The dark and stormy night was not dark and stormy, exactly; in fact the night in whatever manner it would procede to manifest itself had yet to arrive. At this cherished moment in the sprawl of time, the present hour effortlessly hovered between a magical sunset and sensuous twilight like a slightly bipolar dragonfly, not certain if it might fly up in manic glee into the golden-fleeced clouds or plummet with withering depression into the purple depths of coming darkness.
Beneath these lovely if indecisive skies, a large and impressive house rose from an abundant carpet of well-tended grasses of many shades of green and flower beds spilling like rainbow pools at their precise edges, a stately house that many square, uneducated hands had masoned out of brick and mortar and low-income sweat. An eminently suitable house that served an appreciative master whose flaws, aside from some very poor taste in wallpaper color, were as scarce as the teeth of feminine chickens.
A house of houses, that waited for the unexpected visitor that it sensed would come driving like Mario Andretti down the dusty lane winding out from the huddle of the quaint little town not five miles away, waited with the resignation of the immovable, always waiting as it had been since it had first gazed through its some thirty-odd windows at the blazing globe of its first post-construction dawn, although not with eyes, as it was simply, beautifully, completely a house.
And so Marcia, she of the exquisite taste in wallpaper, came. She came in a cloud of raw sienna dust, came in her lovely green dress which she knew would clash horribly with John's library, or at least its expansive walls and their unfortunately-chosen coverings, came with her blue eyes flashing like sapphires and her sweet red lips compressed into a slashing line, came to the door of this magnificent house and hammered on it with a white-knuckled fist that moved with the vigor of a rainbow trout in the vicinity of a winter-starved, golden brown-furred grizzly bear.
The carved oak door slowly swung in, framing the man within, the man with whom Marcia had shared so many hours of appreciation of the unassuming, thirty-odd-windowed house, and those mellow, lazy if somewhat waffling sunsets that hinted at the possibility of an unprecedented rollback in time, much as the happy yellow smiley faces in Wal-Mart ads often precipitated rollbacks in prices, but perhaps not with as much avarice and sunny indifference to the dire straits of those forced to make the bulk of their purchases within its prefab, anonymous, unnoticed walls.
"Marcia." John looked past her slim, green-clad shoulder to gaze upon the last flicker of buttercup radiance sending its beams through the thick green lace of the leaves on the oak tree in the very front of the house. The tree of his youth, the tree under which he had first kissed his second-grade girlfriend Gertrude Hicks, who had tossed her carroty curls and screeched with the venom of a banshee before punching the seven-year-old version of himself in the belly. Or perhaps it had been Marcia; she had never taken his decision not to remove the deep, serene, soothing pea-colored wallpaper in his study with anything resembling understanding. "How lovely to see you."
"You're not looking at me, John," Marcia said, turning slightly so that more of the last of the ebbing day's light could bathe both of them in a gentle, luminescent glow that would have made round-cheeked cherubs with purest alabaster wings sigh with envy from their perches in the endless vaults of heaven. "You're looking at the sun."
"It is glorious, isn't it?" He smiled at the horizon, captured by the enchantment of the moment when day met dusk, when the long afternoon hours drew to a silent close, when he could draw the curtains and listen to the crickets sing to him from the depths of the small woods behind his modest dwelling, which--
"John." A hand waved in front of his face, a small but strong hand, a hand that promised as much pain as it did delight. "I've been standing here for thirty minutes. I'm cold, my feet hurt, and I'm bored."
"Wait, darling." John encircled her waist with his arm, gently turning her toward the magnificence of the yellow star that warmed their planet, that shed its power and glory over the fields to coax tender green shoots up from the rich soil, shoots that would grow into fine, sturdy stalks of yellow and white corn, the kernels of which held the sweetness and warmth of its touch, especially when liberally soaked in the rich, melting creaminess of butter, with perhaps just a tiny sprinkle of sea salt from the shores of faraway, exotic India, where--
"Snap out of it!"
Marcia's hand slapped his cheek, and so stunned was John that all he could do was gaze down at the face of his beloved, that delicate oval now tinted a light pink, a pink that rivaled the inside of a conch shell--
"I mean it," Marcia said, raising her hand in a menacing gesture. "Quit it, or so help me God I'll get the duct tape."
Her threat so unnerved John that he couldn't imagine how to better illustrate how menacing her gesture seemed. "Quit what, dearest?"
"The sun?" She pointed to the horizon. "Is setting. That's it. Get over it."
"The sun?" He smiled wistfully as he leaned over to gaze around her at the light symphony that danced over his retinas with the feet of tiny ballerinas in tutus made from the down of newborn chicks. "The sun is setting, darling, it's setting like a soft, lemon-colored feather drifting to the glassy surface of a silvery lake at--" his head snapped back as she hit him a second time. "What?"
Marcia marched him in the same manner a drill sergeant might to his library. John tried to envision the interior of his home in a poetic and enlightening fashion, but she hurried him too much for him to compose the proper expository phrases.
"Darling, if you would just slow down, I could show the reader--"
"Every freaking inch of the inside of your house with more adjectives than Webster's prints? Spare me." Marcia shoved him into the library. "The readers are already in a description coma from the setting sun stuff." She gave him a furious look, a glare, a stare with lethal intent, a gaze that chilled him down to his bunions, and added, "Don't you dare start on me, either."
"What would you have me do, darling?" John asked, closing his eyes so that he would not be tempted to compare her to Blake's rose, or Faulkner's Miss Emily, or one of Viehl's diminutive, slime-coated alien slaver beings.
"I don't know." Marcia began to pace around the room. At least he thought so; he heard her footsteps thumping but his eyes were still squeezed shut tightly. "Talk to me? Do something to me? We're supposed to be in love. Not with the setting sun, not with this house, not with anything but each other. So say something. Do something!"
"You mean, use dialogue and action instead of setting?" He shuddered. "Sweetheart, how can I stoop to facilitate such vulgar prose? Our readers deserve to know my world as I know it, and see it, and feel it. I just bought the newly revised and expanded edition of Roget's, too. You're so beautiful. The sun is so incredible. This house, this wallpaper--"
Marcia grabbed him by the front of his shirt. "If you even think one nice word about this hideous wallpaper, I will strangle you with my bare hands. Which, by the way, do not move like rainbow trout."
"Very well." John swallowed and opened one eye a fraction of an inch. "I'll talk to you. I'll . . . do things to you. Are you sure I can't tell you how inspiring I find your--"
"Not even when your hair and eyes remind me of--"
"Oh, very well." John sighed. "Best get out the duct tape."