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 sits on the bed as she comes in the door. It's been raining and the rain drips down from her clothes, splashing a little on the door as she bends over to take off her shoes and slide down her skirt.
Yes, she says, I was thinking I would. And she disappears into the bathroom for what he knows will be perhaps an hour.
I’m just going to the bathroom she says quickly as she closes the door. A lie, but the lock turns decisively before there is anything to do about it.
What does 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 stands there, in complete silence save for the occasional turning on and off of the facet, which he's always assumed is just a courtesy to him, he continues to sit on the bed and stare at the fruit, which stares back at him, laughing if he thinks about it hard enough.
It’s a vegetable, she counters as she twists the knob, lighting the stove below the large pot of water.
No, he says, hanging around, useless at her back. It’s actually a fruit.
No, she says, you’re thinking of potatoes… or maybe the yam.
He goes to the window, picking out the dirty stub of a half smoked cigarette he finds shoved into the sill. A fruit, he says again. He lights it. Do you want me to look it up?
In the half nook that is their kitchen she leans over, facing away from him, naked, her head over the pot, beginning to steam. You can’t, she says. 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 looks over at the bookshelf. Indeed a large portion is missing. Perhaps that was what had bothered him all day and not the artichoke after all.
He taps some ash back into the sill, where the rest of the ash is. Well it doesn't matter I guess. But I wish you wouldn't have lent away the encyclopedias. Without saying anything about it, I mean.
Mm, she says. Or at least he thinks she does.
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 brings his stupid hand up to his face, touching the tip of his nose, exhaling onto his hand. And when you used it, he continues, you could know just about everything in the entire world…
Still she hunches over the pot, carefully moving things he cannot see and only occasionally her strange twisted hands coming into view.
The what, she says, sort of yelling over the water in the pot.
The inter-nut… or something like that, he yells back, closing his eyes, rolling them into the back of his head, as he yells.
Straightening up from the pot of gentle, continuous steam, with caution she turns around. I don’t know, she says, that sounds pretty crazy. On your nose?
He shrugs, leaning his head farther out the window, the warm mist landing onto his face. Maybe he was lying, he says. 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 comes 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 gargles a little in the bubbling water. You hear a lot of crazy things but nobody actually knows.
The artichoke strikes an uneasy balance, smiling back at him on the stub of her neck.
Yeah, he says, pulling himself back into their apartment, taking the last drag, burning into the filter.