of the Affair
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On a summer evening in Paris, Hugh and I went to see The End of the Affair, a Neil Jordan adaptation of the Graham Greene novel. I had trouble keeping my eyes open because I was tired and not completely engaged. Hugh had trouble keeping his eyes open because they were essentially swollen shut: he sobbed from beginning to end, and by the time we left the theater, he was completely dehydrated. I asked if he always cried during comedies, and he accused me of being grossly insensitive, a charge I’m trying to plea-bargain down to simply obnoxious.
Looking back, I should have known better than to accompany Hugh to a love story. Such movies are always a danger, as, unlike battling aliens or going undercover to track a serial killer, falling in love is something most adults have actually experienced at some point in their lives. The theme is universal and encourages the viewer to make a number of unhealthy comparisons, ultimately raising the question “Why can’t our lives be like that?” It’s a box best left unopened, and its avoidance explains the continued popularity of vampire epics and martial-arts extravaganzas.
The End of the Affair made me look like an absolute toad. The movie’s voracious couple was played by Ralph Fiennes and Julianne Moore, who did everything but eat each other. Their love was doomed and clandestine, and even when the bombs were falling, they looked radiant. The picture was fairly highbrow, so I was surprised when the director employed a device most often seen in TV movies of the week: everything’s going along just fine and then one of the characters either coughs or sneezes, meaning that within twenty minutes he or she will be dead. It might have been different had Julianne Moore suddenly started bleeding from the eyes, but coughing, in and of itself, is fairly pedestrian. When she did it, Hugh cried. When I did it, he punched me in the shoulder and told me to move. “I can’t wait until she dies,” I whispered. I don’t know if it was their good looks or their passion, but something about Julianne Moore and Ralph Fiennes put me on the defensive.
I’m not as unfeeling as Hugh accuses me of being, but things change once you’ve been together for more than ten years. They rarely make movies about long-term couples, and for good reason: our lives are boring. The courtship had its moments, but now we’ve become the predictable Part II no one in his right mind would ever pay to see. (“Look, they’re opening their electric bill!”) Hugh and I have been together for so long that in order to arouse extraordinary passion, we need to engage in physical combat. Once, he hit me on the back of the head with a broken wineglass, and I fell to the floor pretending to be unconscious. That was romantic, or would have been had he rushed to my side rather than stepping over my body to fetch the dustpan.
Call me unimaginative, but I still can’t think of anyone else I’d rather be with. On our worst days, I figure things will work themselves out. Otherwise, I really don’t give our problems much thought. Neither of us would ever publicly dis- play affection; we’re just not that type. We can’t profess love without talking through hand puppets, and we’d never consciously sit down to discuss our relationship. These, to me, are good things. They were fine with Hugh as well, until he saw that damned movie and was reminded that he has other options.
The picture ended at about ten, and afterward we went for coffee at a little place across the street from the Luxembourg Gardens. I was ready to wipe the movie out of my mind, but Hugh was still under its spell. He looked as though his life had not only passed him by but paused along the way to spit in his face. Our coffee arrived, and as he blew his nose into a napkin, I encouraged him to look on the bright side. “Listen,” I said, “we maybe don’t live in wartime London, but in terms of the occasional bomb scare, Paris is a pretty close second. We both love bacon and country music, what more could you possibly want?”
What more could he want? It was an incredibly stupid question and when he failed to answer, I was reminded of just how lucky I truly am. Movie characters might chase each other through the fog or race down the stairs of burning buildings, but that’s for beginners. Real love amounts to withholding the truth, even when you’re offered the perfect opportunity to hurt someone’s feelings. I wanted to say something to this effect, but my hand puppets were back home in their drawer. Instead, I pulled my chair a few inches closer, and we sat silently at our little table on the square, looking for all the world like two people in love.