What Happened to the Dishes in the Divorce by Ann Vallee

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very close up shot of a glass plate - almost abstract

In the end, there were dishes. Not thrown, although that is the cliché—the argument punctuated with the launching of a plate, the shattering of a bowl like an exclamation point. Instead, there were dishes sorted and stacked into piles: those I would keep, and those I would not.

In the former pile were two delicate rice bowls that he, my soon-to-be-ex, bought for me in the gift shop of a Japanese tea garden we once visited. One bowl was pink and one green, in sweet pastel shades that made me think of peppermint candies. Within the hollow of each bowl, two white rabbits played hide and seek among crisscrossing brown twigs dappled with white cherry blossoms.

In the latter pile were two other bowls, another gift from him, rescued from the dusty corner of an import store. Oversized and rustic, they were decorated with a geometric design of brown, red, and black. With their dark colors and angular patterns, I’d never found them very appetizing to eat off of. But much as we live with the faults of our lovers, we live with the faults of the gifts they give us.

The bowls didn’t bother my husband. He’d sit cross-legged on the floor in front of the TV with one cradled in his lap, snacking on cereal. After he left, though, I couldn’t see a reason to keep them. It was an unexpected upside to divorce: the realization that I didn’t have to dine off ugly dishware anymore.

I put the brown bowls on the bare wooden floor in the guest room. He had taken the guest bed, leaving the room largely empty. It was just about the only thing he took, apart from a suitcase with his clothes, as he made his getaway. Sorting through the detritus of 17 years together alone, I gradually moved things I no longer wanted into that room. From time to time I would text my husband to let him know what was there, and he would come by, always when I was away at work, to scavenge from the piles. I came to think of the guest room as a kind of ghostly garage sale: I’d place my cast-offs in there and they would disappear, as if carried away by some phantom bargain hunter.

In the end there were dishes, furniture, books, knickknacks—possessions sorted into piles, his and mine, things that needed to be untangled, a systematic unknotting of my stuff from his, of me from him. The end of our marriage was orderly, quiet—barely a conversation, let alone an argument that would occasion the throwing of dishes.

I thought about smashing the ugly brown bowls and leaving the pieces on the floor for him. Once, going through a break-up with an old boyfriend, I came across a shoebox he kept of letters I’d written him. With a pair of scissors, I sliced them into ribbons, taking back my words, before stuffing the love-letter confetti back into the box. Later, when he returned for his things, he took the shoebox too, carrying my handiwork away with him. I liked to envision his expression when he first opened the lid, that moment as he sought to comprehend what magic had shredded paper inside a box.

In actuality, a couple months passed before he noticed, and even then he had to call to ask me to explain the symbolism. Such theatrics would be wasted on my husband, too. In the end, I set the brown bowls unbroken on the guest room floor, and they quietly disappeared from my life.

In the beginning, there were dishes—the rice bowls with the rabbits and others that I kept, whole and functional, assembled like a puzzle into the much smaller cabinets of a much smaller kitchen. “A curated collection,” a friend described it. How divine to drink my coffee from my grandmother’s teacup. Or from the salt-glazed mug with cobalt blue flowers cradled warm in my palms. Or to reach absentmindedly into the cupboard to grab a bowl, any bowl at all, and have it always be one of my favorites.

Ann ValleeAnn Vallee’s flash nonfiction has also appeared in River Teeth. She lives and works in Northern California.




STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Paul Goyette

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