Sandy Steinman

Little Things

     "Roz, remember you asked me if I knew a good place for brunch?" I say to my sister on the phone. "How about the Fog City Diner? Yeah. Off the Embarcadero."
      My husband, Henry, groans. "You're recommending that place?" He's sitting across the living room on the BarcaLounger.
      "Yeah, it's a great little place." I say to Roz.
      "Great?" says Henry, "You're exaggerating. It's not great. Good, maybe. Not great."
      I put my hand over the mouthpiece and whisper, "I'm on the phone, Henry."
     "But the lemonade was off," he says. "It parched my throat. And the risotto? The rice was rancid."
      "Maybe you shouldn't order risotto, Roz."
      Henry picks up the remote and turns on PBS.
      "No," I tell her, "I didn't have risotto. Henry did. I had roasted eggplant which was great. Henry had 'off' lemonade and rancid risotto and he says the food was not great."
      "It wasn't bad," says Henry.
      "Good. He says good. You think you'll pass, Roz?"
      Henry laughs, "Now, that's a great idea. Tell Roz."
      I glare at him, "You don't want to take any chances, Roz?"
      "Tell her, Sylvia."
      "Well, it's up to you, Roz." I hang up, dejected. "Listen, Henry," I say, "soon as I get on the phone, you plop down on the BarcaLounger and pretend to watch TV. I know why you 're really there; to spy on my conversation and correct me."
     "So? Can I help it if I can listen to two things together? Are you making a federal case? I've always done it. It's a little thing."
      "I'm pissed in spades about that little thing."
      "You know I'm a stickler for accuracy."
      "Then mind your own accuracy."
      "Been listening in past thirty years now."
      Thirty years? My God. I've put up with this thirty years? I ask myself.
      "I'm not a boozer. I don't snort cocaine. I don't womanize..."
What's kept me here? I wonder.
      "Good food is not great food." He glances at his watch. "When's lunch?"
     Embarrassment, I tell myself, that's why I haven't filed for divorce.
      "It's seven after twelve, Sylvia."
      I can hear our friends tittering; Did you hear? Sylvia walked out on Henry because he wouldn't stop correcting her.
     "Twelve-ten, Sylvia. You know I get a sour stomach if we eat off-schedule."
      Daddy would be crushed. The first divorce in the family.
      "It's a mitzvah to be orderly. My office nurses compliment me on my drawers. The hospital honors me for my excellent records."
      "Are you giving me that 'holier than thou' shtick again? I know you reek with virtue, Henry; but you confine your fussiness to petty things: alphabetizing cans of Campbell's soup, pencils lined up according to size, proper dishwasher loading, careful coffee measuring..."
      "Your coffee is too strong, Sylvia."
      "It comes out in my dreams."
      "Even a teeny sip is getting hit with an electric bolt."
      "I woke last night with a jolt, Henry. My heart was pounding. I was drenched with perspiration."
      "Strong coffee is not good for you, Sylvia. Gives you palpitations."
      "I dreamt I strangled you, Henry..."
      "Half a cup and my hands shake all day."
      "With the yellow cloth tape measure from my sewing box. Your face turned blue. Your tongue hung out, swollen..."
      "Three measures to four cups is too much." "I awoke. There you were, peaceful as a turtle..."
      "Two to four is better."
      "Level measures..."
      "With that smirk on your face."
      "Not heaping."
      "I said level, Sylvia. Not heaping. By the way, where's the TV Guide? It's not on the coffee table where it belongs."
      "Don't you know, Dr. Know-it-All?"
      "The kitchen? The bathroom? If you put things back where they belong..."
      "Don't you know everything?"
      "'A place for everything, and everything in it's place,' to quote my mother. A lot you care about order, Sylvia. It'll probably turn up in my sock drawer."
      "I'm married to His Majesty of the Little Things."
      "Or the washer, spinning around with a color load."
      "The International Authority on starched underwear, hospital corners, and all the other earth-shattering matters."
      "Maybe it's floating in a pitcher of iced tea."
      I fall to my knees. "Oh, my King of Trivia, Guru of sparkling crystal, Ayatollah of the mundane, of perfect spelling, comma placement and double dashes. Hail, Master, I worship at your feet. I am your humble servant." I bow at Henry's feet.
      "Not like that, Sylvia. Women don't bow. You curtsy."