He stands in the aisle of a department store staring lovingly at a boxed 55 inch plasma TV while the woman he is with stands off to the side leaning against the shopping cart. She isn’t scowling exactly, but the frown lines in the middle of her forehead have deep grooves.
“So, what do you think,” he probes, with a masterful unspoken blend of hope for this oversized gadget, combined with throttled impatience, a slash of resentment, and pure disdain for having to even ask. “I don’t know…,” she stalls, with and equally masterful blend of buried hurt over his greater excitement for the plasma TV than for her, while she plays with the idea, like silly putty, of using her political position between them to remind him that she in charge.
He knows better than to speak. Best to wait for her to respond again he decides, angrily choking back the desire to push for an answer. She continues scrutinizes the boxed TV from a distance as if staring at it would make it more palatable to say yes to it.
He thinks she is enjoying this, completely misreading her, pretending it is a fun kind of power struggle. But she is not. She thinks she has lost him but no longer has the energy to do anything about it, pretending it is a fun kind of power struggle.
Meanwhile, hovering in the aisle between them is all the love they once allowed to magnetize them to each other, building towers which contain decades of time and life shared moment by moment, day by day, through turbulence and laughter and memories forged in days gone by, now forgotten like fuzzy cookie crumbs fallen between sofa cushions.
His denial has been titrated down to an almost imperceptible place save the one golden fleck in the otherwise brown iris of his right eye. Her denial so completely guarded by a team of heartstrings, like a corset two sizes too small, pulled so tight that she no longer bothers to fully inhale.
Both of them refused to budge, instead clinging to the rails of the decision about the TV, staying in that lane, at least for now, where there is nothing more to steer like a car on the tracks in a coal mine. There is only inertia. Simple physics. Brake, release, speed up, slow down, or crash.
Finally, he breaks the silence. “C’mon,” he says, this time with no emotion. She knew he had hit his limit and opted not to push him any farther with her stalling tactic. That’s how well she knows him. That’s how well he knows her. Mutual respect built onto beams of subconscious frames, in ways too complex to identify out loud, yet with an understanding of the strength they each yielded. And, with that, it was over. As if a fever had broken.
“Okaaayyyy,” she sighs on a steady stream of air, with a single twitch of a smile that does not move past her lower lip, giving her away like a poker player’s tell, as minuscule beads of defeated estrogen emerge below her bra line and instantly evaporate when they hit the air.
She surrenders yet again for the sake of keeping the peace. He selects a box from a pallet of many identical boxes, each box ready to seduce others, hopefully without similar drama. With one swift motion of such surprising gentleness as if swinging a child up into the basket seat of the shopping cart, he loads the large box, confident that he would not miss.
They stroll away together, her pushing the shopping cart as to continue to lean on it, tired but not exhausted, now free of the tension in that particular exchange. Him, alongside the large cart, steadying the box with one hand… for protection. He wears a smile that does not reach beyond the crow’s feet at the corner of his eyes, re-routing the twinkle to a slight spring in his step.
And all the love that was hovering in the aisle between them, still magnetized to them, remained floating, following behind them, patiently waiting to reach a level of visibility once again.