Oatmeal Tuesday is canceled indefinitely. This is yet another sign of the ongoing collapse of our home's social order. Personal upkeep was one of the first things to go. I stopped shaving and my wife stopped laundering her pajamas. Interpersonal communication devolved to grunts and gestures. My wife gave up her hobby of constructing origami flowers and I stopped putting each bouquet in its own vase, which I pronounced vahz to maintain a semblance of culture. Since we reached the end of our first orbit of the sun, culture has fallen by the wayside.
• • •
Instead of folding paper flowers, my wife constructs origami soldiers and war machines. She uses pages torn from old magazines to recreate the Invasion of Normandy in our living room. Her folding skills are honed to the point that she can differentiate a Panzer from a Sherman tank. There are teetering piles of magazines waiting to be harvested. My wife has moved the furniture so Allied forces can get off Omaha beach and into the dining room. The coffee table is the site of a massacre.
• • •
We don't get many bugs out here. A passing comet has left the windows gritty. Our home spins slowly enough that parts of the house experience a brief night in addition to blinding day. It's quiet out here but we rarely sleep.
• • •
Since our television hasn't gotten a signal since the early days of our first orbit, I move it to the attic. The attic is my space, my sanctuary. I keep the television muted, a box of calm static in the corner. The television stays on—just in case a signal finds its way to our far-flung location. If I was the sort of person who prayed, I would pray for a signal. Anything.
I taped magazine pages over the attic's narrow window to soften the onslaught of sun. Last week, I was joined by two very sizable morsels of dust.
Since downstairs is Northern France, I build a personal study in the attic. I use some furniture as walls and an old tablecloth as a roof. It's a cozy enclosure, a private space to write in my journal and gaze at the staticky television. The attic is crowded with bins of old magazines. My wife comes up now and then to replenish her supply of origami fodder but mostly I have the space to myself. The dust bunnies remain outside my study, keeping watch.
It is a study, not a fort.
• • •
A muffled crash disturbs my repose and tangles me in the study's tablecloth ceiling. A growling hiss emanates from the basement. I kick over one of the study's walls as I free myself from the tablecloth.
On the way to the basement I accidentally trample two Nazis.
My wife is rummaging through our toolbox in the basement. The rupture is not in the shell of our home, thank goodness, but in one of our Grav-matic's coolant tubes. The Grav-matic shakes and hisses and belches vapor. It drips an Earth-blue fluid from the tear in its coolant line. My wife finds a small jar in the toolbox. We brush its rancid, brownish contents across a strip of vinyl to patch the tube. The escaping gas whistles, shrieks, stops—we clamp the patch in place and the Grav-matic resumes its regular drone. Problem solved!
The air is unmistakably blue. The walls pulsate.
Upstairs! We drag ourselves up the wavy steps and I slur something about keeping the basement door shut until the toxic blueness goes away. My wife clamps a hand over her mouth. Teamwork! We both go off to vomit.
• • •
The dust bunnies have grown. I have named them Bunny One and Bunny Two.
Bunny One and Bunny Two are inveterate cynics. They suspect someone cut the coolant line—on purpose. The list of suspects is short.
You don't mean—
Yes! The bunnies suspect my wife of treachery.
Bunny One and Bunny Two are silent.
You don't think it's because of—not Marguerite? How could she know about her? Neither Bunny One nor Bunny Two have spoken to my wife, much less reported my infidelity. It is unclear how much my wife knows.
• • •
It's true, I have taken a lover. Her name is Marguerite. I keep her glued to the inside of my spiral journal. I rescued Marguerite from one of the magazines my wife appropriated for her war game.
I assure Bunny One and Bunny Two that my wife is, and shall remain, ignorant of my affair with Marguerite.
Marguerite is nude except for a thong. The image is artistic, not trashy. She lies belly-down on a bear skin rug, shoulders lifted, one arm modestly covering her chest. She looks up—Surprise!—while applying lipstick with her free hand. There is a caught-in-the-act innocence to this image, an erotic spontaneity. Marguerite is the sort of woman one discovers lying on a bear skin rug in only a thong. The image is from an advertisement for lipstick, not bear skin rugs.
I am not without remorse. I have saved a bouquet of my wife's paper flowers. I keep the flowers in a vase—sorry, vahz—in the attic. I have begun to water these flowers, which my wife crafted early in our first orbit. The flowers are warping and dissolving, browning the water in the vahz. I water them diligently nonetheless.
• • •
My face is itchy. I haven't shaved since—I don't know when. Vase, vahz. Vase, vahz.
• • •
A successful relationship is founded on empathy, I explain to Bunny One and Bunny Two. Before I make any decision concerning my wife, I must confirm that my new relationship with Marguerite can flourish. To better understand my lover, I want to experience life as Marguerite. I do not own a bear skin rug, but my wife, I recall from early in our first orbit, does own a thong.
• • •
The Nazis have set up battlements in the second-floor hallway and master bedroom. Panzer tanks roam the carpet and Messerschmitt fighter planes patrol the ceiling. Multiple battalions are camped in our bedroom. A covert peek reveals my wife working at the top of the steps, directly in front of the bedroom. (Her hair has gotten stringy from lack of showering; the Allies have seized the bathtub.) My wife twists magazine pages into concertina wire that she glues around the door frame. Like the Allied Forces held back by the Nazis' defenses, I am unable to access the master bedroom. My wife is hunched over and muttering, or maybe singing. I can't tell. Should I confront her about the coolant line?
• • •
I set up our telescope by the kitchen window. Come quick! I yell.
Nothing. No movement upstairs.
Honey! Come downstairs!
I see something! I try again. There's something out there!
Footsteps in the hall, tumble-thudding down the stairs.
What do you see? my wife says. She has bandages on most of her fingertips. Her eyes are insomnia red.
Out there! I think we have a neighbor!
Another house? My wife peers through the telescope. Her ribs show through her pajama top. I don't see anything, she says.
It's way, way out there, I insist, backing away. Keep looking!
I back out of the kitchen and softly head for the stairs.
The Nazis let me pass. The bedroom furniture, like everything else, is covered in dust. I open my wife's dresser drawer slowly, silently, breath held lest I disturb the dust and leave evidence of my mission.
My wife is yelling from downstairs, yelling that she doesn't see anything. Help me see our neighbors! she yells, floorboards thudding toward the steps. You said there was something out there! she shouts.
I hurry back to the attic.
There's nothing out there! she screams from below, her voice cracking.
Here is something I have observed: thong underwear is delicate, and not just because of its scant material. It causes one to behave more delicately. It adds a wiggle to one's stride, if not a sashay. I enjoy the sensation of air playing across my buttocks.
Time to shave! I massage my face with moisturizer.
My wife does not own the same brand of lipstick as Marguerite, but she keeps a similar shade in the medicine cabinet, guarded by a handful of Allied soldiers atop the bathroom sink. I eventually talk my way past the guards, but it is more difficult than I anticipated. My wife, I suspect, has been spreading poisonous rumors among her troops.
Back in the attic, in the silvery glow of the television, I dab my lips with a tissue. Bunny One and Bunny Two are quiet.
• • •
It's time to begin a pro/con inventory to determine whether I should remain with my wife or begin anew with Marguerite. Using a system of pluses and minuses, I will observe my wife, then Marguerite. I want to be fair.
I tiptoe from the attic and sit in the darkness at the top of the stairs, overlooking the living room. The Allies are bringing in reinforcements. My wife is whispering and folding, unaware of my presence.
My wife gets a plus for wearing a sock, though she wears only one, and another plus for wearing a bra beneath her pajama top. Minus for chapped lips, for scruffy eyebrows, and for failing to change out of her pajamas, ever. I give my wife a plus for her talent at paper-folding but give her a minus for taking over most of the house. I miss the days of paper flowers. Fallen soldiers lie crumpled throughout the living room.
• • •
As my pro/con inventory moves on to Marguerite, I feel a twinge, then a fluttering sensation. My study falls apart with the slightest bump, the furniture and tablecloth sliding away from each other. My sanctuary is undone!
In the hallway, paper soldiers are engaged in balletic violence. I check the Grav-stat in the living room: as I suspected, my wife has lowered it to 80%.
Minus for her! Minus minus minus!
When the Grav-stat is lower than 100%, we can glide quickly through the house—an upside of lessened gravity—but the Grav-stat must never be lower than 100%. This is a longstanding household policy. I do not wish to revisit the infamous Grav-stat battles of our first year in orbit. I will take the high road.
Then I change my mind and raise the Grav-stat to 185%. This will show her!
Every dust particle plummets to the nearest flat surface. The light fixture in the dining room creaks from the ceiling. My wife's carefully constructed soldiers, hundreds and hundreds of them on the floor and dining room table, crumple at the ankles and bow to me.
Screaming upstairs, labored stomps from the bedroom. More screaming.
If the muscles of my face could smile in this oppressive gravity, I would smile. I return the Grav-stat to 100%.
I've made my point. Plus for me.
• • •
Bunny One and Bunny Two have been squashed to dusty pancakes. No! I gather their remains and sculpt them into a new, larger body: Bunny Three.
Marguerite gets a plus for her radiant smile. My wife hasn't smiled since that beautiful comet many months ago. Marguerite gets a minus for her laconic tendencies but a plus for lounging about in only a thong. The thong, I believe, must be worn regularly: its erotic effect originates from consistent use. I don't know why my wife ever complained. After a while, one forgets one is wearing it.
I haul the microwave to the attic. Now, I can observe Oatmeal Tuesday in my study, in the company of Marguerite and Bunny Three. The return to this Tuesday tradition is comforting. Oatmeal Tuesday is an anchor for my otherwise transitional life situation.
It is Tuesday when I say it is Tuesday.
• • •
My wife is committing flagrant revisionism in her portrayal of the Invasion of Normandy. The Nazis are winning, for one thing, and in some cases appear to be eating victims alive. Allied forces have split into factions; some have switched sides. Both German and Allied forces are mobbing the upstairs hallway and converging at the base of the attic stairs. Minus minus minus!
• • •
My wife's thong must be laundered. My socks and t-shirt are fetid as well, but venturing downstairs to run a load of laundry is out of the question.
• • •
The Nazis and Allies are coming after me. They have faces now: rancorous eyebrows and screaming mouths. The invaders are closer each time I peek beneath the attic door:
The soldiers and their war machines gather at the base of the steps.
They are climbing the steps.
They're another step higher—almost at the door!
A swastika-headed Nazi reaches the top step. It peeks below the door. The Nazi's eyes are empty circles. A grin full of needles spreads across its face.
Defensive maneuvers! No choice but to dismantle my study and stack the furniture against the attic door. In the commotion, Bunny Three is trampled. Bunny Three! I think I hear the rustle of paper, gentle scratches against the door. The attic windows darken—night landing upon this corner of the house—and I stack more furniture at the door. It's getting harder to breathe. I'm too focused on this crisis to worry that I'm flapping free as I run back and forth for more furniture. No time to re-tuck! More rustling, more scratching. The magazine bins have spilled all over the floor and I crawl amidst the darkening chaos in search of my notebook—in search of Marguerite.
Marguerite! I retreat to the far end of the attic and clutch her to my chest, panting and shaking. Marguerite is calm.
• • •
A deep, terrible ripping seizes the house and the floor quakes below us. The light bulb and television flicker, go dark.
The floor shuns my feet and I slowly fall backward into the darkness. I lose my grip on Marguerite as I bump against dark forms. A magazine flutters past my face, a chair or table leg nudges my back. A deep roar is coming from below.
I swim toward my memory of the attic's entrance, push away the vague furniture and open the door to a blinding flurry of paper soldiers. From the basement, the Grav-matic shrieks its emergency shriek.
Paper soldiers are silhouetted by the sunlight rushing from the window at the other end of the hall. I swim through them, paw at the walls and kick off the ceiling. I grab the banister and hand-over-hand my way downstairs. The living room couch drags itself across the ceiling. The rug curls around the coffee table. Military deserters drift before the glowing bay window. I crawl across the ceiling and get ahold of the archway to pull myself into the dining room. My wife screams through the soldiers clamped in her teeth as she scrambles about, cash-grab flailing for drifting soldiers. She doesn't even see me. Her hair pools around her. The shriek from the basement grows louder.
• • •
The Grav-matic's shriek is punctuated by the roar of air. Everything in the basement is floating toward the Grav-matic. A vent on the front belches smoke. Whatever hit us—debris from a wrecked satellite, a piece of frozen comet—it was large enough to pierce the shell of our house but small enough to lodge itself within the Grav-matic's exhaust tube. The status screen shows a blockage and suggests maintenance. The screen calls for a manual override.
There is a large, slot-machine-like lever on the side of the Grav-matic to switch the device to Manual. It won't budge. I can't get a stable footing against the floor or wall or ceiling, have nothing to brace against as I struggle with the lever. I sweat. I clench my teeth and pull until the lever is slick with effort. Shelves and tools and family-size oatmeal cartons knock about as they gather around the Grav-matic and the rupture sucking air behind it. I pull at the lever with both hands, pull as hard as I can. The basement is a smoky, shrieking chaos of drifting objects. Everything strobes red.
• • •
The lever creaks forward. With a mechanical choking sound, the Grav-matic shifts to Manual. I quickly restore our gravity to 100%.
The house quakes with falling furniture and some plaster dust sprinkles from the ceiling.
The basement is a mess of spilled oatmeal cartons and dented paint cans and tools. The Grav-matic gulps and hisses. We're not out of the woods yet: somewhere behind the machine is a blockage or tear in its exhaust tube. But first thing's first: Marguerite.
The attic is littered with furniture and magazines. After a few minutes of desperate searching, I discover my notebook lying open beneath an overturned bowl of oatmeal. As sunlight gradually enters the attic, Marguerite smiles through the spilled paste. I hurry to my lover and wipe away the oatmeal with my t-shirt.
• • •
What the hell are you wearing?
My wife is behind me, torn and battered soldiers in both fists. Her hair dangles in greasy tendrils over her face and shoulders. The naked light bulb flickers to life—our back-up generator kicking in—and the muted television shares its silvery light once more. The oatmeal-damp notebook dangles in my hand.
Who's that girl? says my wife. Are you wearing lipstick?
• • •
Which is when I see something on the television, parting the static like a curtain: silhouettes. I scramble to the television and raise the volume. It's fuzzy, of course, terribly fuzzy, but I hear faint voices, then laughter. A laugh track? More voices, more laughter.
My wife crouches beside me. The silhouettes are talking to each other. I can't tell what they're saying but imagine it's witty—some sort of sitcom banter. Something ridiculous has occurred, some event both comical and relatable that the characters are attempting to resolve. The silhouettes become people, their voices almost clear enough to understand. More laughter, then applause. Something deeply hilarious is happening. I'm tempted to chuckle. My wife is beginning to grin, her watery eyes fixed on the shapes before her.
I can't help it. I start chuckling. Then my wife starts giggling. We and the television laugh together: giggling, chortling, guffawing. Out-laughing the laugh track. I laugh so hard it hurts my chest. My wife laughs in joyous, choking sobs. We laugh like we're in on this joke and were all along. Ha ha! Ha ha! Ha ha! We laugh and laugh, transfixed by the glowing screen, shaking with hilarity and wiping our eyes. We laugh long after the shapes and sounds have disappeared once more into senseless static.