No commentary today. Two or three more days and we'll be done with the story.
"Great party!" Bud said. Shall I do the dishes?"
"Sure, go ahead," Martha said. "But you don't get it, do you?"
"How you insulted our guests."
Bud looked puzzled. "I didn't mean to insult anybody-- I just tried to promote a more positive outlook on some of their problems."
"But can't that be done with some tact?"
"Tact is often a code word to permit commiseration with the miserable," Bud said.
"Is that a saying from the Institute?"
"Yes, and a very useful one I might add. I would rather be tactlessly positive than tactfully negative."
"Have it your way, then," Martha conceded. "But you won't end up with many friends."
"I prefer to think of it this way: I won't end up with many negative friends, and who needs them anyway?"
"Does that include me?"
"That's up to you. I have no intention of leaving, but if you can't stand me I wouldn't blame you if you did."
"Great," Martha said, "I put up with a depressed zombie for a over a year and after one month's treatment I'm too negative for him! Don't I get any credit?"
"Well, not really, dear. I know you did the best you could, but due to your ignorance you were mainly an accessory to my depression. You coddled me too much. You acted as if I couldn't help it. And in doing so, though well-meaning, you helped me stay there."
"That's it!" yelled Martha. "I want you out of here tomorrow, you-- you ungrateful bastard! I was the one that got you to that institute in the first place-- I should have just let you rot in your chair!"
"I'm sorry you feel that way, but it's understandable. Perhaps when you've had some time to think about it you'll reconsider. Otherwise I'll be happy to move out."
Bud slept on the couch that night, dreaming of oatmeal with raisins and brown sugar. Martha sat on her bed with her reading lamp on, sipping cheap Merlot. She couldn't concentrate on William Styron's Darkness Visible, a book her friend had recommended as a means to understanding Bud's depression. Tears welled in her eyes; occasionally she rubbed any sign of betrayal away. Twenty years of marriage had come to this: Bud was brainwashed and now she, compassionate nurse and long-suffering wife, was the enemy. The enemy, the naysayer, the emotional ankle weight. How did Mrs. Norman Vincent Peale get by? The thought almost made her laugh. The Merlot burned a little.
On the wall hung their wedding picture; she remembered when Bud was Bud; he wasn't a whiner, but he used to complain often enough to be human. And now? Now he was Dr. Pangloss on steroids! Would his enthusiasm pass? Should she forgive him and wait for the programming to wear off? Surely there must be means to a compromise; the new Bud was better than Bud depressed, but not by much. His optimism made her feel . . . guilty, as if her least complaint were a mortal sin. And how much thanks had he given her? She turned off her reading lamp and rolled over.
She woke to the smell of bacon frying. Fresh flowers were on the dining table. Bud was cooking and humming to himself.
"How are you today, my love?" he asked.
"A little hungover," she said.
She filled her coffee mug and went to the dining table, began scanning the paper. Advertisements were everywhere, promising a new life, a new hairline, a larger penis, less cellulite, improved energy. America seemed a giant drugstore, a tonic salesman barking from the back of his horse-driven wagon filled with miracle cures. Bud slid her breakfast beside her and kissed her on the cheek. She began eating mechanically, afraid to make eye contact. He waited quietly until she finished. She didn't have to work today. He took her empty plate, sprayed it, stuck it in the dishwasher. So considerate. But . . . .
Sun through the window, dead leaves, the fine-needled green of their Norfolk pine. Beauty, ugliness, ugliness in beauty-- it wasn't black and white, was it? Some dance between the two? What was it in the Bible-- "this treasure in earthen vessels" or something? Bud grinned at her from above the dishwasher. What darkness was in her, so he thought, was the enemy. Her would-be savior walked around the table and sat on her right, making her left, sinistre, tenebre.
"How were the eggs?" Bud said.
"I'm still here."
"So . . .?"
He seemed almost normal this morning. Was he acting? She ran her fingernails through her gray roots, took a deep breath.
"So, I hope last night was some kind of bad dream," she began.
"Last night? I've already forgotten about it. Clean slate every day. Only way to live. 'I protest, I die daily,' quoth the Apostle Paul. You were saying?"
"God, Bud, you are so impossible! We had a fight last night, yes?"
"If you say so. I prefer to characterize it as a positive communication gap which naturally induced strong emotions in the hope of better relations."
"Jesus! You-- I mean, I threatened to kick you out if you didn't come down off the mountain, so to speak, and here you are, still spouting New Age clichés. I don't know what to think."
"You are what you think. Right now you are ambivalent, a frequent precursor to a positive decision that you no doubt will arrive at soon."
"Listen to me, Bud, this is important: Are you going to continue to act crazy, insult my friends, be insufferably positive about everything or what?" Can this marriage be saved?
"Honey, I am positively no longer the Bud you knew before my transformation, but I am still positively for this relationship and quite willing to be your husband if you'll have me."
His Howdy Doody grin made her shudder. Should she call one of those de-programming agencies for cult victims? The light in his eyes was too shallow, that was it-- "Happy shiny people holding hands." Shallow light, superficial, as if he'd had a darkectomy. It wasn't human, it wasn't right. How to expose . . .