Tim comes home with a beautiful bouquet of flowers in a fancy glass vase.
He tells his wife, “Happy anniversary.”
She looks up from her laptop and says, “Thank you, Honey. They’re amazing. Just put them on the table. I’ll take care of them later.”
Tim puts the vase in the middle of their kitchen table, then goes to the refrigerator for some water.
“They came from a real florist,” he says. “Not the supermarket.”
“Nice. How sweet. And happy anniversary to you too,” Lisa says.
For their forth anniversary, Tim had surprised Lisa with dinner at The Precinct, a swank steak joint where a lot of the people who can afford it go for special occasions. But Lisa had just started her Master’s program in Healthcare Administration and was stressing over her finals. She’d been nervous and distracted the entire night. She did okay on her finals but not as well as she wanted. Still, she never blamed Tim or their anniversary or The Precinct.
This year, instead of surprising her, Tim decided to ask ahead. He offered to take her to dinner and then a Broadway show, so much as Broadway exists in Cincinnati. Lisa thanked her husband but said they probably shouldn’t. Wicked was still a hard and expensive ticket to get and they shouldn’t commit, not knowing her work and school schedules at the time they’d have to buy tickets. So Tim got her an expensive bouquet of flowers from a real florist instead. He wasn’t sure what else to do.
Tim pours some water and takes a seat at the kitchen table and drinks. Lisa is sitting on the couch, hunched over the computer in her lap.
“How was work,” Tim asks. “And school?”
“Work was busy. And I’ve got this paper due.”
“Which class is it?”, he asks.
“Case Studies in Terrorism Response,” Lisa says.
“It might be if I had time for it to be,” she says.
“I’m going upstairs to change,” Tim says.
She looks at him and smiles.
“Okay,” his wife says.
Tim goes up with his water. He goes into their bedroom where he changes into basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He comes out of the bedroom, changed.
He calls downstairs, “I’m going to the office.”
Lisa looks up at her husband leaning over the banister. She nods. She hates her husband’s basketball shorts. She hates to think it and she’ll never say it, but she knows they’re not for people of their class.
The office is a spare bedroom on the second floor where Tim has a computer and TV and keeps his comic books and movies and gaming console and guitar. It’s still painted aqua blue or, as the leftover can of paint in the shed was labeled: Sea of Tranquility. They never met the family that lived in the house before them. But when they’d scheduled the first appointment to look around, the family’s stuff was still there. The aqua room was a boy’s. On the wall was a shelf filled with Pee Wee League trophies. There were wrestling figures on top of a bookshelf that was filled with books that were once individual comics, a framed poster of A.J. Green on the wall and on the opposite wall, a fake canvas painting of The Incredible Hulk #182. There was a child’s size bed with Marvel comic heroes as the theme to his pillowcases and sheets and comforter. Ironic, Tim had thought, given his own continued love of comics.
It’s been more than 3 years since they bought the house and they still haven’t repainted the room. Neither Tim nor Lisa want children. Someday they say they may get a dog or cat. Tim uses the office mostly for watching movies, playing video games or his bass and masturbating to pornography.
“Okay,” Lisa says. “Maybe we can order Chinese later.”
“Sure. It’s your anniversary dinner,” he says.
“Our anniversary,” Lisa says.
Lisa knows her husband masturbates in his office. She knows his routine. First he’ll urinate and, after, take a wad of toilet paper into the office with him. Within minutes, he’ll be out again to pee because he always does that after sex. And with the flush of his urine, he’ll presumably dispose of the offending evidence as well. Lisa always listens after the flush to make sure he washes his hands. She knows that her husband masturbates to pornography and he knows that she knows, but they don’t acknowledge it. Ever. They don’t talk about it even though Lisa doesn’t care so long as the porno’s not illegal or very deviant.
A few minutes later, she’ll hear Tim, back in his office, cursing to his defeat in Borderlands 3 or plucking on his bass or watching The Big Lebowski or A Nightmare Before Christmas or Caddyshack.
Around 7 o’clock, Tim pauses Borderlands to ask if Lisa still wants Chinese.
Lisa says, “Yes.”
“General Tso’s, fried rice and egg roll?”, he shouts from upstairs.
“Yes,” she returns.
“I’m getting sesame beef,” he says. “We can share.”
“Yes,” his wife says. “Sounds good.”
Tim places their online order for Fantastic Wok. He orders it for pickup, for he’s too cheap to pay a delivery charge and tip. It tells him the order will be ready in 20-30 minutes. Tim plays 15 more minutes of Borderlands, then comes down stairs and puts on his running shoes.
“I’m going to pick up the grub,” he says.
“Okay,” Lisa says, wishing he wasn’t going outside in those horrid basketball shorts. “Be careful.”
By all accounts, Tim and Lisa are an ideal couple – handsome and beautiful, respectively. Both are smart and driven and responsible. Lisa is a Radiologist at one of the local hospitals. She realizes she was probably swindled into an extra 2 years at university studying Radiological Science when the two year MRI Tech program at a community college would have been enough. But her wage is very good. She learned her job quickly and she’s respected by her peers but she is no longer challenged. That’s why she enrolled in the Master’s program last year.
Tim has a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Analytics. He works for a consulting group that data mines for FedEx. Tim likes his job, most specifically, his colleagues. He figures that getting ahead will involve working his colleagues as much as it does working the data. He’s good at both so he figures another promotion ought to come soon and perhaps they’ll come indefinitely, either where he’s at or elsewhere. Tim isn’t bored with his job and he doesn’t want to go back to school.
He returns shortly with their food. Fantastic Wok is just a block away.
Tim puts the food on the kitchen table, wiggling the plastic containers from the overstuffed sack while Lisa pours them water.
“Plates?,” he asks.
“Nah. The containers are fine.”
They use the plastic utensils to eat straight from the containers, just like in college.
Tim asks how the paper’s going.
Lisa says it’s going okay.
Lisa asks how Tim’s work is going.
Tim explains that Andy is on vacation so they’ve got to pick up the slack but he says it’s okay. He says they’ll manage.
Lisa knows she’s met Andy more than once but knows too she wouldn’t be able to pick him out of a lineup.
“The flowers are beautiful,” Lisa says “I can smell them. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Tim says.
Lisa eats while thinking about her paper and whether or not the new girl in Radiology likes her. Megan is one of the community college kids. Sometimes those girls think the university girls look down on them. But Lisa doesn’t so she goes out of her way not to seem like it and worries too much about whether she really does or doesn’t feel superior.
Tim eats his sesame beef while thinking about the Mouthpiece boss fight in his video game. Tim keeps getting his ass kicked. If he goes back and gets his ass kicked again, he’ll have to go on YouTube and look for a walkthrough video on how to get past the Mouthpiece boss. He’s already formulated a few strategies, one of them while waiting for their order at Fantastic Wok. He’s anxious to try them out.
“How’s the General Tso’s?”, Tim asks.
“Good,” Lisa says. “Want any?”
“No,” he says.
“How’s yours?,” Lisa asks.
“Good too. It’s not tough like some other places.”
That’s what Tim always says about Fantastic Wok’s sesame beef and other places.
“Want any?”, he asks.
“No.” Lisa says. “I’m pretty full.”
They finish their meal and both sigh heavily and make their eyes look real big, signalling that they’re both very full.
“Done,” Lisa says.
Tim puts the lids back on the contains and folds the tops of the rice boxes back together. He opens the empty containers again, rinses them out and throws them away. The others he puts in the refrigerator.
“Well, I guess I’ll let you get back to your paper,” he says.
“Yeah, I’d better stick with it,” Lisa says.
“I’m going back up to the office,” Tim says.
“Okay,” she says.
On the way upstairs, he stops and says, “Sorry this wasn’t much of an anniversary.”
“It’s okay,” she says. “It’s nobody’s fault.”
For the next few hours, Tim continues playing while Lisa researches and writes. Around 10:30 he hears Lisa coming upstairs. Then he hears her in their bedroom, changing.
Tim shouts from his office, “You getting ready for bed?”
“Yes,” she says. A few minutes later he hears her in the bathroom.
When she finishes in the bathroom, she declares, “Done,” then goes back to the bedroom.
Tim turns off his PlayStation and TV and goes in the bathroom and takes a shower. He dries off, then brushes his teeth. pisses, washes his hands and puts on the same pair of underwear he wore all day. He’ll sleep in them and put on a fresh pair in the morning.
He goes in the bedroom. Lisa is already in bed. He can see her from the nightlight. He puts his folded t-shirt and shorts back in their drawers.
“You still awake?”, he asks.
“Yeah,” she says.
“Happy anniversary,” he says.
“Happy anniversary to you too,” she says.
He slips under the covers. It’s a special day, coming to an end, and they haven’t had sex in a few weeks so he imagines he’s supposed to do something. By his estimation, Lisa initiated the last few times so it’s probably his turn now. And it is a special day, after all.
Tim turns to look at Lisa, who’s turned away.
“So you want to……you know?”, he asks.
Lisa rolls over to look at him.
“Sure,” she says. “How do you want to begin?”
“Missionary,” Tim says.
They roll down the comforter and sheet. Lisa is in a floral set of sleep tank top and shorts while Tim is still in his day’s briefs. Neither one disrobes.
Lisa lies on her back on her side of the bed. Tim lies on his stomach on his side of the bed. Tim begins thrusting at his side of the bed. Lisa lies on her back, bobbing on the mattress to her husband’s copulation of the other side. Tim bleats and moans. Lisa alternates between hissing and grunting and telling her husband, “It’s good.”
After a minute or so, Tim says, “Spoon. Right.”
They both turn on their sides, facing right. Each assumes a curled position that might join like puzzle pieces were they not separated by their halves of the bed. Each remains on their own side, one thrusting and mock penetrating while the other pretends to receive. The sounds of lovemaking fill the room.
After a minute or so of that, Tim says, “Doggy style.”
On her side of the bed, Lisa gets on all fours and rocks forward and back while Tim, on his half, gets on his knees and fornicates with Lisa’s phantom backside. The lover they share is the space between them.
It’s an absurd game. So absurd that it’s grotesque and they both know it. As always, Tim remained completely flaccid while Lisa never got the least bit wet.
“Done,” Tim says.
Both lie on their backs, pretending to breath hard.
“Wow. That was nice,” Lisa says.
And quick. Thank goodness, she thinks.
“Yes. Very nice,” Tim says.
For a while they lie there in silence, trying to forget the shame of their absurd play.
They both pretend to sleep but they can’t.
Gradually, Lisa’s shame gives way to thoughts and worries about her schooling and the girls she works with, until she finally falls asleep.
Gradually, Tim’s shame gives way to thoughts of strategies for beating the new boss in his video game and whether there’s enough leftover Chinese for his lunch tomorrow. Then he finally falls asleep too.