One day, Travis and Victoria decide that their safe word in bed should be "Gingrich." At first, the simple fact of having a safe word is exciting for Travis, but then Victoria begins using it out of context. When he overfills her wine glass or runs too fast on their Sunday jog, she shouts "Gingrich!" and then laughs girlishly. It is humorous and clever of her to reappropriate it in this way, but Travis begins to lament that this means the danger that requires such a word has been lost.
Then one night, they are riding the bus back to their apartment from Pioneer Square. It is the First Thursday of December, and they spent the night walking between impressionistic blobs, drinking red wine from clear plastic cups. Travis knows that they are going to have sex. He decides to bring up the time that they invented the safe word. "I think you should try to make me say it," he says. They are sitting in the back of the bus in pale blue seats that smell like homeless people and french fries.
"Okay," she says. She is smiling and looking out the window. Rain falls through passing headlights among the dark storefronts and hooded pedestrians.
When they get off the bus, they run through the rain back to their apartment. Victoria nudges Travis with her elbow like a soccer player vying for the ball. Eventually she uses her shoulder and knocks Travis into a juniper bush. He rolls out of the bush laughing and then chases after her, but she has already raced through the front door.
Inside, Victoria has stripped down to her underwear and is standing in the bathroom doorway. She is half golden and shadowed by the dim lamplight.
"Honey," she says, "I think I want to put you in a cage."
"Okay. We don't really have a cage, though."
"Maybe we should buy one. I like the idea of putting you in one, and then, I don't know, letting you out when I decide I want to."
"Well, maybe we can think of a makeshift one for tonight."
Victoria looks around the apartment. She takes a few steps and then opens the two-foot-high door near the apartment's entrance. Their building used to be a hotel for single men back in the 1920s, where meals would be delivered through this small space the size of a dog kennel.
Travis comes up behind Victoria while she is bending over to examine the cabinet. He touches her back. "Hey there," he says.
"Settle down. Now get in and don't come out until I say so. You can't speak unless I talk to you. Also, I think you should be naked."
Travis takes off his clothes and crawls into the cramped space. He is surrounded by an extension cord, their old 12-inch television set, a couple mason jars filled with coins, and Victoria's leather boots.
"Love you," she says. She closes the door.
For the first 20 minutes, Travis simply anticipates coming out of the cabinet. He resists thinking about Victoria's motives for leaving him there. As time passes, he listens to her bare feet on the wood floor. He hears computer keys typing, then the sink running in the kitchen, then the lamp in their bedroom flicking on or off. Cold air is coming from a crack in the plaster. After an hour, he is no longer aroused and all he wants is for her to open the door and invite him into the bedroom to sleep.
He will not say the word, though, because he wants her to let him out. He wants her to not be able to live with his absence. He finds a way to lie down in the space and curls up with Victoria's leather boots. He thinks of how she wears fuzzy white socks underneath these boots, and how in the past he considered them tasteless and mannish. Now he decides they are just another reason to love her.
John Englehardt has a degree in creative writing from Seattle University. He's currently pursuing his MFA at the University of Arkansas.