Love in the Western World

“I have a confession,” he said to his wife. The children were watching something in the other room. A cooking show. A cooking show about cupcakes. “I am besieged with artifacts and associations and they are cluttering my mind to the point of not being able to function.”

“Does that mean you are ready to throw them out? Because they are cluttering the house.”

“Let me tell you about one of them, ok? An artifact in my head. One example. Then we can see.”

“Ok. The kids have to go upstairs and brush their teeth. You have five minutes.”

“The roof of a house,” he said. “Modest. Nighttime, the shingles of the roof visible amidst the trees.  A rural feel. But it’s a sound stage. A stage set. You you, a movie. I know this but still I just see this fake house at night. And inside the house lies W.C. Fields, the alcoholic comedian, who is drinking himself to death with another quart of Vodka. Or is it gin? At any rate, he is going to die. And with him, beside him, is the young woman who loves him—his wife. What?”

“Nothing.”

“You rolled your eyes.”

“You imagined it.”

“I saw something in your face.”

“Five minutes. Was that it?”

“No. But it’s where the questions begin. I mean, in addition to the question of why in the world I should have held onto this snippet at all, which I think I saw on TV. Or maybe it was Youtube. But just the narrative questions: He’s an alcoholic. He’s drinking himself to death. She loves him… Those are the assumptions of the scene. But did she give him the bottle? Did she fetch it from the store? How young is she? Do they have children? Do they have sex? The idea of W.C. Fields engaged in sex is kind of disgusting but that is part of the thing with W.C. Fields, there is no sex. And it’s not just because of the chastity of the era but because he is an alcoholic. He is a grumpy old man. A drunk who found love late, after the point where there could be sex. There is no sex in this scene.”

“That is a relief.”

“What is apparent, wonderfully apparent, is that it is night in the specific way of a movie set. The house isn’t a real house, but that seems less conspicuous than the fact that the night isn’t really night. And what’s strange,” he said, “is that it made it feel even more like night, I mean the way it drifts into my memory has hushed night feeling. And what happens is, the young wife who loves him appears outside. W.C. Fields is inside, ailing, drunk, drying. And he loves rain. I forgot where this was established. But it was. He loves the sound of rain on the roof. And this is long before Citizen Kane. Or maybe it’s after.  It’s the Rosebud idea that at death there is this one thing, this one detail or fact, one relic from your childhood that is so potent that by simply evoking it you are completing a circle, going back to the state of childhood innocence and elation. So it turns out that W.C. Fields’ Rosebud is the sound of rain on the roof. He loves that sound. And he’s drinking himself to death. And she goes out there and stands in the night, which isn’t really night, but feels extra-night, and turns on a garden hose, and trains it on the roof. To simulate rain. And it’s incredibly romantic. Because it’s a sign of her love. Her dedication. She understands what makes him happy.  What makes him happy is drinking himself to death and then passing out to the sound of rain on the roof. But the question is why the hell do I remember that scene? Why has it lingered?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

“I know that. I am not expecting you to answer.”

“Oh, Ok, sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. For God sakes please stop apologizing for everything.”

“Ok, I…”

“Don’t you dare.”

“I was kidding.”

“You were? Good. That scene on the roof is at the end of the movie. I don’t even recall what movie. But I remember that gesture of the hose on the roof, and maybe there was a full moon, swelling music. A feeling of a happy ending. And I thought, oh boy that is love. I mean I really felt that, and at the same time, I thought something here is wrong. And I don’t know what. What are you doing?”

“I’m looking up W.C. Fields biopic.”

“Oh, don’t bother it doesn’t matter. Did you find anything?”

“Not yet,” she said, looking intently into the glowing rectangle in her hands, pecking at it with two thumbs. “Maybe you like the idea that there is something wrong with true love.”

“It’s just weird that she is his nurse, his lover, and his supplier,” he said.

She looked up at him, directly at him, the circles under her eyes black, an Italian darkness that felt rich, like the richness of espresso, but that also looked very much like the eyes of an exhausted woman who was listening to her husband define true love from a woman as being a nurse, lover, and supplier.

Against the nettlesome racket of cooking show noise emanating from the other room, a surge of lust rose within him, overtopped the damn cupcake recipe and the mini-memoirs of the people who were trying to follow it. A moment of ambiguity between them.

“The kids have to brush their teeth,” she said.  She stood. Strong legs. Powerful feet. She yelled their names at a pitch and a volume that ended this brief enclosed moment when he could hold the scene that kept drifting back into his thoughts before him and discuss it and share it. It vanished like a hologram whose light had been turned off.

He stood up, preparing to play his role as the heavy who manually closes the browser, if necessary shutting down the computer, doing it in the abrupt no nonsense style that is always received as a brutality, like he was someone reaching out to still the pendular swing of an old watch that had been used to hypnotize these two subjects sitting on the floor with their back to the couch. They always stare at where the motion was. Two beautiful, astonishingly beautiful animals, looking after what was just there, and from whom, on this occasion, a wail of lament emanates, filling the house from the inside.

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