Reverse Negative  

By Nathan Leslie  

I can’t help it. I watch. When Martin Fuller knocks around on the front porch, fumbling with his keys in one hand, the other occupied with his newest vixen. I watch. We share a duplex. I can hear them through the kitchen wall. Our lives are inextricably twined with theirs.

These are times late at night, far beyond my husband’s bedtime. He’s an early riser, and a late sleeper. I spend many hours alone while he remains in the more peaceful state of unconsciousness. I don’t take it as an affront, all things considering. We all cope differently. I sit in the dark kitchen, often with a cold cup of tea, or a single piece of toast with jelly. I watch the moonlight sketch across the room, as the sun does in the daytime. This is a shadow of what most people normally see. This is the reverse negative.

Martin. Once he disappears inside, I can hear his cavorting. I can discern rollicking jazz, laughter, possibly dancing. Then later silence, followed by the distant moans of love-making, followed by the sounds of water rushing, the toilet flushing, the steady pulse of a shower. Then a few last sputters of laughter, followed by the silence that carries them through the night.

Do I live vicariously rather than through the thrust of my own will? Do I harbor prudish qualms against Martin’s very ordinary cavorting? Am I secretly jealous? Do I perhaps lust after Mr. Fuller, even unintentionally? What is it that keeps me alert even through the dullest, most mundane aspects of his evening? For these questions, the answers are uncertain at best.

My husband, Carl Waldsworth, is a decent human being in every way. Throughout the course of our difficulties, he was honest, steady, supportive, and caring in all the ways a husband and confidant should be. He is not a bore, and has never had an affair—I am certain of that. Nevertheless, we rarely touch. We seldom make love. Bodily ecstasy is not a part of the lexicon of our relationship. It is as if our love has been distilled to its most central elements—duty, friendship, and companionship. I admit, I long to desire, to be desired.

We work for the same law firm. Our life is essentially the way we wanted it to be when we were twenty-one. Essentially.

We go to the theater often. For years we have had a subscription to The Shakespeare Theater, seeing all but four Shakespeare plays by my count. We watch plays by Volpone, Ibsen, George Bernard Shaw. We attend concerts, and go out to dinner regularly. We took ballroom dancing lessons for years.

At the performance of Hedda Gabler two weeks ago we sat next to a young couple. We smiled at them and they smiled back in an unvarnished, self-effacing manner. I was immediately taken by them. They were about twenty-three, perhaps twenty-five. As the lights went down on the stage, the young man began sliding his hand up and down his girlfriend’s leg (no rings evident). He didn’t think I was watching, but I was more intent on what he was doing than the events of Ibsen’s icy play. Slowly the young man slid his hand up the young lady’s skirt. I could almost smell the allure of sexual excitement.

She bit her lip and crossed her arm over his. He rested his hand directly up her skirt for the length of the first scene, gently kneading. Carl’s gaze was fixed on the stage. Then, as the first scene of the play ended, he slowly removed his hand, resting it upon her knee. I wiped a bead of sweat from my forehead. At intermission, I told Carl I’d like to sit somewhere else.

“But Sharron, it’s a packed house,” he said. “What’s wrong with our seats?”

“I can’t see that well,” I told him. “The woman’s hair in front of me.”

“I didn’t notice,” he said.

“It’s tall. Can you just please ask an usher?”

As it turned out, we were able to move but our seats were further back, off to the side. Carl looked over at me several times. I caught his attention. I placed his hand on my leg and rubbed it back and forth myself.

When our son fell from the roof of the warehouse, I was left in the dark for weeks. The ambassador called me the day after the authorities found his body, but he said he could only tell me that my son has had an accident.

“No information can be released yet,” he said.

I was in hysterics. Not knowing what happened to Grady was the worst part. Carl and I dropped everything and flew to Budapest the next day. We searched every hospital in the city, inquiring about Grady, but could find no trace of him. We asked every friend of Grady’s we could find, but nobody seemed to have a clue. We interviewed his students, his colleagues, tape-recording each conversation, trying to find even the slimmest information of the whereabouts of our son. No luck. We began calling the ambassador’s office so often he refused to speak to us. We talked to the police, to officials of the mayor’s office. Nobody knew anything.

Finally, we received a call from the ambassador’s office. They told us our son had died in Miskloc to the north. “He fell from a warehouse in Miskolc,” the ambassador said. “We couldn’t release the information right away, for obvious, sensitive reasons.”

Then there was the battle to retrieve his body. He was twenty-two, unwise and spontaneous. Brilliant and kind. Pained and depressed.

I sit on the front porch reading the Sunday paper, eating a cinnamon donut. I can hear Martin’s descent down the stairs of his half. He smiles at me and picks up his paper. He wears a plush green robe.

I suddenly wonder if Martin has ever truly suffered. This isn’t exactly a generous thought, but it suffices anyway. Has death ever wrenched the heart of this young playboy? Doubtful. No person who has truly suffered would act so brazenly with such unrepentant confidence. At this moment, as Martin lifts his head, as his hair falls about his face, he symbolizes ease, a life of luxury. He repulses me.

“You’re something,” I say with vile bitterness. Martin looks up startled. He would be surprised and taken off-guard. He assumes everything will always go his way, that he lives in a balmy and benevolent universe. So his defenses aren’t in place because he doesn’t have any. If not a movement to completion and fulfillment, then at least it’s opposite. There is always that.

Contact Nathan Leslie at:

February 27, 2002
Back to Oasis