THE ARRANGED MARRIAGE by Helen Faller
I first met P. in the apartment where he’d languished for several weeks after his mistress took gravely ill. He wasn’t what I’d hoped for, long white hair half in dreads and a wild look in his eye I might have found intriguing had I still been in my 20s. But I’d been searching for a match for ages. And I figured we would develop affection and eventually that affection would grow into mutual respect and enduring love.
That didn’t happen. P. was worse than all my former beaus rolled into one. He left food crumbs and filthy nail clippings all over my apartment, lolling around like a prince and leaving me to clean up after him as if it were a privilege he bestowed upon me. I found myself vacuuming three times a day. I hate vacuuming. He kept me awake at night clawing at my legs. When he would at last desist, he splayed himself across the queen-sized bed and snored loudly. During the day, he prowled the apartment opening cabinet doors and yanking out the contents, seeking to gain my notice, vainly hoping to win my caresses. On the rare occasions I gave him affection, he inevitably lashed out. I still have scars from his love scratches and bites. When I would refuse his advances, he climbed the furniture, tore at the Persian rug, gnawed on the plants, and scratched the hardwood floors. A few times he even yanked my computer cable out of the wall.
P. ate voraciously, and shat hugely and foully. He tore bags of victuals open with his teeth, leaving meat jerky scraps strewn across the kitchen floor. Each morning I would wake to find my counters covered in urine-drenched sand fallen from his matted hair during his nocturnal perambulations.
After two weeks living with P., I was at my wit’s end. Whenever I heard a noise, I jumped, afraid to see what thing of mine he’d left in ruins. I had no love for him, and P. was starting to have suspicions. He dismantled two telephone chargers with his teeth and knocked the kettle to the floor during dinner.
I called the matchmaker and told him it wasn’t working out. When I described P.’s abuses, the matchmaker assured me that all those behaviors were normal for someone like P. He didn’t relent until I pointed out that it would do P. no good to live in a place where the woman of the house didn’t welcome his presence. He promised to look for another situation.
But the matchmaker was lazy. He figured he’d done his part. I gave him a few nudges, indicated places he might find new prospects. He sent me a text assuring me he was seeing to the matter. Thereafter all my calls went straight to voicemail.
So I was forced to take things into my own hands. Within a few minutes, I had some luck.
I would like a match, she wrote.
I have a match for you, I wrote back.
I have always lived with the likes of P, she wrote. Ever since I was a little girl in my mother’s home in Milano. My decision to commit to a match is one I have long considered.
We quickly switched to private chat and I discovered that, as much as she yearned to meet P. that very instant, she was indisposed and unable to do so. She had overgorged on chocolate and landed in the hospital. The doctors were holding her a few days for observation while she recovered from her overdose.
I looked at her avatar, expecting to see a face plump from scarfing down too many bonbons. Instead I perceived a young woman’s naked body in silhouette, the bony hips and shoulders forming sharp right angles.
Though my patience with endless vacuuming had long since bitten the dust, the chocolate girl’s interest seemed genuine and she certainly was aching for companionship. As was P. I eagerly anticipated her discharge and tried to maintain a semblance of decorum in my home.
Three days later the chocolate girl came to meet her betrothed. Rushing home from an engagement, I found her already standing inside my apartment. I was astounded to discover her even slighter of frame than I had suspected.
I introduced her and she crouched down to converse with P. face to face, speaking gentle diminutives of affection in Italian. He approached and placed his paws on her leg. I waited with baited breath to see if romance would blossom.
His weight on her thigh upset her equilibrium. She toppled over onto one haunch. After she righted herself, she gently touched his head and he bit her.
Not an auspicious beginning. I steadfastly ignored all the signs this match would not be made in heaven, but more likely in the other place.
She had no money to move P. and his trousseau to her home on the edge of town. I wondered how she would afford to keep him, but refused to inquire. Having previously considered myself the till-death-do-us-part type, I now understood spinsterhood was my serenity. I facilitated P.’s removal in every way I could, instructing her as to what to say to the matchmaker to induce him to convey her and P. to her apartment, making a gift of P.’s special nourishment, his toilet articles, and his playthings, and answering her countless questions.
He’d never jump out a window, I assured her. As long as you don’t leave it open, I whispered to myself.
He’ll eat anything, I confirmed. As long as it’s your favorite cake.
He’s full of affection, I persuaded. And if you’re not, good luck to you.
No takey backsies. I sang in glee after they finally took their leave.
I received just one more message from the chocolate girl.
Does P. usually kaka in the sink?
Helen Faller (@helenmfaller) is a recovering anthropologist writing a memoir about running away from her divorce to the Silk Road to study dumplings. She lives in Berlin, Germany with her preteen daughter.