Your Husband is a Star
by Trish Rodriguez
Your husband of seven years, let’s call him Jake, wants nothing more in life than to become famous. He spends hours in front of the mirror, fixing his hair, shaving, plucking, and waxing. Jake never leaves the house without concealer. Every day, he goes to the gym for cardio, lifting, and yoga. All in the name of getting the perfect body. The ideal for perfection has changed over the years, so Jake has sculpted his body to match the trend. Remember that year when the healthy, perfect body was the rock climber’s physique? He worked on his finger grips and Pilates to lengthen his muscles. He climbed indoor walls to immerse himself in the culture.
All his time isn’t spent in front of the mirror or at the gym, is it? He also spends a good portion of his day out in attempts to “make it big.” Jake’s looking to be discovered, so he poses. At the gym. At the coffee shop. While crossing the street. He has perfected various personas including the book-and-glasses-scholar and the muscles-flexed-wannabe-action-hero. When he movie-kissed you in line at the theater, you suspected that you have been an accessory to his romantic-comedy-look as he laughed, flashing his perfect teeth, and touched the small of your back.
Besides posing, Jake spends his days scanning casting websites and staying in contact with all the randoms he’s met. His natural warmth with everyone, even casting agents who have rejected him, is endearing.
Maybe your perception of your husband’s drive to become famous feels a little exaggerated. He’s working at achieving his dream. He’s climbing the ladder, performing in regional theater, auditioning for commercials, and working as a movie extra. Yes, you had to move from your hometown in Pennsylvania to L.A. because “that’s where everyone in the biz lives.” Your salary barely supports you both. Your life together consists of you wanting a vacation and reminding yourself that you love him.
When you first met, he seemed needy, which triggered your caretaker genes. That’s how it is between you two: he takes care of his acting career, and you tend to everything else like the car, the apartment, the money, and the marriage. With only one consistent paycheck, you’ve shied away from having children. The conversation about kids—he wants them, and you remind him that you can’t afford them—devolves into you listing the expenses of all the things you can’t afford. “My career is on an upswing,” he says.
You tell yourself he isn’t selfish. When you fell and broke your leg, he dropped everything and waited on you, bringing you tomato soup, and doing all the laundry. Just don’t ask him to pay bills or fix a running toilet. He’ll remember all your friends’ names, your birthday, and your anniversary. Now and then, he’ll even save up and plan a night out with tickets to that hard-to-get play and reservations at that trendy new restaurant.
You’ve accepted that Jake just wants to be a star. Haven’t you? So you aren’t angry with him when your husband ventures out and returns two hours later with cold coffee and a stale slice of lemon loaf?
If you want Jake to become a star, go to A.
If you want Jake to die, go to B.
If you want Jake to be with the love of his life, go to C.
If you want Jake to fail at becoming famous, go to D.
He sets the cold coffee and sweet treat down on the kitchen counter. You are washing the dishes, a chore he would never do because it would “prematurely age his hands.”
“I’ve been a jerk,” Jake says. “I’ve been too self-involved. Let’s go out on a date.” You say yes after reassuring Jake that he hasn’t been too neglectful though you don’t remember your last date night. He wraps his arms around you. Your hands are soapy wet in the breakfast skillet.
You go to the aquarium. You try to ignore all that stuff in the news about the animals’ treatment. Jake assures you that the animals are rescues and the training is for their health. Sharks, otters, and penguins frolic in their enclosures. You almost cry seeing them in those tiny little pens.
“Let’s go see the new dolphin show.” Jake pulls your arm, and you race ahead like two school children at the playground. He turns his head and looks at you. For that moment, he’s not looking to be discovered.
You grab two yellow ponchos and sit in the front row, the splash zone. The fish and chlorine smell makes you a little heady. The sun beats down on you. Beads of sweat form on your forehead.
“Mommy, where are the dolphins?” A little girl with sticky-pink cotton candy fingers repeats. You gaze at her and imagine a different future for yourself.
A sea lion and walrus warm up the crowd. The show’s trainer introduces two dolphins, Mandy and Grady. They seem happy enough. Mandy and Grady swim and jump and splash around with those dolphin grins on their faces. Jake smiles a natural smile. His face relaxes, and he doesn’t scan the crowd, looking for that big producer at the aquarium. His easiness may be because he’s wearing jeans and an old T-shirt that he has had since before you first met over six years ago. The trainer introduces Grady as “Flipper” from the latest movie.
“We’re in the presence of a movie star,” you say as you squeeze your husband’s arm. He rolls his eyes.
The crowd roars and claps. You get splashed. The dolphins race across the water, slapping their tails and somersaulting.
After the show, Jake buys pink cotton candy. You both try to eat it without getting sticky, which is impossible.
“Let’s go see Flipper,” you say. The two of you race across the park to the dolphin sanctuary pen, looking for Grady. Grady and Mandy are swimming gentle laps around their enclosure. It looks too small for one dolphin, let alone for two. Grady has a star-shaped scar on her back.
“I wish we could help her,” Jake says. His statement surprises you because you don’t think he really pays attention to the plight of the animals. He has a genuine, contemplative expression on his face, a softer version of his professorial look. Perhaps he is not as shallow as you fear.
“Yeah, me too,” you say. You reach out and take your husband’s hand.
The bright blue sky turns gray as clouds roll in. Large, fat raindrops fall. You’d already recycled the splash zone ponchos, so you run into the closest building. You, and everyone else still in the park, cram into the fish aquarium. With the smell of chemicals, sweat, and sunscreen filling the air, you watch the coral reef fish swim back and forth with your husband’s arm across your shoulders.
The next morning you wake up in drenched sheets. You shiver. You worry that you are coming down with the flu. You tap Jake to wake him up.
His eyes are foreign to you. Large, dark, and deep-set, not the light brown/hazel warm almond-shaped eyes that you are used to.
“Hon! Your eyes. Are you okay?”
He stares at you. You shake him, and he squeals.
“Jake. What is wrong?”
“No,” he says, but his voice is too high pitched, like a preteen boy’s cracking voice. “Swim!” He takes off his clothes. After several attempts, he opens the sliding door and dives into the apartment complex’s pool.
You follow him with your mouth open. He swims with his arms at his side and his legs dolphin kicking. There is a star-shaped scar on his back.
You race to the aquarium. The guest services cashier charges you full admission price, despite your explanation that you left something in the dolphin arena. “Yeah. I’ve heard that one before. If you are back here in thirty minutes, I’ll refund your money.”
You run to the dolphin pen. No one is there, not even the dolphins. The next dolphin show isn’t for another hour. You go backstage looking for the trainers.
“I need to see Grady,” you tell one of them.
“The next show is at 9:15. This is a secure area,” they tell you as they escort you out. You have no choice but to wait for the next show.
You sit in the arena, waiting for the next show. The trainers emerge with their wetsuits and microphones. They introduce Grady and Mandy to the cheers of the audience.
Grady races out, darting from side to side, more energetically than yesterday. The dolphin races to the edge of the pool, slapping its fin on the water, splashing the crowd. You recognize his greeting-fans look that Jake used to practice in the mirror. The crowd’s cheers fill your ears. Grady’s scar is missing, and he’s got familiar hazel eyes.
You exit the park. The guest services cashier gives you a wink and finger gunpoint as you leave without your refund. You drive home, trying to decide what to do about the man-dolphin swimming in your pool.
He’s gripping the cup as if it’s still hot. The cake is smushed between his fingers.
“Jake, what’s wrong?” you ask. The look on his face surprises you. He takes you outside to see the sky. A stream of meteors dots the crimson and blue of the morning. The sky is lit up as if you’re rolled inside a rainbow. You look over at Jake, happy to share this moment with him. You remember all the other moments that you wish you could have shared. His face shines like a small boy catching fireflies.
The falling stars’ radiance dances across his face. A fiery ball of reddish light, trailing smoke, streaks across the sky. A cloud of dust and dirt envelops you. And then Jake falls.
Jake’s face, his beautiful, well-cared-for face is bloodied. You fall to the ground beside him. The top of his head is dented and crumbly; hot rock is embedded in his hair and skull. You move your hand away and don’t want to know more. His eyes are open, but his dazzle is gone.
He will be listed as someone who died in a freak accident, one of the rare people to be struck and killed by a meteorite. Jake will never be famous.
Jake is staring down at his hands, which are trembling. You reach out, take the coffee and lemon loaf, and place them down on the entryway table. Your husband gazes at you like the first time you met.
“Remember how we met?” he asks. You both smile because the story always makes you laugh.
You had recently graduated college. You drove to the Apple store to upgrade your MacBook while you still could get a student discount. As you walked toward the store, a car pulled up alongside you. There was an empty parking space. The driver honked. You glowered at him then kept on walking. He honked again. That’s when you first saw Jake.
“Excuse me. Can you help me, please?” he said. He had placed the car into park.
You stopped walking and turned toward him with your hands on your hips in your “let’s hear it” posture.
“I’m embarrassed to say, I don’t know how to parallel park and this is the only spot here. Could you park my car for me?”
“Is there a hidden camera around here? I don’t really go for those prank shows,” you said.
“No, I’m serious. Would you park my car for me, please? I have to go into the Apple store.”
You think for a few seconds, then agree to park a stranger’s car. It’s a VW Golf, and the spot is big enough for a tractor trailer. Part of you wants to teach him the trick that your father taught you, but you choose not to waste your time.
“Are you going to be able to get out?” You asked after returning the car keys to this guy who you happen to notice has short, curly, light brown hair and almond-shaped hazel eyes, a square jaw, and muscular arms.
“Getting out isn’t the problem. It’s getting in that’s always the hard part,” he said.
You looked at his narrow waist and tight butt in his tailored jeans and giggled, which made him blush. You both walked into the Apple store. He held the door for you and listened when they took your name. He called you later that day and asked you out.
Your husband still cannot park very well.
“You looked at me like one of those cartoon dogs looking at a hot dog,” Jake says.
“Nah, you looked more like beefsteak in those jeans,” you tease. On your first date, he arranged a cooking class for just the two of you. He wiped your tears as you cried while cutting onions. The two of you prepared seafood gazpacho and chicken cordon bleu. After dinner, he kissed you goodnight. Your head spun. The moon seemed to sit on your shoulder. You thought you had left your body. You went out again the next night and the next and the next.
He hasn’t taken you out for a romantic evening in ages.
“Hon,” your husband says, “We have to talk. I’ve met someone.”
Part of you is not surprised. The night auditions had you a little suspicious. He would return freshly showered. You swear a little, damning all the expenses for portfolios and moving to the West Coast to fulfill his dream. You might even have to pay alimony because he has earned very little money. All the promises of love and dedication drift away like smoke in the wind. Did he ever love you?
He still stands there holding your coffee which is most likely cold and bitter by now. You grab the lemon cake and begin to eat it slowly. It’s dry, and the lemon icing sticks to the paper, but you eat every bite of it while Jake stands there expecting you to rant and rave. Instead, you ask, “Who is it?” You settle down to hear all the details about this woman who has taken your place in your husband’s life.
The drink and the cake linger in both hands, a petty offering that falls to the countertop in the kitchen you just cleaned.
“Jake, what’s wrong?” you ask, though you may not really want to know.
He rubs his ear in that way and rambles about the coffee shop until you tell him to get to the point.
Jake was leaving the coffee shop with your lemon loaf and a soy latte. He had already drunk his coffee—black because creamer makes him bloated—when a man approached him.
“Excuse me, sir. Are you an actor?” the man asked.
“Yes,” Jake said.
“You may be perfect for this role I’m casting,” that man said and asked your husband to read some lines.
The man walked Jake to a rented office suite. Your husband read a monologue from Hamlet that he had rehearsed in front of you a thousand and one times. The producer thanked your husband for reading.
“You know, Jake,” the producer said, “If I had met you ten years ago, I could have made you the biggest star in Hollywood. Now, guys like you are a dime a dozen.” Without another word, the producer got up and left.
Jake’s eyes are even a little wet as he recounts this story. You want to hold him, but it feels like a betrayal. You pat him on this shoulder and give him a squeeze. His dazzle, like his dreams, evaporate.
About Trish Rodriguez
Trish Rodriguez is a writer raised in Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, receiving a B.S. in Systems Engineering, and Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing. Fiction writing is her dream, though she has been known to dabble in creative nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Media, PA with her family, including her cat, Elvis, and Samoyed, Rico Suave.