She had initially thought him a good enough guy, someone she could see dating, perhaps with long-term potential. Sure, they had drank too much and had sex on their first date, but it wasn’t like he drank too much and then masturbated while she watched in horror. No, she was a willing, although inebriated, partner in the act. An adult capable of her own decisions. And she thought his reply to her question of what is left if we have sex on the first night was incredible. Everything, he had said. Of course, later, when he had moved into her apartment four months into their relationship, that seemed a little fast in retrospect. But she hadn’t said no, and the decision had made at least financial sense. The rent at her apartment was a fraction of what he had been paying. Now they would be splitting her fraction. A bed monkey, and cheaper rent. She could overlook small issues, focusing instead on the big picture. Besides, she loved him. They were both adults, and could make their own adult decisions. And, importantly, he had two kids from his previous marriage, so he would understand her struggles raising her own son as a single parent. Then there was the fact that he had an actual career, a teacher in fact, he drove a new truck, and, she thought, they made a nice fit.
For the first three months after he had moved in, life was in fact great. She appreciated that he was developing a relationship with her son. The three of them would have dinner together, play video games, sit with the neighbors on their front stoop in the evenings. And when his children were over, their life was like the Brady Bunch. The commotion of all the children seemed a welcome distraction to the fact that she was now a single mom raising her only son. And her new love was usually at the apartment to greet her when she came home from work, which just added to the general wholesome feeling of their new existence.
The change probably first started with his comment about the toilet paper roll.
Honey, you always leave the almost empty roll on the hanger for me to change.
Okay, she thought. Fair enough. That is true.
No big deal. Although she did not intend to change this habit. It wasn’t even an issue of any import. She did not like to change the toilet paper roll. Who likes that? It is a man’s job to deal with the nuts and bolts of life. Besides, what is love if not the quality of empathy? She could overlook his personal quirks, and he could see beyond hers, she reasoned. What matters is the big picture: their family, their happiness, the fact that they had each other.
When the holiday season approached, they had their parents join them for Thanksgiving. The often stressful first meeting of both parents combined with the preparations of the traditional Thanksgiving meal, in addition to cleaning the apartment to a spotless perfection well decorated for the occasion, went without a glitch, showing that the two were in fact a strong team. They had all their children help with the preparations, as a family, cleaning windows, tidying the one room the children were sharing.
You two make a wonderful couple, her mom had said repeatedly throughout the day. His parents also noted how well the blended family seemed to be developing. She took note when his mom commented on how nice a home she had created. She prided herself on her home-making skills, and the comment meant a great deal to her.
Life was good.
It was Christmas morning when she noticed he was starting to repeat a certain character trait she had previously heard but had dismissed as a one-time episode.
Honey, he said, you always leave the sugar wrapper on the counter when you make your coffee.
Seriously, she thought. Is it that big of a deal for him to throw the wrapper away? Why even bring that up? A wrapper. Who fixates on a sugar wrapper? First it was the toilet paper roll, now a sugar wrapper? Of all the problems in the world, let alone problems any couple faces in life, who fixates on crap like this? I put his penis in my mouth for Christ sake; he can’t throw away a sugar wrapper without complaining? Fine, she thought, two can play this game. I am going to start keeping tab myself, see how he likes nit-picking.
However, she let his comment hang in the air, giving no reply. She intentionally left the wrapper on the counter and walked back to the living room, where the children were inspecting the stockings Santa (yeah, she) had stuffed with chocolate kisses, tootsie rolls, suckers and fruit. When he came into the living room, she did not sit with him as was typical, but stayed seated on the armchair drinking her coffee.
As they both had the week off between Christmas and New Years, she kept a close eye on his actions, subtle enough to not be obvious in her intent, but close enough to make observations and keep notes. He didn’t pick up the wrapping paper from the Christmas gifts himself, but instead had the kids help him. He left the cup he had used to hold barbecue sauce next to the grill on Tuesday night when he cooked chicken, and didn’t take it into the kitchen until the following morning. That morning when he got out of bed he had peed longer and more loudly than normal. On Wednesday he spent most of the day on the couch watching TV. He made the kids the same thing for lunch – Macaroni and Cheese – Thursday as he did the previous day. He left his pants on the floor instead of putting them in the hamper Thursday night. She had to cross that one out, though, because he picked up his pants when he returned from brushing his teeth. On Friday when he took her car to the grocery store, he did not put the reusable grocery bags back in her trunk after unloading and putting away the groceries. Again, she had to cross that out because apparently he put them back in her trunk after she went to bed. They didn’t have sex all week. Could she mention that? Maybe. Leave it on the list.
On New Year’s Eve she reviewed her list. Of the twenty items she had noted, she realized, none were really worth mentioning. He didn’t leave toilet seats up. He didn’t leave butt-stained underwear on the ground. He did his own laundry, she thought, so she can’t even really bring up the underwear with skid-marks issue. But everyone has to have their own little quirks. She would just have to be more determined in her search.
On New Year’s morning she discovered inspiration for that increased determination.
Honey, he said, I don’t mean to sound nit-picky, but you’ve been leaving your dirty coffee cup on the counter every day this week. I mean, it’s not that hard to put it in the dishwasher. He tried to give her a hug.
Don’t even touch me, she hissed back. You obsess over the stupidest things! Obsess! That is all you do. Honey, you do this. Honey, you do that. Why even start with the Honey if you are only going to put me down? Do you think you are perfect?
No, but –
Don’t no but me. You are not perfect. You’ve got your quirks like everyone else. I overlook them. I do not obsess. I wish you would grow up and be a man. I am going out.
What can I do, she thought as she drove her car in an aimless direction. He can’t be that perfect. I need to think of ways to keep a tighter eye on his actions. I bet he does things when I am not home. He has to! That little son-of-a-bitch thinks he is so perfect. I know I am overlooking something. I wonder what he does when I am not home. How can I catch him if I am not home? I could have the kids spy on him and tell me. She let that thought gel as she continued driving. No, I don’t want them to get involved. Besides, his kids aren’t going to spy on their own dad. I need a video camera. But those are too expensive. I can’t buy that right after Christmas. I’ve already loaded up my credit cards. Maybe a neighbor. That would be awkward. Hey, could you spy on my boyfriend? You know, just watch him and take notes on things I could argue with him over. They would look at me as if I was nuts.
By this time she was several miles from the apartment. She began to wonder where she was going and why.
Then it dawned on her.
A tape recorder.
I’ll hide a tape recorder to hear what he does when he gets home before I do. I’ll just leave work for a bit around 3:00, set the recorder, and return to work. I can get home and back in ten minutes. I’ll just say I am taking a break. I bet he does something I can get him on. He acts so perfect when I am there, but I bet he has a double side. He has to. He is no angel. Shit, he pretty much got me drunk so we could have sex on our first date. Who does he think he is? He is lucky I let him move in. What right does he have to gripe about anything I do?
At Radio Shack she was able to buy a small voice activated tape recorder for $39.99, more than she wanted to spend, but not enough to break the bank.
As she drove home, she began to plot her strategy for catching his imperfections.
Where can I put this thing so he won’t see it? What room would he probably go to when he gets home from work? He changes his clothes when he gets home. Our room would be a sure thing. But what would he do that I can catch on a recorder? Does he talk to himself when he changes? Has he ever talked to himself? Huh, I guess I wouldn’t know that. Who would he talk to? The kids. Okay. Where? They always have something to eat when they get home. The Kitchen. Okay. Where in the kitchen do I put this thing to record him without him seeing it? A cupboard? Could work. Might be muffled though. If I spent this much money I want results I can hear. She continued driving, weighing her options, developing her plan.
The Refrigerator! Perfect! High enough to be out of sight, yet the recording should be clear. Could he hear it recording? she thought. I’ll test it. She turned on the voice activation switch and started talking.
Hey Mr. Perfect, you’re going down the river! You think you’re so great, but you have no idea of my plan! I will get you. You watch!
The recorder was doing its job perfectly, and, most importantly, quietly. At least she couldn’t hear it in her car. Would the apartment be different? Probably not. Not with the kids running around making noise. And when he is by himself, this probably won’t record much because it is voice activated.
I can’t wait.
That evening the two had sex for the first time in over a week. Not just sex. Good sex. She got off twice, even a hint of a third time as they were finishing.
Honey, I think we should have a talk, he had later said as they lied in bed. But in reply he heard only a brief snore as she rolled over.
The next morning she got out of bed before he did. It was the first day back to work for both of them, but more importantly, the first day of the plan. She had to get the recorder in its place on the refrigerator, out of sight but ready to catch whatever quirks she could detect. And detect she would. A little detective, she was, a real dick. She caught herself. No, he is the dick. I’m a Shamus.
She turned on the voice activation on the recorder, positioned it behind a loaf of bread on top of the fridge, then poured herself a cup of coffee.
Good morning honey, he said as he entered the kitchen, poured his own cup of coffee, and silently threw her sugar wrapper into the trash.
She thought she heard a faint noise as the recorder picked up the voice. Did he hear that?
Good morning honey, she replied.
Another faint hiss, but nothing anyone would notice if they weren’t aware the recorder was there and weren’t specifically listening for it.
Sex was great last night! Are you ready for your first day back to work? She looked at him inquisitively. In her head she was fantasizing over listening to the playback of this first test run.
Ready as I’m gonna be, he replied, taking a sip from his coffee.
When he left to go back to the bedroom, she turned off the recorder, anticipating her return at 3:00 to turn the device back on and catch Mr. Perfect teaching the kids to say the word “fuck”, how to torture puppies, or whatever devious deeds he performed in her absence.
At 3:00 in the afternoon, she returned to the apartment during her break and set the recording device to voice activation.
Later that evening, while cooking dinner, she took the device off the refrigerator and placed it into her purse. I will save this for later, she thought, when I have freedom to study it in private.
That night she slept more soundly than she remembered doing in a number of years.
The next morning, after calling in to work to say she would be a couple of hours late, she sat in her car parked in front of a Payless Shoes store that did not open until 10:00, holding the recorder.
It’s so shiny, so sexy, she thought. She placed the recorder between her legs. What secrets do you hold, my little dear? Enlighten me.
She pushed play.
Clink . A pan apparently being put on the stove? Silence. Clunk Shwibble Shwabble Clunk Clunk. Stirring something in a pan? Pretty boring so far. Get to the good stuff! Ooh, that sounded like a fart! She giggled. Yup, he is alone.
After listening to 30 minutes of various sounds that reminded her of the sound effect guy on A Prairie Home Companion, she heard her first voices.
“Dad, we’re home.” It was his kids.
“Hi guys, I’m in the kitchen.” Of course you are, she thought, that’s why I can hear you.
“Just thought I’d make you guys some Mac and Cheese.” A man of such diversity, she thought. His restaurant would probably serve one item.
“It’s ready. Do you want some?”
Clink…Clink. Okay, bowls on the counter. Does this get any better?
She listened for an hour more. It didn’t get any better. The voice activation sure worked well, as there were not long chunks of tape without sound. There just wasn’t anything worth listening to, at least not what she was looking for. She learned a new joke she had never hear him tell before – he always tells the same jokes! – heard about the kids’ day at school, heard her son come home – that was the best part; he is so cute! – heard the conversation about dinner options, then she heard herself arrive. She heard them kiss. That was kind of gross.
Okay, so the first day did not work, she thought as she watched an apparent manager unlocking the Payless Shoes doors and entering the store. What did you expect? These things take time. It could take a week. How was she going to be late for work every day for a week? Looks like I’ll be eating lunch in my car this week. Great. I hope it’s not too hot.
And for the rest of the week she returned home from work at 3:00, set the recorder to voice activation, returned to work, then hid the recorder in the evening when she got home, and dutifully searched the recordings the following day during lunch for the quirks she was hunting for. Nothing. Okay, he farts loudly when alone, but who doesn’t? It’s not that he was boring, well, he kind of was upon inspection, but he lacked that devious quirk upon which she could nit and pick. He didn’t teach the kids to cuss. He hardly even cussed. He said shit once when he apparently dropped and broke a glass.
By the end of the following week she had tired of listening to the recordings. Not that every day was the same. Every other week his kids went to their mom’s. The second week was almost painful to listen to as he quietly walked around the kitchen, popped an occasional beer, greeted her son when he came home from school, but made little noise until she came home. At least it didn’t take her long to listen to the recordings the second week, as there was little to record. She did not have to sit in her car all lunch. That was a plus. But her mastermind plot enlightened her to little new information, and nothing to point out as a repeated fault. She removed the tape from the recorder and placed it into her glove box. Who knows, might come in handy some day later.
Disappointed, she found the box for the voice activated recorder in the back seat of her car, and carefully placed the recorder into its original packaging. On her way back from work that night, she stopped at Radio Shack to return the recorder. It was a gift, she explained, but not what she was looking for. Oh, and you can just give me cash, she told the store employee.
One last stop before returning to the hell hole. Target. Check the prices on video cameras.
For $199.99, she had pretty much maxed out her credit card, but walked out with a Samsung digital video camera. In any case, she had the $39.99 from Radio Shack, so the camera was really only like a hundred and sixty bucks. A virtual steal at that price, she justified.
The audio recorder had produced nothing, but this video camera was sure to catch him doing…what does he do? Everybody does something when no one else is looking. Watch porn? Maybe. I bet he masturbates.
Honey, she mocked her boyfriend’s voice in her head, you’ve been masturbating every night after work this week. I don’t want to be nit-picky, but I’ve got it on my video camera. You’re going to go blind if you keep that up. He probably was masturbating, she thought, since she hadn’t been putting out in the last two weeks.
The following Monday she left work at 3:00, went to the apartment and turned on the camera, carefully hid it amid a pile of folded laundry on her dresser facing the bed, and returned to work, anxious to review the video to catch him in the act. When she viewed the recording that night however, long after he had gone to sleep, outside in her car, she saw that at 4:17 he entered the room, took off his shirt, then walked out of the camera’s view, returned after a minute with his ripped jeans and a tee-shirt on, and left the room. There was nothing else but an empty room until she had walked into the room at 6:14 and turned off the recorder.
Fuck, a hundred and sixty to see this? This guy does have a quirk. He is the most boring person on the planet. Every day. Honey, excuse me, she imagined herself saying, but I notice you’ve been boring lately. Instead, she decided to put the camera in the living room the next day. Catch Mr. I just get dressed and don’t masturbate doing something else. Probably watching TV. And Farting.
Every day that week she left work at 3:00, turned on and hid the camera in a different location in the apartment, and stayed up late watching the most boring, predictable cinematography ever created. One night she watched him cook dinner in the kitchen. Mexican Lasagna. She was surprised it wasn’t Mac and Cheese. The next night she actually saw him change his pants when he got home. The following night she watched no one enter the second bathroom throughout the entire night. She was accomplishing little other than losing sleep. She decided she would return the video camera to Target on Saturday, as her plan was clearly accomplishing nothing.
Okay then, my boyfriend is not a quirky person, she thought. Life could be worse.
On Friday she returned to the apartment to set up one last recording, sensing it would be futile, but also harmless. She chose the bedroom. One last time.
When she returned from work that evening, the apartment was strangely quiet. Her son was not there, but he had told her he was going to a friend’s house that night.
Hoping for a last-ditch effort success in catching her boyfriend doing whatever it was he did, she went to check the camera.
She rewound the recording.
Okay, this is our bedroom, she thought. He will enter soon.
She watched in anticipation. But it was an empty room.
After 37 minutes he entered the room.
He actually walked straight up to the camera, picked it up and began talking.
Honey, he said, I hate to sound nit-picky, but you’ve been video and audio taping me for the last three weeks. We have had sex once in the last five weeks, and frankly, that wasn’t even that great. We had something when we started this relationship, but that something is gone. I have decided to move out. Goodbye.
The camera’s focus shifted to the bedroom window. She continued to watch the video, hoping for some type of movement. There was nothing.
The following day she returned the camera for a full refund.