On Guard: A Valentine for the Older Set
One morning, she noticed a Kleenex on the desk in their bedroom. It wasn’t totally out of place since he regularly left paper towels around the flat. She usually found three or four in his office, one in the living room, one in the bathroom and two in the kitchen. Several times she had asked him why these were necessary. If they were used, they should go in the garbage or compost. They had been used to wipe something up, he said, and were still good, and, no, he had not used them for his nose.
At first, she took every one she found and threw it, as vehemently as you could throw a light object, into the bin. But no matter how many she threw in the bin, they reappeared the next day. A tissue would consume fewer paper resources, she told him, a cloth would be even better.
After a year, she decided to use the always present paper towels for jobs she might have otherwise avoided, to remove dirt or food from the kitchen floor or to push crumbs from the counter into the sink. She would sometimes wet one slightly and clean a cupboard handle or refrigerator door.
She noticed the tissue in the bedroom again the next morning and, looking closer, saw a colorless mouth guard lying in the middle of it. They both had mouth guards – his because of a thirty-year old touch football injury, hers because of grinding teeth. She knew this was his. She went about her business and thought no more about it until she saw it there the next day. On the fourth morning that she noticed it, he was in the room. She had been critical of the scattered paper towels, the water on the left side of the kitchen counter in the morning, washing his but not her dishes and others habits too tedious to mention, so she tried to speak in friendly manner, “I guess you don’t have a container for your mouth guard.”
“I had a soft one but I left it on a trip a year and a half ago,” he said. “So I put it in a tissue where it can dry out without being enclosed and gathering germs.”
She went into the bathroom and got a soft container out of a drawer.
“That’s the kind I used to have,” he said, “but I like having it in a tissue where it’s not inside and can dry out. It’s not hurting anyone, is it?”
“No,” she said, “except when company comes.”
“How is it hurting anyone in the drawer?”
She walked over to the desk and pointed. “I’m talking about the mouth guard on the desk.”
“That’s your mouth guard,” he said.
She looked at it for a minute. It did look like her mouth guard. She forgot that this one had been there for four days and that she had used hers every one of those four nights. In the millisecond it took to find her mental stability, she remembered. But she wasn’t totally sure –his assertion, so authoritative, took her off balance.
“My mouth guard’s in the bathroom,” she said, trying to be authoritative. He looked again.
“Oh,” he said, “that’s my old mouth guard. I took it out to see if I would use it but decided against it. This morning, I noticed it on the desk and thought, ‘Her mouth guard has an indentation in the same place mine.’” They laughed.
That afternoon she went into the bedroom to see if he had put it away. The mouth guard was gone but the tissue was still there. “I don’t know if this is progress or not,” she thought, but she picked it up and put in the wastebasket.