He said, ‘You know what I think of when I think of us?’

She said, ‘Tell me.’

He said, ‘The chair.’

She said, ‘Us in the chair.’

‘You with your leg up,’ he said.

‘My left leg,’ she said.

He said, ‘Right. I mean, your left leg – right.’

She said, ‘I’ll think about this tonight.’

‘The chair?’ he said. ‘Our time in the chair?’

‘No,’ she said. ‘The way you said it,’ she said.

He said, ‘How I said it was how it came to me to say.’

She said, ‘Nothing just comes. It’s all rehearsed.’

He said, ‘You think that’s the way we are?’

‘It’s not what I think,’ she said. She said, ‘It’s what is. Or was,’ she said.

‘Take it back,’ he said.

‘Look,’ she said, ‘I have to get off,’ she said.

He said, ‘Sorry. I wanted to talk.’

‘More past tense,’ she said.

He said, ‘You listen too closely.’

She said, ‘Wasn’t that the thrill?’

‘Of course,’ he said. ‘It had its charms. Everything known,’ he said.

She said, ‘So it seemed.’

‘Not just talk,’ he said. ‘Everything else,’ he said. ‘Nothing not given.’

‘Hang up,’ she said.

‘Exactly,’ he said.

 

*

 

‘Hi,’ he said.

She said, ‘Okay, have it your way.’

‘That’s funny,’ he said. He said, ‘You know what?’

‘Tell me what,’ she said.

He said, ‘You’re still funny,’ he said.

‘Nothing funny about this,’ she said.

‘Don’t you mean that?’ he said.

‘I mean you’re calling too often,’ she said.

He said, ‘Can’t seem to help it. You want me to help it?’ he said.

‘Make an effort,’ she said.

He said, ‘You think I’m not making an effort?’

‘Make more of one,’ she said.

‘Yeah,’ he said. ‘You’re right,’ he said. ‘But I close my eyes and I see the chair,’ he said.

‘Cut it out,’ she said. ‘Who has to close them?’ she said. She said, ‘It’s not right where it was? You’re impossible,’ she said.

He said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Nothing’s changed.’ He said, ‘Everything’s right where it was.’

She said, ‘Get off the phone, please.’

He said, ‘Make me.’

She said, ‘I’m hanging up.’

‘Who’s stopping you?’ he said.

‘Oh, for God’s sake,’ she said.

‘All right,’ he said. ‘I think I hear her anyway.’

‘Give her my best,’ she said. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘if you’re so dying to talk about the chair, talk to her about it,’ she said.

‘Hang up,’ he said.

She said, ‘Consider it done.’

‘I’m waiting,’ he said.

‘Enough,’ she said. ‘Don’t call,’ she said.

He said, ‘I’ll think about it.’ He said, ‘I’m thinking about it.’ He said, ‘Did I say it’s right in this room?’

‘You said you hear her,’ she said. ‘For everybody’s sake, hang up,’ she said. She said, ‘Please, I’m getting off.’

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Get off,’ he said.

 

*

 

He said, ‘How nice of you to call.’

She said, ‘This a bad time?’

‘It’s a safe time,’ he said. ‘Been thinking?’ he said.

‘Never not,’ she said.

‘Fine and dandy,’ he said.

‘That’s nice,’ she said.

He said, ‘Nice.’ He said, ‘It’s nice when it’s nice.’

She said, ‘Are we remembering it as it was?’ She said, ‘That’s not possible, is it?’ She said, ‘But it was nice, very nice,’ she said.

‘Couldn’t have been nicer,’ he said.

‘The chair,’ she said.

‘Right,’ he said.

‘That’s all I wanted to say,’ she said. ‘But call me,’ she said. ‘When it’s safe,’ she said.

He said, ‘Of course.’

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘Of course,’ she said.

 

*

 

‘I remember things,’ she said.

‘The chair?’ he said.

‘Didn’t she have it recovered?’ she said.

‘Reupholstered,’ he said.

She said, ‘Mmm.’ She said, ‘Nothing stays the same.’

‘That’s deep,’ he said.

‘There’s no reason to be mean,’ she said.

‘Right you are,’ he said. ‘You know what?’ he said. He said, ‘You’re right.’ He said, ‘But not everything does,’ he said.

She said, ‘What?’

He said, ‘Change.’

‘Oh, God,’ she said.

‘Yeah, sure,’ he said.

She said, ‘Tell me what you remember.’

‘You tell me first,’ he said.

‘This is awful,’ she said.

He said, ‘You’re telling me.’

She said, ‘Uh-oh. Hanging up.’

 

*

 

‘Are we thinking?’ she said.

‘Let’s think,’ he said.

‘Let’s fuck,’ she said.

He said, ‘Christ. Christ,’ he said.

‘My thought is this,’ she said. ‘My thought is it’s impossible to think,’ she said. She said, ‘My thought is it’s better if we quit calling.’

‘Okay,’ he said.

‘Okay,’ she said.

 

*

 

‘You want to hear my thought?’ he said.

‘We agreed,’ she said.

‘Nothing doesn’t change,’ he said.

She said, ‘Which of us said that?’

‘Too deep for it to have been me,’ he said.

‘Is she there?’ she said.

‘Out,’ he said.

She said, ‘At the upholsterer’s or at the reupholsterer’s?’

He said, ‘How would you like it if I said at chemo?’

‘Say it,’ she said. ‘Go ahead and say it,’ she said. She said, ‘You think everyone doesn’t die?’

‘I think we’ll die,’ he said.

‘Who’s not already dying?’ she said. She said, ‘When are we not dying?’ she said.

‘We were alive,’ he said.

‘We were,’ she said. ‘It felt like we were really alive,’ she said.

He said, ‘Say as if,’ he said.

‘As if,’ she said.

 

*

 

He said, ‘Are we making this up?’

She said, ‘What other course is there?’

He said, ‘Then we’re lucky for that.’

She said, ‘Lucky how?’

‘That we can,’ he said.

‘That one wants to,’ she said.

He said, ‘There’s no out-talking you.’

She said, ‘Oh, yes there is.’

‘I think I hear her,’ he said.

‘She’s not dead?’ she said.

‘Is he?’ he said.

 

*

 

He said, ‘You remember what it was covered with?’

She said, ‘How couldn’t I?’

He said, ‘Then tell me how was it?’

‘This a test?’ she said.

He said, ‘What isn’t?’

‘Pity the pedestrians on the Rialto,’ she said.

He said, ‘You don’t remember, do you?’

She said, ‘Am I the expert in what I remember?’ She said, ‘I have all I can do to remember how to spell it anymore.’ She said, ‘You think I haven’t forgotten your name sometimes?’

He said, ‘But then you remember it.’

She said, ‘I sometimes remember your phone number faster than I do your name.’ She said, ‘It was rose-colored or something.’ She said, ‘Velvet maybe.’

He said, ‘Likelier velveteen.’

‘Lovely,’ she said.

‘Lovely,’ he said.

She said, ‘The word, I mean.’

‘The word,’ he said. ‘To be sure,’ he said.

‘Velveteen,’ she said.

 

*

 

‘It wasn’t that,’ he said.

‘What? What,’ she said, ‘are you talking about?’ she said.

He said, ‘What it was covered with,’ he said.

‘In,’ she said.

‘Okay, in,’ he said.

‘You know what I’m wondering?’ she said.

‘Tell me what you’re wondering,’ he said.

She said, ‘Tell me why it was I who provided the sheet.’

‘The bedsheet?’ he said.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘I’d like to know how come it was always me who did. It was your place,’ she said. ‘How come was it that it always I?’ she said. She said, ‘What was the strategy with that?’ she said.

‘What a word,’ he said.

‘Strategy?’ she said.

He said, ‘Jesus, that’s the worst word I ever heard come out of your mouth.’

She said, ‘Did it never occur to you the chance I was taking?’ She said, ‘What were you thinking when it was all me all of the time who was taking the biggest risk?’

‘Bigger,’ he said. ‘Better to have said bigger,’ he said.

‘Good God,’ she said.

‘Exactly,’ he said. He said, ‘I’m tired.’ He said, ‘I think I’m tired,’ he said. He said, ‘I’m sorry – I’m going to go take a nap.’

‘Then go,’ she said.

He said, ‘Yeah, I think I must.’

She said, ‘Fine. He’s due any second now anyway.’

‘I’ll phone,’ he said,

She said, ‘Yes, of course. You do that,’ she said.

 

*

 

He said, ‘Why this tack to harden yourself?’

‘It’s working,’ she said. ‘I’m harder,’ she said.

‘Think what you’re doing,’ he said.

She said, ‘Think? Who thinks?’ she said.

‘Oh, Jesus – please,’ he said.

She said, ‘That was the car. Goodbye,’ she said.

 

*

 

She said, ‘He read me something this morning.’

He said, ‘The latest from Hallmark?’

She said, ‘A bit from one of the journals he gets.’

‘I’m all ears,’ he said.

‘He’s no lout, you know,’ she said.

‘I’m all apologies,’ he said.

‘This is childish,’ she said.

‘I said I’m sorry,’ he said.

She said, ‘Try to put your back into it,’ she said.

He said, ‘I’m listening. Go ahead,’ he said.

She said, ‘That no matter the woman . . .’

He said, ‘Oh, this is going to be deeply deep,’ he said.

She said, ‘There’s a man who’s weary of her.’

‘That’s it?’ he said.

‘That’s not enough?’ she said.

‘Pretty profound,’ he said.

She said, ‘There’s a point there.’ She said, ‘Don’t you think there’s a point there?’

He said, ‘It applies all around,’ he said. ‘Try this,’ he said. ‘Try no matter the person,’ he said.

She said, ‘We’ll speak another time.’

He said, ‘Talk now.’

‘Not in the mood,’ she said.

He said, ‘Oh, begging the lady’s pardon, a mood, is it, then?’

She said, ‘I’m saying goodbye.’

He said, ‘So say it.’

‘Goodbye,’ she said.

 

*

 

‘Hi,’ he said.

She said, ‘I think he’s in the house,’ she said.

He said, ‘It happens I know for a fact she is.’

‘Then let’s not either of us risk it,’ she said.

He said, ‘Are you forgetting what we risked?’

She said, ‘I’m not comfortable,’ she said. ‘This is unintelligent,’ she said. ‘We’re asking for trouble,’ she said.

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘Let’s let comfort be our aim.’

She said, ‘Call when you’re thinking straight.’

He said, ‘All right, I will.’

‘Then do it,’ she said.

 

*

 

‘I miss you,’ he said.

‘Oh,’ she said, ‘so much missing, so much missing, so much missing.’

He said, ‘Don’t worry, there’s plenty more where that came from.’

She said, ‘Who’d ever imagine?’

He said, ‘That we die, that we’re dying, that we’re every minute less alive.’ He said, ‘It’s not slipped your mind, has it?’

‘Not for a fucking instant,’ she said.

‘Let’s talk about the chair,’ he said.

She said, ‘How about the floor, how about the bed?’

He said, ‘I shouldn’t have called.’

‘On the contrary,’ she said.

‘Then hello,’ he said. He said, ‘I believe I said I miss you.’

She said, ‘Aren’t we at our best on the phone?’

‘Good for you,’ he said. ‘Getting more callous by the day.’

‘Look,’ she said, ‘this isn’t a very good time,’ she said.

He said, ‘Oh, yeah – time,’ he said.

‘Just say goodbye,’ she said.

‘Perfect,’ he said. ‘Perfectamundo,’ he said. ‘Goodbye,’ he said.

She said, ‘Another time.’

‘Oh, positively,’ he said. He said, ‘There’ll come a time,’ he said.

‘Next time,’ she said.

 

*

 

‘It just so happens he reads Agamben,’ she said.

He said, ‘What’s that?’

‘Never mind,’ she said.

He said, ‘No, I’m interested,’ he said. ‘This is the kind of thing that really interests me,’ he said.

‘What does she read?’ she said.

He said, ‘Don’t know.’ He said, ‘She’s secretive about it. Hides her books,’ he said. ‘Burns them,’ he said. ‘Donates them to the starving,’ he said. ‘Thinks reading’s capitalism’s last stand.’

‘This is beneath us,’ she said.

He said, ‘Speak for yourself,’ he said.

She said, ‘She doesn’t really have cancer,’ she said. ‘Does she?’ she said.

‘Thinks she does,’ he said.

‘Thinks what,’ she said.

‘Cancer,’ he said. ‘All varieties,’ he said. ‘Just another one,’ he said, ‘of, you know,’ he said, ‘of one of capitalism’s last stands,’ he said.

She said, ‘Was the chair beneath us?’

He said, ‘The floor, the bed.’

‘The bedsheet on the floor,’ she said. ‘The bedsheet on top of the bedsheet on top of the bed,’ she said. ‘My bedsheet,’ she said.

‘True enough,’ he said. He said, ‘Yours.’ He said, ‘Never one of mine,’ he said.

‘Mine to wash,’ she said.

‘True enough again,’ he said. ‘Yours to take home and wash,’ he said. He said, ‘Any more exposition called for?’

‘We had something,’ she said.

He said, ‘Don’t we still?’

‘Yes – death,’ she said.

He said, ‘But until death?’

She said, ‘Is that a question?’

He said, ‘An invitation. A solicitation. A dare.’

‘Rhymes with chair,’ she said.

‘Hell,’ he said, ‘Does Agamben somewhere get to that?’

She said, ‘You’d do well to do as well.’

He said, ‘Very nice. Anything else?’ he said.

‘I’m thinking,’ she said.

‘Ah, rehearsing, is it?’ he said.

She said, ‘Want to drop all this?’

He said, ‘All what?’

‘Oh, please,’ she said. ‘Can’t you grow up?’ she said.

He said, ‘You know how old I am?’

She said, ‘It’s hopeless.’ She said, ‘You’re hopeless.’

‘That’s not how you felt on the chair,’ he said.

‘You want to know what I felt on the chair?’ she said.

He said, ‘Make it good and hard and tough and mean and as callous as you can. Show me your stuff,’ he said. ‘Do unto me as you did unto me on the chair,’ he said.

She said, ‘Since you asked.’

He said, ‘Oh, go ahead. Didn’t I ask?’

She said, ‘Next time.’ She said, ‘He’s coming.’

‘Always another time,’ he said.

‘That’s right,’ she said. ‘We live with other people,’ she said.

‘We die with them,’ he said.

‘We die alone,’ she said.

 

*

 

She said, ‘Didn’t you say she redid the chair?’

He said, ‘We talked about it.’ He said, ‘You can’t have forgotten we talked about it,’ he said. He said, ‘The chair, the carpeting, the plumbing, the viaduct, the forests in the Sudan.’ He said, ‘Years ago. She recovered everything,’ he said.

She said, ‘With what?’

He said, ‘Don’t know.’ He said, ‘A sort of leather-like thing. But maybe not,’ he said. He said, ‘I’ll take a look and report back to you the next time I get back to the bedroom,’ he said.

‘Skip it,’ she said. ‘Lost interest,’ she said, ‘the instant I asked,’ she said.

‘What?’ he said. He said, ‘What was it you asked?’

‘Could we fuck on it?’ she said.

He said, ‘Would we or could we?’

‘I don’t want to talk about it,’ she said.

‘Where couldn’t we fuck?’ he said.

‘I’m getting off the line,’ she said. ‘Don’t you hear something on the line?’ she said.

He said, ‘No.’

She said, ‘Your hearing’s going.’

He said, ‘It’s yours that is.’

She said, ‘Let’s not take a chance.’ She said, ‘Hang up.’ She said, ‘If you won’t, I will.’

‘Oh, but of course,’ he said. ‘No end to the theories of the Agamben guy. Hey,’ he said, ‘you ever hear of Alexander Graham Bell?’ he said.

She said, ‘I’m having a test tomorrow.’

‘Aren’t we all?’ he said.

She said, ‘Did you hear what I said?’

He said, ‘What did you say?’ He said, ‘Didn’t you say you’re hanging up?’

 

*

 

He said, ‘What’s the verdict?’

She said, ‘It didn’t come in yet.’

He said, ‘It’ll be okay.’

‘Probably,’ she said.

‘No question about it,’ he said. ‘Take it easy,’ he said. ‘Did you tell him?’ he said.

She said, ‘Tell him what?’

‘I guess you started to,’ he said, ‘and he was, you know, reading,’ he said.

‘Thanks for checking in,’ she said.

‘No trouble at all,’ he said.

She said, ‘It’s not unlikely you think there’s a prize involved.’

He said, ‘Isn’t there always?’

‘Shit,’ she said, ‘that’s so Jewish of you.’

‘A fella’s got to keep trucking,’ he said.

She said, ‘You’re not even living in this century,’ she said.

He said, ‘Yeah, but I’ll die in it, won’t I?’

She said, ‘Call me Thursday. Chances are I’ll have heard by Thursday.’ She said, ‘I want you to be the first to hear.’

‘Me too,’ he said. He said, ‘The same’d go for me,’ he said. ‘Isn’t it crazy?’ he said. He said, ‘After all these years,’ he said.

‘After all the years,’ she said.

 

*

 

He said, ‘So?’

‘All clear,’ she said.

‘Thank God,’ he said.

‘Yeah,’ she said. ‘Until it’s otherwise,’ she said.

‘Not to dwell on it,’ he said.

‘Right,’ she said. She said, ‘But we dwell.’

He said, ‘What is that?’ He said, ‘Is that Agamben again?’

‘Just common sense,’ she said.

‘Alas,’ he said.

‘Alas, your ass,’ she said.

‘I’m thinking yours,’ he said.

‘I’m old,’ she said.

He said, ‘We’re always old. It’s ours to live,’ he said.

She said, ‘I can’t.’

‘You won’t,’ he said.

‘The chair,’ she said.

He said, ‘Picture it.’ He said, ‘Can you picture it?’ He said, ‘We’d lay a sheet over it.’

‘Drape it over it,’ she said.

He said, ‘Drape,’ he said. He said, ‘You’d bring it and we’d drape it.’ He said, ‘Together,’ he said. He said, ‘Are you seeing it?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said.

‘See it,’ he said.

She said, ‘All I’m really seeing is the telephone. All I’m really seeing is what I looked like when the call came in. All I’m really seeing is his peeking into the back of the car when I’d forget to get the sheet out of it.’

He said, ‘But that never happened, did it?’

She said, ‘No, it never happened. But I was so afraid,’ she said. ‘I could never remember,’ she said. ‘I was always thinking all that night did I actually get it out of the car and get it into the washing machine.’

He said, ‘That’s what you were thinking?’

She said, ‘I was thinking had I or hadn’t I?’ She said, ‘And then I’d get up in the middle of the night to make sure I’d run a load and gotten it into the dryer or at least stuck the sheet at the bottom out of the way under the other stuff.’

‘Whereas me,’ he said, ‘whereas I,’ he said, ‘I was all that night thinking Jesus, your leg, your ankle, your foot – my hand, this hand.’ He said, ‘My right hand, your left leg – knee, calf, ankle, foot.’

‘I was terrified,’ she said.

‘Don’t be terrified,’ he said.

‘What if the report had come out different?’ she said.

‘Ah, yes, that,’ he said. ‘It’s always that.’

She said, ‘He’s back. I hear him. He’s back.’

‘I’ll call,’ he said.

She said, ‘Yes – call.’

 

*

 

‘You okay?’ he said.

‘Yes, I’m fine,’ she said.

He said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m suddenly stumped,’ he said, ‘for what to say.’

She said, ‘Look at it this way – you just,’ she said, ‘managed to say something,’ she said.

‘Okay,’ he said. ‘It’s just that I all of a sudden don’t feel . . .’

‘Not another word,’ she said. ‘We’ll get together soon.’

He said, ‘You mean that?’

‘On the phone,’ she said.

‘Yes, got you,’ he said. ‘On the phone,’ he said.

 

*

 

‘You know what I used to think?’ she said.

He said, ‘What did you used to think?’

‘A woman’s work,’ she said.

‘You mean the sheet,’ he said. ‘Well, I’ll tell you what I,’ he said, ‘used to think.’

‘Watch it,’ she said. ‘I’m not ready for any more guff,’ she said. ‘Not from you,’ she said. ‘But go ahead and tell me what,’ she said.

‘Fine,’ he said. ‘I’m going to tell you,’ he said. ‘How tired my arm was,’ he said. He said, ‘In the midst of all that, how tired.’

‘That’s sweet,’ she said. ‘It’s sort of endearing,’ she said. ‘It’s a remembrance I’ll take to bed with me tonight,’ she said.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I don’t think I’m so certain you even know what guff means. You know what I mean?’ he said.

‘I know what pain means,’ she said.

He said, ‘I’ll bet you do.’

She said, ‘Don’t kid yourself, buddy-boy. I know what I know.’

He said, ‘You know what you think you know.’

She said, ‘I’m not for an instant suggesting you hurt me.’ She said, ‘You do understand that, don’t you? But there was pain,’ she said.

‘Really?’ he said. ‘As in pain, you mean? As in ow, you mean?’

‘Believe it,’ she said.

‘I don’t,’ he said. ‘You’re confusing me with him,’ he said. He said, ‘It’s been so long now, you don’t know which is which.’

‘Oh, I know,’ she said. ‘Don’t be so quick to flatter yourself. You dealt out your share,’ she said. She said, ‘Body pain. Not hurt, buddy-boy. Not just hurt, buddy-boy,’ she said. ‘But pain, darling. Not,’ she said, ‘just a weary arm, but how about cramps in my leg?’ she said.

‘This is childish,’ he said.

‘Beneath us,’ she said.

He said, ‘We had the chair beneath us.’

She said, ‘We had the carpet, the bed.’

He said, ‘The floor sometimes. It was lovely on the floor.’

‘Sometimes,’ she said.

‘All the time,’ he said.

‘Now,’ she said, ‘now there’s no time,’ she said.

‘There’s time,’ he said. He said, ‘We could arrange it,’ he said.

‘I’m old,’ she said. ‘I’m fed up with everything,’ she said. She said, ‘I’m fed up with myself,’ she said.

He said, ‘Outgrow it,’ he said.

‘Heart’s not in it,’ she said.

‘Try another part,’ he said.

‘I heard something,’ she said.

‘You heard me pleading,’ he said.

‘Ringing off,’ she said.

He said, ‘How Brit of you – wow.’

‘Goodbye,’ she said.

‘Goodbye,’ he said.

 

*

 

‘Naugahyde,’ she said.

‘Hunh?’ he said.

She said, ‘Years ago you said it was naugahyde.’

‘I don’t understand you,’ he said.

She said, ‘You said it, you said it.’

‘Said what?’ he said.

‘Said,’ she said, ‘that she had had it recovered in naugahyde. Or with naugahyde. Reupholstered in it. You said it, you said it,’ she said, ‘you did. Years ago, for God’s sake.’ She said, ‘Of all the things, Jesus.’

‘I couldn’t have,’ he said. ‘What’s naugahyde?’ he said. He said, ‘I don’t even know what naugahyde is,’ he said.

‘You heard me,’ she said.

He said, ‘Heard what?’

She said, ‘You let her, you let her.’

‘Let her what?’ he said.

‘Skip it,’ she said.

He said, ‘What are we talking about?’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ she said.

‘She’s downstairs,’ he said.

She said, ‘That’s right.’ She said, ‘Of course, she is.’

‘Women,’ he said.

‘It’s an old saying,’ she said.

‘I’m not following you,’ he said.

‘For every man,’ she said, but did not say the rest.

 

*

 

Afterwards, for no few times afterwards, he would seek to remember, and she would seek to remember – each succeeding a little differently from the other – remembering when they would be given to slide all as one down off the lip of the chair, oh so shiningly slidingly, together, together, each mindful to reach back a little to drag the bedsheet down along with them down onto the floor with them, her foot, her ankle, her knee, her leg, none of it not ever for an instant not still gripped in his hand, the ecstasy of it, of their rolling over and over in this unforgettable zeal of theirs, smashing into the whole household together, smashing into everything everywhere together, forever rolling over and over in the whole wide world together, rolling the two of them together in the rolling feeling of love.

 

Image © Ellen van Deelen

‘Naugahyde’ is included in Gordon Lish’s latest collection of pieces, White Plains: Pieces and Witherlings, published by Little Island Press

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