Friday, April 15, 2011

Eternal Marriage

Her husband died and she buried him; he was reborn and she cleaned his diapers, raised and remarried him, and, although she’d taken care to teach him better table manners this time around, and she admitted there were advantages to having a man thirty years her junior, she found that, overall, he was every bit as irritating as he had been for centuries.

How long had they been married now? 9000 years, approximately? (Not that she ever got an anniversary present.) There’d been a lovey-dovey period presumably, sometime around the dawn of Mesopotamia – her memory got fuzzy that far back – but that was ancient history now and so she was determined, one way or another, to be done with him for good.

She stood in her dressing room arranging the curls of her bottle-red hair. A tricky business: to have a drastically younger husband and not appear grotesque. Still, she had to admit that she did very well. After all, she still had her figure and he was already losing his hair.

Long-term relationships are always complicated, she thought and she sighed as she painted her lips. (She was one of those ladies who recognize no upper age limit for fire engine flaming red.) It wasn’t as if she could simply kill him and feel refreshed.

She’d killed him a number of times already. She’d poisoned him most often, but she’d also shot him point-blank. Intrigued by new technologies, she made use of them whenever possible: her husband had the distinction of being one of the very first men to be run over by a car. She killed him whenever she could – it hardly seemed to discourage him.

For his part, he rarely killed her outright. He much preferred to grind her down to nothing over a period of eighty or a hundred years.

Nine thousand years of marriage. Nearly since the dawn of agriculture. And could he be depended upon to make his own lunch or brush his teeth twice a day? Of course not! She still had to listen to him bite his spoon as he ate his soup and he NEVER did what he said he was going to do, even if she let fifteen hundred years pass without a comment. “I’ll have a scribe prepare the papyrus – I mean, I’ll send an email! Gawd! Why are you always such a nag?”

And penises! In nearly ten thousand years he had not yet gotten over his pride and astonishment at possessing one. (Why was he always a man? Why was she always a woman? Why couldn’t they be lesbians now and then? Why couldn’t she have a dick for a change? These things were mysterious.) Penises! If he had a small one – well, that was unfortunate. Mostly because she had to endlessly reassure him about it. And if he had a big one – well, she had be continuously impressed and carry on like a porno starlet and it was even more difficult than usual to convince he really ought to, you know, seek full-time employment.

Her husband might be tall or short, he might be white or brown or black, but it was always easy to recognize him, because he was continuously whining. Time and again, his complaints outlasted his body. He’d had a sore neck for centuries; he’d been constipated for millennia – but god forbid there was a morning when she couldn’t prepare his breakfast because she was, for example, dying of cancer. He’d stare at her as she lay in bed, feeling put out, feeling sorry for himself, and she’d have to explain all over again that she, too, was mortal.

Since killing him was only a temporary measure, she had no choice but to attempt to actually communicate with him. She was meticulous about means and timing, determined that, this time, she was finally going to get her point across.

In the past she’d tried the letter on the table, the earnest midnight talk, the long car ride with power locks. This time she chose a dinner table confrontation – except that, instead of his dinner, he found only a single candle and his wife of 9000 years in a green velveteen dressing gown with her red hair down. Looking absolutely stunning, in her own opinion.

“Chinese or Italian?” he said, when he saw no dinner on the table.

“What?” she said, caught off guard.

“If we’re ordering out. But no, I can’t have tomato sauce – my stomach has been awful lately. And absolutely nothing with green peppers!”

“I want to be finished,” she said.

“What?” he said.

“I don’t want to be married anymore.”

“You mean – we can see other people?” he said hopefully. He liked to have affairs, even though, time after time, he wound up with the same bendy-twisty dimwit who’d been doing yoga since the narcissists first invented it and was getting more obnoxious with each passing century.

“I mean I want to be finished! I don’t want to be married anymore! I don’t want to see you again until the universe collapses into a single point! If possible, not even then! Next time around, find your own Big Bang!”

For once, her words appeared to have an effect on him. He was 28 years old; he appeared not a day over 4.

He said, “Do you remember when we went to see that counselor? She said you should be more supportive of my self-esteem.”

A moment later he’d forgotten all about it. Of course he had. He was convinced they’d be together forever. Why not? They had a routine. A routine seemed to him an entirely commendable thing. Why should he go to the trouble now of having to meet a new person, fuss over her and act interested, the trouble of having to explain, again, that he was not to be disturbed until after he’d read his paper, cleared his sinuses and applied antifungal cream. That his bathwater must not be too hot because his skin was very, very sensitive!

A bleak hopelessness overcame her. Perhaps she was one of those people doomed to die married, lifetime after lifetime. Doomed to perform the same routines beside a husband who always pretended everything was okey-dokey, except his perennial ill-health, a man with a capacity to ignore or overlook absolutely anything, no matter how dire or grueling it was, or for how long it went on. Recently he’d alluded to “the nice time we had hiking” and she realized with horror that he was talking about the six lifetimes they’d spent as nomads in the Caucuses and not because it was such a good time, but simply because he refused to ask for directions.

Still, she could not help trying. It was her curse, her ailment. (Her health was uniformly excellent.) He suffered from constipation; she suffered from hopefulness. She was the sort of woman who believed in self-improvement. Over the years she had availed herself of every type of education, training and discipline. (Except for yoga.) All of which she had enjoyed, none of which had solved her central problem: marriage.

Now she contented herself with non-credit classes at the local community college. Web design, handwriting analysis, and so on. Then several of her friends wanted her to sign up with them for a class called Remembering Your Past Lives.

She refused outright and would not explain. “That’s a lot of hogwash!” she said. Probably they thought she was an evangelical. Imagine if her friends found out that the husband she complained about was the same husband she’d been married to for 9000 years! Certainly they wouldn’t look at her the same way.

If only it was possible to take a class called Forgetting Your Past Lives. She’d start by forgetting her past lives, then do her best to forget the present one. On the other hand, she figured it would be even more pathetic to be one of those amnesiacs who say, “Maybe if I’m patient he’ll change!” and then wait long enough for the Pyramids to fall into ruin.

She tried everything. And failed. And still she could not stop herself from trying. She couldn’t any more stop trying than her husband could get his bowels to function.

Enlightenment – that was an option. Thankfully it no longer required standing on one foot in the hot sun or starving oneself to death time and again. Now the only asceticism required was to prayerfully occupy the same space with hypersensitive egomaniacs who considered themselves extremely spiritual until one recognized, accepted and confessed that one was also, oneself, a hypersensitive egomaniac, after which, along with 84,000 exorbitantly expensive weekend workshops, the seed of neurosis was finally totally completely utterly exhausted.

Better still – he could become enlightened! But that would take much too long. After all, her spiritual development was light-years ahead of his. Of course it was. She was so unselfish.

She had heard theories that if she just totally accepted him and loved him exactly as he was, he would gradually subside and finally just evaporate. She’d tried it several times but always there came a moment, as he sat behind the water buffalo thwacking it with a stick, or on the sofa fiddling with the remote control, when he said, “Well! I’m glad to see you admit I’m right about a few things for a change!” and it pissed her off so bad she gave up the endeavor.

For her next attempt – which she was determined would be the last – she filled the house with flowers. 9000 calla lilies would have been ideal she thought, but, since her shopping allowance was miserly, she made do with just a few lilies and some half-decent mums and a mass of carnations.

This time she wore all shimmering black, which was slimming, and also looked fantastic with her hair, which she wore up in an intricate braid, as she’d seen several empresses do. She looked absolutely stunning. After all, if she was going to break up with a man, it was only fair that he should have the opportunity to feel really terrifically sorry.

The symbolism of the flowers was dual. First, she wished to symbolize her own revival, that of a woman in springtime. She was very nearly young, in her own estimation. Soon she would be dead; youth was the next thing after that.

As for the rest of the symbolism: even a man as dense as her husband was bound to recognize a funeral when he saw one.

Whereas her own sensibility was thoroughly continental, his was deplorably Midwestern and had been since the Midwest was primeval forest. She knew he’d be home at 5:15, for dinner at 5:30, and so she placed herself in front of the bank of flowers – white on black, an unforgettable figure –

adopted a fierce expression and assumed the pose she’d decided upon after many consultations with her mirror: arms down, out slightly from her sides, palms open in the mudra of both generosity and relinquishment, her chin and bosom elevated, a mature and intensely desirable woman, proud and fearsome even amid the grief of loss. Grief, in this case, being very helpfully non-existent.

She heard the knob turn and saw his dull face at the door. She knew exactly what to say.

“My allergies!” he cried.

“The time has come--” she began.

“I bet we don’t even have any antihistamines,” he said and fled up the staircase. She heard him fumbling amid boxes. He was making a total mess of the medicine cabinet, which she’d spent all morning putting in order.

She hadn’t made supper. She assumed he’d be too grief-stricken to eat. Since that wasn’t the case, she microwaved a packet of frozen Beef Stroganoff and poured it over minute rice.

At the dinner table he was sullen and aggrieved. Dumb as he was, he’d figured out that it was entirely deliberate when she made the minute rice without quite enough water. He mixed the slightly hard kernels with the slightly frozen beef and hoped somehow that things would still work out.

“Barry, it’s over between us. Finished, ended, kaput.”

He looked somewhat put out, as if he had handed her a book and she had lost his place in it.

“I accept that, Marjorie.” he said. But then he wanted to know – was this when she ran off with the cattle rustler, the goat herder, the milkman? (Try as she might, every man she ever had an affair with had an intimate connection to livestock.) Was this when she went off to stay with her mother or grandmother, with her daughter or granddaughter?

Then a more cheerful light appeared in his eye. Was this when he screwed

his secretary the yoga instructor?

his babysitter the yoga instructor?

his sister-in-law the yoga instructor?

“I want to break up!” Marjorie shouted. “I want a divorce!” Actually spelling the word, she thought, would be tacky. Also, she’d have to do it at least three times before he got it.

She was so frustrated that she forgot everything she wanted to say and just stood there helpless, dismayed that he still had not gone away.

Because she didn’t say anything, he whispered, “This is when you say I’m a sorry excuse for a man with no backbone and no ambition who never really satisfied you anyway.” He looked slightly downcast but was trying, still, to be helpful. After all, he’d heard these words so many times they had entirely lost their sting; they might as well have been the sweet-nothings of true love.

He added that he only asked that she be gone for no more than ten days and that she leave a few dinners prepared in the freezer, including Shrimp Scampi, if possible.

“NO!” she shouted at him. “I want to break up with you permanently! I never want to see you again!”

He cocked his head to the side. (No, it was not cute and hadn’t been since before the fall of Troy.) “Is there such a thing as ‘permanently’?” he asked.

“Well if there isn’t we are going to have to create one!” she shouted. But now she’d lost track of everything and suspected, furthermore, that her hair and make-up were in serious disarray.

“I love you just the way you are,” he said, and, even after 9000 years, even considering how often they’d been through this before, she wasn’t sure if he really meant it, or if he was just hoping that if he loved and accepted her exactly as she was, she would slowly begin to evaporate and finally just disappear.

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