Brody and Julia returned from their honeymoon, scooped up their terrier from the couple kind enough to dogsit for the ten days, and arrived at their apartment still resplendent in newlywed dew—until Brody leaned in to kiss Julia, and Tennis (named for the type of ball he loved to chase) let out an alarm of shrill barks. He’d never done this before. They soothed him with soft pets on the back, figuring him rattled from their absence. But when Brody cupped his new wife’s face in his hands the dog again shrieked in protest.
The couple who’d watched Tennis broke up viciously the next week. In those days Brody and Julia had been unable to touch each other in their dog’s presence, until Tennis was exiled to the bedroom, howling from beyond the plaster as they made love on the futon.
They tried various remedies—kissing each other while petting Tennis, Julia repeating “it’s okay” as Brody stroked his wife’s cheek—but still the dog let out a piercing trill at every act of intimacy.
At last they gave him up to a family down the street, Julia crying and Brody beside himself as Tennis was handed over.
After that their friends remarked how amorous they seemed. But at home they never lost that carefulness they had developed, circumspect when they kissed, closing the bedroom door against the empty apartment when they had sex. They never saw the two dogsitters again, but carried their hurt in every move, eventually believing it had sealed their love like a bruise.
Tyler had a conference to attend just a couple weeks after he and Emily got married. “Bad timing,” he said. The second night of the conference, celebrating his paper’s decent reception, he ran into an old grad school flame at the hotel bar. It was the first test of his marriage and he failed it, clammy with regret within moments of coming inside her.
No point in any weak attempt at lying: he confessed to Emily as soon as he walked in the door. After her initial rage was spent he told her he felt a strange relief: gone were the years in which each would worry whether the other was being true, that smog of suspicion he’d heard overhung every marriage, darkening all moves with menace. He said he could not fault her if she slept with someone else, even, as he got carried away with his idea, encouraged it, so they could recommence their marriage on the even ground of unfaithfulness.
Emily told him and his wicked proposal to go to hell, but he was adamant, so that Friday night she removed her pristine wedding ring and headed to a club. She was quickly and repeatedly hit on. She considered the men buying her rounds or complimenting her dress, thought them attractive or un-, interesting or not, but liked none more than she had her husband, which she thought had been the point.
She arrived home to an overly expectant spouse. “Well?” Tyler asked.
“Slim pickings,” Emily said.
She went out the next Friday night. This time a man she found quite handsome bought her a vodka-soda, and after two more rounds did not reveal himself to be dull or delinquent. Emily accompanied him to his apartment, whooshed along by a gust of the adventure her husband had promised. But no sooner was there an erect foreign cock in play than she found the whole thing startling and wrong, and left still pulling on her bra.
“Nothing,” she told Tyler when she got home.
Emily continued to go out on Friday evenings, made some friends, spearheaded a girls’ night, bought tickets to plays and the ballet, met men but did little more than entertain herself with them. In his imbalance her husband became frantic, haranguing her nightly with questions of where she’d gone and what she’d done, sniffing her clothes for new colognes, scrutinizing her credit statements, unraveled by the very paranoia he’d schemed to avoid.
After they divorced Tyler told every willing ear how unreasonable she’d been.
Simone’s only request of the wedding DJ (friend of the groom) was for the love of god not to play that “let’s call the whole thing off” song. She’d heard it at the last three weddings she’d attended, and it was a hit with the seniors, but seemed to her deliriously bad luck. “You know they stay together in the end,” her fiancé told her when she’d brought it up. “I think they both order lobster in the last verse because it’s what he wants.” But nobody ever heard that part.
Wedding DJ Michael played it anyway, during that valley of receptions after the toasts, when elder couples reign. Parents and grandparents shuffled to the dance floor at the first schmaltz of potato-potahto. Her now-husband danced with one of his friends, leaving Simone alone with her bubbly.
It was a bad omen. They were transferring in a tiny Key West airport en route to their Costa Rican honeymoon spot when the second plane’s engine sputtered; no more flights were scheduled that afternoon; the next day’s were full; they forfeited the deposit on the hotel when they finally flew home.
Within days of their non-honeymoon Simone’s husband was laid off from his software company after a market dive took a chunk of its value. He assured friends he was zen about his unemployment. But six, seven, eight weeks of rejection, boredom, vulnerability scraped at his resolve. He started snapping at Simone. He threw a wine glass mid-argument, not at her, but its shattering shook her as if he had.
It rained when it wasn’t supposed to; their apartment leaked from the roof. It was as if their world were a dish into which someone kept tossing too much of a wrong ingredient.
One day Simone was found cringed on their living room floor, legs latched beneath her chin. “Everything’s gone wrong,” she sobbed into her knees.
For a moment he was her husband again. He squatted beside her, told her nothing was wrong. They were married, together, in trouble but not imperiled. Nothing they couldn’t survive.
“But if we were right for each other,” she said between breaths, “why would it feel like this?”
When she turned her husband had vanished and this recent stormperson appeared. “There’s no right or wrong,” he growled. “It’s all just chaos.”
This was new. Simone didn’t know her husband thought everything was chaos. “If that’s true, how do you build toward something?” she asked. “How can you count on anything?”
Even his shrug was angry. “You savor what you have in the moment. That’s all you can count on.”
This struck her as bullshit. But she considered that if she were adrift and exposed it might be the type of bullshit she would find comfortable, maybe even necessary.
Simone adopted her husband’s chaos theory. She took off sick from work to stay home with him; the illicitness of 11:00 a.m. sex thrilled them into bolder feats; they fucked in front of the sliding glass door, daring anybody across the street to watch. Their savings account was starving; still they dined at a downtown wine bar, feeding each other moldy cheeses. She bought a used bicycle and tried to keep up on those hours-long meanderings he’d formerly ridden alone, now the two of them making slick love at the trail’s peak, a symphony of sweat.
He emerged from his fugue. He’d been applying for all the wrong positions, he declared, underselling himself. He recast his resume, submitted to jobs he’d thought beyond his limits; a couple of weeks later he accepted an offer. The last of their finances went toward new office clothes, the old ones having withered in the closet. At last he was again the man with whom she’d fallen so astonishingly in love that, on their wedding day, they’d seemed one person maddeningly divided their whole lives at last divinely joined.
Simone definitely had no difficulty recognizing her husband when she came home the day before he was supposed to start his new job to arrange a sexy surprise and saw him savoring the moment inside the friend he’d danced with at their wedding.
She threw him out before he could grab the suits he’d blown the remnants of her money on. From the doorstep he begged: “Where am I going to go?”
“Don’t know,” she said. “It’s all chaos.”
Eventually Simone stopped blaming the song; it was just an omen, not the curse itself. Still—hadn’t she been right to forbid it? How differently would things have turned out had the DJ only listened to her? Who cares if the couple ordered lobster in the last verse; you don’t tempt the fates. You respect them. You study their signs. You learn. “Chaos” is bullshit. Knowing there’s a plan is the only way you start fighting it.
Evan McMurry is the Social Media Editor for ABC News. He graduated from Reed College and received his MFA from Texas State University-San Marcos. His fiction has appeared in Post Road and The American Drivel Review, and is forthcoming from Euphony, Corvus Review and Mulberry Fork Review.