My husband wanted to see Civil War battlefields.

I said, not exactly my idea of a good time, but I only said it inside of my head, because to state such a thing out loud was only asking for a fight.

He said, you don’t have to go.

No, no, I said. I’ll see battlefields. If that’s what you want to do.

What do you want to do?

See battlefields, I said.

Which is how we ended up at the battlefields. We stood at the edge of one of the fields and my husband looked out over the wide expanse of burnt grass with a very serious look on his face.

Amazing, he said.

The heat had already soaked through my skin to bake my insides. I wanted to go inside the tourist center where there was air conditioning, but it seemed first we had to look at more battlefields. At the edge of each field was a sign that told the year of the battle that had taken place, how many soldiers had died on both sides, and how many had been injured. My husband read every sign. I wanted to say, there’s no test at the end, but I knew he wouldn’t find it funny.

He said, it says here that more men died on these battlefields in one day than get killed in car accidents in this country all year long.

I looked at the empty fields and imagined them covered with bleeding and dead soldiers. The only other visitors at the battlefields were old men and their fat wives, and young families with screaming kids.

I’m feeling a little sick, I said. This heat and everything.

Let’s go inside, my husband said.

Inside, dozens of tourists were wandering about, looking at the exhibits. My mouth had a bad taste, so I dug around in my handbag until I came up with a pack of gum.

Piece? I said.

No, thank you, my husband said.

He wanted to see the short film in the theater. He nodded toward a sign: “No food, drink, chewing gum.”

I’ll just walk around, I said. You go ahead.

I walked around the exhibits. I spit out my gum in the ladies’ room.

Later, driving away from the center, my husband said, You missed a very good movie.

He was driving the speed limit. He waited for me to respond.

It was really very good, he said, for emphasis.

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MARY GUTERSON is the author of the novels We Are All Fine Here (Putnam, 2005), and Gone to the Dogs (St. Martin’s, 2009). She lives in Los Angeles and is currently at work on her third novel.

29 responses to “Why I Left”

  1. Kit Bakke says:

    Mary, you’ve packed so much into so few words–the mark of a true writer. I’ll try to do the same: “Hot. Dead people. Gum. Getting unstuck.”

  2. D.R. Haney says:

    Well, I come here and see the start of this short story, and I’m instantly pulled by in it, and at some point I look up to see who wrote this thing I’m enjoying so much, and it’s Mary Guterson! How nice to have you here, Mary! I’m sorry to have missed you when JE was last in town. Anyway, love the story. I’m going to be thinking about it for days, I can tell.

    • mary says:

      Duke, thanks so much! I’m really happy you liked the story. Hey, JE may not be here, but we can always grab ben loory and go to the brite spot for pancakes. xo

  3. Rachel Pollon says:

    I really loved this, Mary. Loved the narrator’s voice, your writing, and related to the subject matter. Friggin’ battlefields.

    Glad to read you hear and look forward to more.

    • mary says:

      battlefields…..almost too obvious, but I went with it anyway. I’m so glad you liked it. With any luck, i’ll post more on TNB.

      • Rachel Pollon says:

        I just realized I wrote “hear” instead of “here.” I want to say because I could hear the character’s internal voice so vividly. So I will. 😉 Anyway, more on TNB and I will look for you elsewear. Kidding! — elsewhere.

  4. Anna Wood says:

    Stunning closing sentence.

  5. Vanessa says:

    How in the [email protected]## did you get this published so fast? It was just yesterday we were sitting in class…..

  6. jonathan evison says:

    . . . mary, darling, we both know you stuck that chewing gum under the tabletop at the museum cafeteria, but nice try! . . . what a pleasure to see this posted here this morning!

  7. Bernadette says:

    Great piece. Mary is such a fabulous writer. Good for The Nervous Breakdown for publishing this. Excellent work!

  8. Lise says:

    Evocative and, in a way, lovely. Just as marriages are made of a thousand tiny moments, so are breakups. Looking forward to reading more of your work.

  9. kat says:

    Mary, I have loved your novels and love this piece, too. Got to pick your battles and your battlefields. It was good to say hi to you @ A.

  10. dinah manoff says:

    I loved it Mary
    I wanted it to keep going
    but it was so obviously
    the end
    I am as ever
    inspired by you

  11. Anne says:

    This was great- I cannot wait to read more of your work. I wish could have put these feelings in words when I trudged thru Gettysburg. Too late now-but we all do what we can,when we can. Thank you and keep it up! Anne

  12. Lynn says:

    Mary–so powerful. I can feel it. I can taste it! Beautiful!

  13. I love this story. Every line manages to say so much more than the words themselves.

  14. Michael Morris says:

    Very well done, Mary. It was nice to have something new of yours to read (despite the high pain to line ratio.)

  15. Linda wolf says:

    I love your writing. I always tried to stretch out the time whenever we used to see each other in town cuz you’d inevitably crack a joke that would be clever and funny and usually I was feeling like shit cuz there was a real long spell of feeling like shit between about 1995 and 2003 and laughing with you’d make my day! Anyway good to see you here.

  16. Elea C says:

    Nice, Mary. I used to run into you on Bainbridge. Glad to see something of yours.

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