Marla had married Carl Carland because she liked the sound of her name with his. And because he could dance. My, how he could dance.
On their first date, Carl told a pensive, wispy Marla, “Penny for your thoughts.” At first, hoping Carl would ask her to marry him someday, she kept the penny as a lucky talisman. “Mrs. Marla Carland. Mrs. Marla Carland,” over and over. The mantra made her weak-kneed. Later, it became a reminder to never again share intimacies with a man.
When he gave her the penny, she hadn’t told him what she was actually thinking. How could she admit to thinking she forgot to shave under her arms and what if she ended up in bed with Carl…? So, coyly palming the penny, she sighed, “I was thinking, ‘why me?’ I’m not as pretty or…experienced, as most of the girls you’ve been out with.” Marla came to regret this statement. Mostly because it wasn’t a lie—just not what she was thinking then. Carl had given that slow smile. “You let me be the judge of that.” She needn’t have worried about shaving. With the practiced grace of the dance floor, he had slipped her skirt up and her panties off. “But Carl, I’ve never…” “Don’t worry. I’ll teach you,” he’d grunted. The seatbelt buckle poked into her back. Her head kept banging the door handle. Still, she felt so special. Reckless. He left her sweater on.
“Marla Finkle,” Carl breathed into her ear five months later, “let’s get married.” Marla had squeezed the penny’s smooth surface, and cooed, “Oh, Carl. I’ve always wanted to be Mrs. Marla Carland!”
“Let’s celebrate, Marla. Let’s go dancing.”
“Promise me we’ll always go dancing. Promise me we’ll always love each other.”
“I promise, Marla Carland.”
That was before Carl got tired of her.
Carl was still out dancing when she was sitting home with swollen ankles and an aching back in her eighth month of pregnancy. He drank too much, came home too late, smelled of other women’s perfume. “Melba-toast-Mar-la,” Carl slurred. “Don’t leave me home,” she’d pleaded. “Cryin’ all the time—you can’t dance. You waddle. You’re fat.” Why had she let him goad her? “I can dance. Please take me.” That heaving pain. The blood. So much blood. How could she be so reckless? Little Carl—so still. They didn’t let her hold him. Marla stopped dancing.
Pressing back into the Greyhound bus seat, Marla envisioned Carl stumbling up the stairs. Swaying against the apartment door. Fumbling for keys. The ghost of his voice shouted, “Marla! Damn you! Lemme in!” Unconsciously rubbing the sore spot on her arm, she wrestled around, trying to get comfortable. Carl’s face mocked her from the window reflection. “Nobody’s home, Carl.” All that penny-rubbing. “I’m done, Carl. Done being reckless. Done being a wreck.” Marla’s face came into focus. The bus pulled into the station. She stood. “Goodbye, Carl. I’m done blaming myself.” She left the penny on the seat.