"Listen," she said.
I continued reading.
"I said, listen."
I looked up. "Did you say something?"
" 'Listen'," I said.
"Oh. I didn't hear you."
"That's what I want to talk to you about."
"Why not now?"
"Well, I'm reading the newspaper."
"Is reading that more important than communication with your life partner?"
"Please, don't face me with major decisions when the article I'm reading continues on page three."
"I can't standYou know you're becoming rather strange. Do you know what my friends said last time they came by?"
"That I was strange?"
"Were you eavesdropping?"
"No. Just guessing."
"There you go again, getting me confused."
"I don't do it on purpose. I'm just following the logic of the conversation."
"Well, it's strange logic, then. I want you to understand me as I am."
"Dear," I said, "we've already been through this a million times. I've honestly tried to understand you as you are, just as you wished. But every time I end up understanding you as I perceive you. It's a human mechanism locked into our genetic code."
"I don't wish to discuss science now." She turned away. "Sometimes you're so insensitive."
"I'm only a man," I said softly.
"Only?" She turned. "You call that only?"
"Dear. This conversation isn't going anywhere."
"They rarely do when you're involved." She seemed almost angry.
I put my newspaper down. "I really don't understand you."
She brightened immediately. "You meanI still hold some mystery for you?"
"Oh. And I was afraid the romance had gone out of our life."
"No, I don't think that will happen for quite some time."
"Then it will happen?" she asked, somewhere between defiance and despair.
"It's hard to say. But I don't think there's any cause for immediate concern."
She thought this over.
"Well, in that case, would you like some tea?"
I thought this over.
"Just yes or no will do," she said.
I looked at her and thought of all the years, all the endless conversations, all the time spent in each other's presence, close together yet with space in-between; I thought of all this, and more, and replied, "Yes, I'd like some tea."
"Get it yourself. I'm not your slave."
* * *
"I want..." she began.
I nodded, waiting for the rest.
"...I don't know. Something."
"Ah," I said, not yet committing to the conversation.
"I wish I wanted something passionately. Out of all the things possible in this world, something I truly have to do. With my talents. My longings."
"Yearnings?" I suggest.
"Yearnings, too. I'd love to do something I'd love doing everyday of my life. I can think of so many things I'd like to do, that I could probably be good at, and even make money, and find interesting. But there's nothing I'm passionate about. Nothing that says, Do me and nothing else. Something that grabs me, shakes me back and forth, and says, Yes, yes, yes!"
I looked for signs of crisis from my partner. A building tension, a crescendo of hysteria. Bleak despair. But all this yearning and need was spoken calmly, matter-of-factly.
"I don't know. Maybe I need to go shopping."
She grabbed her purse and left the room, and me, behind. She did not slam the door.
* * *
"Okay, you going to listen this time?"
"All right then. Here we go."
We sat there for a moment, gathering our conversational thoughts.
"Okay," I said. "Ready."
"Are we starting now?"
"I thought you had."
"No, no merely confirming an open attitude and a certain readiness of mind."
"Well, we'll have to start all over again then."
"Because." She shook her head unhappily. "We've started going around in circles and the conversation hasn't even started yet."
"We haven't started anything," I said. "Least of all circles." I added, "I love you."
"Don't try to change the subject."
I screamed while she sat there facing me.
"I don't feel anything at all."
"Typical. Start someplace, please. Let's get this conversation moving."
"In the middle, and work forward and backwards at the same time."
"Okay, okay. You win. I won't start."
"You mean you'll stop before you start?"
"If you like." I looked for a way out.
"But you can't." She looked for a way to keep me in.
"No, you simply can't. Everyone knows you can't stop without starting."
"Who told you that?"
"Did your mother tell you this?"
"No. She wasn't that sensitive."
"Did you ask her about this lately?"
"Then how do you know it's still true?
"Well, I don't."
"Well then, I've won this conversation, no?"
"Yes, I guess." She got up from the chair opposite me.
"Well, until the next time." I was this side of ebullient.
"No, no," she corrected, "not until after the summer."
"Can you wait that long?"
"I love waiting."
"But do you love me?
"I'll tell you," she said. "After the summer."
She left me sitting there.
* * *
For some time now, we had lived in separate apartments, with me staying over at her place mostly, weekends and Wednesdays. Now we were now considering living together, pooling our resources, becoming land and house owners.
My brain was straining to put together a monologue for a one-man performance I had in mind somewhere down the line in my life when she called on the telephone.
"Remember the place we might look at for a house out in the countryside?"
"It's still for sale."
"Maybe it's a sign."
"But you said the house looked ordinary."
"But the garden was great."
"It was one photograph over the Internet you sent?"
"Yes. I called the number in the ad and the man told me we could visit this afternoon but that didn't suit me so he said we could go out and look around and that could tell us a lot."
"It's a twenty-five minute ride."
"To look at the outside of the building and at the garden."
"He said you could see a lot."
I waited a moment. "It's a twenty-five minute drive. This is my life we are talking about."
"Well, I thought this was interesting. I thought you were interested."
"I have to work."
"It has three bedrooms."
"Is that enough for my writing room, your atelier, and someplace to sleep and some place for guests?"
She sighed. "We're never going to find everything we need. Go work."
Three minutes later the phone rang again.
"Hi, I'm sorry I'm interrupting your work."
"What do you want?"
"I called my friend Lucie and she said she would go over and look at the house for me because she lives near by and she'll tell me if it's worth it."
"You called me to tell me this?"
"Claire, I'm trying to work. I have this monologue I'm trying to work out."
"Boy do I know that. I just thought you'd like to know."
"I'm trying to write."
"I know. I know. I just thought."
"I have deadlines."
"You don't have any deadlines. You never do. You always finish when you finish."
"I give myself deadlines so I can finish in time."
"In time for what?"
"In time for me to feel that it's time to finish."
"I can tell you're in a bad mood. Go back to your writing."
A half hour later.
"Hello? Claire? You've gone somewhere so I'll leave this message. Call me when you're back. I'm taking a break. I didn't mean to sound rude last time. I was writing. Icall back."
An hour later.
"Hi! It's me!"
"Claire, I'm eating lunch now. Can I call you back?"
Click went the phone in my ear.
Ring went the phone forty-five minutes later.
"Oh, sorry. You don't want me to call."
"I'm working again."
"It's just that the dish washing machine doesn't work. That is, it worked, but the soap compartment didn't open."
"So you hope it's not broken?"
"I hope it's not broken."
"Are you sharing this with me because...?"
"Because we're a couple, and that's how these things work."
"Oh just one minute. One other thing. I'm running it again, the dish washer, to see if it works."
"Great. Really great.."
We hung up for the day.
* * *
The next time we were in bed together we manufactured some more fun.
"I love your blue eyes."
"I love your giggle."
"I don't giggle. I'm serious."
"I love your freckles."
"I don't have freckles."
"Sometimes I love you so much I want to marry you."
"No. Let's not ruin this perfect relationship."
So we postponed marriage.