Kyle and Claudette
The justice of the peace dangled out of the rear window, his hand bleeding much worse now. He was everything Claudette and I wanted: an overweight, balding man in his late forties or fifties, that agreed to and swore by a blue handkerchief jammed into the most convenient pocket—rarely washed and called upon often to act as lifeguard and key impresario responsible for keeping him from drowning in his own sweat.
He looked good and haggard bleeding in my brother's red Ford, having cut his hand on the remnants of the rear window I broke out moments before with a cheap bottle of Argyle Sparkling. The plan was for him to guide us through our vows from inside the cab while the truck sped down the highway, Claudette and I doing our best to deceive gravity and stay upright, our best to stand in the bed of this crumbling card-castle of a truck, that one, if so desired, could start with a flathead screwdriver jammed and twisted into the ignition.
Renewing our vows was not the subtle affair it should have been. It wasn't all young girls holding sparklers, or miniature white ponies, or homemade vanilla ice cream. What it was, though, was a series of tribulations with balance, and the noise of the other motorists, and my brother grinning from behind his cigarette. It was the justice yelling at me, when it was absurd-obvious I couldn't hear him. And when I was forced to duck down closer to the window and yell "what?!" at the top of my lungs, the poor man in his size forty-six trousers curled up in disgust, raising his hands in protest. Claudette's hair was destroyed, and the peacock feathers I crammed into the breast pocket of my suit were stripped by the wind.
I know we're trying too hard, and I'm repeating myself –so I'll shift gears, and tell you that when it comes down to it, we're renewing our vows on the back of a speeding pickup truck because I love the look that appears on my wife's face when things start to spiral out of control. And I suppose, like the idiot I am, I get quite a bit of satisfaction out of pretending to play it cool, when in all actuality it takes considerable effort from both hands to keep my heart from bursting out of my chest.
Of course I fell for my wife quickly, we fell for each other quickly, really, and we married after five months. I had a broken ankle, and the best part about it was the mad dash to the airport, with me insisting to drive—pure ridiculous in my condition. We made it though; I just drove with my left foot. Nine days later we returned with rings on our fingers and a series of dilapidated grocery bags as luggage. It's another story in itself, but there was this crazy night on the beach and somewhere along the line I decided I didn't like the color of our suitcases. So I burned them.
After awhile the wife and I needed some room to breathe. No one could keep up a pace like that.
Eventually I made a habit out of taking one of our iron patio chairs into the shower, turning on the water, and sitting for long periods of time. We are a "small stereo on the bathroom counter" type of couple, and I'd play the Vince Guaraldi Trio's "Christmas Time is Here," nonstop. Claudette, on the other hand, stumbled into a large pile of National Geographic's in the laundry room of our building. After that, large parts of her day were devoted to them.
After several weeks of what most couples would describe as "space," I began plotting a scheme involving Claudette and I in the sort of debacle that would bring out that look again, the one where she loses all hope and conviction in one single forlorn expression. The one she gave me when the justice was yelling for us to kiss! and we couldn't, because that meant clanging teeth and a split upper lip. The look that meant, in some ways, that we were still the world to each other.
to unravel on a Wednesday. We keep a hodgepodge of various books on
the table, and Claudette chose Salinger's Raise
High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, and
I took them out of the bag and put them on the side of the couch, along with the cordless phone, and myself. I reached up and guided Claudette's arm to its original position: elbow on knee. I continued scraping at the sticker until the phone rang. I stood up and picked up the receiver. I spoke with the phone propped between my shoulder and cheek, allowing me to dig into the bag and outfit Claudette with a pair of goggles and a hardhat. "Are the boys having fun? Any problems? Do they have enough rope? Are people on the street gawking?" I took several steps away from Claudette and gazed at the ceiling, and then the kitchen. I continued talking. "We'll duck behind the couch, and then you can do y—" But it was all wrong. That's when my sister's Kimball piano, assisted by an intricate set of rope and a very sincere group of young men (mainly from the West Falls R.O.T.C., and a few older boys from the community college) careened into the side of our apartment. A slew of pictures bounced off the wall and an unfair amount of dishes burst all over the floor. I was at once breathless and guilty. I ran over to Claudette and dove on her, wrapping my arms around her. Footsteps slipped and grinded overhead (our roof is comprised of tar and gravel) as the boys fought for decent grip while they handled the rope. Within, say, forty seconds, another collision deafened our ears and knocked the sink off of its base. At this point I was able to get up and pull the mangled piano into our kitchen, where it slid off what remained of the countertop and rammed against the fridge, nearly running me over. I wound up where I had started, on my back near the couch.
"Give me something Hon', a little peep or something to let me know you're okay? Would that be okay? Hon'—?"
"peep." Her voice emanated deep within the couch cushions. She was in crash position, hands over face, face and hands embedded in the red fabric. A gentle white fog of sheetrock and masonry made its presence known all over our living room.
"My hand's right here," I said, extending it over the back of the couch. The gaping hole in the wall acted as if it were a gouge in a raft, and in seeped the sound of the city: the much more subdued version of a squadron of silent airplanes with full grown and blooming oak trees hanging underneath and being towed along, diverting the air, much like the hundreds of cars and people below. Cold air like silk pillowcases filled the apartment.
This is when the phone rang, electrocuting me, it seemed, as it cut through the silence. I let it ring twice more, upon which I swiped it off the floor and threw it outside.
Some men have a way of explaining things, and they do it with their hands in their pockets, and they don't make much eye contact. I took in a deep breath and did just that:
"So I didn't think I could pull this off. I mean, I approached these guys—did you hear the footsteps on the roof?" I rolled onto my side and propped my head up with my arm. "They were, or are—" I stood up and walked towards the hole created by the piano, then I figured I couldn't see them anyhow, so I stopped— "here, or, I'm not sure if they're still here. There was, obviously, a group of them on the roof. The way they got the piano to swing like that was with another little troop of guys on the roof across the street. I'm sure it was difficult to gauge, that's probably why they missed the first time. I told them I wanted the piano to explode right through our little planter window." Claudette sat up, and squinted her eyes at me as if she had been asleep. I made eye contact for a split second before resettling my eyes on the floor and continuing. "Anyways, I made some phone calls. I set up this formal meeting and everything. I didn't allude to what I was planning, I just wanted to kind of run with it when I got there. And what I was really hoping they'd do was, well I wanted to be interviewed by them, like four or five guys, all in starched uniforms and everything, and they'd be giving me this look, you know?" I chuckled to myself. "The look some people can give, with that real straight face, with no emotion or vulnerability or anything, just, woo, straight ahead. And I wanted it to take place in this huge area, like the middle of the basketball court or something." My hands slapped the outsides of my hips, and I seemed to sigh and laugh at the same time.
"Of course it wasn't like that, I ended up having this great talk in this really cozy office, I mean, this military guy had a couple old bicycle seats hanging up on the wall, and pictures of his family and stuff. I started off really slow and indirect. I told him I had something in the works, and I was hoping to include his boys. That it would probably involve rope, and that I was willing to bring in an expert on the subject. I mean, I really wanted the boys to have an actual educational experience. I put on my Mr. Professional persona, a nice shirt, everything." I approached Claudette and then turned around and hunkered down behind the couch, out of view. Claudette stirred, and then slowly rounded the couch, the unrecognized article of clothing in her hand (a red hooded sweatshirt with a full length zipper). She placed it in her lap and sat mesmerized, by the piano in the kitchen. She looked straight ahead as she spoke:
"So the second time it smashed through the window? Did you pull it through the rest of the way? Or did it sort of crash through on its own? Did something push it from the outside?"
"I pulled it through."
"So what the—?"
"We need it." I took the sweatshirt out of her lap, and struggled for a moment, trying to put my arms in the sleeves. I leaned away from the couch in an effort to put it on. She tugged at the shoulders and sleeves hopelessly; it was at least two sizes too small. We sat in silence for a moment, her in that gracious way of hers (if you have the chance, sit next to Claudette on an airplane. She's petite enough to sit Indian style) and me in my hunched-over shrug, with half a sweatshirt on.
I don't really want to get into what happened next. A whole gambit of things: between me trying to explain why I orchestrated all this nonsense, how we employed the damaged piano as the perfect table for cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for everyone to enjoy after our harrowing pickup truck ride (and yes, my cousin James did indeed show up with a series of small silver robots from the nearby Radio Shack, so all the kids would have something to do) and—and, the marginally (in my book) selfish reasons why I wanted to renew our vows.
On top of everything I felt confident I did something that would trump her affair with the National Geographic's, which was hard, because that's a terrific publication.