Wrinkle – Gale Acuff

I’m in the tub but not in love, my wife

still my girlfriend. I work at the library

and come to her place after I’ve finished

clerking, shelving – and reading the women

patrons. There’s no ring so there’s no promise.

I’m a creep but faithful physically.

She’s bending over the porcelain, or what

looks like porcelain. Nothing’s real these days.

Everything seems like something else. I am.

I bring her books, whatever she’s requested

and what I recommend or like, which

we’ve never read but always wanted to,

or new ones that look interesting. It’s

1982 so Americans

are worse off than they were before. No, they’re

better off – Ronald Reagan says so. It’s

great greed’s good again. Think and Grow Rich

is a bestseller. I haven’t read it.

Neither has she. She likes a good story,

some novel with a feisty heroine

who makes good, despite what men and other

women do to thwart her. And other junk.

I like fiction, too, but much more often

bring to bed something scientific.

Astronomy. Physics. Animals. All

the things I’ll never understand, never

really studied, and that make no difference

now that America is proud again.

A record of the Beatles or the Who.

History because I want to learn my

own. A novel called Young Adolf Hitler. Real

biographies: Patton. Eisenhower.

Nixon. Woodrow Wilson. FDR. Queen

Victoria and Prince Albert. Bismarck.

Lenin. Stalin. Churchill. Mao. The biggies.

The Civil War. Korea. Vietnam.

Indians. Gardening. Tropical fish.

While I’m in the water she asks me about

what books are moving and which are not.

The New York Times bestseller list of hits.

Harlequin Romances. Erma Bombeck’s

latest. Lewis Grizzard. Think and Grow Rich.

She’s watching my sea-snake, like an ibis–

like a kingfisher, I say. Like a queen-fisher,

I mean. Look at your little thingy, she

squeals. So she’s excited. Guess I am, too.

You mean my Loch Ness Monster, I say. My

Moby Dick. My great big fucking sperm whale.

My Swamp Thing. I want to watch it get big,

she says. Soon it is. How does that work?

she marvels. Think and grow hard, she giggles.

I don’t really have to think, I say. It’s

always primed. It has a mind of its own.

I’m like one of those brontosauruses,

with two brains. One for my head, the other

for the rest of me that really matters.

You better believe it matters to me,

she says, after Bob Hope’s commercials

for lousy American quality

–Madison Avenue and Hollywood

come to rescue us from deep recession.

It’s about to rear its ugly head out

of the soapsuds when it strikes me that I

have lost my interest in her. I don’t

go limp but I’m not rock-solid, either.

There’s communication between the pair,

my head and my member. It’s sobering.

A stiffy has no conscience, my father

said to me. I was younger and he seemed

wistful, but then he was dying. Sitting

on the porch for long stretches, looking at

the past as if he expected to go

there, the dying man’s future, when he died.

I’d just told him a joke that some goober

I’d met from Canada told me. Seems

that this guy checks into the hospital.

He needs help with the hand-held urinal

so a nurse comes in to assist. Later

she tells another nurse that on his tool

there’s a tattoo that reads SWAN. You don’t say?

her friend says. So when the guy has to whiz

again, she helps him out. It takes a tad

longer this time. When she comes out, the first

nurse says, Did I tell you? Doesn’t it say

SWAN? Her friend blushes, answers, Well, no—it

says SASKATCHEWAN. That’s pretty funny.

That’s when he non sequitur’d me about

how a stiffy has no conscience. Then he

dozed off. When he woke I didn’t ask him/

where he’d heard that. Goddamn, the world is sad.

So after I bathe, my wife, who is not

yet my wife, and I have sex and it’s

not love but it gets the job done. Then I

bathe again and return to bed where she’s

reading Cosmopolitan (but not from

the library) and I turn the TV

on and there’s the National Football League

and the quarterback with his hands under

the center’s split and scrotum. She puts down

the magazine and puts her head on my

shoulder, just like in the song, or every

song, I think, and says, I don’t understand

the rules. I begin explaining but she

goes to sleep on me. Dead weight but only

dormant. Bartkowski goes down in the Bear

-hugs of two linemen and he lies there like

he’s just had head. What’s not to understand?

I say, and mute the volume and lie there

where I don’t belong and it’s a comfort,

like life itself. Then I think and grow hard

when the camera voyeurs the cheerleaders

and wish that my wife, but she’s not my wife

yet, thank God, looked like that. For that matter,

I wish that I looked like that, knew desire

from the other side. Then I’d never ask

her to marry me but it’s too late now.