The Flipside: Marital strokes

"Men don't take it well when other men tell them what they're doing wrong, especially when it involves tools."

ruthie blum 88 (photo credit: )
ruthie blum 88
(photo credit: )
'Y'hear that?" Malki shouts triumphantly from the kitchen, where she has gone to stir the pot on the stove and check on the contents of the oven. "What have I been telling you?" "I wouldn't jump to any conclusions about it ruining his electoral chances," Shmulik replies smugly, taking a deep breath and then letting the words tumble out on the exhale. "Who the hell's talking about the elections?" Malki retorts irritably, sliding a boiling hot pan onto the countertop with the use of mitts. Years ago, she would have responded differently to her husband's arrogant dismissal of every comment she made. Considering herself ignorant, she used to feel put down by that 'I-know-everything-don't-worry-your-pretty-little-head-over-such-matters' attitude of his. She can't remember when she got over the sense that he was superior to her. It may have been when he lost his job, and she supported the family single-handedly for more than three years, until he got back on his feet. Or maybe it was when she realized he spoke to everybody in exactly the same way. And that his inflated self-importance was responsible for their having been banned from the Thursday-night bridge game with Yoel and Shulamit. Or for his having ceased to be a welcome customer at the neighborhood hardware store. "Men don't take it well," Shulamit had explained delicately, "when other men tell them what they're doing wrong, especially when it involves tools." Though often annoyed - sometimes even saddened - by the crimp Shmulik had put in their social life, Malki was liberated. The balance of power having shifted in her favor, she was determined to make the best of it. What this meant in practical terms was minor compared to the effect it had had on her sense of freedom within the confines of their all-encompassing marriage and the tiny apartment in which they raised three children. And in which they are now cooped up together all day, every day. "AAAH, SHARON'S strong as an ox," Shmulik stretches his arms above his head to assist himself in getting off the sofa. "Stroke or no stroke, he'll be raking in the mandates." "If he keeps up that lifestyle," Malki says as she lays two placemats on the small, round table in the dining alcove, "he'll be raking in the eulogies." "Statistically speaking, you have no idea what you're talking about," Shmulik sighs, noisily inhaling the food smells that have just reached his nostrils. "In fact, many people suffer mild strokes and don't even know it." "Yeah, yeah, yeah," Malki smirks, waving her hand to indicate her intolerance for what she has come to refer to lovingly as his "never-ending nonsense." "What're we having?" he asks, taking a chair and spreading a cloth napkin over his lap. "Vegetable soup to start," she says, placing a steaming bowl of broth in front of him, "accompanied by sodium-free, whole-grain rolls, followed by steamed, skinless filet of sole." "You're joking, right?" Shmulik stares incredulously as a carrot-slice floats past his spoon. "And after lunch, we are going to take a walk," Malki states, emphasizing each word separately. "A walk?" Shmulik furrows his brow. "It's perfect weather for it," she says, anticipating a lack of cooperation. "Chilly, but sunny." "Suit yourself," he shrugs, eyeing a brownish, seed-covered roll with suspicion. "I'm taking a siesta after we eat - if you call this eating." "You can rest after the walk, if you'd like," she announces. "No," he says, looking for the butter-dish and salt-shaker, both of which seem to have disappeared from their usual spot. "That's when the five o'clock news will be on." "The news will be the same at eight," she says, matter-of-factly. "Not if Sharon's condition worsens," he argues, chewing a bite of fish as though it were medication. "It's not Sharon's condition that concerns me," she says, dabbing a drop of soup from the corner of her mouth. "Aaah, I'm strong as an ox," he slaps his large pot belly with one hand, while making a fist with the other. "That's what you said about Sharon," she says. Memories of herself as a young woman unable even to recognize the holes in his arguments, let alone present a rebuttal, make her smile. "Well, it's true of him as well," he insists, though it comes out more like whining. "Get into your comfortable shoes," she gestures toward the bedroom with her head - her hands laden with dishes. When he remains seated, she adds: "C'mon, it's gonna rain tomorrow. Let's take advantage." Instead of obeying, Shmulik turns on the radio. "They're announcing a press conference from the hospital," he says to explain why now is a bad time to indulge in a new pursuit. Particularly one that requires leaving the premises and straying from the TV for an unspecified period. Reports on the prime minister's progress these days - health-related or otherwise - naturally take precedence over the mundane activities of a couple of pensioners, after all. "Trust me," Malki tries to camouflage her cynicism with cheer, "whatever 'they say' will be repeated every half-hour, on every station, until we all have strokes." "I need a cup of coffee," Shmulik attempts to cloak a whimper in conviction. "You've had your quota of caffeine for the day," Malki says, replacing her slippers with sneakers. "What in the world has gotten into you?" Shmulik bellows. "Are you trying to give me a heart attack?" "Just the opposite," Malki looks up indignantly. "I'm trying to prevent you from having one." "Stop fussing over me," Shmulik grunts with exertion as he bends down to tie his laces. "Sharon lost his wife," Malki says, zipping up her jacket. "So far, yours is still around."