sporklet 9

Martha Witt


Singapore. For months, I’d speak it under my breath or in the beat between two sentences. Expert now, I sluice letters from respectable concatenations, coaxing the word to life just below the surface of phrases such as, “Since you are up, Grace, can you pour the water?” Shards of Singapore glinting through. Do you know about the clay eaters? Southerners with such a hankering they turn pale and bloated swallowing dirt to scrounge out minerals. My Geophagy leads me to say crap aloud till I’ve pronounced every beautiful letter, all nine winking for me alone. There’s a good chance that portmanteau words once lived isolated and invisible before finding each other and coupling for safety: No-dice, Rag-tag, Devil’s Advocate. I am determined that Singapore operate, eventually, as metaphor.




Grace calls. She is sobbing on the phone, telling me her dog has been hit by a car. This is tragic. I know that a lover must speak with care at such a time. Be generous and calm. But with such heady stuff stuffing my head, I lose control, and the word bings out of its own accord: Singapore.

“What? You’re back to that habit again, Gary? What is your problem?”

If only language could continue evolving, even after the line’s gone dead.

Foundations of Loneliness

Britney pulls the next batch of cheeseballs from the oven. But where is her pretty dish? Opening the cabinet for a last search, she finds it smack in front of her: the teal glass exactly the shade of the bridesmaids’ dresses at her best friend’s wedding, which was where she’d first tasted this variation of cheese ball and quickly secured the recipe from a disloyal caterer. Seizing on its color, Britney bought the dish for the sole purpose of serving cheeseballs. She hadn’t told Greg about her particular associations with this piece of crockery. But why would she? Where would intimacy end if pushed to such microscopic levels? There had to be limits. Before marriage, it seemed unfathomable to die with her millions of tiny, undisclosed stories intact, the logic for the smallest actions and choices gone to the grave.

Cheese balls beautifully arranged, she steps into the living room. To their guests—to her own husband—Britney is merely holding a pretty dish. She smiles as one tiny strand of narrative dissolves back into the subcutaneous soup of anecdotes too insignificant to share, occasionally manifesting as “moods” or “sensations,” the dangerous stuff lovers stoke without comprehending, the biological foundation of loneliness.

“Here they are,” Britney cheers, forcing a smile. “My famous cheeseballs.” She places her dish on the coffee table.

“Oh, Sweetie, they are even more gorgeous than the first batch,” Greg declares, reaching forward and plucking two from her careful arrangement.



The Professors

There’s a relief that comes with revealing things down to their minutiae; small gasps of relief that make space in the bedroom for the proverbial elephant. I do have a good husband. He’s the kind that does not speak immediately after being asked a question. This is a quality worthy of love, the bone-quality kind. Even the review of his book in Vanity Fair a few months back mentions his “patient manner”—close enough to what I mean. I was surprised to find that a man had written the article because there are certain ways of noticing that I associate with the female lens. I stand corrected. The article was about his newest book Transcending Translations. He’s got nine books out altogether, all of them well-received, and it’s simply too late to admit the truth, which would require so much untangling.

First of all, they all—my sisters included--believe his parents died in a fire while he was finishing graduate school. We waited a good two years for the news of their deaths to stop rocking the academic world. The collective gaze slowly turned towards my poor Gregory, their intellectual successor, who’d been a pretty mediocre student, all told. It was a large load for my husband. But we faked their deaths for precisely this result. I confess that the idea of keeping his parents in the attic, of keeping them productive, was mine. I won’t go into how the kidnapping played out. Suffice it to say, we fixed up the attic so—walking in—anyone not predisposed to cynicism would call it “comfy” and “homey.” Of course, no one but Gregory and I ever visit. My in-laws have all the books they need; Gregory has access to the entire university library; in reality, he’s their research grunt, though he’s asked me not to call him that. “Runt,” I say instead, playfully, to his mock-hurt expression.

We got them new typewriters (they still use typewriters!). Luckily, we had the foresight to create a soundproof floor; otherwise, we would have gotten a real earful that first week of their captivity. But we’ve had no troubles for years now. There are days I go up simply to press my ear against the door and listen to them scratch and tap away at what will eventually be published under Gregory’s name and hailed as his newest opus. He’s handsome and good at all the glad-handing, which neither of his parents liked or knew how to manage; the four of us are a perfect team. They'd agree if they weren't so stubborn. I smile. Then I hear my mother-in-law call my name. Through the door, I hear “Delia?” I don’t answer, but she does not need confirmation of my presence. Her voice, full of bitter tease, says, “Delia, we love it here.”

My father-in-law chimes in, “No phones, no mail, no bills to pay. Just our work.”

“You will never know this contentment. Empty of vanity. You can’t ever have that,” she says, a curse, a spear straight to the heart.


Once a month, she came to dinner. That particular evening, I’d drunk two glasses of Pinot Noir and felt a wave of warmth towards my friend. “I’d see you more often if it didn’t entail so much cleaning and preparation beforehand. A day with a guest to host is a day when no art gets done.”

“We could always meet in a restaurant,” she said, but not seriously. The anxiety of spending money posed an even greater danger to artmaking.

“How about we make a pact? We will start seeing each other once a week, but neither of us cleans house for the other. We will cook the simplest meal possible, but before a scheduled dinner, we will do absolutely no extra cleaning. We continue to work until the other person knocks on the door.”

“Love it,” she said, toasting my brilliance.

The next week, I went to her house. “What a wreck your place is,” I praised. “Thank you for setting our bar so low.”

Indeed, when she visited me the next week, I didn’t touch a thing until we sat down to eat and, using my entire forearm, I swept a pile of laundry to the other side of the table, making room for our plates. “Wonderful,” she said. “This is terrific.”

“How did work go today?” I asked. She smiled and nodded.

The next week, upon entering, I smelled an orangey scent and suspected the floor had been recently mopped. “Did you mop?” I asked, because that was the kind of relationship I’d been gunning for: honest and straightforward. She shook her head, but I perceived the blush on her cheeks and noticed that she never went so far as to say, “No, I did not.” The wine flowed as usual, and dinner conversation soon turned raucous, but I left early that evening.

The week after that, my eyes drifted from chapter eight of my novel-in-progress to the grimy arms of my old sleeper sofa. I live with that sofa every day, but, even so, it’s shabbiness is not lost on me. Imagine how such a thing might strike a person walking into my home after two weeks away! I’m just taking a break, I thought, pulling out my pair of rubber gloves, a stain remover, and a sponge. Rubbing those sofa arms offered me a cathartic half an hour before she arrived. In fact, I lost track of time and scrambled to stash the gloves and product underneath my sink at the sound of her knock. Those arm rests must have been one of the spots she’d staked out to measure my honesty; her gaze narrowed, sliding from the right arm rest to the left one. My voice came out more loudly than expected, “Come in, come in,” I boomed. “It’s been a good work day for me, but I’m starving. Let’s eat!”

She asked me about the novel. “It’s a good sign, I guess,” I said, “when the plot takes a turn for the weird. It means I’m swept up.”

The next week, her hallway rug was so clean that I saw it was an Alcaraz with a small dog worked into the details. I suspected for the first time that my friend came from a good deal of money.

We did not laugh much that evening. I had a third glass of wine, which I never do, and then my head really did hurt, so I took my leave.

The next week, I got up early. I added one sentence to Chapter 12. Assuring myself that one fine sentence could count as a day’s work, I rose from my desk and attacked the pile of laundry on the table. Seamlessly, I moved from folding to scrubbing, wiping, and, finally, putting away. The shabbiness persisted, but anything that could possibly shine, shone. Feeling simultaneously sad and vindicated, I poured myself a glass of wine and awaited her arrival.

“I’m afraid I cannot stay this evening,” she announced after barely a minute, the glint from every object in my house reflected in her eyes.

Martha Witt is the author of the novel, Broken As Things Are (Holt; 2004/Picador; 2005). In collaboration with Mary Ann Frese Witt, she translated Luigi Pirandello's plays Six Characters in Search of an Author (Italica Press, 2013), as well as Henry IV and The License (Italica Press 2015). Her short fiction is included in several literary journals as well as anthologies. She is currently an Associate Professor of English and Creative Writing at William Paterson University in Wayne, NJ.