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Original artwork by Neslişah Tilki

in honor of his wife

Anastasia Jill

These days, Gina was not her own person, but rather, Terry’s wife; the Alice to his Ralph, a bang-zoom type of woman with teeth wide and compliant, like the moon. He’d claimed her as his land, his property. From Earth, bang-pow, all the way to the moon, Gina had the honor of being Mrs. Terry Byrd.

Their weekdays were predictable. He worked, she wore aprons, baked pies, and cared for the house. A few days a week, she went to typing class then returned home to iron her husband’s suits. On Saturday nights, they sent their son to the babysitter’s and went to a dive-bar in downtown Orlando. Gina hated that bar; the lack of proper lightning made her lose color saturation, her red hair pale as an iceberg. Terry didn’t care about the lack of depth.  He put a lazy arm around her shoulder. She refilled his drink with her own. He placed a wet kiss on her neck. “We’re a good team, the pair of us, you know that?”  

She pursed her lips, latitudinal lines of Ooh-La-La red, mouth warming under the pressure of hot, boiling spit. Terry approached that line regardless, marked his territory with brandy breath. He said, “Don’t you agree?”

She gave a tight-mouthed, “Mmhmm.” 

He called the bartender for a refill, ordering him to give Gina more as well.

“I don’t want more,” she said.

He dismissed her. “Of course you do.”

Gina sat there like a good wife and let her husband buy her a drink – a light, spritzy thing that would leave her tipsy and dubious. They would later consummate the evening with a kiss, or something more. Whatever he wanted. Like all other things, Gina had little very little say. 

“I love you,” Terry said.

Gina sighed. “I’m sure you do.”

A group of girls from her typing class occupied a table near the billiards tables. She envied them,. None of them were trophy wives. They were learning to work to pay their own rent. They’d listened to the second wavers, the Sexual Revolution. Gina hadn’t. She settled down and married. The typing class wasn’t even her choosing. She was learning in order to become Terry’s secretary. 

Terry noticed the women, Gina’s fixation on them.  “Who are those girls?” he asked.

Gina shrugged. “Women from class.”

“Ah, aspiring secretaries?”

“No, they want to be professionals themselves one day.”

Terry considered this. “That’s alright, I suppose. Secretary is a respectable profession in its own right.” He squeezed Gina’s shoulder like a grocery store melon. “It’s important for a man to have that, a secretary. To keep track of all of his pleasantries.” 

“I don’t enjoy it,” she reminded him. “Typing is boring. I would much rather learn a trade.”

“That is a trade.”

“I’d like to trade it back for something better.”

He dismissed her with a wave. “You can’t trade it back. It’s an education, not a hat! Be grateful I pulled the strings to get you that.”

“Still, it bores me.”

“Whine all you want. I’ll pay you no mind.”

While Terry lit a cigar, Gina glanced away from the haze of the crowd. Underneath the table was a science booklet she’d taken from her son’s room. He was in third grade now, the age when she herself began neglecting her schoolwork. She made it to tenth grade before dropping out. Two years later, she met Terry. They married and a year later, they had their son, Raymond. She had no skills aside from being a wife and a mother, but she always lamented what could have been, delving deeper into those what ifs when she attempted to help her son with homework.

The book she brought to the bar was her favorite by far. It chronicled geography, the uncharted terrains. It overwhelmed her that there was so much more of Earth than in her own little world;the potential in itself was so enthralling. One place in particular struck her fancy: Antarctica and all of its recently discovered terrain. Until the 1800s, it had been a speculation, but every day, scientists were learning more about what was described as a frozen tundra.

One place in particular – Marie Byrd Land – caught her attention, and not because of its namesake. It had been discovered and given a misnomer in honor of a man’s wife, but at the heart, it was uncharted, virgin terrain still unmarked by subjugation or greedy men.

Though the section of the textbook was small, the pictures, their grainy black and white, captivated Gina more than any other subject. Sure, she helped her son with arithmetic, thoughtlessly aided him with book reports and learning facts of the World Wars. But this – Marie Byrd Land – was her favorite place. She would live there, if she could; alone with the penguins. 

“What’cha got there?” Terry teased, fishing the pages from beneath her captivated hands. She told him to give it back, but he was much stronger and had the book laid out in a second. He laughed, “I thought we’d talked about Ray doing his own homework.”

She snatched the book back. She couldn’t explain the excitement to him. Instead, she placated him by saying, “Nothing. It’s nothing at all.”

 He flicked the ring on his ring finger – a turquoise nipple on a flat of silver flesh. He’d forgone a traditional wedding ring for something flashier, much nicer than her own. Gina hated that ring, as much as she hated Terry’s smoking. His cigar was overbearing the width of his hand. He took a drag. “Won’t Raymond be missing that textbook if you’ve taken it?”

“No,” Gina said. “He doesn’t like the sciences.” 

“You should talk to him.”

“I thought you were supposed to be the man.” 

They sat in silence. She never dared talk to him like that. In fact, she was surprised his temper didn’t rise then and there. The book sat between them until Terry took it. 

Gina protested, “I was reading that.”

“Now you’re not.” He grabbed her arm and pinched the fat, like she were a child. “We are here to enjoy our night off. I think you’d appreciate the chance.” 

She should have apologized, but she couldn’t. She excused herself to the bathroom. She sunk into the corner, body shaking as though she were bare in winter. The door to the ladies’ room opened. One of the women – Myrra from typing class – appeared, completely inebriated, a ringless hand wiping water on her pants. Gina didn’t say hello – Myrra didn’t recognize her either. Gina could only watch helplessly as she returned to her googol of fellow women. They hugged and held hands. They were smiling, their cheeks uncontacted territories.

Wow, Gina thought. It must be better for them, this way.

It was a few more minutes before Terry found her leaning on the wall outside the restroom. He held an empty glass, the cigar smoldering at the bottom. “Tell me,” he said. “What was all of that about?” 

She wiped the flush from her face before answering, “You had to finish your drink and smoke before coming to get me? Really, Terry?” 

He offered no apology. He was above admitting he was wrong to a woman. Instead, he picked her up, his fingers the pins sticking in her map, her hips, her clothed breasts. “I love you,” he wheezed, polluting her pallid waters. “You’re my woman, you know that. I love you so.” What he meant, though, was you, woman, belong to me. 

He explored her without consent, probing each of her coasts with his lechery. It all belonged to Terry, the man who set his anchor on her shore. He claimed her like land, that much was true, but she had to ask, “Would you ever name a piece of land after me?”

He stopped, his mouth agape like the Antarctic’s rock outcrops. “What’s that now?”

“If you were an explorer, and you traveled to the bottom of the globe and found land that no man had ever touched, would you name it in honor of me?” When he didn’t respond, she jabbed his chest with a fingernail. “Answer the question. You say you love me. Do you at least love me that much?”

The muscles beneath his skin rose, glaciers to sink her assertive ship. “Gina, what is all of this nonsense about land? You’re my woman, aren’t you? Tell me; you are my wife. Isn’t that true?”

She stared at him, silent. “You’re not a very good man.” 

He went on his own rant about wifely duty and dedication. She stood firm under the hall’s lone lightbulb, rosiness returning back to her hair, her lips, her cheeks. Husband be damned; she was through with his hand condescendingly patting her rear. 

“Come on, Gina,” he said, touching her in that manner.

She shoved him from her, prying herself from his large mass. She faded away from him as the moon does Mother Earth. “Oh, Terry, please. Why don’t you just shut up?”

He asked her where she was going, and the truth was, she didn’t know. She would go home, take her son. For now, she would go to her mother’s. It didn’t matter, so long as she was away from him, an archipelago of independence for herself and for her life.

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