When we watch TV, we actually laugh. We pull the curtains open too, so we can see the moon between oak branches while we laugh at Leave It To Beaver, the two of us on that puke-green sofa, trying to ignore the dust between us, dancing like a demented ballerina. We try to ignore the stacks of essays to grade that I can’t hide and her flyers for the latest performance involving the execution of the Romanovs with a laugh track. How we roar at June moving about in high-heels, listening in on Wally’s calls, her gooselike laughter mingling with my own, which she’s likened to Seth Rogen, gruff, distinctive. What a priss, and Ward’s a passive-aggressive prick, she says, although I amend that to douchebag, since I’ve been on the receiving end of the word before. Quite recently. Prick, what a cold word. Couple that with professional. Professional prick.
On that sofa, our arms brush past, and we inhale each other’s scents even if she won’t admit it, she who smells like lavender perfume and mint soap and Camels. I smell like onions, sweat, and booze, and have sandpaper hands, a fact she proclaims with gruffness, although I hear soft edges, see the trace of an arched eyebrow, teasing, yet elegant. A sign. We quickly swig Merlot, vestiges of our youths before retreating into the here and now, she into performances and roles and manifestoes and I into worn-out syllabi, performance evaluations, and ungrateful chameleons of colleagues, as she calls them with revolutionary zeal.
When we’re ready to kill the Cleavers, we follow up with The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling bearing into us with bushy eyebrows proclaiming parables of selfishness, kindness, love, war. We move a little on the couch during episodes with selfish characters. Especially the episode about that man and the utopia in his mind. Willoughby. I call her Miss Willoughby, my own Willoughby, and a few of our youthful nicknames, but she just shakes her head and I feel cushions sinking. But no comment there. We’ve argued too much over the aesthetics and cushions and colors and some things are inevitable anyway, that couch a five-year old marker of us, puke green fading, couch leaning a little, but still somehow intact. She pats it a few times, as if to remind herself. I cannot help but smile. We sit until the second hand slicing the night reminds us that night is deepening and morning awaits with our paths.
Only when the remote goes off and the TV gapes at us, a plasma-screened observer to us, do we move about the spaces with frenetic energy, each rising quickly. We apologize for brushing. I, the college professor, pedantic sellout, dust and wipe off traces of wine and crumbs on the faux marble counter. Head bent, I focus on the spaces in question. She, Comrade Wifey, my Miss Willoughby, performance artist, perpendicular to me, washes the dishes. The clinking of blue-and-white plates is insistent, yet sadly discordant. She also makes the morning’s coffee, always with six or seven scoops, duties we’ve assigned vis-à-vis silent agreement. I tell her she’s the world’s greatest coffeemaker and she smiles, a smile that leaves all too fast. She says I could be great if I’d get Hemingway out of the curriculum and then shakes her head, as if to say something, not I’m sorry exactly, but something.
We go upstairs one by one. I stand at the foot of the stairs. She whirls around looks at me, mouth agape, halfway up the stairs, as if to say good night or I love you. She holds her lavender nightgown, that beautiful thing that accentuates elegance and mystery and murmurs nonsensical things, as if trying to segue. Then she looks at me again, me in the Khakis and the Polo shirt that she once said made me look like an unhappy monkey when we could both agree on that front. She sighs, opens her mouth. I try to open mine to make a joke, but what would it be? I only am able to utter the word monkey. She takes a step backwards, then another one forward, makes a comment about being sure to check the stove. And could you please turn up the heat, she says, her words soft, cracked. We don’t want things to get colder in here.