A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon is Over

A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon is Over – Jessica Jacobs

As big around as my bike helmet and high as my ankle, the box turtle
was halfway from my side of the road
to the other. The warm sun felt delicious;
my legs, strong, and it was almost
to the center line. I hadn’t been passed by a car
for miles. Figuring if it was still there, I’d pick it up
on the way back, I cycled past. 

                                                                                             Years before,
the woman across the street was shaped like that turtle,
or more like a toadstool, really, squat bell
of a body atop the thin stalks of her legs, milky and bare
beneath her frayed black housedress. It hurt her to move—clear
even from my second-story window—so she brought
her trash out in increments, in small, bursting
grocery bags. She tossed each out the door onto the porch, then
nudged them, one step to the next, before easing—carefully,
painfully—herself down, a step at a time. Then she toed them,
finally, slowly, slowly into a crumpled heap at the curb. I left
my window to help; then took her trash out every other week after.
                                                                                              That story—
                                                                                  I hadn’t yet
                                                                                              told it to my wife, had I?

                               But there was the turnaround
quicker than expected and I spun
to find a beat-down bus trailed by all the fuming cars
that hadn’t passed me. 
                                         Steadying my handlebars against the wind,
I rode back hard, dodging around crushed
squirrels and tire-splayed birds.
                                                                        The turtle
was just where I’d left it, but with the top of its shell
torn away. The dead turtle,
a raw red bowl, its blood slashing the twinned yellow lines
into an unequal sign,
                           as in a ≠ b, as in thinking about doing the right thing
is not the same as doing it. As in, how many times
did I watch that old woman shuffle bags down the stairs
(really, how many?) before I went from watching
to helping? As in, with my wife beside me
I am the woman who does not hesitate
to lay down her bike and give a small life
safe passage. As in, I biked slowly
home, told no one. As in:

                Will she love me
                    less when she learns
                I am not equal
                                                 to the person I am when she is watching?


“A Question to Ask Once the Honeymoon is Over” from Take Me with You, Wherever You’re Going (c) 2019 by Jessica Jacobs. Appears with the permission of Four Way Books. All rights reserved.