Love in a vacuum, Dorothy thought. Love in the mail. Love in a blender. She almost laughed, then remembered she was pretending to sleep. Every morning, she waited for John to leave like this, listing out ways to contain and distort love. It lacked some dimension of rationality, to her mind. Love, which you couldn't even touch with one shaking finger.
Dorothy never warmed to sharing daybreak, to a plush floor meeting her morning feet. She never got to like not waking up to milk the lone female goat, to weed the half-acre of vegetation, to wonder at a newborn thing mewling out the arrival of dawn. She liked a quiet bath, though, how it was hot every time, liked the day's first light to wash over her in laggard waves. But John always prattled on about bank rates in his undershirt and socks—interests and securities and economic recovery. As if she understood those things, or cared. He shouted for her to bring the paper for his bathroom. He hummed Duke Ellington while the coffee percolated, the closest sound she could make to rain snatched away by his off-key crooning. Dorothy hated Duke Ellington. And she cringed at John's furry body reddened by the hot water, turned her face toward the door as she handed him the towel he always forgot to grab.
The first thing to go was doing the coffee for him. Next was the paper. Finally, the towel went. Exhaustion, she claimed. She became like the land. Resting herself until she could become useful again, lest she over-reap what had been sown in this marriage. She thought if she stayed in bed, he'd quiet down and she could ease herself back into the routines of her married life, rhythmic-like, without his noticing she'd changed him by changing herself. But no. John talked to himself. He talked to the walls. Scuttled his wet, naked body down the hall, skin squeaking, to the linen closet every day.
Dorothy waited for the thunk of heavy wooden door, the storm door's thwack. Thunk-thwack. Thunk-thwack. She'd measured the days of their marriage by that odd melody for four years. Not in a tedious way, not to complain. But this morning, the one morning she required privacy, the doors didn't bang, so she stopped listing love and got out of bed to see what was the matter.
She'd gotten the whole house down to just an hour of daily work. Then nothing. The days stretched out before her like spun sugar. Slow, hot, saltless.
John sat on the sofa bent over his shined shoes.
"You'll split your coat like that," she said and squatted next to him in her nightgown.
"The horn's stuck is all," he said.
She plucked it out easily. "There," she said. "Off to work with you."
"You ought to scold me for shoes on the carpet."
This surprised her. "Why? Isn't that what the sweeper is for?"
He shrugged. "My mother always did." He smiled at her and pinched her rear through her nightgown. "See you at supper," he said.
She forced a smile in return and let him pass by, out the door, thunk-thwack. Her own parents had barely spoken, just shoved eggs or emptied plates across the table with barely a look in the other's direction. With John she felt she was playing a part in a play for which she hadn't rehearsed, always grasping for the appropriate reactions, the right lines.
Dorothy hurried to the bedroom, tucked John's side of the sheet under the mattress, letting her side hang free. She squared off the white chenille coverlet, its raised patterns running in perfect little grids up and down the bed. She creased the blanket beneath the row of pillows with the flat of her hand, marveling for a moment how white the white. It all took less than a minute to arrange. She'd gotten the whole house down to just an hour of daily work. Then nothing. The days stretched out before her like spun sugar. Slow, hot, saltless.
Dorothy lit a cigarette for breakfast, ashed it into the toilet, then flushed the butt. She had an hour until the post. She opened Art and Beauty Magazine to the dog-eared page and read the ad for the fortieth time:
Every person who is married or is contemplating marriage should listen to a word of advice. Too many people enter into the holy bonds of matrimony absolutely ignorant of any of its responsibilities. As a result, thousands of homes are wrecked, poor and innocent men and women are made to suffer untold misery all because they did not know the laws of nature.