FOR A MOMENT she pictured herself living somewhere else. Somewhere far away where women fixed things in order to live… in some desert somewhere or in a war-torn town… walking home from the vegetable market with a basket balanced on her head. She was connected in some way to all of them. For a moment she pictured these women all turning to look at her. Their gaze was open and blameless. They were not judging. But they were not inviting either. Marla’s thoughts faltered. *** She had just entered the shadows of the trees when she saw the broken crate. She picked it up because it looked like the kind of thing she might have found in an antique store. She was about to toss it back next to the shore when it occurred to her: she could probably fix it. It might be fun to try. *** There was a falseness to her life. She knew it and accepted it. She regularly came home from trips to Target with bowls that she didn’t need but which she had chosen because they belonged in some kind of kitchen she wished she had. *** She put the crate on the porch when she arrived home and then went into the garage. She grabbed a hammer and several nails and then set about hammering. In less than ten minutes she was done. She couldn’t believe it. Marla held it up and felt a strange glow of pleasure. Mark and Caroline Brink were coming over tonight. They were fancy. If the crate was on the center of the table it might catch Caroline’s eye. Marla brought the crate inside. *** What made her feel guilty was that her mother came from an older generation where it was frightfully common to have married early and to have an entire roster of children before the women were 30. Those women belonged to a different category of mother or wife. It must have required a great deal of mental effort and an abundance of silent suffering to produce a type of house and a kind of life which would someday be elevated to the status of authentic rustic chic by today’s standards of interior design. *** Later that afternoon when Peter arrived home she was in the middle of experimenting with the crate. It took her a moment to notice Peter, but when she did she held the crate up proudly, “Look what I did.” Peter came into the living room and took a good look, “Wow! Where did you find that?” “The pond. The bottom was broken, so I fixed it.” “You fixed it?” The glanced at him, “Yes. What’s so wrong with that?” He smiled, “Nothing. You’re pretty tough, aren’t you?” He winked at her and then went into the kitchen. That evening, after the Brinks arrived, Peter brought everyone into the living room. Caroline was helping herself to some chicken when she noticed the crate. “Look at that then!” Peter was pouring wine for everyone and said, “Yes, Marla made that. It was broken and she fixed it.” “Aren’t you sharp!” Caroline said. Marla cocked her head, “Oh, snip snap. It did make me feel awfully queer though.” “Queer how?” Caroline asked. “Oh, you know. Whose is it? Why was it there? Should I have taken it?” After the Brinks left she was cleaning up the table and she went to reach for the crate… but then she stopped. She decided to leave it there for the night. She went upstairs and as she was applying her face cream she turned herself around a few times in the mirror. Her thin, boyish legs bothered her. She fell asleep thinking about other women in faraway lands. The next day Marla took the crate out to the porch and shook it out to get rid of all the crumbs. She began to think to think of the other women again. The saw the crate perched against shapely, wide hips. Then she imagined herself as someone might see her from an airplane, a waifish housewife standing in an average backyard. She stumbled a bit as she turned. She didn’t feel right. She closed her eyes and steadied herself with one hand on the side of the porch. Then she put the crate down and went inside. What had she been thinking? She couldn’t do this. She wasn’t some woman who found things and then fixed them. Others perhaps could. Not her. She stood up and walked back out to the porch. The crate was lying on its side where she had left it. She bent over and picked it up. She grabbed a book of matches from the kitchen and walked to the fireplace. After lighting a match and touching it to the paper on the grate she took the crate and placed it carefully on the flames. They slowly encircled the wood. Marla stood up and went outside. She grabbed the garden sheers. She resolved to never walk next to the pond again. She frowned as she snipped at the few weeds in the garden bed. A moment later she sensed a faint smell of smoke. She turned around and saw that the house was already on fire. — ZARY FEKETE
Zary Fekete has worked as a teacher in Hungary, Moldova, Romania, China, and Cambodia. They currently live and work as a writer in Minnesota. Some places they have been published are Goats Milk Mag, JMWW Journal, Bethlehem Writers Roundtable, and Zoetic Press. They enjoy reading, podcasts, and long, slow films.