My ex-wife and I once took turns making fun of the strange spidery orange that our home’s previous owners (perhaps playing a practical joke) left, freshly painted, in our living room and foyer. What could they have been inspired by?
Our hypotheses: a field of pumpkins, the earth’s molten core, leftover paint from the waiting room of a backwards muncipal office where we conjectured one of them must have been employed, a pre-schooler’s mushy art pallet (this one didn’t really take), Garfield the Cat after having his black stripes stripped with laser.
We’d long since ceased making these comments amongst ourselves or with company, ceased even feeling that weird jar when comparing the wall’s colours to the elegant beige embroidery of our living room set. But even though we’d grown accustomed to it, it still needed to be altered. I mentioned this to my wife one night as we were eating dinner in front of the evening news broadcast.
“I thought—a kind of blue,” she said, transferring her emptied plate to the coffee table.
“Maybe,” I replied.
My wife nodded, and, pulling her legs up on the couch next to her, began scratching at the ankle underneath the sock.
The questions I am often asked by those who knew us both are: When did it begin? When did it end? These are the questions I have most difficulty answering. Not because I do not have answers for them, but because those seem like the wrong questions to ask. Does anything end? Does anything begin? And how can you tell the difference between the two?
At work there was the matter of my pension which I had for years paid into. My boss, Doug, was sympathetic, or at least acted so, but his hands were tied. He told me that it was either take the buyout or total forfeiture of that benefit. But since when was what I’d paid into benefit? Since when was I some clueless factory worker so desperate for work that he believed whatever?
I’m educated. I crunched the numbers myself. But I took the buyout because Doug wouldn’t budge, not that he could have if he even wanted to.
“At least you don’t have kids,” he told me. “Some of your co-workers are in a much tighter spot.”
I tried releasing tension by running on the treadmill, which we’d set up in the former nursery (a ribbon of gender-neutral ducks and geese still—as far as I know—patterns the walls), but all I ever ended up accomplishing was noticing how fat I was and how much the damn thing cost.
My office, my home office, was in the basement. The floor carpeted, but the walls unfinished, bare concrete. It had been a long time since I had needed to take work home, but I still kept a desk, a laptop, and a filing cabinet. Retreating there was my break from the television. From the pumpkin orange. From my wife. From anything else I was feeling.
I put on headphones because of how the sound carried from the videos. If my wife wasn’t home I took off all my clothes.
Women half my age. I should say girls. I always told myself that it never meant anything. That it wasn’t something that could mean at all.
From time to time I glanced nervously out the two windows, high on the wall but low to the ground. Even though they were often black from night. Even though they didn’t point anywhere in particular.
The one recurring image of that home that I have kept with me were mornings when it was so cold that fog from the water of the artifical pond rolled over its shoreline and greeted me at my backyard door.
The vista that this pond was part of (“Scenic neighbourhood! Room to toss the ball around! Steps from sprawling park!”) had long since lost its charm, owing to the fortune that my wife and I had spent on mosquito netting, repellant, torches, and zappers that never seem to work.
“They’re attracted to the cholesterol on your breath,” my wife sometimes told me, as a way of getting me to reconsider the extra cheeseburger on my plate.
At night my wife whispered as she slept, turning constantly, the sheets pulled off my side and coiled around her. I had to fight her body with my own pullings to rock cloth out and cover myself for sleep.
She’d been unrestful ever since—well, I don’t know when, exactly. But in that mood she had started murmering about her Russian heritage (as if an immigrant grandmother dead twenty years ago counts as that, herself born Carmichael, and comfortable).
“I want,” she told me, “to taste the suckling pig so often mentioned in the literature of old Russia. As in Gogol’s Dead Souls, Chichikov’s journey through the pantries and cellars of the landowners of the backward provinces.”
This is what her degree (major in economics, minor in Russian literature) was good for. One weekend on our routine trip to the grocery I asked the guy at the butcher table if they had them, maybe in the back somewhere. Of course they didn’t, but he said that there was a Portuguese in the next stripmall over that might. The guy there handed me the little thing white as lard, curled up like an infant in its brown paper. It broke me a bit to hand it to my wife waiting in the car, to say, “Here, we eat him.”
If possible buy a pig just one month old. Wash well inside and out and score both sides of the backbone with a knife. Rub the inside with salt and marjoram, lay the pig in a baking tin and smear the outside with cold lard or oil. Pour a little water underneath, and then place in a medium hot oven. During the cooking, rub the pig over occasionally with the bacon dipped in beer, to give it a nice colour. Wrap grease-proof paper around its ears and tail to prevent them from burning. Before serving, cut off the head, cut the pig in two lengthwise, and then into pieces.
She held the pig up for me before putting it in the pan to be rubbed with fat and roasted. Its black eyes looked right into mine, its feet (pink and delicate, not yet hooves—though I guess never destined to be) splayed outwards, its soft paunch sagging in her fingers.
“Oh Jim—” she said, looking at me knowingly, in a sing-song voice, “Who does he remind you of?”