Sophie Sees Through
Propeller is pleased to publish the winner of the 2019 Write to Publish fiction contest, “Sophie Sees Through” by Sue Preneta. Write to Publish is a yearly conference on publishing hosted by Ooligan Press, the student-run, nonprofit press at Portland State University. Preneta will read her story at the conference on Saturday, April 27th.
By Sue Preneta
“This book I’m reading is about a woman—a writer—who wakes up in the middle of the night and realizes she doesn’t want to be married to her husband anymore.” Sophie, a mail room clerk, tore a loud strip of packing tape off the roll.
Her co-worker, a young girl for whom this was just an after-school job, stopped labeling the box in her hands and looked up with tragic eyes. “Oh, how sad,” she lamented.
Sophie stopped working and took a deep breath. Then she gave the girl a look that tried to be patient but ended up jaded, maybe even condescending.
“What?” asked the girl, seeing all of this on Sophie’s face.
“Well,” began Sophie slowly, intentionally. “I think everyone has this realization, eventually. Sometimes it’s twenty or thirty years into a relationship, but inevitably, you see through the person you’re partnered with and you seriously consider starting over on your own.”
“Nooo, I don’t believe that,” asserted the girl as she returned to the package she’d been labeling. “Not after you’ve spent your whole life with someone.”
Not your whole life, thought Sophie; just twenty or thirty years. But she didn’t say this because AMIRA (Sophie just now noticed the girl’s name tag) was moving on in the conversation to what must have seemed to her to be a relevant next offering.
“We’re reading Frankenstein in English class. Did you know that Frankenstein is the name of the scientist, not the monster?”
Sophie knew. She nodded down to the tape dispenser and pulled another strip from the roll.
SOPHIE HAD SEEN THROUGH three men in the past year. First and most importantly she’d seen through Joe, her husband of twenty-six years. But she was tired of thinking about that.
Next was her work colleague Linx, whose wife had left him for a guy who’d seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Sophie liked when Linx talked about his old days selling drugs in the projects, and imagined running her fingers over the knife-wound scars that illustrated some of the stories. She was particularly drawn to the hard look in his eyes that melted when she said something Linx thought was funny. So she made an appointment to go with Joe to a marriage counselor who specialized in infidelity, and there she negotiated a trial open marriage so she could have dinner with Linx without being unprincipled. Joe had consented to this arrangement willingly, not because he had any interest in being with anyone else himself, but because he didn’t know what else to do to make Sophie happy.
Dinner with Linx turned into an intense physical relationship, and the eventual tapering away of that softness in his eyes.
One night, Linx had texted and she’d gone over, which is how it usually worked, and he’d played some very smooth R&B with provocative lyrics. She asked what it was and Linx revealed proudly, “My baby girl was born to this music.”
“You mean she was conceived to this music, not born, right?”
Sophie had been pulling on her boots when she said this and felt immediately the change in Linx. After a split-second pause, he responded. “Yeah, conceived, not born. That’s what I meant.”
She silently berated herself, and thought of Salinger’s character, Franny, who felt horrible for having noticed that her boyfriend, Lane, was inept at hailing a cab in the rain.
SOPHIE AND JOE CONTINUED to see the marriage counselor: a sophisticated Yale post-doc, also named Joe. Post-Doc-Joe was tall and graceful, and while not initially handsome, would sometimes make a comment that seemed to Sophie to be so tender and confident that he instantly became more attractive. He dressed impeccably but wore his gray hair in a small ponytail to assert his hippie backstory. On weekends he was an organic farmer who brought his pawpaws and baby ginger to local farmers’ markets.
About seven months into counseling, Post-Doc-Joe said he had harvested more baby ginger than he could sell and wondered if they wanted to come by his house later to take some. Her-Joe had work to do, but Sophie said she’d love to come by.
“It’s out in the greenhouse,” he’d said when she’d arrived, “but it’s dark up there. May I take your hand to guide you?”
“Yes,” she’d said, almost like a child. His bear paw wrapped around her small left hand and led her up through a grassy acre to the greenhouse. There he retrieved a clementines box full of ginger with bamboo-looking stalks.
Back at the house, he lit a fire in the fireplace and they talked for hours. Sophie asked captivating questions that kept the conversation going. Post-Doc-Joe offered her a glass of Kahlua—which she declined (thank god). They laughed about psychotherapy, and about symphonies, and recipes.
When he walked her to the door, Post-Doc-Joe said, “Look, I know I’m breaking every rule in the book by having you here, but I’ve always been a little bit of a renegade, and have done well by trusting my instincts.” Then he put his hands on the sides of her head and kissed her tenderly on the cheek.
SOPHIE GOT HOME that night to Her-Joe reading on the couch. She made them both a cup of tea and then sat next to him, her legs curled under her. She didn’t sit too close, but there was a warm familiarity in the space between them.
Sue Preneta is a homeschooling mom during the day and a welder in the evening. At 4 a.m., when everyone else is asleep, she writes.