Jeannie is having feelings about the objects in the house again. She and Greg have talked about this many times. She agreed to try and dim her senses to the messages which the objects send her. He encouraged her to try living in the real world and stop talking to the chairs and the toothbrushes.
Jeannie didn’t ask for this power (her word), this unfortunate capacity (Greg’s words). They do both agree that life is easier when it stays dormant. Because Jeannie is, in every other way, an exemplary partner (Greg’s words). She keeps the home beautifully and raises the children to be upstanding citizens. She prefers to spend her days working in the garden, paying social visits, and taking care of the shopping. But, when the power comes over her with all the randomness and intensity of a migraine, she has no way to stop it. She retreats to her bedroom, darkened with the shades pulled down, and suffers the buffeting waves. Countless social engagements have been broken as a result of these episodes.
Last night, for instance, she had to flee right in the middle of a dinner party, running up the back steps from the kitchen while Greg floundered about in the living room trying to keep the guests supplied with cocktails. The roast she was braising, left to smoke in the oven, set off the fire alarm and everyone piled through the door to escape the piercing sounds and billowing smoke. Out on the sidewalk in front of the house, Greg tried to collect the glasses from everyone before they disbursed to their cars. Just a touch of the flu, he said as he made his rounds, speaking as lightly as he could. But he could see from their eyes glittering under the streetlight and their soft dark muttering that his guests were not convinced. Back inside, the children were frightened and it took him more than an hour to soothe them. When he finally went to see Jeannie in their room, she looked pale and thin on the bed, her hand flung up to her forehead.
What was it, he asked her.
The wardrobe in the guest bedroom, she whispered.
The one we just bought at the antique store, he asked.
Yes, she said. A woman owned it who for years would get drunk in front of its mirror and lament her life. All the time it was like a prisoner, soaking up the energy like a sponge. This evening it just released it all in a burst. It was horrible.
Do you want me to move it or something?
No, she whispered. It got it all out. It’s a good wardrobe. It wants to be here.
Oh, that’s nice, he said, and sat perched on the edge of the mattress gently running his hand through her hair. He could feel her frame shake as she cried.
I’m sorry I ruined the party, she said.
It’s ok, it’s ok, he said. Don’t worry. He assured her it was all alright, but deep in his chest he felt a knot of coiling tension.
She drifted off and her face looked lovely in its slumber. But he couldn’t fall asleep, and he was awake to watch the stripes of dawn appear through the shades.
He sat at the breakfast table while she made him eggs and poured him coffee. The children were happy to see her looking well again and she enveloped each of them in a loving hug. Their youngest was obsessed with the theme song to a tv show, and was voicing its melody tenuously. Jeannie joined her, and then the other child joined in as well, until the three of them were singing a rousing rendition. They mugged for him, dancing, and he smiled his approval. But the whole time he was looking over their heads at a row of appliances gathered on a high shelf, trying to figure out if any of them were talking to her, and if so what they might be saying. He thought for a second that he felt a glimmer of something from the blender. It was a relief to get out of the house. He felt a sense of freedom as he worked his car through the bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic.
Michael Newton lives at the Jersey Shore and works as a bookseller at the Asbury Book Cooperative, in Asbury Park, where he runs the used book section and hosts the Crime Book Club. He is also a member of the editorial collective at Ugly Duckling Presse, where he helps manage the journal Second Factory, among other projects. He is also co-publisher of Asphalte Magazine, an online journal. An essay of his, on Tommy Lee Jones' face, is forthcoming from In The Mood magazine.