The front door opens and she steps inside.
He’s up, fists clenched, jaw stiff, words boiling over his lips like lava.
“Where have you been?”
“What do you mean?”
“Just what I’m saying.”
“Where have I been?”
“This conversation is old.”
He points a shaky finger.
“You, my dear, are unpredictable.”
He takes a book off a shelf from above the fireplace – a mock décor Hemingway – and hurls it across the room. It crashes into a wall, hits the floor, and scurries for cover.
“Answer my gosh-damn question!”
“You shouldn’t cuss, darling, it doesn’t suit you.”
“You were with another man, weren’t you?”
“Of course I was, don’t be stupid.”
“Hellfire, I knew it! You, you slut!”
“Slut? I told you I was going out with another man. And still you act out like this.”
“Act out? Mother of all heaven!”
He kicks the chair, but it doesn’t move very far – maybe a couple inches. It’s a heavy chair, a leather club chair he thought would make him seem distinguished when reading in it. He found it hard to focus when reading, however, which made his quest for elegance an uphill battle.
“This is cockers!”
“Cockers, is it?” she laughs, setting down her bag. “Oh my.” She’s getting hungry and heads to the kitchen.
“Just where the balls do you think you’re going? We’re having a discussion here!” he screams, spitting with rage, watching her back become distant.
“I’m hungry!” she yells over her shoulder. “Sex does that to a woman!”
He can’t believe his bad judgment. He’d call it bad luck but the reality is that it’s just bad, bad judgment on his part. Fifteen years. Fifteen years! And still she treats him like some mentally unstable child, a demented nurse dishing out daily doses of disrespect and pain. And the worst part, the most humiliating part, is that he puts up with it! Continually puts up with her whimsy, her shenanigans, her adulterous ways, her lack of concern for his feelings…why why why? Why does he do it?
He looks about the room, watches the other books on the shelves cringe away from his glare, each hoping to be spared his frustration. He decides to follow her into the kitchen. This conversation will happen, by gum!
In the kitchen she’s got water boiling and is pulling packets of pasta out from the cupboards. He sees cans of whole tomato on the counter and chopped onion and mashed garlic sitting on a cutting board. Tomato sauce, he thinks? At a time like this?
“Just what do you think you are doing?” he stammers, his face red.
“I’m making spaghetti. Do you want some?”
“No,” he says with a snarl, “I do not want any spaghetti.”
She shrugs and rips open the bags of noodles. She breaks them in half and throws them into the boiling water, sets the timer for eight minutes.
She claps her hands together three times. “Let’s go, I need those peppers!”
The door beneath the sink pushes open and the gnome from the garden rushes in, out of breath. He’s holding two bell peppers (the green of them matching the bent point of his hat and coat) in his coarse, tiny hands.
“Yes, mam. Peppers, mam.”
He hands the peppers up to her, gives a quick furtive glance toward the man, then scurries back through the door under the sink, slamming it shut behind him.
“Listen, we are going to have this conversation!” the man says, unimpressed with the flurry of activity she’s made out of the kitchen. He also ignores his own hunger, which begins to come to the forefront of his mind as he watches her deftly slice the fresh peppers. She gets a second pot out of a cupboard above her head and starts making the sauce.
“Fine,” she says, “I’m listening.”
“Well, first of all,” he stammers, wondering how to make his case. Isn’t it obvious? Why should he have to explain human nature? Isn’t it obvious? he thinks again. “There’s this business of you coming home so late…”
“It’s not late! It’s barely eight o’clock.”
“Well, that’s pretty darn late…you know…comparatively…”
“Compared to what?”
“Most people, for one. I, for example, finished my workday promptly at five p.m. and was home, sitting in my chair reading an excellent book by five-thirty.”
“Reading what book? That one you just scared the life out of? All your books are scared of you, they’re not going to let you read them.”
He was flabbergasted, his mouth agape. “That’s just not true,” he said. “Those books adore me. We have wonderful times together.”
“Fine, fine…they adore you. So what were you reading at five-thirty?”
“Well, that’s just the point, isn’t it? How am I supposed to relax and read something when all I can do is stare at the clock wondering where my dearest is? Wondering what…man…you’re sharing yourself with. How do you expect me to concentrate on fiction when you’ve filled my mind with such swirling chaos?”
“I told you where I was, you ninny.”
“Ninny?” he squeals. “Listen here…”
She hands him the cutting board full of vegetables and seasonings as she stirs the warming sauce. He stands quietly, proud in his ability to pause.
“Thank you,” she says, taking the cutting board back and tossing the whole of its contents into the pot. “Mmm, smells good, doesn’t it?”
“Yes, yes…but the sauce isn’t the point right now, is it? I’m trying to tell you something.”
Suddenly, she spins toward him, her attention on his face for the first time since she walked into the door of his life. Her eyes create gravity as they meet with his, drawing him to her, falling to her. He feels the rage subside because she is beautiful after all…
The lights in the room dim. A soft spotlight from above creates a white circle that surrounds the two of them. The smells and sounds of the kitchen are distant and he knows they’ve left that world completely.
My mind is playing tricks again, he thinks. Then she takes a step back, putting herself in half-shadow, her face obscured. The darkness around them has grown dense, foreboding. In a sudden panic, he wonders if she’d ever leave him out here, alone, in the dark…but then his resolution stirs, and his pride stiffens his spine. He refuses to be intimidated! There is a point to be made here, and he’ll be dolly-dip-darned if he won’t make it.
So he looks into the shadowy void of her face, twists up his courage and clears his throat savagely.
“I’m listening,” she says distantly.
“Okay, well, thank you for that. I’m trying to say that…well…I suppose I’m trying to say that I’m hurt – again – and that I’m upset.”
She steps back into the light, her eyes bright. She smiles at him.
“I’m not here to hurt you.,” she says quietly, putting a cool hand on his cheek. “That’s not my role here. Right?”
“Yes, I suppose I realize that…”
“Then why do you keep making that my position?”
He begins to protest, but she stops him by holding up one delicate finger.
“Why do you put me into a vase and expect me to act like a dying flower? Don’t you know better than that? Don’t you know better than that by now?”
“But,” he starts, confused. “But you are a flower.”
“Not anymore,” she whispers, taking his hand and kissing it.
“Yes, well, I blame fate for that,” he stammers, feeling the heat in his face.
“Why blame anything?” She kisses each finger. “Aren’t you happier now than you’ve ever been?”
He thinks about that and yes, he supposed it was true. But still…still…
“Okay, yes…” he says, finally.
“Then enough said.”
The lights of the kitchen come blazing back and they’re halo of indecision is temporarily lifted. As if nothing at all had occurred, she turns feverishly back toward the stove, stirring with a passion.
“This will be ready in a few minutes, why don’t you go sit down and relax. I’ll bring it out for us.”
The man, knowing the story is over for now, turns and shuffles back to the living room. He walks over to his chair and mumbles an apology for kicking it, which it quietly, albeit somewhat grumpily, accepts.
He sits down, sinking into the purring chair. His hands rest lightly on the leather arms, his eyes glazed and bewildered, and he drifts into a bemused despair.
Something brushes insistently against his shoe. The man looks down, sees his Hemingway has come back from hiding.
“Hello, old fellow. Sorry about that tossing nonsense.”
He picks the book up and sets it open in his lap, where it lies gratefully, flipping itself open to the story it contains, shivering with anticipation.
The sensuous smells of the prepared meal come from the kitchen. He knows she’ll be out soon, and they’ll have a nice dinner together before talking about things that go on in the world around them. They will talk reassuringly to each other, as good friends would. Then, after a brandy and cigar, they will retire.
“Honey?” he says, yelling toward the kitchen.
“Yes?” comes the distant reply.
He looks imploringly at the open kitchen door. A tall house plant shuffles over to the doorway and plops itself down to add some color. The door frame straightens itself hastily in an attempt to look its best.