Saturday 25 June 2016

'Measurements' by Ingrid Jendrzejewski

This afternoon, after the movers had left and we were surveying the emptiness of the house we were about to fill, she brought the tape measure to me. I’d left it lying around; we’d been sizing up the living room, thinking about buying some new furniture, probably a book case.

‘Show me,’ she said. ‘Show me exactly, precisely, how long our love is.’ I didn’t know what to say, so didn’t say anything at first.

‘No really,’ she said, grabbing my hand with an intensity that surprised me. She opened my fingers and placed the measuring tape in the centre of my palm. ‘I want a number.’

‘Okay,’ I said slowly, ‘sure.’

The tape measure was one of those standard yellow plastic instruments. It had a nice heaviness about it. When I held it in my hand, I felt secure. She was so quiet, I wondered if she was holding her breath.

I had to do something, so I began to pull on the little metal tab to extend the tape, thinking over my options. I pulled slowly. I felt that it would be bad form to pull it out too far, then to have to draw it back.

I looked at the metric ticks and the imperial graduations. At this particular moment, they seemed to signify nothing. What could I say to her in inches? In centimetres? Did length have any relevance at all? Surely something else – density? electric current? volume? – would be a more appropriate unit with which to measure an emotional attachment?

I was concerned that bringing all this up might lead to a discussion of even more hypothetical things, so in the end, I measured out a rectangle on the floor, 100 by 44 centimetres. I was still in moving mode and had a roll of masking tape around my wrist, so I tore off three strips and marked out the space. Then I measured up the wall, 202 centimetres, and marked that too. When I was done, I nodded and let the measuring tape snap back into its plastic yellow shell.

We stood back and looked at it: the space we’d talked about filling with furniture, now all measured and delineated. To me, it looked substantial. Bulky. I don’t know what it looked like to her. She wasn’t always a good judge of capacity.

After a moment, she nodded slowly, and said, ‘Okay.’ I couldn’t read her feelings from her voice, but then, I often find that difficult.

I am hoping that soon we can go to the store and pick out something to fill that space. Something solid and oak, something well-made and durable. Something with shelves. Maybe with cupboards. What more can I say? We need some places to store things.

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