By Alyssa Lubet
In grade school, you couldn’t say certain words—not swear words or dirty words, but big, slippery words that could send you sliding down the hole of ridicule, down and down towards the earth’s molten core with no roots or branches to grasp.
Such a word was “love,” and when on the playground one day, Meg unthinking said, “I love my new folder,” the boys, primed to pounce, went deep into the wagon-wheel grooves of their taunt: “Then why don’t you marry it?”
And Meg said, “Fine, I will!” For against the tired nylon lining of her backpack leaned the wonderful folder, emblazoned with a trio of grinning dolphins leaping before the perfect semicircle of a setting sun, all of it shot through with the colors of soap-bubble rainbows and sour candy. A lovable thing and a girl-colored thing and a thing of beauty.
And so, when she was old enough, she married the folder, and for a time, they lived a life of earnest, muted happiness. Their one child, a prism-hued paper porpoise, attended decent public schools and volunteered with the Peace Corps in Albania, teaching village children English and social skills, before settling into a career as an accountant. Meg and the folder were then middle-aged, their colors faded and their corners worn. Then one night, the folder confessed to an affair with a Swingline stapler, sleek and compact and dense in a way that made Meg, now gray and diffuse with wrinkles and stretch marks, more sad than jealous.
They divorced, but in their old age, they reconciled, though they did not remarry (by then the Swingline stapler had moved on, this time to cohabit with an interior designer in Burbank). Once a week, each of their grandchildren would call, and they listened together through the receiver of a single phone. Their steps slowed as they walked together through the neighborhood—Meg had always assumed that her ex-spouse, being fibrous and synthetic, would outlive her, but this turned out not to be the case. So after the memorial service, Meg, quasi-widowed, scattered the folder’s ashes, a few silver staples gleaming incongruous among the flat, black char of the burnt paper and whatever glossy coat had made the dolphins gleam so beautifully against the tired nylon lining of her backpack.
She thought that the folder would have wanted its remains flung over the ocean at sunset, but instead, it had asked for the playground. And so Meg went at dusk on a cold day when the schoolyard was empty of jeering boys, boys who had perhaps been right in the end to be so alarmed and aroused by that word, love. As the ashes slipped from her fingers, she repeated softly to herself, “Why don’t you marry it, why don’t you?”