Gerda snatched the Polaroid® from the drawer in the white Formica galley kitchen. She flipped the camera open, held it at arm’s length, and crushed the shutter.
There were only two items on the Carrara marble counter: a sparkling cut-glass fruit bowl with large conches and a polished, unused, copper kettle. Neither Gerda nor her husband Bruce ever ate in. He had inherited his parents’ New York co-op ten years earlier and simply added his clothes to theirs in the closets. After three years of marriage, Gerda still didn’t know which suits were Bruce’s and which had belonged to his father. She also assumed the shells — like the handbags and shoes in the hallway closet — belonged to his mother.
Gerda peered at the emergent image. It was as Bruce liked to see her — toothy American smile, no Teutonic glasses. She propped the picture against the bowl.
Gerda tugged on her loden coat, grabbed her briefcase and opened the door.
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“Going out?” called Bruce from his den.
Gerda jumped. She had not heard Bruce return from his morning run. Leaving the door ajar, she set down her case and went to him.
“Bring me a coffee from the deli, hon’.”
“I was kidding.” Bruce looked up from his desktop computer and added, “I always pay attention to my Liebchen.”
Gerda snorted and noted a flush of irritation color his unshaven cheeks.
“That’s childish.” The blush spread to his neck. “I told you last night — I didn’t mean you.”
They had been in bed, alone — if one didn’t include the parental remains Gerda believed responsible for the smell of old flesh in the apartment. They put down their e-readers and took off their glasses. They turned off the lights. They had sex. Then, one lazy arm across his chest, Gerda had broken the news of her promotion and new office — in Arizona. When Bruce remained silent, Gerda suggested she would work from home and commute every other week to Phoenix — once the account took off. Gerda took Bruce’s continued silence as a sign of displeasure. “Winters are sunny in Arizona,” she sold the idea. His response had been: “Blah-blah.”
“You’re over-reacting,” Bruce insisted. “You just don’t get American expressions. I wasn’t commenting -“
“It’s the same in German!” Gerda’s voice leapt an octave. “Bla-bla means noise without meaning.”
“You talked about work.”
“Name one thing I said.”
Gerda watched Bruce squirm on the ergonomic stool. She read the escape options as they played on his thin lips: the down-turned corners of condescension and the quick contraction of humor, the briefly chewed nether lip of discomfort followed by a slack-jawed sigh of mock contrition.
“Don’t!” She raised her hand to halt his words. “I know, we don’t hear what people say. We don’t listen because we already know what they’re going to say: Good morning-How are you-Have a nice day-See you later-Bye. But you’re my husband — what I say should not be white-noise.”
“Blah blah,” Gerda tested her theory as she dropped the keys off at the front desk moments later.
“Good morning, Ma’am,” chorused the concierge and the doorman.
She waited for the light to change and crossed Fifth Avenue to the diner.
“Wherever you want, hon,” the waitress said. “I’ll bring your usual?”
“Blah,” Gerda nodded and chose a spot by the window.
The waitress brought a steaming mug of hot chocolate and a bowl with a scoop of lemon sorbet. Gerda took a spoonful of ice, a sip of scalding brew, and closed her eyes as the sensations collided and multiplied in her mouth. She relished her treat — cold, tart spoon by spoon, sip by sweet, hot sip. She thought of all the important things she had told Bruce over the past three years and wondered what — if anything — he had heard. Then, when there was only mud in the mug and the last crystals had turned to slush, she contemplated the flat grey building where she existed as Mrs. Taylor.
“Blah blah,” Gerda said to herself. She waved the waitress over for the check. “I have a blah marriage with a blah-di-blah blah.”
“Thanks, hon.” The waitress pocketed the tip. “Have a nice day.”
Gerda went to the building’s garage. The parking attendant stowed the bag she had packed and sent down while Bruce was on his morning run in the trunk. He accepted the tip with a deferential nod. “Have a nice day.”
“Blah,” Gerda said.