After the movie, Ines and Arthur walked across the barren expanse of Lincoln Center. Arthur was shorter than his wife and didn’t walk as quickly. Suddenly he stopped. He stared at a man with clumped, red-blonde hair, and a prickly face in a t-shirt with the words Men Cry in the Dark. The potency of the words rushed through him like a new drug. Beneath the words on the t-shirt he saw the image of a hamburger: a thin brown rectangle, squiggles of green lettuce and a diluted red stripe of tomato stacked between two beige buns. Upon closer inspection he saw another message in small letters beneath the hamburger: Jesus Saves. Arthur let Ines walk ahead of him. The hamburger enticed him. He didn’t like last night’s anniversary dinner, the precious slices of raw fish or the new boredom that accompanied them; it was placid and full of sighs, a smooth lake underneath which lay something terrible.
“Did you see that?” He turned his February-pale face to Ines.
“See what? A homeless man?” she laughed. Since the first miscarriage Ines had a rueful laugh.
“It’s bizarre. Do you think he made the t-shirt himself? Where would one get such a thing?” She said nothing. They had been together for a decade, married for five years, and she could be silent now, if not condemning, with no excuse for her sudden retreats.
“What does that t-shirt mean?” he persisted. Ines flicked her collar up against the wind. The movement brought the sharp lemon scent of her perfume and then the memory of a pair of pale yellow underpants she had with a white scalloped edge. His wife with her softness and her edges intrigued him. He wanted to intrigue her. “Why the fast food reference? Men do cry in the dark.”
“Please,” she said, tightly.
So Arthur spared Ines. He felt an intuitive connection between crying and hamburgers, the food and salvation, but he couldn’t explain it to her. It was his unspoken role to find interest when their world turned flat.
He thought about the Iranian movie in which a husband betrayed his wife. Did marital strife matter in the context of a terrorist state? Apparently the personal was only inflamed by the political, not dwarfed by it. He couldn’t help his thoughts: a war lingered into a syndrome in nearby Iraq. We destroy places, then develop a cultural trend, an interest in certain regions of the world and go see movies about them in festivals.
He tried to be simply conversational. “What did you think of the movie?”
She sighed again. “Obviously these are horrible repressive regimes,” she said, “I liked the photography and that actress. I don’t know what to think.”
“I liked it, I guess, if you can like something like that, or do you think that is like liking movies about Nazis?”
Ines winced.
“Do you have cramps?”
She said she was fine. He wanted to find something concrete that was wrong with Ines and comfort her but she seldom complained about her body.
“You can like what you want-it’s an aesthetic choice, not everything is political, you know.” She might have added, you adjunct! Because it was true he was an adjunct professor at thirty-nine with both the enthusiastic teaching style and the poverty of one.
“OK, Ines,“ he said, slowly as he did when he felt cautious of her mood. Ines was an underwriter for an insurance company and made what she called, “good money that she couldn’t look away from” even though it wasn’t “her life’s work.” He didn’t know if it was a talent or a hindrance to hear people so literally. There were always meanings beneath words, layers to uncover. His own wife was a distant subject. They walked in silence past posters of ballets. Ines had wanted to be a film editor and had worked as an assistant for a while, so they kept up with obscure foreign films like this one almost as a way to uphold some sense of Ines’ identity. Every time she said my life’s work, it was facetious. It stung him, because it was an attack on him and his idea of a life’s work in anthropology, in teaching, which he loved.
The temperature had dropped. He paused to button his coat closer around his neck and saw the man in the t-shirt speaking with the dried fountains. He was gesturing emphatically, like a teenager speaking to a parent who didn’t understand. “Look!” Arthur said to Ines.
“You’d think you’d never been to New York before, Arthur. Come on.” She tugged at his sleeve. She still saw him as a Long Islander, therefore naive. He slowly walked away. When they got home he knew Ines would light a joint and smoke it like it was a cigarette, flicking the ash neatly into a blue, art-deco ashtray. Then, as if removing all evidence of it, she would wash the ashtray, dry it and put it back on the coffee table. It was as if she were a teenager afraid of being caught, as if, it occurred to him suddenly, she were a perfectionist in a psychotic lapse. He didn’t want to go home. “He is just so odd. I wonder what he is saying.”
“He’s crazy,” Ines said hurriedly eager to begin her evening ritual.
“Maybe not,” he began, knowing he was being provocative but unable to stop, “he has some kind of organized mission, some message. Does it mean men cry in the dark because of fast food franchises, because they’re fat, or does it mean men cry in the dark and it is time they come out about it, let the world know? And what about Jesus?” He felt a trace a fear as he spoke, in his provocation, and also as if by mentioning fat, he’d inadvertently pointed out to her the persistent roll around his waist.
She ignored him or perhaps didn’t hear. When they were younger Ines would have been curious too.

When Ines was sure everything—mail, keys, coat—were in its proper place she began her routine with the pot, first by announcing she thought she’d smoke a little as if it were a novel idea. Then she offered him some with an innocent vanilla face, her eyes large and blank, even though he always said no. She expertly lit the joint and then straightened picture frames and paced the living room while she smoked. Arthur watched her as he pretended to read in the red chair. The smell had become distressing -Hawaiian Punch and burning garbage- and brought to mind an image of children, their lips stained red with the sweet beverage, standing in an alleyway around a trash fire. He didn’t like the hungriness in their eyes, the artificial color on their perfect lips.
He had started to say no after the first miscarriage. While grieving, the drug formed a cocoon, lax and coddling over his face, his numb lips. He’d search for sharpness, something articulate, but remain mute. He wanted his sorrow to have words or at least a shape. Since he stopped smoking pot it did have shape: It was conical. Like an ice-cream cone, it was sweet but ended in emptiness. It was something he kept peering inside of and through and remained hungry.
He stifled a cough and turned the pages of an interior design magazine that Ines subscribed to, waiting, without interfering, while she smoked. She ate only organic food and she smoked. She got acupuncture and took homeopathic remedies and went to an expensive herbalist on lower Fifth. The pot couldn’t help things. At any moment she might be pregnant and not know it- who knew what effect it might have?
She must have felt him staring at her, “what?” she said, inhaling tightly.
“Just looking at you, Sweetie,” he said reflexively, dejected by his own lie. But Ines had become combustible and Arthur couldn’t tell her the truth. He did appreciate looking at her. Ines was tensile but pretty, a rangy, dark woman, impossibly sinewy but with a full, luscious face and mouth and thick dark hair. She was an Upper-West-sider from birth. Her father was a professor too. A famous one. Now she did Pilates and filled the apartment with mid-century modern furniture, watched TiVo, insisted on a stainless steel fridge and a specific six burner stove called Wolf. She was twenty-first-century-urban-affluent, Arthur observed; as unique as she thought she was, all her tastes, her new desires were general cultural manifestations. Ines looked hurt, her eyes growing glassy despite his affectionate words.
“Don’t judge me,” she said.
Arthur didn’t know when it was, maybe after three years together, that they’d become mind readers.
“You’re just so beautiful, I-“
“I know what you’re thinking. It doesn’t have any effect, “ she gestured toward the joint, technically speaking, her one vice.
Arthur felt guilty. Ines had suffered. He was being nark-y and paternalistic. Still he said, “You never know.”
Ines whipped around to face the window and the black sky. The radiator hissed and clanked. She hugged her own shoulders, flicked back the mane of her hair. “You know nothing,” she said.
“O-K?” he said with his, irritating, professorial patience. His eyes burned. In the bottom of the conical shape there were little glass shards that one might mistake for sprinkles. He thought of tipping the cone, filling his mouth. How the glass would jingle dangerously on his teeth and tongue. He didn’t know the last time he’d cried. At their wedding he might have a little bit. That was when sex was not about procreation at all. His eyes were wet. The sight of her back to him seemed both final and suspended.
“You have no idea,” she continued. “I have enough money for the next course of treatment.” She turned and extinguished the joint in the blue dish.
“I thought that was a last resort?”
“Ha! Very funny,” she said looking at him. Tears had wet her face. “And what do you think this is? The third time, Art. This is a last resort.” He breathed deeply as if holding something back. They had seen three tiny sonogram photos and delighted, each time, in the gigantic eye socket, the curl of a miniature, sea-horse spine, the tiny racing heart. Everything was there already. Later he had told himself a ball of cells that is all, nothing more.
“I see. Sorry, Ines.”
“Besides,” Ines said, “I have earned it. And you, I mean-”
“Maybe we could see how the pills work before going to the injections. Me what?” he said.
“You didn’t earn it. It is my money and I want to pay for it.”
“I just thought that would be painful for you,” he said thinking of needles not money.
“Do you think Columbia is ever going to hire you, for real?” He looked away from her then, toward the kitchen where he often became aroused as she cooked something. He liked to lean her over a clean table, remove her expensive lingerie slowly. He had this one power or perhaps, skill, was a nicer word. Since the beginning this had been his method with her, his way to reach her.
“I am doing the best I can,” he finally said, his eyes now stinging: Ines glared at him. He didn’t dare touch her. Columbia could not care less whether he stayed on each semester or not. He was totally replaceable. He knew he was a good teacher but he hadn’t published more than a single article. I am a man, he thought, but then as if stuck in a falling elevator, he didn’t know what it meant. Men? “I am—” he started, “Ines. I mean I will try harder, or look into some other source of income, I could-“
“You could do a lot of things.” She wiped her eyes and brightened for a moment. Her tears had been an affront, a show of anger, and a proof of feeling. They’d helped her. His felt like impotence, implosion. “Between the two of us we know so many people.” She picked up the blue ashtray to begin washing it and he followed her into the kitchen, poured himself a glass of her soymilk and took an oatmeal cookie from a bag on the counter.
“I could call Roberto tomorrow about the tutoring thing,” Arthur said.
He responded by offering her a bite of the cookie.
“That is so passive aggressive,” she said, pushing the cookie away hard until her hand reached his chest, pushed him. He stumbled backwards and a little bit of her terrible milk splashed onto his neck. “Tutoring is not going to cut it, Arthur. Call Sandra, not Roberto.”
He ignored what she had just done, the violence of her hand. “I will talk to her on Saturday when we all have dinner,” he said calmly, “now come to bed.” He tentatively reached over and then found himself pulling her close by her wrist. Ines let him hold her. The bones of her arm felt hollow in his hand. He held on for a moment aware of squeezing. He heard a small gasp from Ines, then kissed her neck where it was always warm and, beneath her perfume, smelled faintly of sugar. Arthur felt the chill of the cold soymilk as it crept around his collarbone, dripped onto the hair of his chest. As his eyes pooled, he held her wrist tighter. Ines softened, bent her brows into something strange, new as fear. He kept his hand firm, tasted the momentary power. The phone rang and Ines looked away and then back at him as if to dissolve his hold. She twisted her wrist as they listened to the phone ring, but Arthur held on.
It was her father calling to confirm dinner. Arthur stayed where he was as she spoke. Her voice sounded uncharacteristically high and colorless. “Yes, fine,” she said, “Will Sandra be there?” Sandra was Ines’ father’s new wife. She called herself a headhunter for intellectuals. Arthur thought she was scary, turning medieval scholars into textbook authors, PhD’s into cold callers. When Ines hung up with her father, Arthur grabbed her other wrist. “What are you doing?” she said annoyed but almost singsong, with a hint of coyness.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“Maybe you can speak with Sandra Saturday night, Art.”
“Uh- huh,” he said blandly. He nudged himself close to her, holding her wrists down by her hips so that she had to take a few steps backwards. He guided her to the bedroom.
“I have to wash my face, “ she said.
Ines had a multi-step cleansing ritual beginning with a black soap, that she never skipped. Her skin was by no means perfect, but at this point in history, Arthur knew, a certain kind of woman was bound to this bedtime ritual and Ines wasn’t one to resist.
“No you don’t,” he said. He transferred both her wrists to one hand, and with his other hand, stroked her ribs under her sweater. Sex was the method, the glue.
“The D and C was hard Art. Just not ready,” she said.
“Sure,” he said reflexively, forever horny and understanding. He held onto her and for a moment he imagined letting her go, but instead he insisted, ”I think you’re fine, Ines.”
“I’m not, really.”
“You always say you’re fine.” He pulled her down to sit beside him on the mattress.
“I’m not, though,” she said, her voice thin, it’s contours stripped away.
“Lay with me.” They reclined for a moment like spoons. Her wrists in his hand felt like drift wood, light and dry. He inhaled her dark hair. The position made him remember tenderness. Deftly he rolled Ines onto her stomach, letting her wrists roll beneath her body. He knew this body. He knew her. This was his body. He put his weight on top of her, pinning her to the mattress.
He rolled her skirt and panties down off her hips with one hand. Then he held a hunk of her too thick hair. He undid his belt with the other hand.
Ines said things. She said things with that slit of a voice he didn’t recognize. “You have no idea,” she said or maybe she said, “I have no idea.” She freed one wrist from beneath her. He saw her painted short nails languidly scratch the bedspread. The curve of her white knuckle was just bodily, just life but not hers specifically. She was parts and limbs. He grabbed her hand and stilled it. “Don’t,” she may have said, her voice disguised by a whisper. He felt he was alone. “I don’t— “ she began. But the things Ines said were not true. He had to hold onto what was authentic. It was not underwriting; it was not money. It could not be the neat joints she rolled. He felt he knew the original Ines. But this voice was strange, foreign to him, and then the words were only sounds as if she spoke another language. He couldn’t hear her anymore. Their life had grown stagnant, had accumulated an opaque film, and now Arthur thought he was doing what he could, to part the green surface.
When he woke up Ines was already gone. He left to teach his class. Students read the ethnography of the Trobriand islanders. Students spoke and he saw their mouths moving, saw their dyed hair, the body piercings that were now common not radical, and their diffident necks. What were they saying? He couldn’t listen. They were all once babies. And now they could think. Now they could talk. He gave them a long essay question to answer and left the room, strolling out into the urban version of a quad. Why did they want a baby anyway? A baby could not go to a film festival, or to a new sushi restaurant. A baby did not have interesting or connected friends. Nor could it have discussions or practice Pilates. Ines would be one of those women who lost the weight fast and strolled the baby in a three-wheeled jogging stroller while keeping up a conversation on a cell phone. The baby was the new accessory. He shook his head hard. These were mean thoughts and Arthur loved Ines. As he collected the essays at the end of class he realized a baby could cry.
He had decided the night before that even though he disliked her, he’d call Sandra before they met for dinner, to please Ines. After class he went to the shared shitty office, with metal file cabinets and grafitti-ed desks. He found Sandra’s work number and picked up the phone. He thought about how he’d never be famous. Fuck Sandra. He replaced the receiver and left, walked down Broadway. It started to snow and wet flakes bit at his face. He was fine. No, he was not fine. He was never sneaky but he sneaked into The West End and ordered a beer. It was three o’ clock. He ordered another beer when the first was half drained and thought about his wife and her weed. It was an aberrant habit for her, an incongruous bit. Ines was such an unlikely pothead. So what if she knew he’d had a couple of beers on the way home; so be it. At the end of forty minutes he’d finished a third. He was a happy cliché, down and out in a bar in the middle of the afternoon.
He walked outside and the beer made it feel less cold. A weird glee seized him, a kind of freedom and he walked fast downtown, past the pre-war buildings and the contemporary slick ones, past perpetual students and teachers and mothers and dogs and past their own place on seventy-third, all the way until he was back at Lincoln Center. He looked around for the man in the t-shirt that said, Men Cry in the Dark but didn’t see him. He thought of seeing another depressing Iranian movie. He liked the beauty of the veiled actresses, the inevitable removal of the burqa. Ines wouldn’t get home until seven. There was time. He took an unexpected detour and went into a McDonald’s across the street. Ines liked to mention that these didn’t exist in Manhattan when she was little. The air was thick and warm with grease and he ordered a large of everything. “Would you like to super-size that?” a voice asked.
“Yes.” Of course he would, the suggestion was enough.
The burger was wet; it reminded him of sex. The fries jabbed at his lips like perfect salt kisses. All the secrets of the afternoon filled him up. Ines hated this food, but in a personal way, like Arthur hated the current administration, or some students said they hated their parents. Across the street he thought he saw the man in the t-shirt. He ate a few bites fast, trying to finish quickly. Yes, it was him! The image of the hamburger was unmistakable, and he liked the feeling that by stopping here for a burger he had willed this reappearance. He paused and let the burger drop. Incredulous, he smiled like he had each time he’d seen Ines for the first few years they’d known each other, thinking, she is here for me. Me!
Now in the same way, it seemed the homeless man was back just for him. He wondered if his being where he was had some connection to the restaurant, if he were there as some sort of protest, or on the contrary, a subliminal ad. We are filled with unbearable desire. He rose and left the remains of the ravaged feast on the table. He dashed across the street until he reached the man. He followed him for a few blocks until he stopped near Central Park West outside Café des Artiste. Next-door he saw the gold plated plaque with the name of the pediatrician to whom Ines had gone as a child. DR. SAM STONE, MD. He used to find the sight of that marker endearing, but now it seemed impossible that Ines had ever been a child. He could go in and talk to Doctor Stone who was probably very old by now. He could show him the empty ice cream cone, ask him what had happened to the original Ines. It’s too late he thought. He stood watching the hamburger man while he spoke to a mailbox, gesticulating wildly. The t-shirt was surprisingly clean and white. The man must have showered. His beard was fresh and fluffed, and his weathered face was clean and ruddy as if buffed.
“Did you lose something?” Arthur asked, motioning to the mailbox.
The man looked up for an instant, his eyes opaque buttons, and then turned away. Arthur watched his hands; the tips of the fingers were callused and purple from the cold. He wanted to warm those hands, to give the man gloves. “Do you want these?“ he said, suddenly offering them. The man ignored him. A baby would let you love him, would want you to warm him up and love him. He guessed that was why people had them. It seemed simple but came to him ecstatically, a drunken epiphany.
He would have loved a baby. Each of the three babies. He would have, even if she could not love him.
She could not love him.
He had never thought this before. He watched the man as he whispered to the mailbox. Arthur gazed inside the restaurant where people held shiny glasses of wine. What made them so happy? The pavement was pale, a serene gray. Finished with his mailbox, the man walked away and Arthur followed him back to the fountains. As they drew near, the man ran a few steps as if he had something very important to say. Arthur watched him as he perched on the edge of the fountain as if on a sick bed. He looked for it, waited for the man to cry but he didn’t. The sun seemed to rise a bit, an orange ball in the sky, before it descended and sealed the winter day into night. On the day they married, Arthur had not cried hard. He remembered Ines noticed his eyes tearing and said, “come on, it’s a happy thing,” and how he’d loved that. He’d liked it’s meaning our being married is a happy thing, but even that day, beneath her statement and her cheer, was the other meaning, that Ines did not want him to be seen crying.
Ines didn’t care about the t-shirt, or the slogan, or why men cry in the dark. And she would abhor the way Arthur had spent the afternoon, pursuing his own brand of fieldwork. But it was good to him. It was a good afternoon. What was good was different to each of them.
He walked to the curb and hailed a cab. He couldn’t pronounce the crush of consonants in the driver’s name. Next to the license was a photo of a child in footie pajamas. There were certain universal joys.
“Where are you going?” the driver asked.
Arthur leaned forward as if to answer but found himself in tears. The driver patiently looked away and pulled into the stream of traffic. Arthur wondered if when left alone, Ines would clean and dry the blue ashtray or if she’d leave it out along with the cardboard match, the tiny, lipstick-stained roach, and the rest of the evidence.


New England Review, 2008