We quarreled when the rug was up. This went back to the threadbare days on the third floor, cold water for days, a walk in the park. Wan spring blossoms declared their independence. Garage doors paid forth their secrets onto muddy alleyways. The rug hung chilling and crooked off the back deck. And we quarreled.
“We cannot live the way you want,” I said, lighting a cigarette.
“You don’t want to,” she replied, her hand sidewise and angry on her front hip. “You just don’t want to.”
“Dammit,” I said, shushing the match with a wave of my wrist. “Let’s think about the money for a –”
” ‘Dammit!’ ” she exploded. “Always ‘dammit!’ What kind of home are we trying to build? Where did you learn respect?”
“Fine,” I would say, my voice tinged with the bitter cool of the spring breeze, and slip down the stairs …
… and there I was 30 years later, in a home with Japanese maples in the front yard and graduation gowns in the closets, success radiant from here to the avenue, the perfect backdrop to advertise life insurance and prudent mid-length sedans. And again the rug is up, soaking the sun off the back deck; and again we are arguing.
“Do you ever think about the consequences of your actions?” she challenges, her green eyes sparking.
“It was the right thing to do,” I sigh, tearing off a corner of the newspaper and twirling it into a ball between my fingers. “And to hell with the consequences.”
“We could lose everything. Everything,” she says, waving a nicotine-stained hand in the general direction of the kitchen.
I cannot resist the pounce: “Might we lose the blender? I could never face the LeRoys again if we lost the blender.”
She rises, fuming; but before she can speak I am out the door and down the back steps toward the garage. The lawn wants mowing, bless the all-silencing roar of the mower.
A wordless hour later, I am on the deck, rolling the rug into a semi-compliant log and muscling it back into the front room. It sprawls back into its familiar dimension, and in that instant, the afternoon light takes on an added warmth.
I am changing my undershirt and taking the afternoon pills when I hear her voice behind me: “I’m sorry. The way we get going sometimes, you’d never thought we’d been married this long.”
I do not say anything. There is nothing to say. We quarrel when the rug is up.
It has always been this way.