Something to Save
On his way out the door to a meeting with a client, the husband said, “We should have a baby,” and the wife, pointing to one of the windows that overlooked the driveway, said, “We already have an orchid and its stem is going brown,” and the husband said, “I’m serious,” and the wife said, “Me too.”
With a white linen dishtowel, the wife diapered Teddy, her childhood stuffed bear, and when the husband came home from work the wife cradled the bear in the bend of her thin arm and said, “Here’s our baby,” and the husband said, “Teddy?” and the wife said, “He goes by Theo now,” and the husband said, “Some imagination.”
Over the next two months, on days when they hadn’t said much to each other, the husband would say, “Maybe Theo would like it better if you spent less time with your weekend gardening club,” or the wife would say, “Theo cried all day while you were gone and I don’t know why,” and the husband would say, “Theo needs to learn how to be independent,” and the wife would say, “I know.”
On Thanksgiving, after they used Theo as an excuse for heading home early from the wife’s unmarried sister’s house and her sister called their parents in Miami who then called the wife, the wife said, “Maybe we should stop all of this,” and the husband said, “Time’s running out,” and the wife said, “We could have dinner at a restaurant this weekend and talk,” and the husband said, “It could be good to talk.”
That weekend, over two orders of mushroom risotto in a restaurant with imposingly large chandeliers, the husband said, “Maybe a dog,” and the wife said, “Some new life in the house,” and the husband said, “One from the kill shelter,” and the wife said, “Let’s come up with a name,” and tucked Theo in the back of her closet.
None of the dogs were right. It was clear to them both.
The following weekend, while staring at the cover of a celebrity gossip magazine from the supermarket, the wife said, “I’d like to go to the art museum,” and the husband said, “It would be a nice excuse to wear my paisley shirt,” the only eccentric item in his wardrobe, and the wife said, “Have you seen my lipstick?” and after she applied a layer, the husband said, “You are the portrait of perfection.”
At the museum, the feature exhibition was called Verisimilitude and Similarity. There was a photo series called “Twins” featuring black-and-white headshots of strangers who looked like they could be related, but weren’t. There was an undamaged piece of cardboard painted to look like a slightly damaged piece of cardboard. There was a life-size replica of an artist’s Midwestern childhood home, based on her family’s old photos, featuring era-appropriate furnishings purchased or recreated by the artist.
Deliberately ignoring instructions printed on several beige plaques throughout the replica house, the wife rubbed the strawberry patterned curtains in the kitchen, then turned to the husband and said, “We should move in,” and the husband said, “We’d need to do something about that shag carpet in the living room,” and the wife said, “But seriously,” and the husband said, “Well, the den would be nice for entertaining.”
That evening, the overnight security guard failed to check underneath the benches of one particular installation room featuring a stop motion video of a fruit bowl whose contents ripened, then molded and withered in under four minutes.
Beneath an afghan made of earth-toned granny squares, the husband and the wife stared at the museum’s vaulted white ceiling. “I love you,” the husband said, and the wife said, “I love you,” and the husband said, “Even after sixteen years, it takes on new meaning every time,” and the wife said, “How about that.”
When the first security guard arrived just before nine the next morning, the wife said to him, “We’re part of the exhibit now,” and the husband said, “The director let us in late last night,” and the wife said, “We’re not even supposed to be speaking to you,” and the husband said, “We’re sorry if we scared you.”
All day, visitors to the museum waited, hoping to catch the couple in an intimate moment or an argument or eating bowls of bran cereal. Instead, the husband shuffled around the house quietly, opening the empty cupboards and fridge while the wife examined her face in the bathroom mirror, ignoring the husband when he asked if she could pick up milk the next day, and reminding him, instead, to cut the lawn.
They remained for a week, only sneaking out during mid-morning lulls for blueberry muffins and pulpy orange juice from the cafeteria for breakfast, overpriced turkey wraps that would keep well for a light supper. They were not confronted by anyone until Monday of the following week when the curator returned from a business trip. The wife said, “We didn’t mean to hurt anyone,” and the husband said, “Actually, I think we helped,” and the wife said, “We always had a crowd,” and the husband said, “I really think we helped.”
The artist and the museum agreed not to press charges. The husband and the wife agreed not to return to the museum.
Back home, nothing smelled like them anymore. The husband said, “I’m not sure I can go back to work,” and the wife said, “I’m not sure I can sit in this house all day,” and the husband said, “Does the world really need more insurance?” and the wife said, “It’s a depressing gamble that everyone eventually wins.”
The husband phoned the office, and a thirty-second conference call with his former assistant was all it took to make orphans of all his clients. The wife said, “There’s no future in this life,” and the husband said, “Maybe I’ll branch out into financial planning,” and the wife said nothing else but privately considered becoming a kindergarten teacher’s aide again, while the husband reveled in their renewed sex life, which the wife felt finally fit the description of lovemaking.
Without discussion, as far as either could recall, the husband and the wife spent the following days and weeks collecting wallpaper samples, paint fans, and swatches of upholstery fabric from nearby home improvement stores. They gathered them at first in a small drawer of the writing desk, then a cardboard box, then in piles all around the guest room. At night, when it was too late for television, but too early for sleep, one or the other, or both of them together would go into the room and arrange the scraps in coordinating groups, closing their eyes to imagine the force of the sun coming through the window on some future new life.