can a husband and wife over-share?
Marjorie noticed the white running shoes on a four-year old boy following a man, likely his father, out of the restaurant. In the parking lot, she spotted the same man handing over a car seat from his shiny black Tundra along with the boy to a woman who hugged the child, buckled him into her white Tahoe and drove off without a wave.
Pulling out of the drive, her husband Carl reached to restart the audio book they had been playing since Gainesville. “No. Wait,” Marjorie said, blocking the dial. “You know, sometimes stories are happening all around us if we just notice. It’s the building blocks of novels.” Carl shot her a long-suffering glance knowing that he was in for a fervent essay-in-process as his wife unwound her thoughts about writing.
“Yes, dear,” he replied accelerating onto I-75.
“Did you notice that couple in the parking lot?”
“The one we just left?”
“No. What about them?”
“Well, the husband, who had a veterans tag on his macho truck, handed over a car seat and his son to a woman who drove away with the child.”
“Well, they could have been separated or divorced and he was ending his custody time with the child.”
“Or he could have been her brother who had just babysat her child for an overnight, or her husband who had to go on Reserve duty and wanted her to have an extra car seat. Or…or…or. Why do you have to always dramatize every little thing?”
“I’m a writer. That’s what we do. We pay attention to people and…things.”
“I like to think of myself as a quilt maker with a rag bag of old shirts and dresses and curtains and shawls full of memories waiting to be revived and arranged into beautiful patterns—a mosaic of past moments.” With no response from Carl, she continued. “So, what I’m thinking is we don’t need to listen to the novel…for a while. We can tell our own stories to each other.”
“Huh? At this point in our marriage, I should think you would have heard every single thing I have to say twice over.”
“Well, yes, but those are things we’ve chosen to share. A writer is looking for more… the vivid details, the smells, the sounds, the intense feelings of simple moments of life.”
“I take it you’ve got some lists in mind? Like ‘firsts’. My first bike. My first day at school. My first wet dream.”
“Well, not just childhood experiences.”
“So, pre-marital stuff…this girlfriend, that one. You want me to…what’s the word? Dish? I don’t know why you would want to know more than I’ve already told you…we both explored and experimented until we found each other.”
After a pause, Marjorie said, “I don’t know. I’ve been thinking about that movie we just saw.”
“Uh-hmm. I mean that woman was devastated to learn that her husband hadn’t just broken off an engagement but that his fiancée had died in a mountain climbing accident and she had been pregnant at the time.”
“So, you want to be sure there isn’t something like that lurking in my past?”
Marjorie gave an exasperated sigh and head shake. “Or you just have too much time on your hands and a nosey disposition like those ladies, yesterday, who kept nattering about everyone and everything at the pool right under our balcony.”
“Recollections get my creative juices flowing. Make me want to write.”
“You’re spoiling my limited interest in fiction.”
“It’s like visiting gardens for a gardener or trying different restaurants for a cook. Life memories are stimulating. The stuff of stories.”
“I don’t want to be in your novel.”
“More like a short story for as much as you share.”
“Was that a shot? Hey, remember at Marjorie Rawling’s house yesterday…?”
“Yeah, she wrote about her neighbors and got sued for violation of privacy because she got too close to the truth about one of them.”
Marjorie raised her chin in offended silence.
“Wait a second,” Carl added. “You want to know about stuff since we’ve been married, too, don’t you?”
“Forget it,” she snapped and reached for the CD player.
“No, hold on. Let’s finish this.”
“Oh, god. Now we’re going to do a process analysis of the subject. Next thing you’ll be drafting a Marital Memories for Dummies book.”
“You’re the one who brought up the subject. And by the way, do you realize what you’re suggesting could be dangerous? If we start looking under rocks we might open a Pandora’s box?”
“You’re mixing metaphors.”
“Okay, try this one. Minefield. Over the years we’ve laid out a minefield on subjects we should and shouldn’t talk about. And now you want to go romping around, willy nilly…”
“All right. All right. Forget I brought it up.”
“And anyhow, maybe we all need some privacy…keep some mystery in our lives. Think of Venn diagrams and overlapping circles. Couples shouldn’t completely…”
Marjorie punched the CD player and the reader droned a baritone blanket of prose over the discussion.
Five miles later, Carl very deliberately turned off the audio book and into the yawning hush sighed and stated, “There’s something you want to tell me.”
Marjorie wriggled in her seat, tugged her seat belt and cleared her throat. “Well if you mean, as long as I brought the whole thing up, I should go first. I suppose I could.”
“How long has it been since your last confession, my child?”
Marjorie huffed. “It’s not like that. This is just ‘show and tell’.
“There was a Pharmacia rep who used to call at the office. Maybe once a month. We all thought he was special.”
“So, this no-name hunk had all the receptionists squirming in their seats.”
“Maurice was not…like that. And if you keep making snarky remarks I won’t go on.”
Carl nodded. “So, what made Mo so special?”
“Stop it. Maurice was very dignified and a real gentleman. He always wore exquisite suits. And his ties…oh my.”
“Manicured nails and French cuffs, I suppose.”
“Why yes. Have you met him?” Marjorie taunted. “And not just plain white starched shirts. He wore patterns and contrasting colors.”
“Okay. I’m getting the picture. What about him and you?”
“I think we both appreciated each other.”
“I see…how much appreciation?”
“We would do lunch from time to time,” she replied with an arched eyebrow.
“On his expense account, I presume.”
“I never paid…”
Carl touched the brakes, in response to a car that had just cut in front of him. “Damn. I hate when people jump lanes and don’t accelerate. Messes up my cruise control and…it’s basically rude. Either they have no sense of relative speeds…or just don’t give a damn.”
Picking up the conversation, Marjorie asked, “Are you suggesting that Maurice was using me to keep up his sales quota? I was just the nurse. As if Mark ever asked my opinion on the drugs he prescribed.”
“Just sayin’. That’s what reps do. So, what happened when Pfizer took over Pharmacia?”
“Oh. That’s why he…” Marjorie trailed off, then set her jaw, “But, I bet if we saw each other on the mall, or wherever, he’d ask me to lunch just the same.”
Carl frowned, talked to the driver ahead of him. “Pass or get out of the fast lane, asshole! Look at that. He’s not even going the speed limit, let alone passing.” When the offending driver finally switched back to the right lane, Carl glanced at Marjorie to find her staring at him expectantly. “What? Oh, so now it’s my turn to share a tidbit. Does it have to be about people of the opposite sex who we’ve found attractive?”
“All right. Let me think.” A half-mile of silence later, he said, “There was a time, around when Meg and Reggy were small, that I used to fantasize about having a job that took me out of town. You know, like baseball players or consultants.”
“You weren’t happy at home?”
“See, that’s what this kind of dabbling leads to. Now, you’re going to feel hurt that I wasn’t happy with the home you provided.”
“Not hurt, exactly. Just surprised. You didn’t exactly show it, as I recall.”
“I wouldn’t. Would I?”
“So, where did you imagine going?”
“Just away. To be alone for stretches. To do what I wanted, when I wanted. Like when I got to go to that conference in Boston. That was good.”
“I see. Did you run into anyone interesting there?”
Carl smiled, remembering. “Yeah, lots of fun, interesting folks. One night we all went to a bar and started telling jokes. Before long it turned into a contest and me and this one woman were the only ones left trading stories. We were both like heavyweight fighters in the 15th round—barely standing, trading punch lines. It was my turn and I remembered the one about the parrot in the pulpit. You know the one…”
“No, but not right now. Okay?” Marjorie replied curtly.
“Ha! I love that you forget my jokes and I get to repeat them over and over,” Carl said, patting her knee.
“All part of the package,” Marjorie huffed. “But, back to the joke-off.”
“She was a good sport and conceded graciously.” Smiling vaguely, Carl added, “Nice legs, too.”
“Ah. Legs and an earthy sense of humor. An unbeatable combination.” Marjorie replied as she grabbed a pack of Tic-Tacs from the glove compartment, shook out a couple and offered them to Carl.
After crunching the hard candies, he said, “So, is that it? Or do you want to explore something more than a mild buzz from the past.”
“What if I do? What if I said ‘something’ went beyond just attraction.”
“Could happen. Does happen all the time.”
“Look. My thought…what I don’t know can’t hurt me.”
Carl pulled over to the right lane and then off to a rest area. “I need a break.”
Back on the highway, they rode in silence for a half hour. Marjorie spoke. “So you had a fling.”
“What a dismissive word…fling. Like something you throw away…threw away.”
“Let’s not play semantic ping-pong here. Did you or did you not have an affair while we were married?”
“Your honor, do I have to answer that question on the grounds that I’ll have to find out if my wife had same?”
“Cut it out, Carl. This is serious.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to say. Quit stumbling around this mucky pond. You’re likely to get snake bit.”
The pregnant silence stretched until Carl asked, “Where shall we plan to stay tonight? Indianapolis or Fort Wayne?”
“So, did you?”
“Yeah. Did you?”
“Mmm. Fort Wayne. We can be home by noon tomorrow.”
As they lay on opposite sides of the Comfort Inn gymnasium-size bed, Carl asked, “How’re things on your side of the court?”
“Fine,” Marjorie answered, yawned languidly and turned off the light.
After a moment, Carl spoke into the well of darkness, “So, now that you got me to admit that I ‘got it on’ with another woman, I suppose you want all the details. How old was she? Was she pretty? Married? Have any children? And then how many times and where and when? And why? And, how could I?”
“No. I don’t want to ask or know all that.”
“What? After all your poking and prying you’re going to suddenly stop? Wait, I know. You figure that I’ll ask the same of you. Is that it?”
Marjorie exaggerated regular breathing as if she were sleeping.
“Cut it out. I’ve slept with you enough to know when you’re really sleeping. This is your ‘I’ve got a headache’ breathing.’”
Marjorie sighed and rolled toward Carl. “No, I’m not afraid. I’ve just realized that there’s a limit to how much a couple needs to share.”
Carl thrashed onto his back, huffed, “I’ll be damned, woman.”
“If you’re that curious, read my stories.”
“Geez, Marjorie, you’ve written three collections of short stories.”
Marjorie tittered, rolled over and patted Carl’s arm, reassuringly. “Think of a single bottle of vanilla. You can spread the flavor over a dozen birthday cakes.”
“You and your damn metaphors.”
“Relax. It was only one.”
“One guy or one time.”
“Look, ‘you write what you know.’ And I needed to know.”
“So, this was like a 3rd grade field trip to the nature center.”
“Oh, give it a rest,” Marjorie snapped, pulling the covers to her chin.
“I apparently have done so for many years until you’ve felt the overwhelming need to purge. Or did you just need to relieve your guilt by getting me to fess up.”
Onto her elbow, breath in his face, Marjorie said, “Okay, I brought the whole thing up. I’m not even sure why. But you know what I just realized?”
“An affair makes too much and too little of sex at the same time.”
“Really? I suppose you read that somewhere?”
“Yes. In a novel. But I forget which one.”