A TV comedy writer/producer on the skids grapples with a crazy partner and family of five while knowing desperation is contagious. 5,213 words. Illustration by Mark Fearing. A second excerpt from the newly published funny and subversive novel Formerly Cool.
Warren Brace understood why he was so upset about the abortive pitch, and it wasn’t because a truckload of hundred-dollar bills with his name on them had disappeared into a sinkhole. Most of the sitcoms he’d worked on, and all of those he and Mitch had created, had at best been well-crafted diversions — intended to entertain, to distract, maybe to teach obvious lessons to children. They calmed and confirmed the status quo. But he knew sitcoms were capable of zeroing in not on what America thought it was, or pretended it was, but on what it was. Father Knows Best had the perfect dad guiding the perfect family in the perfect home in the perfect country, but The Honeymooners had a loud fat loser in a dingy apartment railing against his wife and the booming nation that had left him behind – and it was funny.
Warren wanted to make people laugh like his heroes had, like Lenny Bruce, like Mad Magazine at its best, like Richard Pryor. He wanted to offer viewers not pacifiers but funhouse mirrors. And thereby to steer the national conversation like his old pal Norman Lear. The dilution of the television audience since All In The Family by hundreds of cable channels, video streaming and all the rest had made it much harder to create a series that tens of millions would watch, much less remember and talk about, feel about.
Warren hadn’t shared all his hopes for the dinosaur show with anyone, not even Mitch; they sounded ridiculous and pretentious even when he thought them to himself. But he believed that, beneath the raucous nonsensical veneer of that series was a foundation that could support a deep, wide, hilarious rendering of America as he saw it and spark proverbial watercooler conversations across the country.
Within the hour, Mitch was dashing from Warren’s rundown BMW toward Warren’s rundown home, leaving his partner to hobble around his vehicle to shut the passenger door. Which required an extra shove from his right haunch that generated, in addition to a fresh jolt of back pain, a dull ache in his abdomen where Warren had punched him in the TV network’s elevator.
The house needed a paint job but not as badly as it needed new gutters. Which Warren remembered twice a year when it rained so hard that water flooded the garage floor. As he shuffled under his rusty basketball rim, which hung limply off the sun-baked backboard, Warren tripped on one of the cracks in the driveway and, utilizing what reflexes remained, still kept his balance. He wondered, Am I too young to break my hip? Isn’t that what kills all those members of the Greatest Generation? One moment they’re taking a shower and the next they’re sprawled out in the tub, pain shooting through their brittle war hero bodies as their blood mixes Hitchcock-like with the water while they struggle to cry out for help.
Yes, he told himself, I’m too young.
He trudged into the den. On the couch his adopted son Clay, fifteen and African-American (Warren preferred the term “black,” which he recalled came before “African-American” and after “Afro-American”), adjusted his Young-Barack-Obama Panama hat, which rested jauntily atop an Eldridge-Cleaver-circa-1969 afro.
“Hello, pater,” Clay said to Warren.
Warren kissed Clay on the forehead. The kid was watching something on his laptop. Warren remembered sitting through Modern Farmer as a child because it was the only show on his family’s black and white Zenith at 5:30 Saturday morning. A generation later Clay’s eyes were often aimed at electronic screens but he barely watched TV at all.
Having long ago resolved not to replace his LPs with CDs of the same music, Warren pulled out his Electric Ladyland double album. Usually he cleaned the LPs with D3 Discwasher Hi-Technology Record Cleaning Fluid – high technology in 1983 – before playing them. But now he didn’t, he just slapped the platter on the turntable, hit START, turned the volume up high like he’d done behind his closed bedroom door at fifteen and absently heard the needle make its creaky journey toward vinyl. He sank into his old massage chair, let his head drop into the headrest and closed his eyes as Jimi coughed and sniffed.
“Not nearly as good as Side ‘A’,” Clay said without looking up from the laptop he was watching or the cell phone on which he was texting. “Voodoo Chile, are you kidding me?”
Warren pressed a button on the chair – he didn’t have to adjust any settings, he was the only one who ever used the thing – and it shuddered into action as the saxophone kicked in. Hey man, it’s rainin’. Stevie Winwood’s organ snuck in behind Hendrix’s guitar. Winwood had been a rock star at age sixteen, and now? But at least there’d been Gimme Some Lovin’ and those terrific Traffic albums…
But Warren remembered Winwood made a big comeback after two decades in the rock and roll wilderness. And the one-time TV showrunner couldn’t shake the notion that this had been his own last chance to do something special. He opened his eyes and pressed a quick-dial number to initiate a conversation he’d been dreading.
He and Trish had refinanced this house four times to raise cash to pay their bills and owned less of it than when they bought it. Instead of being four years away from owning the place outright, they were on the hook for another 29 years of payments of $4,481.88 a month. Warren closed his eyes again and tried to lose himself in the music.
Clay chortled and said to his father, “Check this out.”
Lay back and groove on a rainy day. Warren glanced toward his brown lawn and figured it hadn’t rained in seven months. “Come on, Dad, it’s comedy. You’ll learn something.”
Warren opened his eyes and, propelled by a neediness that shamed him, left the massage chair rumbling, sat next to his son and peered at the still frame of a YouTube clip. Clay hit REPLAY. A teenage boy in white pants sat on the floor. The boy spread his legs wide, flicked on a lighter and held the flame to his ass. The boy strained to fart… Grimaced and pushed harder… Brown spread suddenly from his anus, instantly forming a large Rorschach blot on his pants. Clay laughed again. The boy on the screen gaped at the widening stain, mortified, and Clay laughed harder.
“Do me a big favor,” Warren asked, “and tell me why that’s funny.”
Clay was laughing so hard he could barely form words. “You’re kidding, right?” he managed to spit out.
“No. Some idiot shitting his pants is transgressive, not funny. And the idiot being humiliated by it is really not funny.” Warren realized he was shouting at his son. Clay didn’t seem to mind, though. The kid was laughing hysterically – at both the video and his father’s reaction to it – and toppled helplessly onto the couch.
Warren’s wife Trish sat in the backyard at a chipped redwood table across from their older teenage son, Keaton, near the empty swimming pool with the pale green blotches where the sky blue paint had peeled away. The storage shed behind the pool was equally decrepit, as if not wishing to make the pool feel inadequate. The leaves in the trees were still green; many of them would remain so year-round. A few ants crawled onto the table as if checking to see whether Trish’s dinner was served.
Keaton, an ardent surfer, wore only bathing trunks even though the evening was starting to cool. Sixteen, with long blond hair, a tanned and rippled abdomen. Girls loved Keaton, until they tried to talk to him. Trish, her own blond hair starting to gray, leaned toward Keaton – but not too closely – holding a newish paperback of The Catcher In The Rye.
“Can you think of any ways you and Holden are alike?” she said.
Keaton smashed an ant with a stone. Trish lowered her head so she could see his eyes. “Look at me, sweetie. You and Holden?”
Keaton kept his eyes on the table. “We both have bones, muscles.” He killed another ant.
“Yes,” Trish said. “And how does he feel when he’s around other kids?”
She removed the stone from his hand.
Keaton looked at his mother. Another small victory, she thought.
“A kid threw a jellyfish at me,” he said. “I let him live but I should’ve beheaded him.”
“I can see you’re angry, but hurting someone’s inappropriate, right?”
“Yes,” Keaton said. He picked up another rock and pounded the table an inch from his mother’s hand. No ants were in sight.
Clay, who’d graduated from his laptop to his command center in front of the widescreen TV, wore a headset and thumbed buttons on a remote.
Warren’s chair ceased vibrating. He kicked it sharply and it rumbled back into motion. Trish plopped into his lap and laid her head on his shoulder. He kissed her on the neck. Colored lights from Clay’s video game bounced off her face and Warren wondered which one of them represented her mood. Even a few months ago, he believed, he would have known for sure.
“Autistic for dinner?” he asked, trying to be interested.
“Salmon. Keaton’s is in carrot cake.”
According to a series of neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists that Warren and Trish could once afford (23 of them by her count while Warren, believing the child therapist who’d lied about her credentials and was really a legal secretary didn’t qualify, went with 22), their son Keaton had a hodgepodge of developmental disorders, including impulse control, ADHD, social anxiety and a touch of Asperger’s Syndrome. Trish had taken courses to learn about Keaton’s illness, or whatever it was. Later, wanting to give their son every possible chance to lead something approaching a happy and productive life, she’d doggedly studied nutrition, a field that didn’t come naturally to her, and then cooking, which did, to enable her to create dishes that might help him do so. She’d learned to stick the nutritious foods Keaton didn’t like inside foods he did. And she’d allowed herself to dream that Keaton would be The Kid Who Had The Breakthrough, and she herself The Mother Who Made The Breakthrough Happen. Especially because she was terrified she was also The Mother Who Made The Disorder Happen, having dropped acid (once) and smoked hash (a bunch) during the first month of her pregnancy before knowing she was with child. Her awareness that the notion that environmental factors cause autism is controversial was irrelevant to her feelings.
“I love the salmon,” said Warren.
“And a new dish for the Internet.”
Two years ago, Asperger’s being the affliction du jour, Trish self-published a book of recipes to help make ends meet. She sold forty copies, a good start. Then Asperger’s got overexposed, like a B-actor on too many talk shows. Then the American Psychiatric Association declared it was no longer a “disorder.” Sales slowed. A month ago she’d begun to post a new recipe weekly on her website for $1.99 with six months of recipes free if you buy the cookbook. So far, two takers.
Trish’s moneymaker was $11,000 in the red.
“Zucchini,” she continued. “Steamed.”
“Steamy Zucchini.” It was Warren’s job to name the dishes. “Dreamy Zucchini.”
“Maybe it’ll get something green into him.” Trish ran her fingers across Warren’s beard and along his neck. “How’d the pitch go?” she asked. She tried to sound casual. So did Warren.
“Got a shot. We’ll see,” he said. He figured there was maybe one chance in 300 that the female TV executive felt giddy enough from macing Mitch to consider at least buying their idea, if not their services to produce it.
While Warren was cuddling with his wife and calculating the magnitude of that shot, Mitch Flomenhoft was bent into Warren’s kitchen sink, rinsing his seared eye. Mitch was certain Liesl had realized he was a hilarious brilliant dude she wouldn’t be able to dominate so she’d done what she had to do to ensure that she wouldn’t be working with him. A shame, because she’d attended Yale, the single fact Mitch had sought and unearthed in his own pre-pitch research. Mitch treasured the list of Ivy League women he’d “had” from Harvard, Princeton, Penn, Cornell. Wesleyan, of course, since that’s where he’d gone. Amherst. Williams. MIT, a particularly tough one, and Vassar, which counted even though she was a transfer. (Mitch had decided the Ivy League proper was too small to contain his ambitions, and so for the purpose of his quest had classified a few other elite Eastern schools as “Ivy League.” Of course, that also allowed Mitch to consider himself an Ivy Leaguer.)
Warren’s daughter Gracie hurried in, tall, her long dirty-blond curls gathered atop her head in a scrunchy, high and distinctive enough so she could be identified from three blocks away. She wore a dress that covered her calves on the bottom and her collarbone on top, strangely modest for a high school senior. “Uncle Mitch,” she implored, “can you look down my blouse?”
“Your brothers teach you this game?”
“I’m serious,” Gracie said. “When I lean forward to serve the homeless guys they all try to look at my boobs.” She leaned forward. “Can you see anything?”
Mitch stood as tall as he could on his tiptoes – 5-feet-4, maybe – and, marshaling the same focus that so many years ago had enabled him to graduate summa cum laude in Philosophy, peered down toward his goddaughter’s breasts with the one eye he was able to open.
Trish walked in on Mitch straining to see Gracie’s chest. “Jesus, Mitch,” she said, “this is a new low.”
“Not even close,” he said, and thrust his wounded eye back under the faucet.
Gracie leaned toward her mother. “Mom, can you see my boobs? I’m going downtown.”
Trish picked up a knife to slice the zucchini. “I wish you’d do this somewhere safer than Skid Row. Santa Monica’s the ‘Home Of The Homeless.’ Go to Turning Point on 16th Street.”
“Get serious,” said Gracie. “People vacation here. Danger’s the whole point. I’ll have zero chance of getting into Brown, much less getting money from them” – she threw her mother an unkind look – “without community service in a gross part of town.”
Brown, Mitch remembered, I need that one, too.
As she watched Gracie tromp toward the side door, Trish was pleased that she herself, unlike her husband, did not feel guilty about having emptied out their daughter’s college fund – into which, until recently, they’d diligently placed one hundred dollars every month since their wedding day – to keep the family ship afloat, a ship Warren had taken to characterizing as a life raft. These days, Trish believed, you had the right to declare victory if you kept your kids’ stomachs full, a roof over their heads and needles out of their arms. Plus, they’d needed a bunch of that money for Keaton’s therapists. So Trish and Warren had informed Gracie she’d be paying for her own college education, which they understood was standard for many Americans even though they’d never considered, or feared, it would be standard for them. Trish wondered how much a degree even mattered these days. With her generation, it had been get a degree, get a job. She was aware statistics said the diploma still helped, but she had three friends who were parents of recent graduates and all were living at home.
“You said you’d stay for dinner,” she said to Gracie.
Gracie glanced at the Dreamy Zucchini in progress. “I can’t eat another bite of autistic food,” she said. “I’d rather have homeless man soup.” She left the door open behind her.
Mitch yanked paper towels off the roll in fast motion, bunched them together and patted down his face with the huge ungainly ball of white.
“I’m worried about that girl,” he said. “Maybe I should go down there, keep an eye on her.” He covered his injured eye and aimed the operational one at Trish. Then he grinned and unintentionally nodded twice, quickly, as he often did when he expected a laugh, especially from a woman and especially from Trish. She smiled a blond smile to shut him up and knifed another zucchini.
The swimming pool had been empty for nearly two years, not counting the isolated puddles of notably non-chlorinated water, the unidentifiable vegetative masses within them, and the surfer kid skateboarding through them. Keaton performed his tricks with a single-mindedness and determination that his parents still, after all these years, couldn’t stop themselves from wishing he’d bring to something they considered useful. The rough rolling of his board echoed through the backyard. The pool was his favorite place to skate. Warren stared at it from the redwood table, watching himself dive into moonlit water in his tux and shiny shoes 21 years earlier to make his young wife laugh after a kid writer on their staff won an Emmy for a script he and Mitch had totally rewritten. (Mitch conspicuously liberated the statuette from the guy the next day but Warren gave it back.)
Trish, Clay and Mitch, who now sported an eyepatch he’d filched from Clay’s room, scarfed down Trish’s gluten-free salmon, which was high in Omega-3 fats, with sweet onions and roast potatoes. Most of her special zucchini, however, stared up indifferently at Trish from its serving bowl. Even the ants avoided it.
“Clay,” Mitch said, “does it bother you as much as it does me that the sleaziest so-called reality shows on TV, those most contemptuous of the human spirit, are populated largely by black people? Maury Povich doing That’s Not My Child! Week before a howling mob of an audience watching a parade of single teenage mothers alternately haranguing and begging a series of tattooed teenage ‘men’ to stand up and be fathers to the beautiful children they so carelessly spawned?”
“Kids’ll be lucky if those guys ditch,” Clay said. “Then they can get a white guy to be their dad.” He grinned at Warren – the lad had picked up at least some of his father’s sense of humor.
“That’s a noble tradition,” Mitch said. “Diff’rent Strokes, Webster had some decent jokes.” Warren knew Mitch was only invoking those trite, sentimental shows to be contrary. Still, his partner had assiduously studied the sitcoms of the early 1980s once he’d determined to make the form his own; it was an era Mitch referred to as “Late Pre-Flomenhoft.”
“Hey,” Clay said to Mitch, “there’s this thing on YouTube I have to show you.”
A kitschy electronic version of the organ riff from In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida sent Warren glancing discretely at his cell phone. He and Trish had promised each other not to answer the phone during meals. “Nate,” he said to her, and pressed the green icon. Trish didn’t protest because Nate was Warren and Mitch’s agent.
Warren shot out a buoyant, “Hi, Nate!” and listened, expressionless. His wife marked him and struggled to quell her agitation. Mitch, feigning disinterest, bit lustily into a forkful of salmon.
“She’s exaggerating,” Warren said into the phone with fake confidence. “Mitch tried something, it didn’t work. So what? Next.”
“Didn’t work?” Mitch said indignantly. Trish eyed Mitch with resignation, then consoled herself by admiring Clay.
Warren retreated toward the storage shed but Mitch jumped up from the table and lasered toward him. “You have to be edgy these days, you know that,” Warren said into the phone. “And she loved the show.”
“My Barney act sold the thing!” Mitch said.
Warren glanced toward the pool and, pushing away an even older vision of him and Trish swimming naked at night, moved closer to it so Keaton’s skateboarding would drown out his telephone conversation.
Mitch, as always when he felt wronged, which was rarely more than four hundred times a day, was relentless, and pursued Warren closely. “Whose idea was the dinosaur suit?” Mitch cried. “Mitch Flomenhoft. Who ad-libbed ‘Ever fuck a camel?’ Mitch Flomenhoft–”
Keaton chose that moment to stop skateboarding, creating a cruel silence right before Warren said into the phone, “It’s the first time I haven’t been able to control him.”
Mitch stopped short and looked oddly at Warren. Mitch had heard, and Mitch was uniquely unwilling to countenance the notion that he might be controlled by anyone. “And who’s funnier than you,” Mitch declared to his partner, “not to mention a better lover?” He turned toward Trish and said loudly, “Trish, you answer.”
Trish knew from experience to ignore him. Warren, relieved to note that Clay had tuned the adults out, concocted a glance at Mitch that combined amusement, exasperation and pity. “I’ll send her flowers, some Barney DVDs,” he said to Nate lightly. “And a fire extinguisher.”
Now Warren listened and his face darkened. “Nate, that’s silly, we’ve been through worse. The Allenroe thing?“ A longer pause, then: “You can’t really be saying we’re too old. You’re better than that. Come on, we’ll have lunch, you can buy.” Warren felt his joke thud.
Mitch swiped the phone out of Warren’s hands. “Nate, I never told you what happened that night you brought your sister to that Full House taping. Remember she and I disappeared for a really long time?— ” Mitch shrugged. “Gosh, he hung up,” he said, and handed the phone to Warren, sauntered back to the table and, invigorated, helped himself to more of Trish’s salmon and even a zucchini slice.
Warren breathed deeply and sat down. He kissed Trish on the cheek, she took his hand and they both watched Clay eat. Mitch fixed his eyes on the couple and said, casually but somehow portentously as well, “The Mitchcreant giveth and the Mitchcreant taketh away.”
Too true, Warren thought. Too fucking true. Mitch’s comic sensibility, predicated on a combination of gross juvenility, intellectual brilliance, free-floating rage and the lack of an edit function, was still 50 percent responsible for the team’s successes. How could he criticize Mitch for being inappropriate and destructive? Warren might as well criticize him for being short.
“I’ll call Marty at ICM,” Warren said to Trish. “He wanted to sign us only, what, twenty years ago?” He paused. “Wait, forget it, he had a massive stroke.”
“How’d anyone notice?” said Mitch. “Anyway, don’t bother, I quit.”
“Again?” said Warren.
“What do you care, since you can’t control me anymore.”
Keaton surfaced from the pool. “Rattus norvegicus,” he said to his father. “Don’t crush the cranium if you kill it, like the possum.” The kid collected animal skeletons. Warren had ruined a possum skull with the flat end of a shovel.
Warren looked to Trish, who regarded her older son with love and what? Concern? Weariness? Satisfaction? All of the above?
“Keaton, sit,” Warren said. “Dinner’s great, Mom made it just for you.”
“I ate twenty-nine hot dogs at the beach,” Keaton said. “A girl ate thirty-four. She threw up but they gave her the trophy.”
Warren wished Keaton were trying to be funny. He and Trish watched the kid disappear into the house. Keaton was always disappearing somewhere. Sometimes, Warren felt with more than a twinge of guilt, it was better that way. Trish thought, All the special food I make for him and he stuffs himself with hot dogs. There is no food more processed than hot dogs and therefore no food worse for my son.
Husband and wife shared another look they’d shared many times: After high school, what?
“Warren,” Mitch said, “you’re my brother. You’ll always be my brother. But I don’t need the money and I don’t need the bullshit. I need more. I’m moving to Sedona, Arizona. Who wants to know why?”
Warren, Trish and Clay kept chewing, their mouths purposefully shut. They knew Mitch would tell them whether they wanted him to or not.
“Because,” Mitch said, “it’s beautiful, it’s hip, and it’s the center of healing and renewal in this spiritually dead country.”
“Excuse me,” said Trish. After thirty years of Mitch she’d earned the right not to have to pretend she wanted to listen to him. She kissed Clay and split, closing the rusty screen door gently behind her.
“Okay,” Mitch said, enjoying himself, “now who wants to know the real reason I’m moving to Sedona?”
To get this over with, Clay asked, “Uncle Mitch, what’s the real reason you’re moving to Sedona?” He knew he was providing not a question but a set-up.
An insistent animal squeak echoed from the swimming pool and Warren rose gingerly from his seat, grateful for something on which he could make a simple frontal attack. He grabbed his shovel, which he kept nearby for this purpose, and peered into the pool.
He was certain it was the same rat that had appeared twice before. Maybe the smell of salmon had rousted the thing from a nap. The beast skipped through the unappetizing scum at the bottom of the pool, pranced toward the ladder, spied the large creature looming over it and stopped.
Warren stared the rat down. Its elimination was suddenly hugely significant to him. He was desperate for a victory. When he killed the rat, good things would follow. When he killed the rat, his luck would change.
“Because it’s the opposite of Abu Dhabi,” Mitch said, and, although Clay’s eyes had returned to his plate, shot the boy his two-happy-nods-and-a-grin.
Warren climbed into the pool. The rat eyed him nonchalantly. Or was it feigning indifference in anticipation of making a sudden break for it?
“The exact opposite of Abu Dhabi,” Mitch said.
Warren jerked the shovel up and swung it down hard toward the rat, missing his prey but succeeding in adding another divot to the pool’s floor. The worst part was that the rat hadn’t moved. “Why is Sedona the opposite of Abu Dhabi?” Warren shouted, his voice bouncing between the walls of the pool.
“Abu Dhabi,” Mitch explained patiently, “has 2.7 males for every female. Sedona has 2.7 females for every male. Many of those females are divorced, single, and sorely in need of a strong silent type like me. They’re rich, too, so they don’t need to bleed money from the Mitchcreant’s ample financial reserves.”
“Dyin’ for it, and payin’ for it, too!” Warren called from the pool in a high-pitched Texas twang.
“Midnight Cowboy, right?” said Clay.
“Snuck in when I was your age,” Warren said, savoring the memory as well as the damage he was about to do to this vermin.
“That’s why no one would hire us,” said Mitch, purposely employing the past tense. “You’re quoting forty-year-old movies instead of The 40-Year-Old Virgin. Anyway, those stupendous odds say that not only will I fall in love but that some lucky woman will fall in love with me.”
The rat broke not away from Warren but toward a crack behind him, catching him off guard. As it scurried past, Warren swung the shovel hard and wild, like that natural comedian Yogi Berra chasing an inside pitch at the ankles. Warren just missed separating the rat’s head from its spine but succeeded in re-aggravating the pain in his own back. Suddenly the rat was twenty feet away, scampering into its escape hatch as if it had dematerialized and reappeared.
“He means it this time,” Trish said, her back to the oval mirror mounted on a chest of drawers. “Finally.”
Lying on the floor near their bed in his boxers, her husband lifted his left knee to his chest deliberately, then back to the floor; his doctor had given him exercises for his back and had later told Warren that he was the only patient who actually did them.
“Mitch always means it when he says it,” Warren said, slowly moving his right knee upward. “But he never did make it to New Zealand to start a vineyard.” Mitch, Warren knew, routinely revved his imagination into overdrive to plot out new beginnings, inevitably laying the groundwork not for the intended utopia but for yet another Flomenhoftian disaster. “He thinks someone’s gonna fall in love with him, and we know how that ends. If I’ve learned one thing over the past thirty years, it’s that Mitchell does not change.”
Like the television characters I’ve written, Warren understood, who begin each new episode with the same strengths and flaws they had when they began the previous one, no matter what calamities I rain on them in between.
Trish dropped a diaphanous purple nightgown over her head, shimmied it down over her body and joined Warren on their bed. “You and Mitch’ve been together longer than you and me,” she said.
Warren grunted as he shoved his lower half under the covers and took Cormac McCarthy’s The Road off his night table, another in a succession of books he would fail to finish.
“Now you can go it alone,” she said, then added, “I know you can do it.”
Warren opened the McCarthy book to Page 1 for the third time. He no longer loved reading or even enjoyed it, as wading through piles of TV spec scripts written by potential employees had rendered the experience unpleasant. Or was it unpleasant because the opportunities to read those scripts had evaporated?
Trish sat up and paused before saying, “You know you’re always angry these days?”
“I’m not angry, I’m frustrated.”
“You’re angry, sweetie, I wish you’d admit it.”
Warren shut the book. “Who am I angry at? Besides my partner.” And myself, Warren thought. He’d been angry at Mitch for detonating the job that might’ve brought them income but was furious at himself for letting him. Mitch tortured everyone; Warren tortured himself and his wife.
“What I really think,” Trish said, “is you don’t know how to be angry ‘cause you’re afraid it might make you… I don’t know, uncool.”
Warren said nothing. Finally he looked up at her and noticed wrinkles at the sides of his wife’s mouth. “Trish,” he said, “what do you want me to do that I’m not already doing?”
Trish slipped under the covers and flashed on the two periods of time when the medical limitations caused by her Caesarian sections had made intercourse with her husband off-limits. While Trish’s libido was hormonally suppressed, Warren’s was as vigorous as ever, maybe more so. So they’d shower together. Warren would wash her, with a big soft sponge, typically starting high and moving down. She knew he delighted in the process, and not only because his erection bouncing against her torso told her so. The washing was intimate, and made more so by the knowledge of why he was doing it – it was because they’d had a child, the two of them, together, by plan, and as she watched him wash her body she saw the joy on his face until she closed her eyes so he could scrub her face with the sponge and she pictured how carefully he was scrubbing so as not to get soap in her eyes or in the mouth that might open to giggle or sigh as he sponged her breasts. She’d touch him randomly with the sponge and her hands, moving from behind a knee to the neck to a nipple to an earlobe. Occasionally she’d “accidentally” brush his penis, always over-apologizing for the egregious violation of his personal space. Eventually he’d turn her around and thrust back and forth against her and moan, even tremble.
Trish had been quiet long enough so that Warren didn’t think she would answer his question. She glanced at the open book on his chest. “Please, Warren,” she said. “Instead of pretending to read, pretend to write.”