe if you stop throwing and started talking. Talk about what you’re so upset about.

Her hand is wishing for something else to throw at him. If only it could throw itself. But no. Nothing to throw. His fault for cleaning the bathroom. So she bites it, her hand, bites it because she’s read somewhere about the transporting power of pain. She’s transported to the ocean, which is warm and blue and surrounding an island of sand. She swims to the island. Lies in the sand. The quiet and warmth. A seabird comes, squawking, lands in the tree. No squawking, she says. She hurls a coconut. It misses, but the seabird flies away.

Not that she’s the only one who can do this, transport herself vis-à-vis the power of pain. He’s not going to let her. He bites his hand: ocean, island, sand.

She’s on the beach, eyes closed, smiling, soaking up sun. Still she senses him. His shadow, the darkness in the darkness, blocking her heat.

Listen, he says. Talk, he says.

No way, she says. She bites her hand and she’s on another island.

He bites his hand.

She sees him splashing down into the ocean. His words crashing across the water, him crawling to shore. She bites her hand.

A church. Cool and cavernous, full of colors: reds, oranges, purples, yellows, the stories of the stained glass. It’s quiet. Well. Like a church. She sits on a bench and admires the stonework. The flying buttresses. The goldwork on the altar. The silent Jesus. The sorrow twisted on his face.

Christ, he says. A church? he says. Thought you hated churches. His hand throbs from the biting. He plunges it into the cooling font.

I like churches, she says. Not that you’ve ever asked.

I like churches too, he says. The history and the architecture. I like churches more. He walks to the nave. Appraises a statue, a discalceate unsmiling saint.

Then the sound of teeth on handflesh. Turns around. She’s gone.

After the church, a cabin. After the cabin, a mountaintop. After the mountaintop, a hole.

Talk about it, he says, the dirt crumbling around them.

After the hole, a deeper hole.

You’re making it worse, she says.

But the right words, he says. The right words to make it right.

Then to an even deeper hole. Then a smaller hole. Then a deeper and smaller hole. Room enough for only her. Plugged up on the top.

He stands at the top of the hole in the needles under the pine trees, calling down into it, into the dirt. I know you can hear me, he says. Then as a question: I know you can hear me?


Back at home in the TV room he watches TV, a cooking show because he can’t change the channel because of the remote. He tells himself things. Things like she’ll come back to him. She’ll come back to him and they’ll smile and laugh about this fight, whatever it was about, because by then they’ll have forgotten about it, mostly, and he’ll have thought of the right words to say to her, the perfect combination of words, words like bandages, like wallpaper, words that patch, that canvas, that erase, that reconcile, that bridge, that bind, the words, the words, the words, because there are so many of them, and there have got to be some that he can say to her. The right words, the words that will make all of this all right.


Bryan Hurt's stories have been published or are forthcoming in The American Reader, Kenyon Review Online, the New England Review, Tin House's website, and TriQuarterly, among others. He lives in Los Angeles, and his website is:
tags: Poetry & Fiction   
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2 Responses to The Last Word

  1. Bee June 10, 2013 at 10:38 am

    I love this. Just how it is, fighting, with the hole in the ground.

  2. Matthew Hefti July 26, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    This is great.

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