My God, what did you do to yourself out there?
It’s not nothing. Have you heard of infections?
I think I have.
And I doubt you’ve had a tetanus shot recently, am I right? You don’t ignore a cut like that. Where’s your first-aid stuff, the medicine chest? Don’t play Mr. Tough Guy.
You mean that’s all you have here?
Probably some brandy.
You’re risking so much. Just asking for it.
But you are here. I feel better already. You will nurse me. A guy like me loves a woman who nurses. Just loves it. We will go buy whatever it was you mentioned, and you will attend to me, and I’ll be so grateful. And you will have nursed and nurtured, which is what you do so very well.
Yes, in your womanly way, just as you bake pies and fold sheets fresh from being hung in the breeze, and how you remark on their pleasant scent.
Where is this coming from? I’ve never baked a pie. I’ve never hung sheets.
Indulge me. I’m imagining. Projecting. I show up with cuts and gashes so that you can comfort me. This puts me in mind of other comforts: the rhubarb pie, the spring-air-scented sheets. The pleasure I get thinking of these offerings. If I were to play the doctor, I would know about infections, take precautions. And if I were to don a baker’s toque, I would be quite capable of a flaky crust. Then I would nurture you, were you in need of pie or bandaging, but today, I am wounded and you are the healer.
I don’t understand what you are talking about. I’ve only known you for three days. You were yourself this morning. Is this some kind of game?
Indulge me. Relationships are to a great degree imagined. And who we are within them is a matter of context and moment, of stimulus and response. I’ve thought about it.
So this is about role-playing or something?
In a way it is, but in the most self-conscious sense, because as soon as you become aware of it as role-playing, labeling it as such like the good psychologist you are, then you are in a position to manipulate and subvert, to embrace or deny, to go with the grain or against it if you wish. It is much freer than role-playing.
I’ve never been with an actor before. Are all actors like this, like you?
Like me? I am not like others, I hope.
Are you putting me on? Or maybe I should say I’m beginning to feel put upon. I haven’t seen this side of you.
Not putting you on. To the contrary. I want you to feel closer to me. I am attracted to you and am interested in greater intimacy, and I don’t just mean physical intimacy because, as we know, these days, that comes early on, perhaps too early, unfortunately. I mean a deeper understanding of one another that we discover as we delve into the theater of presentation, the theater of the self.
But I don’t want to be with someone who wears different masks, if that’s what you are talking about. I don’t want to play games. I am not a theater person.
And yet everyone does. Yourself included. Wears masks. Think of it as the malleable, mercurial, volatile self. From moment to moment we can be flexible as a well-toned muscle. And we have to be. It’s how we have evolved. Up until now, in the brief time we have known each other, we have worked in a restricted range. It is time to venture out.
But what you are saying suggests calculation, as if we are in a chess game with others all the time.
Yes, but it may happen at a much more instinctive level and therefore with a speed that defies calculation. Not chess, but world-class ping-pong. How quickly you responded to the gash on my arm. How quickly I responded to your response. We could pick up where we left off.
You mean when you came swaggering in from outside, trailing blood like some goddamn warrior.
O.K., I’ll go. Does it hurt?
Like a sonofabitch.
Well, tough it out. Don’t come complaining to me.
I like that attitude in a woman. You drive fast cars. Like rough sex. You look at me and note the bleeding. You light a cigarette. You smile.
They married, however unlikely that seems. Passion persisted. Careers stabilized. A mortgage. Although they did not have children, they purchased impressive appliances. They stayed married, however unlikely that seems. His audacity waned or, variously put, imagination took to hugging the shore. Passion cooled. She became religious yet told their friends it was mainly the choir, in which she did not sing, that she enjoyed. Both gave Weight Watchers a try and participated in Neighborhood Watch. Retirement. Netflix. Modest if not handsome pensions offset inadequate but not negligible investments. Deferred travel to distant parts was eventually enjoyed on group tours; they convinced themselves that these were not your usual group tours, but these were in fact your usual group tours. Health declined more or less on schedule.
She said it would be a few minutes.
It’s been a few minutes.
It’s not good to be impatient, dear. Your hypertension.
Don’t pat my knee. I’m not a baby. Don’t mother me.
I’m just trying to calm you down. Other people here look quite relaxed.
Look almost dead.
Not so loud, dear. They’ll hear.
They can’t hear. Not at their age. Look at that fellow. Fell asleep as soon as he sat down. Want to make book on when he’ll start drooling?
You’re being cruel.
I’m being realistic. She said a few minutes?
Yes, a few minutes.
That can mean anything.
Would you like to try one of the magazines?
I left my glasses in the car.
Don’t you need your glasses? For the exam?
What for? I can see the doctor. I can still tell the doctor from the nurse. Without my glasses.
But sometimes they have a consent form you need to sign.
So you would need to read that.
Do you read the form? I just sign the damn form.
Well, I glance at it.
What’s the point? You’re going to sign it anyway.
If it’s going to be much longer, I may have to go and then come back for you.
I have a hair appointment.
Why did you schedule a hair appointment? You knew there’d be a wait. There’s always a wait here.
It’s a long-standing appointment. And they are simply not that easy to get.
Will she take you right away or will you have to wait?
How do you know?
Right away. It’s not like here.
You’ve had to wait before.
That was with the new girl. My regular girl is back.
Well, I’ll be fine. I’ll just be here.
Of course. I know you’ll be fine.
Don’t pat my knee.
It’s all right. I suppose I shouldn’t mind. People pat. Wives mainly. Mothers.
A man could pat. It’s not unheard of. You didn’t used to mind a bit of a pat. Do you want me to ask the girl how much longer it’s going to be?
Maybe you should. And if it’s my regular doctor.
Of course it is. They would have said if it wasn’t.
Not like the hair place then? Well, go ask. I’ll wait.
She said it will be just a few minutes.
That’s what she said before.
At the DMV there was no waiting. Can you imagine?
When was that?
Yesterday. I told you about it. Replacing my license plate that fell off. The DMV used to be terrible.
Yes, you told me about it. Perhaps I forgot. I expect you to tell me if I begin to forget. Don’t be the enabling wife, the co-dependent.
I won’t. But don’t be upset when I do. Call you out, I mean.
I won’t be. It’s an early sign, they say. Forgetting.
Unless I forget having told you, and then it wouldn't seem like repetition the second time around.
Which is another early sign, the repetition.
They say it is, but I think it’s the same thing. You forget, you repeat.
We might need a third party to attend to us, to monitor for repetition and forgetfulness.
Some young person. Do you think we’ve had this conversation before?
No. Are you being ironic?
Just looking for evidence that we are holding steady.
In that case my “no” was not verifiable evidence, if my memory is failing. We may need that young person for verification in matters like this.
The young person might not prove reliable. You know how some of them are. The young person might be one of the placaters. Placaters go in for that kind of work. Elder care. We could end up being placated to death. Maybe we should have the test.
Is there a test?
They say there is. They quiz you on the presidents and current events.
Well, I don’t keep up like I used to.
I prefer to focus on the eternal verities. I’d be prepared to take a test on those.
It doesn’t work that way. Not like Jeopardy where you get to choose your category. You have to do presidents.
I don’t like those quiz shows or those trivia games. Frankly, I don’t. Do you want to know why?
Yes, I do. What did you expect me to say? Unless you’ve told me before.
I don’t recall telling you, although it is surprising I didn’t because those shows and games are a pet peeve of mine—privileging junk knowledge as they do.
I don’t remember you having pet peeves.
I don’t parade them about. I have them and keep them to myself. To announce them has always struck me as complaining, and complainers have always been high on my list.
What list is that?
Why the list of pet peeves, of course. Not that I keep an actual list.
I used to keep lists.
Oh me too. I still do. To-do lists. A to-do list can be satisfying. It is satisfying to make and satisfying to strike off. Some people just check items when they have seen to them. I like to strike them right off.
That’s not the kind of list I was talking about. I meant a list of what I like to eat and a list of things I’m allergic to. Once I made a list of names for cats. That sort of thing. You know this about me. A list is a way of focusing. An aid to memory. “Hodge” is my favorite name for a cat, a tomcat. That’s what Sam Johnson called his cat. Since you were speaking of trivia. And you can’t have eternal verities without trivia, which is data we generalize from. Verities are just generalizations.
Well, just listen to you, Smarty Pants. I’d say your mind is pretty nimble still. Talking like that. You must be feeling better.
That was a congratulatory pat. Like a high-five. You were very articulate just then. No need for a placating young person to help you out today.
Might need help finding the car keys.
If you need help on that account, perhaps you don’t want to be driving.
Speaking of tests. Speaking of the DMV.
They start examining you again at a certain age if you still want to drive.
I suspect I knew that.
So they’re going to catch up with us. And you have to be able to perform. Eternal verities won’t cut it. Perform and recall the traffic laws.
Well, if one of us should falter, then the other will chauffeur.
Until we both falter.
Yes. Then we would need the young person.
Not all of them are good drivers. Reckless, most of them.
We should make a list of attributes for a young person employed to assist an elderly couple.
You do that.
Responsible driving is one quality, and that the opposite of placating is another. What is the antonym for placating, by the way?
Speaking truth to senility.
All right. But you are assuming senility recognizes truth.
At some point I might not even recognize you.
Think of some more attributes for our list.
Is not allergic to cats.
Let’s add them when we think of them.
And when it’s done, I’ll strike it off my list of things to do.
You’ll want your glasses at the DMV. Don’t leave them in the car.
I went yesterday. It was yesterday.
I know. You just said that. I was generalizing. You never want to leave your glasses in the car at the DMV. Unless, of course, you have perfect vision. And not many people do. Especially old people.
The DMV is like the post office now. You take a number so you know what’s what.
I like knowing what’s what.
But it can still be a long wait at the post office. Like here. They don’t man all the windows. Which I find perturbing given the price of postage.
What’s the price of postage got to do with manning the widows?
I’m just saying they should be making enough on stamps to man the windows.
It might not work that way.
Well, if it doesn’t work that way, then I don’t know how it works.
Can you tell if he’s drooling yet? I’ll bet he is. I should have brought my glasses.
Only a matter of time. I suppose at the DMV you’d have a minute to go out and get your glasses if there was waiting. But not if there was no waiting you wouldn’t.
Well, there’s always some waiting. O.K. I’m off then.
Fine. Don’t worry about me.
Why would I worry about you? You’ll be all right. Oh, I’m sorry.
I just patted.
It’s not a problem. I might pat you one of these days. Become a patter myself. It’s never too late they say, to take up new things.
I’m not sure I’d like that, you patting.
Well, you never know.
I’m off then.
You’re off then. I’ll wait.