From Banana Rustlers: Stories
“You know who you never hear moaning and groaning about gender inequality? Warlocks! Why is that?”
As we did on most nights lately, we were lying in bed watching YouTube videos on my iPad. Tonight’s feature was a British documentary from the 1970s about witches–starring actual witches living in what was then modern day Britain, some still practicing and some retired. There were a few holier-than-thou ex-witches, as well.
Without doubt, most of the people in the film were dead by now, or so old that to think of them in the context of the video–young and smooth with voices that didn’t yet crack or growl with seven or eight decades of use–filled me with the type of dread you can only feel when acknowledging your own unstoppable aging process.
When we first met, she would have made her remark about warlocks and I would have laughed, and that would have pleased both of us. Back then her delivery would have been deadpan. Tonight her delivery was too loud in the dark of the room, weirdly exaggerated. This was by design, to ensure that I wouldn’t laugh or even answer.
We’d reached that stage in a failing relationship where every reaction one of us attempted to elicit from the other was purposely withheld in a spirit of calculated passive-aggression, almost always to the relief of the other person. We each resented that the other could still have all the same qualities we’d once loved, qualities we would still love if we didn’t now despise one another.
Sex was sporadic–sudden and shocking, lightning bolts fanning out and disappearing in the distance seconds before the start of a downpour. Whatever pleasure either of us received was real on a reliable, physiological plane, but was given only with a large measure of hostility and spitefulness. We continued to recite “I love you” at the appropriate moments, kissed each other on the way out the door every day.
Any action or sentiment with less surface significance, though, was off-limits. Our M.O. and silent request of one another was, at all times, “Don’t do or say anything too impressive or strangely thoughtful that might drag this thing out longer than we already have.”
I moved slightly to the left so that our naked thighs were no longer touching under the sheets. Her shoulders relaxed, and she shifted away from me when her elbow brushed mine.
“I love you,” she said.
Our eyes stayed forward as we both breathed easier. It would all be over soon.