All’s Fair in Love and War

MARY STEER

I warned her about this kind of thing, but she’s doing it again. I can’t believe she doesn’t remember all the things that happened last time. Her other friends have warned her about it, too. I heard one of them saying, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” and another one saying, “Remember, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” She told them, “But I’m going to do it differently this time.”

Frankly, I don’t think she is. So far, everything is going the same as the last time. She spends all kinds of time hunched in front of her computer, and it doesn’t matter how much I try to distract her with more worthwhile pursuits—she just keeps telling me, “Bug off, Frank. This is important. Stop it, I told you.” One time I just stared at her until she finally looked at me, and then I turned my back and stalked off without saying a word. I mean, I love her and all—she’s the best roommate a fellow could ever have—but why must she persist with this foolishness? Is my company not enough for her?

I realized I hadn’t shown my appreciation for her in quite some time. I did think about that. It even occurred to me to bring her a present—in fact, I went looking for one, several evenings in a row after she was home from work, I went, but I couldn’t track down anything. I’ve never been very good at that anyway. I dream about being good at it. “In your dreams,” she says to me. She knows. Maybe she sees it when I’m asleep. She dreams about stuff—I’ve seen it. She’ll be napping on the couch and she’ll start talking in her sleep. Maybe I do that too? When I’m napping on the couch.

Anyway. She started going out in the evenings more, smelling awful—why doesn’t anyone tell her how bad she smells?—I’ve tried but she doesn’t pay any attention—and finally she brought the first one home the other day. This seems to be the pattern: she’s out, she’s out, she’s out, and then she’s in, with the newest him.
She introduced us, and then she went off to get drinks and snacks, and left us to get acquainted. I couldn’t help noticing he smelled bad too. I stared at him, trying to figure out what she saw in him. He smiled at me, in sort of a sick, glazed way.

“Uh, Sandra?” he called out to the kitchen. “Need any help?”

“Nope,” she called back. “Just you two get to know each other.”

“You know,” he said, loudly, as if he thought I couldn’t hear, “you never, uh, you never mentioned Frank before.”

She came into the room carrying a tray. “Sure I did,” she said. “Didn’t I?” She looked at me and smiled.

“Does he ever blink?” I heard the guy whisper as she brought him a drink. She just laughed. I excused myself and went out to the hallway and pissed in his shoes. Both of them. That’s the way to deal with these guys. You do that once, they never come back. Works every time.

She doesn’t always get the hint, though. She had another few nights out, and then she brought another loser home, and before she did she sat me down and had a little chat.

“Listen, Frank,” she said. “You are sending away all these potential boyfriends. You have got to stop. I really don’t appreciate your behaviour, okay? It’s very anti-social.”

I just stared at her. Honestly, what does she expect? It’s just that I’ve got her back. I don’t want to see her wind up with some clueless creature who isn’t worthy of her. Doesn’t she see I’m just looking out for her?

But perhaps pissing in the shoes just isn’t enough.

So the next one she brought home, I only stayed in the living room with him long enough to appear to be polite. Then I went and pissed in his shoes and I shredded his jacket. Not much. Just one sleeve. He didn’t last either.

The next time she brought someone home, she actually told me she didn’t want me around. I was very affronted. Then she locked me in the office. I yelled at her to let me out, I even hammered on the door, but she ignored me. Man, I hate that. At least there’s plenty to do in the office, paperwork and so on, so I was able to keep myself occupied, and with a little judicious rearranging of certain supplies, paper clips and the like, perhaps I was also able to send her the message that I do not appreciate being frozen out of negotiations. She hates it when I reorganize the office. From time to time I listened at the door and I heard this guy sneezing and sounding very congested, just like our friend Alicia who hardly ever comes to visit since I moved in. And sure enough, we never saw him again either.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. That evening, when she finally—finally!—let me out of the office, her eyes were all watery and she was kind of congested, too.

“Frank,” she said, “I just don’t know what to do.”

She started getting ready for bed and I followed her all around, telling her loudly and at some length exactly what she should do. I could tell she wasn’t really paying attention to what I was saying, though, because she just kept saying, “I know, I know—tell me all about it. Yes, yes—I get it.”

I like to think what I had to say had some effect, however, because although she persisted in pursuing foolish behavioural patterns—she was out, she was out, she was out—the next time she brought someone home, there was just something different about him.

For starters, he treated me like an equal. She had locked me in the office again, but the instant I yelled at them to let me out, I heard him say, “Why can’t your buddy join us? I’d love to meet him.” And when she let me out he said, “Wow, hey there, big fella. What’s your name?”

So she performed the introductions. And then, as before, off she went to the kitchen to get some drinks and snacks. I sat and stared at him, unwilling to believe that he could really be any different.

But he was. He stared back. And he started the conversational ball rolling.

“You’re a pretty good-lookin’ guy, you know,” he said.

Yes, I thought. Perhaps this one is not as bad as the others.

“Sandra mentioned you might be a bit aloof, but you know, I wouldn’t have expected anything less. I have a little girl at home, and she gives everyone new the cold shoulder, too.”

I blinked at him, just once, so he would know he was permitted to continue speaking.

“Personally I don’t mind. Sometimes I take a while to warm up to new people, too.”
Then Sandra came in with a tray, and he said, “He’s a beauty.”

She said, “See if you still think so after he pees in your shoes.”

He laughed. He laughed! Then he said, “It wouldn’t be the first time. Cassandra pees in my shoes any time I dare to bring someone home.”

She said, “She pees in your shoes? Guess I dodged a bullet.”

He said, “I guess it’s me she’s mad at.”

They got busy chatting and I knew I liked him when he broke off a little piece of cheese and asked if he could give it to me. I mean, he didn’t have to ask, but it’s the thought that counts. The thought, and the cheese. I realized there was no need to piss in anyone’s shoes this evening. But if this Cassandra he mentions ever comes calling…let’s just say desperate times call for desperate measures, and this is a one-cat household.

Mary Steer writes short stories about unusual people in usual situations, and usual people in unusual situations. Her short story “All’s Fair in Love and War” was inspired by imagining what a new friend of her daughter’s might be like when he grows up. Like many writers, Mary is currently grappling with a novel-in-progress, and hopes to emerge from the process victorious.

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