The Happy Couple
Pir Rothenberg

The old man said of his life that he'd rather be miserable than alone, so in his own way, with the company of his wife and his wife's twenty-two cats, rescued one by one from snowy alleys and sooty, abandoned garages, he was happy. The wife said of her life that it would be no life at all without her cats, and since the room and resources to house and care for them all were provided by her husband, she, too, was happy. They'd fought the forty-five years of their marriage. If it wasn't about cats, money, the children, or their children's children, they'd improvise. They'd fight about the toilet paper, about which way it should roll, about texture and strength versus number of squares. The old man, owner of a radiator company, would pick a fight and quickly concede: Look at what I must suffer, he'd think, sighing and shaking his head when his wife was in the room so that she might see. His suffering made him feel noble. Not many people, he imagined, would put up with it. When the man cautioned his wife about the expense of the cats' food, or said their grandson, during his visit last week, had behaved like a savage, or informed her she had overcooked the spaghetti, that he liked it al dente, she'd defend her cats, her grandchildren, her cooking, and would feel the pleasure of justifying herself. Every argument was a chance to recall and confirm some deep-seated value within her, and it made her blood stir, and she grew flush as though from physical exercise. The family didn't understand how the two could stand each other, but they were happy, he the martyr, she the moralist.

At the reception of their eldest grandson's marriage, the husband noticed that the bride's belly was already showing, and the couple had a long, quiet row about this as they sat drinking wine and watching the festivities. After some champagne, the old couple danced a few numbers—the Chicken Dance, the Macarena, YMCA—as best they could, to the delight of all present. When they arrived home just before midnight, the wife discovered that one of her cats, Binkie, had died. The husband sat on the floor with her and patted her back as she wept over the still creature, whose dark fur looked stiff, and whose little pink tongue was sticking out. He went outside with a shovel, though by now it was half past, and it had been a long day, and it was September, and the nights were getting colder, and tonight was particularly frigid, and brought the shovel to a place along the far end of the fence where a dozen or so little grave markers poked up from the grass, and with his foot upon the shovel hefted all his shrinking weight upon the earth.

Pir Rothenberg has stories in or coming from Juked, Harpur Palate, Another Chicago Magazine, and others. He's a PhD student at Georgia State University.

Detail of photo art on main page courtesy of Q. Thomas Bower.

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