By Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth
Submitted by Kirk, Blender-Keeper
Date: 2017 Jan 08
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from "The Space Merchants"

[The doorman] whistled up a two-man pedicab, and Kathy gave the lead boy the hospital's address. "You can come if you like, Mitch," she said, and I climbed in beside her. The doorman gave us a starting push and the cabbies grunted getting up momentum.

Unasked, I put down the top. For a moment it was like our courtship again: the friendly dark, the slight, musty smell of the canvas top, the squeak of the springs. But for a moment only. "Watch that, Mitch," she said warningly.

"Please, Kathy," I said carefully. "Let me say it anyhow. It won't take long." She didn't say no. "We were married eight months ago--all right," I said quickly as she started to speak, "it wasn't an absolute marriage. But we took the interlocutory vows. Do you remember why we did that?"

She said patiently after a moment: "We were in love."

"That's right," I said, "I loved you and you loved me. And we both had our work to think about, and we knew that sometimes it made us a little hard to get along with. So we made it interim. It had a year to run before we had to decide whether to make it permanent." I touched her hand and she didn't move it away. "Kathy dear, don't you think we knew what we were doing then? Can't we--at least--give it the year's trial? There are still four months to go. Let's try it. If the year ends and you don't want to file your certificate--well, at least I won't be able to say you didn't give me a chance. As for me, I don't have to wait. My certificate's on file now and I won't change."

We passed a street light and I saw her lips twisted into an expression I couldn't quite read. "Oh, damn it all, Mitch," she said unhappily, "I know you won't change. That's what makes it all so terrible. Must I sit here and call you names to convince you that it's hopeless? Do I have to tell you that you're an ill-tempered, contriving Machiavellian, selfish pig of a man to live with? I used to think you were a sweet guy, Mitch. An idealist who cared for principles and ethics instead of money. I had every reason to think so. You told me so yourself, very convincingly. You were very plausible about my work too. You boned up on medicine, you came to watch me operate three times a week, you told all our friends while I was sitting right in the room listening to you how proud you were to be married to a surgeon. It took me three months to find out what you meant by that. Anybody could marry a girl who'd be a housewife. But it took a Mitchell Courtenay to marry a first-class rated surgeon and make her a housewife." Her voice was tremulous. "I couldn't take it, Mitch. I never will be able to. Not the arguments, the sulkiness, and the ever-and-ever fighting. I'm a doctor. Sometimes a life depends on me. If I'm all torn up inside from battling with my husband, that life isn't safe, Mitch. Can't you see that?"

Something that sounded like a sob.

I asked quietly: "Kathy, don't you still love me?"

She was absolutely quite for a long moment. Then she laughed wildly and very briefly. "Here's the hospital, Mitch," she said. "It's midnight."

--from "The Space Merchants", by Frederick Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth. What Aldous Huxley did to Orwell with eugenics, this 1952 book does to Huxley with sheer capitalism - a semi-dystopia vision of a world of salesman run amuck.

This passage has stuck with me; the concept of "interim marriage" still sounds futuristic. But more than that, Kathy's protesting paragraph, that's what really has rattled around in my brain for a while. (Some parts more than others - being a guy who doesn't change much more so than being a guy who argues and sulks and fights.)

But yeah, the surgeon thing - I've been pondering about how admiration is an important part of romantic attachment for me, and how I can almost always identify the specific, objectively cool something that made each person I've been lucky enough to be with distinct from everyone else, the gray lining to that silver cloud is how sometimes I do it to show off - it sounds cynical to identify it, but I think it's a natural human trait to enjoy having a partner who boosts ones own status in your shared social circles.