Two-Pronged Outlet
— Fiction by Josh Divine

I’m tearing through streamers to get to the lock on my car door when Mom approaches. She rubs her hand across my newly buzzed head then brushes birdseed off my shoulder and lightly presses her hand against the car window. JUST MARRIED is written on it in car paint. “I haven’t seen you with this short of hair in a long time, Jeff,” she says. “I’m so glad you’re starting the rest of your lives together.”

I smile sadly. “Mom,” I say. “Tomorrow—”

“I know about tomorrow,” she says, and her voice quivers. “I can’t forget, but today is today.”

I hug Mom and get in the car. I wish I could be as happy as she. I can’t tell by her tears if she is convincing herself that I don’t have to leave tomorrow, that my draft number hasn’t been pulled, or if she is just happy I’m married. I hope she finds solace. I haven’t found it. I don’t know how much time I have left.

Two photographers flash their fancy, multi-lens cameras, circling the car, capturing forever our images—as if they weren’t just taking our photographs but were stealing pieces of us, memories I may never remember—to be put on display. Emily wanted to go all out on the wedding, especially with the pictures. She says they’re all we’ll have left afterward. It might be all she has left afterward. I’m not too excited. I have razor burn on my neck from this morning’s rushed shave. There had been no hot water. I didn’t have time to fix the water heater, and now Emily will have to deal with it when I leave. I unlock the passenger door, and she climbs in, beaming as she waves to the crowd assembled to see us off from our wedding reception. A light rain has picked up. Good luck. I flip on the blades, tearing a stray streamer across the windshield to the side of the car. I can barely see through the paint-plastered windows.

My best man, Chad Hammer, raps on the window.

“Dude, finally. Now cut up that V-Card,” he says and hands me scissors. He is all false smiles. They started when I first told him I had been drafted.

I pull out my wallet and take from it the card we laminated when I was fourteen. He threw his card away when he was seventeen but always kept me accountable.

“Not yet,” I say. “I have to hold onto it for another hour.”

“You sure you’ll last that long?”

I don’t answer except to smile.

“You make sure you shred that thing when you’re done, all right?” Chad says. “You have to promise me. Don’t make me come over there.”

I can tell Emily’s uncomfortable, so we start pulling away, but Chad isn’t finished yet. “Kiss the bride!” he says and releases a primal whooping sound as he pulls his phone from his pocket and takes video. His actions are echoed by the gathering. I lean over, still driving slowly. Emily meets me not quite halfway, and I press my lips against hers.

The onlookers probably can’t notice the difference, but there is already a distance between us despite our touching lips. There is nothing there. Emily’s kiss is a façade. And I know it’s not because of my comments or Chad’s. She’s heard worse. She’s said worse.

The silence that follows is almost unbearable. She must have noticed I perceived her forced kiss. She won’t look at me. I turn on the radio.

“—deadliest attack since March’s Virginia Beach naval bombing. Generals overseeing the defense operation have estimated the casualty count to be close to 4,000. The Pentagon has expressed worry that enemy forces will be attempting a US invasion on the Pacific Coast within the next few months after last month’s failed Atlantic push.”

Emily turns off the radio.

“I was listening to that,” I say.

“You don’t need to.”

“It’s part of my life now. I need to know what’s going on.”

She shakes her head but still won’t look at me.

“Are you excited to see the house?” I ask. “It’s not far.”

She doesn’t answer.

She had initially wanted to be part of the process of choosing a house, but I had insisted against it. It’s my present to her—only her silence makes me worry that I didn’t choose well enough. Just seven minutes away from the church, our new house sits on an aged lot, deciduous trees on three sides of it rising over twice the house’s height. A driveway shared with the next-door neighbor brings us beside the house, the face of which is a blend of brick and cobblestone. The car is hardly stopped when Emily climbs out, pushes through the creaky gate, and tries the door, but it’s locked, of course.

“Can you help me with some of the gifts?” I ask.

She stares emptily at the door.Her silence digs into me. I pop the trunk and remove as many boxes and bags as I can carry in my left arm while leaving my right free to unlock the door. It squeaks as Emily pushes through, and each of the four stairs that lead to the main level creak, but it’s home—at least, it will be her home.

It takes six trips to bring in the gifts. When I come in with the last load, Emily has started unwrapping the others already. Paper litters the floor, and some of it has been tossed far enough to land on the small bag I’ve packed for Basic. As I come in, though, she stops.

“Sorry,” she says but keeps her eyes averted, staring at the wrappings.

We had never explicitly made plans to open presents together; I just figured that’s what newlyweds do. I also thought opening gifts was low priority on the activity list for newlyweds. I move into the living room to help her, but she doesn’t resume. She stares at the wall. I maneuver a box in front of her.

“Do you want to unwrap this together?” I ask.

She turns her eyes to the floor. I can’t meet her gaze, so I unwrap the box myself. Inside is a home-brew coffee pot and a box filled with bags of every type of coffee I know of plus several others. There’s regular and decaffeinated drip, but that’s where my expertise stops. I can imagine what some of the ones like White Russian, and Coconut Kona taste like, but I’m lost with Cupid's Kiss, Vienna Strudel, and Welsh Spirit. I hope Emily knows what these are. I hate coffee.

“Do you want any?” I ask and hold up the box in front of her.


They flow slowly from her soft, red eyes, spotting the wood floor. They’ll leave stains when they dry. I can’t read her tears. They aren’t like those Mom shed in the chapel or at the reception today, but they aren’t like those Mom freed when my draft number was drawn either.

The kitchen is clean, save for a few boxes I brought ahead of time to fill the house, and the only imperfection is the settled dust. Nobody’s lived here in over a year. It’s a perfect find for Emily’s new life.

I peel the child-safe covers away from the outlet. I try not to think about the fact that we may never need them, but it’s most of what my mind has dwelled on since my number was pulled. I stretch the coffee pot plug toward the wall, but it won’t go in. The outlet is two-pronged, built before they had the concept of creating home-brew coffee makers.

“Their outlets are old,” I say as I walk back into the living room. “Sorry. I didn’t think to look for it when I closed.”

Her voice chokes as she says, “Could you go to the store and get some adapters?”

I’m distracted by the thick tears that run down her face.

These ones are slow, viscous, filled with mascara. They drudge along the contours of her face, predictable by the grooves of her previous tears. All I want to do is make her stop.

The train of her dress marks the floor—a spiral of beauty that conflagrates the aura of my bride—but it is bunched toward her as if she spun a few times after sitting. It is white except for the stains from the cake that fell after I pressed it into her face. She’s the only recently married woman I know who was honest about wearing white.

She is still allowed to wear white.

She finally looks up as I sit in front of her and say, “What’s wrong?”

She doesn’t try to hide her tears as she meets my eyes. I feel like a piece of bread has swelled in my throat.

“Did we make a mistake?” she says.

I shake my head before she’s even finished.

“Of course not,” I say. “You know I love you.”

“I love you too,” she says. Despite this last hour, I know she means it.

“We’re meant to be together,” I say. “We told each other that years ago.”

“I’m not talking about getting married,” she says. “I’m talking about not getting married earlier. It’s my fault you’re leaving.”

“No,” I say. She shakes her head vigorously. “The government is making me do this. This isn’t your fault.”

“If we got married sooner, maybe they wouldn’t have been able to draft you,” she says.

I keep my eyes focused on the floor. I don’t want to acknowledge what she’s said. It never occurred to me that she would feel guilt over this. Her teardrops have soaked a fractal pattern into the wood.

“There wasn’t time to plan the wedding,” I say. “It wouldn’t have been how you wanted.”

She’s silent for a moment. I think she’s going to agree with me until she says, “But it wasn’t how I wanted. I didn’t even get a piece of our wedding cake.”

“There was plenty of time.”

“The strap on my shoe broke before I walked down the aisle.”

“My shoes were too tight,” I say.

“Most people didn’t sign the guestbook,” she says. “I don’t think they saw it. There wasn’t a good place to put it. We won’t be able to remember who came.”

For the first time, she brushes the tears from her face. “You shouldn’t have dropped out of college,” she says.

I shrug. “I had a wedding to pay for,” I say.

“But you only had a year left,” she says. “It would have deferred your draft. The war could be over in a year.”

I don’t respond because I know she’s right. This war has been unprecedented in speed—and casualties.

My phone vibrates.

Chad’s text reads: I know what you’re doing!

I wish.

She crawls to my bag and runs her hand over the suit that I’ve chosen to wear when I leave. It’s not required, but if I have to show up with a terrible haircut, I’m going to make the rest of me look good. Tears fall onto the suit.

Welcoming Depth

I try the coffee maker again. From what I can see, all the outlets are two-pronged, so I retrieve pliers from the tool kit in the closet. I grip the third prong and twist, grunting against the pressure as the pliers’ rubber handles chafe my hand. The prong breaks and falls to the floor. It hardly makes a sound as it bounces from the linoleum. I press the plug into the outlet and flip the switch on the bottom of the coffee maker. The light flickers weakly. I put pressure on the plug. If only I could push it into the wall farther, but I’m incapable. It’s incompatible. The light goes out and only comes back slightly when I fidget with the plug.

“Did you get it to work?” she says. I can’t handle it. I pull the pitcher from the brewer and throw it against the window. The window pane chips, but the coffee pot shatters. The shards spread across the white linoleum. I have to be careful where I tread.

* * *

Zero six hundred hours. I can’t sleep. I can’t lie there either, not as a newly married man with my wife not even in the bed, so I get up. After all, this is later than I’ll be allowed to sleep for the next two months. Most people don’t have to wake up at this time the day after their wedding—except maybe to catch a honeymoon flight.

The shower is cold again. I bounce up and down on my feet, trying to get blood flowing. The slight amount of exercise is useful, too. I haven’t prepared for Basic. I’m crossing my fingers for a medical discharge, but somehow, I don’t think I’ll qualify. I almost don’t use shampoo. My hair hardly justifies it.

The linoleum is cold beneath my feet. It’s peeling at one corner. I open the mirror cabinet and cringe at the awful grinding noise the hinge makes. I hadn’t noticed before now that the sink is cracked. It’s a small crack, but I keep the water volume low just in case. There are too many things I can’t fix.

Emily is still in the living room, wrapped in the blanket I laid on her last night. She didn’t even move to the couch, and she’s still in her dress. I don’t know if there’s ever been another bride who has worn hers this long.

Shards of glass cover the kitchen floor near the window, and the chip in the window is angling the sun’s rays in an odd fashion, creating a small spotted rainbow on the floor that reflects from the glass particles. We have no broom, so I have to sweep the glass with a rag. I walk to the fringe of the disaster, stopping because I’m not wearing shoes. I have flat feet, but I still have to report. Just one more shattered myth. Flat feet don’t get you out anymore—at least, not in this war. My older brother murdered Santa Claus when I was six, and December’s air raid on Los Angeles, starting the war, destroyed the remainder of my naivety. There hasn’t been new TV in five months, and I’m starting to run out of avenues to release my imagination, to dream of something better than monotonous life. I had hoped getting married would change things enough, but I’m not even going to be around to enjoy it.

I do need my foot, though, flat as it is. That’s not a myth; it’s still a requirement for most combat, and without feet, they can’t take me. I lift my left foot and extend it five inches. I want to lift both feet, to jump forward and land solidly, but that would bring too much blood. I don’t want to burden Emily. I move to stomp my foot down, but as one particularly large shard wedges itself between now-dead cells, I pause. The pain is incredible. I press slowly, sinking the glass deeper a half millimeter at a time. A deep sense of strength swells within me as I focus all my attention on the task. Every muscle wants to retract, and it takes my strongest willpower to keep pushing. Every second is glorious, as if I’ve won a battle over my body. I haven’t cried from physical pain in fifteen years, and I’m not sure if the tears I cry now are physically linked. All I know is that I feel—and it’s not complacency that I feel either.

“What are you doing?” Emily says. Her presence startles me. I press my foot into the ground hard. Several more pieces lodge in. I instinctively retract, unable to preserve my focus.

“I was trying to clean up the glass,” I say.

“With your foot?”

Her hair is matted. Yesterday’s hair spray has mixed with an evening’s sleep, and it hovers out several inches to the side of her head. Salt has crusted beneath her eyes. I wish she weren’t still in her wedding dress. I’m no longer insulted; I’m just mad—or depressed. I haven’t decided yet which is less shameful. We’ve been married for thirteen hours, and we’re both still virgins.

She makes me sit as she retrieves tweezers from her bag.

Her tears renew as she slowly pries the glass from my foot. Her touch is tender. I don’t feel pain, but she cries anyway, as if it’s her fault I decided to step on glass. I’m holding back my own tears and wiping away the ones I released before she entered the room, but I’m not sure why. She pulls the last piece from my foot, throws it away, and leaves, returning a moment later with materials to dress the wound.

She kisses my leg as she cleans the wound, weeping uncontrollably. Her hair falls in clumps over my leg. It’s not soft at all—not with the hairspray still in it—but its touch feels relieving. She wraps a bandage around my foot and, without another glance at me, retreats to the living room. She begins going through the unopened gifts, but when I enter, she stops and stares at the floor again.

I don’t know how long I stand there. Ten minutes? More? She obstinately keeps her gaze pressed to the floor.

“Bye,” I say but not loud enough to make entirely sure she hears me. She doesn’t respond. I can’t lose control like this; I need something familiar.

Last night’s rain turned into a light snow, but it only stuck on trees and grass. The road’s dry. It’s the last time I’ll be able to be on a bike for several months, so I ignore the splitting pain in my foot and decide to see how far I can go until I hit a dirt road. It takes longer than I imagine. When I turn around, I discover I have been riding with the wind the whole time. The trip back takes nearly twice as long. Partially melted ice falls from the tree branches as I reenter our new neighborhood. Budding flowers have dropped from the weight of the rain and snow. They’ll come back, though, but they’ll be gone again before I return.

Chad’s car is parked in front of my house. My bike is worth almost four thousand dollars, but I drop it at the foot of the driveway and don’t look back as I stalk up the walkway.

Chad sits on the couch, drumming his fingers against the material. The handle of a plastic bag is lodged between the last two fingers of his right hand and the underside of the sofa arm. Inside is a small box perhaps six or eight inches long and less than that in height and width.

“What are you doing here?” I say.

“Emily called me,” he says as he furrows his eyebrows. “What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you have left?”

I look at the clock. He’s right. I should have left ten minutes ago. It’s a five-and-a-half-hour drive to the hotel the Army is making me stay in tonight.

“Why are you here?” I say. “What’s in the bag?”

“Emily asked me to pick up something for the house and do a couple things while you’re gone,” he says. “And since when do you talk to your best friend like that?”

“Condoms?” I say. “Do you have condoms in there? Really, Chad? I’ve been married one day. You can’t at least wait for me to widow her? She’ll still be a virgin.”

“You haven’t?” he says and gestures toward the kitchen where Emily is.

“That’s not your concern.”

“Man, this must be—wow. What’s wrong?”

I have half a mind to leave right now—I’m already late—but I’m wearing my bike gear still, so I stumble into my room and change clothes.

“Why are you here?” I say, when I get back.

“You need to cool down,” he says.

“Give me the bag.”

“What’s wrong with you, Jeff,” he says. “Why are you talking to me like this?”

“I need to leave,” I say.

“Then leave. I’ll see you off tomorrow. You’re already late. You need to get going.”

“Why did you come here, knowing I should have already been gone?” I say.

“I told you,” he says. “Emily called me. Isn’t that your bike?”

Through the still open door, the image of a boy riding away on my bike with his pants almost around his ankles hits me. I’ve made an excellent decision in choosing a neighborhood for my wife to live in by herself. I have to make a quick decision. I want to grill Chad. I want to ram my fist through his gut and take the bag from him. My nerves are too high for inaction, but I know Chad isn’t going anywhere. The thief is leaving. The guy’s made too much progress for me to run after him, so I go to the car.

“Jeff, wait!” Emily says. She seems equally flustered. She’s no longer wearing her wedding dress, but I can’t help but wonder if she’ll be wearing it again soon. I don’t know how long I’ll last in war. I’m a draftee. Fodder. I’m headed for the front lines.

Emily’s cleaned up quite a bit. Yesterday’s smeared makeup has been washed off and redone. Her eyes have regained their normal color, and she carries herself with purpose. There are no tears in her eyes, and she actually looks at me. She’s wearing the shirt I bought her, the one that turned out to be too low-cut for her to be comfortable in public. She told me she’d wear it for me when we were married. I didn’t imagine it like this.

“Chad, lock the door on your way out,” she says while dragging a heavy bag behind her. “Jeff, I’m coming with you. It doesn’t make sense for me to drive tomorrow. I don’t want to drive there and back in the same day.”

“My bike,” I say and point down the street. She nods.


We tear off down the street. The thief has turned off the main road. I take a chance and guess left, but I still don’t see him. I can’t see him in my rearview mirror either, but I know he can’t have gone too far riding on my special pedals with his regular shoes. I slow the car down and peer around the trees and bushes. A portion of a tire is jutting out from behind one particularly thick bush, so I stop in the middle of the road and hop out of the car, but instead of making my way for the bush hiding my bike, I cross to the far side of the lawn. Sure enough, the culprit is lying on the ground between the side of the fence and another bush. His eyes are on the bush with my bike, so he doesn’t see me coming from the other side of him. When he finally notices my presence, it’s too late. He tries to stand, but I press my foot into his back hard. It hurts me. Badly. My wound peels open, but it feels good to be in control. He grunts in pain. I’m finally getting the reaction I’m trying for.

Emily has parked the car and is running to meet me. The thief looks at me. He’s much older than a boy. He might even be older than me. I reposition my foot on top of his head and force it into the dirt.

“Don’t,” Emily says.

“He was stealing my bike,” I say. I want to say he deserves it, but the logic gets lost in my head.

“You’ll be charged with assault. Just call the police.”

My brain spins in overdrive, and I say, “Maybe then I won’t have to go. They’ll send me to trial first. It could take a while. It could take a year. It wouldn’t be as bad as an AWOL.”

I see a momentary spark in her eye. It’s the first sign of excitement I’ve seen since the end of our wedding reception, but it quickly goes away and is replaced by a profound sadness.

“Just call the police,” she says. “I don’t want you in jail.”

“Do you want me dead?” I say. “This could work out better.”

She seems conflicted, and suddenly she won’t look at me anymore. I call the police.

An hour later, my bike is disassembled and in the car, and I’m even more late, but now I have an excuse in the form of a handwritten police note and a number for my staff sergeant to call. I crumble it and let it drop to the ground, hoping—although I know the chances are small-- that the Army will think I’m not dependable if I’m late.

“Did you put that shirt on for Chad?” I ask once the officer moves back to his patrol car.

The glare she sends produces a clear message. She’s insulted that I’ve insinuated anything resembling adultery, but I’m not even sure if she could technically commit it. Chad always told me marriage wasn’t final until after consummation.

“I told you,” she says. “Change of plans. I decided to come with you. I told you I would wear this when we were married. And I can’t believe you would ever think that I would do anything with Chad, or anyone else for that matter. You seriously thought he brought condoms? What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with me is that’s the most you’ve talked to me since the wedding.”

“You want to talk?” she says. “Get in.”

She starts the engine and, when I don’t move, honks the horn. She’s motivated. By what, though, I have no clue. She tightens her seatbelt excessively and checks the clip multiple times.

“Put on your seatbelt,” she says.

“If it’s my time, it’s my time,” I say.

“Will that be your attitude in the war?” she says. “Put on your seatbelt now.”

I stretch the band across my chest and clip it in.

“Are you going to talk to me now?” I say.

She avoids eye contact and says, “I have nothing to talk about.”

We’re on the highway before long, and Emily pushes our car close to its aged limit, trying to make up lost time. Over the five-and-a-half-hour drive, she just might make it.

“Slow down,” I say. She looks at me as if questioning whether I’m serious. I don’t falter when I stare back at her. She eases off the throttle but still drives eight over the speed limit.

There’s silence for nearly an hour as I peer ahead of us into the plains.

“Take off your shoe,” Emily says.


“Take off your shoe. I want to check something.”

“For what?”

She scrunches up her face and holds out her hand. No debate. No compromise.

Hesitantly, I bend down toward my foot.

“I can’t see the mirror,” she says and frantically beckons for me to retreat.

I sit back and instead lift my right leg onto my seat so that my knee is pointing straight toward the roof. I tug at one lace. The loop pulls straight. We’ve reached the outskirts of a larger city. Street lamps line the way. The road curves left, but as I pull the other lace free, I feel like we’re still moving straight. The engine whines as we accelerate. I look at Emily. She’s let go of the steering wheel. Her arms are pressed to her side, and she’s shut her eyes. The seatbelt is unnecessarily taut against her torso. I think we’ve already crashed. She must be unconscious. She must be dead.

We hit the street lamp on my side of the car. My arm is extended toward my foot, elbow locked. It splinters at the exact same moment that my leg shatters, my knee popping out. The two pains compete for my mind’s attention, and I am overloaded. There is nothing directly in front of her side of the car, so we spin clockwise, hit the road barrier, and end up facing oncoming traffic. My pain competes with the putrid smell of burned rubber and leaked car fluids. Two cars aren’t able to slow down enough to avoid us. I taste coppery blood in my mouth.

My body demands attention. My brain starts to shut down. I feel like vomiting. Then I cease to feel, and as witnesses rush to the scene, I look at Emily.

All of the impact was on my side of the car. I can tell she’s fine, but she’s crying again. This time, though, she has no problem gazing into my eyes.

When the anesthesia from reconstructive surgery finally wears off enough for me to regain consciousness, my mind immediately does an inventory check. There’s no pain, but I’m not quite able to move everything either. I’m sluggish, but worse than that, my left arm and my right leg feel heavy, as if twice as much fluid as normal sits inside each limb, festering. I’m unable to see my limbs, however, because both are encased in casts. The only person inside the hospital room is Mom. She’s been crying, of course. But the tears have stopped, and there’s only a slight hint of red in her eyes.

“You’re awake,” Mom says.

I wasn’t aware it didn’t become official unless it was narrated. “Emily?” I say.

“She’s not hurt,” Mom says. “A couple of scratches and bruises, but that’s all. She brought your bag here, but she has to report. The last thing you all need now is an AWOL arrest warrant for her.”

Her words barely register. “What?” I say.

“Emily enlisted,” Mom says.

The gravity of the car wreck, her silence beforehand, her inability to look at me, hits me hard. I feel a sting of betrayal, a fissure in our trust, but then I hardly care. The drugs have made me sluggish, drowsy, complacent. Slowly, a smile creeps to my face. I can’t believe how discreet she’s been. I’m almost flattered—except for the pain that still manages to find ways around the drugs. Then, I can’t help but be disturbed. Angry even. Going to jail would have been easier.

“How are you feeling?” a nurse says as she enters the room. “Any nausea?” She has no idea. She presses a clip against the tube of a bag that’s dripping some fluid into my IV. I shake my head.

“Your wife left a note,” she says and retrieves a small envelope from a pocket in her scrubs.

The letter isn’t long. I know what to expect because of what Mom said, but it still strikes me. She’s left for Basic. She says with her in the force, they won’t make me go. The war hasn’t become bad enough to revoke the one-per-family policy they renewed right before the war. I know she means they won’t make me go when I heal up, but she can’t write that. It would be circumstantial evidence. She even predates the letter before my draft. Anything to avoid making it look like she did this on purpose.

“You knew Emily enlisted?” I ask Mom. “I mean before today?”

“She didn’t want you to know,” Mom said. “She said she didn’t want to be stuck behind while you were off at war. I had no idea this would happen. I didn’t know she had gotten this bad.”

“This bad?”

“Emily thinks it’s her fault you were drafted.”

I wish Emily had let me smash the thief’s face in.

I have a plastic shipping box nearly filled with Emily’s letters and notes from our whole time dating including when she was studying abroad. There has to be over five hundred of them.

I think she will fill it up soon. She refuses to send email. If this hadn’t been a longstanding occurrence, it would make me think she doesn’t want me to respond. It’s easier to ignore a letter because as soon as she sends me an email, I know with certainty that she’s received mine, but a letter can get lost anywhere. She writes every day. I don’t write back. I learn more about Basic, and everything she details sounds a thousand times better than what I am going through. There’s tear gas, live fire, and grenade-throwing tests, but my leg’s broken in six places, plus bone pieces have chipped off and entered my blood stream. I’ve also dislocated my knee.

My arm isn’t as bad. Two fractures. I have to wear a cast for four weeks. It wouldn’t be too terrible if not for the pain. Mom says I should take the pain killers, but I can’t. I need to feel. I want to feel it every time I read her letters. I want—even if I know it’s false—a sense I’m doing something. I have the urge to vindicate her actions. I’m out of the war now. She made sure of that, and I don’t know if I would appreciate it as much if not for feeling pain.

Each letter I receive contains more apologies than the one before. “Sorry” is the most frequent word she inserts, but she’s careful about it. She avoids legal ramifications by cleverly disguising the apologies. “Sorry you’re hurting right now,” or “Sorry I can’t be there with you. We’re on a really important deployment.” I start writing a response after this letter, but I place it on the bedside table, let it slip between the table and the wall, and never pick it up again.

They’re cutting Basic short by a week. With 40,000 casualties in the last battle, the US military forces have gaping holes. It’s a conveyor belt now. Rush the infantry in, gear them up, teach them to pull a trigger, and send them out. It’s a vicious cycle. High casualties result in shorter training times, which results in high casualties. They’re expecting the end of the war to come quickly, though. That’s what she says, anyway. Bloody, but quick. Bloody quick. Advanced weaponry has increased war speed tenfold. We can obliterate the enemy faster. Easier too. It’s a tactics game—one of carefully timed button pushing—and it separates us from our query. We no longer have to see the people we kill.

An infection develops in my leg. It takes the doctor a week before he discovers he’s sewn gauze inside me. He’s frantic. He thinks I’ll sue. I’m tempted to. With money, Emily and I could leave once she gets back. Every time I think about suing, though, I remember what Emily has done. I understand it now—and I think I understand it more with each letter—but I’m still not sure I’m over it. I don’t hold resentment against her. I don’t forgive myself. I let her get to the point where she had to do something drastic to keep me out of the conflict. I should have done it myself. I should have assaulted the bike thief. I should have further cut open my foot. I should have cut off my foot.

The infection spreads to other areas of my body before they’re able to kill it. It infiltrates my lungs on the same day Emily leaves Basic. She’s been assigned to a supply convoy. The armies are in a stalemate right now. The enemy has solidified a hold on the west coast, and nobody’s willing to make a move. Once they do, though, Emily thinks it will be drastic.

In all, I’m in the hospital eleven weeks—six for accident recovery and reconstructive surgery and five to operate on my infection, a difficult feat because it has been risky to put me under. They have to isolate the infection in order to operate on other areas. They drain fluid from my lungs. I see them fill a container with the golden brown, murky fluid. It looks like egg whites are floating in it. I heave everywhere.

I’m home for seven weeks when I endure the longest time period yet without a letter: four days. My arm is back to almost normal functionality, and my leg is improving with physical therapy. For the time being, though, Mom gets all my groceries. She cooks for me too and cleaned up everything we left in the living room. Chad rings the doorbell every day at 12:30 during his lunch break. I never answer. I don’t know what’s in the bag he brought. Mom moved it from the living room. I hardly leave the bedroom. I’ve developed a TV viewing schedule. Most of the shows I watch are reruns, but I follow them religiously. Finally, another letter comes. Mom says there must have been a delay in the mail, but I only receive one letter, not four.

All the military branches are trying to launch a collective counter push to expel forces from the country. They’re getting desperate now that most of Oregon, Washington, and northern California is under enemy control. She can’t tell me much more about it because she doesn’t know. They’ve been given their assignments, but intelligence ends at that. She says “sorry” fourteen times. This is the first one that’s signed “I love you.” The letter is also rippled from dried tears.

A week goes by, and no letters arrive. There’s a knock on the door. It’s noon. Chad is earlier.

A second knock raps, then a third. He’s becoming urgent. When the knocking doesn’t stop, I grab my crutches, and hobble out of the room and to the front door so I can tell Chad to go away. I peer through the peep hole.

I’ve observed the scene played out in film a dozen or more times. The only difference between those and this one is that I did not have the misfortune of watching the two men walk up my steps. They don’t go away either. They have a job to do. I’m crippled. They must know I’m home. It sickens me that people get paid for this.

One of the men carries a folder and an envelope that isn’t addressed. The other carries a flag folded into a triangle.

“Mr. Maxwell,” the one carrying the envelope and folder says as I open the door, “we need to talk to you about your wife, Emily. May we come in?”

I nod and hobble out of the way as the two men enter. For the first time since I’ve been home, I notice that there really isn’t sitting space in the living room. There is still just the couch I initially moved into the house. I offer it to them. Neither obliges.

“Can I get you two anything to drink?” I say. They exchange looks. I don’t think either wants to ask a cripple to get him anything, but I contort my face into as serious an expression as I can muster. I wonder if they’re surprised I’m not crying. I’ve already seen enough tears.

“Just water,” the first says.

“Same,” the other says.

I’m searching the cupboards for glasses when I stumble upon a coffee maker that Mom put away. Duplicate wedding gifts. The best part about breaking the other is I don’t even have to return this one.

“I have coffee if you would like,” I say. One of the men accepts the invitation.

Chad’s bag lies on the counter next to the unplugged toaster. I turn it inside out. The box inside is small. Inside are six plug adaptors. I press one into the outlet and then plug the new coffee maker into it. It works. I put enough water in for two mugs. I would have probably started drinking coffee in the Army anyway.

I look toward the window. The small chip in the window pane is still there, but the autumn freezes have made it spread. Its veins have stretched close to six inches from tip to tip.

Once the brewer finishes, I fill two mugs with coffee and a cup with water. There’s no cream or sugar, but it’s all right. I don’t want to drink it at all if I can’t drink it straight. It takes two trips to bring the three drinks out, and I spill a good deal of coffee onto my hands when I try to bring out two cups at a time. The two men try to help me, but I refuse.

They let me sit while they begin their presentation, which goes over necessary information concerning Emily’s death and what financial and legal discourse it leaves me with.

They make it clear I’m immune from having to serve. Each leaves his drink untouched except for a few courtesy sips. They are on business. I sip my coffee. It’s scalding hot, but I drink it anyway. I’m a cripple who married a virgin who widowed me. The least I can do is drink her drink. I try to cry, if not for myself than for the men in front of me. I want to cry, but the only thing I can keep my focus on is the coffee. It tastes like watered-down ashes.

I almost don’t realize the men getting up to leave. I’ve tuned out of the last several minutes of their presentation. I hobble on my crutches to get the door for them. It’s 12:28. The two men pass Chad on the way down the walkway. Chad drops to his knees at the sight of them. I feel shame. Chad’s cried at the death of my wife before I have. He looks at me as if pleading for me to not shut the door. I step out toward him.

“I’ve been trying to see you since you got back,” he says.

“I know. I found the bag. Do you want some coffee?”

“Can’t stand the stuff.”

I think of the coffee beans, how they’re picked, then blackened, then ground up to where they barely stay in a filter in order to maximize surface area. Chad’s been my best friend for more than half my life, but I can’t think of anything to say, so I ignore the blistering sensation as I gulp down the coffee. Regular. Drip. Black.

The Writer: Josh Divine holds a math degree from the University of Northern Colorado. He currently resides in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his wife and daughter. He will be attending Yale Law School beginning in the fall of 2013 and has authored one novel, "The Revival."

The Poet: Myles Katherine is a fine art photographer and painter based in Portland, Oregon. She specializes in medium format black and white film photography using a Holga GCFN. Her work includes double exposures and graphic layering that creates a surreal and ghostly atmosphere.Her work is mostly influenced by dreams, psychological conflict and personal attachment. By emphasizing the power of concepts such as social isolation, death, and memories she hopes to unravel a vulnerability in each viewer and force them to recognize and overcome their own psychological struggles. You can see more of her work at