Ha! I say. And indeed, Ha! again. For well I know I have no need of ring, nor vow, nor any long-robed vassal of the Lord to sanction this manly advance. Mighty Napoleon set a crown upon his head and made himself an Emperor as Pius stood agog; so will I now extend my unchallenged sceptre over this unconquered world. I will take my Josephine to live with me beyond God's dear-bought grace in our new lands, earned by bullion and the sword. I will share throne and chambers with her as a man by my own order. A great step into the future. The Master of all I survey.
But where will I stash my porn?
Yon broker has a lean and hungry look. Smiling at me from across his lucite desk, thick fingers flipping through slips of paper. The occasional and for my part unappreciated furtive glance at the figure to my left, who has come to the table armed with a low neck-line in hopes of swaying the negotiations in our favor. A hand on my thigh, she whispers in my ear:
"Fantastic closet space."
Yes, I nod. It is fantastic closet space. Unbelievable closet space. Closets the scope and size of which I could not have dreamt. Summer wardrobe, winter wardrobe, linens, cleansers, boxes, towels stacked to challenge Babel. No limit to the treasures those caverns could hold. Ingots of history to be mined from their corners' depths in circumstantial quests for double-A batteries and payment stubs from 1994. Yearbooks. Photographs. Then the hardly serendipitous discovery of an unfamiliar shoebox and all my healthy bachelorhood revealed.
I think not.
But. The scent of her hair as she leans over, the look in her eyes as she situates her sofa, coffee table, and cappucino maker in the imagined rooms reminds me that Paris may be worth a mass. I can leave behind the old coffers. My youth will still be well represented.
"The bar stool can go there," I whisper back, courage and joy returning.
A pause, a look, a shadow. "It could."
And I will never see the stool again. Plucked from the street when I was still a college student, dragged back to the dorm for two good years' service in a halcyon reign of beer and Quake. Transported to the first apartment, where its seat spun teasingly as I climbed up it to change a burnt-out light bulb. Oh, how it wobbled! But she has a folding stepladder. Its legs are of uniform length. It locks securely into place. It's suited to the purpose. I sing a silent lament for the bar stool.
A chuckle escapes from behind the tobacco-stained mustache of the broker. Laughing at my plans. He's heard this all before. No ring on his finger. An unmarried man his age. Probably nothing by ramen and tuna fish in his cabinets, clothing on the floors and not more than the necessary number of pillows on his bed.
My beautiful, my love, she holds my hand below the desk and smiles the smile that brought me on from the first. How long has this been in that grin, I wonder? I search back in memory for crucial moments. Phrases that repeat. The subtle alterations of my character. When precisely I decided I had no more need of guns and swords, or linens that don't match the drapes. When did I need drapes at all? Time was a sheet across the window did the trick.
"Ok," he coughs--yellow teeth!--and extracts from the pack a three page document on paper of legal length. For all the extra words and trappings. Clauses, addendums, riders, lies! Lies! Lies! A red pen emerges from his pocket or thin air to mark the x's at the ends whereat I'll bind myself to terms I never understood before. Some Great Charter wants my name in ink.
"So, it's a one year lease--"
"I'm sorry?" That's not panic in my voice, oh no; it is assertion.
"One year. I'm going to go over all the terms with you one by one so you know exactly what you're getting into." Gotten into, more like, the little wink says; there's nowhere to go from here, and your credit is too good to save you. Then out they come. A laundry list of expectations, imprecations. Vows.
No no no no no no no no... "Yes."
But I can hardly hear him. I hold a copy of the leash loosely in my hands as obligation after obligation spills forth from underneath that tallow, bracken-covered lip. The lights seem to dim, and I can feel nothing except the reassuring pressure of a hand on my knee, squeezing, gently squeezing, always squeezing, squeezing.
"Failure to give possession..." the raspy voice from somewhere in the distance. What? All my life encased in cardboard tombs and turned over to adulthood?
Tacit acceptance of a stepladder? Never!
"Total waiver of counterclaim..."
Am I to have no say?
No one's perfect.
A servant in my own home!
"If unable to perform..."
"Landlord may enter..."
Like hell he may!
"The tenant's duty to obey all laws and regulations..."
Wait. Wait. That's enough. That will do. Whose laws?! Whose laws? I make the laws! It's my apartment! They're my laws! It's my porn! I am Napoleon!
"And finally, condemnation."
There! There! You see? You said it, not me! I am condemned, condemned, a condemned man! I marry before a sinner's priest! Brokers! Broker! Broken! Run!
But I stirred not. Looking down to my knee I saw the sweet slender fingers of my paramour, no longer propping up my resolve but preventing my escape. Fell deed! Bitter strategy! The broker extends to me his tooth-marked pen.
"Sign," they say in unison.
"Happy to." These my last unfettered words. This the motto of my state! Sic, mea cara. Some great coat-of-arms upon my door. Rampant butlers upon a field of seasonal color beneath crossed brooms. I reach out a tremulous hand to grasp the fatal instrument and with a flowing stroke sign away my totalitarian regime to a Parliament of one. The ink seems to glow, glistening crimson for a moment before drying deeper like a scratch on skin. The lights return, and all the sound grows clearer.
"You're all done."
"It's all done."
"Sealed and delivered."
"I am indeed."
"Heh heh. Well. A pleasure doing business with you."
"I'll see you both at the End of Term."
He stands and disappears into some small chamber in the back, leaving us alone. She's already putting on her coat, sprightly with anticipated happiness. I sit, staring at my hand, and thinking. What have you done? You have ceded your shelves in the medicine cabinet. You have sacrificed macaroni and cheese. You have surrendered unquestioned domination of the remote control. All now is high-thread-count sheets and comforters. All now is doing dishes right away and never leaving empty cartons in the fridge. All now is sharing everything with her, being with her, every night and day. Is this what you want?
"Let's go," she says. "Are you ready?"
"I think so," I reply. "I think so."