Ginger Beef (Natalie Warther)

My husband was still on his 5pm call, and I didn’t want to disturb him with the sound of the blender, but I really needed to make dinner because it was already six thirty, so I brought the blender into the hall closet and blended the squash right there in the dark, next to the stack of board games and beneath the hanging coats.

“Could you hear anything?” I asked him when he was off of his call.

“Not a thing,” he said. And that’s how the closet became my secret place.

Karmic breathing, light sobs, the chorus of “The Water is Wide,” videos of soldiers coming home to their families, vibrators, stuffing a coat cuff into your mouth and screaming as loud as you can: all things that are even quieter than a blender.

Every day my husband would join his 5pm call and I’d slip into the closet for forty-five minutes of peace. Had I ever been so happy?

“Good news,” he said to me on a Wednesday afternoon. “My 5pm was canceled!” So we drove our old dog to the dog park and it wasn’t joyful at all.

But most weekdays, 5pm came around, and he was at that computer, headphones on, talking about forecasts and terms.

The closet wasn’t spacious, but I did what I could to make it nice. I plugged in a night light. I lit a scented candle. I hid a bag of lollipops under a stack of hats. When I finished one I’d put the stick in the pocket of my husband’s letterman’s jacket from college, where I found an old grocery list for bourbon and cottage cheese. For whatever reason, that made me love him more.

“What’d you do today?” he asked me at dinner one night.

It had been an exciting day, I’d taped up a few pictures in the closet: me as a little girl, my high-school boyfriend, a golden retriever puppy I’d clipped from a magazine. “Oh, not much. Caught up with Diane.”

“I’ve been thinking,” he said, “You know what might be a good project for you? Organizing that hall closet. Who even knows what’s in there anymore.”

I did, that was who, but he was right that it needed organizing; most of the coats hadn’t been worn for years, and half of the umbrellas were busted. 

So I made a rule: if I wanted to spend time in the closet, I’d have to organize something too. On Monday I cried about the ending of “Black Beauty” and untangled the wire hangers. On Tuesday I masturbated and alphabetized the board games. On Wednesday I got naked and sang “Santa Baby” in Mother’s fur coat while I dusted the stacks of old rain boots in the back.

When the closet was finished I showed him and he kissed me on the cheek. “It’s my new favorite room in the house,” he said, and I said “me too,” and to celebrate we ordered two separate meals: cheese pizza for him, and ginger beef for me.

My fortune cookie: It can all be fixed with a smile.


Natalie Warther is a senior writer at 72andSunny and an M.F.A candidate at Bennington College. She is a prose reader for GASHER Journal. Her most recent fiction is forthcoming in X-R-A-Y, Maudlin House, MoonPark Review, and the 2021 Bath Flash Fiction Award Anthology. Natalie lives in Los Angeles.