Justin E. H. Smith
What is she doing in there?
I'm going to have to wake her up and ask her to leave. She'll think I'm afraid of intelligent women, but that's not true. My wife is very intelligent. In fact, that's just the problem: Maureen Dowd is not my wife.
Come to think of it, where is my wife? Did I shift possible worlds, into one in which I –or should I say my counterpart-me?– am married not to my wife, but to Maureen Dowd? Did my wife somehow metamorphose into Maureen Dowd while I was out getting her more flu capsules, like some Gregor Samsa, though with an infinitely more gruesome fate?
I suppose the only question that really matters is: am I now married to Maureen Dowd? Whether this marriage was sealed through world-shifting or through metamorphosis is of little interest, except perhaps to the metaphysicians. Perhaps they would tell me that in the latter case we're basically looking at a cosmic annulment by reason of change of substance. I married my wife after all, not my wife-or-whoever-my-wife-might-turn-into.
I'm just going to have to wake her up and get to the bottom of this. I hope she doesn't talk like she writes. That would be unbearable, especially if, metaphysically and legally, she is in fact my wife. Then I would have to put up with it. I would say: “I seem to have shifted possible worlds or something, for I don't recall ever marrying you, Ms. Dowd.” And she would reply: “What a pretty pickle,” or: “So, darling, is it going to be Taming of the Shrew, or more Mister Magoo?” or some other rhymed literary reference that I'll feel I ought to understand, yet won't.
She'll probably try to baffle me with some Mao-like inversion of a familiar saying. I'll ask her what she's doing in my bed, and she'll say: “The question isn't how the cow got into the stable, but why the bull wants such a stable cow.” And surely she'll find a moniker for me, just like she did for 'Bubba' and 'Dubya' and 'Obambi'. She'll ridicule my reputation for optimism –a world-view for which her very appearance in my bed constitutes a harsh refutation– by calling me 'Pangloss', and she'll mock my anxiety at the disappearance of my real wife: “Isn't this the best of all possible worlds?” she'll tease. “Where's that Panglossian pep?”
“Please stop alliterating,” I'll reply.
“Looks like it's too bad Pangloss pooh-poohed the prenup.”
“Will you please stop talking like that!”
“What's the matter? Can't take this vixen's Voltairean vim?”
I should probably just let her keep sleeping. Maybe she'll morph back into my wife after the flu capsules wear off, if she ever was my wife to begin with. If 'she' even has any fixed denotation in such an absurd situation.
This is surely all my fault. I'm certain it wouldn't have happened if I didn't read the New York Times so obsessively. It all started after September 11, when I felt I had to check in every 15 minutes to see how much closer the world had crept towards the brink of apocalypse. But it's been like eight years, and we're all still here (well, most of us). So why do I keep checking to assure myself that the ICBM's are not on their way, that another day has gone by without some dastardly villain spiking the water supply? Why, once duly assured, do I inevitably loiter there, so much, so often, so long as to feel I know every little quirk of every columnist, even the lowly John Tierney, exiled to the Science pages, even the sundry 'public editors' with their metacolumns? I would read the metametacolumns if they offered them.
Who are these people and why should I care what they say?
Maureen Dowd will no doubt agree that it's all my fault. She'll probably remind me of the Judith Warner incident. “So Judith left your head after all?” she'll observe. “I guess she missed her husband. Let's call it the 'Max Factor'.”
“That was different,” I'll explain. “She was only in my head. You, Ms. Dowd, are in my bed.”
“Looks like Pangloss enjoys a little rhyme now and then too,” she'll tease.
No, I wouldn't be able to stand it. Not for a second. Maybe I should just crawl into bed next to her and hope the universe will straighten itself out. Stranger things have happened, like that time in college when I had to get a restraining order against The Sacramento Bee's Anita Creamer. She'd been stalking me for months, claiming we were identical twins, and that all the differences between us could be explained by 'nurture'. Or that time a Diane Rehm-shaped bulb grew on the cactus my wife had given me for my birthday.
It's a strange world, but for all I know it may still be the best one there is, or ever could be. I don't know anything. I'm tired. This bull's going to retire to the stables. We'll just wait and see what happens.
For an extensive archive of Justin Smith's writing, please visit www.jehsmith.com.