Give me the first word that comes to mind, she says, pen pressed to the magazine page.
They sit at the small kitchen table, waiting for the oven to warm their dinner.
He says nothing, his attention hard to his new cell phone as he works through its features.
She says his name, says, What word comes to mind?
Nine p.m., both are fresh home from work. Both are tired. In eighteen days, they marry. The apartment’s a mess. They’re out of stamps, have bills to mail.
He looks up at her. Any word? he asks.
The first, she says.
He thinks. Accoutrement, he says.
She studies him, her husband to be, and knows everything about him. Still, at times, she can’t figure him out. I mean a real word, she says. An American word.
It is a real word.
Well, it’s not a word I’d use in every day talk, she says. She gets up, opens the oven door to check on their meal. Heat and the smells of food that’s lived too long in the freezer vapors over her face. She closes the oven door, the food needing a minute more. I’m not even sure I know what accoutrement means, she says.
It means accessories, trappings, he says. It’s all the bits and pieces that come with something. Why did I get this? he asks, setting the cell phone down. What was my reason for having interest in something so complicated?
The kitchen’s scarred linoleum floor curls slightly at the wall. After they’d lived together for eight months, she issued him an ultimatum: marriage or move out. He took a week to decide. Their wedding registry is at Target. She’s always dreamt of being a bride, envisioned being proposed to in a hot air balloon high over the river, and then heading to Paris. She’d been handed a hundred-dollar engagement ring at the Steak & Shake. Gatlinburg is where they’re honeymooning.
She sits back down to her magazine. Gatlinburg, she thinks. She hates telling people where they’re going after the wedding. Gatlinburg? they say. Why Gatlinburg?
You know what I think is really unattractive? he asks, fiddling with his phone again. Women who wear pantyhose over an ankle bracelet. I mean, are they so busy, so rushed, that they can’t take ten seconds to unclasp the ankle bracelet before putting on their pantyhose?
She notices her nail polish is chipped. She has to fix her nails. Listen, she says, this quiz scores our life-mate rating, and you’re not helping. It may sound silly to you but it’s important to me. If we’re going to be together then I need you to be serious about this.
He places his palms to the table. Life-mate rating?
It’s a bit late for that, isn’t it? he asks. Compatible or not, the wedding’s in three weeks.
Eighteen days, she says.
He stands to check on the food. So now you’re getting relationship advice from a fashion magazine, he says.
She clicks her pen twice, makes a note on the magazine page. I don’t want this to be a problem. You’re making this a problem.
He says nothing, pulls the food from the oven, then sets a roll of paper towel on the table. Opening the cabinet, he looks for plates. There are no clean dishes? he asks.
Everything’s in the sink, she says. Wash a couple.
It’s one of the things she dislikes about him, the fact he doesn’t wash the dishes often enough. She also doesn’t like the fact that he says I’m from Indiana like it’s an excuse, like it excuses him from what he’s done.
He pulls two big coffee mugs from the cabinet, dishes the food in them, and then sets them on the table. Ketchup? he asks.
What is this? she asks of the meal before her.
I can’t eat this, she says. Not like this, in a mug. It makes me feel like—
She breaks off.
It makes you feel like what? he asks, sitting across from her.
She shakes her head, doesn’t answer. Her eyes cup with tears. Eighteen days until she’s married and she’s eating frozen food from a coffee mug.
What the hell? he asks. Why are you crying?
She pulls a paper towel off the roll, wipes her face. I’m fine, just tired, she says.
Jesus Christ, okay, he says, and reaches across the table, takes the magazine from her. He looks through the questions. So this quiz gauges whether I’m a good love-mate? he asks.
Life-mate, she says.
He taps the magazine with his finger. This isn’t my favorite color, he says.
Since forever. Here, he says, taking the pen from her. He crosses out her first answer, writes something else. He does the same for the third, the fifth, and the ninth question. He looks at his wife-to-be, then writes something for the last question. A word. The first word that comes to mind.