It’s usually the little death of a temporary kind of beauty, that becomes the reason for the things that go on to fully break. 

But neither one of them had grown into an ugliness over the years. 

There was just the sweetness of age touching them in the slightest way. Like, her slightly-melting cheek. Like, his small wrinkled forehead. 

Subtleties so soft they never noticed them of themselves or of each other.

In their marriage, her belly had always snapped back after the babies she birthed, and his teeth remained white against dark-roasted coffee days. 

___

The women at her office always teased her about it, about them.

Oh, you and John are so happy, just so happy.

And another coworker, Just so fucking happy! Doesn’t it scare you to be happy all the time like that?

Isn’t there something? Another asked.

Shouldn’t there be something? Another added.

And oh, honey…there’s always something. Another purred.

____

            It happened so fast, so immediately, the way she pulled herself into the sameness of others around her, because maybe it was the relationships tainted with a touch of badness that went on to outlive the others. 

John had thought that she was silly, when she asked him to cheat on her, just once, and with someone not as pretty. ‘When she told him to waste money meant for paying bills on scratch-off tickets, and impossible Powerball lotteries. ‘When, every night, at dinner, she would pour him one, two, three glasses of wine to possibly trigger addictions deeply buried inside. 

“This is crazy,” he said gently to her, he never yelled. “This is insane,” he never said she, only it, only the things that she was asking of him.

“I will crack this perfect thing,” she yelled at him with hopes of sparking a dormant anger. “I will hurt us just a little to make this more believable, to make this much more like the sameness of others before us, because this is how we save us, John. This is how this marriage can live on,” she said. “I am just the drive that you do on autopilot, John. So, good, so safe, you don’t even go on to appreciate it because of just how safe it always is.”

He was listening, not ignoring, not looking away.

“I don’t want to die in this drive. I just want us to get a little scratched up,” she pleaded. “I love this love the most. Why don’t you love this love the most like I do?” 

He started to say, still not yelling, staying instead of walking away, “Because, I love our love the most.”

____

            On the evening of their anniversary, she sat in the soft light of the restaurant’s candles, golden gleams bounced against her caramel curls, which glowed along with the honeyed hues of the present’s bow—a gift from her that he was now opening. He pulled away at both ends which fell apart with a muted snap.

In the months before, she had let it all go quiet, had let it all just be as it once had been.

So, when he opened the gift fully, where a beautiful watch from some time long ago waited, he looked at the engraved initials, but one of them was awry. He tried to put it over his wrist, but it would not fit. And she watched him struggle, struggle in all that soft, golden light, struggle in the surroundings of others who had watched from the beginning, too.

As a tear slipped down, the first one he’d ever given to her for the reasons that were right, he said— “You are a terrible darling,” he cried. “You are the worst darling that there could ever be.”

***

Exodus Oktavia Brownlow is a Blackhawk, Mississippi native whose writing aesthetic includes purposeful horror, character-driven fiction, and nonfiction writing that aims to create a healthier world for us all. She is a graduate of Mississippi Valley State University with a B.A in English, and Mississippi University for Women with a MFA in Creative Writing. Exodus is published, or has forthcoming work, with Electric-Literature, Barren Magazine, Booth, Fractured Lit, Hobart Pulp, Jellyfish Review, TriQuaterly, Chicken Soup for The Soul, and more. Exodus has a healthy adoration for the color green.

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