Everything was great between us, so we started living together. It seemed the natural step to take, we had been seeing each other for six or seven months and felt really great about it. We were happy. Almost perfectly happy. We had true love. When we were together, it was pure bliss. The only problem was that we weren’t always together, so when the opportunity arose, the lease on my flat ran out, it just sort of happened. I don’t think we even ever really discussed it, I just moved in with her.
It was great. She had this adorable little flat, not quite fully furnished, but when I added my stuff, my car, my answering machine, my great-sounding stereo, my kingsize waterbed and my goldfish, it was as perfect as it gets. Well, we didn’t have sex three times a day, like I’d pictured it, you know, in the shower, on the kitchen table, in the washing room, but that was OK. I soon realized that there were other things in life than sex. Of course sex was still top of the billing, but by now it wasn’t the only thing on the billing. Eating decent food was one thing. By myself I’d eaten spaghetti or bread with dry cheese, on my birthdays ordered pizza or a hamburger.
I always had stores of baked beans. Dad had taught me this trick from his bachelor days of putting the can in boiling water until the label comes off. Great idea, ’cause you don’t have to do any dishes. Eat the beans straight out of the can, and there’s just the one spoon to clean. But opening a boiling can of beans is tricky, so except when feeling adventurous, I didn’t even bother about heating them, just ate them cold. No more of that now. Linda makes a heavenly chili con carne, I’d kill for her oven baked fish, and her lasagna equals sex. Then after dinner, I’d sometimes help her dry the dishes, and then we’d cuddle in front of the TV, watching American soap operas.
Saturdays were for cleaning the house, so I always met my friends on Saturdays. We’d go to a game of football, or just to a café and chat. ‘Just stay out for five hours, that’s all I ask’ Linda told me every Saturday. It wasn’t easy, I missed her while I was away, ’cause I didn’t get to spend much time with her. She’d come home from work, and start making some delicious dish, and after dinner, she’d be dusting or washing clothes or something. But it was also a question of keeping in touch with my friends, whom I didn’t get to meet very much outside Saturdays since Linda came along.
One Saturday I was sitting in a café with Ben, a good friend from highschool. He told me his wife had kicked him out. ‘Why?’ I asked, astonished, as Ben was not the kind of guy a wife would leave; he had a good job, an even better sense of humour, and was a good friend to his buddies. ‘I didn’t feel comfortable about sitting on the toilet.’
‘Sitting on the toilet?’ I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right.
‘You see,’ he began explaining, ‘men like to stand when they piss in the toilet, right?’
‘Ye-es?’ I stuttered, wondering where this was leading to.
‘If you didn’t know it, half the stuff lands on the floor, creating a breeding ground for germs and bacteria’ he hissed.
‘What has all of this to do with divorce?’
‘She gave me three choices: “Either you stand, and then you’ll clean up your own goddam mess, twice a week; sit on the toilet; or go piss in some other fucking toilet.” Not all that complicated, really. What was I to do? Sit on the toilet like some woman? Clean the toilet like some goddam faggot? No way. So farewell baby, it’s been swell’
‘Wait a minute, you split up because of this? ‘Cause you didn’t want to sit on the toilet?’
‘Yes. Well, there was also something about not doing the dishes, shopping and cleaning. She figured she didn’t need me ’cause I didn’t do anything. What about the fact that I work much more than she does? Shopping! Christ, I don’t know one potato from another…’
I lost him. His voice faded out as I pictured Linda scrubbing the floors and dusting, while I was out watching football. A tiny bead of sweat broke out on my forehead, and the world went round in circles.
When I got home, with a huge red rose, the biggest in creation, and a bottle of really expensive red wine bought at a really expensive bar, Linda was out. I looked around the flat. It was spotless. I went into the toilet, and looked carefully. Spic and span, just as new. I sat on the toilet, thinking. What if she’s not coming back? I ran into the tidy bedroom and looked into the cupboards. All her clothes were there, perfectly pressed and neatly folded. Beautifully folded, actually. Linda had perfected the art of folding clothes and could become rich if she patented the method. I noticed that Linda had just changed the beds, and ran into the toilet, where the linen was still in the hamper. Thank God.
I took the little bundle of clothes to the washing room, and put them into the machine. After a brief search, I found the manual, and started leafing through it. Linen, setting 1, temperature 90°C. This isn’t so difficult, I thought. OK, now for the detergent, where does that go? In here? Just a little bit more, to have them cleaner than ever. Fabric softener? Yes, and lots of it. I want these sheets soft.
Proud of what I’d just done, I went back into the flat, and started making waffles. I was burning the eighth waffle when Linda came in with the groceries. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
‘Waffles?’ I tried.
‘They’re all burnt, and the batter’s lumpy. The whole kitchen is a mess. I just cleaned this place, it’ll take me ages to clean again.’
‘Don’t worry, pumpkin, I’ll do it,’ I smiled.
‘Isn’t there a football game on TV? Don’t you have to wash the car, or something?’
Hurt, I goaded her into the livingroom, sat her down, and told her to relax for the evening, ‘I’ll take care of dinner,’ I told her in a tone that didn’t invite any discussion on the matter. ‘What are we having, by the way? What am I about to make?’ I pointed to the rose, which I had placed in a vase.
‘Lasagna,’ she laughed. ‘Did you put sugar into the water?’
‘For the rose. Did you put a lump of sugar in the water for the rose?’ she demanded.
‘Why would I want to do that?’
‘Go check on your waffles,’ she snapped.
It had turned into coal, and it took me fifteen minutes to scrape the crumbs out of the waffle iron. So I gave up on the waffles and went looking for Linda’s recipes. When I found them, I almost panicked. It didn’t look very good. That’s a lot of different ingredients for one dish. Don’t give up, I thought. You don’t want to drive Linda away with male-chauvenist-pig-ism.
‘I’m starved,’ she said, ‘are you trying to kill me?’ She had left me alone in the kitchen for a good three hours, but couldn’t take any more of the clamour I was making, without any apparent success.
‘OK, maybe I’m not the best cook in the world, but this takes practice.’ Slowly, I had began to realise that lasagna was not a very good place to start practising, but was yet unwilling to give up. The thought of cold baked beans from a tin can kept me going. ‘This is coming along fine, considering’ I lied, taking out of the oven the ruins of something you’d never have guessed was supposed to be lasagna.
She got out some bread and cheese. I collapsed on a chair, and started crying. ‘I can learn this!’ I sobbed, ‘I love you.’
‘Are you allright, Tom? Hit your head this morning?’
‘I’ll sit on the toilet, I’ll learn to cook lasagna, I’ll scrub the floors, dust, I’ll do anything! Just don’t leave me!!’ I was frantic. ‘I can change.’
‘Jesus Christ! How did you manage all this mess? This isn’t worth cleaning up again. We’ll have to torch the place and find another apartment. Why would you want to sit on the toilet, dear? Am I leaving you?’
I jumped up and hugged her. I squeezed her as tight as I could. ‘I’m a pig, I know it. But I can learn to sit on the toilet and not piss on the floor.’
‘You piss on the floor?’ She pretended to be surprised.
‘I’ll design toilets that have to be sat on,’ I suggested.
‘What’s this about you and toilets all of a sudden?’
‘I put the linen in the washing machine,’ I said, trying to convince her I wasn’t a male chauvenist pig. ‘Used lots of fabric softener. It wasn’t so difficult, really.’
‘Let’s just hope you didn’t ruin anything,’ she muttered in a voice I wasn’t meant to hear.
‘Sorry,’ I begged. ‘I meant well.’
‘Long have I dreaded this day,’ she began. ‘I tried to ignore it just now, hoping it would all disappear, but things don’t work that way, do they? Well, it was all too good to be true, anyway. I got to do all the cleaning and shopping and dish-washing, but now you’ll be wanting your share of the chores. I don’t know if it will work out, you know.’
‘You don’t know if what will work?’
‘It was all going so well… we were happy. The best thing about you was that you hated housework, and never acted as I was the freak I am. We fitted together like ham and eggs. I know people who would lock me up if they found out about my fetish for housework. I’m a liberated working woman in the 90’s! I should abhor these things, but something must have happened in my childhood, I don’t know. Just don’t tell anyone, please?’
‘Maybe I should see a shrink. Or two. I’m a serious mess!’ She was about to have a nervous breakdown, or rather doing what I imagine people doing just before they have one.
‘You a mess? Are you kidding? You’re the tidiest woman I know, pumpkin,’ I assured her.
‘I know! I don’t know how you can stand me! You’re supposed to hate me. Go ahead! Leave! I’ll understand. And don’t worry about me, I still have my cleaning.’
‘I didn’t know it meant this much to you… I don’t want to leave, you know that. I love you. And to prove my love, I’ll let you do all the chores. I’ll even stay out of the way while you do them.’ I wasn’t about to give up.
‘And you promise you won’t tell anybody?’
‘Of course I do! What kind of monster do you take me for? Please give me some credit.’ Oh God, I was so happy. ‘Everything will be just great, I promise.’
But it wasn’t. Not being allowed to scrub the floors was slowly becoming hell. I felt like a cruel king, having servants to do all my dirty work, demanding perfection all around.
Our relationship began disintegrating. It started slowly. I snuck into the kitchen once when she went out to meet friends and did the dishes. It felt good. The same cannot be said of the scene we had when Linda came home and found out. It was ugly. Really ugly. I’d have gotten off easier for having an affair with her sister.
Two weeks later I called in sick on a Friday, and cleaned the house. I scrubbed the floors, dusted every shelf I found, and everything on them. It was crazy. I couldn’t stop. I’m not much of an ironer, but I just couldn’t stop ironing ’till I was through everything. I even stole clothes from the neighbours to iron.
‘I don’t usually iron the socks, but thanks anyway,’ one of the neighbours said when I returned the clothes.
My trip to the supermarked took a good four hours, but I returned an expert on fruit and vegetables. Fascinating stuff, broccoli.
I was lying on the kitchen floor, apron-clad and crying when Linda came home from work.
‘I couldn’t help it…’ I pleaded to her beautiful, infuriated visage.
‘Can you ever forgive me?’