Reuben was reading the newspaper and eating smoked salmon on Saltines when Helena got home. He didn’t look up when she slung her purse onto the kitchen table and said, “Did you know that the guy who designed the Pringles can is actually buried in a Pringles can?”
Still focused on an article about a high school senior who was awarded $20,000 in grant money to travel the southern United States, writing poetry about the socioeconomic connection between inadequate human waste disposal and rural America, Reuben gave an unenthusiastic, “Yeah.”
“Yeah. I knew about the Pringles guy.”
“No, you didn’t!”
Reuben stopped reading and looked at Helena. For a split second he thought about what his life coach said about arguing with people trapped in a ‘lowest common denominator’ frame of mind. Then he proudly remembered the candle-lit ritual he conducted in the guest bathroom to celebrate the death of his own ego. Still, he answered, “Did so!”
His tone made Helena raise her eyebrow.
The life coach had told Reuben that he had a responsibility to speak his truth even though he couldn’t control how others responded. But, the truth-truth was that Reuben was a little hurt that Helena didn’t remember that he told her about the Pringles guy being buried in a Pringles can. He’d even sent her a link: 101 Fun Facts That You Probably Didn’t Know.
With an eyebrow still raised she asked, “Did you know that Psycho was the first movie to show a toilet flushing?”
“Did you know that there’s a lake in Australia the color of Pepto Bismol?”
“Yes,” he said, scattering the counter with a thin storm of Saltine crumbs.
Helena opened the refrigerator door with a bit too much force and a stick of butter fell onto the floor. When she bent to pick it up, the pencil holding her hair in a bun slipped and, when she stood up, her hair looked like a droopy basket.
She pointed the butter at Reuben. “You’re threatened by me.”
“I am not threatened by you.”
“Why have you always got to be right? Always got to know more than me. Every time I say something it’s, I know, I know, I know. And stop interrupting me all the time.”
“I didn’t say anything!”
“Yeah, but you do interrupt me a lot.”
“I have no idea why you’re so upset. The only reason I know those things because I read the same stupid article you did. I told you about the Pringles guy three days ago.”
“Oh, and there it is. You always say that too, like you’re my only possible source of information. Alright, if you know so much, what’s the name of the pink lake in Australia?”
Reuben thought of his life coach again and made a quick mental catalogue of all the possible healthy responses. But, instead of saying any of those things, he grinned and said, “Lake Hillier.”
Helena threw the stick of butter at his head which missed but not by much. She slammed the refrigerator door, gathered her purse, and headed toward the bedroom without saying a word to their cat, Tallulah, which was unusual because Reuben was sure she liked the cat better than she liked him.
He went into the den where the muted television was showing the 10-day weather forecast. He sat by Tallulah who ignored him completely when he said, “That escalated quickly.”
He reached into his pocket for his phone to confirm exactly what day he’d sent the 101 Fun Facts link to Helena but realized that he left his phone on the bedroom nightstand. Surely, you’re not stupid enough to go in there just to get your phone, words the life coach never said but that Reuben mentally credited to her anyway. He settled in next to Tallulah and began flipping channels.
A solid thirty seconds passed before he absentmindedly reached in his pocket again to get the phone. He felt a rush of agitation. Alone in the den with no phone and nothing worth watching on television, he felt a shift in his mood and thought, this is stupid. He felt himself thaw a bit towards Helena.
Reuben gently knocked on the bedroom door before he opened it. He first looked to see if his phone was on the nightstand. Then he looked at Helena who was laying on the bed with her back to him.
“Hey,” he said.
She didn’t move.
“Helena? Did you know that it takes 570 gallons to paint the exterior of the White House?”