[img_assist|nid=10053|title=Two Together #9 by Gillian Bedford © 2013|desc=|link=node|align=none|width=500|height=672]
At the end of each day and, later on, throughout the day, he made lists, hundreds of thousands of lists. Lists of his failures (short), lists of his successes (longer), lists of other people’s failures and successes, lists of all the people other people had loved, lists of who had believed in god that day, who had forgotten, and who had stopped looking up and started looking ahead. It didn’t really help him with work but it helped him keep track of Life, which constantly seemed harder to keep track of.
He was not a watcher, not by any means. He didn’t waste his time sitting on benches in the park letting his biological clock tick quickly towards sagging age-no, in fact, he liked to think of himself as a rather efficient person. And efficient people took good notes, about everything, and this he did meticulously. He was proud to say he had not forgotten a single note he had ever taken-he wasn’t one of those who sat down at dinner and stammered about things they had wanted to say and had wanted to share but couldn’t for the life of them remember. Absolutely not. He had lists-and they, as far as they reflected his ability to observe his world, were perfect reflections. Perfect.
He didn’t live with anybody yet. Although only forty-two, he realized the problem of this, as his biological clock had ended up ticking quite quickly even without any bench sitting, but he would solve it soon. This year, in fact, he had made a list of eligible women and he would begin (after August vacation) to interview them, as it were. He would never be so blunt, of course; he would be polite, and nice, and equally eligible. Hopefully he would not have to get to the bottom of that list; if he did and none proved eligible, or the eligible ones proved stubborn (which would imply some sort of ineligibility) he would make another list. In one year’s time, there would be a wife in his relatively nice middle-sized house. In two year’s time, hopefully twins. A child, if he wasn’t that lucky, and he understood that even lists and efficiency couldn’t always hold a candle to luck.
He had eight friends. Thirty-seven acquaintances. One hundred and thirteen dependable business acquaintances; two hundred and four possibly dependable business acquaintances. Ninety-three uncategorized Facebook contacts. Twelve dependable friendly acquaintances, nineteen possibles, and one true friend. No parents above ground. And yes, he most certainly had a list of all his friends, except for the one true friend.
She was not efficient. She was untidy, and she had married an untidy man and had untidy children, the kind who smiled and laughed and played splattered with smearings of food and dog spit. Unconscionable, but they were her children, not his. She came to his house (he did not go very often to hers) because the multiple untidy persons he met there could easily cause him discomfort. He usually claimed he could not remember why he and Celia had ever been friends because he knew, now, that he would never be friends with, to be precise, such a slob. But of course he remembered, and it wasn’t just because Celia reminded him every time she saw him. It was because, deep down in his secret self, the part that thought when he was almost asleep but still able to think, he went back to that first time and made lists of all the excuses he’d have to make so she wouldn’t know he thought of it.
They had met in high school, freshman year, in the most banal English class where they’d introduced each other to the class and she had looked like a wreck and he’d looked not bad but a little worse than he did now. She hadn’t learned how to do her hair yet and so it was all in tangles when he’d said hi, my name is irrelevant and I like black things (he’d been just a little bit dark and negative and pessimistic back then). She’d said hey my name is Celia and I love invisible pink unicorns. He’d thought she was an idiot but after a few classes she came over and asked him what he believed in. He said he went to church and believed in nothing. She kept asking questions: what did he want to be, where had he gone to school before, did he like school, what did he like to study, did he even like to study, had he ever been arrested, did he drink, and he’d said why do you care? And she’d said because you’re the only one here with a quarter of a brain, and he’d said only a quarter? And she’d said she only had one fifth, he should be happy, though she didn’t think he was very happy very often.
They’d been friends because he’d desperately wanted someone to talk to. He’d wanted someone to ask him questions because he had his own answers from all the years when nobody had asked him anything, and being relatively perfect back then (his perfection had admittedly decreased with age) he wasn’t going to go finding people. And besides, she’d been interesting. She was a failed preppy, a tangle of mismatched colors and incomplete hair, and while being neat was just as important back in those dark and pessimistic days as it was now, being neat was only enjoyable when other people weren’t. And except for Celia, they had all been superlatively neat.
So they’d banded together and annoyed each other to high heaven but had a ball doing so, calling the other every two minutes to complain about the world and its awesomely depressing ways. And when they went to college they still called, Celia now to ask about what was the excuse God had put in men’s heads instead of brains and he to ask the same of women. After college came a short lull, and then an invitation to Celia’s wedding, and then she was seeing him again to talk about life, and marital love, and work, and marital fights, and book-clubs, and then the cessation of work for children, and children, and more marital fights, and dogs, and more book-clubs, and marital love, and a new novel on marital love and children and dogs, and four more new novels about marital love and children and dogs, and then books of poetry, gardening, kindergartens, life, philosophy, the world, and did he still think he fit in the world the same way he used to because he sure looked it, plodding and plodding and plodding along. Well, he’d said, you certainly seem to enjoy my plodding well enough, you’re here more than anywhere else, and she said she’d rather be anywhere else than at his house except he was so darn stubborn.
But it was in October when, at his still relatively nice middle-sized house (he didn’t yet have enough money for an addition), Celia drove up to his door with the slobbering dog and the two food-covered children and told him she’d lost her house and needed a place to stay. And he’d looked at the slobbering dog for a very long time and said how, exactly, do you lose a house? And she said a pile of men whose shirts say bank come in a truck and take it away. He’d said where’s Owen? And she said he’s in jail to rot until his toes turn green. Oh, he’d said. Well, can I come in? she’d said. He opened the door.
[img_assist|nid=10054|title=Moon Drawing by Karoline Wileczek © 2013|desc=|link=node|align=none|width=450|height=634]
He often wondered afterwards if she’d only turned in her own husband for fraud just so she could put a hurricane in his house called Home Redecorating the Homeless Way (Celia called it her “feminine touch”) but then he thought that was mean because he knew how long Celia was working selling cosmetics to ugly people, the only first job she’d been able to find. What was all that college for, he’d asked her, and she said I haven’t worked in eight years, do you know what that means?
She put piles of flowers everywhere in his once neat and clean and shiny bathroom and kitchen and bedrooms, and because she didn’t have time to change the flowers the flowers got old and wilty and eventually dead, but the minute he’d throw them out she’d tell him she wanted her children to have flowers around them so they would always know happiness. He’d wanted to say a lot of things then but she’d also said she never wanted her children to hear bad words so that they’d always have clean mouths, so he’d said nothing out loud. So she’d put the flowers back, and when they started to wilt he started replacing them himself, trimming them and putting them in the vases with a happy little forbidden word whispered with every bouquet.
And then the bathroom. Women were supposed to be clean, men messy, but Celia must have thought the bathroom was a big moon bounce of towels, or something, because that’s what the bathroom became. Except it was more of a moon slip as the towels and tiles didn’t stick, except when the towels were wet, when it all became a moon jungle, complete with a squelching monsoon floor. And he’d hear her in there with the children, giving them a bath at ten pm, playing water games and singing water songs.
And when she was finished and taking the naked children wrapped in towels back to the guest room where they all slept he’d go into the bathroom and not exactly scrub it clean but something very close to that, and all in a huff from cleaning other people’s mess he’d walk to the room to talk to Celia about the Guest Code of Conduct when he’d hear her humming a little song to them in the dark, and then a quiet when are we going to go home? And an equally quiet I don’t know, and then why are we here? And then a because if you’re lucky you get to have one really good friend, and if you get one there’s a special invisible contract which says you will do anything for each other. And this is my one friend.
Well, what could he say after that, he sat down in his nice neat bathroom and when she asked if she could take a shower he just let her and went to his bedroom. And as he was falling asleep he made a list of all the reasons why he had always liked Celia. In the morning he cleaned the spilled cereal and walked the utterly stupid dog and didn’t say a word against anybody until he got home and found the children had made a fort in the middle of the living room out of his bed pillows and couch pillows and bed blankets. It looked like some Mongolian tent, right there in the middle of his living room, and when he lifted the blanket he found the crumbs sprinkled like large dust particles all over his no-longer clean carpet and the dog in the middle of it, smiling as he put blizzards of black hair on the ivory pillows and blankets. And when Celia came home he shouted anyway, and she shouted back that she didn’t want her children hearing shouting and he said fuck your stupid children-and then Celia cried, and he had to say sorry and wait outside the shut guest room door for three and a half hours until eleven thirty at night, when Celia said she was sorry she was so difficult and he said he was sorry he was so anal and the kids kind of looked at them both from under their blankets and weren’t sure if things were still okay or not.
All of this, of course, put him into an absolute frenzy of list-making. If there had been many lists before, there were hundreds of neat piles of them now, everywhere. Sometimes he’d be up late making lists, and then he’d realize there were lists all over the floor, and his floor looked like a mess, it looked like a Celia mess, and he’d jump up and carefully pin and staple and paperclip them together and then organize them into type: lists of Celia’s bad cooking skills, lists of Celia’s bad child-rearing skills, lists of the stupidities of Celia’s children, lists of the stupidities of Celia’s dog (this was the longest by far), lists of the reasons why Celia should go, lists of the reasons why Celia should stay, lists of insults for Celia’s husband (only slightly shorter than those for the dog), lists of reasons why not to kill Celia’s husband, lists of reasons why to kill Celia’s husband.
And then, after about three months, Celia came home one night and said she would be leaving. Well where was she going? A hotel room, she supposed. And the dog? It wasn’t that nice a hotel, she said. Well could she afford it? No. Well why was she leaving? Owen’s coming home, she said, or at least he’s getting out. How? His sister finagled it out for him, apparently she’s got money but only for him not for me so he’s out but we’re on our own. Let him come here, I suppose, it can’t be that much worse, he said. I’m not going to do that, Celia said, I’m not going to ever bring him here. He’s no longer my husband, not really. My friend is no longer his friend.
And she said thank you and thank you and all that thanking business, which made him very uncomfortable because he hated to be thanked for things by Celia since he never really felt he had to give her anything, everything of his was sort of hers by default, and when she was done she said she was going to tell the children and he watched her walk up the stairs. And then he looked at the slobbering dog and the fort the children had rebuilt in his living room, and they really didn’t seem so bad, and the fort was rather ingenious, and the dog had a friendly feeling and Celia was an idiot but she knew everything about him and she knew everything about everything somehow, and he needed to make a list and so he went upstairs to his bedroom and made a list of all the reasons why Celia should stay forever. And when he finished he made a list of all the reasons why Celia should leave forever and when he was finished with that he tacked them both up and stood back and looked, and he saw that the list for Celia staying forever was longer than any of the other lists he had made before in his life.
He looked at it for a while, because this time he knew he was fully awake and not almost asleep. And then he thought of the interviews, and he opened his sock drawer and took out the neatly rolled list of eligibles, and he looked at it for a moment and looked back at the Celia list. And then efficiently, carefully, he ripped both lists into a hundred little pieces and threw them in the air, letting them fall from his clothes as he walked to tell the children they could keep his living room as long as there were flowers.
Alessandra Davy-Falconi, originally from Boston and Pittsburgh, is currently a student at Bryn Mawr College. She was a winner of the 2011-2012 Helen Creeley Poetry Contest, read her work at the 12th Annual Boston National Poetry Month Festival, and has a piece soon to be online in The Hive: Apiary Digital Edition. Her writing is influenced by anything and everything; she writes purely to tell stories in as many ways as possible.