To form a more perfect Union
2) Public face
10) Kath stays solvent
It will be OUR house. (1)
Society (and church?) (3)
All sorts of pleasure from sex (6)
Learn to clean (4)
Mrs. Johnson? (2)
Time for ourselves (9)
Allowing me freedom of judgement (10)
Expanding the menu (7)
Entertaining your family (8)
Contribution to HB clinic (5)
After dinner Sunday, Kathleen and Charles kissed Cat goodbye. They took less exuberant partings from Bob, Jeanette, and Kathleen’s mother. Charles drove while Kathleen waved from the window until they turned the corner.
“You have a nice family,” Charles said.
“Three of them. And Cat makes up for Bob.”
“You’re prejudiced. I like your brother.”
“Maybe, and certainly,” Kathleen said. “That doesn’t change facts. Do you have your sheet on what we want out of our marriage?”
“Here. I don’t want to start yet.”
“Turn right at the next light. That’ll take you directly to the interstate.”
“But, first,” he said, “remember my telling you about continuing treatments for Daryl Jenkins? The practice gave me hell over that, and I handed it back to them.”
“I told Jeanette a little of that. I mentioned that I might not have been so high-and-mighty if you weren’t able to support me. She said to tell you that.”
“Well, I’m glad. I’m not allowed to pay my husband’s rent, but I am allowed to buy him a parachute. Start now?” Kath asked.
“I’m going to turn off my cell.”
“Good idea,” Char said. “Take mine and turn it off, too, will you?”
“I like the way you begin. ‘To form a more perfect union.’ I don’t have a header on mine. On the other hand, your first point isn’t particularly clear.”
“Well, it was going to be lying around your house. I thought a blank line was enough to remind me. Anyway, I like the sex we have. It’s not something I’m anxious to change, but I think it’s the most important part of our marriage. Maybe we can deal with that apart from the rest.”
“I’m not sure we can,” she said. “It’s part and parcel of the way you deal with the house.”
“Now, Kath, I’ve agreed to live in your house. I can’t agree to live in your vagina, attractive as that idea is. I have to go out to the office to practice medicine.”
“You have definitely spent too much time around Bob.”
“Y’know, I told jokes before I met your brother,” he said. “I even told them before I met you.”
“If you’d said that you had an inheritance that I couldn’t touch because it had come down from a relationship that preceded our marriage and said that sex was fine because you’d had your orgasm, and that was all that mattered, I’d beat you over the head with a baseball bat.”
“You wouldn’t leave me?”
“We’ve tried living apart,” she reminded him. “It didn’t work. Living with you, on the other hand, is occasionally infuriating. And that’s from a person who spent 16 years in the same house as Bob Brennan.”
Well, I’ll risk the baseball bat. What’s the issue on sex? I thought that your providing my orgasm and my providing yours is something we do right.”
“Sometimes, Char, I not only want to provide you with an orgasm, I want to see it. Remember that I stopped giving you blow jobs in the dark?”
“Do I! When you said it, I wasn’t sure you weren’t swearing off them altogether.”
“Nope. I just like to watch you come. And that on-top position gives me an even better view.”
Charles said, “Well, it was fun for me, too.”
“That’s fine. But I don’t want you trying to bring me to orgasm while I’m watching. I had my climax. I didn’t need another.”
“Well, you can have several. You know, you aren’t the only one who enjoys seeing an orgasm.”
“You don’t insist on the light,” she pointed out.
“Well, ‘seeing’ might not be the best term. I don’t need a light when I have my fingers in you. That time in the daylight with you on top, on the other hand, was a great pleasure.”
“Okay. That was fun for both of us. We have to do more of that sort of thing. We have our own house to do them in, after all.”
“And the rear entry? I liked it. Did you?” he asked.
“That caught me unprepared. In two senses, and I apologize for the second. I shouldn’t leave my diaphragm in that long, especially when we’re there and can’t talk or run to the bathroom to douche. As for the first surprise, we need work. That sounds more neutral than I’d intended.”
“Didn’t sound neutral at all.”
“Well, if it sounded negative, that’s worse,” she said. “Having a chance at both your cock and your magic fingers at once is a treat.”
“‘Magic fingers.’ You do wonders for a man’s ego.”
“Don’t I say that to you? I think it to myself all the time. Anyway, I think we need to do that five more times when we’re not trying to keep the bed from shaking ‘cause Bob can hear.”
Char said, “This is sounding more and more like a schedule. I’m not sure that I like sex on a schedule.”
“Well, really, you don’t come into the office and chase out my patient because you’re feeling horny. We have a schedule of no, moderns have. Having a schedule of yes isn’t that bad an addition.”
“I like the way you put it.”
“Why don’t we say that you’ll make the decisions on the odd days of the month, and I’ll make them on the even days? Except...” she suggested.
“I think I can live with that, so long as you remember that I have limits. You can’t ask me to come twice in a session or to delay forever under stimulation.”
“And, as much fun as my multiple orgasms are to both of us, I can’t have a long series on nights before I have morning appointments.”
“Okay, we’ll be in control on alternate days, but the control will be limited to reasonable expectations,” he said. “And, remember, that either Friday or Saturday will be an odd numbered day of the month.”
“Sometimes, although incredibly rarely, both.”
“So, you can expect an orgy on any Friday the 31st.”
“I’ll put it on my calendar,” Kath said. “Well, that -- as you said -- is what we’ve done well. No. Wait a minute. What if one of us doesn’t want any sex at all -- sick or something?”
“Well, if it’s that person’s day and it’s only one day, no problem. If it’s not that person’s day, that person can call a halt, but by conceding the next day. If it’s for longer than one day, the person can call a halt for a reasonable period, but will concede control for later days when her flow has stopped.”
“Hey! I may not want you mucking about with my Tampax, but I’m always willing to give you a blow job.”
“All right. That was a low blow,” he admitted. “Look, this schedule is to serve us. We aren’t going to serve the schedule. I’ll depend on you not to fake headaches. Will you depend on me the same way?”
“That’s a deal. Now, on to my first priority. I didn’t recopy mine, but I did renumber them. This was the first thing I thought of, and still my first priority.”
“Let’s hear it. I’m braced.”
“I don’t mind the house being in my name,” Katherine said. “I think even some more-traditional couples do that. But, aside from the deed and the mortgage payment, this is going to be our house. We’ll look for a neighborhood where we’ll both feel comfortable, then a house which fits all our other needs. When we talk to the neighbors, it’s our house. When you bring people home for dinner, it’s to your house.”
“Well, even when my parents were living in a house with my father’s name alone on the deed, he didn’t bring guests home without asking Mom.”
“Oh sure. And last Christmas was in -- according to Mom -- Jeanette’s apartment. Cat took some things to ‘la salle de Maman.’ And that had been Bob’s room forever. It’ll be my kitchen. Maybe it will be your den. But it will damn-well be our house. And we’ll look until we find a place that is.”
“I can live with that,” Char said.
“Y’know, Jeanette said that we should ask what’s behind the questions and write that as the issues. But what’s behind my questions is that I want a real marriage.”
“It’s been fake thus far?”
“Not fake,” Kath said. “And, maybe I don’t mean marriage. What did Jeanette say, ‘family’?”
“Don’t remember that. Your second priority or mine?”
“Yours. ‘Public face.’ It is clearer than a blank line, I’ll give you that. Not a hell of a lot clearer, though.”
“Well, I was writing something we’d be discussing face-to-face. Or, at least, side to side,” Char said. “You want a real family, I want a pretense. I don’t criticize you to my family; I think you criticize me to yours. Look, we’re going to have disagreements. Jeanette mentioned arguments with Bob; I said I’d never heard any; she said I’d never seen her have a bowel movement, either.
“Well, that’s what I want,” he continued. “And about sex, too. Yes, you are a big girl, now. But when you talk about your sex life, you talk about mine, too. You want a real family? Well, where I come from a real family has secrets.”
“You haven’t been talking to Mom, have you?”
“About this? That’s what I’ve been saying. I don’t talk about you.”
“She said that a lady has two things she does with her husband,” Kath quoted, “but not in public. The second one was criticize him.”
“Well, where you come from, a family has secrets, too.”
“That’s fair. All I can ask you to do is to try.”
“And, when I forget, remind me.”
“In private,” he promised. “What’s your number two priority?”
“Char, would you want me to be Kathleen Johnson?”
“What? Aren’t these supposed to be things you’re asking of me?”
“Yes,” she said. “And, to be honest, if you’d brought it up, I’d have resisted. But I remember when Jeanette was going on about a joint account. She has one -- they have one -- but it’s a joint account of Bob and Jeanette Brennan. I was asking for us to be a family, and I felt that I was resisting it.”
“Well, if you’re offering.”
“Not in the office. All the diplomas and licenses. But, maybe I’d like to leave the office as Dr. Brennan and come home as Mrs. Johnson.”
Char said, “You’re wonderful, Mrs. Johnson.”
“It’ll be a little hassle. If I’d done it right after the wedding, people would have been more understanding.”
“People will understand. Bureaucracies will be the hassle, and they’re never understanding.”
“And your third priority is arguments. Do you think we have too many?” she asked.
“I think we have too few. Half the problem about hearing how much you hate only paying half the rent in front of your family is that I didn’t hear it in private.”
“I told you.”
“Not that vehemently,” he said. “Maybe neither of us has the brains that Bob has; maybe we merely lack the detachment. But if I’d known how deeply you felt, I’d have at least been looking for a solution.”
“So you want more arguments?”
“But only in private.”
“Well, I won’t give you an argument about that.” she said.
“Maybe we need a time of the week when we each get out what’s bothering us. Saturday suppertime?”
“Mealtime might be a problem ... Well, I can’t think of another time. Let’s try it. If it ruins someone’s digestion, we’ll at least have a proper time to bring that up.”
“What’s your next one?” he asked.
“Look, I’m backing into this one. You were raised in a church-going family. So was I. Your prayer sounded sincere enough. Were you just pleasing Mom, or do you really believe?”
“Well your mother gave me ample warning, and a choice. If I didn’t believe, I could have backed out gracefully. What’s your point? Do you want mealtime graces?”
“How do you feel about going to church?” Kath asked.
“You mean us? You know that eleven o’clock Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week?”
“Right. But we’re not looking at the nearest Methodist church. I know that visiting my old church once a year is one thing. You wouldn’t be happy there every week.”
“I was a little bothered by that woman who kept asking me questions,” he said.
“She was the choir director.”
“So your mother told me. She told her that she’d love it if I moved to town, because you’d move with me, but it wasn’t going to happen.”
“Well, that’s a danger you’ll face anywhere,” she said. “Once a choir director hears you, she’ll want you. But the point is that we aren’t locked into any geography but the Philadelphia area. Let me say what I really want.”
“That isn’t what you really want? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “The biggest picture is that I want us to be a real family, and -- no -- I’m not clear about what I mean by that.”
“At least you aren’t screaming and letting me guess what you want.”
“Well, what I mean by a real family would include a community which knows us as a couple. I love your family, and my family loves you. Maybe not all as demonstratively as Cat does, but they all like you. Still, I’m the woman Charles married or you’re the man that Kathleen married to them. I want a place where we’re the Johnsons -- a community, a society, where we’re the Johnsons. Not your friends being nice to me or my friends being nice to you, but our friends.”
“I can see that,” Char said.
“And the place I’d start would be church. But I want a community in which each of us would be comfortable. And, if you go into a church pretending a belief you don’t have, I’ll guarantee you’ll be uncomfortable.”
“Well, it’s more like, ‘I believe, help thou my unbelief.’”
“If that ‘thou’ is addressed to The Lord, He may well. If it’s addressed to me, I have enough trouble managing my own belief.”
“And the most segregated hour of the week?” Char asked.
“Well it may be true on average. But we don’t need to fit into the average church. We need to find one church in the metro area where we fit in. That might even help with the house search.”
“Find a realtor in the church?”
“Not if we’re going to be the Johnsons in the church and have me buy the house by myself,” she said. “No. I mean that most churches are neighborhood churches. If we find one in which we both feel comfortable, we’ll find a good clue as to a neighborhood in which we’d both feel comfortable.”
“Do you mind if I start with Methodist churches? The same provision applies. If the style of worship or the theology looks strange to you, then you won’t feel comfortable.”
“That’s not my problem with your home church,” Char said.
“Then I’ll start with Methodist churches. Probably be up front with a DS. Write the District Superintendent that I’m a white woman with an Afro-American husband. We’d be interested in visiting a few churches in which he’d think we’d feel comfortable. Worst that could happen is no reply. I’d expect help. And remember that redneck cop that stopped you?”
“Yeah.” He thought this was a real non-sequitur, even for Kath. “It all turned out all right, thanks to your mom.”
“Well, he’s a member of an integrated police force. Integrated voluntary associations may be rarer, but the members don’t keep Klan robes in their closets.”
“That’s a point. If you can find one.”
“Dad taught me to prioritize questions,” Kath said. “You don’t make a thousand desks with file drawers the only drawers and then see whether people will buy them. You build, maybe, five. You put them in your catalog. If that brings in orders, you start producing them.”
“Great! Glad to know that if I ever decide that medicine is not for me.”
“You don’t decide whether you’re going to start going to church on the basis of whether or not you think there is a church you can be happy in. You decide whether or not you would go to church if there were one you’d feel at home in. Then you look to see if there is a church you’d feel at home in. Theoretically, you could also decide that you’ll go to church even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. But you decide what you will do. You don’t decide what others will do.”
“Have I been dragging my feet?” he asked.
“I didn’t say that. I made a real effort to keep from saying that.” Charles laughed.
“I love you, Kath Brennan.”
“And Kath Johnson loves you.”
“But that was definitely a Brennan response.”
“I offered to change my name, not my nature. That’s going to be typical of Mrs. Johnson’s responses.”
“Fair enough,” Char said. “What’s your next one?”
“The next one is yours. ‘Bills.’ Are you going to start charging for these discussions?”
“Ha. Notice how hard I’m laughing. Look, I know that shared expenses was my idea...”
“After my income pulled even with yours, it was your idea.” She couldn’t resist clarifying that point.
“But when I paid the bills, I paid them on time. I don’t want you to try harder, you already said that. When somebody tells you they are going to try harder, it means that the problem will continue, but the person causing the problem will feel guiltier.”
“You not only spend too much time around Bob, you now have seances with my father.”
“Anyway,” he said, “would you trust me with a checkbook on your account? Not signature, but I’d deal with the bills each month, decide which one of us should pay which bills. Then I’d fill out the proper check with the proper amount. I’d give you your checks to sign, maybe at dinner -- breakfast is too busy. You’d sign yours, and I’d mail them all.”
“Sounds like you’d be my secretary. This is the guy who’s too macho to have me pay the rent?”
“It would be one more household task. We share those. It is one which, quite frankly, you don’t perform very well.”
“Now I know you’re channeling my father. ‘Vi, the purpose of balancing a checkbook is to ensure that you don’t write a check on funds not in your account. You can’t be sure if you balance it a month late with made-up figures.’ Go figure! Bob, the slob, never bounced a check in his life, as far as I ever heard. He certainly didn’t bounce one before I left for college. Okay, it’s not one of my plenitude of virtues. Why don’t we give you the whole task? That’s going to conflict with my next one, though.”
“You didn’t want me to pay bills?” Char couldn’t see that.
“I wanted -- still want -- you to learn to clean. Look, Char, you’re a generous spouse, really you are. There aren’t many husbands who do as many cleaning and household tasks as you do. I’m grateful. On the other hand, I keep better books than you clean a room.”
“Well, I’m going to be doing one more task. Why don’t you decide which cleaning task I do worst, or simply the most important? Then you can take the time to teach me to do it to your standards. When I pass your test, we’ll go on to the next task.”
“You are awfully careful to not express yourself on whether there are any universal standards of cleanliness.” She thought that they should be explicit about that.
“There aren’t. On the other hand, cleaning a room in a way that annoys your wife isn’t a road to a good marriage.”
“You should check with a few hospitals on universal standards. Okay, I can take that. Maybe, since you’re so fond of Bob, you can take laundry lessons from him next visit. Only thing the boy does well.”
“He, as your mother points out, keeps a wife happy, a child fluent, and a university satisfied with his research and teaching.” Charles thought that was more important than doing the laundry; any one of them was more important than doing the laundry.
“I’ll grant the fluent. Being around Bob is as good for your vocabulary as it is bad for your blood pressure. As far as Jeanette’s being happy, that is the sole crack in the woman’s solid judgment. Anyway, we were talking abut our marriage. I’ll take gradual improvement. And cooking? That’s your next issue.”
“Okay, we split chores. And I can cook some things. But I can cook fewer things than my share of the cooking is assigned. Notice that I’ve been taking us out more often?”
“That’s because you don’t want to cook?” she asked. She should have noticed. “Well, why don’t we assign you two dinners a week and breakfast? You do a good breakfast, and that doesn’t need to be varied. I ate cereal before I moved in with you. I’ll take Sunday lunches -- Saturday lunches when we’re both home.” And, since the person who was supposed to cook that night paid for meals out, she’d pay for more of those. “That will more than take care of your extra work on keeping the books.”
“I figured that looking at both together would show more balance. Your next issue?”
“Long ago, we said you’d deal with my increased income by spending more time in the healthy-baby clinic. You know, we both went into medicine to make a difference. Freudian analysis doesn’t lend itself to charity work. I sort of figured that it would be our pocket, our contribution, your hands. And, actually, you have the hands in the family.
“Now, with your new insistence on splitting expenses,” she continued, “it’s not our pocket. The money isn’t shared. Not only do you spend only a little time at the clinic, but it’s your time, not ours. I don’t make any contribution.”
“I didn’t see that problem. I’m not sure we ever said that was how we would operate. Bob, the brother you despise, suggested it. I said no more than that it sounded reasonable. I think I know the argument against donating analysis time; I’m not sure I believe it.”
“Patients spend enough time sitting there with their mouths tight shut, enough time talking about something else. And that’s with the clock ticking off a couple of dollars of their money a minute. We don’t want to see how many excuses they can find when it’s free.”
“Except that it’s the insurance company’s money in most cases,” he pointed out.
“Well, yes. But, even if I wanted to, there would be all sorts of problems. What is an evening at the clinic? Four hours? Three?”
“I could do three. They’ll take what they can get within reason. Standard is four, and that usually runs closer to five. They never run on schedule.”
“Three patients an hour?” she asked.
“They try to do four, which is one reason they run late. Even so, they turn kids away every day. They’d probably take you. You have a license, after all.”
“Pennsylvania doesn’t issue licenses for malpractice. The nurses there know more about the physical problems of children than I do. But three per hour by four hours is 12 patients an evening. That’s 600 different patients a year at one evening a week.”
“Three hundred,” he said, “if they come back the way they should -- two hundred at the youngest ages.”
“In four hours a week, I could see four patients. And I’d be damn lucky if there was one cure in a year out of four patients. It’s useful treatment, but it’s definitely slow. Besides that, there is a clinic you can donate time to; there isn’t one that wants my skill set. Anyway, what would it take -- over time is fine -- for the Johnsons to contribute your time to the clinic?”
“Look, this can’t be answered in a vacuum. Go to my last, won’t you.”
“Kath stays solvent. Good wish. What does it have to do with our marriage?” she asked.
“That’s one of my demands. We married as two people with large potential incomes and large present debts. Your future income looked a little larger than mine; my debts were a little larger than yours. But we were in comparable states. Now, suddenly, you’re an heiress. You have a shitload of net worth right now. Fine! I won’t say ‘congratulations’ because I know you would have preferred the alternative. But that is your present state, and you’re not going to lose that state because you’re married to me.”
“Did I mention that I wasn’t bopping you on the head with a baseball bat because you were a generous male chauvinist pig?”
“You said something about taking a baseball bat to me. As long as we’re not in the car, I figure I have a good chance of taking it away from you without hurting you.”
“Well, I really said I was abstaining. Don’t take that as a guarantee,” she said. “It’s my life. Let me choose how to live it.”
“But it’s my marriage, too. How would you feel if I were terribly worse off because I had married you?”
“Okay. You have a point. It’s all right if I use that money for a down-payment on a house?”
“Sure,” he said. “The money’s still there. There are riskier investments than houses. But let’s not act like we had that money to burn.”
“We won’t. Y’know, either it’s our money, and any expenditure requires your consent, or it’s my money, and the expenditures are my decision.”
“But it’s our marriage. And one of the assets of our marriage is that you are, right now, sitting on a pretty hefty nest-egg. Don’t I have a say in whether we keep that asset?”
“I won’t do anything radical without consulting you. What does that have to do with the clinic?” she asked.
“I can give one evening a week. That is, essentially, none of the practice’s business. So long as it is time they don’t expect me to be there, they won’t fight. I’ve made enough waves, recently, that trying to cut back my hours might make them cut them all the way back. Besides, you’re about to buy a house. Until we see all the costs, we don’t know what our budget will look like.”
“Good points. Okay, you’ll find an evening a week. Since it’s our donation, but it’s your time, why don’t we revisit the cleaning schedule? I’ll find a task that I’ll teach you and another task that I’ll take over altogether. Why don’t you learn to clean the living room, and I’ll take over the bathroom. We’ll switch later. Someday, if we live that long, I’ll teach you how to keep a kitchen clean. You’ll do the bookkeeping -- you might as well do all my bookkeeping; I’ll just carry one or two checks and tell you how much -- but only cook two dinners a week. I like your cooking.”
“What does Bob say? ‘I didn’t cook this’ is a fine spice,” he quoted.
“And, really, we have different styles of cooking. I might buy a cookbook and broaden my repertoire -- menu?” And, of course, his one night a week at the clinic couldn’t be on the night he cooked. So, it would be a good night to get in the habit of her taking him out. The scheduled cook pays the restaurant bills, after all.
“You’re being generous.”
“You won’t think so when you find how much is involved in really cleaning a living room,” she warned him.
“To your standards.”
“Yeah. But we agreed that those were the standards we would use. What’s sniping?”
“Isn’t that a term used throughout the Brennan family?” he asked. “It’s Jeanette’s term for the cracks that Bob takes at you, and you take at him -- and occasionally at me.”
“And you want me to stop.”
“It’s more complicated than that. The first thing I want is for you to become conscious of it. With Bob, it’s recreational. Fine! I don’t want to be super-sensitive, because, really, I’m not. But that is not my style of humor, either. Beating Bob at it is an accomplishment; beating me at it is no greater an accomplishment than beating Cat would be. After a while, it does begin to become annoying.