While you’re still trying to balance Petra’s desperation to avoid a divorce with your own desperation to spend more time with Eleanor, Dr. Mason comes up with a plan: you should agree not to have sex with either woman for three weeks, just to establish that the relationships are based on something more than pure animal desire.
When Mason makes this proposal, you realize that his reference to “either woman” must be his way of making Petra feel better, given that you and she haven’t been physically intimate since you moved into your crummy apartment. She eyes you suspiciously, anyway. You’re well aware of how many times you’ve made decisions to make your wife feel better, long before you even met Eleanor. Invariably, you’d try to alleviate Petra’s anxieties, mitigate her meltdowns. She could be sweet and funny, eager to help others. But especially at gatherings with her own family, her uptight, self-involved father and a mother eager to accommodate him, Petra would often disappear, weeping hysterically, into a handy bathroom or upstairs bedroom, leaving everyone to speculate on what might have triggered her tantrum, while you applied yourself to talking her down. When you think of it, you haven’t so much mitigated the meltdowns as tried to distract the onlookers. And now Petra seems to have manipulated Mason into a similar position.
As you leave Mason’s office, where Petra has remained, unsettlingly, beyond the statutory fifty-minute hour, your phone chimes. Given the timing, how could it not be Eleanor? Instead, it’s your colleague Alan Shindel, who has remained in touch during your sabbatical, unlike the other members of your department, who seem to regard your situation as akin to quarantine for some condition that might be contagious.
“How’s it going?” Shindel says.
You give an account of your halting progress on the novel followed by a somewhat expurgated version of the session with Mason and Petra.
After a pause, Shindel says, “Well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. Hang in there.”
You end the call shortly thereafter, feeling touched by Shindel’s concern.
Arnold Johnston's poetry, fiction, non-fiction, and translations have appeared widely in literary journals and anthologies. His plays, and others written in collaboration with his wife, Deborah Ann Percy, have won over 300 productions and readings, and they’ve written, co-written, edited, or translated over twenty books. Arnie’s latest projects are The Infernal Now (poetry, Kelsay Books, 2022); Where We’re Going, Where We’ve Been, (poetry, FutureCycle Press, 2020); Swept Away (novel, Atmosphere Press, 2021), and Mr. Robert Monkey Returns to New York (a collaborative children's book with Debby, Brandylane Publishers, 2021). A performer-singer, Arnie has played many solo concerts and over 100 roles on stage, screen, and radio. He was chairman of the English Department (1997-2007) and taught for many years at Western Michigan University.