The Bottler’s husband, the last purely apathetic person left in the world, has begun showing an interest in his marriage, to the utter shame and disappointment of his wife. For years, she has passionately sold vials of his apathy for five slips apiece. Some customers come to her only once — the quick-fix crowd, as she calls them — but she’s seen her share of addicts too. When the feeling wears off, the first thing they care about is not caring again. Apathy begets apathy; selling apathy begets more slips. For her, that means mega wealth. Lasting success. A previously foolproof life plan.
Despite her recent concerns over her husband, her plan had its first significant milestone last week: her all-new flourish-festooned sellingplace. If you’ve tiptoed toward Hawkridge Square recently looking for her and have instead found an empty lot, keep walking aboutish 10 blocks north, a total-bougey site now. You’ll see her wondrous eye-catcher, a parasite-red caravan, nestled between Buzu’s and the brothel, the outcome of her years of hard work. But her faulty husband and his newly developed feelings have put into jeopardy her entire business model. Her product has gotten weaker, and despite the truly incredible new setup (tiger lily embellishments, dalbergia shelves), her customers have depleted.
Today, after the worst slip-making day she’s had all year, she rides her caravan home. Walking inside the room they share, she finds her husband in bed, the place he has existed for most of his life (from bed, he can satisfy nearly all needs; he can eat the meals and drink the water the Bottler leaves out for him and fill the bucket at his side with all bodily fluids, to be properly disposed of by her later).
Hello, wife, he says when she walks in.
Hello, she says. May I get the tube? She asks every time, out of habit more than anything.
Her husband shrugs. Says OK. Usually it’s just the shrug.
OK, she says and pulls the tube from the closet.
She secures the mouthpiece under his lips and over his yellow teeth, the one part of him she chooses not to clean. Toothpaste, she knows, would ruin the stink of his breath, potentially weakening the efficiency of her product.
After inserting the free end of the tube into an empty vial, she instructs him to breathe out. He breathes. The glass fills with his hazy gray essence, like where the tip of a smoke trail touches the sky. She caps the bottle to keep the apathy from escaping.
Good, she says. Thank you. He nods.
She pulls another vial. Reinserts the tube. Tells him to breathe. He breathes. Good.
A vial. Good. Tube. Good. Breathe. Good. A breath. Good. Thank you.
She finds something like love in the cadence of their routine.
On the sixth bottle, her husband looks up at her and attempts to speak through the tube: How was your day? His words break the rhythm, the process, and seem to exist outside of reality, suspended in their own imaginary vial. The Bottler stiffens. Places her hands on her lap. Stares at him, then reluctantly continues. Perhaps she had misheard.
I would like to know how your day has been, he says, muffled but intelligible.
The Bottler slowly removes the mouthpiece. Sets aside the equipment.
Why are you concerned about my day?
I went for a walk today, he says, and I thought about you. And everything you do. I want to show you I finally care.
The Bottler gathers the six filled vials. Please don’t, she says, holding back tears. And please remain here next time you think about going for a walk.
I’m sorry if I upset you, he says.
The Bottler leaves the house, the sting of her husband’s sentence sinking in. On the way to her caravan, she drops the ruined night’s batch in the can outside. The vials, filled too much with passion, are useful now only to maggots in the trash.
A month later, the Bottler’s supply runs out. During that time, repeat customers had begun demanding their slips back. I started caring about my life again after just two hours, they’d say, or, If you want to keep us interested in your product, make sure your product keeps us disinterested. With her husband now cooking dinners for the two of them, complete with candlelight and rose petals (he even started regularly bathing himself), it became super impossible to deliver on those demands.
When she sells the last vial to Mabel from the brothel next door, her heart races. Breaths sharpen. She’d have to sell the new mega-fancy shop to now support herself. Her business was over. Everything she cherished, gone.
What are you freaking about? Mabel says. She holds out the apathy. Gives it a shake. After this, I'll have to confront my entire life.
Like everyone else, says the Bottler.
Mabel says, Like everyone else.
The Bottler returns home to a clean house. No buckets to empty; no work to be done. The sun had set early tonight, and the house hurt her eyes with its septic glow.
How was your day? her husband greets her as he had done every day for the past month. Her future would be full of such meaningless questions and hollow statements, she realizes. The unbearable normalcy she used to sell away from others.
I'm tired, she says.
I want to make you feel better, he says.
She walks to the closet. Collects the items she no longer has any use for: the tube, the empty vials. But when she removes the box from the shelf, a single gray-filled glass falls to the floor with a clink. She picks it up, the glass and its contents miraculously intact, and slips it inside the nightstand drawer before disposing of the equipment, changing her clothes, and sliding into bed.
Her husband joins her, careful to still keep his distance.
I want you to make me happy, she says.
I'll do anything, he says.
She pulls the apathy from the drawer. Holds it up to him. Please, she says.
He looks at it with disdain. Says, I'm not that person anymore.
She stares him in the eyes. Pushes the vial closer to his face. Offers a promise: It won't last long.
Reluctantly, he pinches the bottle between his fingers. Stares at the vial, then at her. For you, he says, and inhales what he had once breathed out.
The Bottler settles under the sheets. Do you love me? she says.
The husband shrugs.
The Bottler mega-smiles. She could wait to confront her new life tomorrow.
Do you love me? she says.
Her husband shrugs again.
Good, she says. Thank you.