‘Is there something you’d like to share with me?’
My wife has followed me into the kitchen where I’m sat with my coffee cup and my magazine. Without looking up, I reach over to grab a cup for her too. She is holding a clutch of letters which moments earlier I had heard tumbling through our letterbox and onto the wooden floor where, predictably, the cat would have been waiting to scatter them further along the hallway.
Already audited, those pieces of mail that my wife has identified as junk are efficiently poured into the recycling bin. These same companies that boast targets to lower their carbon footprints are, it seems, the same companies that continue to post the dead remains of murdered trees over our hallway floor, on a daily basis.
‘And good morning to you, too,’ I say. I watch the postman through the window as he wanders out of our drive and crosses the road to deliver an interesting looking package to number 33. ‘Why is it I don’t get interesting packages delivered to me anymore, apart from the ones I send myself?’ I ask.
‘Well?’ she persists.
(Sometimes, I’m left wondering whether the words I speak are indeed articulated out loud, or whether I’ve merely thought them in my head.) ‘Well, what?’ I ask.
‘Is there something you’d like to share with me? Anything I need to be worried about?’
‘Always. Always be worried,’ I say, looking back down into my magazine. (I’m not trying to be dismissive, I’m just not sure what’s coming next.)
She slips one of the letters that she has been holding under my nose, letting it flop onto the page that I’m reading. It’s from one of our utility providers. ‘I refer you to my previous question.’
I look up at her. She is busy fixing me with one of her more ‘enigmatic’ expressions – one of the ones she keeps for what she considers to be ‘enigmatic’ times.
I look back down at the envelope and glance more closely at the name in the address window. ‘Well,’ I say, ‘I’ll leave it for you to decide whether ‘Arian Sturrock’ does indeed illustrate a more sinister change in my political leanings, or whether it merely reflects the overall illiteracy of our current electricity provider.
Nat takes the letter back. ‘It could be either, to be fair.’
I look back up at her. ‘… Yes. Yes, it could be either. Oh, and … um … Heil Thingy.’ I throw her a limp solute while looking back down into my magazine.
‘I knew it!’ she says, sticking her index finger into my coffee cup before wiping it across my cheek and quickly nipping out of the room again.
‘Oh, very grown up!’ I say, mostly to the now empty silence … and the cat.
* * * * * * * *
While she’s upstairs, I reach across the table for my laptop and quickly Google Arian Nations, mainly to find out exactly what my electricity company is accusing me of. According to Wikipedia, Aryan Nations (with a ‘y’) is an anti-Semitic, neo-Nazi, white supremacist terrorist organisation, based in Idaho, USA. ‘Well, that’s rude,’ I say. I research further but they don’t seem to have a presence on Linkedin.
‘Who were you talking to?’ asks Nat, as she re-enters the room.
‘Did you know that Aryan Nations is …’
‘Yes, I did,’ she interrupts. ‘They were also the United States’ first nationwide terrorist organisation.’
‘… You really do know too much to just be an office manager,’ I say. ‘Is there something you’d like to share with me?’
‘Not without either having to shoot you or make you sign the Official Secrets Act,’ she says, and kisses my head before leaning across me to search for something in the fridge. ‘So what was your letter about?’
‘Nothing interesting,’ I say. ‘Usual end of contract thing where the provider attempts to encourage the customer to stay loyal through the medium of hiking the monthly direct debit up to an excessive amount. Hardly a sweetener. In ten days’ time, we’ll receive a follow-up letter claiming that they are sorry to see us go. Same shit every year – just different provider. They spend millions on recruiting new customers and blow it all on failing to develop a retention strategy. They’re all the same; I can’t see the logic in it.’
‘A bit like the average marriage,’ says Nat. ‘Money and effort poured into the initial courting ritual, followed by an irrational cocktail of complacency and inertia for the next forty years.’
‘Wow, that’s a bit deep/depressing – delete as appropriate,’ I say. ‘Is that how you see our marriage?’
‘When was the last time you bought me flowers?’
‘Friday, after work,’ I say.
‘So, there you go, perhaps we’re not the average married couple.’
‘And when was the last time you bought me any?’
‘Yesterday. Along with that bottle of wine you finished off.’
I look over to my left, to the yellow roses in the glass vase and the empty pinot noir bottle on the side. ‘Good point,’ I say, smiling. ‘Your retention strategy appears to be working well – you’re stuck with me.’
‘Bugger!’ she says. ‘I didn’t think that though.’
* * * * * * * *
Later that day, I find a note from Nat sitting on my laptop keyboard. It’s addressed to a Mr Arian Stomach: ‘I am writing to inform you that from February 1stthe unit cost of wife provision will be rising to 3 bottles of white (pref. Pinot Grigio) per week, and a meal out each weekend (at a time of our mutual choosing.) I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for continuing to use this service for all your spousal needs.’
I turn the note over and write, ‘Dear Mrs Stomach – With regret, I write to inform you that from 1stFebruary, I will be securing the services of a cheaper provider. I would, however, like to thank you for the service you have delivered to date, and hope that we can form a contract again in the future, when I am once more a new client and can therefore access less feudal terms from you. Yours unfaithfully …’
Within minutes, I’ve lost my nerve and have removed my note. I’m not stupid, I know who the master race is in this house.