It was in the middle of a modest home, located in the middle of nowhere, that a sigh issued forth and seemed to pervade every nook and every cranny. Any wind sweeping over the grassland that surrounded the home for miles in all directions, grown brown during the winter months, would have sounded just the same. In point of fact, the sigh in question originated in the middle of Mr. Reed’s chest, and escaped his lips as he sank down into the middle of his armchair after his supper.
“Let’s see what’s on TV,” he muttered to no one in particular, once he reclaimed the breath that had escaped him. And, being a man of his word, he lifted the remote and began a thorough survey of the evening’s programs, looking very much like a bored king forced atop his throne, wielding a scepter to impose his will, head askance either due to the weight of the crown or else the weight of sleep, which slowly forced by turns his chin to his chest and his ear to his shoulder.
Just as one ear succeeded in making contact with the shoulder, resulting in Mr. Reed’s mouth to drop open in sleep, his wife walked in and asked whether he had indeed found something on TV. It would be impossible to state, however, if she was genuinely desirous of receiving an answer, or merely asked the question through force of habit — asked, one would think, every night without interruption since their last child had left the house several years prior.
As Mrs. Reed collapsed onto her chair, Mr. Reed regained consciousness and coughed, or feigned to cough, as though to prove he had not really been asleep. Their two chairs, looking like enormous cubes with a seat and a back cut into them, were exactly alike except in their orientation in the room: Mr. Reed’s had planted itself in the middle of the room, beside a small coffee table exclusively used to support cabernet, and beneath a lamp which once in a great while illuminated an open book or magazine, but more often than not illuminated only his bobbing head and drooping eyelids. Mrs. Reed’s chair apparently felt some aversion toward its twin, having wedged itself against the left-hand wall and behind a much larger coffee table piled high with a tremendous amount of beads, needles, threads, and various books on the subject, looking like the fortress walls of a jaunty castle.
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“Here,” said Mr. Reed, gruffly, tossing the remote like a stone from a trebuchet over the castle walls and into Mrs. Reed’s outstretched arms. “Nothing on.”
“Well, there has to be something on,” she said.
“Friday nights are terrible; there’s nothing on.”
Unwilling to believe this without checking for herself, Mrs. Reed pulled up the guide and began methodically clicking through every channel.
“There has to be something on,” she repeated as she approached the end of the listings.
If Mr. Reed was the king, then Mrs. Reed was undoubtedly the queen, holding the scepter in both hands, pronouncing judgment on the offered entertainment with a downward stroke of her thumb. When she reached the end of the listings, she started the whole process over, either believing she chanced to miss something worthwhile, or believing the guide contained trickery and would present something different after an interval of one minute. If one were to listen closely, one would have heard her muttering again, “There must be something on,” but of course Mr. Reed was not in the listening mode, having dropped off to sleep by watching the rhythmic scrolling through the TV guide.
The evening progressed in such fashion quite slowly, as it always did, with Mr. Reed occasionally waking and opening his copy of Churchill: A Life. He, now being on page 872, would read a little bit about that august person’s youth and upbringing, and would close the book again on page 873, still mired in childhood and thoroughly exhausted from the effort. Mrs. Reed, meanwhile, having eventually succeeded in landing upon a channel, watched hardly a second of it, but immediately took up her beads and needles and thread so as to ward off sleep.
If allowed to proceed unchecked, there is no telling what might have happened to Mr. and Mrs. Reed. Very likely they would have entered a twilight zone, condemned to sink ever deeper into their chairs — he asleep or lost in Churchill’s youth, she oblivious behind a flurry of beading — to wink eventually out of existence. Such, however, was thankfully not meant to be, and into this darkness and silence was thrown a ray of light, shocking them both out of their stupor: the local news.
As the clock turned 10, Mrs. Reed turned the volume up, so as to catch every word.
“Ed,” she said, “wake up. The news is on.”
Ed mumbled something about not having been asleep and sat up.
“Oh look, it’s that new girl,” she continued. “You know, I think she does a fine job, but I’m not sure she’s mature enough to be an anchor.”
“Whatever happened to that other lady — what’s her name? Lida? I thought she was good.”
Mrs. Reed made a face and shook her head.
“I suppose she could read the news okay, but she had a terrible fashion sense. She had all those weirdly cut tops in bizarre colors, and wore those necklaces. You remember those, don’t you?”
“Course I do,” said Ed. “Whatever happened to her? She was professional.”
“They said she retired to spend more time with her family, but I don’t buy it. I think,” she said, lowering her voice conspiratorially, “there’s some difficult producer behind the scenes. It’s why they have so much turnover.”
Mr. Reed harrumphed, indicating either disbelief in his wife’s investigative abilities, or appreciation of them.
“They do seem to go through a lot of people,” he consented after a few minutes. “Like this guy, have you ever seen this reporter before? They hauled him out of somewhere and stuck him in a suit. Looks freezing out there. Poor guy.”
“Oh, lovely,” returned Mrs. Reed. “Another murder. It just gets worse and worse.”
“Doesn’t it seem that a few years ago we didn’t get these murders?”
“Don’t forget the car thefts.”
“Right. Those too. We didn’t used to have crimes like those, did we?”
Mrs. Reed thought a moment, and agreed they were a new phenomenon.
“Ah!” she yelled suddenly, pointing at the screen. “Did you see that?”
“Did I see what?” asked Mr. Reed, looking sideways at her.
Mrs. Reed pointed at the screen again. “Them, look at them. There’s bad blood there between them.”
Mr. Reed looked closely at the co-anchors on the screen.
“You’re crazy. I don’t see it.”
“Look,” she repeated. “When she’s talking, he gives her the evil eye. I bet he wishes he had Lida back.”
“They look completely normal. They’re reading the news, not best friends.”
“But they don’t joke around like he and Lida used to do, or like they do on the morning news. There’s no warmth between them.”
Mr. Reed, having never witnessed the morning news, had no answer to this charge. Instead, he returned to one of his favorite subjects when yet another reporter detailed another murder in the area.
“You know, the news has become a crime report. It’s a police blotter! There’s no work in it, either. They just trot out all the crimes as though it were news, but it’s not.”
“No, it’s not,” echoed Mrs. Reed, apparently familiar with this line of reproach.
“As though the world were not depressing enough already, you mean to tell me they can’t dredge up one or two positive — or if not positive, at least neutral and informative — stories?”
“You would think they could,” added Mrs. Reed. “For starters, why don’t they do a profile of your work at the mission? There’s plenty going on there.”
Mr. Reed gave an exhausted chuckle, as though you did not need to tell him there was plenty going on, and that “plenty” was a nice understatement.
The local crime report, however, eventually gave way to the weather.
“And here,” said Mr. Reed with a flourish of his arm to include to the weatherman, “we have the world’s tallest person.”
Mrs. Reed frowned.
“Oh, that’s not very nice,” she said. “And besides, how do you know he’s tall when you only ever see him on TV? There’s no perspective.”
“He just looks tall. You can always tell a tall one.”
“I don’t know,” said Mr. Reed, screwing up his face so as to get a bit of wisdom out. “It’s something about his bones.”
“Yes, his bones. And his clothes. They hang on him like clothes always hang on a tall person. And here we go, look at him! Did you catch it?”
Mrs. Reed laughed.
“It is strange,” she said, “but he does seem to do it.”
“Why would he do it, is the question,” asked Mr. Reed. “Why would a weatherman start the show without wearing his jacket, and then midway through — always at the same point midway through — put his jacket back on again? The camera cuts away and then — boom! — there he is in the jacket. Houdini, this guy. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
Here he screwed up his eyes once more and leaned forward, as though to indicate to this inscrutable weatherman that he was onto him, and would be watching his behavior closely.
“And now we have,” said Mr. Reed, “for the finale, the Meathead.” Upon finishing this declaration, he looked over at his wife and smiled, for she had said “meathead” at the same time.
“You know,” Mrs. Reed said, “it isn’t very nice, but he is a meathead. Look at the size of his neck! And that watch! And I am sick of hearing about football. It’s all football, all the time. ‘Today,’” she quoted, “‘we’re only 95 weeks away from Browns preseason.’ And in the meantime we need to hear about some Division II team no one cares about that’s 1-12.”
“Except for him,” said Mr. Reed, pointing to the meathead.
“Did I ever tell you I posted on their Facebook page about this? I wrote them a very polite but honest note about how there are more sports besides football, and how it would be nice to hear about them every once in a while.”
“It would be nice,” added Mr. Reed.
“And you know what?” she asked, aware that he knew very well what. “They deleted the message! Couldn’t take a little honesty, I suppose. At least I told them what I think.”
“Yes you did, my dear. Chin up, though. With the turnover on this channel, we’ll get someone new soon.”
Mrs. Reed grumbled something about it being in all probability another meathead, and that such would undoubtedly be the death of her.
At the conclusion of these grumblings, and with the conclusion of the local news, Mr. Reed made the herculean effort of extricating himself from his chair, emitting in the process a sound more naturally heard in a gym beneath 500 pounds of metal. Once upright, he stretched his arms out to the sides, made a brief, though wildly unsuccessful, attempt to touch his toes, and finished his floor routine with a yawn that threatened to overtake his face.
“Well,” he said, with the air of one who says the same thing every night, “I’m heading in. Are you coming to bed soon?”
“In a minute,” said Mrs. Reed, giving her familiar refrain. “I just have a few more knots to make and then I’ll be done for the night.”
Here she looked up from the nearly completed necklace in her hands and the two met each other’s gaze from across the room. It only lasted a moment, but there was an undeniable sense of tenderness in the act; they appeared to congratulate the other on making it through another evening, as though they, in defiance of innumerable forces working to drive them apart and into their own silent worlds, felt victorious in keeping the silence at bay.