Confirms: Most Couples
The headline for the story I’ve just finished flickers on the screen: “Pupils Die of Boredom During Lecture!” The accompanying visual is a Photoshop mock-up of skeletons seated in neat rows of school desks with a windbag teacher carrying on obliviously at the head of the class.
Death by boredom. That’s usually me when Fiona is uncorking some insipid work-related tale. But this one is more interesting than her usual droning on about recovering temp files and purging cookies, or whatever crap IT people talk about. Plus, she’s talking while taking a piss with the bathroom door open, something that always arouses me.
“So the priest from St. Bartholomew’s had downloaded so much virus-ridden porn there was no way to salvage his PC. We had to rebuild it from scratch. Typical, right? But it ended up costing him his job.” I hear the flush. Fiona rounds the corner zipping up her Levis, back arched a bit to facilitate the motion.
“He lost some major document he’d written about ‘the relevance of celibacy in today’s diocese,’” here she’s finger-miming quotation marks, “blew a big deadline, and word leaked out why.”
She leans over to scoop up an ashtray from the coffee table. Smoking is a habit of mine she detests but silently endures by trying to eliminate all traces of it from our apartment. A Sisyphean task, particularly since the apartment is so tiny. Whether I smoke in my office, the living room, the kitchen or the bedroom, I’m no further than 15 paces from any other room in the place. There’s no escaping the habit.
“Can’t you write about something like that? Something that’s actually true?"
She never gets it. It’s not truth I'm after.
I light another cigarette. “Actually my next story is going to be about a new study on reasons why the majority of couples can’t stay together. Maybe you can help me with the research, Fi. We can examine why you and I defy the odds and remain together.”
“Very funny,” she says, batting at the smoke in the air.
Fiona’s work really isn’t insipid; it’s just that I haven’t got the slightest interest in it. Frankly, I can’t tell the difference between DOS and OS X and I am 100 percent certain it’s not necessary I try to. If my computer busts, I’ll pay someone like Fiona to fix it. That’s the whole reason why we have income, to hire people to do stuff like snake the tub, clean out gutters, replace the muffler. Things we don’t have the capacity or inclination to do ourselves.
Fiona feels much the same way about my work.
“This is what you went to Columbia for?” she asked on the first night I cooked dinner for her. She scrutinized the Weekly World News stories lining the walls in my cramped office. They were framed in the same style as platinum records, and hung with the same amount of pride. “Woman Survives Attack by Gay Shark: Shark turned off by fishy taste.” “Good News for Fellas with Teeny Wee-Wees: Docs can build the “little” guys a man-size ding-a-ling.” “Monkey-boy’s First Day at School: Other kids jealous of skill on jungle gym.” These were some of the gems, the stories and photos equally absurd.
I closed in behind her, handing her a glass of wine and slipping a hand around her waist. “Well, I aspired to write for The Onion, but apparently they think Columbia is too pretentious. The WWN editor literally creamed his jeans when he read my resume.”
Minor factual changes mean nothing in my world, and Fiona didn’t need to know that the editor wasn’t a man; she was the woman I was dating at the time. And it wasn’t my resume she creamed over, but rather my Thai ginger chicken. That dish was a fail-proof aphrodisiac for a few years running. It must have been the inscrutable yet sublime combination of coconut milk and red chilies. It’s what I cooked for that first dinner with Fiona, two years ago.
My apartment was small and chaotic with just one person living there, nevertheless after knowing Fiona a few months I asked her to move in with me. Luckily, she has a knack for organizing things. Now the entire place looks like an advertisement for one of those shops that sell storage containers of every shape and size. The biggest pay off for me was the kitchen. Fiona couldn’t fry an egg if her life depended on it, but I love to cook and Fiona managed to transform a dank closet that happened to have running water and gas into a modern test kitchen. Sometimes I stand in my efficient little nook and feel a slight twinge of guilt. I know I really got my money’s worth with this kitchen. And I fully admit, besides a few hot meals, it would be unclear to any objective observer precisely what Fiona gets in exchange.
Lately Fiona’s been reading bridal magazines. The reading pile next to her side of the bed is dominated by dog-eared Bride and Modern Bride magazines, plus a few unread PC Worlds. She claims she got the bride magazines because she is going to be her sister’s maid of honor this summer. When I teased her about the magazines, she reddened and said, “I wanted to get dress ideas.” That may be so, but I know she’d like to get married. Similarly she knows marriage holds absolutely no allure for me. Those magazines represent everything about marriage to which I am opposed: unrealistic and costly convention-spun fantasies fueling a tradition that yields fully a fifty-percent failure rate.
I look down at the report I have to read for my next story. Of course, I can’t do a serious story about a scientific study for the Weekly World News. The study is just a jumping off point for a gag. But this one is really stumping me. What can possibly be funny about people failing to connect in a meaningful way? Canadian geese mate for life. Too bad the researchers couldn’t interview some geese; ask them to share their secrets. It’s a sure bet they don’t need any goddamn magazines telling them which cake to serve or which dress to wear. Maybe I should talk to the art department to see if they can mock up a shot of two geese nuzzling on a river bank framed by an angry bride and groom storming off in opposite directions.
I don’t know why Fiona and I stay together. Inertia, I guess. She wants to get married. Her work bores the hell out of me. Her work friends are mostly nebbish balding men with the hots for her. Why can’t she have hot young female friends? They could come over to the apartment and I could cook for them. I’d be a perfect host, hanging back in the kitchen and letting them kibbutz in the living room as I bring out strategically timed courses and refill wine glasses. I’d tease their taste buds with an asparagus and goat cheese appetizer, then bring on seafood paella served with a simple side salad and, just as they protest they can’t eat even one more bite, I’d watch them melt as I emerge with the strawberry rhubarb fool, served in my grandmother’s parfait glasses. I’ve never met a woman who didn’t find anything in parfait glasses irresistible. Of course, no word better describes me, perhaps, than “fool,” but I’d relish the inevitable questions over the dessert’s name, explaining it is believed to have originated from the French word “fouler,” which means “to mash” or “to press.” And then, the night’s efforts would be rewarded: slender arms would coax me to the couch, peeks of cleavage would flash, perfumes would intermingle and laughing female voices would insist I sit amongst the grateful creatures as they salute my culinary skills.
It’s something to think about, anyway.
I sigh and concentrate on the blank screen that mocks me, taunting my lack of inspiration. “I’m starving. What are you making for dinner?” Fiona asks, looking over my shoulder and toying with my ear. Her right breast brushes my left arm.
Turning to reach under her t-shirt for a taste of that spectacular breast I answer, “I was thinking about Thai ginger chicken.”