“Theory of Relativity” by Katherine Gehan


We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Metro Fiction page for more information about us.

This week, we consider bats in the attic and whether to remove them or let them linger.

Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Theory of Relativity” by Katherine Gehan

Stan says, “Does he take care of you, sweetheart? Does he love you like he should?”

I press the phone to my face, exhale like I’ve got a cigarette. A long-buried girlish need to be cared for washes over me, and I remember how Stan cared for me and protected me for a short time, until his mind wandered elsewhere and he required Thorazine to function. We haven’t spoken in at least seven years.

He calls me a “part-time mother” because I go to an office a few days a week and the designation cuts me and I disagree with it, but I don’t argue. We’re having a conversation where I tread lightly, like talking with a three year old you just barely know and you don’t want him to have a fit. I am parked in a grocery store lot and the back seat of my red car is sprinkled with Cheerio dust.

I let him lead, following carefully, offering information sliced into perfectly digestible pieces along the way. Nothing upsetting. I’ve found this to be a mostly successful strategy when speaking with the mentally unstable.

He tells me, “We loved each other for three years. Until I didn’t. I lost it. And I couldn’t get it back, no matter how hard I tried. I’m sorry about that.”

“Yes,” I say, scurrying away from the swells of a sea I thought had disappeared long ago, but a wave takes me.

That small matter has taken me to the present: eight years married, mother of two, living in a small Midwestern town, so often missing my frightening, exhilarating youth running around Boston, trying to love him, then learning not to.

I cover a cry and look at the other cars lined up around me, mostly silver, empty.

“And then I dated that girl,” he continues. “She was so young. That was stupid.”

I take a chance—I don’t tiptoe: “Yes, that she was so young was probably what made it worse.” I toss a laugh, hopeful.

She was five years younger than we were and it seemed so sinister to me then, the cheating, her age. But we’re eons older now. Some days I feel seventy-three and next year I’ll be ninety and then I’ll die. Time skips ahead like that, and this lifetime-ago love affair is so tiny in the distance but remains the rock that created all the ripples in my forward motion.

Is all love like this? Sometimes I think so. Mostly I know I’ve made it greater than its worthy sum.

“I’m glad you have a husband you love and who loves you. You deserve that.”

This sentiment suffocates; my memories collapse on the present and it’s like my heart is trying to understand Einstein’s theory of the Space-Time Continuum and I just can’t.

When we were first married, I found a dead bat in the attic of the apartment my husband and I rented. I took a pink plastic trashcan down from a high shelf and felt the weight of something slide across the bottom. What could it be? Perhaps a small square block of wood, or a stuffed bear that belonged to a child who once lived there. Perhaps a fossilized bouquet of marigolds twenty-years old. But it was none of those things. I peered inside to see a plum-colored mound nestled between leathery wings hinged at uncomfortable angles. I returned the trashcan to the shelf.

Later, my husband and I discussed the bat’s removal. Neither of us wanted to do it. I imagined its fur molding in unpleasant blue-greens, its wings decaying like leather turning to suede, the skin around its mouth hardening to expose pin-sharp fangs. But instead my husband and I made love on the floor beneath the attic and we fried eggs in the mornings, pretending as if the bat wasn’t there. My husband did a frenetic, silly little dance to mimic the sizzle of three yolks in the pan.

“Got to go,” I say to Stan. I lie and say I’ve driven to the kids’ school while we’ve been talking and now it’s time to pick them up.

He says he’s planning a bus ride from California in the next few months.

“Maybe I could stop in for a night on my trip east.”

I don’t know if I can keep revisiting this place. Will his sanity flip on me? Will the hallucinations he confesses still visit him convince him to choke one of my sons like he did that young girlfriend so many years ago?

“Can we be friends?” he asks.

I lie again. “Yes.”

Katherine Gehan has had work published in 971 MENU, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Used Furniture Review, Muddy River Poetry Review, Inwood Indiana, Literary Mama, WhiskeyPaper, and in the book Natural Birth Stories: The Real Mom’s Guide to an Empowering Natural Birth. She lives with her husband and two sons in the Midwest, but mourns the New York City bagels of her youth.


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