by Nan Cuba

Cheryl was so mad, she thought she’d explode. She sat in front of the fireplace reading the paper. The elections were only a month away, and she was scared. How did her country get in this mess? Even though Gerald was still in bed, she talked as though he were sitting beside her.

“Oh, God,” she said, crumpling the paper into her lap. She sipped coffee, leaned back, closed her eyes, pressed her lids. “What’s wrong with those assholes in Congress? The more they scream, the less they get done.” Somebody, she thought, should do something.

One article described a local rally. The accompanying picture, she noticed, showed people carrying signs with hideous messages and grotesque cartoon images. “Self-righteous radicals,” she grumbled. She hit the photo with the back of her hand. If only she could knock some sense into them. If only they’d listen.

She jerked past the front page, snapping the paper into place. She read more headlines: Mexico’s drug wars, kidnappings, journalists murdered. Iran could launch a nuclear attack. Palestine and Israel, infinite hatred. Oh no, a baby abandoned in an airplane bathroom. Suffering, stupidity, violence, but what could one person do? Candidates promised to fix everything before elections. Then did nothing. Or worse, they created bigger problems. Maybe she should write her own manifesto.

“Why do you read that crap?” Gerald said, his house shoes slapping as he passed her on his way to the kitchen. “It only makes you crazy.”

“Oh, come on. Can’t you see that’s exactly what’s wrong?” She smiled, trying not to sound upset.

He kept walking.

“Smart people like you doing nothing.” She followed after him. “Don’t you care about what’s happening to your country?”

“Get a grip,” Gerald said, scratching his head, yawning. “It’s too early.”

“Say some new law made it illegal to complain about the government?” She rubbed his arm. “Who’d be crazy then, huh?”

“Oh, yeah, you’re right,” he said. “I’d probably kill somebody.” He sighed, opened the refrigerator, then closed it. “I can’t do this every morning, Cheryl. I’ve got real problems.” He started back toward the bedroom.

She tugged on his robe belt. “Wait a minute. You agree with them, don’t you?” No wonder he refused to talk about the election. Why had it taken her so long to figure this out? She’d suspected but was afraid to admit they saw things differently. She’d told herself he wasn’t into politics. How could a person as good as Gerald be so wrong? It broke her heart to think he could believe such lies. But at least, he could be reasoned with. If she couldn’t convince him, how could she talk to anybody? Persuading him would be a first step. She might not be able to change Congress, but she could sure help one voter see the truth.

“You don’t want to do this.” Gerald pried her fingers loose. “Please.”

“I know you don’t mean to, but you’re hurting this country. Why can’t you see that?”

“I love you, Cheryl. That’s why I’m not having this conversation.” He patted her shoulder. “Just let it go, okay?” He turned, his back retreating toward their bedroom.

She still felt the taps of his hand, placating. Like she was a child or, worse, a pet cat. Infuriating! “You can’t really love me,” she called. “You don’t even know me.” She understood that it was Gerald, but that body moving back down the hall didn’t look like the man she’d lived with since they were kids. A catch in the stride, something different.

That night, when Gerald came home, they didn’t speak. She interpreted his silence as condescension. He hunkered over his dinner plate, watching an old Bogart movie on TV. “Thanks, baby,” he said afterward, pecking her on the forehead. She watched him put his greasy plate, glass, and silverware in the dishwasher. Great, she thought. She’d have to take them out, rinse and reload them. She carried the rest of the dishes to the kitchen, leaving everything in the sink. She tried to remember why she’d married him. Hot water flowed until steam fogged the window. He could’ve been one of those saps in the photo at that rally. He’d probably carry a stupid sign, shove his arm in the air. He’d be shouting, his mouth wide open, its fleshy inside on display. She filled the dishwasher then bleached the counter. What if nothing could get through?

She waited until he’d been asleep for an hour. While she brushed her teeth and changed clothes, his snoring rattled like a drum roll. Each breath’s cadence brought her closer to tears. She stood over him, panting, dizzy, his smoker’s breath an insult. She couldn’t stand it any longer. What’s left when a person won’t listen?

NAN CUBA is the co-editor of Art at our Doorstep: San Antonio Writers and Artists (Trinity University Press, 2008) and has published work in such places as Quarterly West, Columbia, and Harvard Review. Her novel, Body and Bread, is forthcoming from Engine Books. As an investigative journalist, she reported on the causes of extraordinary violence in LIFE, Third Coast, and D Magazine. She is the founder and executive director emeritus of the nonprofit literary center Gemini Ink, and an associate professor of English at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio.