Sometimes my wife says, “The kitchen is in the chicken.” She gets confused. She means the chicken is in the kitchen, of course, but you can see how she might make that mistake. I tell her not to worry about it, but she worries anyway.
In the supermarket she says to me, “God, I hate your language.”
“My language? I didn’t create it out of dirt and make all these people learn it.”
“You made me learn it.”
“Made you? I can’t make you do anything.”
She laughed. “It’s true, it’s true. But it’s like dirt in my mouth. I hate it.”
“Hatred, some say, is very close to love.”
We didn’t have the money for the things we needed or wanted so we were stealing things as well as putting things in our basket for purchase. We stole the expensive items like salmon and toothpaste and bought the cheap ones like a bag of peanuts. Actually, that’s all we bought. The rest we stole. We were adept with our hands and pockets because we were hopeless with money.
My wife said, “I’ve had to learn a new word for every damn thing you are seeing right now. Every little thing in this world.”
She pointed at something on the shelf and said, “What the hell is that?”
I said, “Pickled watermelon rinds.”
“You see? You see what I mean?”
She grabbed a jar of pickled watermelon rinds and stuffed it down her pants. She had more pockets than a stage magician. And she was fast. I almost didn’t catch her myself and I was staring right at her.
She said, “Why can’t there be a single word for these things. What are they called again?”
“Pickled watermelon rinds.”
“Rinds? Rinds? That’s ridiculous. I’ll never remember that.”
“What do you call them?”
“We don’t have a word for them. We just throw them at the dogs.”
We walked up and down the aisles carrying our bag of peanuts in its basket. My wife pilfered a small bottle of extra virgin olive oil. I found a wallet on the floor.
“Look at this,” I said.
“Oh, Jesus,” said my wife. “That’s going too far.”
“Hey, I didn’t lift it out of some dirtbag’s pocket. It was just lying there on the floor.”
“Open it up.”
I flipped it open. It was stuffed full of money and credit cards.
“This is terrible,” said my wife. “What a bind.”
“I’ll go hand it in at the desk.”
“There has to be a desk around here somewhere.”
I carried the wallet to the front of the store and delivered it to a woman sitting behind a customer service desk.
She said, “What’s your name?”
“You need my name?”
She regarded me through the thick little windows of her glasses. Then she ran her fingers through her hair and picked up a telephone. She whispered a few words and set it back down.
I said, “Can I go now?”
She shooed me away. “Whatever you like.”
I found my wife reading the label on a jar of tomato sauce.
“My God,” she said, “the things you people put into your bodies. It’s astonishing. I need the internet to get through this.”
The jar vanished into her jacket.
“I’ll study that when I get home.”
“I’ll help you,” I said.
She pointed at something and said, “What do you call that?”
“God, I don’t know. But I found the desk. I gave the wallet to the woman.”
“The woman at the desk.”
“You gave the wallet to a woman at a desk?”
“She called someone on a telephone.”
My wife looked at me.
“She telephoned someone?”
I said, “You know we don’t use telephone as a verb in this country.”
“Katherine Hepburn uses telephone as a verb in several films. I’m sure of it.”
She watched movies from the ’30s and ’40s as if they’d been made ten minutes ago, then she turned around and used it all against me, thwarting me whenever possible.
“Katherine Hepburn is dead,” I reminded her.
We argued about verbs for a little while in front of the tomato sauce display.
It got heated.
A security guard interrupted us. He was with the woman from the desk.
He said, “What in the name of God are you people going on about over here?”
“The imperfect subjunctive,” said my wife.
“Oh. Well now.”
“You are rapidly losing your subjunctive mood and you don’t even care. Care? Did I say that? You don’t even know it’s happening!”
“We sort of combine our shopping trips with a language lesson,” I explained. “Two birds with one stone.”
The security guard and the woman from the desk observed the bag of peanuts in our basket as if it were the explanation for everything.
My wife said, “Your language is devolving. People are becoming more and more stupid.”
The woman from the desk said, “I’m afraid that’s a little off my radar at the moment.”
“What could be more pressing? We are talking about basic communication skills here. We are talking about critical thinking ability.”
“I hear you loud and clear, honey. I get you.”
“If you would listen to me for half a minute, I might somehow save you from your own debased offspring!”
I told my wife, “This is the woman from the desk.”
“Oh, the desk. The wallet.”
She crinkled her brow at these irrelevancies.
“Precisely,” said the woman.
“Where did you find the wallet?” asserted the guard.
“Right where you’re standing,” I said. “Why?”
“It’s my wallet.”
“I put it there,” he said.
“A decoy,” said my wife.
I admired her for appearing so bored while brimming with stolen merchandise.
“You left all that money on the floor?” I said.
“Those were fake bills,” said the woman.
“Counterfeits,” said the security guard.
They seemed to merge into each other and take a swift step forward – though they hadn’t moved.
“I’m afraid I don’t have time for these shenanigans,” said my wife. “I’m going to proceed to the checkout lane.”
“Don’t you want to know about my wallet?” said the guard. “Don’t you want to know if you passed our test?”
“If you follow me I will force you to comprehend the imperfect subjunctive.”
The guard snorted.
“Yes, that’s probably just what you need.” My wife walked away with our basket.
“Peanuts for lunch again,” said the woman from the desk.
The guard let out a dark little man-laugh.
I backed away from them, making my way up the aisle. They watched me, standing side by side, motionless.
Test? Test? Was everything some sort of test?
I met up with my wife in the parking lot. She was leaning against somebody’s car, eating peanuts one by one.
“God, I hate these things,” she said.
“So why do you eat them?”
“To appear nonchalant.”
“Do you think they were onto us?”
“Who? Those two?”
They were standing in the window watching us.
She said, “That’s what happens when people won’t take words seriously. They become like that. Stunted. Terrible. They deserve each other.”
I wasn’t sure what she meant, but I knew she meant it.
We went home with our stolen merchandise and continued on with our lives. She taught me her language as I’d taught her mine. Eventually I got a job. We saved up some money and bought a small house. We had a baby girl and named her Irene. She learned both our languages as if each were her own idea. She was perfectly bilingual. When she was three we missed her one-year-old face. When she was five we missed her three-year-old face. She grew up so fast. Finally she became a scientist. Her efforts saved lives. Her efforts probably saved our lives. And when we were old and crazy and could barely make it up the stairs anymore, she took really good care of us.
Photo Source: Tea and Snippets
I really enjoyed the language of this story. (I’m not being ironic.) I found the ending paragraph unnecessary, but sweet. I am going to use the wife’s threat when dealing with my in-laws. No one should be forced to comprehend the imperfect subjunctive.