Other Writings
Houses for Fishes
(from McSweeney’s)

While we were talking, I switched on the television and imagined that your words were being spoken by the woman in the sitcom and, when she was not in the scene, by one of the men who remained. After a while, I looked at you again, frowning so that you wouldn’t discern my motive. Your lips were out of sync like a dubbed movie, but it was easy to believe the babble of conversation and canned laughter emanated from your mouth.

I spent the better part of a morning looking at the world through a web of fingers, one eye shut, the other eye pressed close to the square gap between perpendicular digits. A lampshade filled my contrived screen, and only an edge of the kitchen sink was visible, a pleasingly curved white orb between fuzzy fleshy borders.

Another time, I squinted, eyes open just a crack, until the room became a blur, the chair almost indecipherable from the bookcase behind it, the doorhandle no more than a gray smudge in a field of white, and when you stood up you looked like a tree seen from afar, in mist or fog perhaps.

Do you remember when I was reading that book and you spoke to me, and I answered quite conversationally but with words cribbed from the novel in my hands? You just shook your head and asked, Who are you being?, thinking I was imitating some new comedian or actor. Scholsdorff, I answered with a name on the page, but if you understood you gave no indication.

We were watching an old movie. I lowered the volume on the television and raised the volume on the radio. On the screen, a star-crossed couple was having a conversation in a city park. But there was only one voice, an irascible talk radio caller spouting racial epithets and blaming unemployment on Hispanics and the new mayor.

I set the table all wrong, laid celery instead of forks, pencils instead of knives, CD jewelcases where the napkins usually went. You picked up the not-cutlery and put it in a bowl. You said it wasn’t funny. You said you were tired.

I replaced the map in your car with one of another city, slid advertisements from the newspaper into the picture frames in our living room, switched the covers of books. I bought uncut keys at the hardware store and put them on your key-ring. I poured flour into the sugar bowl, yeast into the bag of flour, scooped mustard into the peanut butter jar, replaced the milk with orange juice. And set all the clocks for a distant time zone.

While you were sleeping, I changed into a brand new pair of pants and a shirt I’d worn only once. My suitcase was waiting in the hallway, and I left the apartment without making a sound.