“He was losing his mind. He knew it, she knew it.”
I was speeding a lot on the drive back to the hotel from the studio in Los Angeles. We had come to California for our honeymoon. We had just made fools of ourselves on national TV. I was obviously mad at him.
“Why are you mad?”
“You got my name wrong on ‘The Newlywed Game.'”
“I was nervous! I’m sorry!”
“What’s my name?”
“I mean, Suzy.”
“Oh my god!”
“I’m sorry. Wait, I know this. Give me a clue.”
My name is Penelope. I mean, I know it’s not “Jane,” but give me a break!
I sighed. We had done this before, and would do it again. I said, “One cent.”
“Oh, that’s right! Penny!”
Actually, I prefer to be called by my full name, but it was close enough, so I gave him a break.
He lay on his back on the hotel bed, wide awake and staring up at the ceiling. Or at where the ceiling would be if he could see it. Which he could not, because the heavy curtains kept the fluid lights of downtown Los Angeles from entering the room.
She snored softly beside him. It wasn’t a bad snore, like a gruff snore, like a funny old-man snore. He thought it was cute.
He loved her very much.
But he was losing his mind. He knew it, she knew it.
“What are you doing out here?” She was wearing her nightshirt, a baggy T-shirt she had started sleeping in one week after they had been married. It was faded and had ALF on it. She thought it was funny. The first week they had been married, she had slept naked beside him after they had made love.
It was dark and cold. He was standing in the side yard, holding the garden hose, the lid of the trash can open, watering the garbage.
“What are you doing?” She had been sleeping and suddenly noticed his absence; she was irritated, he could hear it.
He looked at his hands holding the hose. He reported what he saw.
“I’m watering the garbage.”
“Why?” Her inquiry sounded genuine. She wanted to understand. She was a kind and patient person. That was why he loved her so much.
He didn’t know what to do. Make up an answer and fake it? Tell her the truth, that her husband was crazy? Which would she have preferred?
“It was dirty,” he said, opting for the lie, and he stayed there, holding the hose, for a while after she had turned and gone inside. Water flooded the garbage can and some of the trash drifted out. Water ran in rivulets down the slanted concrete driveway. It looked as if their house was crying.
“This is your roommate, Jim.”
He held in his arms a pile of center-issued bedding. It was two to a room in these tight financial times. There was a man in a bed, reading a comic book. There was an empty bed on the other side of the room that had just been sanitized; lemon-scented disinfectant hung in the air.
There was a TV mounted high on the wall, like in a hospital.
There was a “rec center;” there were scheduled group walks.
He wouldn’t be alone here.
Just before lights-out he changed into center-issued pajamas. In the dark he lay on his side, hearing Jim snore.
He saw lights on the ceiling, coming in through the cracks around the curtains. He couldn’t sleep.
He flipped from one side to the other, and back again. Finally he rang the silent buzzer and a nurse came to the door.
“I need to make a phone call.”
“Is it to a family member or a friend?”
The nurse paused and thought it over, then led him down the hall. She dialed the number from his file. She closed the door, which had a long glass panel in it so she could still supervise him.
It was the middle of the night. She would be wearing her nightshirt. He heard no irritation in her voice. She just sounded sad.
“I miss you, Suzy.”
“I miss you, too.”