THE light in their bedroom window was on all night.
He studied. She slept.
Correction: She tried to sleep.
She understood, or at least tried to understand (it’s hard to remain understanding when you’re sleep deprived!), that when he finally graduated and passed his boards, this would all be worth it, but still. Still!
Her alarm would summon her at 5:45. (Actually, 5:54 after one snooze, but it was still before six. Still!) And she had to appear awake and alert, so customers could feel confident that she really cared when she asked them, “Would you like some more coffee?” or “Do you want those eggs scrambled or over-easy?”
At stake: Tips.
She didn’t make a lot of money, not as much as he would once his interminable education concluded. (Just one more year, he promised her. Again.) But her earnings covered rent and provided him a decent supply of pens and pencils and . . . highlighters, highlighters, highlighters!
Shhhhhhhweeeeep. A thick, yellow highlighter (or blue or pink–sometimes he rotated them for variety)–slowly, deliberately, painstakingly–drug across the grimy, worn page of a used textbook, squeaking, groaning, sometimes even shrieking if he really got going. Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhwwwweeeep. A longer annotation. Constantly, all night. And why he highlighted (for he highlighted everything), she wasn’t entirely sure, because he would just have to go back and review . . . everything!
She squeezed her eyes shut and imagined herself, wide-eyed, manic with exhaustion, stumbling out of bed, swiping every highlighter, highlighter, highlighter, and summarily tossing the shhhhhhhhweeeep shweeeeeepers out of their second-story bedroom window. Sweet silence, at last! But such daydreams, tempered by her inner pacifist, evaporated like dew off the grass on a sunny summer morning. She kept her composure.
Shhhhhhhweeeeeeep. Another line bites the dust.
She hitched the worn quilt up over her left shoulder as she rolled away from him, heaving deep sighs as she struggled, dramatically, for a comfortable position. Did she possibly exaggerate her adjustments? Did she possibly do so under the impetus of disturbing his concentration, thus reclaiming their room as a refuge of darkness and silence and, dare she wish, sleep?
She was born to be passive aggressive.
So was he.
She tried to pray . . .
. . . for peace in the Middle East.
Shhhhhhhhhhhhwwwwwwwwwwwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Shhhweep, shhwweeeeep. Shhhhhhhhhwwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!
. . . for the poor and neglected.
. . . for the environment.
For highlighters to be outlawed.
For a mandatory sentence of fives years for any person caught using an illegal highlighter. No chance for parole, of course.
Sssshhhhhhhwwweeeeeeeeeeeeeee . . .
At first, she didn’t recognize the voice–staccato, like gunfire–as her own. At first, she wasn’t aware that she sat bolt upright in their bed, her normally-tame curls fanning her face like a bizarre headdress.
As her eyes bore into him, the foremost, primal thought in her mind: Stop that insane racket. Now.
He gaped at her, appropriately startled and not a little frightened by the sudden onset, pitch and volume of her voice. She made out the faint reflection of her silhouette in his glasses. What had happened to her hair? She looked . . . crazy.
This snapped her out of her immediate desire to, at any cost, silence his noisy (like-fingernails-down-a-chalkboard) highlighting hand.
“Yes, dear?” Words spoken, barely above a whisper, through the slackened, dry lips of her sweet husband. His bewilderment snapped her back one step further. Back into their room–with the light still on–back into their home, back into their life, which they normally navigated peacefully together.
She sighed, her contempt for his manners diffused by her love for him.
“Just a bad dream.” She slumped back into her pillow, gently pulling the covers up to her chin, gently saying, “I love you.”
“Love you, too.”
Marriage requires true teamwork . . .
. . . but sometimes demands truer patience.
Shweeep. Shweeeeeeeeeeep. Shweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep!
And maybe a spare bedroom. Or a study.
Shweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep. Shweeeeeep! Shweeeeep!