“Couple” was published in Berkeley Fiction Review-Issue 31, April, 2011

COUPLE

 

WF, 5’4, brown hair, brown eyes, fortyish, available parking day or night in front of building.

Elva dropped her personal ad off on the way to work. She hadn’t been in a relationship in over three years. This was an attempt to plague fate with the probability of companionship–that was all. “Somebody,” she thought to herself. “Another overfed body wrestling his magic death queen, his Sears five-speed black and gold stingray, the answer to flat pancakes, bad cop shows, and gas.” The idea of fantasizing was an unnecessary pastime to Elva. Let the men bask in their fallacious pin-up dates. She saw it like it was.

WPM, 5’11, 170 lbs., forty-six, loves to cook, bicycle, spend quiet evenings at home. “Atque annuit ille, qui per eos, clamat, linquas iam, Lazare, lectum.” (God prospers their practise, and he, by them, calls Lazarus out of his tombe, mee out of my bed.) John Donne, 21st meditation.

Anderson was closer to 200 lbs., 5’8, unemployed for over twenty years, (his mother was supporting him), and had never owned a bicycle in his adult years. The remaining statements were accurate.

He made a full pot of ginger tea, set out a platter of biscuits, and sat at the dining room table in his black satin kimono and clogs. He had a pile of newspapers in front of him and a pen already secured in hand. He opened up the first paper, found the correct section and began to make his way slowly down the first column of personal advertisements. By the time he reached the bottom of the page, his fingers trembled, his face blustered into a pressurized red and his teeth clenched. “Hideous plasticized perverts,” he shrieked. He threw the paper down on the table. “Parading the illiteracy of humanity in crude blocks of twenty-five words or less. They’re actually proud of this constipated prose: hip, stylish, cuddly, busty, hard-bodied, love machine? Really!” Anderson had to talk himself through it, taking slow, deep breaths. He carefully refilled his teacup and resupplied his saucer with dunking biscuits.

Anderson circled three that stood out from the mass-heap–one male, two females. No reason to limit himself to any one sex when neither, up until this point, had made any definite mark. He found Elva’s ad appealing in its downtrodden simplicity and immediate concern for the comfort of strangers, but his first date was with Chester.

JM, 5’10, 150 lbs., black hair, brown eyes. “There is worship in plowing, and equity in the weeding hoe, a field marshal can be literate, might we see it again in our day!” Ezra Pound.

Anderson quivered with excitement when he read this. He got up and began to pace. “Perhaps the forest is not solely a landscape dense with redundancy. Not all are bred to idiocy and confusion. Some are plowing. Yes, some.” He tapped a finger over his lips.

Chester and Anderson met for dinner at an Italian restaurant. Half way through the breadbasket, Chester had still said nothing beyond his name and a brief greeting, while Anderson could not contain his enthusiasm. “Are there no more esurient minds? Oh Chester, we brethren must unite and find strength in our numbers.” He pounded his fist on the table. “We must plow!” He put down his fork and gave Chester a knowing look. “I am ready Chester. I am ready to mount that tractor with you.”

Chester filled his empty wine glass, looking pained, but said nothing. The food arrived. Anderson maintained his digestive dictum of fifteen chews per forkful when eating out, which seemed a sufficient safety net to cover the probability of overcooking. Chester ordered another bottle of wine.

“What is it, Chester, that we see around us? Are not the antennas of these insipid televisions really the two horns of the beast?  Save us from the hell of ignorance we swill around in!”

Chester silently polished off the remainder of the second wine bottle. He dabbed the corners of his mouth with his napkin and politely excused himself. Anderson waited another half hour before he cleared Chester’s plate, paid the bill, and sullenly departed without him.

*    *    *    *

WF, 5’5. red hair, blue eyes, 30’s, teacher, looking for someone creative, artistic, with a love of poetry. Must be adventurous.

Anderson had deemed himself something of a part-time poet, dabbling in the crowded recesses of this abyss for many years, and had come up with a few cherrystones of his own. He pulled out some of his old chapbooks and invited Mercedes over for dinner. He had certainly never found himself a stranger in the kitchen.

The meal commenced with a delicate bed of Boston lettuce cradling a gateau of salmon and a bottle of chilled Pinot Grigio, followed by a trio of pork chops blanketed in a duvet of virgin olive oil, sage, garlic, and pine nuts; the tranquil symmetry of asparagus resting under hollandaise sauce and a sharp, stimulating bottle of merlot, followed no less breathlessly by the meditative lullaby of red ripe strawberries shaded beneath a swirled parasol of fresh white cream.

Anderson watched as his guest plowed through the salmon, pork chops, and asparagus, loading them in a carpool onto her fork for the same road trip up. Anderson’s stomach rumbled for her strained intestinal tract. He overemphasized gentle, patient chewing. When it came to food Anderson believed in the power of example over word. When he’d masticated his final forkful with care and cleared the table of crumbs, he put on a pot of water for tea. They moved slowly into the living room.

“I like to keep myself busy when I’m not working,” said Mercedes. “I belong to some exclusive organizations and we’re always looking for new members.”

Anderson looked at Mercedes. “I’m not what you’d call an organization man, but I would certainly not be adverse to opening up my avenues.”

Mercedes smiled. “I can help open up a few of those cavernous avenues. I think you might be just the man we’re looking for. Someone who’s not afraid to try new things.”

Anderson anxiously eyed his chapbooks that sat in a neat pile to the side of the tray. He poured out two fragile cups of tea, arranged two biscuits on either side of each saucer and handed her one. He settled back on the couch with his cup and saucer, cleared his throat. “So, poetry?” Anderson took a deep breath. “Where does one begin?”

“Oh, yes. Please, Anderson. Read something. The raunchier the better, I always say.” Mercedes clapped her hands and leaned back on the couch. Anderson laughed.

“Yes, well, it is raw, that’s for sure. Let’s see now, I’ve flushed out a few antiquated specimens, so please be gentle. They might still be weighted by their muted dust.”

“Gentle’s not my style, Anderson, but I promise I’ll give you something special when you’re done.” Mercedes’ raspy voice dropped an octave lower.

Anderson picked up one of the notebooks, cleared his throat. ““Artist” is the title of this one.” He cleared his throat again and took a sip of tea.

“Disdain, immediate, lingering,

for the pedestrian compost that rolls itself

in the public outhouse of this sophistry,

the title is a swastika,

it bears its repercussive echo

in the cavernous malignancies

of the galleries

And the masters?

speak not of them

they are nameless.”

Anderson smiled. “The mire of youth.” Mercedes clapped her hands. “Raw and searing, I loved it! I’m going to read you something, but first I need to use your bathroom.”

“Why, yes, of course,” said Anderson, “It’s down the hallway to the right.”

Mercedes picked up her bag and sashayed in that direction.

Anderson was pleased tonight. Finally, he had found someone that appreciated the grit of his soul–someone who could take that plunge into deeper waters. He smiled to himself. This was going to be a memorable night. He pulled a comb out of his pocket and quickly pacified his hair. “But, I mustn’t forget to ask her about herself. Find out what brings her pleasure. I’ll ask her about that organization!”

Anderson became more excited by the fantasies rolling around in his head. He saw the future gushing toward him in an expanse of love, poetry and exploration. He hugged his chapbooks to his chest, realizing that he had finally come face to face with rapture. He became disoriented and dizzy from provocative images hurling at him through space, until, at some point, he realized he was no longer alone. He looked up to find Mercedes standing in the doorway. He stared. His mouth slackened and then seemed to detach itself from his face.

Mercedes snapped her whip in Anderson’s direction. “Now you’re going to feel poetry like you’ve never felt it before,” she growled, as she slithered toward him. Anderson took in the masked, black vinyl, fishnet ensemble as it approached him.

Mercedes grabbed Anderson’s mulberry linen shirt his mother had given him for his last birthday, ripped it wide open and began biting his nipples. She then dragged him off the couch, spun him around, and slapped handcuffs around his wrists. She threw him back on the couch and wrenched his nicely pleated slacks from his body. It was he and his boxers and then it was naked-he and Mercedes. The boxers were cut up with a knife she had strapped to her leg. She took a section of the boxers, balled them up, shoved them into his mouth and plastered duct tape that appeared from somewhere on her person, across his quivering lips. Mercedes took a few steps back and snapped her whip. This was not the organization he had expected or the sex he had ever dared to envision. He felt pain and pleasure in parts of his body that had remained dormant for decades. He found himself disturbed and excited by the abilities of this woman, but was also terrorized and incapacitated.

The next two days he was unable to get up off the couch. When he was finally able to limp around his apartment a few days later, he decided to call Elva. The first personal ad that had caught his attention was hers. Anderson knew that no matter how much he prepared psychologically for another encounter with Mercedes, his body would never say yes. It really hurt.

A week later Anderson found himself pacing in front of Elva’s building. She would be his last attempt. He had never driven a car, but took the time to note that available parking spaces were surprisingly abundant on Elva’s block, especially for a city that prided itself on its carefully zoned inconveniences. Anderson stuck his bus pass back in his wallet.

Elva opened the door to a short, globular man with pink, hairless skin and brown wavy hair that erupted over the periphery of his skull in a swaggering congregation of self-absorbed curls, clutching a bottle of wine. He bowed from the waist and a muted, lyrical voice emitted a breathless, “Anderson Plume, a pleasure.”

He clicked past her into the living room. The clogs resonated their way through at least two of the senses immediately.

Anderson sat carefully on the couch in the living room, while Elva rummaged through the kitchen. His raw nipples and posterior still weren’t able to recognize themselves after his encounter with Mercedes’ whip and other poetic paraphernalia she had brought in her compact satchel.

Elva reappeared with two plates of rice and vegetables that she set down in front of them, startling Anderson. He needed to slow down the evening, and warm up this exchange after the distressing incident with Chester, for it seemed that here was another date that wanted to rush him through dinner. He cleared his throat. “Soooo… have you lived long in the confines of the city?”

Elva looked up from her plate. “I never sat well in waiting rooms, yet I am not unaware it is where I remain.”

Anderson lifted his eyebrows. He started to rock. “Wine. We must have wine.”

Where were his chapbooks when he needed them? He produced a bottle opener from out of his pocket and opened it. Elva brought in two glasses, and he filled them.

“So,” Anderson began, rocking a little, “I detect the rumblings of a philosopher.”

“A philosopher is a yapping mutt peeing at you from the other side of a fence,” Elva stated flatly.

Anderson started to tremble. He got up and studied the bookcases that lined the walls of this tiny room. He unconsciously volleyed back an unstinted curl that bounced over his eye in an ongoing, impressive tennis rally. “What an arresting collection,” he whispered.

Anderson’s face battled to retain its long-standing placid indifference, though he was unable to restrain a feverish twitch or two that rippled violently over the edges of his nostrils. He sat back down on the couch. For sometime he stared at Elva in silence while she continued to eat. He felt his fork slide from his fingers and hunger slip strangely from him, like a towel that now exposed the naked man, as he slowly forced himself up off the couch and stood shaking in front of her.

“I tremble, Elva. I tremble at the unswept corners of the cities that diffuse us. Why must we float on our separate rafts, reading ourselves over and over again, while the rising waves of cynicism toward humanity push us further from the shore, from each other? We plumb the bookshelves that others find dusty, aware that it is the same century that cloaks itself in unfamiliar garb and speech, and yet we know it is the same heart and mind that roars from out of a multitude of separate tongues.” He sat feebly down on the couch again, facing two empty chairs that stared back at him from across the room. Anderson had rarely painted himself a lonely man.

Elva looked up from her plate. She was a thin, small, colorless woman with shoulder-length brown hair and soft, liquid eyes that had been passed over and not seen for so long by the Technicolor vision of humanity–like a blind spot in a rearview mirror–that consequently the world disappeared for her as well, and she let in ignorance or depth with the same distribution of light from behind wire rimmed glasses. She set down her fork. Her voice became low, hypnotic.

“Life is a horror film in slow motion. We pump ourselves with food, cigarettes, liquor, or whatever we can get our hands on, clutching our various flasks as we stumble in the dark, attempting to locate our seats. We sit in uncomfortable chairs, and yet we are no more situated than discarded newspaper littering the streets, hoping for the winds to distract us. Some of us sit together, some alone. Some push forward spotting a trophy in the forceful exertion of every step. Some move backward, but most sit like tired statues in the same battered chairs that mold themselves like cushioned toilet seats to each particular form. It is a long film that unreels before us, and we laugh, cry, fall in love and hate. We shake our fists or stare numbly and continue to eat, drink and smoke. We either beat on someone or someone beats on us. We pretend to ignore afflictions, while looking suspiciously out of the corners of our eyes to see if anyone has made that connection that leads continually back to each one of us and our own surfacing inadequacies.” Elva picked up her fork and resumed eating.

Anderson sat limply for some time watching her. He had fallen in love. “Might we both watch this horror film…together?” Anderson smiled weakly and slapped back the pristine curl, which allowed itself to be flattened behind an ear for a brief moment.

Elva threw herself at the fat man and kissed him. She quit her job at a secondhand bookstore owned by a chain-smoking Maoist and moved into Anderson’s apartment the following month.

*    *    *    *

The first few weeks were a gentle, graceful period in which Anderson and Elva’s mottled palms coexisted in coupled entwinement. When they walked the avenues together, rather than upset the delicate rhythm of their newly developed hand-to-hand tempo, Anderson would suffer the impending flow of a sprinkler that splattered his new linen trousers, or wade his suede clogs through puddles that sometimes saturated their path. Their discussions were lively and varied, but nothing that most of humanity would ever attempt to decipher.

Anderson’s culinary sprinklings were more daring and poetic than ever before, and when they retired each night with the flicker of one candle slouched into its haunches, and the low baritones of a Beethoven sonata wafting up at them, they railed in each other’s arms like one strand of spaghetti rolling under and over a massive meatball. The missionary position must have been what it felt like to have the wind knocked out of you. Elva stopped rolling and kept herself afloat. Anderson prematurely ejaculated and Elva grunted fake ecstasy. She hadn’t had sex in over three years and Anderson’s recent manhandling by Mercedes had been a serious event, but the only action besides his single-handed exercises stimulated by a pile of smeared literary magazines under his bed that had satisfied him for an unknown stretch of time. Anderson and Elva would light up cigarettes after sex and lay together in the dark, silently transfixed by a swarthy circle of light that rocked above them on the ceiling from the diminished candle beneath, and then a bit of verse might be whispered or bellowed until they were both howling together like schoolchildren.

What had once been jagged, construction-sooted streets, hammering incessantly with detours leading directly into nowhere, transformed into fascinating sidetracks where Anderson might discover the moss-filled underarm of an ancient oak, or scent the fleeting memory of a distant lavender, or spot an unusual dog with three legs. What had been a neighborhood plagued with strategically scattered humans crouched behind every shrub, waiting like locusts to strike up their banal chorus, now became agreeable singing landmarks that rhythmically led to the apartment. Anderson was in love, and, as such, the morose world settled back into its pew of illusion, and everything appeared or disappeared in humble sympathy.

Elva’s emotion was just as potent, though her burgeoning worldview seemed to be rising from an opposite shore. Living with Anderson had opened the map, so to speak, and she now discovered herself a part of a world. People poured out of a landscape that had once been stacked with books, and she found them suddenly congregating everywhere–at bus stops, on porches, in backyards. The neighborhood became a ripened platform for the teacher. Elva walked with Anderson each morning the two miles to the neighborhood library to read, yes, but with the public this time, although after spending a little over a week there, she found it empty, excluding an old woman who slept in periodicals and teenagers that shuttled in and out to use the bathroom. Even though these books did not fare the breadth and range of her own collection or the bookstore’s, she was a part of something that Anderson had just started to open up.

In the early afternoon, about one o’clock, she would travel the same path back home alone, for Anderson had already returned to the apartment to prepare one of his excessive meals, and before retreating back up to their dining room, she would join a group of three or four elderly women who spent their afternoons in the backyard on recliners drinking margueritas roused or passed out to the stuttering replay of Ravel’s Bolero that drummed over and over, and though Elva still hadn’t mastered the subtlety of small-talk, it never seemed to bother her neighbors, who were all a bit hard of hearing and thought her a homely, but pleasant enough girl.

Elva stood before them with her notebook open. “A vacuum: that voided space of nothing or death is an absolute impossibility. There is only that howling machine, of the same name, that terrorizes small domestics while motoring over the straying residue of our foul habits, and though most of us prefer to deny the existence of our own filth, there always comes a time when we must change the bag. Nothing dies; merely transfers.”

Mrs. Sniptrim looked up at the shadow of Elva and shaded her eyes.  “Well, it’s a shame then, my dear. We’ve already been to Walgreens this week, haven’t we Meryl, and no one told us vacuum bags were on sale, did they?”

Meryl nodded and they patted each other, clicking discouragement through loosened dental plates.

“Hydrogen peroxide and cat food, that right Meryl? Well, we’ll just have to get back there this week.”

Elva rustled through her notebook, turned a few pages and then looked up again.

“Fear of the eternal responsibility. Is it not when we allow someone to save us that we let go of our chance to save ourselves?” The women said nothing.

“You are all women of the matrimonial ring, having somehow mastered the dilemma. Am I correct?”

Mrs. Sniptrim looked up blankly for a few moments, and then over at Meryl, and then she rolled her eyes growling, leaned in toward Elva and swiped her hand. “Ohhhh, I got where you’re going now, baby! You trying to get that fat boy tied up in a bow?” She turned to Meryl. “She wants to marry the boy!” Mrs. Sniptrim looked up at Elva. “Well then I have one very important question for you, my dear. What’s the fat boy drink?”

Elva looked puzzled, and Meryl shushed Mrs. Sniptrim.

“Ohhh, please! The boy’s big as a condo! Might have to start saving money to get an engagement outta him.”

Elva stared vaguely at the still, bare legs of Mrs. Pratt and Mrs. Burlington, who had nodded off to the music and tequila. Their legs were white with blue veins sprawled over green-white checkerboard lawn chairs.

Mrs. Sniptrim continued. “Well, my Branford, God rest his soul, proposed on three straight-up Manhattans, but now he’s more your bone and paunch type; all sits in one place like a pillow. Your boy! He’s more like a bedroom set, huh Meryl?” Mrs. Sniptrim clutched Meryl now, and they both snickered and slapped each other, while the music descended back down that endless familiar corridor of its repercussive march.

“Listen to me honey. If you want to make some real progress, ply him with lots of alcohol. That’s how it’s been done for ages. What do you say, Meryl? Sangria? Out with the fruit balls and in with the alcohols?” And then they both chuckled and clicked, while Mrs. Pratt began to stir, the two disembodied legs returning to their housedress, pointing their toes and stretching.

The screech of a window sounded from above, and fountainous curls billowed out. “Lunch is ready, my sweet. Hello, beautiful ladies. Hope you’re enjoying this bountiful afternoon.”

Elva waved up at him and slowly gathered her books together before Mrs. Sniptrim grabbed her arm. “Remember now honey, that one up there is a big, big man! You’ve got no choice but to douse him in alcohols…ehh Meryl?” Elva left them giggling and slapping each other while the drums trilled out their unending ghostly reply.

*    *    *    *

During this period Anderson’s poems crowded his notebooks like cockroaches in the swelling silence of dawn’s kitchens. Everything that crawled out of him was a declaration of love.

Simply,

a thunderstorm

lights up the sky,

what does it care.

if I say not,

the sky continues to shatter

from behind drapes.

 

————————————————————-

Outside dawn shuts her eyes

to the hangover

of the city

before the beasts of sirens

and traffic

swarming bodies

that trample vision

pushing and stumbling

to buses, taxis, and trains

as if…

softly behind your coffee

you sit

as silent and blank as a nap

no watching, no waiting,

for the clock to slap another

face on you

staring down from the wall

with its hands in its lap

as humbly as any Buddha.

 

Have the trees moved in closer?

Voices press their green elbows

up to the glass

lean in whispering and swaying

like idle neighbors

 

And how is it that you

have risen up

out of silence

like a country road?

 

And now suddenly,

here you sit

in front of me

silent treasure of a forgotten page

discovered, breathing

the infinite world

within its uncut pages

forever.

 

*    *    *    *

Elva was reading over her notes sitting on the couch with her feet up. The dining room chairs braced the table familiarly. She looked up at Anderson who sat by the window, the end of a pen rolling over his bottom lip, a notebook also in his lap. “What do you think of this one?” Elva began to read out loud. “A woman limped out of a liquor store with the submissive stoop of the genuflected, and the promise of a liturgy to come in a bottle. A radiant, old face with the slight tremor of the merciful, holding the brown bag reverently out in front of her with both hands, as a priest holds his chalice. And what would be the difference? She has been living, breathing and drinking the blood of Christ in a lifetime of unparalleled singularity that the clergy can only read about and shamelessly attempt to enact, mouthing their long-winded, incredulous interpretations of the Bible, done up like showgirls in their mawkish vestments.”

Anderson chuckled and crossed out what he was writing. “How do you manage to choke the truth out of everything?”

Anderson allowed himself a humble dive now and again into the recitation of a poem or two, but for the most part he was becoming quieter and more in love by the day. He chuckled at Elva’s commentary on the church, but added nothing of his own. He had padded his history with impressive oral rebuttals and exhortations up until this time, but was silently shamed into propelling his pontificating elsewhere. He was beginning to believe that Elva was smarter than him. He took up the pen instead with a force that now moved itself in one direction only, from left to right, over the uniform blue shag of lined paper. His thoughts were safe within these white halls, and so he marched forward letting anything and everything flow, including fears that were now building up inside him. He had never come up against this kind of shame.

When he sat across from Elva each night at the dining room table, their eyes would meet briefly and then Elva would stray off deep into another realm. He could feel her pulling away from him and suddenly feel this brutal pain in the chest that swelled and expanded with every breath he took, until he was sure he would most certainly combust from within. He wanted so badly to travel with her to those faraway islands that she kept to herself. She used to share everything with him, but lately he was not able to find a way in.

Elva stared at the shuddering face of Anderson that jellied across from her at the table while it arrayed itself into various tics and saggings. She was finding that she hated him sometimes, and she felt pure terror at the thought of it. How could she despise his love that had cradled her and carried her through her solitude into a richer, safer place? She felt a deep pain in her chest as well, that orbited her heart. She had never witnessed real love–only a hell between her parents.

Elva awoke each morning of her childhood to find the same father and mother–dictator and dictatee–both strong enough to defy the mathematical universe with all of its scholars who stated that the one should most certainly cancel out the other. Her father was continually lecturing her mother while her mother remained mute. One person beating on the other. Her childhood followed the natural course in the horror film of life.

Elva looked into Anderson’s eyes and wondered if she was following in her father’s footsteps. Had she become the beater?

*    *    *    *

Time slid forward and the couple realized they had now been shacked up together for over seven months. Anderson’s mother had made some surprise visits before, but was coming over for a sit down dinner tonight. She had been footing the entire bill of their existence. She was an important guest, not to mention the only guest that they had ever had over as a couple. Anderson wanted to make something special for the occasion, but when he got to the grocery store he was unable to reel in the necessary ingredients for any one specific recipe, while his scattered mind tried desperately to keep up with the cart. He would dash down aisle three after a vision of the succulent obesity of a perfect pork roast soaking in its own juices. He would plunge down the aisle in pursuit of parsley sprigs instead of the meat, finding that his thoughts were rolling too quickly ahead of himself. He would secure the perfumed bouquet of herbs tightly in his hand and linger over the vision, watching himself lay the final artistic sprays of green at the head and feet of the coiffed carcass, while Elva and his mother looked on with admiration.

But then, out of nowhere, fear would reach up to throttle him and his Godly vision would decompose into some pantheon of grotesqueness, and he would watch himself take the knife, smile over at Elva, and make that first delicate slice into the exquisite meat only to find the middle as bloody as the day it was born, or watch it crumble like a high-rise into charcoaled bedlam.

Anderson was enslaved by a future that wanted only perfection, but now even failed miserably with the scratched-in rudiments of a grocery list. He had let go of his ability to make decisions with the paralytic fear of haplessly making the wrong one. He stranded the cart in aisle six after an hour or so of wandering, leaving behind some sprigs of parsley, a few cloves of garlic and an orphaned onion. When his mother arrived that night for their extravagant dinner Anderson had ordered a pizza instead. The wine certainly helped. His mother ignored the food and drank her meal instead.

“So, you’re another smart one like Anderson? What kind of IQ does it take to get a job?” Anderson’s mother asked. “Anderson has never been able to answer that one. Maybe you can finally enlighten me?”

Elva looked up from her plate at Mrs. Plume. “An occupation for monetary reward exclusively is the most heinous and denigrating form of enslavement. The mudslingers see us as slothful degenerates milking the cash cow, when the real work needs our constant attention. We are required to live outside the system in order to correctly interpret how those cogs continue to rotate.” Elva picked up her piece of pizza and continued eating.

Mrs. Plume stared at her in horror. “I see,” she said, pouring herself another glass of wine. “So I’m the cow with the cash, is that it?” Anderson looked at his mother and beamed. Mrs. Plume now had two social retards on her hands. “Isn’t it about time I got something for my money? What about a grandchild? At least I can tell my obnoxious neighbors that my son isn’t completely useless.” Mrs. Plume finished the bottle of wine and then stood up. “You do have sex, don’t you? Or is that too deep into the rotation of the cogs to consider?” Elva and Anderson stared at her, but said nothing. They weren’t haven’t much sex at this point. Anderson helped his mother with her coat. She looked at both of them and sighed. She didn’t make any more drop-in visits without checking first to make sure Elva was out. The girl was a never-ending monologue.

*    *    *    *

Anderson stood regretfully in front of Elva, while she shook a piece of cloth in front of his face. It was an item that had taken it upon itself to regress in the dryer, molding itself into the shape of a sickly adolescent of perhaps ten years old. Somehow this preferred sweater of Elva’s had clipped a ride with Anderson’s soiled mound and tumbled back toward the womb, and so Anderson stood now, submissively, hands buckled in his pockets, and winced every time the passing wool shriveled impotently in front of him.

“We have two machines,” Elva began. Anderson stared down at his shoe. She was starting in on him again. Lately these hellish moments happened more often than not. When they first moved in together they didn’t get upset about domestic mishaps. It was just the daily purgatory of life. He listened to Elva and hoped she would give up soon. She would begin to feel remorse and then they would prepare dinner.

“that await our command. And so, if we set the dial to NINETY minutes on high, then what can we EXPECT?” Elva waved the blasphemous wool. “How many times…”

Anderson stared at his pile of clothes wrinkling together in a heap on top of the machine. “I will have to iron every one of those when she is finished,” he thought to himself.

Elva despised herself, but was unable to stop badgering the man she loved. What did she care about a shrunken sweater? She’d never given a damn about her appearance.  She was killing this relationship with pettiness.

Elva looked into Anderson’s flinching face, which suddenly brought her back to her childhood. Whenever Elva’s father would come home from work and the family were all seated at the dining room table, Elva’s mother’s face would suddenly become a rapid interruption of itself, firing emotions over her features like a slot machine, so she might appear happy, sad, fearful, helpful, indifferent, attentive, excited or lost all within a matter of minutes. Elva now saw the same flickering film riddled across Anderson’s face. What the hell was going on? Throughout their relationship Elva had instructed all fear to be on a twenty-four hour lookout for the inevitable coup attempt to overthrow her identity, murder it, and replace it with her mother’s passive resignation, but what had silently developed instead was the opposite–Elva had become her heavy-handed father, while Anderson had stepped into the embittered serf slippers of her mother. She unclenched her bloodless ancestral fists and dropped the withered sweater.

*    *    *    *

It was now almost one year to date since Elva and Anderson had lived together. His mother had stopped hassling them about having a baby and the checks started coming in guilt-free. Elva and Anderson decided to dine out on a gloomy night in the middle of a gloomy week at a Greek restaurant in the neighborhood. It was a night so dull that it grimaced at its own yawning salute. The couple sat across from each other separated by condiments, a plastic daisy, and two pink menus that delayed their dim thoughts from discouraging one another. They stared into their menus as one might feed on the immediacy of television, stomaching the idiocy of reruns rather than stifle the dead-end of two opposing silences.

Elva looked briefly into Anderson’s face with its softened spread of complacent chins that rose up timidly out of a starched pink collar, and she smiled. She really did love him. She then stared past him at an empty table with two stiff-backed chairs that sat dumbly waiting for no one. Anderson watched Elva watch him and slowly shrunk into stooped shoulders and a muted look of penance. He, too, had a lot on his mind tonight.

Patiently, but somewhat oppressively, they waited for the butter and rolls to arrive. Elva dimly mind-called Acquinas, “What is Man himself and his whole terrestrial Life, but an emblem,” after a neon sample of the clothed populace passed by their table picking absently at his crotch of imprisoned spandex, smiling up from under the shimmering spectacle of a purple bicycle helmet.

This was one of those generous restaurants where plates were steeped high to make up for any lost moments waiting, and so forward came steaming platters of spanikopita for Elva, and gyros for Anderson, though not before his lamentable side order of flaming cheese had dragged the waiters up from their cigarette breaks to surround the table clapping and yelling, “oompah,” causing considerable damage to both suffocating egos who sat miserably turning various colors with their hands clenched in their laps, while a few vile onlookers looked on.

Not a word, petty or otherwise, floated up beyond the dismal centerpiece. The couple spoke only when ordering sideways and up at the waiter, and then there was the audible “ohhhh,” exhaled from the expanse of Anderson when he followed his tumbling fork nervously down beyond the folds of the plastic tablecloth. Each tried to appear steeped in their own thoughts. It was while coffee sat before them and the table had been cleared of its debris that Anderson became agitated, clearing his throat and foraging recklessly through his suit coat pockets. He managed at some point to pull out a cigarette pack and some matches, and finally got a cigarette lodged between dried lips.

Elva, meanwhile, suffered the silence by wondering how many times she had seen these repressed couples and wondered why the hell they even bothered to go out? She saw life ahead of her in one of those concentrated flashes that saw beyond Anderson’s recycling features, and she knew that she would wear the distance of aloneness no matter if a body sat across from her or not, and that what was to become of Anderson was no longer the singular plight of Anderson, but the final resting place of her coupled thoughts. Who else would possibly put up with her? She smiled weakly at the fumbling Anderson as he continued rummaging through the tired seams of his pockets again, and she tried to think of something to say. He rooted out a few of his crumpled dollars and some change and laid them hesitantly on the table in front of them. Then he pulled something else out of his pocket.

A small, blushing, velvet box appeared from under the pale folds of his descending knuckles–a box that seemed ridiculously overdressed, though it bore an acute firmness of purpose that it would be impossible for either of them to refute. Neither one could deny its formal persuasion, and Anderson, without looking directly at Elva, placed it silently in front of her on the table, careful to spare his trembling suit coat sleeve from an embarrassing dip in the coffee. They both stared at it now in dueling silence, weighted by its indestructible existence, its reverberating pronouncement, while the waiter sat on the other side of the restaurant totaling the bill, and Time, as it were, stood still.

END

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

About megtuite

Meg Tuite's writing has appeared in numerous literary journals including Berkeley Fiction Review, 34th Parallel, Epiphany, One, the Journal, Monkeybicycle and Boston Literary Magazine. She has been nominated several times for the Pushcart Prize. She is the author of two short story collections, Bound By Blue (2013) Sententia Books and Domestic Apparition (2011) San Francisco Bay Press, and three chapbooks including her latest, Her Skin is a Costume (2013) Red Bird Chapbooks, won the Twin Antler's Collaborative Award through Artistically Declined Press (2014), for her collaborative poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging with Heather Fowler and Michelle Reale. She has a monthly column, Exquisite Duet, published up at JMWW. Her blog: megtuite.com
This entry was posted in Fiction. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s