“Costume Dramas” by Jonathan Harper from Daydreamers (Lethe Press, 2015).
This volume will be released in March. I was given an advanced reader copy by the publisher.
Note: There are two more stories in this collection. Due to a couple of errors in the planning of these reviews, the final count will be 367. (Yes, I know. And I’m from a family of accountants. Go figure.)
The main character of this next story is an emotional wreck. He runs to his sister’s house every Monday evening to kvetch about his husband, Ron, who he describes as being “sidetracked with life.” He calls his sister “a patient soul, part therapist, part fortune teller, and one tough cookie.” I only see the first one. She listens to him complain for a few minutes, then switches on the television for an installment of a costume drama produced by the BBC.
At first the fact that the sister doesn’t offer any kind of advice was irritating, but then I realized she’s doing the right thing. They say you should never take sides when a couple is fighting, because the couple will most likely get back together and then they’ll be mad at you, maybe even see you as a threat to the relationship. So she’s wise to stay out of it and let him vent.
The thing is, he vents to her, but never to Ron. When he’s home he sulks and sighs heavily. But talk? Say what’s bothering him, or what might make him happy? Never. Is he self-indulgent? Clinically depressed? It’s impossible to say. When things get really rough he takes off for his sister’s, even staying away as long as a month, during which time neither man calls the other.
Ron seems like someone who has reached his breaking point. Frustrated by his husband’s perpetual funk and inability to articulate what might make him happy, he has decided to move on with his life. He goes out with friends, makes future plans that don’t include his husband, and, during the month he’s abandoned, transforms the garage into a rental unit.
No, he’s not upset at all.
Wayne is the renter from hell. A self-proclaimed artist and handyman, he drags junk back to their place for his projects and makes a racket at every hour. He brings to mind the Tasmanian Devil of the Warner Bros. cartoons. Naturally, Ron befriends him. They play video games together in the main house. You’d think if anything could push the narrator past his breaking point and get him to say how he feels, being forced to live with this guy would be it, right?
I like that nothing is resolved at the end of the story. Here I go again, recounting the phrase my former boss used to say: Art asks questions, it doesn’t give answers. That’s what this does. That’s what all the stories in this collection do. They hold up a situation and make you ponder what you would do if you were faced with it.
Or, perhaps, what you already do.