Thirty Minutes
by Alina Stefanescu

Dandelions smothered the front lawn. Never had I ever witnessed such a profusion of asexual, unpollinated blondes engaged in apomixis. It was hot. It was the bowels of August in Alabama. The dandelions slumped, stems hunched like scoliosis. I was likewise limp-ish, looking every bit the Poet-Sunk-By-Mrs.

Because Mrs. and missile sound the same when whispered against the paned glass of a kitchen window.

The man came in smelling of sorcery, sycamores, and mid-sidewalk shade. He said howdy then fumed up the room: got vivid with action verbs, sautéed a pan of no-no words, and stomped away the finches at our feeder.

I told the man he ought not take out shrill workplace matters on my home-stuck hide. I told the man his little rages made it hard for me to draw close and spill my heart about certain events, including but not limited to dandelions.

The man gestured televangelist-mad and said he was tired of being blamed for everything. I wasn’t exactly a picnic in the park. God knows the sink was overflowing with dishes.

See, I sighed, that’s what I meant. I can’t tell you anything, given what the United States Supreme Court describes as a ‘chilling effect on speech.’

The man’s eyes turned sharp and pointy. No telling how he sharpened them so fast. No translation for the eye-flint equivalent. He said he was tired of being regaled with his faults and shortcomings. How about addressing my faults for a change?

Obviously, I assumed my faults had been addressed in the comment about unwashed dishes. There were many such slights and repetitive sins related to the appearance of the house.

One time I protested the playing of “She’s A Brick House” at the progressive dance club. What’s so prog about turning a woman into real estate property? I queried the DJ.  

It’s just a song, the DJ said.

Oh yeah? Well, there are males in the room. At least ten males are dancing. And there is no such thing as just a song to males. Haven’t you heard what happened to Tupac and Biggie? Don’t you keep up with Eminem and Kim?

#

An electric machine made churning noises. The man demanded attention. He expressed hunger and attended my response to the question about faults.

We can talk about my faults, I assured him (dinner being ramen noodles with shrimp flavor packets). But let’s try to address the complaints in chronological order. Let’s pretend there’s a timeline afoot. Let’s start with what I said. First.

The man groaned. I have to take a shit. Let’s aim for later.

I said great. I was fine with that. A castrating female is not the same thing as an anal plug. Because Mrs. and missive share a syllable with submissive.

#

After a period of prolonged absence which involved a change of clothes, a few YouTube videos, and a ukulele session, the man was ready to resume the discussion.

Given the extent of your electrically-wired demands, he said, I have decided to demand something in return.

At the time, we had a neighbor who was a Men’s Rights Activist. He left pamphlets in our mailbox listing what men should demand. I tried to remember what the MRA had listed.

I have a demand, the man declared.

I thought this sounded promising—a firm demand, a little hope, and yes, sex would be grand. Sex was on my pie graph of unmet needs, in the same quadrant as comfort and lovingkindness. Yet the man’s eyebrows were not arched in a sex-positive manner.

Every night—at exactly 9:30 pm—we will talk for thirty minutes.

Is that all? I wondered.

It will be our priority. At 9:30 pm, the notebooks disappear, the dog is muzzled, the stars die, and we talk for thirty minutes.

Since he mentioned doing mean things to astronomical bodies, I assumed we would not be talking outside on the back porch with cigarettes and wine and maybe reefer.

The man confirmed my suspicion. You get too distracted outside, he said.

Where will this nightly event be staged? I asked.

In our bedroom. On the bed.

Once again, I held out hope for complicated foreplay. But when I touched the man’s knee, he bristled. None of that, he snapped. No hanky-panky. We will talk about the relationship.

As if to show me he meant business, the man set an alarm on his wristwatch. Sure enough, at 9:30 pm, the watch beeped and the man said it was time.

When a watch beeps, can it be anything but time? Isn’t a beep how time speaks? I thought about those terrible dandelions, plants that French villagers dubbed pissenlit as a result of their strong diuretic effects. Pissenlit means pee-in-the-bed. Or so I thought as I carved a space for myself on the bed with the man.

This won’t hurt, he promised. You’ll get used to it.

The man was being a straight-up cunt-tease with such talk. The man was having fun playing with my head.

Is this playing-with-my-head time? I asked as the man eyed me expectantly from near a plaid linen pillow.

This is time to talk, he said.

About anything?

Of course, he said, then beamed like a Chevy truck with mondo tires and steel rims.

I checked his forehead for a gun rack. Why do you take your stress out on me rather than the source of stress itself? I asked. Seems counterproductive.

Oh, he said. I see how this will go. You are going to list my faults and reduce my manhood.

Of course, I giggled. The man had grown unscientific. I told him I’m not sure penis size is reducible unless we’re talking from the point-of-view of an erection, in which case it’s not a reduction in manhood so much as an unsuccessful erection.

He checked his watch. I waited for him to notice the new Stevie Wonder poster above the dresser. When I looked at Stevie Wonder, all seemed right with the world, but the man looked miserable in comparison. I kept the secret that I had compared him with another man, even if the man was a dead poster.

Close your eyes, I told him.

He refused.

You’ll never feel like Stevie Wonder with them open. This is what I wanted to say. But didn’t.

The man propped his head on his hand like a nude model wearing workout clothes. This is about bad communication patterns, he said.

I was flummoxed by how such a simple sentence could sound as if he read it from a book. I agreed that time would be divided equally for complaints from both communicators.

Time’s up, he said. Same time, same place tomorrow.

#

We met the next night at 9:30 pm on the bed. He started the timer, reminding me that this would be good for our marriage.

Are we married? I wondered. How did that happen?

We discussed the career-related challenges of female stand-up comedians, the terrible shoes worn in workplaces, the way whiskey can or can’t get rotten, depending. It was rather relaxed.

I feel like this is doing wonders for our relationship, the man remarked. His brow uncurdled, the kink in his jaw relieved.

But I disagreed. When I disagreed, I was being disagreeable.

At this point, the man rose from the bed and sought his watch on the dresser. Time was up. He said I didn’t have to communicate with him any more if I had better things to do, like maybe fold the laundry or write some dinky stinky haiku.

Can we talk longer than thirty minutes? I asked. Because dinky and stinky sound better in sonnets.

No, he said. Thirty minutes is enough. Let’s not rock the boat. Let’s stick to the formula.

I couldn’t see how small-talk was a form of worthwhile communication, but the man was a creature of boundaries so I tried to respect them. Kind of.

Can we talk about your temper? I asked.

Not if it’s one-sided and blamey.

I don’t want to talk about shoes ever again, I admitted.

How about flowers? he offered.

Dandelions?

Those are weeds, he insisted.

Flowering weeds?

Fine, the man said.

I recounted how Mom picked armloads of dandelion leaves and made a salad. If you picked the leaves too late in the season, the salad would taste bitter. A time and a place for everything includes bitterness.

Sounds great, he said. We can talk more about flowering weeds tomorrow night. The way he said it was as if he had given me an unused prosthetic limb. He said it as if conceding ten feet of soil at Waterloo. As if eighteen hundred seconds amounts to magic.

Because thirty rhymes with dirty and purty. I know this story can’t have the ending we want. There’s no way to inspire confetti in thirty minutes. I feel sorry for the man, as well as the reader.

Thirty Minutes
by Alina Stefanescu

Dandelions smothered the front lawn. Never had I ever witnessed such a profusion of asexual, unpollinated blondes engaged in apomixis. It was hot. It was the bowels of August in Alabama. The dandelions slumped, stems hunched like scoliosis. I was likewise limp-ish, looking every bit the Poet-Sunk-By-Mrs.

Because Mrs. and missile sound the same when whispered against the paned glass of a kitchen window.

The man came in smelling of sorcery, sycamores, and mid-sidewalk shade. He said howdy then fumed up the room: got vivid with action verbs, sautéed a pan of no-no words, and stomped away the finches at our feeder.

I told the man he ought not take out shrill workplace matters on my home-stuck hide. I told the man his little rages made it hard for me to draw close and spill my heart about certain events, including but not limited to dandelions.

The man gestured televangelist-mad and said he was tired of being blamed for everything. I wasn’t exactly a picnic in the park. God knows the sink was overflowing with dishes.

See, I sighed, that’s what I meant. I can’t tell you anything, given what the United States Supreme Court describes as a ‘chilling effect on speech.’

The man’s eyes turned sharp and pointy. No telling how he sharpened them so fast. No translation for the eye-flint equivalent. He said he was tired of being regaled with his faults and shortcomings. How about addressing my faults for a change?

Obviously, I assumed my faults had been addressed in the comment about unwashed dishes. There were many such slights and repetitive sins related to the appearance of the house.

One time I protested the playing of “She’s A Brick House” at the progressive dance club. What’s so prog about turning a woman into real estate property? I queried the DJ.  

It’s just a song, the DJ said.

Oh yeah? Well, there are males in the room. At least ten males are dancing. And there is no such thing as just a song to males. Haven’t you heard what happened to Tupac and Biggie? Don’t you keep up with Eminem and Kim?

#

An electric machine made churning noises. The man demanded attention. He expressed hunger and attended my response to the question about faults.

We can talk about my faults, I assured him (dinner being ramen noodles with shrimp flavor packets). But let’s try to address the complaints in chronological order. Let’s pretend there’s a timeline afoot. Let’s start with what I said. First.

The man groaned. I have to take a shit. Let’s aim for later.

I said great. I was fine with that. A castrating female is not the same thing as an anal plug. Because Mrs. and missive share a syllable with submissive.

#

After a period of prolonged absence which involved a change of clothes, a few YouTube videos, and a ukulele session, the man was ready to resume the discussion.

Given the extent of your electrically-wired demands, he said, I have decided to demand something in return.

At the time, we had a neighbor who was a Men’s Rights Activist. He left pamphlets in our mailbox listing what men should demand. I tried to remember what the MRA had listed.

I have a demand, the man declared.

I thought this sounded promising—a firm demand, a little hope, and yes, sex would be grand. Sex was on my pie graph of unmet needs, in the same quadrant as comfort and lovingkindness. Yet the man’s eyebrows were not arched in a sex-positive manner.

Every night—at exactly 9:30 pm—we will talk for thirty minutes.

Is that all? I wondered.

It will be our priority. At 9:30 pm, the notebooks disappear, the dog is muzzled, the stars die, and we talk for thirty minutes.

Since he mentioned doing mean things to astronomical bodies, I assumed we would not be talking outside on the back porch with cigarettes and wine and maybe reefer.

The man confirmed my suspicion. You get too distracted outside, he said.

Where will this nightly event be staged? I asked.

In our bedroom. On the bed.

Once again, I held out hope for complicated foreplay. But when I touched the man’s knee, he bristled. None of that, he snapped. No hanky-panky. We will talk about the relationship.

As if to show me he meant business, the man set an alarm on his wristwatch. Sure enough, at 9:30 pm, the watch beeped and the man said it was time.

When a watch beeps, can it be anything but time? Isn’t a beep how time speaks? I thought about those terrible dandelions, plants that French villagers dubbed pissenlit as a result of their strong diuretic effects. Pissenlit means pee-in-the-bed. Or so I thought as I carved a space for myself on the bed with the man.

This won’t hurt, he promised. You’ll get used to it.

The man was being a straight-up cunt-tease with such talk. The man was having fun playing with my head.

Is this playing-with-my-head time? I asked as the man eyed me expectantly from near a plaid linen pillow.

This is time to talk, he said.

About anything?

Of course, he said, then beamed like a Chevy truck with mondo tires and steel rims.

I checked his forehead for a gun rack. Why do you take your stress out on me rather than the source of stress itself? I asked. Seems counterproductive.

Oh, he said. I see how this will go. You are going to list my faults and reduce my manhood.

Of course, I giggled. The man had grown unscientific. I told him I’m not sure penis size is reducible unless we’re talking from the point-of-view of an erection, in which case it’s not a reduction in manhood so much as an unsuccessful erection.

He checked his watch. I waited for him to notice the new Stevie Wonder poster above the dresser. When I looked at Stevie Wonder, all seemed right with the world, but the man looked miserable in comparison. I kept the secret that I had compared him with another man, even if the man was a dead poster.

Close your eyes, I told him.

He refused.

You’ll never feel like Stevie Wonder with them open. This is what I wanted to say. But didn’t.

The man propped his head on his hand like a nude model wearing workout clothes. This is about bad communication patterns, he said.

I was flummoxed by how such a simple sentence could sound as if he read it from a book. I agreed that time would be divided equally for complaints from both communicators.

Time’s up, he said. Same time, same place tomorrow.

#

We met the next night at 9:30 pm on the bed. He started the timer, reminding me that this would be good for our marriage.

Are we married? I wondered. How did that happen?

We discussed the career-related challenges of female stand-up comedians, the terrible shoes worn in workplaces, the way whiskey can or can’t get rotten, depending. It was rather relaxed.

I feel like this is doing wonders for our relationship, the man remarked. His brow uncurdled, the kink in his jaw relieved.

But I disagreed. When I disagreed, I was being disagreeable.

At this point, the man rose from the bed and sought his watch on the dresser. Time was up. He said I didn’t have to communicate with him any more if I had better things to do, like maybe fold the laundry or write some dinky stinky haiku.

Can we talk longer than thirty minutes? I asked. Because dinky and stinky sound better in sonnets.

No, he said. Thirty minutes is enough. Let’s not rock the boat. Let’s stick to the formula.

I couldn’t see how small-talk was a form of worthwhile communication, but the man was a creature of boundaries so I tried to respect them. Kind of.

Can we talk about your temper? I asked.

Not if it’s one-sided and blamey.

I don’t want to talk about shoes ever again, I admitted.

How about flowers? he offered.

Dandelions?

Those are weeds, he insisted.

Flowering weeds?

Fine, the man said.

I recounted how Mom picked armloads of dandelion leaves and made a salad. If you picked the leaves too late in the season, the salad would taste bitter. A time and a place for everything includes bitterness.

Sounds great, he said. We can talk more about flowering weeds tomorrow night. The way he said it was as if he had given me an unused prosthetic limb. He said it as if conceding ten feet of soil at Waterloo. As if eighteen hundred seconds amounts to magic.

Because thirty rhymes with dirty and purty. I know this story can’t have the ending we want. There’s no way to inspire confetti in thirty minutes. I feel sorry for the man, as well as the reader.

Alina Stefanescu was born in Romania, raised in Alabama, and reared by various friendly ghosts. She lives in Tuscaloosa with her partner and four friendly mammals who eat poetry. Find her reading from Ipokimen  (Anchor & Plume, 2016) or learn more online at www.alinastefanescu.com or @aliner.