No joke, Tyler and Travis now have separate bedrooms. No problem, you would think, as there are four nice ones available. Still the smallest in the family, 124 retains the least large room, the one with the radiator which flakes toxic lead paint and the ridiculous closet space. Tyler, taller, uses the Master one, the king-sized mattress with the blood stains, and the French wallpaper stippled with blue paisley. An octagonal bay gives out on the yard, his prerogative. Travis has bought herself a cannonball bed with an extra-firm mattress for her slight curvature of the spine, as well as an Empire campaign desk and dresser ensemble. The peasant curtains clash with the pointillist wallpaper, but what the hell, it’s Travis’s first private room since she was nine. She has even more magazines now than then.
The remaining room has been designated an office/guest room tax write off. But there will be no guests for a while. Since their crisis, these two are on bad terms with their respective families and friends. And that is somehow more painful than their own estrangement; a perfect word, Tyler notes. Tyler and Travis are both 32 now, and this is the first shared crisis of their ten year marriage, through which 124 has been with them from the beginning. They know that there will be other crises, probably at 44 and 57, the first related to Tyler’s career, the second to Travis’s glands, and of course, it will also be difficult when 124 goes. But this foreknowledge, which they know makes their species unique, does not suffice.
Their friends speculate about this attractive couple, universally admired for both their refusal to of fat advice or confess a thing. The diagnoses fall short of the mark. Travis refuses to see a shrink because she knows she is smart than they ate, and Tyler openly concurs with this. With oblique masculinity, he assumes that he is the cause of her problem and must bear with it. One thing, though, is that Tyler, once quite competitive, all elbows and knees, has come to love practically everyone quite fiercely, except Travis, while Travis, once so open and charming, a real credit, has begun to moon and bark. She even accuses Tyler of fucking on the side, which he wishes were true, and thus cannot convincingly refute.
With Tyler, it isn’t a question of starting over. He’s seen too many trade in their ’48 Play mouths for ’49 DeSotos. He’s not mad about anyone else. He’s no longer even mad at Travis. Even when, like the other night, she lay grove ling, sobbing, at the bottom of the stairs while Tyler drank in the tax write off, grinding his teeth, thinking that as long as he wasn’t going to leave Travis, he’d be damned if he’d have to go downstairs. Their friends felt sorry for Travis feeling so sorry for herself, and sorry for Tyler because he was not permitted to feel sorry for himself.
Tyler’s trees were in trouble too. Tyler owned two of the largest elms in Elm City, trees more than 400 years old. In the summer, they threw a canopy over the entire lot. In the winter they held tons of snow in their massive crotches. Tyler could sit in the tax writeoff and watch them for hours. Those anaconda limbs dwarfed even the pink sun as it slid through them. And at sunset, Tyler would always do some figuring; let’s see, the sun’s 2,000,000,000, the trees are 400, the country’s 197, the state, uh, 102, the town 50 some, we’re 32, 124 will be 10 in March, and the cannonball bed is about 1 week now . . . Dutch Elm was savaging Elm City.
Travis despised the trees in particular, though in general she knew that Elm City wouldn’t be the same without them. She had seen pictures of neighboring towns after the chestnut blight, real nice respectable towns like Elm City which suddenly looked as common without the trees as some Nebraska burg. But Travis hated the way the trees hung over the house . . . if even a small limb should fall . . . ? The roots pressed against the basement walls causing them to sweat; they slurped up water and fertilizer that was meant for the mockorange, no grass or garden would grow beneath them, and the few seedlings that Travis managed to start in the interstices of sunlight the limbs permitted were soon trampled by 124 and his friends. Pansy, hibiscus, rose of Sharon which when Travis’s mother grew them were as large as softballs split at the seams after lying in a rainy outfield for a month, were unknown here, and even the miracle shrub which the catalog said would be resplendent with immense white flower lets all summer, luscious purple berries in the fall, colorful red bark in the winter, and cream and lime variegated foliage to fool the spring forsythia, never legally died but took no notice of the seasons. “Bloom,” boomed Tyler, “bloom you bastards!” A lot he knew. The poppies he said he ordered never arrived.