ALTHOUGH HARRY HAD BEEN MARRIED TO Francis for less than a year, he worried about their relationship. He still enjoyed Francis’s company, their Sunday strolls in the nearby woods, her funny quips through the bad movies they both liked; he still caught her wistful face in profile and thought her as pretty and intriguing as a Hopper heroine. Yet, these days, they seemed to have so little to say. Gone were their long phone chats from work, their tipsy prattles over pints in the pub, their deep and precious heart-to-hearts at four a.m. when one woke the other because they could not sleep. Now, if Harry was restless he crept to the spare bedroom, and their daily chat – a bite-sized yak at lunch, usually to agree what telly to watch that night – lacked emotion. When they said I love you at the end of a call, it sounded like just another way of saying goodbye.
Things had to change.
So, Harry scoured the Internet for topics to discuss. He prepared notes on the political upheavals in West Africa, the continuing nuclear fallout in Japan, as well as more esoteric subjects, such as the ethical implications of the leather trade, the media's representation of climate change, and the deterioration of fair play in sports. On the train, he studied the topics, planning thrusts and counters to his arguments, picturing the two of them caught in a whirl of words, each banging their hand on the table and talking ever louder to get their point across, their views as sharp and satirical as a column in Private Eye.
When Harry arrived home, Francis was in the bath. He hung his coat and hurried upstairs. Sitting on the toilet lid, he asked his startled, foam-covered wife what she thought about the noise pollution caused by church bells.
“Not much,” replied Francis. “We don't live near any churches. Why do you want to know?”
Harry tried to think of an answer, but nothing came. His brain was blank. He pictured the train home, the notes he had studied, but in his mind the lines were illegible, the words meaningless.
“Satellites!” cried Harry.
“Satellites?” asked Francis.
“Do they contribute to global warming?”
Francis seemed to ponder this. “I don’t know. Do they?”