The first thing she threw at me was the duck-footed cheese board, a Christmas gift from Gordon and Melanie. It was heavy and didn’t travel far, barely making it over the kitchen counter she stood behind. It landed on one of the pewter feet, which broke off and clattered over the hardwood floor to my feet, like an offering, while the dark green marble board clapped loudly on the floor, the remaining three feet sticking up in the air, a deformed dead duck.
Later, we followed the same rituals as the night before and as too many nights to remember before that. I sat up in bed moving files around on my notebook computer while she removed make-up and put on red flannel pajamas in the bathroom. When she’d finished and was turning down the covers on her side of the bed, I put my notebook on the night table and got up and headed for the bathroom. Brushed teeth, put on cut-off sweat pants and an old T-shirt, both gray. When I got back to the bed she was on her side facing outside. I turned off my notebook and slid cautiously under my own covers on my own side of the bed.
“Night,” I said.
While she snored softly I could hear the ornaments of the Christmas tree sliding off the artificial branches and plinking onto the floor of the family room. In the morning I gathered up the ones which had survived the fall, and then tried to reposition them more securely. The broken ones I swept up and put in the trash.
I’d told her—I was almost sure I’d told her—that we had tickets to the new Duchamp show at the museum, but she said no, she couldn’t remember, I didn’t, and she could not possibly go today because she’d already invited Greta over for lunch, and didn’t I remember her telling me about that?
“I think I’ll pass on lunch and take in the show,” I said. “It should be OK—your ticket is good for another couple of weeks.”
It was called “Duchamp Douchant: A Shower of Art” and the billboard photo featured a cartoon of him, dressed in a natty suit, soaking wet from a shower, and standing next to a urinal. Not many other people were there. Three or four teenagers giggling. A perplexed old couple in front of the Nude Descending, the woman adjusting her head and the angle of her view so that, perhaps, it all would make some kind of sense.
I walked over to the Mona Lisa with the mustache. A woman approached from the side and put her nose about three inches from the art, staring intently.
She looked at me and smiled.
“Bonjour, monsieur,” she said.
“Ah—hello,” I stammered.
She pointed at the painting. “Original?” she said, the i’s sounding like e’s.
“Ohio,” I said eventually. “I’m from O-hi-o.”
She looked at me and then at the art again.
“Excusez-moi?” she asked.
“Yes,” I said illogically. “Yes.”
I turned around and walked out of the museum to my car. It had started to rain and the driver’s side wiper was broken. I looked out my own wet obscured side mostly, and out the other side for right-hand turns. On the radio, the host was interviewing the author of Why Someone You Love Doesn’t Want You, asking superficially probing questions and never giving her a chance to answer.
“When it’s all over,” she was saying, “you’ll look back on it and you’ll notice all the signs, all the indications that there was something desperately wrong with your love. It’ll seem like a long drawn-out process to you then, inexorable even, progressing—so to speak—progressing from hints and disagreements and criticisms to the point where one of you has a suitcase in your hand and you’re headed to a hotel for the night while the other is left in the house, clattering around with all those tainted possessions, and at best the cat is the only other life you’ll have around you.
“At that time, as someone watches someone else drive away, you won’t care about any process. You’ll know as little about what has happened as about what will happen, and it’ll all just seem like one precise thing then, like a single event with no cause and no predictable outcome.”
I pulled the car over to the side of the road, turned off the radio and the wiper, and let myself be both engulfed in the rain and protected from it, too. Lightning flashed and I waited for the thunder to tell me how close the danger really was.