Let us observe the Clarks in the television room of their small but not unhappy home, a respectably uninteresting red brick that might wait on a grassy hill in any mid-Western neighborhood. Amelia Clark is sitting on the couch. Her legs are propped on the coffee table, sprouting towards the television. The back of her head is resting on the rise of the sofa, and a large bowl of popcorn is floating on her stomach, bobbing up and down as she breathes. She plucks a popped kernel, drops it elegantly into her mouth, munches, and repeats; the popcorn travels in a delightful loop, arcing from bowl to mouth to throat to stomach. Harold Clark is Amelia’s husband. He is sitting next to her. He is also plucking popcorn, but he plucks in handfuls. His legs are grounded. His eyes are closing; he would like to go to bed.
The large television screen in front of Amelia and Harold is three days old. The story is that Harold had been walking through a large television store in a large department shopping center in the neighborhood’s large shopping district when the television spoke to him from a window. He couldn’t remember what it had said, but Harold heard it, and Harold had walked inside and bought it because of what he had heard. And so here it sits, naked as a newborn baby, watched by the amiable Amelia and sleep-wanting Harold Clark, sharing the most entertaining parts of the world in waves of colorful, digital wonder.
But if we allow ourselves to enter Amelia Clark’s mind—just for a moment, and without drawing attention to our doing so—we will notice one small grievance concerning the television. Because the television room belonging to Amelia and Harold Clark is so small, and because the television screen is so large—65 inches wide and 37 inches high, thinks Amelia, recalling Harold’s words of adoration as he stroked the television screen after it spoke for the first time—the viewing experience is, regrettably, less than desirable. As we sit here with Amelia, let us imagine paying good money to visit a museum and, upon walking into a room to view an excellent painting, notice that this excellent painting reaches all the way to the corners of the walls and, consequently, invites these walls to suppress its radiance. There is nothing sadder than unrealized radiance. Let this image guide our empathy for Amelia.
Amelia and Harold watch the television for two more hours. In this time, Amelia finishes the bowl of popcorn and, as she sweeps her tongue across her teeth, the largeness of the television and the smallness of the television room begin to frustrate her viewing experience more and more. Later that night, when the television is asleep and Harold is too, we find that Amelia, lying in bed, is still looking for particles of popcorn.
The next morning, Amelia tells Harold that she is unhappy with the size of the television room. Harold agrees, and the Clarks, unwilling to swap their large television for a smaller one, decide to look online for a real estate agent. They find one whose advertisements they know from the television. They call immediately and make an appointment to see a man named John.
“How can I help you?” John said to Amelia and Harold in his office.
Harold, who had been resting his arm on the neck of Amelia’s chair, leaned forward and said, “We’re looking for a house with a large room for a very large television.” He made a little square with his hands. “It’s just that, well, our television room feels so cramped.” His hands were on his lap now. “We just don’t feel like we can enjoy ourselves like we used to.”
Harold’s earnestness reminded John of a small dog asking for a treat, and he responded by nodding with the measured enthusiasm expected, he thought, of all competent realtors. He scrawled a note on a fresh pad of paper, filled in his clients’ details, underlined an earlier note, and returned to the Clarks.
“Is there anything else you’d like to see in the house? I’m thinking laundry size, kitchen layout, wall color, floor preference.”
Amelia, confident that she was speaking for both herself and her husband, said, “We’re open to anything if it has a large room for the television.” She closed with a smile and found Harold’s hand, which she squeezed and then let go.
Later that afternoon Amelia was watching a program on her new television when the phone rang. It was John. Apparently he had found a promising listing, though he warned he didn’t know just how large a room they needed for their television. He said the room was, in his opinion, fairly big, but whether it was to their taste, well, that was hard to say. John gave her the address and Amelia agreed that she and Harold would be there in the morning.
It was a fine house that John found. The street on which the house sat was a two-minute walk from a bus stop and there was, to Amelia’s interest, a selection of cafes next to an electronic goods store just two blocks away. But when Harold and Amelia walked into a room they thought could belong to a dining table or a set of armchairs, and when they discovered that this room was the room that John believed suitable for their television, they were, politely, quite shocked. The simple fact of the matter was that the room—the biggest in the house—would not do.
It was not Harold’s intention to sound rude or ungrateful, but he thought it pertinent to say to John that he was disappointed in the real estate agent’s estimation. He reminded John that his and Amelia’s television was of a substantial size and that they would need a room with adequate space for the television to sit or hang comfortably without appropriating an entire wall. Amelia, who had been standing beside her husband and looking at the walls as if they were a stain on one of his shirts, could do nothing but nod quite vehemently.
A few weeks must have passed and John, regardless of the geniality in his intentions, had been unable to locate a house with a large television room. John might have felt better about this ineptitude if the market had been weak, but the truth was he had been having a good year prior to his engagement with the Clarks. He wanted to curse the Clarks, but he didn’t. He was a good Christian man with good Christian values and, whenever he felt a demon trying to tempt him into calling Amelia and telling her to shove her television up her fucking arse, he took a deep breath and prayed with the knowledge that everything would be okay.
Three days before John would notify the Clarks about the discovery of a listing with a very large room conducive to a very large television, Amelia received a call from her doctor. She was pregnant. Harold laughed with joy when he heard the news and it was agreed that they would celebrate over dinner at a nice restaurant.
On his way home, Harold smiled a great smile. It was a smile that spoke of victory, of mighty achievement, for he and his wife had, as he said again and again to the steering wheel, won for the household their very own child. Amelia was less certain and, as she waited for the sound of the car in the driveway, she found a channel on the television that said its shows were just for new mothers and mothers-to-be. Despite her qualms about watching the television in the small room, Amelia was so happy with this channel that she nearly, though never quite, forgot about: one, the confined feeling of the room; and, two, why she had started watching the channel in the first place.
His wife’s pregnancy filled Harold with so many bubbles of pride and adoration that he had decided, without consulting Amelia, to make a reservation at a fancier restaurant than the nice restaurant he and his wife normally frequented when they had something to celebrate. He considered it a necessary act, a dutiful show of love that was demanded of him and that he was happy to appease, for money was no longer an issue in the Clark household and, he thought, if you didn’t splurge to celebrate your wife’s pregnancy, when else could you spend a bit of money and justify it so easily?
In the car, Amelia thought herself quite indifferent to her husband’s choice of restaurant; she knew she would be happy as long as they returned home in time for prime time television. Nonetheless, she told herself that she would act, with great conviction, like a wife overwhelmed with gratitude for her husband’s thoughtfulness. She would do this by smiling when he smiled and laughing when he laughed; importantly, she would tilt her head affectionately when he said something nice, an action she knew, from years of experience, inspired within him his own glow of affection for her. Later that night, she would lie in bed and listen to Harold breathe beside her and ponder if she had been successful in these endeavors.
Before that could happen, however, she had to eat dinner and, between mouthfuls of garlic prawns and mushroom steak, Harold and Amelia tasted their way through the future.
“We’ll have to set up a savings account in the child’s name. I’ll make a note of that.”
“There’ll be more clothes to buy—we can think about that nearer the time.”
“Private school would be nice, but we’ll have to save a bit more if we really want it. A good one, that is.”
“What do you think about Denise as Godmother? That would make Adam her Godfather. Maybe I’ll ask Francine.”
“I think she’ll be a girl.”
“A girl, nice. A boy would be nice as well.”
And then, as if the couple had been playing a guitar with a missing string, Harold, in a moment of profound awakening, realized that the arrival of a child would have to be considered as they looked for a new television room. Of the revelation, he said, “We’ll need a house with another room!”
Amelia, having exhausted her stockpile of pretense, looked at Harold as if he was a stranger that had just taken a seat at her table. She said, quite simply, “What?”
Harold wasn’t slowing down. “And we’ll need a yard. I remember playing in the yard as a boy. Oh, Amelia, a yard is a necessity!”
Amelia was reluctant to agree with her husband but she gave a quiet nod. She said, “A yard could be nice if we find a house with a yard and a room for the television.”
Three days later, Amelia answered the call from John and he told her about the house with a television room that was of a very agreeable size. Amelia didn’t know why, but she had a wonderfully good feeling about this house, and she said as much to John and then to Harold when she called him afterwards. For the rest of the day and well into the night, Amelia watched television with a grand smile and, as she sat on the sofa, with all the attentiveness of a child before a teacher, the tension in her shoulders relaxed and the muscles in her back eased. It seemed as if a great load had been removed from her body.
When John showed to Harold and Amelia the television room the next day, the baby-expecting couple was very happy. Amelia was so happy that she thought she wanted to cry. She didn’t, of course, but she thought that if she had been an actress, she might have, in future years, recalled this moment in her life as a means of bringing tears to a character overwhelmed with joy.
The house was in a respectable neighborhood, evidenced by the judiciously trimmed roses, carefully maintained hedges, and immaculately polished letterboxes that seemed to fight each other, quietly and noisily at the same time, for passers-by attention. The neighborhood was so nice and respectable that a neighborly local might have, under the spell of colloquial real estate confidence, described the locale of the house and those around it as a pleasant area where the city shakes hands with the suburbs.
There was even, to Harold’s delight, a quaint lawn in a quaint yard outside the house. But it was inside the house, in the large, empty room next to the kitchen that the Clarks found themselves not long after John had ushered them inside. For it was in this room that Harold and Amelia began to envision, like two prophets speaking of the great Messiah, the location of their television.
John discovered the seriousness of the affair when he walked into the room and asked the couple if they would like to join him for a pot of tea on the deck, which wrapped around the house and overlooked the yard.
“No, thank you,” said Amelia. “We are just going over some things.” With these words, Amelia had not only refused John’s offer, she had effectively disposed of the possibility of further interruptions from the real estate agent who, silenced and alone, proceeded to wait in the kitchen and listen to the couple’s stratagem for the remainder of the visit. This is what he heard, and what he might have seen had the couple been more forthcoming.
“I think the television would sit very nicely on a stand along this wall,” said Harold, who pointed and then walked to one of the longer walls in the rectangular room. He developed his argument by saying, “That way the sofa can sit along this wall.” He pointed to the opposite wall. “And we can walk freely from one end of the room the other.” When it came to debates and discussions, or anything that required of Harold a parting shot, a final commanding word that might sink the anchor in his port, he often found a home for terms and phrases he knew little about, but whose sound and general meaning could be translated into definitive, uncompromising success. One term that Harold liked to use was feng shui, and he used it now.
And yet, Amelia was uncertain about the viability of Harold’s suggestion. She was particularly concerned about light from a glass door at one end of the room creating a glare on the television screen, an experience she compared to driving on a long road ridden with potholes, or eating a soup seasoned with too much salt. The prospect of an impaired television screen brought her more discomfort than the possibility of the sofa sitting in the middle of the room.
“Wouldn’t the television look nice here?” She pointed to the end of the room where there was no glass door. “There’d be no glare and the sofa could act as a partition—we could make a cozy nook over here and no one would be able to walk through it.” Of this suggestion Amelia felt quite strongly and, without intending to dismantle her husband’s idea, she said, “I don’t much care for a walkway between me and my television.”
But Harold must have taken these words to heart because he opened and then closed his mouth without uttering a word of reproach. Instead, he walked to the glass door and looked at the lawn in the yard. It was very green. Too green, he thought, for a lawn governed by the summer sun. It was so ripe with greenery that Harold was reminded of something like a pasture in an English countryside, one that he might have seen on postcards and books and even on the television. When he moved his eyes above the lawn, he noticed in the distance a father and a small child walking pleasingly down the street in front of a row of houses that looked just like the house John had opened for him and his wife. The father held the child’s hand. The child did a little skip. The image directed Harold’s attention to Amelia’s womb.
Amelia, who had made it her responsibility to continue planning the location of the television in her husband’s absence, was collected by his mental and physical return and, specifically, the look of concern in his eyes. She asked of her husband, “Harold?”
“What about the child?” he said.
Amelia wanted to empathize but she couldn’t. She said, “There are two more rooms: one for us, one for the child.”
“And what about guests? Where will they stay?”
“We’ll buy a sofa bed.” Then she said, “Or we could move the child into our room if someone had to stay.”
At a later date—after the passing of at least nine months—Harold would look back on this moment and ask himself if he had not been swayed too easily by the casual assurance in his wife’s tone, and if he had not given enough thought to the repercussions of his wife’s suggestion that had seemed, at the time, to be an easy and accessible solution to a problem not yet felt. Right now, however, he simply smiled at his wife and said, “You’re right.”
In the kitchen, John had finished his pot of tea and was fighting the call of sleep as he sat, or rather leaned, at the dining table. It was a half-hearted fight, something lousy that saw his falling head rise lethargically back into place, only to droop again and again. For the result of this fight—a return to consciousness in which he would close the deal and rid himself of the resolute Clarks—is destined for victory: in two minutes, Amelia and Harold, holding hands and staring in delighted anticipation at the vast, uninhabited wall that is to be the happy home of their television, will make an offer and all but move into their new house. And if we allow ourselves, as attentive observers to the actions of Harold and Amelia Clark, to consider what lies ahead for the couple, we might see them sit, day after day after day, on a comfortable sofa, watching their huge television in its appropriately oversized room, as they exclaim, with astonishingly fresh jubilation despite the frequency of such exclamations, how beautiful, lovely, and perfect is this room for them and their television.