Tuesdays at the Table by Brendan Zietsch

Tuesdays at the Table

Megan and Jack sat at the dinner table under a dim overhanging bulb. The light didn’t seem dim to them; their eyes were adjusted, so it felt normal.

Most nights they ate on trays in front of the TV, but Megan had instituted ‘Tuesdays at the table’ because she feared she and Jack weren’t communicating enough. They’d barely had a conversation with eye contact in months. Just snippets and fragments while doing other things. What was a relationship without genuine communion?

The dedicated talking time revealed a new problem: they could find nothing to talk about. In fact, it occurred to Megan, as she forked her peas, that perhaps this had been the problem all along. It worried her, but she hoped that with a push they’d swing back into things and the conversation would again flow.

“How’s the steak?” she asked.

Jack inspected the juicy piece that was halfway to his mouth, then popped it in.

“Yeah, good,” he said through the mouthful. “You’re good at steak, aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Megan grinned. But her smile faded as the silence returned and swelled. The fridge became audible. She tried again:

“Why don’t you tell me about your day?”

Jack took another bite to buy time. Tell her what about his day? He’d gone to work, returned from work, and was now eating dinner. Did she want the actual details? Tax codes, filing systems, missing papers?

“Not much to tell, sweetie. And I don’t really want to think about work when I come home anyway.”

She looked sad, and Jack felt sorry. He knew they were supposed to be conversing, that it was the point of eating at the table, but he didn’t have anything to say. Forcing things didn’t help. In fact the whole idea went against Jack’s grain, since to him the rarest treasure, and what he’d found in Megan, was someone he could be silently comfortable with. He could sit with her, in his thoughts, or watching TV, and be perfectly at ease and warmed by her simple presence. No pressure to ‘perform’. But now she was making their comfortable silence uncomfortable by sitting it on the table between them and staring at it sadly. He hated Tuesdays at the table, and it was only the second week!

Finally, at a loss for anything of his own to report, he thought to turn the tables:

“What about your day? What did you do?”

With a head tilt and a smile, she began a long description of her day. As she went on, Jack was reminded of her tendency to report events without regard to whether they might or might not be of interest to another person. As if she believed apprising him of all her activities was an important end in itself. He tried to follow but he didn’t know the colleagues she referred to, and at some point he found himself wondering what cut the steak was. It really was delicious.

Megan was nearing an anecdote’s climax when she noticed that the light had gone out in her boyfriend’s eyes. She paused for a moment, to no response, and asked Jack if he was listening.

“Yes,” he said.

“Then what was I talking about?”

There was enough of a delay that she cut him off.

“Never mind,” she said sharply. “Don’t worry about it.”

She wasn’t going to let him rewind his memory and piece together meaning from her last few words.

“Sorry,” he said. “I got distracted by the steak. It’s so tasty!”

She didn’t reply, filling her mouth instead with an angry forkful of mash.

“What were you saying, sweetie?”

“I said don’t worry. It wasn’t important anyway.”

“Oh. Okay, then.”

They ate to the clink of utensils, faint chewing, and the fridge humming from the kitchen. Megan finished her meal before Jack, so she went to the kitchen to wash up. She watched her reflection in the dark window above the sink. When they had first gotten together, she’d found Jack so fascinating. She sparkled at every new aspect he revealed. Now she realised it was only the process of discovery that was interesting. Once discovered, Jack’s features were not especially interesting at all. He could barely say a thing through a whole dinner, and wouldn’t even listen to her own stories.

Her thoughts were interrupted by a presence at her side and a peck on her cheek. Jack had a tea towel and was taking a sudsy glass from her hand.

“Don’t worry,” she said, “I’ll just put it all in the rack.”

“No, that’s okay, I’ll do it. Sorry I wasn’t listening to you properly.” He kissed near her ear. “I love you.”

Megan drew a thick breath and blinked back a watery feeling.

“You too.”

“Want to watch a movie when we’re done here?”

“Yeah, sure. That sounds nice.”

 

tuesday-at-the-table-marc_chagall_the_birthday_1915

 

Brendan Zietsch has never published fiction before. He has, though, published science articles about orgasms and romantic preferences in various academic and media outlets. He lives alone in Brisbane, Australia, loves music, and is polishing a novel.

 

(Next story: The Chinese Box by Noa Sivan)

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