What he thought he knew, and would come to know, was he would never be enough. She was dissatisfied with him, and he was out of work. He was careful, tentative, around her. He worried about being good enough. He hoped when he got a job it would be better. It was late at night, after a party, and she said,
I don’t think Adverb likes you.
Do you care?
I watched you together, and she was trying to get you to see her point of view about something.
Gosh yes, she was going on about Split Infinitives.
She got into bed, and turned out the light, and he felt her anger toward him.
We’ll never have any lower cases at this rate, he thought.
He returned from the store the next morning, and she was in the shower. He’d met her in a story about a family going to California written by John
Steinbeck: she was the pronoun for Rose of Sharon, and he was the pronoun for the Preacher. They both made a lot of money from that gig. She came into the kitchen with a towel wrapped around her, and asked,
Did you get cheese?
How was I supposed to know that?
No need to be defensive. I think there’s some in the refrigerator.
Damn, she swore after she found no cheese in the refrigerator.
I remember telling you, she accused.
I don’t recall, he countered.
I’ll have something else.
There’s no milk either.
What the hell?
She went into the bedroom; he thought about following her in, and decided against it. He sat at the kitchen table and read the want ads in the paper. He’d lost his last job for being a typographical error, and he claimed it was the editor’s fault. He wanted to try something in poetry, but she scorned him, saying he didn’t have the eloquence. He went into the bedroom; put on a tie, and she asked,
Are you looking today?
Why, thank-you. Thank-you very much.
There’s a writer’s conference at the college next week. Andre Dubus is the featured speaker.
I’ve heard Dubus is not good to work for. He expects too much for too little pay.
I always thought he sold well.
Oh, he does, but he doesn’t give it to his pronouns. Adjectives do well with Dubus.
I’ll see you tonight.
He gave her a kiss on the cheek, and left the apartment. As he walked to the unemployment office, he ran into a pronoun who was famous for being in The Old Man and the Sea. He was shocked at his appearance. He was unshaven, gaunt, and his hands shook; his coat was dirty with holes in it.
Couldn’t handle success, he thought.
As he continued on the street, he saw there were mostly pronouns and conjunctions out, not too many adverbs or adjectives. When he was younger, he used to envy adjectives, but he’d outgrown that. He entered the unemployment office, and stood in line to speak with a counselor. The counselor sadly looked at him.
Sorry no work today.
He knew every morning they gathered at The Evening Sentinel for day work, but he was too late. He thought about his friend who got a job in a telegraph, and spent two weeks in France. Stuff like that never happens to him though. The athletes get the sports page, and the lonely females get the advice columns, and the math nerds get the financial page. He was getting older; his ink was not as black as when he was younger. He needed some luck.
He walked the empty, sighing streets. He didn’t want to tell her; again, he had no job.
Hey wait a minute, he thought, I can sell myself to the flesh trade!
He hurried to a phone booth, and looked in the phone book, and found: Hot Flesh Press. He walked to the address, and the office was a flight up over the Hot Flesh Dirty Book Store. He pounded on the office door, and the door was opened by a fat, cigar-smoking, bald-headed, sweaty man who growled,
Yeah, whadda what?
I’m looking for a job, he said.
Leave your clips with the secretary. I ain’t got time now.
Would there be a better time?
Listen Gramps, I’m a busy man. You look a little old to me. You know you would have to work with no ink on. If you can stomach that, then, come see me tomorrow.
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I said, and the door was shut in his face.He didn’t say no; he could tell her he had a lead. That was something. He went back home at the end of the day, and she was at the kitchen table, and he could tell she wasn’t happy to see him. He told her about the lead, and she was tepid. He knew then she would never be happy with him; that what she really wanted was a noun.