Harry in the Dark

Harry came home to Wanda, wild and panting. A woman, a sweet woman, at the office had told him he had beautiful eyes. “Thank you,” he’d said and waved it off. “Beautiful blue eyes,” she’d added. “Stunning blue eyes.”

“My eyes” — he was shouting at Wanda now — “have always been hazel. Look, look here.” He was waving his passport in front of his wife’s face. “Hazel! It says it right here. Hazel! Whatever that means!”

“But Harry . . . honey” — his wife was such a soothing creature — “your eyes have always been the same colour. Obviously. That’s only a mistake in your passport. Maybe you just didn’t know yourself then. What’s gotten into you?”

“How is it possible” — he was still shouting and probably wasn’t going to stop shouting for a good long while — “that a fifty-three-year-old man doesn’t know the colour of his own eyes?”

“Maybe,” Wanda said, “it depends on the colour of your shirt or what you had for breakfast. Or your mood, like that ring from the seventies. I’ve heard all eyes are black in the dark.”

Harry wasn’t listening to his wife, who always had too many solutions to problems. “If,” he shouted, “I’ve been wrong all these decades — decades, Wanda!— about something so elemental, so obvious as the colour of my eyes, what else have I been wrong about? And if I find out I’ve been wrong about all these other things, what does that say about my understanding of the world around me? Of the universe?”

“Goodness. When you put it like that . . .”

Harry was staring into a mirror, gawping at his obviously blue eyes and shouting, “My name is Harold Benz. I am fifty-eight years old. My home has three bedrooms, two and a half baths. I have ten toes and my second toes, the little piggies who stayed home, are longer than my big toes.” Harry pried off his shoes and whipped off his socks to prove this to himself and to Wanda, who, to her surprise, was mildly interested in the result. The second piggies were indeed longer than the ones who went to market.

“Harry, honey.”

“I am Harold Pence. I sell cleaning products and volunteer at the church on Saturdays to teach Spanish to the illegals.” This was directed again to the Harry in the mirror.

“Harry, honey, you don’t speak Spanish. And Harry, why would you teach Spanish to the Mexicans anyway? Don’t they already speak Spanish? And I’m pretty sure all the Mexicans at church are legal. Carlos Rodriguez is a proctologist, and I hear he’s pretty good.”

Harry turned to his wife, not shouting for the first time since he’d come running in, panting and wild, and produced something like a gasp that bore intentions of becoming a sentence in Spanish. But finally Harry had to admit to himself that he couldn’t speak Spanish except for the requisite enchilada and No way, José. This glaring lack of competence notwithstanding, he was sure he taught Spanish needlessly to Mexicans. He could even recite the names of his students. “Maria,” he said, “Carmelina, Natalia — who doesn’t like to be called NaNa — and José. NaNa is the best” — he was shouting again — “because she understands the tenses!”

“Oh dear. Maybe we should call the pastor.”

“No, no,” Harry said, “no doctors. No doctors.”

“I said the pastor, but okay.”

Harry paced, stopping occasionally in front of the mirror to check his irises. Still blue. Still stunning. “Wanda, you know me,” he said and slowly turned to face his patient wife. “You know me better than I know myself.”

“Apparently,” said Wanda.

Harry led Wanda to the kitchen table, where they sat down and gripped each other’s hands, stretched maybe a bit too uncomfortably across the table.

“Well?” Harry said.

“Well what?” Wanda said.

“Teach me the story of me,” he said. “Tell me what’s true and dispel my fears. Spread your Mother God wings and shelter me from this storm of confusion. Blah blah blah. Be my mirror, Wands.” That’s what Harry called Wanda when he was feeling cuddly.

“I’m confused,” said Wanda. “Are we going to cuddle now? Because if we are, I need to brush my teeth.”

“First dispel my fears, then we’ll cuddle.”

“Harry, honey, you are the same Harold M. Fence I married all those years ago. You have not changed one bit except to get a little fatter, a little greyer — and a lot more confused, I guess. You are a loving husband, an adequate father and apparently a good insurance agent, although I’ve never conducted a statistically valid survey of your clients to know this for sure. You’re five feet, nine inches tall, you have a space between two of your upper teeth that you’re always trapping meat in, so I always have a toothpick in my purse for you. And you have the sweetest, dreamiest black eyes. In the dark.”


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