His & Hers

Part III: Seeing Things

by Bill Bowler

“His & Hers”
Part I appeared
in issue 251.
Part II appeared
in issue 253.

What if he eliminated all allusion and illusion? What if he said it directly and plainly rather than cajoling and kidding and talking all around it and suggesting it, even snickering about it?

What if he abandoned his absurd theories of the absence of real events or direct experience and knowledge thereof?

He needed to resonate à la Oedipus.

He needed to go outside to the streets, to leave the cave and go out into the environment.

They ate dinner in the living room on the glass coffee table, watching TV, dropping crumbs into the thick shag rug.

Later in the semi-darkness, lit by lamplight soft
and by the shifting glimmer of the TV screen
and by a faint, diffuse, reflected light through the windows from the back alley,
she sat up into the night, awake till all hours.

He slept on their kingsize futon on the floor in the bedroom.
She slept on the sofa bed in the living room,

not that she slept. She stayed up all night
watching old movies on TV and thinking bad thoughts.

But what about the silent treatment, sulking, and pouting, the triple threat of his arsenal?

He held the reins tightly, not responding to provocation, or so he thought or hoped, checking his retorts, biting his tongue.

He drew a thick silent shell around himself, and thought,
I will not get hurt, no matter what happens,

I won’t let myself get hurt, as if this were
a really terrific way to build a relationship and, well,

the inexorable was always with them,
sitting there in the living room with them,

a palpable presence, as if they had absolutely
nothing in common and did not care
for each other’s company.

She had been behaving very strangely, staying up all night watching TV, sleeping until noon, watching soap operas all day, totally non-communicative, like him, turning the tables, giving him a dose of his own medicine. She cooked for him occasionally, ironed a shirt of his, occasionally, but they were in a state of constant war, her not letting him touch her.

SHE: Is that your fantasy?

HE: I guess so.

SHE: (Half whispered) I hate you.

HE: I know. I know. It’s all my fault.

SHE: That’s right.

The city turned his outlook upside down and shook it, and his
beliefs fell out like change from a purse.

The city pissed on his idealism, slapped his fantasy
life in the face and wrung the innocence from his

naïveté like dishwater from a washcloth and used the
cloth to wipe the greasy counter of its own sick

reality, the street. The same city, like a lump in
the throat, blocked his generous impulse to step aside,

to yield, to give, and threw dirt in his eyes, and laughed
when the subway doors shut in his face and

he had to wait, sharing the platform with a homeless
decompensating schizophrenic thrown out of an

institution by a new cost-saving government program
designed by bleeding-heart Liberals to
streamline the bureaucracy.

The expressway was crawling like a neon snail edging towards the bridges. He crossed Atlantic Avenue and fell in step with the execs, the nannies and kids, along the tree-lined brownstone side streets and, with a pang of guilt and regret, passed the old bum mumbling spare change at the subway entrance. As he descended, avoiding the old bum’s eyes, stale air rose and stifled him.

He pushed through the creaking turnstile and descended further, to the tracks. He moved to the front of the crowded platform, stood and waited, and pushed into a small space in a packed car when the packed train pulled in. The doors slid close behind him, pushing him up against the back of an attractive woman in a business suit, into a position which, under other circumstances, might indicate great intimacy. The doors slid shut, wedging them in, and off they rolled down into the tunnel under the East River, off to Manahatta. The rich Yuppies got off at Wall Street; city workers at Chambers; and by and by he got a seat and opened the paper to the TV listings. The woman sitting next to him began to weep uncontrollably. At 14th St., an unkempt grizzly old fellow hobbled on and shuffled down the center aisle,

“Ain’t no mounta drugs
can make me mess up tomorrow.
Ain’t no mounta drugs
can make me do dat. ‘Cause
I know tomorrow’s Christmas.”
(It wasn’t.)

A couple of teenagers laughed at the old geezer though a few kind souls reached into their pockets and gave the poor guy pieces of change that clinked like futility into his cup.

He called her from the office around noon, wondering if she were up yet, wondering if she were all right, afraid of something:

HE: Hi. It’s me.

SHE: (flat) Hello.

HE: What’s up? Anything?

SHE: Nothing. (Drinking coffee)

HE: What are you going to do today?

SHE: What do you care? Nothing that concerns you. (long pause)

HE: What am I, wasting my time calling you like this every day?

SHE: Why is it up to me to say something?

HE: (Pompously and condescendingly) You argue with your father. You argue with your sister. You argue with the bank. You argue with the insurance company. You argue with the mechanic and you argue all the time with me. I wish for once you could just listen and consider what I’m saying, (with incredible pomposity) weigh whether it may have some merit, instead of just immediately reacting and defending your ego and turning it into another argument. Is that so much to ask?

SHE: I’m getting sick and tired of this passive aggression all the time.

HE: You’re angry all the time.

SHE: You’re high all the time. And you’re not changing at all. I thought you would change. You promised you would. But you were lying.

HE: I deceived you, right?

SHE: That’s right.

HE: Betrayed you.

SHE: That’s right.

HE: Lied to you.

SHE: And you’re lying right now. You just ignore me. What do you care? You have no interest. You pretend to listen. You promise you’ll change and you never do. Everything’s the same. We just sit staring at these four walls, living in squalor! You have no ambition, no goals, no direction. You just come home at night and smoke pot.

HE: There’s a good deal of truth in what you say, (regally) but you can never make that statement to me. You can never listen to what I’m saying and get some insight and say, yes, that’s true.

SHE: We’re talking about you right now, not me.

He labored under the delusion that he wished to discuss the Classics. She accused him of being a pseudo-intellectual though she considered him brilliant. He thought he wished to discuss Literature and Poetry, if not with her, then with, say, a nephew in, say, thirty years. He sat thinking this, with the TV on, drinking beer and smoking pot, scribbling in his notebook and imagining he were like maybe Michelangelo creating an artistic masterpiece on the magnitude of, I don’t know, Notre Dame Cathedral. Consequently, he was shocked, he was revolted, he was disgusted, when he saw how utterly trivial his failed creation was compared to his imagined work.

He sought to bring it alive
as it had brought him alive before,
to induce in turn the dream
that had first been induced in him.

He realized his tactic of leaving the room (storming out oh so quietly) was tantamount to her leaving their bed. They were essentially the same act. That is, his own behavior was the key to explaining this aspect of her behavior which he professed not to comprehend. She was doing what he was doing for the same reasons and they traded off, took turns. He wondered which other of what he supposed were facts were really smug assumptions on his part?

The next morning the heat was off and the landlady was nowhere around. He rose at 12, she at 12:30. He crawled out from under the blanket, dressed quickly and ran across the street to the grocery for supplies. They ate cheese omelets for brunch and watched college football on TV all day, warming up leftover pizza later for a snack.

Dust was accumulating everywhere,
piling up on all flat surfaces.
It made them sneeze. She wouldn’t let go
of the remote control, flashing from
channel to channel during commercials.
They watched TV for seven hours straight;
she smoked all day; he periodically hitting
a doobie on the sly in the bathroom, blowing
the smoke out the window
and trying pitifully to look straight
when he came back into the living room with bloodshot eyes
and a foolish grin.

They got hungry again around 7 pm, when the news came on. She cooked burgers and warmed up some mashed potatoes,

He had been mad for a couple of days.
She had abruptly announced,
“I’m not going to your parents’ on Thanksgiving.
Read my lips, N, O, I’m not going.”

He freaked.
“Not going?!” he thought. “Fine.
Then I’m not going to YOUR parents’ for Passover.”

They finally switched off the TV,
Played a couple of CDs,
then read the paper in silence.
The clock ticked on the mantle;
she rustled through papers; outside,
the temperature dropped. He felt
concern for the homeless that night.

HE: Where’s my ice cream?

SHE: Get it yourself.

MORE OF HIS COMPLAINT

HE: You don’t appreciate me. I make ice tea and have a glass ready waiting for you when you get home. I shop; I cook for you; I serve you; I clear your place; and then I do the dishes and pots and pans for you! I do everything for you!

SHE: You’re so damn condescending! You and your whole family. Your sister insults me and you not only do nothing about it, you take her side. She makes anti-semitic comments.

HE: I have never heard my sister make an anti-semitic remark. In fact, that’s exactly what your brother-in-law accuses me of.

SHE: What?

HE: Being anti-semitic.

SHE: You are anti-semitic.

Late, late that night
in the wee hours,
he awakens. She is lying
in bed beside him, weeping bitterly.
He rolls over with a groan and
turns his back to her,
trying to get some sleep.

Later yet, he awakens again.
She is having a terrible nightmare,
tossing and turning, rolling her eyes
under closed lids, moaning, with
quivering fingers. He
puts his hand on her forehead and
diverts her dream. It was
already light out:

He got up around noon the next day,
waited an hour, then had a little
breakfast (she was still out cold),
watched TV with the sound
off and scribbled occasional
lines of poetry.

He heard her stirring
later that afternoon, heard
her footsteps down the hall,
the bathroom door shut, the water
go on. He slipped the few lines he
had written into his notebook, not
wanting her to read them since
they were about her, him and her and
their life together. He knew
what she was going to do next. After
her shower, she’d come out in her robe and
light a cigarette. That was her answer to
everything, to him, to life:
light a cigarette.
The crassness of the move drove him crazy.

Her “insomnia” this time had been triggered by his lack of response to her ideas about buying a house and moving. She had crunched the numbers and figured they could cover the monthly mortgage payments for a hundred or two more than they were now paying in rent. The problem was raising the down payment. She thought he could sell his stock that his mother had given him and maybe borrow 10 or 20 grand from his father.

She lit the candles of the menorah
speaking softly in Hebrew,
reading from the Torah.
From the depths of his atheism, he
was touched by her belief.

He passed out every night at the same
time, 11, just as her insomnia was
kicking in. She was on a sex strike.

SHE: Is that your opinion?

He cataloged their discrepancies:
she and her cat, he and his theories;
her goals, his narcissism.
He mulled it over, called it a gap,
and through it leapt his mind’s creation.

Yet he sulked on to the bitter end, whenever and
whatever that might be, a twenty, thirty-year sulk, if necessary.
They were no longer speaking.
They lived in separate rooms,
separate lives at close quarters,
like roommates. She was glued to the tube
in the living room, desperately flipping
the dial while he lay in the bedroom
smoking pot and writing poetry.
No model for youth here,
a warning, if anything.
He took a deep puff and poured his
brains out into a wirebound notebook.
“I don’t want anything to do with you!”
flashed through his head.
“I’ve taken enough crap from you.
I don’t need it.
I’m getting my own place.
That’s what you want, isn’t it?!!”

Later, he ended his sulk
the way an ascetic ends his fast,
and silently, triumphantly
entered the living room.
Her eyes flashed in hatred,
she saw he was stoned.
He stared at her dully.

SHE: (with contempt) You’ve been smoking pot, haven’t you.

It was a statement, not a question.

HE: No.


Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2007 by Bill Bowler

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