Art of the Niggle by Glen Donaldson

Photo by Johan Mouchet on Unsplash

New beginnings?

Pfffft!

Not likely.

The flipped over page of the calendar may have read ‘January 1st’, but after 36 years of marriage – the last 19 of which had witnessed, amongst other low points, the creation of custom made voodoo dolls in each other’s likeness – Kenneth Glossop and his gaunt, bitter wife Anita no longer bothered with New Year’s resolutions. In place of a calendar they may as well have had a cuckoo clock attached to the wall that sprang open on the hour, repeating the gloomy phrase, “Today is another day, just like yesterday.”

Over the years, arguing with Anita had become as natural as pulling on another pair of worn socks. And since Kenneth was, by this advanced stage, more likely to be deeply hurt by rude bus drivers than anything she could assail him with, ‘the niggle’ (as he referred to the daily pantomime of working through marital gripes and annoyances) had become somehow more subtly enjoyable to him than soccer, which had been his game of choice in his youth.

To relax, he devised cryptic crosswords and she practiced her violin, which she played semi-professionally with a local quartet. Their time spent together had evolved to fulfill what could only be described as barely the most functional form of companionship. Kenneth and Anita Glossop’s marriage had long ago become a barren desert of coarse non-affection and tactical belittling on both sides. There were also rolling hills of disinterest for as far as the eye could see, broken up only by the mutual care of a golden retriever named Stradivarius.

That morning at the kitchen table Kenneth had formed his hand into a fist and brought it down hard onto the tablecloth with sunflowers on it, which masked a polished pinewood surface. “I don’t want Grape Nuts” he said with absurd emphasis, in a querulous voice that saddened and diminished them both.” Later in the day there had been a disagreement about the rights and wrongs of a reputable newspaper running an astrology column. Anita had agreed with her husband that astrology was an insult to the intelligence but had then added the caveat that the public had a right to get what they wanted even if it was bad for them.

As with a great many of their disagreements, for a long time they seemed not to be arguing at all, but merely carrying on an extended intellectual debate, the locus shifting from breakfast table to kitchen sink while she washed the dishes, to the bathroom while he shaved, to the bedroom while they dressed. On some occasions, Anita would be handed a present the next day when a waxed moustache-twirling Kenneth sensed things had tipped over the edge into outright animosity. His past offerings had included a snail secretion facial mask, a book of poems purportedly written by cats, pine tar soap and most bizarrely and impractical of all an absinthe making kit (Anita didn’t drink alcohol).

One day while searching the glove box of their beloved silver Plymouth Valiant, Kenneth happened upon a list Anita had written one night some months prior while propped in front of their television set, which blared news of a perilous world. It was handwritten, with the title ‘Ten Things I Hate About My Husband’. As his eyes moved down the charge sheet, a faint smile of recognition came to settle upon his face for the type of grievances he expected might be on such a list mixed in with mild shock and a feeling of persecution for the ones that took him by total surprise. It stated:

  1. He has to be taught basic life skills
  2. Snoring
  3. His stupid puns
  4. Driving
  5. He’s 79 years of age and plays video games!
  6. Putting tape across the tv remote control sensor stops being funny after the 10th time.
  7. He never puts the decorative pillows in their proper place when making the bed.
  8. His ridiculous ‘Lost in Space’ replica robot.
  9. When he goes to the bathroom at night I’m pretty sure he’s aiming for the walls.
  10. The time he admitted he used to be a serial streaker at sporting events was a new low.

Kenneth was intrigued and consoled himself with the fact at least she had not complained about his admittedly maddening habit of misplacing things, although he guessed that, had the list been entitled ‘11 Things I Hate About My Husband’, it would have rounded out what definitely looked to be an exercise in cataloguing his perceived faults like pinned moths.

Deep down, Kenneth loved his wife but in doing so also realised, and sensed she did too, that they were both sufferers of the affliction known as hypervigilant personality disorder (HPD). This condition classically manifested itself in asocial types who upset their fellows and distracted themselves by constantly searching for hidden meanings in ordinary things.

Still, having ridden the waves of the one-damn-thing-after-anotherness of a lifelong shared existence together, finding a list like that written by your partner wasn’t the worst thing that could happen to a person or a marriage.

Kenneth reached into his shirt pocket and found a half full packet of skittles. He poured a handful of them into his mouth, drew in a breath as if to say something, but then checked himself. For a moment he felt absurdly powerful at the thought of what was to come. He would save his energy, for he was a person who couldn’t resist the distraction of a good argument. Kenneth knew it would be quite the sparring session with Anita later that night. He’d save what little energy he had for the important things in life: the things he could rely on to still give him pleasure after all these years. And he knew, deep down, Anita felt the same way.

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3 thoughts on “Art of the Niggle by Glen Donaldson

  1. I love it. Could be quite a few people I know. You bring out the subtle idea of affection in antagonism so well. (I tried this in my story ‘William’s Birthday’ in Bandit Fiction vol 1, but this is far more successful).

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As has been said – this could be the basis of many a long-term marriage – the best and worst of human nature shows up after many years together – but if genuine affection is still there – then all is well – I thoroughly enjoyed your story Glen……

    Liked by 1 person

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