David and Maria made sure to arrive home on a Tuesday evening before 6 p.m. after long hard days at work for both of them. They were a married couple in their mid 40s, with three children – William aged 20, Walter 10 and Wendy 5. Later that evening, they would be meeting with Maria’s younger sister, Lucy, and her acquaintance or boyfriend or common-law husband, Jerry. The exact nature of the relationship remained fuzzy. The occasion was Lucy’s birthday.
The following conversation was conducted in the master bedroom and the adjoining bathroom as David and Maria prepared themselves. Weeknights out were rare in their household.
DAVID: So how’d your day go, sweetheart?
MARIA: The usual. A mad rush. Worked too hard. Would have rather stayed home in bed.
DAVID: Did they say anything at day care when you picked up the kids?
MARIA: Yep. Apparently Walter came out with another one of his beauts. You know they went on a field trip to the art gallery. Our little treasure wanted to see John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
DAVID: Oh yeah, I think I told him about that one. I’ve always been impressed by that painting.
MARIA: Well, Miss Reed was appalled again. She thinks Wally may be disturbed. Told me the story and wanted to see my reaction. It’s a follow-up to the time he told her about the horror movies we let him watch. I think she’s about ready to send a social worker around to see us.
DAVID: So what’d you say?
MARIA: I didn’t show any weakness. I said it seemed like a perfectly reasonable request to me. Who doesn’t want to see John’s dripping bloody head? If you show any self-doubt as a parent, then they’ve got you. They’ll assault you with their feel-good everybody-needs-analysis spiel.
DAVID: It’s like when they came after me about Wendy hoarding snack food in her pockets. Told me it was a nasty habit and unhygienic. Well of course it is. But I said good hygiene is overrated. That it was no different than when our cat brings home a mouse and wants to show off her hunting skills. I got the strangest looks, but they’ve left me and Wendy alone since then.
MARIA: Just the same, would you please have a talk with Wally.
DAVID: I know. He has to try to fit in better and keep some of his more bizarre comments and revelations to himself. Please, for all our sakes. By the way, who’s paying for dinner tonight?
MARIA: I guess we’ll have to pick up the tab. It’s Lucy’s special night. That reminds me. I’ll need your credit card on Friday. The front brakes need replacing on the car.
DAVID: Weren’t they done just a couple of months ago?
MARIA: What can I say? The van’s a piece of plastic junk. You know I think it’s possessed.
DAVID: It’ll be re-possessed if we can’t get a handle on our bills. Speaking of faulty memory, I forgot to ask yesterday how the kids’ music lessons went?
MARIA: So-so. Mrs. Gretzch gave Wendy a lecture about not practicing enough. Wendy was close to tears. Wally’s guitar teacher went on again about the upcoming recital and how he’s still not taking his solo seriously.
DAVID: They just don’t get it that the kids are enrolled to get a grounding in music and have some fun. Why does everything have to be grim and serious? Everyone is so driven these days.
MARIA: Can you pick the two of them up tomorrow night after Mandarin class?
DAVID: Sure, I guess so. Why, where will you be?
MARIA: Remember I’ve got a late appointment with Dr. Eisenberg for root canal work?
DAVID: Is that covered under your health plan?
MARIA: Some of it is. These things are never completely covered.
DAVID: You and I are both working like dogs at well-paying jobs and we’re always broke. This wasn’t in my contract when we got hitched.
MARIA: Tell me about it.
DAVID: Say, why is my fresh underwear still wet?
MARIA: That’s the problem with the dryer that I’ve been telling you about. It doesn’t vent properly.
DAVID: There’s another expense. It just doesn’t end. Let’s unhook the vent from the ceiling and run it into the laundry room. Cover the end with a stocking.
MARIA: Then we’re risking a fire hazard. And if the insurance company finds out what we’ve done, they won’t pay on any claim.
DAVID: There’s about six feet of pipe running behind the drywall to the outside. It’s probably blocked with squirrel nuts or something. I’ll have to get someone in to find the problem and fix it. What we need in this family is a man. You know what I mean? Not me, but a handy man.
MARIA: I hear you. We could use another wife too, to do the cleaning.
Just then, Wally and Wendy ran into the room.
WALLY: Goldie just threw up in the living room.
DAVID and MARIA together: Oh crap!
DAVID: What’s Jinx mean?
MARIA: It’s when two people say exactly the same thing at the same time.
DAVID: Right. When I was a kid, we used to do that too. Okay, I’ll be down in a few minutes. Hold your noses until then. What’s the matter with that dog? The fancy food and purified liquids we’ve got her on is making her sick. Let’s get her back on leftovers and tap water.
MARIA: It would save us a bit of money. We’ve also got to tackle our electronic bills. They’re costing us as much per month now as a car. Cell phones, the internet connections, cable TV, wireless hookups. At least with wireless, we don’t have to worry about fires so much.
DAVID: Here Junior, put this in the oven for a few minutes, will you? (He hands his clammy underwear to Wally.)
MARIA: I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I tried a similar trick when I was in college and started a fire.
DAVID: Your brain’s on fire. No wonder William grew up to be a fireman. It’s a wonder we haven’t turned him into an arsonist.
MARIA: I’m just always alert to potential danger.
DAVID: Just kidding, junior. Give me back my briefs. Guess I’ll have to go alfresco style.
MARIA: This is a good excuse for you to wear your kilt.
DAVID: You mean go Scottish-chieftain style? What if there’s a fire at the restaurant and I have to jump from an upper-storey window? The crowd below will see more than they bargained for.
MARIA: We’ll just refuse to eat anywhere but on the ground floor. Or we’ll have to wait until William shows up with the fire truck and moves the spectators back.
DAVID: At least I’m looking forward to Sunday when we can relax.
MARIA: You’re forgetting the concert’s on Sunday.
DAVID: Have you ever wondered what’s in this for me? And I don’t mean the collective me. I mean me specifically?
MARIA (going over and giving him a hug): I know dear. Sometimes I think I’m more anchor than wife.
DAVID: No, that’s not true at all and you know it. You’re my rock, baby. You and the kids are everything to me.
MARIA: Come on. We’d better get going. And don’t forget to bring the Comet and cloth to clean up after Goldie.
On the drive to the restaurant, David tried not to be annoyed that Maria spent most of her time “talking” to her Twitter pals over her i-Phone. It helped that most of them were people he had come to know and like as well. For her part, Maria blocked out the sound of David’s fingernails tapping on the steering wheel to a song melody that was unspooling only inside his own head.
They arrived a little early to hold the reservation and Lucy and Jerry appeared 15 minutes later. Good food and conversation occupied the next hour. At the conclusion of the meal, however, when all was contentment, deserts were on the way and coffee was about to be served, it seemed the time was finally right to pose a question that seemed obvious to the older couple.
DAVID: So guys, are there any plans in the works for marriage and little ones to brighten up your lives?
LUCY: No, not at all. In fact, we’ve taken a pledge to never get married or have children. It wouldn’t be fair to bring them into such a mixed-up world as this. And our relationship is stronger for our being respectful of each other’s independence.
JERRY: That’s right, David. Most people don’t really understand the nature of love. Love is freedom. It’s treating your partner like a butterfly that you’re prepared to set loose at any time. Then if they come back, the bonding is that much more complete.
LUCY: Yes, exactly. Space defines our love. And respect for each other’s needs.
JERRY: It’s important to keep the romance alive. That’s why we go out on a date at least once a week. To a play or a movie after a nice expensive dinner. And getting away is important too.
LUCY: In fact, we’re planning another vacation to the Caribbean next month. We’ll lie on the sand, walk along the beach, hold hands and refresh our spirits. (Lucy gazed deeply into Jerry’s eyes and he returned the favour.)
JERRY: How about you two? When’s your next trip?
David and Maria looked at each other for a heartbeat. They turned back to the other couple and almost shouted simultaneously, “Oh grow up!” Then immediately after, “JINX!”