On a day otherwise unworthy of mention, I came out of the kitchen into the living room and there was a momentary flash of something unspoken. She was sitting there in her corner of the sofa and her eyes connected with mine and then focussed on something behind my right shoulder. I knew, without needing to be told or having to ask, that she wanted me to flick the switch and turn off the main light she always finds so bright and unnecessary. After I did it, she laughed.
“I’m getting there with training you.” she said. “It’s only taken eight years, but you’re not bad.”
It’s funny how many things I can be motivated to do without anything being said. The occasional clutch of the throat or mock parched croaking that sends me back into the kitchen to put the kettle on. The look I get, which sometimes works, when I’m on the very edge of taste and decency when we are out with friends. The gentle, insistent tap on my thigh last thing at night which prompts me to lift my leg up and hook it over hers, the most natural fit in the world (“We should be tangled together,” she tells me).
In eight years the training has had its limits. Making a cup of tea involves using the water filter, a plastic jug which is always empty despite her frequent attempts to get me to top it up. Even a Post-It note stuck to the lid, saying “FILL ME” had no success. I close the kitchen bin all the time when she is in the middle of doing things which require it to be open, to her exasperation. I can however leave it open last thing at night, through sheer thoughtlessness, only for her to send me traipsing back down the hall to shut it before bedtime. She seems to have a sixth sense for that, or maybe just a keen sense of smell. My latest one is leaving the bathroom door ajar after every visit; she hasn’t found a signal for that yet, but I know she will. In the meantime, she asks in that very nice way that masks her frustration that I will not learn.
“Would you mind closing the bathroom door?” You keep not closing the bathroom door, even though I tell you to all the time.
“Of course I don’t mind, I just forgot.” You keep telling me to close the bathroom door all the time. Do you think I do it on purpose?
“Okay, well try to do it next time please.” I’m beginning to think you do it on purpose.
Aren’t couples strange? You never understand them unless you’re in one, and even then you don’t necessarily have a fighting chance. She and I talk about other couples we know all the time, idle speculation after a night out, a party or a meal with friends. Do you think they’re happy? He always seems tired, and she always seems grumpy. What makes them tick? I wonder if they still have sex. What do they find to talk about? My god, do they talk about us like this?
Last Friday she went out with friends from work, a girls’ night out, and they all talked about their men. When I got back from the pub, she told me about it. I was that happy, amiable drunk I can be where I tell her everything more than once because I forget and then the next day I tell her all over again because I can’t remember having told her in the first place. She said they talked about their other halves, and I was apprehensive because I know what a night like that can be like - and how much ammunition I give her, some days.
“I dread to think what you said about me.”
“Oh, don’t be silly. Though I did say you annoyed me some of the time.”
“I annoy you a lot of the time. Which is fair enough, I annoy myself some of the time.”
A quick dismissive shrug.
“I said you annoyed me some of the time, and that you were lazy around the house, but that was it. I had to join in, I didn’t want them thinking you were perfect.”
That laziness thing again; if only I filled the water filter up more often I could be ever so slightly closer to perfect, or at least further from imperfect. But then she gave me a happy smile, and I knew I had got off lightly. Another unspoken moment to add to the long list of ways we say important things in silence.
Yesterday I woke up determined to be useful. You should have seen me; I cleared away piles and books, papers and magazines that had been sitting around for years, bagged up things for the charity shop, tidied and binned and rationalised. We had kept some magazines from so far back that, flipping through them, you could see how they had recycled almost the same features from one year to the next: The only guide to the Greek Islands you’ll need this year, followed by The Greek Islands: off the beaten track, banking on people’s short memories. By the end, you could see parts of the floor for the first time in a long time. Not only that, but you could walk round the whole of our dining table without falling over things, and you have no idea what a transformation that was.
“I can’t believe you’ve done this.” she said. “You get several gold stars.”
I thought that it had been my idea, and it probably was, but you can never really be sure. Her powers are such that she might have planted the idea in my head in that drunken conversation right at the beginning of the weekend, or possibly further back even than that. Maybe she got fed up of small fry like empty water filters and open doors and decided to flex her muscles and use her powers for good.
Late last night, the ironing done, she had settled down in bed and I stood by the door of the ensuite. Her eyes made contact with mine and then focussed on something behind my left shoulder. Instinctively, I turned the main light off; she laughed again, and so did I.
“I’m going to write something about how you get me to do all these things without having to tell me.” I said, as if that gave me the upper hand.
Her eyes looked past my shoulder again and in confusion I turned round to switch the light off, in the split second before realising that I already had. When I turned back she looked especially pleased with herself. Most people have remote controls for the television, or the stereo, or the Xbox, but my wife is the only person I’ve ever met who has one for her husband. Maybe she’s the one who decided I would write this. Maybe none of this was my idea at all.
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