Explaining Literature to My Wife.
BY TODD MCKIE
[Originally published July 18, 2012.]
I keep telling you it’s only fiction, this thing I do late at night. This thing I do while you’re snug in our wide bed. If I put a woman character in a story and I make her a potter and she has black hair and her name is Patricia, well, of course it can’t be you, because you’re a painter and your name is Priscilla, and you have brown hair.
Don’t you get it? I make it all up!
And just because you’ve had a lot of expensive dental work recently and a woman in a story is being fitted with complicated bridgework by an alcoholic dentist, well, what in the world does that have to do with you? It’s just a crazy coincidence. Even though your dentist’s hands tremble slightly, it’s from a neurological problem, not from guzzling vodka between patients like Dr. Peterson does in my short story. Your dentist’s name is Ronald Patterson and his fancy office is on the eighth floor of a modern glass building. Dr. Ralph Peterson’s office, in the story, is on the third floor of a rundown building in a crummy part of town. It’s all he can afford; he doesn’t have many repeat customers. See what I mean?
It’s pathetic, really, that I need to explain all this to you. I don’t know why I even try.
I’m sorry I lost my temper over your reaction to “Love on Ice,” the story I wrote about a young woman who is recovering from a broken arm and while her arm is still in a cast she starts an affair with the hunky male nurse who set the bone. It drove me crazy you thought I got the idea for the story because you broke your ankle falling on the ice outside our apartment building and then I found out you were fucking your physical therapist. Ankles and arms are completely different parts of the body!
Phyllis, in “Love on Ice,” is a championship figure skater who breaks her arm while she’s practicing a triple axel. You, on the other hand, can barely stand up on skates; the few times we’ve gone skating you shuffle around like a mental patient while snot drips from your nose and freezes on your upper lip.
So, give me a goddamn break and stop assuming every female character in every story I write is you.
The final straw, when this nutty obsession of yours really started to get to me, came when I let you read the story I’m working on now, “A Song in the Key of Sorrow.” I wish I’d never shown it to you, but I thought it was done. Now I see it needs more work.
Once again you leapt to the conclusion that Paula, the folksinger’s girlfriend, is based on you. What, just because she thinks her boyfriend is using intimate details of her life in his songs? Do you think you’re the only woman who ever had a persistent yeast infection?
In my story Paula treats her condition with an over-the-counter medication. Her symptoms disappear in a few days, but just to be on the safe side she doesn’t have sex with the folksinger for two weeks. That’s a far cry from you going to your gynecologist for a prescription and then, even after everything returns to normal down there, refusing to have sex for two months. Also, the woman in the story isn’t married, for Christ’s sake, and she’s blond! And the male character is a folksinger, not a writer, and he has a beard. When did you ever see me with a beard? Or a guitar?
Never, that’s when.
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