I am on my balcony. I have been here for three days and two nights. It was my wife who put me here. It happened like this:
At dawn, when we wake, she wakes, I see: she, simulacrum of sweetie, presently bovine sweetie, clodhopper lovely, trundle fatly to her boudoir to assess the damage: six digits, the tally. These days, my girl: formidable haunches, breasts sapped of buoyancy, deflated balloon breasts, gobs of fatty skin where there ought only to be loveliness. She squirms into her negligee, once loose-fit, casual, today perilously taut, and thumps into the kitchen. When she walks her feet slap the floor.
I rise, yawn, and flex the muscles of my neck; I follow her, trail her out of the bedroom. Ours is a quaint kitchen, ill suited to my station, worse still to her size. She lingers, strapless and unbounded, faint hint of pudgy smirk, and like some degenerate quiz-show tramp twinkles her eyes – the bags beneath them swelled with the detritus of ageing – and proffers the breakfast options, boxes both, a hand for each: “quiche or pizza?”
Engorged darling, my adamant Annie: she abhors fresh produce: offer her an apple and she’ll pucker in displeasure, but she’ll slop down whatever mess they can freeze or stuff into a can. So we stock our tiny cookery with a stately collection of canned foods and small chilly boxes, microwaveable terrors, and two times each day I must reaffirm within me that this is not my home, my wife, my kitchen, that this is not my shoddy little table and that it is not I who dines, morning, evening and another day, upon these, the victuals of the very poor.
For Man, as they say, is a delicate creature, and he demands not microwaveables but eggs, siphoned gently from shell to pan, set to a soft simmer, set by a goddess, supple small of back, soft limbs, whose smart agile fingers work the kitchen-tools of household gastronomy like the seraph plucks his harp: but my girl flees the lit fire, and the complexities of the oven appall her. My sweetie-pear, picked by hand, peary delicacy, peary breadth, peary hips –
“Quiche”, dear god.
I settle into my chair and she puts the microwave on and hunkers down to fumble about the fridge. Then, the negligee lifts, I see it, shivering: ghastly thing, dumbo tent-flaps. I propose a missive to Eve, dear lord: re-place the leaf. Or trim.
She does not believe in trim.
The food is ready. With a hippo’s sigh Sweetie rights herself before the breakfast shelf and plods over to me with a grubby fistful of plastic utensils that she proceeds to pour out upon the table. She then slumps down in the chair opposite and permits her skirt to bunch and tangle at the width of her hips, unappetizing. Tightly nestled, sweetie emits a dingy exhalation, old bits of cheese, ham, wedged between teeth, the gum, will you brush, will you ever brush?
She meets my eyes, I glare, she digresses; she cowers, contracts her neck and retreats into her double chin. We set to eat.
When I dine I dissect my meal cleanly, with a surgeon’s hand; so I render the quiche all tiny squares the size of a bite, and proceed thusly, bite to bite, and do not dare to lick the plate. But my girl, hunter-gatherer girl, she grasps the fork like blade and with swift violent strikes slays her breakfast there before her. Then, damage done, quiche impaled, she raises it to her mouth and slops her lips around the fork handle, creating suction, her mouth a vacuum, treating it like some slovenly lollipop, consuming it whole – to be disassembled, chunk by chunk, sucked down the esophagus, rot in the stomach, the colon, the mind –
“Is there something the matter, Albert?”
I smile horribly.
“Darling, I’m only saying, be careful with that quiche. I cut my own serving into small manageable bite size squares.” I present to her the squares. I then say, over my cutting, “This way, I slow the pace of the meal. And when one dines slowly, sweetie, one eats less…” I replace the plate before me. I aim directly for the eye. “And really, I’d hate for you to ruin your new diet.”
Now she will tighten, swallow the rest in one animal gulp; her face will redden, her forehead wrinkle. And she will protest, clear as day: I am not on a diet; will continue on yet, claiming that it was I who thrust the scheme upon her, I who would not let her sleep until she agreed to it; will, furthermore, cry aloud: But I’ve only gained five pounds, adding, it’s been a really tough year.
Or she usually will, when I make such remarks. Not, however, this morning. This morning she swallows as good as a little angel, my pudgy cherub. She nods slowly and begins to cut her food in squares identical to my own. She smiles at me.
“Of course, how could I forget?”
She massages the fork-tines into the crust of the quiche and bears it gently to her mouth, lifting it off with her tongue, all so graceful.
My darling! My girl! What is this?
“And how” she asks, when she has finished chewing and swallowing, “was your night last night, sweetheart?”
I almost choke, just a little.
“Your night? Any more of those night terrors?”
I should say here that my nights are long, and they are a hardship to endure. My furies are numerous, and comprise: the proper concerns of any man engrossed in the nature of his own soul. I share with her my findings at night, and she feigns sleep. Cow. For I am not self-involved; I am self-inspired, self-induced. Man is ignorant of his complexities. The physical brain delimits psychology, but psychology as a whole is still wholly viable, a singular opportunity for ecstatic discovery.
And so she sits, softly still, a discrete nod here, there, as I open myself to her, and retrieve from those depths where all trauma pools some select morsels from the last night’s work that will most finely accompany this de-frosted atrocity, appending too strict directives on how my needs may be best met.
“Then I will be sure, darling,” she remarks when I finish, “to coddle you more often. But it’s time for work now, isn’t it? Go have a cigarette while I get the shower going.”
I step onto the balcony. As I go to close the door she spins gracefully and slips out with me. We behold one another, and she lays a hand upon my shoulder, and smitten for a second I demure. She blinks, smiles, and so very gently lays a kiss upon my forehead. “Good-bye, Albert,” she whispers, and then turns inside, a new spring in the step, hopping soon, mad, gargantuan with joy. I reach for the door. It is locked.
When I am at work (I am no longer at work) my colleague will enjoy to “pop-in” to my office: to poke his head through the door, the desk light swelling his rutted face (they do not see it but he has terrible skin), to say “hi”. He will then pause there and drum his fingers ponderously upon the doorframe until, suddenly, he is with thought: and he will scrunch his face, crumple it grotesquely, as if he must first munch on it, lather it with spittle and test its mettle before he will permit it to fall from his tongue.
Rapt perplexity: that anyone should be so pleasantly accustomed to the vulgarity of his own mind.
“How, Albert, is that lovely wife of yours?”
Oh, the cow? She moves with a beautiful stride, all four legs working for her; out early, quick to graze, healthy red gums that show when she laughs, she laughs often; and your cow?
“Ah, don’t be so hard on Annie. The girl is gorgeous, you’re a lucky man – I mean, I’m just saying that if I wasn’t the happily married man that I am and, if – well if she wasn’t such a happily married woman – ” he will shake his head about his shoulders in an idiot reverie, make him look older than he is, lend his age a keener stink, to carry himself so youthfully. The girls say he is handsome. He is teacher of the year for our county, Ivy-league moonlighter. I say, shred the degree! I say, burn the barn!
He uprights himself, kicks his feet together once, the wunderkind, the grizzled school girl, he’ll say, “I’ll be off”.
Off off off. Balconies lurch high. Resistant to both splice and parse.
A gorgeous girl. They say she is a gorgeous girl. A gorgeous girl I say, perhaps, external beauty, they say, but I can’t see it, not any longer; I see only the sum of all parts, it does not exceed its parts, private blight, discrete, internal blight, her filthy corpulent disposition writ large across the curves of her body, swell her body, the swell the pomp of her body, of her funeral, soul-empty, shake it a bit around a tin can. She was pretty once, before I knew her well.
Forms and bodies are illusory. I read in a magazine that knowledge is power. I am a refuse bin: I brim with tiddles and with bits and yet my mind is still fundamentally, horribly impotent.