'Number one or number two?'
'Thank God for srnall favors,' she says, settling back. 'Between him and the dog It's a wonder you can get anything to grow out there.'
I read somewhere that human pee has a higher acid content than animal pee, but I don't mention that. I would rather talk about something else. It depresses me, thinking about the flowers. They are past their prime, but still. Next door the woman is shouting. 'Listen to that,' I say.
'I used to feel sorry for her,' my wife says. 'Not any more. Not after last month.'
'Ditto,' I say, trying to rememher what happened last month to make my wife not feel sorry for the woman next door. I don't feel sorry for her either, but then I never have. She yells at the baby, and excuse me, but I'm not about to get all excited over someone who treats a child like that. She screams things like 'I thought I told you to stay in your bedroom!' and here the baby can't even speak English yet.
As far as her looks, I guess you would have to say she's pretty. But it won't last. She doesn't have good bone structure. She has a soft look to her, like she has never eaten anything but donuts and milk shakes. Her skin is white. The baby takes after her, not that you would expect it to take after him, dark and hairy. Even with his shirt on you can tell that he has hair all over his back and on his shoulders, thick and springy like an Airedale's.
Now they're all going at once over there, plus they've got the hi-fi turned on full blast. One of those bands. 'It's the baby I feel sorry for,' I say.
My wife puts her hands over her ears. 'I can't stand another minute of it,' she says. She takes her hands away. 'Maybe there's something on TV.' She sits up. 'See who's on Johnny.'
I turn on the television. It used to be down in the den but I brought it up here a few years ago when my wife came down with an illness. I took care of her myself - made the meals and everything. I got to where I could change the sheets with her still in the bed. I always meant to take the television back down when my wife recovered from her illness, but I never got around to it. It sits between our beds on a little table I made. Johnny is saying something to Sammy Davis, Jr. Ed McMahon is bent over laughing. He is always so cheerful. If you were going to take a really long voyage you could do worse than bring Ed McMahon along.
'Sammy,' says my wife. 'Who else is on besides Sammy?'
I look at the TV guide. 'A bunch of people I never heard of.' I read off their names. My wife hasn't heard of them either. She wants to know what else is on. ' 'EI Dorado,' ' I read. ' 'Brisk adventure yarn about a group of citizens in search of the legendary city of gold.' It's got two-and-a-half stars beside it.'
'Citizens of what?' my wife asks.
'It doesn't say.'
Finally we watch the movie. A blind man comes into a small town. He says that he has been to El Dorado, and that he will lead an expedition there for a share of the proceeds. He can't see, but he will call out the landmarks one by one as they ride. At first people make fun of him, but eventually all the leading citizens get together and decide to give it a try. Right away they get attacked by Apaches and some of them want to turn back, but every time they get ready the blind man gives them another landmark, so they keep riding.
Next door the woman is going crazy. She is saying things to him that no person should ever say to another person. It makes my wife restless. She looks at me. 'Can I come over?' she says. 'Just for a visit?'
I pull down the blankets and she gets in. The bed is just fine for one, but with two of us It's a tight fit. We are lying on our sides with me in back. I don't mean for it to happen but before long old Florida begins to stiffen up on me. I put my arms around my wife. I move my hands up onto the Rockies, then on down across the Plains, heading South.
'Hey,' she says. 'No Geography. Not tonight.'
'I'm sorry,' I say.
'Can't I just visit?'
'Forget it. I said I was sorry.'
The citizens are crossing a desert. They have just about run out of water, and their lips are cracked. Though the blind man has delivered a warning, someone drinks from a poisoned well and dies horribly. That night, around the campfire, the others begin to quarrel. Most of them want to go home. 'This is no country for a white man,' one says, 'and if you ask me nobody has ever been here before.' But the blind man describes a piece of gold so big and pure that it will burn your eyes out if you look directly at it. 'I ought to know,' he says. When he is finished the citizens are silent: one by one they move away and lie down on their bedrolls. They put their hands behind their heads and look up at the stars. A coyote howls.
Hearing the coyote, I remember why my wife doesn't feel sorry for the woman next door. It was a Monday evening, about a month ago, right after I got home from work. The man next door started to beat the dog, and I don't mean just smacking him once or twice. He was beating him, and he kept beating him until the dog couldn't even cry any more; you could hear the poor creature's voice breaking. It made us very upset, especially my wife, who is an animal lover from way back. Finally it stopped. Then, a few minutes later, I heard my wife say, 'Oh!' and I went into the kitchen to find out what was wrong. She was standing by the window, which looks into the kitchen next door. The man had his wife backed up against the fridge. He had his knee between her legs and she had her knee between his legs and they were kissing, really hard, not just with their lips but rolling their faces back and forth one against the other. My wife could hardly speak for a couple of hours afterwards. Later she said that she would never waste her sympathy on that woman again.
It's quiet over there. My wife has gone to sleep and so has my arm, which is under her head. I slide it out and open and close my fingers, considering whether to wake her up. I like sleeping in my own bed, and there isn't enough room for the both of us. Finally I decide that it won't hurt anything to change places for one night.
I get up and fuss with the plants for a while, watering them and moving some to the window and some back. I trim the coleus, which is starting to get leggy, and put the cuttings in a glass of water on the sill. All the lights are off next door except the one in their bedroom window. I think about the life they have, and how it goes on and on, until it seems like the life they were meant to live. Everybody is always saying how great it is that human beings are so adaptable, but I don't know. A friend of mine was in the Navy and he told me that in Amsterdam, Holland, they have a whole section of town where you can walk through and from the street you can see women sitting in rooms, waiting. If you want one of them you just go in and pay, and they close the drapes. This is nothing special to the people who live in Holland. In Istanbul, Turkey, rny friend saw a man walking down the street with a grand piano on his back. Everyone just moved around him and kept going. It's awful, what we get used to.
I turn off the television and get into mv wife's bed. A sweet, heavy smell rises off the sheets. At first it makes me dizzy but after that I like it. It reminds me of gardenias.
The reason I don't watch the rest of the movie is that I can already see how it will end. The citizens will kill each other off, probably about ten feet from the legendary city of gold, and the blind man will stumble in by himself, not knowing that he has made it back to El Dorado.
I could write a better movie than that. My movie would be about a group of explorers, men and women, who leave behind their homes and their jobs and their families - everything they have known. They cross the sea and are shipwrecked on the coast of a country which is not on their maps. One of them drowns. Another gets attacked by a wild animal, and eaten. But the others want to push on. They ford rivers and cross an enormous glacier by dog sled. It takes months. On the glacier they run out of food, and for a while there it looks like they might turn on each other, but they don't. Finally they solve their problem by eating the dogs. That's the sad part of the movie.
At the end we see the explorers sleeping in a meadow filled with white flowers. The blossoms are wet with dew and stick to their bodies, petals of columbine, clematis, blazing star, baby's breath, larkspur, iris, rue - covering them completely, turning them white so that you cannot tell one from another, man from woman, woman from man. The sun comes up. They stand and raise their arms, like white trees in a land where no one has ever been.