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© Gordon Lish, 2021.









She says the paper says the herrings are said to be running poorly this season.


He says no it doesn’t.


Doesn’t it? she says.


Does not, he says.


She says I saw it say it two seconds ago. Just now between quaffs of Postum, she says, big as life, the herrings are said to be running poorly this season.


He says too many its. Which it goes with which it, who can know?


She says is it your aim to adopt an air of belligerence this day in history?


He says are you uttering that with one or two els? 


She says what pertinence which?


He says I’ll give you what pertinence which. He says the pertinence which is the principle of the thing.


She says you know what?


He says tell me what.


She says the paper says it’s people of your disposition who make for the rest of us lives a living hell.


He says I heard in that bilge of yours another it for the it wranglers to chase about in. Ah God, he says, the untethered it, we must gather and caponize them and their colleagues in the common drift.


She says the paper says ilk and disposition and mien.


He says any paper with ilk in it is neither newspaper nor penny-saver.


She says this is what matrimony comes to. Misery, misery, and more of the same, only worse and worse.


He says if you were a man, I’d deliver you an abrupt notification in the chops.


She says that right there is proof of the ilk you are.


He says lucky for you there’s no herring on the table for me to smack you with.


She says oooooooooo I’m trembling. The man at the helm is so ferocious and hairy, she says.


He says keep it up. Much more in the way of yap out of you, and you’ll be an item in tomorrow’s snotrag.


She says oooooooooo, I quake, I quake. She says ruffian. She says I rue the day. 


He says my paper here, you want to hear what it says?


She says I, your missus, am all ears, maestro. The individual at the wheel prepares to quote ex cathedra. She sips her Postum. Speak, my lord, says she.


He says scientists in Denmark declare herring second only to a fist in the face as the nation’s number one threat to womankind in the uterine canal.


She says I could pick up that phone and have you up on charges so fast your head would spin.


He says pick up anything it suits you to, bully girl. He says my paper here, it says lament the fool who marries a Postum drinker.

She says an untethered it, is it? 


He says you want to know what your problem is?


She says please hurry and tell me what my problem is.


He says larynx.


She says spell it.


He says c-u-n-t.


She says the courts would show no mercy.


He says herring versus herrings, the magistrate would see right through you and order you tossed into the thoroughfare for the dogs to piss on you. 


She says oh yeah?


He says most certainly.


She says my paper says poison in coffee is the top killer of married men in Argentina.


He says a paper which says herrings, what will it not in erratum say?


She says a paper which says or a paper that says?


He quaffs his coffee. A pair of diminutive quaffs. Says, I’ll see you hanged.


She says they do not hang women in Spain.


He says then drawn and quartered.


She says will you listen to the man, the Spanish Main himself.


He says itself.


She says all this sordidity over a difference of opinion.


He says murder most foul has issued from less.


She says you know what it is to sleep with one eye open?


He says not to sleep? 


She says I pity you. She says I really do pity you. 


He ruffles his newspaper, checks his coffee for flecks afloat where they might be turning circularly.


She says tell the truth, did you just think the word circularly?


He says there is no such word. Such a word does not exist any more than the word herrings does.


She says I hasten to beg your pardon, but if it is spoken or indited or thought, it exists.


He says correction, you yutz—if it be, if it be. 


She says sophist.


He says o God who will free me of this bane brutalizing the last of my hours! He says is there none who will step forward and relieve me of the folly of my foolish heart!


She says don’t make me laugh. Read your paper. Drain your cup. I shall savor my Postum. 


He says the subject is herrings, which it is reported in your paper are running poorly this season.


She says I grant you this—data or fish?


He says Madam, herring do not run in any season. 


She says it’s a manner of speaking, an idiom, an expression, one not uncommon to real men. 


He says here’s an expression known to the sisterhood. Are you listening? The expression is enough already. 


She says you know what makes the world go round?


He says what a shame that I cannot hear you. I am of a sudden deaf, it turns out, to solely you. The cries of the madding crowd remain plain. Your plaints are as of the tomb. Sorry.


She says are you aware antifreeze is tasteless, odorless, and lethal? That it is not even post-mortemly detectable? 


He says did someone speak? This buzzing in my ear, is it flea or phantom?


She says last night I dreamt of George Clooney.


He says I must hasten to a licensed audiologist first thing post-obsequies. 


She says George was drilling me as only George might. Then Sonny Tufts stepped in to take his pleasure from my body. Heavenly, says she, simply heavenly. Only the gauze of dream, of course. Yet happy the bride.


He says spite and venom will get you nowhere with me.


She says believe it or not, there are ninety-seven toxins to be found in the everyday American household. She says it says so right here in the morning paper. It also says, says she, not an hour goes by where the sisterhood does not accumulate unheard-of strengths and empowerments. 


He says is there a glass of water to be had from the tap?


There is, she says.


Well? he says.


Says she well what?


Keep spreading the pronominal haze, says he. Because if this be your game, be it known that I for one amn’t playing it, says he.


You construe what as a pronoun, do you? says she. 


He says watch me get my own water, says he.


How daring! says she. O my heart, my heart! says she. She says the man with whom I habitate threatens to encroach upon the sink. Unarmed! says she. I feel swoony with maidenly arousal, she says.


He says did I ever tell you the one about the woman who goes in for a once-over and when this woman emerges from the specialist’s examination room the hubby says to wife so what’s the verdict?


Keep it to yourself, says she. 


Says he and so lady of the tale says to her spouse in the tale the doc gives her eight and a half hours at the outside which the doc says to the lady in the tale commenced an hour ago. 


Do tell, she says. 


’Tis what I am doing, he says, whereupon the medical practitioner in the tale says his advice to the lady is for the lady to go buy herself an electric dildo that’s got in it a battery guaranteed to run uninterrupted for ten hours minimum. 


She says which I almost forgot. Thanks for reminding me. You are, bar none, a truly disgusting human being, says she.


He says herring or herrings, go look it up.


She says let me enlighten you as to something. She says the last time I budged at your beck and call has come and gone. She says believe it or not, under the sink there’s stuff which could kill a horse if the horse swallowed it. 


Finish your Postum, he says. There’s no pain, he says. First paralysis, then delirium, finally naked exhibition on the esplanade as a warning to all comers.


Herrings it says right here, she says. Look for yourself!


I am blind, he says. Educated, erudite to a faretheewell, save delightedly sightless to ignorance, rumor, and misprint.


Fine, she says, I wash my hands of the whole entire affair.


Very wise, says he. Use detergent.


She says I cannot consent to spend another breakfast in your company.


He says excellent. Sonny and George await your favors in the gutter.


She says when the sisterhood hears of this calumny, you had better run.


Yes, to be sure, he says. He says as a herring would, I will 

away on foot, at a run. 


Putz! she says.


Wretch! he says.


Vantz! she says.


Good riddance! he says.


You bet! she says.


Albeit neither party takes French leave thitherward, unless it’s hitherward, since the paydirt of matrimonial jouissance is all too yummy in the tummy for small potatoes a la like the foregoing. 


© Gordon Lish, 2021.

Gordon Lish is author of some 24 books including, most recently, Death and So Forth and White Plains. Conversations with Gordon Lish was published in 2018. His first book, English Grammar, was published in 1964. He was fiction editor at Esquire, an editor at Knopf, and editor of The Quarterly.