The Kite and His Wife
By Christopher Boucher
In the mustard months before their divorce, Karen received some good news: a gallery in Provincetown had decided to represent her, and would soon begin showing her paintings. Her husband Roy, a shark-kite playwright, wasn’t having as much luck with his career – he’d just been named a runner-up for the Cape Cod Playwright’s Award for the third year in a row. With Karen spending more and more time in her studio, Roy found himself home alone almost every night; Karen would come back to a living room that reeked of smoke, five or six empty beer bottles on the coffee table, and the kite asleep on the couch. More often than not they’d end the day with an argument, and one of them threatening to leave.
This was in early spring, and the days were getting warmer. Soon, one of Karen’s painting groups started working outside again; every Tuesday and Thursday they set up easels on the beach. One day, after the group had painted an old senile tire half-buried in the sand, the anvil who ran the group asked Karen if Roy would consider modeling for the group. “We could really use a kite,” the anvil said. “If I have to paint another moaning, demented tire I’m going to kill myself.”
Karen winced. “I don’t know,” she said, and started folding up her easel.
“Roy’s really busy now. Could we ask another kite?”
“Harvey specifically requested a fish kite.”
“Roy’s a shark-kite,” said Karen.
“Harvey?” said the anvil. “Roy’s a shark-kite.”
“Even better!” shouted Harvey.
Karen conceded. The group did pay its models, after all, and she and Roy certainly needed the cash. And Roy was amenable. “That sounds fun,” he said when she asked him.
“But you can’t fuck it up,” Karen said.
“How could I possibly fuck it up?”
“You’ll find a way,” Karen said.
The following Thursday, Roy drove with Karen to the beach. “Now listen,” Karen said, “You cannot fuck this up.”
“I won’t fuck it up,” Roy said.
“These are professionals. You have to float still.”
“No shit,” Roy said.
“It’s not as easy as it sounds, Roy,” Karen said. “It takes a lot of concentration. You’re sober, right? You haven’t been drinking?”
“It’s ten a.m., Kar.”
“At this point? I wouldn’t put it past you.”
When they got to the beach, several of the artists had already arrived and were setting up their easels. Roy said hello to them, shook hands with the anvil, and then he let a breeze catch him. As he did, Karen took his string and tied it around the leg of her easel.
Soon Roy was floating out over the water, extending his fins, catching the sun with his tail. Underneath him, the anvil put his hands on his waist and said, “Roy looks different than the last time I saw him.”
“Fatter, you mean,” said Karen. “And I bet his skin wasn’t so patchy.”
“I didn’t mean that,” said the anvil. “I just meant he’s a little older.”
“He’s older, and patchier, and fatter,” said Karen. “And that’s because all he does is eat.”
“And write great plays,” said the anvil.
Forty feet in the air, Roy tried to float still. At first it was pretty easy – he just focused on the seascape. From his position he could see the very edge of Cape Cod, and a mix of boats floating off the shore. Then he had an idea: he should write a play set on the water. Set on a boat. Set on a fishing boat. Maybe the captain is – he’s – he’s ill. And he plans one last expedition, during which he’ll dive into the sea and –
Roy’s mind went white for a second.
– dive into the sea and drown, kill himself. And his crew, as they embarked, would have no idea.
A hard breeze pushed on Roy’s shoulder, and he drifted.
“Woops!” shouted the anvil from the ground.
“Roy?” Karen yelled. She yanked the string.
“Sorry!” Roy tried to concentrate. Where was he? The play. At the end of Act I, another character – a fisherchair – finds a note in the Captain’s bag, and learns of his plan. And he confronts him. He says –
Roy’s mind went white again, and he dropped a few feet.
“Fuck,” Karen yelled. “Roy, float still!”
Roy’s mind was white. He was lightheaded. He was thirsty. He needed a cigarette.
Some of the painters started grumbling. “Roy, you OK?” said the anvil.
“I’m fine,” said Roy. “Sorry. I – ”
Then the kite fell, and landed in the water.
At the hospital, Roy was subjected to a collage of tests – blood tests, an MRI, a neurological exam. Then he and Karen met with the doctor to discuss the results. “There’s good news here,” the doctor explained. “Anytime someone passes out like you did, we worry about the worst case: an aneurysm, a brain tumor.”
“Even for kites?”
“Especially for kites,” said the doctor. “But none of that stuff for you, thankfully. What you have, my friend, is high blood pressure.”
“High blood pressure,” the shark-kite repeated.
“See?” said Karen. “I told you.”
“Told me what?” Roy said. “What, exactly, did you tell me?”
“Roy,” said Karen, “You eat pizza like it’s your job. And the smoking?”
The doctor shrugged. “Diet can make a big difference. And how about exercise?”
Roy looked down at his fins.
“Exercise could help, too,” the doctor said.
When they got home, Roy sat down on the couch and picked up the remote. Tree wrestling was on. The two trees faced off in the ring. Roy opened up a bag of chips and a can of orange soda.
“Roy,” said Karen.
“What,” Roy said. One tree lunged for another.
“Are you kidding me?” said Karen. “Did we not just get home from the hospital?”
“I can’t change overnight, Karen, ” Roy said. “I need a little time to process
this. And besides, what do you care?”
“I care,” said Karen. “I’m your wife.”
“Barely,” said Roy. “This is probably good news for you.”
“How can you say that to me?” said Karen.
“Because you’ve been threatening to leave for months. So? Leave.” He ate a chip.
Roy slept on the couch that night. When he woke up the next morning, though, his mind was clearer. Instead of making coffee or lighting a cigarette, he went looking for his sneakers. He found them in a closet and took them outside to lace them up. It was a nice day – the air was clear and he could smell the ocean. Without thinking about it, he stepped off the porch and started jogging very slowly. He ran down the street and around the corner.
Karen woke up and went out to the living room. “Wake up, Roy,” she said. “You want some coffee?”
When there was no answer, she looked to the couch. “Roy?” He wasn’t there. She checked the bathroom and looked outside – he wasn’t there either. “Roy?” she called.
No Roy. What the fuck?
Karen stepped out onto the porch. Is this how they lived now – so disconnected that they had no idea of each other’s whereabouts, even? Roy was right – they were barely husband and wife. Did she need this? She didn’t need this.
That idea settled in her mind. She had her work, her friends, a fine life. She really did not need this.
She went back inside and packed a bag: essentials, her paints, enough for a few days away.
Roy had run one mile. He was drenched with sweat and breathing like he might die, but his mind felt brighter than he could remember – brighter, even, than when he was floating. This must be what they meant by a “runner’s high.” He would go another half-mile, he decided, and then turn around. When he got home, he would talk to Karen. He had things to say to her. He would try to apologize.
It took Karen ten minutes to pack. Then she put her bags in the car and locked the door of the apartment. She could come back for the rest later. The important thing was for her to leave – now. Roy’s absence this morning was the last straw. The end. Credits.
Apologize, Roy thought. I’ll her that I’m quitting smoking, that I’ll run every day. This could really be the start of something, he decided, and he turned around and ran back towards home.
Christopher Boucher is the author of the novel How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (Melville House Publishing, 2011) and the Managing Editor of Post Road Magazine. He lives in the Boston area and teaches writing and literature at Boston College.