LANGUAGE by Steve Gergley

LANGUAGE by Steve Gergley

In this neighborhood, there is a very brutal person who is eager to solve the problems of my household. How do I know this? It is simple. Each morning, this particular individual reminds me of his offer by bellowing to me at the top of his voice as I walk to my car to begin my commute to work.

The man in question lives across the street from me and my family. His name is Ted. He spends his days standing in the center of his front lawn with no shirt on, grunting aggressively while hammering cinderblocks to bits with a sledgehammer. As a result, his physique is quite distressing. It is not something I like to observe.

Ted is also the father of a pair of twin sons who appear to be slightly older than my daughter, Julia. But in the four months we’ve lived here, Ted’s sons have never spoken a word to Julia. This is for the best. Instead, the two boys pass each day squatting at the end of their driveway and burning Matchbox cars on a large flat slab of shale.

I am not ashamed to say that I am deeply afraid of Ted and his sons. I am secure enough in my masculinity to admit this. The moment Ted beckoned me across the street for the first time and offered to solve the problems of my household, my fingers began quivering a significant amount. Thankfully, Ted did not see this. Before setting foot on his property, I folded my hands behind my back to hide their tremulous movement. Not long into our conversation, however, his sons burst into cackling laughter. It is true that they could have been laughing at anything, but I have my doubts. Eleven year-old boys don’t laugh like that unless they are mocking something they find ridiculous.

Because of his sons’ laughter and the sheer luck of my daughter missing the school bus that morning, Ted never got the chance to outline the precise details of how he planned to solve the problems of my household. He simply clicked his tongue, grinned at me with his sweat-glazed lips, and gestured with his chin at the window of my house, where my wife Maya works her remote job during the daytime.

I described this incident to my wife later that day. It was a Friday night, and Julia had gone to her new friend Gail’s house for a sleepover. After all the suffering Maya had inflicted on me with her two affairs, perhaps it was a mistake to tell her about what Ted had said to me, but I felt it was important to be open and honest with her about everything, including my own insecurities. Dr. Silver had come to the conclusion that my emotional coldness had been a major factor in Maya’s infidelity, so I was trying my best to change.

Moments after I recounted my conversation with Ted, Maya grew strangely amorous. This was not the reaction I expected. But since Julia was safely away at her friend’s house, I did not offer an argument.

Of the many exemplary qualities my wife possesses, one of her most alluring may be her passion and vigor in the bedroom. This was in full, beautiful bloom that evening. Once finished, we lay side by side in our bed in warm contentment. But my bliss did not last long. Soon I heard the aggressive grunts and hard rhythmic clacks of Ted hammering his cinderblocks across the street. Listening to this sound, I quickly arrived at a sickening understanding: if we could hear Ted’s aggressive grunts with perfect clarity, Ted had surely heard Maya’s passionate vocalizations with an equal amount of lucid detail. 

In an instant this insight created some exceedingly worrisome mental connections in my head, particularly between Maya’s infidelity, her vociferous lovemaking, Ted’s intimidating physique, his menacing and unsolicited offer, and the way he had gestured with his chin at Maya’s office window.

With these gnawing suspicions in mind, I could not stay quiet any longer. I very respectfully asked Maya if she thought it would be possible to perhaps try her best to maybe attempt to lower the volume on her amorous vocalizations in the future, due to the close proximity of Ted, and the strange and unsettling words he had said to me about our household.

Maya did not respond for a very long time. During this interval I had no other choice but to bite the inside of my cheek and count the impacts of Ted’s sledgehammer. Soon I reached one hundred and seventy-one clacks, but I stopped counting shortly after, because Maya rolled off the bed without a word and disappeared into the bathroom for the next hour.

That was three months ago. Since then, Maya and I have not engaged in intercourse again. Nor have we spoken a single word about Ted, even though he continues to bellow his mysterious and frightening offer to me every morning when I leave the house to go to work. Each time this happens, I try to force myself to walk across the street to ask him about the specifics of his offer, but I never do. After all the suffering I have endured, it appears I am still not equipped for the truth.

Steve Gergley is the author of The Great Atlantic Highway & Other Stories (Malarkey Books '24), Skyscraper (West Vine Press '23), and A Quick Primer on Wallowing in Despair (Leftover Books '22). His short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Pithead Chapel, Maudlin House, Gone Lawn, Rejection Letters, New World Writing, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. He tweets @GergleySteve. His fiction can be found here.

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