Greta held the plastic letters in a tight fist. The flat rectangular magnets glued to their colorful undersides felt cool on her palm. She unfolded her fingers. Today it would only take four consonants and three vowels.
All week she had carefully positioned her words on the refrigerator door. On Monday came the letter “I.” She wanted her husband to know she was acting alone. It didn’t matter what her friends said. It didn’t matter her mother still called her a drug addict. She needed him to know it was Greta, the woman he fell in love with eight years earlier, not the empty shell she’d become.
Tuesday, she spelled out “don’t.” She used masking tape for an apostrophe. Don’t was a word she rarely spoke aloud, but in her mind was the catalyst of numerous mantras. “Don’t have another drink, Greta. Don’t share that needle, Greta. Don’t cheat on your husband, Greta.” She was a failure at “don’t.” She had cried that day, and the only way to stop the tears was to open the freezer and allow them to ice.
At the close of day Wednesday, she unscrambled “want.” It was always what she wanted; her lusts, her desires, her needs. Months ago, she ran off with a coworker, and her husband found her strung out in a motel bed, bruised and naked. He carried her to the car, pushed the child seat out of the way, laid her down, and covered her with his jacket. She cursed him out, said he didn’t know what she wanted and never would.
Thursday was one simple vowel, “A.” She stuck it right next to her seven year-old son’s report card. He’d gotten straight A’s. He came running from the school bus waving it in his hand.
“You know what word starts with ‘A,’ momma?” He had asked her, breathless.
He smiled so wide, and she just sat there smoking at the kitchen table completely ruined.
She wasn’t sure why, but this morning she decided to drink her coffee black. She felt sober and ready to talk about checking into rehab, but wasn’t able to express herself audibly. She almost dropped the letter “V” from her trembling hand. Not today, she thought. Nothing would prevent her from accomplishing this goal.
Finally, she reached up and formed the final word.
“I don’t want a divorce,” she read aloud. She didn’t notice her husband spying on her from the shadows of the den. He heard her voice and his heart broke. He didn’t notice his son watched him from behind the couch where he hid; writing this all down in a notebook he knew no one would ever read.