THE UMBRELLA SALESMAN

 

The artichoke peeked from a shelf above the table, like a menace, suggestive of something he could not place, all day long.
 

Are you going to make the artichoke tonight? He sat on the bed as she came in the door. It had been raining and the rain dripped down from her clothes, splashing a little on the door as she bent over to take off her shoes and slide down her skirt.

 

Yes, she said, I was thinking I would. And then she disappeared into the bathroom for what he knew would be perhaps an hour. 

 

I’m just going to the bathroom she said quickly as she closed the door. A lie, but the lock had turned decisively before there was anything to do about it. 

 

What did she do in there? It was a question he wondered often. The strongest suspicion was that she just stood there and did nothing. That she stood in the bathroom for long periods of time mainly because it was the only other room in their apartment and the only room where you could really be alone. And while she stood there, in complete silence save for the occasional turning on and off of the facet, which he always assumed was just a courtesy to him, he continued to sit on the bed and stare at the fruit, which stared back at him, laughing if he thought about it hard enough.

It’s a vegetable, she countered as they started to boil up the water. 

 

No, he said, hanging around, useless at her back. It’s actually a fruit. 

 

No, she said, breathing in some steam, you’re thinking of potatoes… or maybe the yam.

He went to the window, lighting up a dirty stub of the half cigarette that he found shoved down into the sill. A fruit, he said again. Do you want me to look it up? 

 

In the half nook that was their kitchen she stood, facing away from him, naked and her head leaned over the boiling pot. You can’t, she said. I lent all our encyclopedias to Bingo this morning. He’s writing his thesis paper. He wants to go to Stanford next year. To be a scientist... Stanford or Yale.

He looked over at the bookshelf. Indeed a large portion was missing. Perhaps that was what had bothered him all day and not the artichoke after all. He tapped some ash back into the sill where the rest of the ash was.

Well anyways, he said, you know I was talking to this funny guy earlier and he was telling me they used to have this thing called the internet, like a thousand years ago, and you could have it in your pocket or in your ear or on your nose even if you wanted to…

 

Letting out a comfortable drag, he brought his stupid hand up to his face, touching the tip of his nose, exhaling onto his hand. And when you used it, he continued, you could know just about everything in the entire world…
 

Still she hunched over the pot, carefully moving things he could not see and only occasionally her strange twisted hands coming into view.

 

The what, she said, sort of yelling over the water in the pot. 

 

The inter..nut… or something like that, he yelled back, closing his eyes and rolling his eyes into the back of his head, as he yelled.
 

Straightening up from the pot of gentle, continuous steam, with caution she turned around. I don’t know, she said, that sounds pretty crazy. On your nose?

He shrugged and leaned his head farther out the window, the warm mist collapsing onto his face. Maybe he was lying, he said. He was kind of a crazy guy anyways. He was selling umbrellas in front of the grocery store.     

 

Out of the kitchen, with uncertain movements, she came towards him, blind, her arms out in front of her, feeling for the table or a wall. Who knows what they did back then, her voice gargled a little in the bubbling water. You hear a lot of crazy things but nobody actually knows.

The artichoke struck an uneasy balance, smiling back at him on the stub of her neck.

 

Yeah, he said, bringing himself back into their apartment, taking the fatal drag that at last burned into the filter.

    

Who knows.