She was long aware that there was a certain ambiguity in wanting attention. Like this, for example. She was, as often, settled sideways into a corner on the sofa, legs drawn up, in the combination kitchen entertainment nook under the large three pane window and opposite the TV that nobody watched anymore after the kids had gone off to college, except for the occasional National Geographic program Darren might watch. She could straighten out the bookcase over by the balcony door.
After the kids had departed with their assorted Kafka, Hegel, Sartre, Shakespeare, Atwood, Oliver, and Morrison, what remained in the bookcase were his star atlases, and books about the geology of the Grand Canyon, or water in the desert, or the behavior of beavers. Oh, and there was still the sex manual he had declared “a bit flowery,” at which point she had refused looking at it with him again. A bit flowery just didn’t seem to be his thing. She’d go donate it to the library one of these days. Together with his copy of some manual on massive extended orgasm. But no, that one wasn’t hers to donate. It belonged to him.
She should probably clean the kitchen instead of reading. They never got around to it during the week except for putting things in the dishwasher which they then ran once or twice. But this afternoon she didn’t feel like sorting out anything. It was Saturday after all. The cat snuggled into the blanket between her left thigh and the sofa cushion. She spent some moments stroking the cat’s back and looking across at the tall Douglas fir trees beyond the narrow community garden that was maintained by the Homeowner’s Association. Everything seemed to be stretching up with anticipation of summer. Lovely to think that something was alive out there that didn’t depend on seasons and that only grew taller with age.
They had been living amicably side by side for such a long time now, she and Darren. She longed for him to consider her central in his life. She longed for him to ask her questions about herself. It wasn’t that they didn’t talk to each other. It was just that their interests were so different. When they had first me, she had imagined they would be breathlessly in each other’s pocket all the time, walk in the mountains, lie side by side in meadows tickling each other with blades of grass, or by the ocean, holding hands, listening to the water rake the pebbles in its retreat away from shore.
She had imagined the two of them touching and talking and totally riveted by what the other one did. Or thought. Or read. Once, in the early days, she had asked him for a list of his favorite books. She had read four of them right away. They didn’t exactly float her boat, much less so than Kafka and Sartre or James Joyce, all of whom she had once devoured with fascination when she still had the energy and curiosity of youth and the need to prove her intellectual worth to the world.
Once she tried reading her favorite respectable book of all out loud to him, Doris Lessing’s The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four, and Five. He looked patient and benevolent but not keenly captivated, so she gave that up after two evenings. Since he never returned the favor of asking for a list of her favorite books, she felt she was off the hook as far as his interests were concerned. In return she left him off the hook as well. He just wasn’t all the interested in her, or in what she read, or what she felt, and that’s the way it was. The end.
These days she didn’t even bother to put her journals out of sight. Her private thoughts, which she recorded almost daily, were unquestionably safe from him, although she found that hard to understand. And then again, maybe not. Once she had visited a girlfriend’s cabin for a solo retreat and came across a personal journal which she read, including some thoughts on longing for intimacy in lieu of bread and butter sex. It was all a bit boring. Nothing like Anaïs Nin. Then again neither were her own journals anything to crow about. A helter-skelter of yearnings, daily irritations, a recent shopping list for a special anniversary dinner which she might or might not put together in the end, peeves about bosses and glass ceilings and assorted niggling little wounds.
She opened her book and started losing herself in the safe and skirt swishing world of Love in the Afternoon while continuing to lightly stroke the cat’s back. After thirty pages or so, she heard Darren at the apartment door. She heard him take off his shoes to honor the light beige carpet—his color choice not hers. They exchanged hellos. When she heard him walk to the back bedroom which also housed his desk and computer, she allowed herself to dive back into her embarrassingly unimpressive but delightful book again. Rakish and uplifting banter between the two protagonists. Simple. Lovely. Charming. It brought a smile to her face.
“What are you reading?” Darren asked from the open doorway. She hadn’t heard his socks on the soft carpet.
“A book,” she said and fled with it to the bathroom. Her cheeks prickled with mortification.
Beate Sigriddaughter, www.sigriddaughter.net, grew up in Nürnberg, Germany, near the castle and World War II bomb ruins. She lives in Silver City, New Mexico (Land of Enchantment), where she was poet laureate from 2017 to 2019. In her blog Writing In A Woman’s Voice, she publishes other women’s voices.