By Natania Rosenfeld
Featured Art: The Couple by Charles-Edouard de Beaumont
He: patient, methodical, can spend hours at the computer figuring something out.
I: Impatient, messy, shout, “It’s broken! I broke it! Come fix it!”
“Hang on, Griselda!” he says to me. Or: “Keep your hair on!”
I say, “You have no sense of time. You’re always running late.” It isn’t true.
He says, when I really overdo it, “You stupid woman!” I start laughing, admiring him for saying it just like that.
I’m a curser, full of epithets when angry. Cruel, even abusive. I hate this about myself.
He’s a bit of an angel, really. But a fallible angel. “I’d like to kick that guy,” he said once, of someone basically innocuous.
We compare the grades we’ve given our students this semester. “Those are my dream grades,” he says of my C’s and D’s (he is a more popular teacher than I). Somehow he always makes allowances for flawed writing, thinking, garbled remarks, stupidity.
But when I give him Victorian pornography to read, he objects to the style. Style: pornography! I’m halfway to orgasm just reading about those bums and pricks, and he’s as indifferent as a policeman.
He: “The dog’s got a mouse! What to do?”
I: “I’ll take care of it.” I get a plastic bag, try to extract mouse from dog’s firm jaws, get bitten in finger by mouse. Nonetheless, it could be said I’m decisive in crises.
I went to the pay phone to call him. “Darling,” I said, “stay calm. They say it might be early cancer.”
“Oh, God,” he says. I give him instructions: tell people thus-and-such, leave work, come here. I’ll be in Gynecological Oncology, which is Ward X on Elevator Y.
When he arrives, his eyes are urgent, his leather jacket is cold from outdoors; he kneels in front of me in the waiting room, redolent of aftershave and winter, and I put my hand on his forehead. “It will be all right, I think,” I tell him.
It was all right. He sat by the bed as I emerged from anesthesia, his cool hand at my brow, stroking, stroking.
In our nearly fifteen years, we are never bored with one another. “There you go again,” I say. “Keep your hair on!” he says. Our little Didi-and-Gogo routine.
We were lying in a hotel room recently. “What do we do now that we’re happy?” he asked. “Hang ourselves,” I answered, on cue.
We clutch each other and roll on the bed, laughing, nibbling, squeezing; two big, hairy children.
Natania Rosenfeld is a writer, independent scholar and Professor Emerita of English at Knox College. She has published a poetry collection, Wild Domestic (Sheep Meadow Press 2015), and a critical book, Outsiders Together: Virginia and Leonard Woolf (Princeton 2000). An e-chapbook, She and I, appeared in 2018 from Essay Press. Her essays, poems and fiction are forthcoming or have appeared in journals including AGNI, The Yale Review, APR, Raritan, Gettysburg Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Southwest Review, and four essays have been listed as “Notable” in Best American Essays collections. She was recently named one of 30 “Writers to Watch” by the Guild Literary Complex in Chicago, where she has lived since 2018.
Originally appeared in NOR 3