In January, Mark wrote in his diary, I am madly in love with Pearl. He made the floors shine for her.
Before January, Mark was just a guy who mopped floors at the Seaside Laundry. A guy with a missing ear. Pearl admired his shiny floors. But she did not love him. One day, he said, Welcome to the Seaside Laundry. She said, This is not the seaside. He said, I’m going to write that in my diary. She liked his sincere face, and on one wet and windy morning, he was waiting to hold the door open for her. Things were different after that.
He took her mini-golfing in May. She got a hole-in-one in the snake’s mouth. I’ve never seen anyone do that, he said, shaking her fat hand. Handshake begat handhold begat holding dear and later that night he wrote in his diary, Pearl is a fatty and I love her.
She invited him to her apartment for fish sticks. I love fish sticks, he said. I know, she said. And do you know why I love fish sticks, he asked. Because I made them, she said. Yes, he said. She led him to a room with an iron bed and a bronze floor lamp. Do you want to have sex in here, she asked. He unzipped her jeans and tugged hard to get them over her hips. His hand felt oily and smelled like sardines.
Later, Pearl unfolded a turntable. The only 45 she owned was scratchy and stuck on I got, I got, I got, I got, I got, I got, I got . . .
Sunshine . . . on a sunny day, Mark sang. That’s not how it goes, she said. That’s how I sing it, he said.
Pearl touched the nub of his ear. Were you in a fire, she asked. I was in a car crash, he said. Did you nearly die? I saw a pin-point of bright light, he said, and knew I would not die. She kissed him and fell asleep. Mark went home and wrote, Pearl is so fat there was no room on her bed for me. She smells like sardines.
In June, Pearl saw Mark arm-in-arm with another woman. Pearl stopped washing her clothes. By July, she had gained many pounds. Chest pains—that turned out to be heartburn—put her in the hospital.
Mark and the woman came to visit. That’s your mother? Pearl said. Now I feel foolish. Yes, he said, and can you guess why I brought her? Pearl blushed and hid her face. After his mother left, Mark fed Pearl jelly donuts. Pearl said, You do the nicest things.
Mark and Pearl rode the bus home in August. Sometimes I still see that light, he said. With your eyes closed? Opened and closed. Are you afraid of it? Not at all. Her belly spilled onto his knees and he stroked it. Once during a solar eclipse, he said, I put my head in a pinhole projector to see the sun’s image. It’s like that when I’m with you. Pearl picked lint from his eyelash.
In September, Pearl gained more weight and could not wear clothes or get up from her chair. She became constipated. Mark decided to build her a lap tray and accidentally cut his hand off and then shot himself several times in the head with a nail gun. I thought it would stop the pain, he told rescuers.
Mark used four blankets to keep a late October chill from penetrating Pearl’s skin. Her thighs sagged on the floor. He tripled the tray size so it would rest comfortably on her expanding lap. He used toaster ovens to warm her feet.
Pearl went to set her glass down. He moved a napkin, as always, just below her glass. But this time she paused and began to set the glass down on the opposite side. He moved the napkin, here to there. Not far. Here to there. Not so long ago, he had opened a door for her.
The house whistled with wind in November. She was warmed by his presence and the toaster ovens. Nightly, she smeared ointment on the holes in his head.
In December, Mark pushed Pearl in a modified garden cart to the top of a hill. He put a box over her head and she watched a solar eclipse. That evening she said that the sun’s light reminded her of him. Was it too much, he asked. Not so much as a universe, she said, but not so little as a star.