Grumpy Attempts the Expresser-Inquirer Method Learned in Couples Counseling

This story is paired with “Snow White” from Children’s and Household Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. For best experience, download the LithoReader for your iPhone or iPad and get NonBinary Review for free. 


You moved the napkin dispenser again. I thought we agreed to keep the dispenser within reach of my seat, but now it is in the middle of the table—a cruel thing to do to a man in a wheelchair. Okay, I’ve never actually been in a wheelchair, but the napkins are unreachable. I realize that this act was not spiteful or even deliberate, but an unconscious (though still emasculating) reminder that I am not particularly tall.

Also, I cannot find the pepper.

But the real issue about which I wish to express my fear and loneliness, the part that leaves me unspeakably lonely and reduces our world to a tiny room with tiny spoons and tiny chairs, is this: Earlier today when I asked you whether you thought evil was an acceptable consequence of free will, you replied, despite the hundred-million victims of mass murder in the previous century alone, that humans are, but for a few exceptional monsters like your stepmother, inherently good.

Stupidly, I wondered aloud whether your stepmother—with her beauty and her cunning, her swanky cape and red lips, her elaborate disguises and superb impersonations, her imagination and creativity, and her wild dance at our wedding reception—simply stole your story, upstaging you precisely when it was your turn to be the cutie of the castle. I mean, “Mirror, Mirror on the Wall…” It’s brilliant!

At this, a familiar sheet of glass rose between us. And yet, I was not trying to demean you. Much, much to the contrary. You chat with people on the streetcar. You sample organic fruit slices from plastic containers at the farmer’s market, regardless of the swarm of sticky, snacky toddlers and the recent whereabouts of their fingers. Your openness to strangers leaves me feeling small and ungenerous.

Still, it would be nice if occasionally we could reach beyond the simple past and present. I’m glad that our kitchen is a mutual G-spot, but I would be gladder still if afterward we could sometimes linger, maybe postpone mopping up the olive oil until we’ve had a chance to dream a little. This afternoon as I moaned in your ear, I felt you alphabetizing the spice rack beyond my shoulder.

The pepper. I see it now, between the parsley and the poppy seeds.

Look, you were not planning to marry a loudmouth lunch-bucket like me. I’m fond of my pipe. I wear an absurd nightcap. I talk loud, fast, and too much. My four-day beard is loathsome to you except when it’s exfoliating your back. Your friends describe me the way a prince might describe his brandy: “a rustic, assertive character.”

And I was not planning on a wife who harmonizes with the coffee-grinder. Every. Single. Blessed. Morning.

Okay Snow, I’ve “expressed,” as our therapist calls it. It is your turn now, and I beseech you on bended knee, to place your hunted heart in my rough, imperfect hands and let me—really let me—inquire.


lisa-k-buchananFiction and essays by Lisa K. Buchanan have appeared in Brevity (blog), Fourth Genre, The Missouri Review, Narrative, New Letters, and The Rumpus. She lives and teaches in San Francisco.