“After Opposites Attract,” by Robert Schladale

Apr 20th, 2012 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

When he met her at the marina with a single long-stemmed rose and the poem he had written just for her, she said if he didn’t stop she would have to make him marry her. And when they took her daddy’s powerboat out into Florida Bay and he told her not to worry about sharks she said fine, she trusted him. But when they snorkeled and he said that the death of the coral was caused by her father and other men like her father, they argued. They argued when she said he was unfair because he didn’t know her father, hadn’t even met him yet, and he said yes but a man can be judged by his impacts. They argued when he said they should drive the boat to another spot along the reef, so she could see for herself that the destruction was the same everywhere, and after they did they argued because she refused to get in the water with him.

They didn’t argue when she started the Chris Craft and headed back towards the marina, crying. They didn’t argue when she threw his dumb marine biology book overboard. They didn’t argue when she finished the last two beers or when she turned around and ran the boat back to the red buoy where she’d left him, and they didn’t argue while she watched the sun fall in the west and the tour boats leave one by one. They didn’t argue when she couldn’t hold it any longer and squatted on the gunwale and carefully peed over the side. They didn’t argue because he’d gone off snorkeling and wasn’t there for her to argue with.

They could have argued when she shouted his name over and over—Christopher, Chris, Reef Lover—if he’d heard her. They could have argued when she swore out loud that she was sorry, she never intended to abandon him and that he was the one who said the possibility of a tiger shark was remote, though it felt like arguing. They didn’t argue when she screamed into the deepening twilight that if he didn’t quit trying to scare her and climb aboard in the next five minutes she was going to leave him there for real, and they didn’t argue when she started the engine, then stopped it and climbed down the ladder to search one last time because the water was black now and she couldn’t see a thing from up on the deck. They didn’t argue as she breast-stroked from the stern to the bow, and when her elbow collided with his face they didn’t argue, either, because he was dead, his legs bitten off, or at least that was what made her scream until her scissor kick collided with his ankles.

They didn’t argue when he came to, spit seawater across the deck and said he’d slipped and hit his head as he jumped in to snorkel. They didn’t argue when she said, “Oh, God, Chris,” and hugged him, or when he used three towels to dry his hair and wondered why they came away smelling faintly of urine. But they argued when she told him she’d hauled him up the ladder all by herself; he said no, that wasn’t possible. They argued when she told him women have extraordinary strength in times of crisis, and even after he said, “Fine, you’re right,” they argued because he insisted on calling her a hero as they pulled into the marina. They argued when he shouted to a couple of oldsters that she was the Little Mermaid, she’d saved his life, and she had to yell at them not to listen. They argued as they collected their things and walked to their cars because he called her Ariel, and they argued when he said it was a pretty name, and that it fit her, Ariel, Ariel, so that finally she had to scream at him to shut up: she was not some goddamn mermaid who lived in a seaweed palace, she was a hot chick from a wealthy family. And he was no damn prince, no goddamn prince at all but just a whining eco-freak and she was glad about what had happened, even if it was an accident. At which point they stopped arguing because he understood that it is one thing to believe that opposites attract and another to have your opposite tell you she pissed on you and wasn’t sorry.


Robert Schladale currently occupies a small patch of Northern California where he is a recovering technical writer, gardener, Italian ice vendor, shoe salesman, Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services, toll collector on the New Jersey Turnpike, nursing home orderly, mail man, energy economist, janitor, substitute teacher, research assistant at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory, paperboy, and board member of the California Tahoe Conservancy. Most recently his work has appeared in The Smoking Poet, Everyday Fiction, Word Riot, and Smokelong Quarterly.

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