An Almost Automatic Problem Solver
(1) Write down your problem
Donna drove through the subdivision. Don’t you think they are nice, the houses, she asked. She was speaking to no one in particular because she was in the car alone.
(2) List the causes of your problem
This, in short, was the cause of her problem, that her embarrassments had grown larger than life, she thought as she arrived home, which was in a stage of foreclosure.
She called the realtor, a Russian man who assured her he’d sell it before foreclosure was completed. Be positive, he said, “Few rent-free months.” Her husband, Hank, had with his employment-free day organized the basement. His tools hung on hooks, one for each. He wasn’t there, or in other rooms.
The union was strong, her father had said in her childhood home’s kitchen to another man in a fishing jacket; they prepared bait. The man held a worm to the light to inspect it. It was fat and semi-translucent. Others wiggled in their dirt, which is how she felt, inside airless ground, her daughters’ rooms in boxes, their lightly-used college textbooks catalogued by semester, and people viewing her house sometimes three times per day.
Hello, someone said at the door, a family of three. They invited themselves in without realtor or appointment and took off their boots. It had snowed countable-in-feet amounts, so the gesture was generous. Hello, Donna said. Their socks were wet and the man’s left footprints big like Sasquatch. They left, and Donna was again alone.
He was running errands, he said, without specifying, when he returned. He sat across from her in their living room, which was poorly lit because a bulb had popped, breaking for a moment the monotony of one of their evenings.
A co-worker recommended spending time together for their intimacy problems. So there they were at the Henry Ford museum. She took a picture of Hank with the Model T, and he said that, overall, the assembly line was a good thing. She squeezed his hand when he returned from the display. She looked into his eyes, where she was sure she could still see something. He looked at her, probably thinking about possible dinners. Don’t be so hard on yourself, Donna, she thought.
They lay in bed that night, the wall still between them, of non-speaking, even after they held hands again in front of the B-52 bombers hanging from the ceiling of the largest showroom. Hank, she said, are you there? No, he said, I am sleeping. He snored. She did not marry a liar.
The walrus looked like Teddy Roosevelt. They were at the aquarium for their second date. Keep having them, her friend suggested after Donna had told her about the Henry Ford. They get better. The walrus drifted giantly in slow-motion somersaults. Hank knocked on the glass. “I like free-range animals,” she said to him. He said, “I think I like them, too.” That was the end of that conversation.
A taxidermied buck hung over the door of the gift shop, overcrowding everything else. They were on their way out of the Natural History Museum, their third date. That is, they would soon be driving home in silence. Donna watched the buck’s eyes. He was too high up for her to see them. By the bookshelves, a stepping stool stood. Quietly, she lifted it, and set it in front of the buck. The height was perfect. She could feel that the air was in layers, colder when closer to the ceiling. She looked into the buck’s glassy eyes and touched them and his nose and the ears which were all hard but incredibly soft for something dead.
(3) Write down everything you can do to solve your problem. Arrange your solutions in logical order and start doing them one at a time.
The first thing was she couldn’t think.
At school she had dreamed too much. She was overwhelmed by math and decisions. “The method is fail-proof,” her father said, cleaning another fish at the butcher’s block, “three steps.” Her father was himself not a man, but an almost automatic problem solver. She was his daughter but she could never get from the beginning to the end. Her steps were crowded with memories or animals, something only tangentially connected to her life. Did everyone think like this?
Hank liked fishing, too. “I’m going,” he said. He went for the weekend and he came back. Donna waited for him to clean his catch in the basement. The house had been visited four times while he was gone, with no offer. She held the cordless telephone in her kitchen. She called the realtor, and in a register more formal than she wanted, said, no more, I beg of you. Madam, the realtor replied. Not ma’am.
Hank wore gloves and a fish-stained apron. He had coughed by the door and she had opened it for him. The marriage still had instinct. He wore her gardening gloves, his palms up and covered in juice. He was sorry and he would replace them, which was not what she wanted to hear.
“She always looks good,” the first woman said. They were reading magazines.
Donna was at the pharmacy. She just drove somewhere, that’s why.
“Like a lady,” the second woman agreed. “Never like a slut.” They were in the waiting area in the worn forest-green chairs. Donna pretended she was waiting, too.
“Lord that’s funny,” the first woman said.
“I have to buy sandals for the summer. Oh,” the second woman said. “I’m always dropping things.”
“It’s the denture cream,” she said. “My god, I’ve forgotten all about her.”
“That’s a pretty wedding dress. A Vera Wang!”
“Wonder how much that costs. Forget it.”
The magazine had relationship tips on the cover, and decorating tips, and Donna took the issue to the check-out, and then she took it home.
Anna Prushinskaya recently finished a two-year stint in Brooklyn, where she received an MFA from Brooklyn College and also edited Electric Literature’s The Outlet.
Thanks for stopping by the Sonora Review Short Fiction Fortnight. Please stop by tomorrow for Charles Rafferty.