She is married, but her husband is often away. This shouldn’t bother her—she is of an independent cast of mind, and married a similar man—but since her marriage she has come to appreciate the idea of the husband more than she expected to. Or, rather, the emergence of her natural inclination to favor the husband—or, to favor husbandness—has surprised her. When her husband is away, she misses both her husband, and husbandness itself.
She has befriended her neighbor, an easygoing man who hangs out with her husband, when her husband is in town. She and this man eat meals together at the cafe down the street. The neighbor likes to socialize, so, when she is invited to a party, and her husband is away, she asks the neighbor to join her. A colleague asked her, “Are you bringing your husband to my party?” and she replied, “No, I am bringing my party husband.”
Her job allows her to work alone, and she does this at a coffee shop. There is a man who makes her coffee every morning. He fusses over the espresso machine, then slides her coffee in its china cup onto a china plate. He pushes the plate towards her across the wooden counter and reaches behind him for the cookie he knows she likes to eat while she works. He is a man who serves her every day, who smiles at her and knows what she wants, so he is a kind of husband. He’s a coffee husband. Once, she was at a party with her party husband, and saw the coffee husband. She introduced the two as husbands of hers, and both appeared confused and ill at ease. Once, she went to the coffee shop with her actual husband, and confessed to him that she regarded the barista as her coffee husband, and her husband said, “That guy?” It’s true that the barista is not the kind of man she would choose as an actual husband, and this is what her husband was reacting to—the idea of this man as an actual husband. She tried to explain the difference between the various husbands, but her husband seemed disturbed by, or perhaps uninterested in, the subject, and she let it go.
When her husband is away, and they talk on the phone, she tries to avoid telling him that she misses him, because she is supposed to be of the same independent cast of mind that she was when they married. And she is. But sometimes the husband has to leave town when they’ve been fighting, and when they part he is the fight husband, and she feels, when they talk on the phone in the days and weeks that follow, that he is still the fight husband, even if their conflict has cooled, because he hasn’t been around to behave otherwise. She wants to use words to banish the fight husband, to draw out her ideal husband, but she isn’t sure how he’s going to react. After all, he doesn’t know which husband he is. He thinks he’s just the one guy.
It is true that, to her, her husband is actually many husbands. When he’s funny, he is the joke husband, and when he says something nice to her, he is the compliment husband. Once they were having sex and she thought, “I’m having sex with my sex husband,” and she began to laugh, and the sex stopped, and his feelings were hurt. Her explanation did not help matters. When he got out of the bed, he was the fight husband. She lingered afterward, regretting the entire situation, and she wondered, where is the sex husband, the one who came to bed with her? Is he still here, too small to see? Where does he go when she isn’t having sex with him? And then there is the more disturbing question: where is the fight husband when her husband is the sex husband, or compliment husband, or joke husband? He’s in there, somewhere, waiting to fight. She knows this isn’t a productive way to think about her husband.
She goes to a party with her party husband, and is reminded by a friend that there is a type of pillow called a husband. She is a little drunk when she gets home, and she gets on the internet and orders one. A few days later, the package arrives. The delivery man gets out of the truck, and it’s the same man who always delivers things to her house: her package husband. The package husband is quite handsome and she has, at times, wondered about his potential as an actual husband. She has idly fantasized about, though not actually considered, seducing the package husband. It’s a common fantasy, she guesses. The package husband doesn’t wear a ring; probably he has had sex with some of the people he delivers packages to. The idea of undressing the package husband introduces the idea of the package huband as a kind of package. He is a package, and he would deliver himself to her, and she would open the package that is the package husband and then he would become a sex husband. There are not supposed to be multiple sex husbands. As she accepts the package, which is large, and thanks the package husband, who is also large—tall anyway—she tries to banish the thought of accepting the package that is him.
The package husband says, “That’s a big box.”
“Don’t I know it,” she says.
“Need any help with that?” asks the package husband, and she replies “no” perhaps a little too quickly, and she awkwardly grabs the giant box and heaves it backwards into the house, letting the screen door slam shut between the package husband and her.
Once the package husband has driven away, she opens the box and takes out the husband pillow. It’s corduroy. It’s ugly. Its name is derived from its shape: it stands upright, a kind of sofa cushion with two upholstery arms that extend out from its base. It’s chairlike, lacking only the seat and legs. One—a lady, presumably—is supposed to lean back into it they way one might lean back into one’s husband, if one’s husband weren’t out of town. She drags the husband pillow into the bedroom and heaves it up onto the bed, and then leans back into it and watches sitcom episodes on her laptop computer for two hours. The sitcoms, she notices, all involve husbands. These husbands are often difficult to get along with. They have often eaten something they were not supposed to eat, or have caused some misunderstanding, or have forgotten some occasion or appointment that is important to their wives, who respond to these transgressions with shrugs and eye-rolls. The audience laughs and applauds at both the transgressions and the reactions. She thinks it would be easier on both her and her husband if she could react with such bemused resignation to his shortcomings, or if their disagreements would result in laughter and applause. Maybe they should fight in front of a studio audience, from now on. She’s extraordinarily comfortable right now. Indeed, the husband pillow is more comfortable than her husband, than any husband, would be in this situation. For the purpose of watching sitcom episodes on her laptop, this husband is superior to her husband.
This line of thinking makes her feel guilty, so she calls her husband. She says, “I’m lying here in bed with my husband!” He seems annoyed. She explains the joke, but he doesn’t think it’s funny. He’s in the middle of some kind of business transaction. If she’d thought about it, she would have known he would be. She has parlayed her pointless guilt into actual justifiable guilt by turning an imaginary hurt until a real one. She ends the call and leans a little more heavily into the husband pillow.
Then the phone rings in her hand. It’s her party husband. He asks what she’s doing and she says, “I’m lying in bed with my husband,” and he says, “Cool, did he bring back any weed?” Her party husband is disappointed when she explains. Now she is worried that her party husband likes her husband more than he likes her. It may be true. When her husband is in town, the two spend a lot of time together in the garage. They are each other’s weed husband.
She tries, as often as she can stand it, to think of herself as a wife, and to act the way a wife is supposed to act. But she is not sure what way this is. Also, she isn’t sure whether her husband wants her to act wifely, or if he simply considers her every action to be wifely, since she is his wife. Or, perhaps he doesn’t think about things this way at all. He gets frustrated when she tries to talk about such things. He doesn’t see the point. To be fair, she doesn’t either, but this doesn’t prevent her from talking about them.
Sometimes her loneliness is intense and deeply upsetting. This often happens when her husband is away, but sometimes it happens when he is in town. Sometimes it is at its worst when he is in town and isn’t inclined to do the things that she regards as husbandly. At times, her desire for her husband to be husbandly results in the appearance of the fight husband. He wants her to explain what on earth it is she wants him to do, and this is a very reasonable request, but often she can’t explain. She just wants him to know. She wants him to know so that she doesn’t have to. It isn’t fair to expect this of him. A husband of this nature would be a magic husband. He even once said to her, “I’m not made of magic!” and this phrase, though uttered in anger, struck them both as hilarious, and ended the fight they were having. When they are getting along well and she particularly loves him, she thinks of him as, and sometimes calls him, her magic husband.
In the morning, the day after the arrival of the husband pillow, her husband calls and apologizes for the phone conversation of the previous day. She apologizes too. He’ll be home soon, he says. When she ends the call, she’s happy. He will deliver himself home—he’ll be her package husband, delivering the package that is himself to her, and perhaps he will become the sex husband, and if he makes her coffee he can be the coffee husband, and if they go to a party he can be the party husband. He might compliment her and tell her jokes, and be those husbands, too.
She has never felt that her husband was, at any particular time, all the husbands at once, all the good ones, but it could happen. It is more likely, anyway, than the other thing that might satisfy her, which would be to have all the other husbands in the house along with him, making her coffee, bringing her packages, having sex with her, being nice and telling jokes. Of course, all those husbands would have to bring their actual wives, or else they would be lonely; and of course they may have many wives, as she has many husbands—a cake wife, a movie-recommendation wife, a haircut wife, a dog-grooming wife—and those wives would need to bring their husbands, and so on. An infinitely crowded house, bulging with exponentially increasing numbers of husbands and wives.
Better to be alone here, with the husband pillow and, eventually, sometimes, the husband. Better to be lonely sometimes, to have to be one’s own husband. To be a couple, a couple of one.