After years of making believe we couldn’t hear each other,
my wife and I have actually gone deaf. The deterioration of sound
was, for years, negligible, and then one morning, absolute. Having
run out of worthy conversation long ago, the prospect of sign language
is a conflict of interest to the current state of our marriage.
This removal of even our clumsy noise, though, feels prophetic and
persecutory. We are adapting to the alternative signals that accommodate
our disability. Before our telephone became obsolete, my wife took
a liking to the vibrating clip-on pager that signified its ring.
I especially enjoy when the strobe-light siren of our doorbell induces
seizures in door-to-door solicitors. Our marriage has become a game
of involuntary hide-and-seek. We are constantly startling each other
during various states of privacy. Silence has given us an intimacy
we never thought we would have to share.
While the upstairs neighbors are vacationing, my wife and I have
agreed to tend their home. Our acquaintance, one of vertical proximity,
has served my wife and I well with necessary intermissions to our
domestic disputes. Somehow, we were able to bully them into selecting
us over far more responsible couples. Their home reeks with an expertise
in matters of career, love, and interior design. In the first week,
the plants are blanched and drooping, and their dog has decorated
room corners with impatient, guilty turds. During their routine
calls, I sit couchside, nodding encouragement, while my wife fictionalizes
domestic status quo, with long-distance safety, amidst the cluttered
territory markings of our envy. One night, their dog sleeps between
us like a child. My wife and I wake panicked, and exhaust the day
with chores. Maybe something horrible will happen, and we won’t
have to return to our lives.
Had I known that my wife’s intimate history with cigarettes
would dwarf her history with me, I would have taken up smoking myself.
Only after our wedding did I learn that my wife was not a nonsmoker
but a heavy smoker on hiatus, when she hastily returned with relish
to the dormant habit that I thought we both loved to hate. Is it
rude to say my wife tasted sour? Will her photographs and letters
fade sooner than the tart couch pillows and the jaundice of the
walls? She knew better than to ask me to pass an ashtray. Then again,
crushing her last pack of cigarettes defiantly in my fist provoked
hostility worthy of police intervention. Her ironically non-smoke-related
death has left me with an oxygen tank as my new necessary companion.
Luckily, my senses are too dulled to partake in the emotional deluge
of her death’s flavors.
After an expensive and exhaustive battery of tests, my specialist
has concluded that I am allergic to my wife. While resistant to
medication, this rare and unusual condition, prevalent among happily
married men, is fortunately temporary. The symptoms are extraordinary
in their metaphorical obviousness. Bodily contact with her causes
unattractive and messy skin eruptions, embracing has sent my body
into convulsive fits. All valiant attempts to alter her choice of
deodorants, perfumes, and soaps yield no improvement. A home-cooked
meal actually sent me, heavily sedated and in restraints, to the
emergency room. Being psychosomatic in origin, all known treatments
of this condition are exclusively behavior-oriented. My wife, frightened
yet trying to be accommodating, sits on the opposite side of the
specialist’s office. Precautionary measures must be taken
to assure my future safety during this period of psychic rebellion,
but the specialist does not feel qualified to give marriage advice.
I am expecting another call telling me our daughter died, but I
already received that news. The silence on the other end is my wife
calling to give her condolences. Ever since our untidy divorce,
we sit quietly on the phone like this; our mutual wanting to be
able to be together is a neglected thing. Our folly was that we
felt inadequate among familial chaos, confused exhaustion with contentment,
and fell prey to the seduction of words like mother and father.
The pressure of hereditary longevity was too much for us. Did our
love require the clean inevitability of an ending to persevere?
If our daughter’s birth ruined our marriage, then her death
has saved us. This surprising compatibility in our mourning technique
has given us a small but definite hope for reconciliation. Quiet
grief adequately masks our relief. We must be careful not to ruin
this second chance.
The familiar unfamiliarity of my sleeping wife’s small back
no longer leaves space for me in our bed. Moonlight is a purifying
idea on the surfaces of our living-room furniture. Avoiding the
topic of our imminent separation has taken the happiness out of
what little happiness we have left. We can only hope our enthusiastic
theatrical performances of contentment and passion have incited
envy in the happy lovers we normally envy. Later, without an audience,
the implausibility of sex only highlights the impossibility of healing.
Can my wife’s discomfort that I love her too much only reveal
her love’s deficiency? How can I show the same restraint and
disinterest she shows me? Is there any space for these questions
in marriage? The shelves are suddenly diseased with her possessions,
allergies of memory, relics that need immediate removal. Morning
will bring her to this now half-emptied room, to discuss simple