It is lovely, you might say, but they have not even carried over the dull pies. There is no plate or vase, no supine, ceramic souvenir from her night class.
When they move into the foreclosed house, you bite into a pear. You think: “they cannot be helped.”
Nixon has just been pardoned and will not put on the slack, day-glow suit or toil beside a Pennsylvania highway. What do they think of this?
Every day, the man makes his afternoon relay to retrieve the mail. It is a bouquet, you are sure, of utility bills and varied solicitations. This is the warm banal music of their presence. They are blind beachcombers.
The woman is having an affair. She leaves home late in a taxi. When you see her, she gives herself away, opening her mouth without making any noise. She asks what you are doing.
“I am making mulled wine.” You say. It isn’t done, you explain, though it is not exactly a thing that goes finished or unfinished. You suspect it is better the longer you heat it. There is time to mull things over.
Whenever she comes over, you pour the stuff into a crockpot and stir the beads of spice facing away from her to occupy her hands. So this is said a lot. You like time to mull things over. It is not the kind of joke that anticipates laughter or reception; it is just something to say to continue the filling of space.
Feed the cat. Press the mute button on the TV controller. The woman is moving out of the house next door. She is heading South, to live in an apartment in Tarzana with a film producer. She hugs you and lets go. When her body pulls away, it goes limp, as though she has finally released the sad pity of your small life. You think only of the price of oil when he picks her up in a cramped porche that can hold none of her belongings. He is a scorched toad of a man. Soon it will be 1980.
You watching their house from the window, smoking cigarettes that taste like chalk and putting them out halfway through in a flower pot. Your cat is dead. You are lonely and you will always be lonely.
The mother of the girl you have tutored calls to tell you that she has taken psychedelic mushrooms and refused to take the standardized test. She asks how this problem is to be solved. “What problem?” You say, and hang up.
Just now, you hear news that the husband has contracted a terminal disease. It is not an interesting or grotesque infection though, and you have forgotten his name, reminded too much of Jimmy Carter by his ill fortune and lone, cowering sadness.
You resent the impoverished metaphor of his body and its trail of routine appointments. You are forced to glimpse them, from the tower of your life, these small stray hairs at the edge of its horizon. You may no longer be a good person.
He is surviving. One morning, you think about sending something. Sending something seems bad. Instead, you write a short story. On the last page, the character, a teenage girl, runs over a garden snake and finds a piece of its intestine fastened to foot of the passenger door like a tacky barrette. She feels ashamed. You are rejected by two literary journals. The one that is less academic includes an encouraging note, deeming your prose style “promising”, though often threatened by a “didactic tone.” Too, there is a copy of a recent issue, which contains several poems and many photographs of writers partially nude trying to use ovens. Ronald Reagan wins the general election. Your disappointment is promising as a plot device.
He stands at the salad bar holding tubs of potato salad and congealed fruit up to the light. Is he trying to see through them? You think, maybe you should kill him.
It could present interesting difficulties. The idea of jail is demanding and vast, and you have lived enough of a life.
Every single day, the president speaks of the rest of the world and its threats. It could end soon.
Maybe just get it over with already.
And, of course you do not own a gun or know how to use a knife.
You watch his frail body pick at the packaged vegetables. Every day, the same cold threatened wait is holding in the world. Every day, the moths are pulled into the bulb, die, and fall to the carpet like ballerinas. You are dying too, but he is dying more than you are. So why doesn’t it seem that way? You wonder.