(And Other Almost Conversations)
Maurice’s Review: Many years of marriage multiplied by many months staying home together equals not many words needed to complete a conversation. Huh? OK, whatever you want for take-out tonight is fine with me.
My husband and I have been hanging around our little cottage together for exactly 159 days. We have no other constant companions. We constitute a two-person “bubble,” safer from the virus, insulated in our own tiny congregation. The situation is challenging our ability to meaningfully communicate with one another. The outside world provides some conversational variety via Zoom, but the inside world stalls on familiarity and limited experiences. There is little fodder to prompt much in the way of engaging conversations.
Yet, nothing sparks an interaction with my mate more than when I detect an unpleasant odor. This is usually because I suspect the smell is of his making. Certain whiffs have familiarity, such as the stink of beer-brewing fermentation or the nauseating smell of wood finishing products. Those are his hobbies and he is often a little too proud of their emanations. When the odor is unidentifiable, it is usually up to me to sort it out and get rid of it. I am the only one it bothers.
I call this the “almost conversation” because it usually leads to a short question and answer period and nothing else. Though I could wax philosophical about the evils of foul stenches, with an historical perspective on how often a smell event has led to the death of individuals, the man of the house chooses to dismiss their existence or the relevance of their existence, which creates a shortened dialogue. Being forced to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week within earshot of each other during this lengthy pandemic has created a form of communication we had previously only flirted with. Now we are perfecting it. Pandemic togetherness along with 27 years of marriage have conspired to short hand our conversations.
There is not much to report in terms of our experiences during time spent apart. Over dinner I will relate the frequencies with which our dog-walking neighbors have passed by in the street while he was down in the basement fiddling at the workbench or rattling around amongst the kegs and beer fridge. He, in turn, will offer the news of the day gleaned from his hours of watching the Today Show while reading much of the same stuff on his i-Pad. He knows how often dog-walkers go by based on the barking and howling of our dog, which can be heard from all corners of the property. I already know the news of the day based on my hours of Facebook scrolling and time spent with friends on Zoom.
When we ponder some rosy future from which we will nostalgically recall our time spent together in isolation, we will remember this redundancy. Redundancy and triviality. Sure, so far this summer there was a hurricane and an earthquake. We’ve seen those before and these recent home-bound disasters paled in comparison. Political divide? Seen it. Out-of-control politicians? Check. Civil unrest? Well, we have interest in all these things. We are on the same page on all this stuff, and don’t need to check in on what the prevailing thoughts are. I could ask, but then again, I could also answer my own questions. Perhaps we have become too complacent.
Triviality is much more entertaining. What is the capital of Andalusia? There’s one for the memoirs. Is Andalusia a country? No, it’s a region in Spain. Does that make it a country? According to this crossword puzzle, it has a capital. So does New Jersey. Does Spain have states? Maybe provinces, like Canada. Well, I’ll be damned. We’ll call this exchange “learning,” even though neither of us can tell you the capital of Andalusia. It counts only in its provocation of a lengthy (in retrospect, really not very long) conversation. At least it wasn’t about bad smells, or the dog, or bad smells related to the dog.
We have a son, far away in another state. He’s fairly good at checking in with us. We are fairly good at analyzing the information proffered during these weekly calls. He mostly tells us he’s fine; girl friend is fine; dog is fine. We wonder what he means by fine. Did we detect a component of happiness in there or did he sound a bit tired? We offer him our meager news. Not much has happened since last week. It’s great when his call follows a phone call we received from family or friends. We can then relate all of their news, though I suspect this might bore him. These calls are more about reassurance than content. We are happy that he is fine, whatever that means.
Our friend Linda, in a birthday call from us to her husband, reminded us that she calls her 90-something-year-old father in England every day and speaks to him for 45 minutes, a feat we much admire. She admitted that sometimes the conversations stall out, having just spoken to him the day before and also the one before that. She voiced her delight at having heard from us as she would now be able to work our news and everyday tidbits into her next phone chat with dad. We can certainly relate to these tactics and hope we are not too boring a topic.
At the Hobbit House, our collection of short-range topics of conversation would bore the pants off anyone with even the scantest of life experiences. As my mother used to say “It’s like watching paint dry,” which has been one of our topics. I am painting the fireplace, a feat which requires multiple coats of a variety of colors. The application of paint is generally followed by watching it dry so as to assess color and uniformity of application, and the opening of windows to dispel the smell. It’s seems to always come around to our olfactory adventures.
Then there is food. I cook four nights a week. We enjoy the leftovers and when that’s gone, order takeout. Here’s where it gets really exciting because neither of us wants to decide where to order from. It’s a stand-off as old as the Alamo itself. The resulting exchange of words is so very polite and noncommittal. “Whatever you want,” is my husband’s passive way of saying he doesn’t want to take responsibility for this momentous decision. I remind him that I decided what to eat the previous five nights and now it’s his turn. We eventually settle on something and are sometimes even happy with it. That we keep ordering from the same four restaurants is a little detail revealing the above-mentioned complacency and our embarrassingly compact, pandemic-related world.
The magic is still there though. My guy is an amateur astronomer. He revels in sharing the sky with me. I sometimes show indifference, especially if I have to get up at 4 am to maybe catch a glimpse of a comet or other astrological wonder. Just last night he coaxed me out of the house onto the back deck at 10 pm. To my surprise, he had set out the sleeping bag pads on the deck along with matching pillows I did not even see him take from the couch. We reclined outside with our eyes toward the heavens, which happen to be mostly clear, to catch an early view of the Perseid meteor shower. We saw exactly one meteor. It was the most spectacular one I’ve ever seen, leaving a screaming bright trail as it disappeared behind some trees. It was a “wow” moment which required no words. Except, I screeched in delight over this tiny little gift. I can’t imagine what the neighbors thought about the occupants of the small stone cottage. We stayed there quietly for a while, as a distant storm created flashes of light which reflected in the atmosphere. It was one of our best conversations.
Guest Editor Maurice provided me with much food for thought! We had a meaningful online conversation via email about bad smells and why one should not lead a story with them.