Out late, Robert and Steven are at it again, arguing on the front steps, which means it’s Wednesday, and my landlords are back from Toby’s, their favorite East Rutherford bar— two short, round, middle-aged men with matching moustaches, their voices raised over God-knows-what dispute, which always includes an exasperated Steven shouting, “Come on, you know I’m right,” while Robert mimics his partner in a singsong voice he’s most likely used since grade school, until Steven says, “Shut up, please,” followed by, “Shut up shut up shut up,” as if saying it three times quickly is Steven’s sure way to open their door. But the next morning, on my walk to the train, I would greet them as they returned from a postbreakfast stroll—looking rested, younger somehow, as if all the yelling I heard had been someone else. There was even an offer of Sunday dinner, followed, the next time I saw them, by Robert’s happy description of a home-cooked meal. It was my first real visit upstairs, and they were on their best behavior. Steven stayed busy with cooking—and smells that recalled, very pleasantly, my mother’s London broil—while Robert kept me company with La clemenza di Tito on the stereo; I took a timid sip of wine and let Robert do the talking. “So you’re a typist?” he asked. “Typesetter,” Steven called out helpfully from the kitchen, before I could answer. Robert smiled, as if our chef had reminded him that the boy tenant from below, besides being shy was also a bit dull. But finally we sat down to eat, and it was an excellent meal (my mother again), and afterward, their high school yearbook came off the shelf. We ended up on the sofa, with me between them as we finished our coffee, and Robert, who took charge of the book, offered the best comments, adding his own captions. Then he began to flip pages in earnest, as if the one he was looking for kept backing away. The opera was over, and I couldn’t say when that had happened, but I knew we’d come to the place where I was supposed to pay attention, Steven too: the gray photos skipping past were black-and-white again, and Robert’s voice had changed.
Copyright © 2017 David Petruzelli. Used with permission of the author. This poem originally appeared in The Southern Review, Spring 2017.