It’s not that I don’t try but mostly I just don’t get it.
Rose is an absolute newshound, always tuned to the Beeb or Deutche Wella or CNN. Some days the house gets so full to the brim of words that I have to open a window to let the commentary out. She’s way ahead of me but I try to keep up. For example, Rose is in the kitchen making dinner and I’ll nonchalantly stick my head around the door and ask, ‘how’s that situation in…Nigeria coming along?’
And she’ll stop her sautéing, turn her beautiful eyes on me and say, ‘what situation? And it’s not Nigeria, it’s Niger.’ And she says it right too, nee-jair. (I always thought they were the same place.)
Don’t think that because I’m a wooden guy I don’t care. I like nothing more than standing in the garden hosing the beds, hearing the suck of the soil, the black beetle in its lair, loving the good earth between my toes.
There are days I’m glad I don’t follow. Seeing her hunched in front of the screen while some flack-jacket hack reports on the peace talks while bullets are zinging about. Back in the studio the anchor turns to the camera and says, ‘there’s no good news Rose, in fact it’s all bad.’ I can see her mouthing the words it’s all bad. Then she looks up at me with my painted-on smile and she looks so sad, so lonely.
It wasn’t always like this. Once there was no news except us. I was her merry-go-round horse and she was my Godiva riding the highways of the night—and we worked our way through the entire street directory. Wooden guys stay hard longer.
But these days she’s prickly. She complains that I leave leaves in the lounge or twigs in the bathroom. (It’s not easy now that Spring’s here and the sap’s rising.) In bed she wants me to read more but as soon as my head hits the pillow my eyelids just click shut.
One morning she’s listening to the early news and I breeze by humming my happy tune and she snaps. Suddenly, she’s shouting and pushing and I’m reversing away from all this fury until I back myself right into the broom closet.
And then she latches the door. Of all things.
So I’m stuck there with no one but the mop and broom to talk to (I try the situation in Niger conversation but those guys are really out of touch).
At last it’s evening and she opens the door and I tumble into her arms sobbing. She’s crying too and saying how sorry she is but I can sense a stiffness in her; she’s closed her heart. Wooden guys can tell.
We needed help. So I called Dr Danny’s fifty-cents-a-minute advice line.
‘We’re in trouble Doctor Danny.’
‘You need a break,’ replies Dr Danny.
‘Really?’ I say wincing.
‘A circuit breaker, a mood-maker. The road to relaxation, the trip of a lifetime, some quality time.’
‘A holiday,’ says the MD spelling it out for me.
‘Yes,’ I say.
So I’m onto the travel agent. ‘Somewhere tropical and no news. And hurry.’
‘An emergency honeymoon, how nice,’ the agent says with a lazy kind of sarcasm. Then he looks into his computer. ‘I do have a cancellation on The Blue Moon. That cruise goes waaaay out.’
‘Romantic?’ I ask.
‘Oh sure,’ he says vacantly.
A week later Rose and I are standing on the docks looking at our beautiful ship: tall as an office building, hung with fairy lights, the crew in their perfect white uniforms.
Rose had packed her best receivers and Internet connections but by day three we’re well over the horizon and she’s in withdrawal, jumpy like an overwound clock. ‘Don’t you see?’ she explains desperately. ‘If the Hang Seng takes a dive with the third quarter figures due on Thursday… What day is it today? It’s Wednesday. No, it’s Thursday.’ Then she catches my eye. ‘You really don’t get it do you?’
Each morning she hurries up to the stateroom looking for any old newspaper and poring over it like she was drowning. When we pull into some tropical port, she’s first down the gangplank, pushing past the greeters with their leis and ukuleles, desperate for a fix. But island news is different, it’s local: pigs and coconuts and births and marriages and shipping and community. There’s nothing on the war on terror or the defection of the Democratic House Leader.
So she sulks and pouts. For days.
Day nine and the ship is hanging in the sea like a big blue dream. The deck is glittering with winged fish and in the face of all this beauty Rose is easing up. The honeymoon cure is working at last. I offer a silent prayer of thanks to Dr Danny. I’m touching her shoulder and she’s buffing my chin with some fine emery paper. ‘What’s news wooden guy?’ she says in a low sultry voice.
That evening we were at dinner when a wave hits The Blue Moon and then another. We lurch about giggling.
Cutlery slides across the table and a piece of black forest cake lands in my lap. Then the lights go out and everyone starts hooting and carrying on. Suddenly the ceiling is where the floor used to be and there’s a rain of suitcases and grand pianos and then I’m in the water.
The Blue Moon bellies over and disappears below the waves and now I’m alone with the polystyrene cups and cabbages and other junk. But no Rose.
I yell and yell and finally there’s her sweet voice in the dark. Is it really her or am I dreaming? No, it’s Rose all right. She’s got her arms around me and is hanging on.
Eventually, the sun comes up like a big red face and boils down on us. Rose is very weak. Every so often she whispers something incoherent—about the Eurozone or ozone or something. I tell her to save her strength.
Days pass. Her beautiful lips are chapped and bleeding and my joints are swollen. The last thing she said to me was, ‘I’ll always love you.’ She didn’t speak again.
More days gone and then there on the horizon is an island where we land, the sea having done with us at last. This is where I planted the beautiful body my Rose once inhabited. I’ve been here ever since tending the bush that sprung up over her grave. One day, I’ll cut it down and I’ll fashion a new Rose, just like the one I lost.