Practically Married

Practically Married

Douglas was called to claim the body. A coroner handed him Daisy’s bikini in a plastic bag, faded by too many trips to the pool, pilled by too many drop-seats off the diving board. Douglas could not have cared less about the useless garment now.

The coroner said the drowning was a “freak accident,” as if Douglas needed the clarification. A wad of gummy bears had been found in Daisy’s throat, in the pool of the apartment complex where she and Douglas lived. She was alone, of course, except for an older woman sunning herself in a lounge chair. The woman could not swim.

He followed the coroner through a set of double doors. They walked along a row of drawers and stopped at one labeled, Morgan, Daisy. The coroner paused.

“Go ahead,” Douglas said. The man pulled the handle and there was Daisy: waxy, ashen, sunken in weird ways. Douglas touched her wrist, her lips. He kissed her forehead, where the scent of chlorine clung to her hair.

“Do you have someone you can call?” the coroner asked Douglas.

“Sure,” Douglas said. He followed the man down the hall, and walked out of the building, into the blistering Arizona sun. He dropped his car keys into a stand of sea oats and walked the four miles home. He arrived at the apartment with his shirt soaked through and found he could not remember the walk home.

He walked straight to the phone and called Daisy’s parents in Missouri.

“Margaret,” he said, when her mother answered. “It’s Douglas. It’s Daisy. She’s dead.”

He sobbed so hard Margaret could not understand him. Margaret put Daisy’s father on the phone. Douglas stopped crying. Of course, Douglas said. Daisy was a great swimmer, he said, but she drowned. I don’t know how, but it happened.

Daisy’s father yelled.

“I’m sorry!” Douglas yelled back. “A freak accident!” He listened for a few seconds before he went mute and hung up. Sometimes the tirades were about military histories. Often, they were about “political mavericks” Daisy’s father admired. Occasionally, they grew personal, about Margaret, or Daisy’s older brother, Ben. Somehow, Daisy had always escaped her father’s wrath.

Douglas stripped off his shirt and sat at the kitchen table. Pressing a beer to his neck, he thought about Daisy’s body in the cold drawer. The night after they had moved in together, a year and a half before, she had straddled his lap at the tiny table and asked playfully, “Do you love me?”

He had declined to answer.

Douglas woke to the telephone ringing, his ear on the table. It was Margaret calling back, to invite Douglas to stay with them during the funeral. “Thank you,” he said, a little stunned. Where else would he have stayed?


Daisy’s body flew ahead to Missouri, chilled in dry ice. Douglas lined a suitcase with clothing for the weekend and piled Daisy things on top—socks, dresses, jeans—as if she needed things for the trip, too. He didn’t imagine Margaret needed help picking out an outfit for the coffin, but he packed nice things just in case. He left Daisy’s notebooks in the living room under framed photos of rivers in Utah and Daisy in raincoats in front of fountains across Europe. He unhooked a sapphire necklace from the jewelry rack in the bathroom, then thought better of it and hung it back up.

Douglas looked at himself in the bathroom mirror. In the bright lights, his bare torso glowed like a shirt. He could not see his body sometimes without hearing Daisy’s praise of it. She bought nice clothes for him, leaving them on his pillow like a cat bringing home dead animals. The first time they made out, Daisy had hooked her fingers beneath his waistband and whimpered when they kissed.

She had just finished college. Her eye shadow looked like soot. It looked ridiculous, Douglas thought, but he liked her anyway. She was three years younger, a friend of a friend.

In his bedroom a few days later, Douglas pulled Daisy’s face to his, away from his lap.

“I just want to kiss you,” he said. Daisy had nodded, confused.

Her desk lurked in the corner of the living room now. Her papers looked disheveled, as if she had been writing on them that morning. She could not have touched them that morning, Douglas told himself. Daisy won’t be with those papers anymore.


Daisy’s parents sent her brother, Ben, to get Douglas at the airport. Ben worked in the convenience store of a gas station. In addition to gas, he sold cream-filled caramels, humongous sodas, donuts, corn chips, cigarettes, and beef jerky. Ben’s co-workers were the worst part of the job, he told Douglas. He didn’t mind the homeless men who stood outside and begged for change, though. He was supposed to tell them to go away, but he never did.

Douglas knew Daisy’s parents better than he knew Ben because her parents had visited whenever her father had business in Page. Daisy’s father sold motorboats for a living. He had a sweet tooth and stocked half gallons of ice cream in their freezer before leaving town. Daisy’s mother chastised him. Her mother did not know how to calculate her daughter’s lack of interest in even a mild eating disorder. Daisy was physically very strong. Douglas loved this about her. She could do twenty pull-ups on a bar hung across the bathroom door.

The family dog came with Daisy’s parents whenever they visited. After dinners together, her parents dropped off Daisy and Douglas at the apartment. They never came up. They needed to get back to the hotel, they said, back to the dog.

Douglas thought this made sense, but it bothered Daisy. She suspected it had something to do with the day they had moved in together. Daisy and her mother had gone out for drinks and left her father and Douglas to set up a crappy metal bed frame together. That must have been too much, Daisy said. He knows the exact place we sleep. So? Douglas said. So, we aren’t married, Daisy said. Douglas thought Daisy was being juvenile, but Douglas found many things about Daisy juvenile. He thought these things came with dating a younger woman, and didn’t always take them seriously.


Ben had recently enrolled in a carpentry program at the community college twenty miles from his parents’ house. The program was reputable, Ben said, but people who were not familiar with its quality of instruction or with the famous people who had gone through it sometimes thought he was confused about life. Ben’s father was one of these people.

“But he can lick a dick,” Ben said. He pressed the cigarette lighter and held a pack of cigarettes to Douglas.

Douglas declined. He held his armpit to the open window, a pointless activity. The air in Missouri pressed on him like an ill-behaved dog, something wet and heavy.

Ben pointed behind him. A sea of wooden ducks littered the backseat.

“Holy cow,” Douglas said.

“I also build cabinets. Furniture, stuff like that,” Ben said. “I want to build my own house someday.”

“Which do you like better, furniture or decoys?” Douglas asked.

Ben shrugged. “I get two hundred for those, once I paint them.”

“No shit?” Douglas said. “Can I look?”

“You can do whatever you want, man.” Ben turned onto a highway eight lanes-wide.

Douglas studied one of the decoys, feeling its smooth, sanded body. “Do you hunt?” he asked.

Ben shrugged. “Not really. Everyone around here does, though.”

“Daisy hated hunting,” Douglas said.

“Yeah,” Ben said.

“But she went with your dad every year, just to be near him.”

Ben nodded. “Yup.”

Douglas held the decoy in his lap. “Could I have this?” he asked.

Ben glanced at the decoy and looked back to the road. “Sure, man. Have at it.”


Ben had to run in for a stack of programs he had forgotten at the Morgan house. Douglas needed a shower, but there wasn’t time for one before the funeral. He wished the service were the next day, instead of that afternoon. It had something to do with the freshness of Daisy’s body, or maybe they all just needed to get through with things. For what? Douglas thought. We’re all going to suffer anyway.

Douglas could have taken two showers in the time Ben kept him waiting. He opened his door and lit a cigarette. He held the butt low, like a kid sneaking a smoke in high school. He thought about the fact that he had never been to Kansas City, not once. Daisy had said it would be boring. Douglas had believed her.

He waited, looking at the huge Tudor where Daisy had grown up, trying to remember stories she had told him. There were simple fights with her mother, not wanting to write thank you notes or go to certain parties. Daisy had a slew of ex-boyfriends. Which was worse: that someone besides Douglas had once touched Daisy or that she had wanted them to?

He recalled a short-lived flame that had attracted her in high school, merely because the flame’s twin brother was a championship swimmer. The swimmer was in a serious relationship, though, so the twin was the closest Daisy was going to get to him.

Douglas lit another cigarette, thinking about this twin who was also a good swimmer, but not good enough, not as good as his brother. He had taken Daisy to cookouts, and they had gone camping with the brother and the brother’s girlfriend. The twin kissed like he was out of oxygen, Daisy said, and her mouth was a tank of it. It was like drowning, Daisy said. Douglas had nodded. He didn’t always want to know these things, but he wanted to know Daisy, and knowing these things was part of knowing her. He wanted to go back and correct every mistake she had ever made, erase everything that had ever caused her harm, but all those things had added up to Daisy. Besides, Daisy had done a lot of those things to herself.

He thought of the nights she came home from her job at the gym and kicked off her sneakers in the living room. Douglas often followed her to the bathroom and showered with her, rinsing the seal of his air-conditioned office from his skin. He ran a block of soap over Daisy’s body. She washed his hair. They toweled off, ate dinner, and worked on different things. Douglas read magazines. Daisy wrote articles for magazines. Sometimes she fell asleep at her desk with her head on her arms, as if dreaming her way into a world she could not fully imagine.


Douglas sat next to Ben in the pew. They both smelled like smoke, a little like the old stones of the chapel itself. Douglas liked it. He picked at a cushion so worn it might have been there from the beginning of the chapel’s time, which, according to the back of the program, was a long time ago. The program read Daisy Miller Morgan in tumbling script at the top of the page. Ben had made the programs, with a wispy heron next to Daisy’s name. He had taken a block printing class in school, he explained to a group of mourners who gathered before the service, detailing the process of printing the heron. His father had interrupted, saying, “No one cares about the goddamn bird, Ben. It’s time to sit down.”

Douglas stopped messing with the pillow and sat upright. There were three eulogies: one from two of Daisy’s high school classmates who both called Daisy inspiring, one from her college roommate, and one from Ben. To get to the pulpit, Ben scooted past his mother, Margaret, a woman who looked somewhat like the bird on the program: tall and thin, with shocking legs and short wispy hair that curled out from her neck. Ben read from his notes without looking up, his voice breaking several times. The top of his head shined out, a thin nest of matted hair. Once, it bumped the microphone. He talked about Daisy’s wicked sense of humor and about visiting Daisy in college. He didn’t say a word about her life after school, when she lived with Douglas.

At the cemetery, a group of men in sunglasses carried the casket from the limo. They were all thick-limbed and dark-haired. For a minute, Douglas wondered if her father was in the mob. Was there a mob in Missouri? he wondered. Then he snapped out of his reverie and picked up a handful of dirt. He stood in the shade of the funeral tent, which was whipping in the wind, waiting to see if anyone else would throw anything on the casket. No one did. Douglas tossed the dirt in anyway.

Back at the Morgans’ home, Douglas dropped his bag in an upstairs room where the lampshades matched the comforter. A woman in a black hat stuck her head in and asked Douglas where she could powder her nose.

“I’ve never been here in my life,” he said. The woman wandered along the hallway, ducking into doors. She found what she was looking for and closed one behind her. Douglas stood on the balcony listening to mourners talk in the hall below. So young, they murmured. The lady in the black hat passed by and went downstairs. Douglas watched her and then walked from room to room until he found Daisy’s, where rows of photographs lined a shelf. Braces encased Daisy’s teeth in many photos, her younger selves dressed in sporty outfits. Prom dates escorted her, her wrists tagged with various corsages. An Irish Setter towered beside her in a canoe, both of them strapped into life jackets. Douglas opened the drawer of the nightstand, empty save for a pencil. Inside the closet, a pair of waders startled him. He closed the door and went downstairs, trying to forget the length of dark rubber hanging there like a body waiting to be discovered.

He found Margaret in the kitchen. She had taken off her shoes and was heating bread in a toaster oven.

The dog was on the counter. Douglas wanted to say hello to it, ruffle its fluffy head, but he didn’t want to get near Margaret. Instead, he slumped on a stool at the granite island. It was an icy shade of blue, with flecks of silver, an ocean flashing with fish.

Margaret set one of her earrings on the island. She moved the dog next to the earring and stroked its head. Its eyes bulged beneath her hand.

Douglas heard the television in the den attached to the kitchen. I should go into the den, he thought. That is where men in families go.

“I was wondering,” Douglas said. “Could I sleep in Daisy’s room, do you think?”

Margaret watched the coils in the toaster oven. Daisy’s father came into the kitchen. He had unbuttoned his dress shirt, revealing an undershirt, and held a tumbler of ice and clear liquid.

The man steadied himself on the island. “She didn’t even like you,” he said.

Margaret glared at her husband. “Where’s Ben?” she said. She opened the refrigerator and called into it. “Ben!”

“So she was living with you,” Daisy’s father said. “Big deal. She just hadn’t left yet.”

Margaret grabbed her husband’s wrist in her bony hand, a beak trembling with its catch. “We’re all a little tired, don’t you think?”

Daisy’s father drew away. “The kid should know.”

Ben appeared in the doorway.

“We were practically married!” Douglas shouted.

Ben looked at his father. His father walked to the den. The television roared to life.

Douglas felt his cheeks burn. He put his head on the cool island and began to sob.

Margaret pulled Ben into the dining room. “Could you run an errand for me?” she said. The door closed behind them.

On the island, the dog drank from a bowl of celery. Douglas reached for the dog but fumbled and hit the bowl. The dog backed away, growling.

“I should have petted you earlier,” Douglas said. “You would remember me now.” He inched closer. The dog drew further away. When it reached the end of the island, it peered at the hardwoods below and then back at Douglas, deciding. It chose the uncertain distance between itself and the floor. Douglas heard its paws hit, followed by a thud and a yelp.

He rushed to the dog. Margaret appeared above him.

“Would you like to join everyone in the living room?” she suggested.

Douglas stroked the dog’s head. “Daisy needed you,” he said. “She needed all of us, but she especially needed you.” He stood and looked at Margaret.

“I don’t follow,” Margaret said.

Douglas scanned the woman’s face. Her eyes sat like jewels inside a spray of silver eye shadow. Her neck, cloaked in ruffles, stretched upward, ramrod straight. Necklaces draped her shoulders, collecting at her chest in a regal, iridescent cluster.

“I’m sorry,” Douglas said. “I was mistaken.”

He left the kitchen and locked himself inside the downstairs bathroom, splashing water on his neck and face. He kept hearing the dog’s yelp as it hit the floor. If Daisy were there, she might have dragged him into the bathroom herself, unhooked her bra or bit his neck. She would have made a game of it. She would have thought it was all crap, but she would have dealt with it anyway.

Douglas pressed a towel into his eyes. Fine, he thought. I’ll behave. He left the towels on their gold racks rumpled, replete.

In the living room, he sat in a corner, wet, and drank rum-and-Cokes. Young men hovered guiltily, running out of things to say. Elderly women eyed him from across the room. An old man in a beige suit brought him a plate of food. Or, not food, but trail mix that slid across the plate when he handed it to Douglas. The high school friends who had eulogized Daisy looked on Douglas with doe eyes. He could have had either of them right there, under the table, no question. Maybe even both at once.

He had a conversation with a morose young man who had golfed with Daisy in middle school. The kid searched now for some scrap of meaning in the newly revived memory. Ben interrupted him, asking Douglas if he wanted to help him run an errand. Douglas grabbed a drink on his way to the door.


The awning at the gas station matched the shirt Ben kept in the backseat, next to all the ducks. “Wait here,” he told Douglas.

“Where would I go?” Douglas motioned to the dry, empty field in front of them.

“Pickles. Crackers. Coke.” Ben counted items on his fingers. “Do you need anything?”

Douglas laughed. “Yeah. I need some jerky.”

Ben muttered something and shut the door. Douglas got out and walked to the field. He took long strides, stomping the grass. Reeds snagged his pants. Dust coated his shoes. Daisy was right, he thought. Kansas is a piece of shit. Missouri, he corrected himself. She was from the fancy side of the river, obviously.

Grasshoppers leapt through the long, dry grass. The click of their tiny bodies startled him. Was Daisy’s old man right? Earlier that month, Daisy had gone for a drive by herself. Douglas found her sitting in the car afterwards, staring out the windshield. “Everything okay?” he had asked. She had turned to him, spooky-calm, and shaken her head.

“Douglas!” Ben called. Douglas didn’t answer.

Ben shielded his eyes and looked around. He called again, this time clearly seeing Douglas. He waved. Douglas looked at his feet covered in dirt. He could walk to the edge of the field, he thought, keep going. Go through the woods, find the highway, hitch back to Phoenix. Ben would return to the house with only snacks. “Where’s Douglas?” everyone would ask. “Douglas, Douglas, where did you go?”

He walked back to the car.

“What’s up, man?” Ben said.


“They don’t have bathrooms where you’re from?” Ben started the car. “Goddamned redneck.”

“Who works at a gas station in the middle of nowhere, huh?”

“Easy,” Ben said, shaking out two cigarettes. He passed one to Douglas and laughed. “I like you, man. I get it.”

“Get what?” Douglas said.

“What Daisy was doing with you.”

“Gee, thanks.

“Aw, no, man. I didn’t mean it like that.”

Douglas was still sweating. “Hey,” he said. “Why didn’t you say anything about me in the eulogy? Did you think I was just a phase or something?”

Ben didn’t answer.

“Maybe you’re right,” Douglas said. “Maybe all of you are right.”

“Look, I’m sorry.” Ben shrugged. “It honestly didn’t occur to me.”


Only a handful of visitors remained when Ben and Douglas returned to the house. At the bar, where Douglas deposited several two-liters of soda, Daisy’s father turned to him. The man looked tired, broken in some far corner of himself. Whatever had happened to him, Douglas thought, had happened way before Daisy died. Now this would disappear down the long, dark hole of his life.

Douglas tried to imagine cheering up a man like that. It seemed impossible, but Daisy had been able to do it. Searching for something to say, Douglas came up empty. Instead, he raised his cup, walked past the man, and went upstairs. He tried to imagine sleeping in the house that night and felt like he might throw up. He took his suitcase to Daisy’s room and stripped it of her belongings. He piled them on the bed like a funeral pyre. The dog watched from the doorway. Sayonara, old friend, he said to the dog. He walked to the window, dropped his suitcase to the ground below, and climbed out after it. The dog stood on its hind legs at the sill. Douglas scaled a trellis to the patio below, wondering how many times Daisy had done the same thing. He didn’t want to go back to Phoenix high on the terror of his own loneliness, the way Daisy had entered it. She deserved better than that, but he was done with these people.

In Phoenix, Douglas called Margaret to ask what to do with Daisy’s stuff. Margaret said she would send Ben and a small horse trailer to retrieve them. Douglas offered to return Daisy’s half of the security deposit, but Margaret refused it. “Fair enough,” Douglas said, not knowing what he meant. He tried to apologize for his behavior in Missouri, but Margaret cut him off. She said they wished him the best. Worst of all, she meant it.


Some years later, Douglas ran into Ben at a hotel while traveling on business. Ben was thick and wooly. His hands were chapped, lined with the blackened crevices of someone who works outside all day. Ben said he was attending a convention, selling duck decoys. Douglas asked if he had married or built his own house or anything.

Ben pointed to his flannel shirt, frayed at the wrists and missing buttons. “Do I look like the marrying type?” he asked, joking.

“Actually,” he said, “I have two kids.” He waved his hand in the direction of the ballrooms behind them. “They’re off somewhere buying a bunch of gear no one needs. My wife is manning the table, telling everyone what’s wrong with the product.”

Douglas laughed. He had wisps of grey at his temples like Ben, but the grey on Douglas looked out of place, like feathers on a wind-blown bird.

Douglas asked Ben how his parents were doing.

“They’re good,” Ben said. “I mean, it’s been hard on them, you know? But they’re okay.”

“Yes,” Douglas said. The memory of the Morgans’ big Tudor struck him like a brick in the chest. He pictured Mr. Morgan retrieving the morning paper, a bathrobe open across his chest. Douglas wanted to talk to the man, follow him into the house, and join him in the den for whatever was on TV.

“Would you tell them I said hello?” he asked.

“Sure,” Ben said.

A teenager approached and put her arms around Ben’s neck. “This is my daughter,” Ben said.

The girl was tall and wore a pair of calf-high boots. “Nice to meet you,” she said. She had a freckled face and reminded him, somehow, of Daisy.

“We’re about to grab lunch,” Ben said. “You hungry?”

Ben’s daughter looked at Douglas expectantly, a duplicate of her father’s face.

Douglas stared at the two of them. “Sorry,” he said. “I can’t.”

He shook Ben’s hand.

“Take care, man,” Ben said. He was about to pull Douglas in for a hug, but Douglas nodded, told the daughter it was nice to meet her, and hurried outside. He took big gulps of air, orbiting the hotel in bigger and bigger circles. He was haunted by the thought of Daisy calling his name, trying to catch up behind him on the city blocks. He loved her, he pitied her: same as before. Her wound breathed within him, a living thing, reminding him how little he had understood.


About the Author

Kara Norman has an MFA in creative writing from the University of North Carolina Wilmington and currently works as a freelance writer and designer in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, About Place Journal, and other publications. Find her online at and on Twitter @sutnambonsai.