|And Another Thing|
Photo Credit: Taylor Sloan
Despite all appearances to the contrary, I am very far from an ideal husband.
For a start, nothing is ever my fault. I realised this very early on in my marriage; something unfortunate would happen and my automatic first instinct was to find someone to blame who wasn't me. When you live with someone, and it's just the two of you, this process never takes very long and there's only ever one result. Strangely, the idea that things might happen by accident or for no reason at all has not really caught on with me.
"I just tripped over that pile of magazines! Who left those there?" I might say, throwing an accusatory stare in for good measure.
"You did." will come the reply, with only a slight hint of weariness. Remarkable, as it's probably the hundredth time I have asked a question like that and the answer is always the same.
"Oh. Well, why didn't you tidy it away?"
Of course, tidying away is only the right solution to things when I say it is. I want things that I don't want or need tidied away (and not by me, either), but when they are things I want or need it's a different story altogether. The heretical idea that objects might move from one category to the other as part of day-to-day life is another of my many blind spots.
"Where's that letter from the hospital?" I might say the following day.
"I don't know, why are you asking me?"
"I'm asking you because I put it on the table. And it's not there." Those final words will be deliberately weighted, as if to say without speaking that only one logical explanation exists for the object's disappearance. This tends to be the point where I stand defiantly waiting for a confession—but one hasn't come yet in seven years of cohabiting, and there's no reason why it should start now.
"Did you properly look?"
I swear she says this to annoy me. It represents progress from the classics of my childhood, my mother asking Where did you last put it? or saying It can't have gone far but nonetheless, it doesn't fit with my clear picture of what has definitely already happened.
"Of course I properly looked. I always properly look. You've tidied it away, haven't you? You always do this. Why can't you just leave well alone? I know where my stuff is and then you tidy it away. Every single time!"
"Let's have this conversation when you're not being such a twat."
I will find the letter minutes later on the table, underneath something else, in a location which would have been obvious if I had properly looked. When this happens, I will be shamefaced and penitent. I will try to pretend that it was invisible, or sneak it into my bag and hope she won't ask about it. She does though, because I deserve to feel uncomfortable and we both know it. She will mention it the following day.
"Did you track down that letter from the hospital?"
"I can't remember," I will say, and then I'll get a hard stare that says You're not getting off that easily, I know perfectly well how good your memory is. "Oh, that. Yes, I think I did."
"Where was it in the end?"
"Oh, you know. Around."
"It was on the table, wasn't it?"
"Yes, it was," I will say, desperately trying to think of a way of saving the situation. I ought to just apologise, but I can't help myself; after all, nothing is ever my fault. "I found it in the end after looking all over, and guess what? It was underneath some of your stuff. Why didn't you tidy it away?"
Here is another thing I do: I start talking to her halfway through a conversation.
"So yes, we'll definitely need to stop into Marks this afternoon."
"Excuse me? What are you talking about?"
"Stop into Marks and Spencer. You know, to buy some salad to go with dinner tonight."
"No, I don't know. That's the first time you've mentioned it. That first bit was just in your mind, wasn't it? You do this all the time."
It's true; because there seems to be little or no boundary between what I think and what I say to her, sometimes it all blurs into one continuous conversation in my head. So I will be pondering something to myself while squinting at my mostly-shaved face in the steamed-up mirror, trying to work out whether I've missed a stubbly patch near my Adam's apple, and when her face appears behind my reflection telling her the next thought in my mind seems like the most natural thing in the world. Apparently this is not endearing, it's just very, very frustrating.
The converse also applies. I sometimes share only the start of a conversation with her.
"So…" I will say on a Sunday evening, standing over the ironing board and trying not to think too hard about the fact that the weekend is coming to an end. Ages will then pass in comfortable silence before she speaks next.
"So? Go on."
That's when I'll realise that I had started thinking out loud but decided not to share the rest of my thought processes with her. The cogs continued to grind but my mouth stayed closed throughout. The remainder of the conversation has been with myself, and meanwhile she has sat there on the bed taking off her make-up, looking up at me with the strange sort of expectant expression you wear when you absolutely know you are about to be disappointed. Some spouses have a whole list of conversation topics that are off limits; their in-laws might be verboten, or money, or work, but everything else is fair game. By contrast, I'm prepared to talk about anything with my wife but there are huge random holes where instead I have the discussion with myself. It's not deliberate, just haphazard and exasperating. And yet it's women who are constantly accused of wanting their partners to be mind-readers.
If only the problems with my powers of communication stopped there, but I'm also a shocking listener. Sound travels through the air slower when I am involved. The rustling of clothes being taken out of a basket, shook out straight and hung on an airer takes minutes to traverse our long hall and make its way to the living room, takes just long enough in fact that by the time I stand up and walk to the spare room the very last item is neatly laid out on the very last white rod. The same thing happens over shorter distances, too; the clatter of dishes going into cupboards, the clank of a forest of teaspoons being planted in the dishwasher, the rumble of the sink filling with soapy water, they all take an eternity to trickle through the open doorway and make their way to the sofa where I am ensconced doing nothing.
When I do eventually get up and make my way to the only room where something is happening, the question I ask is always the same.
"Can I help?"
The reason that my wife has taken to starting things without me is that I have to be asked to do something again and again before it will actually happen. I plan to do it, honestly I do—just after I finish doing whatever I'm doing, although what I'm doing is never anything important. Whenever I'm asked, even if I am asked for the first time, I describe it as "nagging." This means that the moral high ground is guaranteed to be mine, which is important as good intentions clearly matter far more than actual attainment. When I do eventually do what is asked I go back to her with an expectant face, like a dog that has brought you a stick you didn't even want.
"Do you want a medal? There's a lot that goes on in this house that you don't know anything about."
I know she's right, but half of the time I'm not properly listening.
It's not a problem with my hearing, because I had it tested a few years back. I remember sitting in a dark room—it was more like a cupboard, really—with a big clumsy headset on and a button in my hand which I was to press it every time I heard a noise. And there were so many noises; long low beeps, little short blips, sounds that seemed to be right up close and ones that I thought must be coming from miles away, even though the booth was only small. Every single one led to a push of my thumb on the button, led to a dot on a graph and a cross on a chart and between them they built up another view of what was supposedly going on inside my head. Afterwards, the nurse sat down with me and told me my hearing was perfect. I was so expecting the answer to be different, ironically, that I had to ask her to repeat herself.
I start things at the last minute. I am late for everything. I dawdle. Those three facts are all connected. I have big ideas at bedtime, and the wrong ideas too. As the main light goes off and the paperbacks are opened, I will decide it's time to reorganise the photo albums, or work out what needs to go to the charity shop. I will be lively and animated when it's a time for soft, quiet words or for no words at all. Even writing this now I get a clear picture of how irritating it must be to be around, and yet I don't mean anything by it. I have had a whole evening to talk to her and haven't done it anywhere near enough, and as the day draws to an end suddenly I can see all the things I should have done and I don't want to be asleep, because being asleep means you're awake and it's the next day and time to go to work and be parted, and I don't want that. And I think to myself It's okay, it's not too late.
"Why do you want to have a conversation now? It's bedtime. It's far too late."
I ask rhetorical questions all the time, which I'm told is especially wearing. The worst one is this: "Aren't you pretty?"
"I wish you wouldn't say that. There's no right answer. I can't say yes because that's vain and I can't say no because that's fishing for compliments."
"There's not meant to be a right answer. I was just saying you're pretty, that's all. I'm sorry, I forget, you find rhetorical questions really annoying, don't you?"
She looks at me.
"Ah. That's a rhetorical question too, isn't it?"
It would be funny if it was deliberate but it isn't, and that makes it even worse.
My dad told me once that the worst thing about his marriage to my mother was the three little words she would say when they argued: and another thing. They would argue about something, and the argument would stop and then my mother would say those magic words like a coin dropping into a slot and the jukebox of recrimination would start up again. And another thing. And another thing. And another thing. Does it make it better or worse that I already know what my list of another things would be?
I mention to my wife that I'm thinking of writing a piece about how tiresome I am to live with. It becomes a running joke over the course of a week or so, whenever I do something she doesn't like, which is quite often. "Is that in there already?" she says. In many cases, it wasn't; this piece could easily have been four times longer, and maybe if I was a better listener it would be.
I can tell looking back on it that I've missed out so much. Doing half a job because the second half of the job is too difficult. Leaving the fridge door open when I'm in the kitchen doing things which do not involve the fridge. Putting off making phone calls or doing emails and pretending to be helpless when the truth is that I just don't want to do things I don't like the look of. Deliberately mispronouncing words for comic effect all the time when it wasn't even funny first time around. Leaving my boots lying around in the living room, or in the hall, or anywhere else where they are an accident waiting to happen. Leaving the cupboard doors open when I'm in the kitchen doing things which do not involve the cupboard. I leave things open all the time, not all of them literal.
We've been married for seven years and she makes me so happy that I can't begin to express it, but I find myself thinking about just how much happier we could be if only I was perfect. We would be in the Guinness Book of World Records and on all the chat shows, the official Happiest Couple In History, but we'll never make it and it's all my fault. We'll have to settle for being extraordinarily happy, or at least I hope we will.
One night last week we were sitting side by side staring at something on my laptop, and the page was taking ages to load.
"Did you know that when you're waiting for your computer to do something you constantly move your mouse pointer round in circles?"
"You do it all the time. It's not going to make anything happen any faster. You should put that in your list."
I told her I would. It seemed like the least I could do.
Nathan Evans lives in the United Kingdom and has been writing for about three years. He's had work published in Esquire, decomP, The Pygmy Giant and Hippocampus, and his regular CNF blog Mr London Street has been shortlisted for "Best European Blog" at the Bloggies for the last two years running.