“Stop putting words in my mouth,” she said. She took a long sip of her merlot and eyed him above the rim of her glass. Through the living room window behind her, the traffic was backing up on the rural road that ran before their house — cars slowing the way they would if behind a tractor at dinner time, or if somebody’s dog had been run down.

Not being one to give up easily, he tried to slip in “pimento,” “sea salt,” “mandolin” and “mauve.” She put her glass down on the coffee table, too hard, and a splash of wine leaped over the rim, ran down the stem, hit the doily and spread like a bruise. She wasn’t taking these words either, and she spit them out as if she’d sipped out of a drink with a cigarette floating in it.

“You’re pissing me off,” she said.

Was she serious? He couldn’t tell. He thought she had smiled. He thought it looked dirty. He tried to feed her “surrender” and “dynamite” and “Ferris wheel.”

She moved closer. She said, “I told you to stop.” Then she finished her wine and stared into his eyes, leaving the room full of the ambiguity he was used to living with after so many years.

“But I like the sound of them in your mouth, in my ear,” he said. “They sound better when you say them. They sound like a plan — like the evening has an X in it that tells me where to dig.”

She didn’t say anything to that. At the other end of the room, the TV was going through its nightly convulsions, telling them the world was ending as quickly as it could. She got up and unbuttoned her blouse. She walked down the hall to their bedroom. Was this an invitation, or was it her response to the August air?

Outside the window, the cars were starting to pull away now. The street was clearing the way a river unclogs itself of ice.

He looked down the empty hall. “Say ‘triumph,'” he yelled. “Say ‘tangerine.'” Nothing came back. Just the blackness of the bedroom door half-opened. He picked up the bottle and headed toward her.

“Thirst” was the word he was thinking, but could not bear to say.