a literary review
“Plates, by Bing & Grondahl”
She used to leave that dental floss beside his sink, a small, transparent gesture in a small, transparent square. She would say he needs to clean up that mouth. She’d cited that mouth for most of that year; she’d cited that mouth as the origin of their problems. One night, lo, he is flossing as she is preparing to come join him in their bathroom. He makes a grand gesture of it, him flossing when she has not asked him directly, and she looks at him in the mirror as she comes in. Just then, a tooth falls out of his mouth and into the sink. There it is. They look at one another in the mirror. Immediately, his hand in his mouth, pressing about the depression where his tooth— a bicuspid on the left side— had just been. There’s another in here that’s loose, too, he says, and takes that one out, too. She looks at his fingers with the tooth. Let me see that, she says. He puts the second tooth in her palm, and she quickly pops it in her mouth, like a medication. She tries to bite it. He can hear it in her mouth. Then she bends over and spits it back into his sink. That’s the art: a tooth in the sink. They would divorce shortly after that night, and in most respects the divorce had nothing to do with flossing or that night at the sink, except that he always felt she didn’t appreciate everything that came out of his mouth, and she completely refused to reject that.
He does not want to take the kids to swim team. Look, he is seen as an uncomfortable substitute for his wife, and that is because the wives find him a bore. He does not regale. They want him to regale. But he just stands there. It’s creepy. His wife does not regale, either, but she is a woman, and when it’s women there—and it is always women there, because the dudes are at work or otherwise doing something ineffectual and to no clear purpose and by means utterly clownish – there is no need for regaling. The only time you need to be regaled is when a dude substitutes for his wife, and at that point all you can hope for is a reasonably good regaling (eg, Kevin’s dad) of some farcical event or another no one could possibly care about, except dudes. Dudes who fail to regale (eg, Evan’s dad, Soren’s dad), or who regale awkwardly (eg, Birch’s dad, and he himself), are poor or uncomfortable substitutes. You know, his wife says. They are eating ramen, which has become very popular. It seems insane to her—and that is her word—that ramen has become so posh. She’s pretty sure she bought ramen for a penny when she was in college. College. A penny. That’s the art: the two of them over bowls. You know, she continues, you’re really messed up in the head. Then she levels an accusation at him that he believes she intends to sound distinct and ugly, acutely hurtful, that he seems to not want to take the kids to swim team. This has been an unambiguous fact, and he is surprised to realize she hadn’t realized this, but his point is really just that every time he takes the kids to swim team he does a type of harm to their family reputation.He is seen as uncomfortable by the women, a dude that will not regale them well: a family gets implicated in this way. How do you not see this? he says. It’s just better all-around if you go. Somewhere in the house there is a discussion on the television about the importance of dying children in a middle eastern country. One of the gentleman seems to be reporting on a passageway for these children and families that takes them far north, and the Fins and Russians who are offering bikes for them to complete the final fifty or sixty meters from Vyborg. We might go together, she says, but they both feel this will confer to everyone an uninspired codependency in their marriage. He nods. She nods. They look at one another, nodding, hearing the talk of refugee life on the winds in the house, and tell themselves privately that all of this is really just a metaphor.
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Christopher Merkner is the author of The Rise & Fall of the Scandamerican Domestic (Coffee House 2014). He teaches writing and literature at West Chester University, where he is an Assistant Professor of English. He lives very happily in Denver, CO, with his wife and kids.