Somewhere, a lady dressed in bright colors with a monotone voice is lying on the floor of her living room. She’s been vacuuming the same corner for twenty minutes, trying to feel both pathetic and productive. The corner is obstructed by nothing and is next to a chair covered in cat hair; she’s always been good at completing her goals.
Seventeen years ago, she celebrated her forty-fifth birthday and weighed thirty-eight pounds less than she does now, but her clothes were just as bright and billowy. She never learned to ride a bike or swim, has never played catch. She spent her childhood on a piano bench, singing what she called wedding songs to crayon-drawn pictures of hypothetical pet cats.
Her husband sits in the kitchen of their one bedroom house. There’s nothing on the table in front of him, not even his hands. When they were forty, his body traumatized itself while scuba diving. She sat in a boat with a life preserver fastened tightly to her body; he must have been surrounded by color when it happened, but all she really knows is that the doctors told her he would never hear again. Oh, the irony of being a deaf man married to an elementary music teacher. Oh, the sadness. Blah, blah, and all that, she says to anyone listening. He stares at the hummingbird outside the kitchen window, whispers he can hear its wings.
Her bones are strong, but she sings about her aching body. She makes a mental note to share this moment with someone, anyone who will listen. It will make for a good anecdote, she thinks. She hates to answer obligatory questions with standard and expected answers. She hurts less when others are uncomfortable, but her soft body and calm eyes suggest otherwise.
Tomorrow, she’ll sit at the kitchen table and write a paragraph about each of her seventy-two elementary school students. Tonight, she’ll use her eyes to ask her husband to bring the box down from the attic. It used to expand twice a year, but now it stays the same. She doesn’t believe in filing information on the computer. Yes, she knows how, but life is more romantic with yellowed papers and typewriters, and is life not more exciting and meaningful when it’s romantic? She’ll connect a student from this morning to a student from thirty years ago and find the old comment in the box. The art teacher talks to her students about recycling, and somewhere around that age they learn about synonyms and analogies.
She pulls the cord out of the wall with the vacuum still running and will pretend tomorrow that she slept on the floor tonight. It’s three in the afternoon. Seven days ago, she really did spend the entire night on the floor. It was an uncomfortable choice that made for an uncomfortable story. When she told the pimple-faced boy bagging her groceries that she had hurt so much the night before she had to sleep on the floor after vacuuming, she was sure he handled her processed cheese differently. She smiled.
The cat jumps onto the kitchen table, paws over to her husband’s lap, gives a sandpapery lick to his left hand. He purrs to the rhythm of the hummingbird’s wings, the old man thinks.
“Goodnight,” she sings, “Goodnight!”