March 1, 1953. Everybody loves Lucy. My wife Betty loves Stalin. Now she’s lining us all up, my sister Sylvia, Uncle Fritz and me for a family picture. She’s taken them so painstakingly, to keep as a record, she said, a record of the lives we led, their ebb and flow. What she means, really, is she wants something we can use to let ourselves slip into sentimentality, when we’re confronted by plateaus of problems.
We’ve been married for three years, had our share. Bills, Betty’s desire to become a writer. She’s said I have little passion for life, I’m too withdrawn after work, absorbed in the whirl of booze. Broad statements.
1953 just became the worst year.
She told me she was a Communist last night, after I came home from my job pumping gas. She was mixing a martini. She was a member of a group that met at her friend Connie’s apartment.
I’d thrown the martini across the room, and paced the floor for half an hour, the questions rising: Why did she believe in Stalin? Why did she tell me now? Did she think at all about us? The arguments had been on the rise as of late, but I’d thought we could contain things. I thought things inevitably ebbed and flowed, like the tide, that equilibrium would be restored.
She’d made no excuses, going on about how women have more rights in Russia, how they’d worked in factories, taken on empowering roles. How capitalists were draining this country. She’d just looked at me with a need for understanding, unapologetic.
I’m the oppressive husband. Naturally. Or so that look seemed to convey. As if I were some mighty king, as if I held all the power in the country.
And now she wants a fucking picture. As if that’ll solve it all. Solve the problems she unleashed, that she’d hidden for years.
She smiles now, from behind the camera, jet-black hair in a pageboy, cat-eye glasses perched on the edge of her nose. It’s as though we’re indistinguishable from the others, with their identical frame houses and broken bicycles, and lilacs on the porch.
I haven’t told Sylvia, and Uncle Fritz, my only family. They sit on the porch, drenched in the scent of sweat, perfume, and motor oil. Uncle Fritz smokes cigarette after cigarette, drawing spires of smoke into the night. Sylvia makes faces at me, and goes on about Cary Grant. I hope to God they won’t leave me after this. The thought of being alone with Betty, with only our problems between us, makes me freeze.
She’s a fucking Communist.
I thought I gave her a decent life. Sure, we’re not the Rockefellers, but we’ve had a decent life. Something dependable, orderly, the life Uncle Fritz and Sylvia passed onto me in adulthood. We talk about our lives, our day, go to the movies occasionally, go bowling even. Yet, she needs solace in a monstrous man. I wish she could tell me what she wants plain and simple, instead of hiding among manifestos. I wish she’d tell me here, now.
“Jerry,” Betty says, motioning to me. “Smile, honey. Don’t be such a grump.”
I rub my head, nursing the hangover, courtesy of the five Pabsts from last night. I’d gone down to the bar with my friends Tony and Donny after she’d told me, and we’d talked, not about the Communist thing, but about our jobs, how we wished we could kick our bosses’ asses, what we’d like to name our sons. Who’d be the toughest father. Our voices had risen over each other, higher and higher. The tougher we presented ourselves, the more likely it seemed we’d be able to work out solutions to problems we’d never anticipated.
In a way we were fooling ourselves, our wives. We were all deceptive.
I suppose manifestos make things easier, with those abstract ideas, instead of realities to grapple with. But I don’t have the luxury to pontificate about the proletariat and all that. I am the fucking proletariat, trying to hold onto things.
Uncle Fritz and Sylvia give me expectant looks, in which I feel a connection, a connection that I’ll hold onto. I hear my uncle’s hearty laugh, see the humor within his eyes, feel my older sister’s talkativeness, her unpolished bluntness. And I feel the power rise, a torrent that steadily consumes me.
Betty nods, pressing the button. I close my eyes, point my thumb outward, like the Uncle Sam posters. Uncle Sam Wants You To Kick Stalin’s Ass. My wedding ring glimmers under the glow of the porch light. I point at Betty, to the other deceivers, hidden in the apartments and bus stops, and within ourselves.
Mir-Yashar Seyedbagheri is a graduate of Colorado State University’s MFA program in fiction. He is the recipient of two Honorable Mentions from Glimmer Train and has had work nominated for the Best Small Fictions. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as DREGINALD, The Ekphrastic Review, The Write City Magazine, and Sinkhole Mag.