paul maliszewski

 
COUPLING

 

1. 

A woman and a man were standing in front of a sculpture. The sculpture was in the middle of a park in the town where the woman and the man worked. The sculpture was a block of bronze and long as a moving truck. Its surfaces were smooth, mostly, but in places the shapes of hands, faces, and feet pressed through the sculpture from inside. It was the afternoon, sunny but mild, wind out of the east. The woman and the man were on their lunch break. They had a half hour.

The woman said, “I came to this park all the time when I was a girl.”

The man nodded his head, glanced at the woman, and then rapped on the side of the sculpture. It produced a hollow sound. “Anybody home?” he said. He looked at the woman to see if she was smiling or looking at him. She wasn’t. Just above the man’s head, a bronze fist punched out of the sculpture and, above that, a few neatly barbered tufts of bronze hair emerged along with the lower hemisphere of a bronze bald spot.

“When they put the sculpture in, it was a pretty big deal. The governor, the mayor, the artist, and a bunch of other people showed up.”

The man was sitting on the edge of the sculpture, his hands on his knees, his feet turned slightly in, and his head cocked a few degrees to one side, as if listening.

“He’s a pretty big deal, the artist,” the woman said.

“I’ve never heard of him,” the man said. “Not that, you know, that means anything.”

The woman sat down beside the man. The man put his right hand on her left knee and began, gently, to squeeze it, to apply pressure, to let her know he was there. The woman looked at her leg and then looked back up at the park and remembered a time, shortly after the sculpture was installed, when she climbed on it. It was the fall, and already cold. Yet the sculpture was warm, pleasantly warm. She placed her hands on it and rubbed her face against it. She started to tell the man about this and how she felt its warmth radiate through her clothes and into her body. But she stopped, and kept it to herself.

  

2. 

Not far from the sculpture, a boy found a bumblebee in the park. The bee was large and, as it was drunk on pollen, slow-moving. With some trouble and a little bit of luck, the boy was able to loop a piece of thread around one of the bee’s legs and tie it fast. The boy let about two feet of thread out of the spool, broke it off, and wound the end around his wrist.

This was not all that unusual. The boy walked around the park with a bee tied to his wrist most every day of the week.

On this day, a girl, who may have been new to the area, walked by the boy with his bee and, somewhat fascinated and a little bit puzzled, stopped to watch.

The boy said, “You like my bee?”

The girl didn’t say anything.

The boy was encouraged. The girl was very pretty, so he took her silence to indicate her approval of his bee.

“I caught the bee myself,” the boy said. He looked up at the bee circling around his head and the girl followed the line of his eyes.

“I could catch you one, too,” the boy said. “They’re all over the place.”

The girl didn’t say anything. She was still looking up at the bee. The boy figured she must be impressed by his ability to catch bees and tie thread around them.

“You have to know how to catch the bee properly,” the boy said. “And you have to know just how to tie the knot.”

The girl looked at the boy without blinking, and the boy understood: she must be in utter awe of him. The boy had never met a girl who looked at him this way. Most girls were not so crazy about his bees and how he tied them.

“I might be able to show you how to catch your own bee,” the boy said, “but it’s not going to be easy.”

The girl looked down at her feet. Should she say she had to go? Should she say she hated that he tied bees up and treated them like pets? Should she then stick around and see what, if anything, he had to say for himself? Should she then apologize to clear the air?

The girl didn’t say anything. The boy stepped closer to her and slipped the end of the thread off his wrist and held it out to the girl.

“Here,” he said.

The girl was holding her hand out for the boy before she quite realized what she was doing.

“Take it,” he said. “I want you to have it.”

The girl stuck her hand through a loop of thread, and the boy tied it twice.

“Have fun,” he said.

“Enjoy,” he said.

“I’m here every day,” he said.

The girl walked away from the boy without looking back. The bee flew around her head. When she was far enough away, she pulled the bee out of the sky, crouched down, and attempted to undo the thread from around the bee’s leg. The knot did not want to give. The girl, try as she might, could not loosen the knot. In desperation she tore the bee’s leg off. A moment later the bee, though injured, flew off. The girl looked at the leg tied to the end of the thread. She wound the thread around her finger and looked around for a trashcan or something.

 

3. 

At the corner of the park, a man was selling junk. Every morning the man parked his truck on the curb and began to unpack his wares. He spread several blankets on the grass and displayed his stuff–the batteries, books, and buttons, the bracelets, earrings, and necklaces, the radios, headphones, and bootleg tapes–on the blankets for passersby to look over, examine, if they wished, and, ideally, purchase.

Business was not brisk, though the man didn’t care. Maybe a woman bought a radio and the man threw in the batteries for free. That might be one afternoon’s business. The next time he sold batteries he just charged double–or not. It was really no big deal. Some days he sold a lot, some days he sold not a thing. Either way the man was happy.

A woman in a business suit and sneakers stopped and started looking through the books. She picked up one book and turned it over to read the back.

“What you got there?” the man asked.

The woman showed him the cover while continuing to read the back.

“That’s a classic,” the man said.

The woman put the book down and picked up another.

“Classic,” the man said.

The woman selected another book, a paperback, from the pile and looked at the man, waiting for his appraisal.

The man nodded. “Another classic,” he said.

The woman put the paperback down and then pointed to a fourth book, on top of the pile. She looked over at the man. He followed her finger, read the title, thought for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders. “It’s a classic all right,” he said.

The woman pointed to other titles and, in turn, the man pronounced each one a classic. She pointed to three books in succession, and the man said, “Classic, classic, and classic.”

The woman asked, “Are all your books classics then?” She meant to say, “Do you really expect me to accept your opinion of these books? Do I look that na�ve to you?” But she didn’t see the point of being mean to the man and so softened it up a bit.

The man said, “All of my books are classics, because you are a classic, and I am a classic, and we are living in a most classical time.”

The woman said she didn’t know about that.

The man said, “That is such a classic comeback.”

The woman said that the man should have quit while he was ahead.

The man said he didn’t care. “I’m not trying to win,” he said. “I sell junk. People who sell junk are not, classically speaking, trying to win.”

The woman said, “Classically speaking, you’re right.”

“Classically speaking,” the man said, ” we are always right and we are always wrong. That’s what makes our time so incredibly classic.”

The woman said she did not understand, that the man had lost her somewhere. The man said he didn’t understand either but still thought it true. The woman did not buy a book, and the man, he did not care.

 

 4. 

The couple met at the big three-legged race held every year at the park near the sculpture. They were partners, matched up by random drawing, and they fared well. They won a ribbon the size of a baby. They decided, once the race had ended, that they liked each other, that they enjoyed each other’s company to such an extent that they vowed to stay three-legged. Keeping their ankles tied together did, of course, require some adjustment in their lives. He quit his job teaching geography to sixth graders and went to work with her, as her personal assistant at the social services clinic. He did typing and filing while she worked the phones, met with fellow social workers, and counseled patients.

The couple made a point to return regularly to the park, to the place where they first met. The couple walked around, three-legged and holding hands. Gravel and leaves crunched under their feet. Children on bicycles swerved wide around them.

It was on one of these walks that the man told the woman that he wanted very much to work for the FBI.

The woman was not surprised. She said, “That makes sense.”

The man, expecting he’d have a bit of an uphill battle over his sudden and drastic change of careers, said, “I’ve given it a lot of thought already. It’s what I want to do.”

The woman said, “I said it made sense to me. I can totally see you working for the FBI.”

The man said, “I have a strong moral sense.”

“I know,” the woman said. “I always thought that about you.”

The man said, “Also, I’m from the Midwest.”

The woman said, “That will only improve your chances.”

The man said, “And I like to be methodical. I like to be dogged. I like to get the job done and do it right. I believe there is satisfaction in doing the job right.”

“I know,” the woman said. “I always though that about you, too.”

The man looked out on the park. He sensed rain in the air, maybe later that night, maybe as far away as the morning.

“The only thing is,” the woman said, “we could no longer be three-legged.”

The man looked at the woman and thought that it would be unacceptable to him to no longer be three-legged.

Meanwhile the woman thought, “Will anyone but me believe he is well-suited for work in the FBI?”

The man thought, “Nobody but you believes I can work for the FBI, that’s why we’re here. It’s why we’re three-legged.”

The woman thought, “You must try.”

The man thought, “No, I’m being silly.”

“You’re not being silly,” the woman thought. “It’s a good idea.”

The man thought, “Are you sure?”

“It’s a great idea,” the woman thought.

She tugged his arm. “Let’s go see about applying,” she said, and like that, they walked off.