They were cooking dinner, his wife chopping vegetables while he prepared the soup. She’d prepared their dinner the night before, and he had helped with the chopping. Except for the chefs he’d seen on television, he was the only man he knew who cooked regularly and took pleasure in it. Last week he’d overheard a friend of his wife’s say to her that a husband who cooks as often as hers is a husband who cares. And indeed, cooking dinner was one of his ways of showing how much he cared.
While they cooked they would talk about many things and somehow tonight they got to talking about whether gays and lesbians should have the right to marry. He said that if you really thought about it, the right to marry was not such a good idea.
“Why?” she asked.
There were times when his wife made a face where her green eyes would go hard and she would stare at a spot just above his left shoulder so intensely that a muscle below her right eye would twitch. When she looked at him like this, he knew he should shut up, but the silence in those moments made him uneasy. So he usually didn’t shut up. She was staring past his shoulder now.
“Why?” she asked again, and stood there with the paring knife a few inches above a tomato.
“Look,” he said, “I work with gays, and I’m sure I went to school with gays and I’m sure I was even friends with gays, and we’ve never had any problems. I don’t need you standing there and hinting that I’m a homophobe.”
“I wasn’t hinting anything,” she said, and began slicing the tomato again, bringing the knife down in short, quick stabs. “I just don’t see what’s wrong with two men or two women marrying, that’s all.”
“They don’t have the same lifestyle as we do. Really, take a look at them sometime—they even have their own customs. That’s fine with me. I like that different groups of people have their own customs”—this was true; he had always been fascinated by different cultures and their traditions—“but it’s different. Two people with a gay lifestyle could never really be faithful to each other.”
“Like you’re faithful to me,” his wife said.
“Yes, like I’m faithful to you.”
“But if they are faithful to each other…” she said. She was slicing faster now, no longer looking at him.
Here we go, he thought. He said, “Never mind what I think. Look at what the Bible says. It’s a sin.”
“A sin.” She was piling sliced tomatoes and chopped carrots and onions and potatoes at a furious rate, just cutting wherever her knife happened to land. Many of the pieces were oddly shaped or much too large. “Okay,” she said, “what about polygamy? I suppose as long as it’s not same-sex and the man marries all the women, you think that’s okay, because that’s in the Bible, too?”
“Well,” he said, “back then, I suppose it was acceptable, even necessary. But how can you be with someone who is the same as you?”
“The same,” said his wife. “Not different, like us.”
“Yes, the same,” he said, angry with her for always making his arguments appear to suggest something else, something unpleasant. “These aren’t small enough,” he said, and dumped all the chopped vegetables back on to the chopping board.
The vegetables seemed too soggy and pale. She stared down at them, her eyebrows pinched together, then plunged her knife into the onions. “Damn!” she cried, and dropped the knife. She took her right hand and cupped the fingers of her left and brought them up to her face. Her index finger was bleeding.
“Laura, hold still,” he said. “I’ll get a Band-Aid.” He ran down the hall to the bathroom and grabbed a washcloth and a box of Band-Aids from under the sink. When he came back she was sitting down at the kitchen table with her head bowed, still holding her hand. He pulled a chair up next to her, sat down, and took her hand. He was relieved to see that all the fingers were still attached. He patted the cut with the washcloth.
She glared at him. “Patting it won’t do any good. You have to press down on it, hard, for something like ten minutes.”
He pressed down, hard. “That hurts!” she yelled. He let go and she pulled her hand away.
“You told me to press down hard.”
“Just…give it to me.” She took the washcloth and wrapped it around her finger. She wouldn’t look at him.
He got up and went over to the pot of soup on the stove. It was beginning to boil. He lowered the heat to simmer. He stirred, with his back to her. He kept stirring, though it wasn’t necessary. His wife was silent; he didn’t know what she was doing. He dropped the ladle on the counter and turned around.
Still seated at the table, a washcloth wrapped around her finger, she looked at him.
“Laura, I’m sorry,” he said. He came over to the table and took her hand in his. Gently, he unwound the washcloth and looked at the wound. The bleeding had slowed to a trickle. “It’s barely more than a scratch,” he said. “Tomorrow I’ll buy some Neosporin and it’ll be healed before you know it.” He tore the paper wrapper from the Band-Aid. She watched him wrap it around her finger. He was pleased at how calmly and quickly he had taken charge of the situation and helped her. He hoped she would recognize this, and then he hoped that she would realize how silly—no, how dangerous—it was to argue about the lifestyles of other people. “I can manage with the vegetables,” he said. “You go and have a break.”
“It’s fine,” she said. “I can season the soup.”
He began to chop the vegetables into smaller pieces while she looked for something in the cupboard.
“Well,” she said, “I guess you wouldn’t have married me if I had been born male.”
“Jesus Christ, Laura!”
“That’s basically what you’ve been saying, you know.”
“No, that is not what I’ve been saying. Don’t put words in my mouth. If you had been born male we probably would have been competing for the same girls. Or maybe you would like a certain kind of girl and I would like another. The only outwardly gay guy I know is my supervisor at work, and I was already married to you when I met him.”
“But if we weren’t competing for the same girls, and I was a man?”
“Then you probably would have been dating my supervisor.” He picked up the chopping board and pushed the vegetables into the pot with the knife. The broth was boiling so vigorously that the cubes of vegetable bobbed up and down in the liquid until he lowered the heat to simmer.
“But if I wasn’t dating your supervisor. If I wasn’t attracted to him,” she said. “What if I was male and single and we met and fell in love.”
He looked at her. She was looking at him and her eyes were wide. “Alright,” he said in what he hoped was an amiable tone, “this is how it is. If you were a man you would be a completely different person. Not Laura.” The moment he said it, he realized he wasn’t just saying it for the sake of carefully ending the argument. He was saying it because it couldn’t be any other way. How could she believe she would be the same person she is now if she had been a man? Surely, she could see the logic of it. Men and women were different. He repeated it, because it was so logical, so easy: “If you were a man you would not be the same person.”
“Sure,” she said easily, “but let’s say I was still the same person, hypothetically speaking.”
He sighed. He felt that he was right and she wasn’t being fair. She was purposely trying to cause a fight. “And…?” he said.
“And you’re a man, and I’m a man but still me, and then we meet and fall in love. Then I get down on one knee and ask you to marry me. Would you?”
He knew he had to think very carefully before he spoke.
“So?” she said and stepped right up to him. She stood on the tips of her toes, so that they were the same height. “I’ve just asked you to marry me. What are you waiting for?”
“Give me a minute,” he said.
“Well, I know what that means. You wouldn’t marry me. Me.”
“Now wait a minute,” he said. “This isn’t just about you and me.”
“Of course it’s just about you and me. This is monogamy, remember? Yes or no.”
“Fine then, Laura. No. I wouldn’t marry you.”
“Alright,” she said quietly, and walked out of the kitchen and into the living room. He could hear the creak of the hardwood floor as she walked. Then it went silent, and then he heard voices and laughter. She had turned on the television and was rapidly flipping through the channels. He knew she was angry, because she did not like it when he flipped through the channels, though if it had been him, he would have turned the volume up very high. She was flipping the channels so quickly that she could not possibly know what shows were on. She was showing her contempt for him, and it worked. He felt sorry for himself.
He knew now was a good time to shut up and give her space. Carefully, he cleaned the counter while he waited for the soup to cook, humming a nameless tune as he swept up potato skins and tomato tops. When the soup was finished, he ladled some into two bowls but did not tell her dinner was ready. He sat at the table and ate his serving. When she didn’t come to eat, he ate hers, too. She was still rapidly flipping through the channels. When he had finished, he put the soup in a container and set it in the fridge, and realized the fridge needed to be cleaned out. There was a container of lasagna from a week ago, and a half-full bag of American-style salad was rotten and a dark brown liquid had oozed out and dried onto the bottom shelf around the bag. As he was scrubbing the stain, he heard the television go silent.
He threw the lasagna and salad in the trash can, lifted the garbage bag from the can, and went out the back door. The air was cold, and snow was coming down lightly. A flake settled on the tip of his nose and melted there. He could hear, on the other side of the fence, his neighbor’s dog scratching at the door to get in. A siren wailed in the distance. It sounded like it belonged to an ambulance, and he shivered. He felt petty for getting into an argument with his wife. They had been married for seven years, and he wanted to be with her to the end. He wanted to be married to her. He had wanted to marry her at the end of their first date ten years ago. The snow continued falling, and he stood for a while and watched it, remembering how she had looked at him when he had proposed.
He went around to the side of the house and found that raccoons had gotten into the trash again. Soggy papers and sections of cardboard were scattered across the grass. He scooped them up with his bare hands until nothing was left on the grass but a thin coating of snow.
The house was still silent when he came back in. She wasn’t in the living room, and she wasn’t in the bathroom, getting ready for bed. He climbed the stairs and found the bedroom door closed. He hesitated for a moment and then he walked in. It was dark. His wife was in bed but he could tell by her breathing that she was still awake. He sat on the edge of the bed and began to remove his shoes.
“I know you want to go shopping with me tomorrow afternoon,” he said in a high-pitched voice.
“What?” she said.
“Go shopping with me tomorrow,” he said, his voice still high-pitched. He stood up and slipped out of his jeans.
“You don’t like shopping,” she said. “Why are you talking like that?”
“Just play along,” he said, “I’m a guy, a gay guy, and I’m asking you out on a shopping date. We can try on clothes and get our hair done.”
“You’re absurd,” she said, but he could tell by her voice that she was smiling. “And then what will we do?” she asked.
“That, young man, is too risqué for words,” he said and climbed into bed.
“Oh, well,” she said and started to laugh.
He felt the laughter rising in his own chest, the way he always felt when he heard her laugh, a sound that made his heart pound and tears come to his eyes. When she stopped, he reached out into the darkness and felt her there, under the covers. He tickled her sides and under her arms and she laughed again and it was the sound of the person he had married seven years ago, seven whole years ago, when they had never bothered to argue about the lifestyles of others.
Photo by Brandon O’Connor