Joseph O'Neill

“She merely wiped the floor with paper towels and said nothing, brushing her free hand against my shoulder blade—my shoulder blade!—as she carried the soaked paper to the trash can, never holding me fast, refraining not out of lack of humanity but out of fear of being drawn into a request for further tenderness, a request that could only bring her face-to-face with some central revulsion, a revulsion of her husband or herself or both, a revulsion that had come from nowhere, or from her, or perhaps from something I’d done or failed to do, who knew, she didn’t want to know, it was too great a disappointment, far better to get on with the chores, with the baby, with the work, far better to leave me to my own devices, as they say, to leave me to resign myself to certain motifs, to leave me to disappear guiltily into a hole of my own digging. When the time came to stop her from leaving, I did not know what to think or wish for, her husband who was now an abandoner, a hole-dweller, a leaver who had left her to fend for herself, as she said, who’d failed to provide her with the support and intimacy she needed, she complained, who was lacking some fundamental wherewithal, who no longer wanted her, who beneath his scrupulous marital motions was angry, whose sentiments had decayed into a mere sense of responsibility, a husband who, when she shouted, “I don’t need to be provided for! I’m a lawyer! I make two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year! I need to be loved!” had silently picked up the baby and smelled the baby’s sweet hair, and had taken the baby for a crawl in the hotel corridor, and afterward washed the baby’s filthy hands and soft filthy knees, and thought about what his wife had said, and saw the truth in her words and an opening, and decided to make another attempt at kindness, and at nine o’clock, with the baby finally drowsy in his cot, came with a full heart back to his wife to find her asleep, as usual, and beyond waking.

In short, I fought off the impulse to tell Rachel to go fuck herself.”


Joseph O'Neill, Netherland
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Netherland Netherland by Joseph O'Neill
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