I guess it all began when my wife threatened to leave me. If I’m completely honest with myself I know that wasn’t the only reason for everything that came next, but it was definitely the catalyst, you know? The morning was yet another one that began with an argument, the same argument we’d been having for years.
The one where she tells me to stop wearing “those nasty sweatpants” and to go look for a job, and then I tell her how the world has become a sad and puzzling place for me and sometimes I cry for it. At that point she normally stoops to name-calling, and then storms off to her job where she answers phone calls about sexually transmitted diseases all day. When she’s gone, I usually toast a cinnamon raison bagel, spread some strawberry cream cheese on that mother, and play checkers on the Internet for most of the morning.
But something was different about this particular fight. It was different because after Alice left the house, she walked right back in and said, “If I see you sitting at that computer when I come home, I swear I’m going to go out to a bar and sleep with the first guy who hits on me.” Then she walked back out of the duplex. All things considered, it was a very un-Alice comment. She’s always been very pro-monogamy because of her job. She listens to detailed stories about sores and lesions all day, and that’s enough to make anyone a marriage booster. Also, she’s never been much of a drinker. I guess that day was the day she snapped.
It was also the morning I found the catalogue. Which is how I describe it now. “The Catalogue.” Thinking back, it must have been our neighbor’s. The guy was always burning incense and playing fantasy games at full volume in the middle of the night. I’d wake up at two in the morning some nights to what sounded like the depraved shriek of a gryphon, followed by a few magical notes from a lute or something. It always took me a moment to realize that it was just James next door and not an awakened hell beast come to flay me in the night. Anyway, I found the catalogue outside, jammed between our two mailboxes. There was no address, so I took it inside. It was called: Historical Replicas Unlimited. On the cover was a guy dressed like a warrior from the Bronze Age. And this dude had his game-face on.
When Alice came home that night, I hid in the closet and waited for her to find me. But that didn’t seem to be the kind of change she was after. She barely spoke during dinner, and then she cut out the back of my sweatpants when I took them off to shower. A bit on the petty side if you ask me. But I was no idiot; I could see things were getting serious. She was already in bed by the time I found some other pants. And there was a note on my side of the bed that said, “You may sleep here again when you stop wasting the Earth’s oxygen, Steven. Love Alice.” I tried to lie down anyway, but then she just said, “Nope!” really fast and it kind of scared me.
I tried sleeping on the love seat in the living room, but it was too cramped. So I found the catalogue again and cracked it open. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but those glossy photos of airbrushed men and women wearing breastplates and holding English War Hammers began to peak my interest. In college, I probably would have died laughing at the poor sods who spent eighty dollars for authentic Middle Ages Leather Gauntlets. But, that was back when I had goals. This time around it made a strange brand of sense.
Everywhere in the real world there was all this frustration and disappointment, right? People working sixty hour weeks for a dental plan. Endless commutes and a government that used your tax money to bomb people living in shacks. In the pages of this catalogue was another reality entirely. It was someone’s dorky fantasy, but it was thrilling. All of history reduced to its heroes. Warriors. Rogues. Knaves. Men parrying and thrusting. Ha! Unhand the princess, dickhead! Without thinking much, I called their twenty-four hour hotline and ordered a Crusader Sword with Matching Leather Scabbard. The sword was three-hundred and fifty dollars. The overnight shipping, my friends, was free.
It arrived the next day in long heavy box, and before I even held it, I took in all the details about its creation from the tiny accompanying booklet. “Holding this sword,” read the gilded script, “you can almost feel the tension of the warrior ready for battle. During the Crusades, Richard The Lion Heart used this to sever the limbs of foes on the battlefield. It is made of high carbon steel. The Pommel and guard are steel. The scabbard is leather. It is made only for the strongest and bravest men-at-arms.”
I dug through the Styrofoam peanuts and hungrily unearthed my blade from its packing. I unsheathed the Crusader and held it aloft. Its heft was surprising and since I hadn’t moved my arms much in my last few years of unemployment, I felt my muscles quivering beneath it. But when I closed my eyes, I felt an enlivening charge run through me. It was better than I had imagined. I felt reborn. I felt a sense of purpose (also, I felt a little horny). I swung the sword with a single powerful stroke and sliced right through Alice’s favorite hemp wall hanging. She’d bought it at a garage sale two years ago. The knotted ropes splintered and sprayed the ground with shavings.
“Hi-yo!” I screamed.
I went after the hanging plants.
Whah! I dissected the Spider Fern complete with its plastic pot. Clumps of dirt thudded to the floor below. Next, I took down the English Ivy, slicing through the plastic basket. Then I plunged the Crusader into the belly of my old Chicago Bears beanbag chair. The plastic skin erupted with tiny white pellets. They rained over the living room like snowfall on the fields of Macedon. I swung the sword over my head, clenching my buttocks as hard I as could. Then I heard a knock at the door.
I opened up with the sword sheathed in my scabbard. It was James from next door. His ponytail was wet from a rare shower. He carried a bag of Fritos.
“Is everything okay?” he asked, “I heard curious sounds.”
“Everything is better than okay, James,” I said, “My soul is at rest and my blade is well-tempered.”
He looked at me for moment.
“Okay, Cool,” he said.
When he turned around, I pulled out the sword and watched the glare of sun light dance against his back. He turned back around and screamed.
“No more video games at night, James,” I said, “My lady and I need our rest!”
I held the blade to my throat and licked my lips.
By the time Alice came home that evening, I had sliced apart most of our furniture. I lay exhausted, surrounded by my carnage, holding my sword limply in the air.
“What in the name of Christ?” she said.
“What are you wearing,” I said, “A lady of class wears an underskirt.”
“I’m calling your mother,” she said.
With my last burst of energy, I sprang to my feet. I ran ahead of her and chopped the phone off the wall.
“Yes!” I screamed.
She walked up to me. The phone lay in large plastic chunks on the floor before me. She stared into my eyes and I could see her cheeks reddening with what I assumed was unadulterated rage. When she spoke, though, she was surprisingly quiet.
“Where did you get that?” she asked.
“From a mail order catalogue,” I said.
“Why did you destroy the interior of our house?”
“I felt the urge,” I said. “I’ve decided to start trusting my instincts.”
She slapped me hard on the face. My cheek seemed to be ringing when her hand was gone.
“Ouch,” I said, “Fine. I’ll send it back.”
“No,” she said. “That’s not what I want.”
And then she was kissing me. Kissing me with some serious tongue, I should add. She wrapped her arms around me and pressed her whole mouth over mine. My sword clattered to the ground, almost severing a toe. But before I knew it, we were in the bedroom and our clothes were scattered across the room.
“Talk knight to me,” she said.
“What?” I said.
“Talk knight. Say knight things!”
So I did. I spoke of Claymores and Dirks and Baldrics. I pretended to be William the Conqueror leading my little Norman to battle. I’ve never seen Alice so animated in bed. Halfway through, she finally thought to ask how much my sword cost. When I told her, she bit my shoulder until it bled. In turn, I called her a she-devil and gave her a victorious slap to the haunch.
One week later, my wife had a sword.
It was called a Falchion. It was double-edged and tempered with high carbon steel. The catalogue claimed it could penetrate chain mail with a single thrust. It was thick and heavy, and Alice had to hold it with two hands. The day it arrived, she came home for a long lunch and we spent the early afternoon sparring in the living room. I’d been practicing for about six days, so I definitely had the edge, but Alice is part Scottish and I could sense a trace of the Highlander in her as she swung her Falchion when we were supposed to be breaking for juice boxes.
She nearly took my arm off at the joint. I moved just in time, but my Juicy Juice spilled down the front of my shirt like blood. That got us started again, and we moved from room to room, our blades bouncing off walls and the remains of our furniture.
“Why don’t you get a job, you pathetic bastard?” she screamed, thrusting the point of her Falchion toward my beer gut.
“When did you become such an awful nag?” I said, blocking her strike.
I took off a lock of her raven hair with a counterstrike.
“Marriage is about cooperation, you fat slob!” she yelled, coming back with a nearly devastating blow. I blocked it at the last minute.
“I hate your mom-haircut!” I bellowed.
I struck hard and knocked the sword from her hands. I thought I had her beat, but she lunged after me, and locked me in some kind of submission hold. I swung my sword around spastically, but I was tiring quickly. She sensed my weakness and let go of my neck. It was a few seconds before I could find my bearings, and in that time, Alice picked up the Falchion and nailed me in the thigh. The edge cut right through my khakis and ripped open my skin. I shrieked and fell to the floor.
Before we drove to the emergency room, we fashioned a tourniquet and had another red hot love session. This time, Alice ran her blade up and down my back, ever so softly without breaking the skin.
“Lie still, gentleman soldier,” she whispered, “Lie still.”