Humpty Dumpty: Wednesday

For the previous entries in Will Henderson’s “Humpty Dumpty” series, click here.

Good morning. Take time today and do something for you. Go to Costco. Buy strawberries. Wash them. Take them outside. Sit in the sun. Close your eyes. Taste red. Failing that, compliment a stranger.

I will do that, sir. Thanks.

I take Avery to daycare. He asks for chocolate and I give him a piece. He eats the chocolate quickly, and when he finishes, he asks for more. His lips are brown. I take a video of him asking for chocolate. I send the video to you and Holly.

No more D?

Avery has not asked for you in a few days. Maybe he’s forgetting you. I sidestep your question.

During my lunch break, I come over to the park near where you work with some Sharpies to mark a new bench for us. You have been at work more than six hours, so I don’t expect to see you outside.

I hadn’t thought about what to write. I don’t look at our old bench. I don’t want to re-write I wish you wonder. I’m not sure if the phrase still fits. So I write lyrics from an Amanda Palmer song on the bench: And it is getting harder to pretend that life goes on without you in the wake.

I write the words and I know they are true. I’m tired of telling people that I’m OK. I’m tired of hearing people tell me that I will be OK. I want to not be OK until I can be OK. I want to grieve for our relationship until I no longer have to grieve. I may no longer be proficient at the ending of relationships, but I don’t want to just forget about you. I don’t want to just jump into the arms of the first man who says hello to me. I don’t want to be fixed up with a colleague’s friend of a friend. I want to go through the end and come out the other side and be better for it. You and I are talking, I think. That’s a start.

I reach for my phone so I can take a picture of the bench and send it to you. I look up. You’re walking toward me. You saw me first, I think, and you’re still walking toward me. I stand still.

Hi, you say. Hi, I say. I haven’t seen you in more than three weeks, and you look the same, and I think I look thinner, and I want to touch you and make sure that you’re real.

I’m sorry, I say. I didn’t think I would run into you.

You told me to sit outside and eat strawberries, you say.

I know, I say. But I figured you had had your lunch hours ago.

It’s been a busy day, you say.

We’re standing close enough to touch. You look down. I look down. We’re wearing the same pair of shoes. You chuckle. I smile. I say I have to go. You say OK. You move toward me and you hug me. The hug is brief, but your arms feel right, and I inhale, and I don’t smell your lotion, and then you’re not hugging me and I’m not sure what to say and I tell you I’ll talk to you later. I walk to my car. I don’t look back.

Too much? I know you didn’t want to see me.

True, I didn’t want to see you yet, but it wasn’t that bad. The park kind of feels like a neutral territory. It is a nice Amanda-esque sentiment. How are you?

I’m good. A little stunned. A little like, really, universe? Cosmic jokes all around. Are you OK?

Crying a bit, but OK.

I’m sorry. My therapist says you don’t fall in love in a day and you don’t fall out of love in a day. But that’s not even my problem.

I could have turned around and walked back; it’s fine.

You could have.

What’s not your problem? It figured we were meant to talk. Just like sometimes I should just get in the car and shut up.

Yes, I think. Sometimes you should just get in the car and shut up.

My feelings for you aren’t my problem. I can’t get the voice in my heart to stop screaming that we needed this to happen to stop pretending, to become real. I wasn’t going to change on my own. And I just want to kiss you to see if you still taste like home.

I told you I want to be friends and it will take time.

I know. But that just seems like a waste, kind of. But it’s fine.

I still love you, and I always will.

I know. That’s what sucks. It’s like we have the pieces to put it back together but.

It’s a lot. It is and it was.

I know.

It’s difficult. It’s difficult.

I guess I just feel it’s all out there now and we just need to find each other again.

I worry that I won’t trust you like I need to be able to do.

I’m willing to earn your trust. We have time. My life was and is a lot, but before I met you, I wasn’t living. And despite your inner voice, I think the same held true for you. Until you text again, I love you.

I meet a former editor of mine for coffee. I come out to him. He welcomes me to the family, tells me I look better than he’s ever seen me, and listens with an appropriate amount of interest and concern to the parts of my story I tell him. I ask him if he thinks there is a story in all of this, and he says there is. Work on it, Will, he tells me. I think there is definitely something there.

When I get back to my office, I call you. I need to tell you that I am thinking about writing our story. It might be a book, I tell you, or maybe a magazine article. But I can’t not write it.

That sounds good, you tell me, and then you say you have to go.

I’m glad about your article/book. Sorry if I seemed short, but people were around me. I thought something bad had happened since you called.

You didn’t say anything about skinner, glowier rabbit.

You look much healthier and happier; it’s true. I commented as much as I felt appropriate at the time. So will I get an advance copy of our story?

You lived it. That’s about as advanced as you get. You’re living it. You know. I write to figure stuff out. I’ve written hundreds of pages now. I just handed over about 25 and shared the story and I wait.

I’d like to see it in words. I am sure it will be more than a story, and I understand that it will be written from your point of view.

I don’t think I’m innocent. I never thought that. I don’t play the victim.

I wasn’t talking about that. Only simply that it would be written by your eyes. I will hold information I as the other party never knew was going on.

There’s really not much you don’t know.

I didn’t know you were married to Holly. There’s a lot I don’t know. You told me once when I said that I felt like you were hiding something that you were an open book. This can be your open-book chance. I don’t mean now. I mean the story you give to them if and when it comes to that.

When Holly told me you could only find one glove, I was on a treadmill going nowhere at 4.5 miles per hour, and we were going to end up with half of a matching set, which is what I think we are as people, and I thought that was the right end.

I like that.

But you found the glove, so it doesn’t work. And it doesn’t change that I think we’re a matched set.

It took a lot of searching in my closet. I started to clean it immediately after that.

You should have kept it up after I did it. My feelings were hurt. I had spent hours doing that. But it’s your closet and your mess so I kept my mouth shut. I just can’t imagine living like that.

It’s how my closet has been for a while now. Old habits …

Your system works for you. Old habits. That’s my line for not telling you everything. And really, it’s just the legal nature I omitted. Everything else I told you about the relationship is true.

I guess I learned that marriage is really important to me. The idea of it being forever, and if it doesn’t work, you need to fix it or the situation. I don’t think marriage works with three people. Are you honestly content with a friendship with me?

No. But I think that that’s what you’ll need now if we are ever to move forward together. I don’t think it’s impossible. I would be content sitting and talking to you for a while. Answering your questions, listening to how you feel, and seeing what’s there or not there. I don’t want to be married to two people.

I am not ready for a Will speech. I know you could sell me a boat because I love you.

This is the first time you have said you love me since we broke up, and not in terms of always loving me and Avery. My heart soars. You love me. I knew you loved me. I knew we had a chance. I knew.

I want to be married to you, co-parenting two children with Holly.

Right now I have a lot going on: potential job or second job hunting, buying a car (because that was the intent and already in the works because of Ave).

You tell me you’re considering looking for work at Panera. I stop texting. I call you.

Really, I ask. You’re thinking about a second job, and at Panera? What I want to say is why? Why don’t you aim higher?

I’m going to need extra money, if I’m going to buy a car.

You’re in human resources, I say. You don’t need to go backward and start making coffee again.

I’m just thinking about it.

We don’t say anything for a minute, and then you tell me that you bought a Wii.

Holly’s keeping our Wii, I say.

You’re done with work. You’re on your way home. I tell you I have yoga. I tell you that I will be done with yoga at 6:30 and ask if you will meet me at a Starbucks. Don’t give me an answer, and don’t text me your answer. I will not have my phone, I say. I will walk past Starbucks and I will see you if you are there and I won’t see you if you aren’t there.

You say OK.

I say have a good night. I hang up.

Before I leave for yoga, I write you a letter. I know you said you weren’t ready for a Will speech, but I think we are one Will speech away from getting it right. You’ll read the letter. Maybe reading a speech will be better than hearing one.

I enjoy my yoga class, though I am not fully present. I think that you won’t be at Starbucks. I think you will text me later and say you’re not ready, but you will thank me for inviting you, and we will talk about my yoga class. I get closer and my heart is racing and I want you to be there and I pass by and there is no one sitting outside and I sigh. Next time, I think.

Have fun with your Wii tonight.

Did you look inside? Did you look at our spot?

I turn around. I see your back in the window. You came.

You are sitting in a chair you had claimed as yours a few months ago. The chair I had claimed as mine is empty. I put my bag down and you are reading a book and drinking coffee and I ask you if you need anything and you say no. You are wearing clothes I recognize. I don’t want to stare, but I do and you have on a new necklace, and you have shaved your head since I saw you earlier, and I still think you’re beautiful and I wonder what you would do if kissed you.

I order tea and I bring my cup over to you and I sit in the chair next to you and I say hi and you say hi and I think for the first time since we started talking again that we’re going to be OK.

We talk for an hour. We look at each other. We look for changes, differences, moments we missed, or at least this is what I think we’re doing. You’re wearing different keys around your neck. You look mostly the same. I am in gym clothes. I never wore gym clothes when we were together. I’m in sneakers. I never wore sneakers when we were together. You show me your bag. You had ironed on a Union Jack patch I had given you. You ask about the gym and yoga. You ask about Avery. You tell me about a book you’re reading. We talk more about your job hunt. We talk about your Wii.

I ask if you’re planning to use the small television in the living room, and you say that a friend is moving back home to be with his family and he is selling you his television. I say you may need to get connectors so you can have color. I know this may be true because Holly and I needed to get special connectors in order to play games in color. You say you didn’t know that and that you will look for the right connectors.

You tell me that you want to figure out how to have me in your life. You say you need to have me and Avery in your life, but you don’t know what that will entail. You don’t want to lose us.

You tell me that you’re not even supposed to be there.

What do you mean?, I say.

The restraining order.

I thought it had expired, I say. I haven’t received notice of it being extended.

It’s in place for a year, you say. I showed up; you didn’t. I’ll have to tell you later what that day was like.

OK, I say.

I wait for you to tell me how we reverse or overturn the restraining order. I wait for you to say you don’t feel you need a restraining order. But you don’t. You’re sitting with me and you’re close enough to touch and yet you are unwilling to address the unnecessary restraining order you took out against me. I know Erin would say the restraining order gives you power. And I think you need to feel you have power in order to even talk to me. I do not like thinking that you feel you need to have power in order to even talk to me. I want to tell you that all I have is yours, I want to say. Take it. Take me. Try.

Holly and I are having a daughter, I say. Aurora. I don’t tell you that I know you already know. I wait for you to tell me that you know, but you don’t.

You had mentioned that name as a possibility.

We have decided to give her a middle name that begins with the letter S, so that Avery and Aurora will have the same initials. Holly likes Simone, but Aurora Simone sounds too much like Au Revoir Simone, and I can’t do that to myself.

Really?, you ask.


So I’ve been approved for a car loan. Mum needs to fax some paperwork to the store. I have to stop there on my way home. I guess I’ll look for those cables while I’m there.

We have finished our tea. You get a phone call. A friend needs some technical support. You tell her you will call her back later. I think you’ve asked someone to call you to give you a reason to leave.

I have to go, you say. You look at the coffee mug you had used. The mug is a Clover mug and cute. You say you are going to take it. You look around and I laugh and you put the mug in your bag and put a shirt on top of the mug.

We could make a habit of going to different Starbucks in the area after yoga on Wednesdays and stealing mugs, I say. We can create a map of all of the Starbucks and tick them off each week.

That sounds like a good idea.

I think these mugs will be the mugs we use to tell our story.

We walk outside and you look at me and I look at you and you hug me and I hug you and you do not smell like yourself. I give you the letter. It’s not a speech, I say. Just words on a piece of paper.

I’ll read it later and text you, you say.

I just read the letter. I need space, and I want to be able to talk about things and see how us as friends works. I need you to be prepared for the fact that I may only want friendship with you in the end. I can’t say right now and I’m not comfortable pushing myself to make a black and white decision about the future and what it holds or doesn’t hold. I think friends is a goal we need to attain first. I need to feel like I can let you back into my house. I don’t feel like that right now.

OK. We’ve taken on water. But we haven’t sunk. Goodnight, D. Thank you for your honesty. I love you, and I look forward to discovering who you are as my friend.

I know we haven’t sunk. If we’d sunk then we wouldn’t be talking. But a few days of texting and coffee is only the start. You will have to earn my trust again, and that’s not going to be easy, and I’m not going to lie and say it would be. Night rabbit.

I think that I will have to learn how to trust you again too. You lied about snorting pills. You felt protecting your friend was more important than being honest with the man you said you wanted to marry. You were already growing interested in someone else. How do I forgive that? Can I forgive that? Do you even realize that I know? I think that if you’re going to be in my life and around my children, then you’re going to need to get sober. I think about telling you this, since you feel telling me how little you trust me is appropriate, but I do not.

If it/we were easy, I wouldn’t fight for it/us. I’d rather build a foundation that may support forever then just say the words. You’re just going to have to take the lead on this. I won’t know what’s too much/not enough until you tell/show me.

I think the focus should be on your life and finding out what and who you are when you’re alone. You need the space and time to be ready for the next step in life. I may be the next step eventually, but I’m not the next step for you right now. I think that the words are: Maybe he came too late or maybe too soon. It’s all in due time, rabbit. There is no fast-lane on this one.

I kind of don’t want a fast lane.

You realize that even if we eventually get back together that you still have my friends’ trust to gain back as well.

As you would have Holly’s.

Why would Holly not trust me?

I do not tell you that she will not let a drug addict raise her children. I think I should tell you this, if only to see what you will say.

I didn’t take you away from her because I didn’t even know that was a possibility.

She wants me to be happy. She wants the kids happy. She knows I’m going to find that with a man. I was already away from her when you and I met.

This timeline was not in our plan. Life is life. It’s messy and it doesn’t always go our way.

Holly and I were selfish. Neither one of us wanted to give up Avery time, so we struggled. But I think it’s possible, even just as friends, that we may look back and say from that point everything was different.

Which doesn’t always mean [the universe] doesn’t go and decide what’s actually best for us without asking …

I think to be your partner and best friend, I needed to break down. I wish I could have done it without hurting you. But I needed the crisis.

I’m tired, rabbit. My mind hurts. Night.

* * * * *

William Henderson has written for local and national newspapers and magazines, including the Advocate; the Boston Globe; and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He earned a Bachelor of Science in Journalism & Communications from the University of Florida, and a Master’s in Fine Arts from Emerson College, where he studied creative non-fiction. He earned a Hearst Award in profile writing in 1998, and various awards from the Washington Press Association, Florida Press Association, and the New England Press Association. Currently, he is a freelance writer, editor, and copyeditor, and a full-time father to his children, Avery and Aurora. He can be reached at and through his blog, Henderson House of Cards.

His other Snake-Oil contributions are here.


Gazebo Dreams

Morningside slide: vaulted arbor in foreground with stairs leading up to gazebo by Mrs. William G. Bush


e planned to ask her to marry him in the white wedding cake of a gazebo in the back garden, off the terrace. Nobody else was home that day, except the gardener, who didn’t count, and the maids, who counted even less. Frizi was nervous, and kept wiping his sweaty palms on his trousers, leaving dark patches on the gray flannel. He wished he had worn his sailor’s bellbottoms instead, but hadn’t wanted to get grass stains on the crisp white linen.

He toyed with the ring in his pocket, hoping it would fit her finger. It would spoil the romance if he had to jam it over her plump knuckle, or if it were too loose and dropped into the shrubbery. To control his shaking, he tried to make light conversation until the right moment. He wasn’t sure when that would be.

“It was a nice moon last night.”

She nodded, gazing down at an ant struggling to drag a leaf ten times its own size.

“So bright you couldn’t even see the stars.”

“Yes.” The ant was heading towards the edge of the stops. Would it fall off or turn and keep going?

“Delia, I…” Fritzi’s throat was as dry as his hands were wet.  He saw the curve of her breast beneath her yellow silk blouse, and desire stuck to the roof of his mouth.

She heard his hoarse breathing and lowered her head, concentrating fiercely on the ant’s progress. The leaf dipped over the edge of the step, threatening to take the ant with it. She could almost hear it panting with effort.

Fritzi tried again. “From the first time I laid you –“

Her head swung up and she fixed him with a glassy stare.

Oh God, what did I just say? He fumbled, “I mean, laid my eyes on you, I’ve loved you. Delia, will you – will you—marry me?”

The ant teetered, hung suspended in the air still clutching the leaf, and tumbled onto the concrete walkway. She could see it lying there on its back, legs kicking, smothering in something that wasn’t meant to be.

* * * * *

This post is one in a series of works inspired by the Smithsonian Institution’s photo archive, made publicly available on Flickr. If you would like to, choose an image from their collection and create something – be it prose, poetry, audio, or visual art – inspired by it, and send it to snakeoilcure [at] gmail [dot] com.

Siu Wai Stroshane is a published writer and longtime admirer of the Elephant Man. She has works in several anthologies, both on-line and in print, including, “The Forbidden Stitch: An Asian American Women’s Anthology, winner of the 1990 National Book Award (Calyx, 1989), and “A Ghost at Heart’s Edge: Stories and Poems of Adoption (North Atlantic Books, 2002).

 Her publications at Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

In Half

‘m his darling, and he hates my dog. Which sucks because Bruno is my canine angel, and his breath is like a rancid something wonderful. A rank pie.

To love that is something.

This has something to do with the hum of a day so long it becomes a week. I sip burning liquors to please him. My man lives for the expression of fine, fine spirits.
He says his sister really had wings, and that is how she died, she believed it. They all did, he said, the kids. They were kids of course.

I believed my own sister flew when I was young, so I understood. This had something to do with the freak who lives inside many of us, always wearing a hat and seeing things from a corner of the room – one with a tiny problem, a tiny bend in the rim.

That is childhood.

But now, for example, the fullness of dog breath, unlike the silent empty stomach pain when the phone doesn’t ring, is telling the truth. Neutral things bore me, like when he says he does not like mustard. Because he does not eat meat and vegetarians have no need for go-getter garnishes. Fake yellow dye, food coloring, toxins, free radicals, fear of cancer seems to take up so many of his living hours.

My man is a fine liquor connoisseur. His words swirl around me deadly as sneaker wave every time he laughs.

“Fancy that,” he says, “unbroken shells”. He listens to shells from my collection carefully for the sound of the ocean, though the ocean is only blocks away.

The days we see each other, I want to litter the grass and not care. A dog would never ask one to define the difference between absinthe and ouzo, tiny descriptive words that make somebody feel stupid if they don’t get it right.

Something Bad and Stingy

ell, what do you think?” she asked, serious as boiling water. “Wait, you’re doing it again right now, I can tell.”

The light filtered through the restaurant windows and played across her face, like seaweed undulating on the ocean floor, or maybe more like dolphins swimming in the open sea.

“You asshole,” she hissed. “You’re thinking about the wind or the light, or something.”

Other diners turned to stare with the hypocritical disgust of Roman spectators at a chariot race.

“No,” he finally snapped out of it, like a wasp pulling its way out of flowing amber. “No, I wasn’t.”

“You could tell I wanted to have a serious talk and you started narrating your overblown prose in your head. You’ve been doing that for months.” Her voice was lilting, sonorous like a kestrel in an airplane hangar.

“You were, I want to talk, and you’re daydreaming your way out of the conversation.” Her voice was hurt now, delicate as a hummingbird’s wings.

He picked up his fork like it was a life jacket. “Let’s just eat.”

“You’re never here, in the present.” She spat her words out like a howitzer.

“Of course I’m here, babe,” he said defensive as a lamb. He tried on a fake smile. “You read the new Franzen, yet?”

“God, you’re not even pretending to listen to me.” Disappointment edged into her voice like poisoned honey dripping from a spoon. “Six months, and when I talk about it getting serious you shut down. I can see you figuring out how you’re going to write this scene later, in some fake memoir you’ll never start.”

Her words stung him like, like, like something bad and stingy.

“I’m really into you,” he said lamely.

“No, you’re not. Narrate this: he was as alone as an asshole in the woods.”

She walked out and left him behind to pay the bill.

Dear John

While waiting for you
to grease a neglected chain,
I chipped my front tooth
on the hard plastic lip of a water bottle.
Oh, then I hated you.
I spit the shard of my enamel
onto the driveway
and kept my mouth shut.

I was born with the potential
for that tooth!—
back in the silent times
before signs took root
before the world held
nothing, nothing, nothing.
I could weave straw
into baskets or gold
and either would be a better use
for what is now on your driveway.

We test each other,
man and woman—
and I could never love
a man whose bike
needs a kickstand.