By Cosenza Hendrickson
Something happened when he recommended Anna Karenina. They were sitting on her grandmother’s rickety porch swing one evening in May. Fields of corn and alfalfa stretched out before them in the gold light like a frayed heirloom quilt. She was leaning her head back, waaaay back craning it till it hurt—because she was trying to watch a little spider who was fastening its nylon web to the board-and-baton behind the swing.
“I thought of a book for you to read,” he said, “once you’re done with Emma—Anna Karenina. I read it in that international literature class I had to take as a GE. It’s one of those real classics, you know? The kind that makes you think. About life. And stuff.”
She frowned. The spider had just made a daring leap towards the next baton but had missed and was now dangling from its thread, swaying slightly back and forth.
“But isn’t that book, like, really sad?” she asked.
“Oh yeah. I mean, it’s one of the great Russian novels, so I think a sad ending is basically a requirement.”
“But I don’t want to be sad right now. I want to be happy! I am happy. Really, really happy. And I don’t want Anna messing that up for me,” she laughed.
“Are you happy?” He glanced at her. “That’s good. I’m glad. I’m really glad.”
“I mean, of course I’m happy! How could I not be?”
He was quiet for a moment, then said, “I don’t know. That was silly. Of course, you’re happy.”
She craned her neck back again to look at the spider. It had shimmied its way back up to its original position and was now mechanically winding a fly in its silvery thread. The fly waved one unwrapped leg in some kind of desperate appeal to the unknown fly god. Suddenly she thought, He’s not happy. Her brain felt as small and empty as the spider’s. She kept her head tilted back. She knew she looked ridiculous, and she knew he thought she looked ridiculous. And what could she do? What could she possibly do in this moment, sitting next to her fiancé, contorting herself like some sort of circus freak, and knowing he was unhappy?
Slowly she lifted her head and asked, as casually as she could, “Babe, are you happy? You’re happy, right?”
He leaned over and kissed her, hard and hollow, and said, “How could I not be happy? How on earth could I not be happy?”
She tilted her head back again. The fly had stopped struggling. After a while he went inside. She stayed on the swing and let it creeeeeak creak while the sky darkened, and the wind wrapped itself around her like silky thread.
She read Anna Karenina on their honeymoon while he went running on the beachfront road.