Two people sit on a bed. They face each other. She holds his face in her palms, as if she has just finished begging, but really she is about to pose a question. "How can we ever be equals?" His answer is a question: "Do you feel an imbalance?" She is asking, of course, because she does. She resented cooking his dinner the night before while he paced her front porch on the phone to a friend. She could hear him through the closed door as the salmon sizzled. "Did I tell you I'm seeing someone?" he said into his phone, his chin tilted sunwards. He appeared dazzled, proud of himself. "We met in February. Yes, almost a year." And here she was, practically in heels and an apron, waiting for him to come back through the door. The scene was the question; the question was the scene. "You feel an imbalance," he says now. Sometimes a lover makes us too polite. She says: "I don't feel an imbalance, but I can see myself resenting you if I'm always the one cooking dinner." "You cook because you don't trust me in the kitchen." "That's true." "We can be equals only if we trust each other." "Okay." "And you start letting me cook dinner." But manners are only learned, temporary. "Those eggs you made that morning had too much salt. Too much garlic." "You can't hold that against me." "I can."
Two people sit on a bed. One's face is bright with laptop light. The other handles a remote, squinting at the television, though his eyesight is perfect. "Do you mind if I work," she says. "Right now?" "Yes." She is already typing an email. Dear So-and-so. He hesitates. "Work tomorrow." "Why?" "We're watching my favorite movie." A discussion from earlier ruled that they would watch The Princess Bride. The night before, they read the opening chapter of her favorite book. Mrs. Dalloway. "What if we watched something else tonight?" she asks. In response, he makes a show of turning the television off. Is it a joke? Sometimes they play-act what a vaudevillian couple might sound like. "Well fuck you too!" she imagines saying. "Take your damn Blu-rays, pack your bags, and get out of my house!" The laptop is folded away. Thank you for your email. "I'm kidding," she says. "Play it." If love is a series of transactions superimposed on each other. If love is an equation that needs constant balancing. She can hear his roommate's lizard clicking despondently around the hallway outside. Lucy overheats in her glass box these days. A high moon sends its beams through the blinds.
Two people sit on a bed. "The thing is," she says, "I'd feel more excited about it all if I could be the father. A little absent, busy with work." "I can be more hands-on," he says. "You'll be the mom?" "I'll be the dad, but more involved." "Someone has to be the mom." They are laying in darkness. Body, pillow, pillow, body. She remembers her first impression of him: oh, not for me. Curled over a leatherbound notebook in a coffee shop, he did not even offer to buy her latte. Then she sat and saw his immense collection of eyelashes, curled naturally to the sky. A gentle look about him, laughter for every joke she told. Hugged her even though she was certain she smelled dank, having worn an old rain jacket she had once sweat in profusely and never washed. Suddenly, a charm about his gray sweater, the way it hinged tight at the bones of his shoulders. Of that first day there is only this wild strawberry flare, though it raises its head, shimmers for attention, more often than any of her other firsts. "You're the mom," he says, "but I'll do most of the stuff." "Are you okay with that?" His fingers idle around her labia, occasionally pinching a handful of flesh at her thigh. He pinches too hard. Insurrections are no fun without some resistance. "But you can't be completely absent," he says. "I'll be busy. Absent occasionally," she says. The night noise is the low buzz of insects. She turns to him for a goodnight kiss. The kiss is crucial: a promise of recurrence, of continuing affection. But he kisses with a new distance, with a sense of obligation. Dry. Sensing this, the catalog of her brain flips through phrases of reversal. Time warping is one of the great Romance languages. "Don't you get it," she could say, "I'm just testing you."
Quotes from Adrienne Rich's "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence (1980)"
From Journal of Women's History, Volume 15, Number 3, Autumn 2003, pp. 11-48 (Article)