Grant Gerald Miller — An Odyssey

I told Penny I was leaving. I had missions to complete. I was a spaceman. I had Mars and one-eyed aliens and large swaths of untamed darkness lying in wait for me. My therapist in all her smug glory said to wait. Penny said to wait. I told Penny to watch my things. She said she would watch my things. I was a hero who did not need things. I rented a long-term motel room on a credit card and I found myself alone in a galaxy of beer cans. Beer tabs clung to my beard like stars. I found an overflowing ashtray and a boiled tongue. Bags of bottles and cans bulged from the carpet while Bread’s Greatest Hits blared from busted speakers. I battled the frontiers of the walls. The abstract impressionist painting above the bed. The mirror was a black hole. I battled the bed, the comforter, sent the ghosts of sheets into the aether. I called Penny in the black of night, and I and relayed my victories, one by one. Penny said I was only battling myself. I made a note to never let her in my motel room. Tell me I am the best body, Penny! You do not have the best body, Penny said. But you are the best of all possible bodies. You do not even have a good body. You slouch like a sad tree. You are too weak to open pickle jars. Your eyes are dead fish. But still you are the best body. The best of all possible bodies. To this day I sometimes spin in the mirror. I breathe in and out and watch my chest rise and fall. I picture my smoked lungs like two little trapped figs. I make smiles with my face. I tell myself I am the best body.

I assumed Penny was a flapping tarp without me, grappling for other bodies to keep her tethered while I was gone. I imagined thin, buzzard-like men who turned all the world’s sadness into jokes, men who lied about their own withering wives, men with bodies whose bodies were not the best bodies. Not like my body. When I called Penny and asked her about her suitors, she said she was mostly enjoying the peace and solitude. She described Netflix series. Cake recipes. She was sewing a quilt. She’d started kickboxing. I said I was enjoying my solitude and the depths of space as well and hung up the phone and slashed at the air with a plastic knife. I made coffee at odd hours.

But soon Penny came for me. I assumed she grew fed up with her suitors passing through like wandering lepers. She found my long-term motel. She fished me out of the bathtub and yanked me from my spacesuit. She said my body was her favorite even though it was a pruned and pickled and pale thing. She knew I had no journey. Nowhere in this life to go.

After Penny fished me, she drove me to support groups and wrote down the gas money I owed her in the ledger of a yellow notebook. She knows I am a cracked vessel, but still she pours words and sounds into me. Her words are lies that range from You are good to You can do everything—anything—you put your mind to, to Everything will turn out okay. Life is its own journey, she says. She tells me I love her. Her words fill me and spill onto the concrete, onto the floorboard of the Volvo, into the grass. Her words soak the couch cushions, stain the kitchen table chairs, flood the bed.

We needed something that was required to love us, so we made a child. When that child grew less dependent on us we made another. And another. I want to strangle them with my love. I fear they resemble me, but not in a best body type of way. I fear they resemble me in other ways. Ways that will harm them from the inside out. My wife tries to put decent food in them while they bang at the table and instead demand things that will kill them. On family outings, I go mute. I straggle behind them at the zoo and pretend to look at animals and read plaques, all the while staring at my family through the corner of my eye. I watch their gaits and clench my teeth. I fear for them. I see them hurtled to the stones below, trampled by Hippopotamus Amphibius or tossed around like stuffed dolls by Pan Paniscus. I see a dark future of flipping automobiles, invisible viruses feeding on their bodies, dark-eyed strangers with bad notions, other humans and all the ways my children will break from the good intentions of others. This earth. This wandering stone. It pulses. It pulses from all directions, blinding my periphery, as if the gods played their prank on me by not making me marsupial, not tucking the children away in safety, in my body, the best body. There is no love more terrible.

By day, I do what the world demands. Penny pokes me with her love when the alarm goes off. I drive in the rain behind lumbering trucks that bounce water in my vision. At work, I put things on shelves in a meticulous order that nobody acknowledges. On weekends, we shuffle silently around the house to look busy while the children wear their hair sleepy. Penny makes smoothies with fruit and vegetables and a brown powder in an attempt to prolong our lives. We renew our license plates. We get teeth yanked from our skulls. We cut grass and trim bushes as necessary.

By night, there are swaths of deep space that yearn for me. Penny lets me go. Every night she kisses me on the cheek and she tells me I am the best body and the most cunning and the fiercest spaceman. I prepare for battle. I drive through the fringes of town. I make one-eyed bartenders brew coffee at strip clubs. I masturbate into paper towels next to sad men in dark booths. I contact people on Craigslist personals. I give them my cell number and let their calls go to voice mail. I rent motel rooms by the hour and I buy whiskey and dump it into the sink. Buy cases of beer and dump the beer in the toilet, can by can. I battle the walls, the tame paintings above the sad beds. I brew all the coffee. I write letters on the motel stationary. I tell of all the breathing that happens in a night, the ceiling closing in. I lie about complex plots with alien battles and ray guns that have me wandering the streets like a bumbling fool, getting picked up by brawny police officers and ducked into squad cars for various crimes I will never commit. I confess all of my sins. I put the letters in envelopes and mail them to random addresses. 

Every night I drive home and circle the block where my house sits and wonder what I must look like in there. Me, with the best body. I see food on the table and in the refrigerator and the cupboards. I see children who swarm my knees with their happily pounding, untainted hearts. The children have my wife’s eyes: eyes that pluck at my heart. Eyes that avert to other places like it’s my fault. Like it is my body that hung the planets in space. Like it is my body that holds up this earth. Like it is my body that made things the way they are. I slide the key in the lock and I go inside and my family and I stare at each other and wait, like eyes adjusting to light.