Trivial Pursuits {?} - Chapter 11, Part 2

She thought about Greg’s discourse on the loyalty of the vole as she put on her oversized gardening gloves to transfer the tiny carcass into the box. It annoyed her to think of it. He’d seemed to admire the dogged, exaggerated loyalty of the male vole, and appeared to credit himself with a similar level of devotion. To her, it seemed so high-and-mighty, so prissily above it all. Greg always prided himself on taking the high road, but sometimes she wondered if he simply suffered from a lack of imagination. Or maybe he just wanted to maintain moral superiority, to make her feel guilty. She did feel guilty; guilty and angry in equal measure. She shocked herself sometimes by how strongly she disliked him, how much contempt she had for him.

Now, the noble vole was about to be stuffed into its final resting place, an empty box of Kleenex , decorated in a flower print and bearing the slogan “It’s time to let it out.” She was thankful for the loose fit of her glove as she closed it around the small, stiff body. Because the glove felt so out of harmony with her actual hand, it created a sense of distance between her skin and the dead creature. She moved quickly, cursing Greg under her breath as she did. The weight of it was only momentary in her hand; she didn’t have to feel it for long. She slid it awkwardly through the slit in the Kleenex box, like she was casting a vote for or against something that had already been decided.

When Greg finally came home, Amy was sweeping the floor with vigorous fury. She was sweeping the floor like a wronged woman who has determined ahead of time exactly what she’ll be doing, how she wishes to be found, when her culpable husband walks in the door. Most women do this at least once in their lives. They determine with what image, what pose, they can most sharply convey their rage, their suffering, their wounded dignity. They will continue with this staged activity, whether it’s pretending to sleep, scrubbing the oven, or performing a haunting rendition of Mahler’s Second Symphony on the violin, until the intended target arrives home, witnesses it, and absorbs its full impact. It is a delicious indulgence, this little drama of righteous indignation. Except Amy was hardly entitled to righteous indignation, and she knew it.

“Hello?” Greg’s tone was jaunty; he’d obviously had a good evening and more than a few beers. She didn’t answer him; she let the question mark of his call for her trail off into silence.

He appeared in the doorway, dressed casually in jeans and a T-Shirt that said “Los Angeles County Trivia Champs.” As soon as he saw her face, his fell. His eyes, which automatically telegraphed kindness, also communicated something like what now?

“Hi,” she said icily, allowing the silence to inform him of her mounting rage.

“What’s up with the sweeping?” his voice sounded cautious, like he didn’t want to know the answer.

“Your cat door was a brilliant idea, Greg,” she said, her voice almost quivering with its intent to unburden her of her fury. “You know, I’d planned to do some work tonight, but do you think I had a chance?”

He sighed. His head hung down in what seemed to her like a weak imitation of a child enduring a lecture. “No?” He uttered the syllable he knew was required.

“No, you’re damn right, I didn’t,” she snapped, her voice a lacerating crack. “No, the fucking cat brought in a half-dead vole, and dropped it at my feet still alive, and I had to fish it out from under the couch.”

“Shit,” Greg dragged his hand across his forehead and eyes and shook his head, his features mushing together, giving him an exhausted look. Well, she was exhausted, too. She hardly ever slept, she had nightmares when she did; she tried to grab whatever moments of peace she could possibly find in her waking hours. She wasn’t going to feel sorry for Greg, just because he made a tired face.

“You know, you could have been here to help me with this; you know I don’t like mice.”

”You said it was a vole...” Even under the circumstances, he could not resist correcting her.

“Fuck you and your terminology,” she cut him off, her blind rage gaining momentum. “Fuck you and your trivia. I’m here dealing with the consequences of your stupidity, and you’re off playing games! And then you come back here, like a grade-grubbing 4th grade kid, and correct me on species?”

“What do you mean, my stupidity?” It seemed that he was not going to do himself any favors; he was not going to simply accept her indictment and let her wear herself out. “How is any of this my doing?”

You put that stupid door in, so that the fucking cat could bring in all kinds of disgusting stuff. You’ve turned this house into a nature special!” she shrieked. “You opened this house up to this!”

“I think we’ve both made some mistakes, and...”

“And then you run off to play your juvenile game with your juvenile friends!” She was trembling hard now, and she only realized that she was crying when the tears dropped from her jaw onto her collarbone.

“Amy, the trivia is something that I enjoy.”

“Enjoy? It’s your whole life, Greg! You’ve checked out of real life. Do you know how pathetic that is?” She hated herself, she truly did. She had not intended to say anything this cruel. But she couldn’t stop now. “Do you know how sad it is for a grown man to hide behind a stupid game, to get all excited about the outcome of a board game with plastic pieces? It’s embarrassing.” She was sobbing, partly because she had said one of the nastiest things she’d imagined saying, partly because there was something much worse that she hadn’t said.

“I can dispose of the vole,” he said, his voice blank now, enervated, like a soda gone flat.

Oh, the faithful vole—he poor, hapless, stupidly faithful vole. “I already did that,” she said, sighing. “It’s taken care of.”

“Okay,” he said quietly. Seeing him in his championship t-shirt, his cheerful manner of a few moments ago deflated utterly, she felt ill. He didn’t deserve this, no matter how much he may have withdrawn, no matter how much he’d failed to understand her.

“Well, then, is there anything else I can do for you, Amy?” his formality was his recourse, his retaliation. “Because I’m tired, and I’m going to go to bed.”

“No, I don’t think so,” she said. She wanted to apologize, but she knew this wasn’t the solution. She had been driven to apologize out of guilt before; this was usually followed by a few days of her being particularly sweet to him, trying to love him the way he deserved. But then she would begin again the quiet, sniping cycle of resentment, of silently cataloguing his faults. Then she would give vent to her rage, and would again be sorry. She didn’t want to continue this way. “I think I’m just going to do some work for a bit, catch up. I’m fine.” It was almost a whisper.

He looked at her with coolly evaluating eyes, as if he were waiting for more or trying to make more of what little she’d given him. Then, almost imperceptibly, she saw in his eyes the willful act of giving up.

“I’ll seal up the cat door tomorrow,” he said. “I’ll do it first thing. It shouldn’t take long.”

“Well, I’m not saying you necessarily have to get rid of it, it’s just that–” Why was she defending the cat door? She was simply groping for a way to somehow backpedal a bit, but there was no way to undo what she’d done.

“I’m sealing up the door, Amy,” he said firmly. “That door is as good as gone.” Cat, unaware that an aspect of his fate had just been decided, licked his leg, which was raised in the air, contortionist–style.

“Good night,” Greg said, and shuffled up the stairs.

“Good night,” she said. They were ridiculous words to say under the circumstances, but stranger things were said all the time, to soften the harshness of a broken love, to help ease the tear-bloat and the fitful sleep of a night in which love has soured like expired milk. People said many things on these nights, while they absorbed the shock of what was dying between them. These things served their purpose, whether they were true or not.

She pushed the couch back to its proper place and let herself sink into the forgiving cushions. There was nothing more domestic than a couch, nothing more optimistic, nothing more American or more cozy. In between its cushions, sometimes, you could find things you didn’t even know you missed.

Check out previous chapters of Trivial Pursuits {?} right here.

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