We have yet to turn on our central heat. My husband and I know that we probably should, just to knock off the edge, just for the sake of the children, just for the challenge of heating a house that can’t be heated. But what started out as an exercise in self-denial has become a battle of wills, layered under long underwear.
Meanwhile, the chill of frosty nights has lodged itself in our plaster walls and settled like a pall upon us. We eat dinner wearing scarves and watch TV wrapped in our coats and blankets. I drag my space heater around like a ball and chain. I’d sleep with it if my husband didn’t mind so much.
On the upside, milk left out of the refrigerator by careless children doesn’t sour.
But constant cold affects a person’s faculties, and men are the first to suffer. “This is the summer you’re going to wear a bikini,” says my husband in front of our four children, who choose to remain oblivious to the fact that their parents have hormones, too. “Face it, you’re only getting older. You’re running out of time.”
Children reluctantly witness their father plant a wet kiss square on my lips and hum, in complete contradiction, “You get more beautiful every year.” The boys distract themselves by breathing through their mouths and observing the puffs of smoke created from warm exhalations colliding with cold air. Our 10-year-old daughter recoils to the other side of the sofa and begs, “Daddy, y’all quit doing that.”
“What?” he says. “Kissing your mother?” and he does it again.
Yet, as much as he enjoys making the fruit of his loins very uncomfortable about being that kind of fruit, this exercise is all about finding a chink in my armor. He pours me a glass of wine to accompany his powdery affections adorned with lacy ice crystals. “I mean it,” he continues. “You are more beautiful now than when I married you and you’ve still got a great butt.”
Upon the butt remark, the 16-year-old flees. If I was of right mind, I would take my wine and go with him. But I stay and try to figure out exactly what the addled old man is prattling on about. Usually he waits until later in the season to wage this annual, irksome bathing suit campaign. But tonight he’s hipped on heat and the mention of summer keeps me put. Talk of the promise of the great solstice blinds me to other motives.
“Yep, this is the one,” he says. “I almost had you last summer. I could tell.” He shakes his head wistfully and mutters to himself, “This has got to be the summer,” as if we won’t make it through another winter.
I believe this bikini talk is a ploy, not simply a slight of hand to warm up the conversation and the room; not a tactic to run the children off so we can hog the space heater and have the television to ourselves. Wily as a coyote, he creates in me a yearning for warmer circumstances.
The wine, the sweet talk, the bikini babble, it’s a choreographed effort to crack me; to force my hand against the glacial plaster walls. He wishes with all his might to win the battle of wills over turning on the central heat and, dually, to reap a cozy benefit from my downfall.
But I will not cry mercy and thump the thermostat. The man simply doesn’t appreciate how hard it is to get kids to put the milk away.