Gianna De Persiis Vona
Sebastopol, 2004
90 pages
Cover photos by the author



The day the Franks moved in would not have been definable by anything other than the weather, it is particularly hot for June, upwards of the high 80s, if it weren’t for the pig. The pig definitely sets the day apart from your average, the new renters are moving in sort of day. Robert Millan is in the living room, sitting on the overstuffed couch with the floral print that he recently gave his wife of fifteen years, Jean Marie, for their wedding anniversary. He is pretending to be engrossed in a novel of Jean Marie’s that he picked up from the coffee table as soon as he heard his wife exclaim from the kitchen, “The new renters are here, Robert!” He hopes that if he seems focused enough Jean Marie, who is always encouraging him to read, will not be so quick to go outside, introduce herself to the new neighbors, and then offer his services as a box carrier or for any other heinous task she might think of. But the book is one of those that Jean Marie is reading for the women’s book club she started at their church, and though he doesn’t spend enough time reading to be able to say what bothers him about it exactly, he knows, by the end of the first couple of pages, that to continue on in this way is bound to be even more tiresome than helping the next-door neighbors unpack.

Still, he keeps on, rotating his neck a couple of times, searching for that ever evasive crack that is meant to alleviate some of the pain there. He takes a sip of his coffee, which he has stashed behind the vase of roses his wife cut from the garden before breakfast, just in case she peeks in on him, sees the coffee cup, and decides to get worked up over the fact that the couch is new, and very important to her, and the carpets have just been cleaned, and for crying out loud can’t he have the common sense to drink his coffee in the kitchen where it is meant to be drunk. The cat Gretchen, with the stubby tail and thick coat that Jean Marie has to brush every day to keep the shedding down, is curled up on an afghan on the corner of the couch. Robert runs his hand down her silky back and imagines that she is trying to appear invisible as well, lest she too be spotted by Jean Marie, who is on a relentless roll these days, banished from the couch, and forced onto her rightful place, the flannel kitty pillow next to the fireplace, where she is welcome to shed as much as she pleases without being admonished for it.

Sometimes, when Robert feels particularly sullen, as he is on this morning, he imagines that he will arrive home from work one day and find a pillow identical to Gretchen’s, but larger, placed on the other side of the fireplace with his name embroidered across it for all to see, ROBERT, and that this will be his new place. The only spot he can lie down, relax, and enjoy his cup of coffee without being yelled at. Robert doesn’t always feel this way. He loves Jean Marie with an obsessive dedication that never seems to lessen, no matter how uptight she becomes, no matter how clean the house, no matter how slow the passing of weeks between one second Saturday to the next can seem sometimes, so impossibly long. The second Saturday of last month did not go as planned. There was a ‘Church Family Emergency’, as Jean Marie calls them, and she bailed out on their romantic evening to administer to an elderly member with the stomach flu, ultimately coming home with it herself and sharing it with Robert. A month has passed since then, and the stomach flu is but a vague unpleasant memory, and while Robert knows that he should be in better spirits, no possible interruptions having presented themselves so far, he feels an odd and unaccustomed sense of foreboding that began as soon as he saw the moving van pull up next door and he lunged for his wife’s book. They always have sex on the second Saturday of the month. Jean Marie appreciates having a schedule, otherwise she feels as if she is being stalked.

“You make me feel like a fawn in the forest being tracked by a starving Indian,” she told him once. “I cannot live like a hunted creature, Robert. It’s just not right. Contrary to what you might like to believe, I am not a potential cut of venison.” This was after the miscarriages and ensuing operation, when childbirth was no longer an option. Before that his ‘stalking’, as she called it, had never seemed to be such a problem.

Now here it is, his big day, and Robert can’t even manage to feel any genuine excitement. Any stirrings he does feel are edged with dread, much like as a child his longing for a puppy had been so desperate that for weeks before the arrival of Christmas he would tell himself over and over again that he was not going to get a puppy, that his parents would let him down as they had so many times before, and that there would be no big, bow-topped box under the tree when he got up in the morning, moving as if of its own accord. This method never seemed to do any good in the end. The disappointment, no matter how well prepared for, never had a softer touch than a sledgehammer to the heart, but Robert kept at it anyway as it seemed the only prudent thing under such unpredictable circumstances.