“Are you finished interrupting me?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, Charles. You paused and—”
He held his spoon suspended above his eggcup. “Rhea, you simply never learn. Shall I carry on my person the little silver bell in my study—to ring whenever you interrupt?”
“I thought you had finished and I wanted to say—”
The issue here is common courtesy. As much as I talk on the subject, you are forever interrupting me before I finish a thought. I might add that whatever my viewpoint is on any subject you defend the opposing view. Truthfully, I haven’t decided which bothers me more: your interruptions or your positioning as the devil’s advocate. Your interruptions means that you are not listening to receive my entire thought. Because if you were to listen throughout, you would see my side.”
Whenever Charles talks like that, his face changes and looks terrible. I never would have married him if I had seen that expression in the beginning. I don’t feel loved at such times. But then again, every marriage has these uncomfortable moments.
Charles lowered his spoon and began tapping on the shell of his egg. “As I was saying, I looked at the student’s paper and determined immediately that he was guilty of plagiarism; and I told him so. ‘Categorically, young man, college freshmen are incapable of writing this well.’ The young man turned red and sputtered, ‘You want me to fail.’ I told him, ‘Under these circumstances, yes.’”
I caught my breath. “But Charles, isn’t it possible that Faulkner or Hemmingway could have written that well as college freshmen?”
He rested his spoon on the silver lip of his eggcup, closed his fingers together on he edge of the table and glowered at me. There was nothing I could do. The egg was getting cold. And if he waited much longer, he would blame me for it. But then he took up his spoon, tapped the shell several times, and began removing small fragments and setting them in on the lip of the eggcup. He reached into the toast caddy, slipped out a triangle of wheat toast, and spread it with feathery light strokes. Proceeding to chew slowly, he looked with satisfaction at all the appointments shining over the thick white tablecloth—the silver coffee pot, the matching sugar and creamer, the filigreed toast caddy, and the small compote dish with tiny handles for his baked apple. “The high civility of the breakfast table is disappearing in today’s world of growing vulgarity.” His eyes seemed relaxed, his face and voice restored to pleasantness. “Now, Rhea, having finished my discourse, it is your turn. What was it you wanted to say?”
“I was thinking a canary in our home would be—”
We never raise our voices to each other. Our friends say we behave like honeymooners. “They are the perfect married couple,” they say. However, I have also overheard, “I don’t believe for a second that they never quarrel. But if that should be true, then something is very wrong with their marriage.”
The truth is that Charles cannot quarrel. He becomes morose. He does not talk for days. It is just terrible. Charles simply does not have the constitution for disagreement. So I step away after I upset him, giving him time to cool down and heal. I return later and there, too, I have another problem. I start talking to him before I even enter the room where he is. I blurt out, as if to gain a running start, not considering that Charles may be involved. “Rhea, can’t you see that I am watching a television program?” “I am reading.” “I am preparing my lecture.” “I am doing my exercises.” “I am listening to my music.” “I am trying to nap.” “For goodness sake, Rhea, I am thinking.” He is always involved and I jar him. Living with Charles is not a spontaneous, fluid experience, one of easy conversation whenever I feel the desire or need to say something. Charles has little idiosyncrasies. Just as I have. As everybody has. Living with anyone makes demands on both parties. You have to accept a person the way that person is or you won’t have a friend in the world.