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Saturday, Feb. 4, 2006

Attempts at a Great Relationship

Globe and Mail
Tuesday, Jun. 27, 2003

Lee Henderson wrote The Broken Record Technique (Penguin Canada, 2002), which recently won the Danuta Gleed Award for a debut collection of short stories. He was born in 1974 in Saskatoon and was raised there and in Calgary before moving in 1994 to Vancouver, where he lives with his wife and a small rabbit.

"Attempts at a Great Relationship"
From The Broken Record Technique, Penguin Books, 2002)

He turned in the sheets and came up beside her on the bed. He loved her, he loved to touch her, and watch her, and listen to her, and everything. He worked from home, so did she. At night she performed acts of comedy and ventriloquism in the type of local club where the majority of the audience is underage, the owner's an ex strip-club proprietor in debt to someone in another city, and the sign on the door says Laffs Galore, in brackets. The act's funny, she said, but it's not funny enough. It's funny, he said. I know that, she said, but it's not, it isn't funny enough, is what I'm explaining. Sometimes he felt as if his mouth opened unaccountably like an oiled hinge and words she'd scripted came from him in an effortless flow of set-ups for her punchlines.

He got out of bed and paced the kitchen looking for a clean rag and when he found one he roped it under the cold water tap and squeezed out most of the water and brought the rag to her damp, cold, and lay it across her forehead. She whispered, I think we should break up. On a table beside the bed a pale blue ceramic monkey with a creamy nose sat smiling at them. Break up? he said, confused. Was this new material? he wondered, but said nothing. On a wall in their living room there was a framed photograph of their wedding, Eaton in a heavy black borrowed suit, and Molly in a crinkly white dress that trained out behind her like unrolled toilet paper. We're married, he stressed.

Outside, rain fell and then stopped, and then more rain splashed to earth, and then stopped. And this went on and on. He came to her with a sweating glass, ice cubes bobbling and twingling, and watched her drink. She gulped it down in near-choking swigs-it made his own throat constrict just to watch her-and put the glass back in his hand.

I'm talking concepts, she said. The concept of being single again, she said.

He smiled, grabbed her nose and tugged it. She wasn't serious, he figured, how could she be? It was a joke, for sure. She was a comedian after all.

Don't you think we should break up, she asked. We're married, he said and looked at the floor their money had rented. I know, but it isn't working. I'm rowdy and you're something else. What am I? he asked. She stared at the ceiling. She said, You're condensed. She said, You're sweetened and condensed. He smiled, he didn't take her seriously anymore.

We either have to break up, or you know, we have to get out the hammers and nails and fix this thing. She yawned. I was thinking we could have a kid, he said.

She put a hand to her face and dragged her fingers over her eyes. No, no, that's not right, that's just crazy-talk.

His eyes spun through the room and he saw objects fly through his vision. He picked up something he'd been working on and gave it to her to examine. She turned it over in her hands with a perfunctory glance.

There has to be humour, he said. I don't like to take my art too seriously, he said.

Well that's good, she said.
What does that mean?
It's just that -- well, they're mementos. They're not really art.
What do you mean? Of course they're art. He took the memento from her and put it carefully in his lap. He looked at the memento. Mementos don't have to be art, he said. But these're different. They're pessimistic mementos. You could be a bit more supportive.



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