“The Endless Televisions,” by Derek Lake Berghuis

Apr 20th, 2022 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

I escort my wife into the home of an old friend, one Percival Fisk, where we will stay for a few weeks or until our latest folly blows over. The Fisk household casts an idyll of domesticity that we enjoy. Framed pictures of the Fisks are scattered throughout, mostly of their children and erstwhile pets (eight dogs, one goldfish; the cat was never caught on film) along with watercolors of the seaside and novelty wooden placards: Welcome to the Fisk’s. We love our children equally, there is no need to ask. Please do not smoke in our bathrooms. A cable knit throw of a horse mounted cowboy dresses the couch. The living room keeps no television, nor tolerates any appliance more complex than the old tube radio.

“I’ve been in many living rooms, some with televisions, but also some without,” a remark I make whenever we visit.

“Yes, that is a true statement,” Percy says. “Our living room has never had a television. The kitchen television is proximal. The den is the primary hub for entertainment. There is no reason for a third television within this many square feet.”

“Aha,” I smile amusedly, “and how many square feet is that?”

My wife cuts in, eager to get settled, “why don’t we put our stuff down in the guestroom?” I wink at Dawn, my apprehensive wife, to soothe her nerves.

“Please follow me,” Percy walks away from the staircase that normally leads to the guestroom and down the corridor that gives to the master bedroom at the house’s east end. My wife and I explored it once while the entire Fisk clan was on a cruise to celebrate Mr. and Mrs. Fisk’s fortieth wedding anniversary some years prior. The spare room opposite theirs was horribly cluttered, a fire hazard if we ever saw one. I turn to give my wife a pinched expression signaling an unanticipated deviation. We know the Fisk household intimately. We keep a survey of their property in a fireproof safe. For legal reasons, we are not allowed to enter the backyard or set foot in the driveway.

Percy taps with the back of a knuckle against the master bedroom door.

“Mom, dad, is everything alright?”

“Yes, Percy, all is good, you can stop asking.” The television in their room is either turned off or without sound. I brokered the deal for that very television through my European contacts, so I know it’s there.

Our host indicates through pointed finger the spare room, now furnished with twin beds and a dresser. My wife looks at me with an expression of horror muted by the trained politeness of our upbringing. I respond by looking at her as if I’m not totally convinced this isn’t her fault.

“Hm,” I utter before running my tongue along my front teeth, as if evaluating airborne algebra, “Percy, a quick word? It’s not about the accommodations.”

Percy stands attentively and completely within the doorjamb, expecting me to divulge right then and there. I inhale deeply through my nostrils before continuing gingerly, “how’s the old basement?” Chumming our host with a warm smile, I hope that his bedridden parents might forgive the question as simple discussion.

“The basement is downstairs. It is fine,” he says, following the statement with an awkward inhalation through his nostrils that fails to impress neither me nor my wife, “I am not sure how else a basement could be.”

“Psychologically speaking, sure,” I say while considering the basement’s wellbeing a moment. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen it!” I turn to my wife, inspecting her face for signals. Percy’s eyes look suddenly smaller, beadier. “Dawn, care to check out the basement for kicks?”

“Honey, I’m not so—”

“Percy, why are your guests asking about our basement? They are not to use it!”

“They have asked about the basement, that is a true statement. Gene pines for the basement, but that is my inference, it has not been confirmed.”

“Pining seems a little strong,” I say, smiling, “I’m merely an engaged houseguest, Percy and Mr. Fisk.” It feels strange, yet necessary to address the previous statement to both of them.

“That basement has been renovated according to the residential building codes approved by the town and county!” Mr. Fisk shouts, the phlegm in his throat not sufficiently cleared.

“Be that as it may, I think a once over from the stairs would satisfy our innocent curiosity. Sweetie?”

“Our basement,” Mr. Fisk cries out, the phlegm in his throat giving his speech a highly unattractive distortion that he does not remedy, “is perfectly legal. It is not to be used for enterprising. You may walk halfway down the steps to observe the basement for which you pine, but only for thirty seconds.”

A distended pause goes well observed and I’m suddenly curious as to how long and uncomfortable it can really be. Twenty-two seconds pass in utter silence, a veritable bloodbath of social tension. Dawn clears her throat. Sensing it my turn to speak, I swing once more.

“Maybe we’ll just freshen up before cocktails?” My wife’s anxiety lessens by mere degrees at the suggestion. She extends her wrist so that I can take her pulse, a practice encouraged by our doctor. Percy sees this but does not ask about it.

“Of course, you may,” he begins, “the bathroom is accessible only through my parents’ room. You can use it whenever you like, unless they are using it, then you will have to wait.”

“Naturally,” I say, assuaging nothing.

“Why are they asking about the bathroom? They just walked in!” Mr. Fisk yells.

“Percy, I think it might be best to leave that bathroom to your lovely parents,” I feel once again obligated to call out for the sake of the bedridden Fisks, having just addressed them indirectly, “Hello Mr. and Mrs. Fisk, so nice to see you!”

“Hello, young man. You have not seen us yet,” the senior Fisk replies, which is true.

“Hello, Gene!” The affable Mrs. Fisk calls out. “And hello Gene’s wife, Dawn!”

“Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Fisk! Thank you for such lovely accommodations, and especially on such short notice!” my wife answers. I show my wife a look of solid approval. I love the delicate smile she flashes me.

I resume my gaze over Percy Fisk more intently, now hoping that the discomfort might drive us out of the vicinity. He remains oddly still. I believe he is filing his canines again in the basement. His nails need clipping.

“Percy,” I try once more, “we have one more bag left in the car, and –”

“I’ll be damned if I have to go out there and get it,” Percy says, his expression unchanged. He is not familiar with the proper employment of derisive humor, and he always goes too far with it. We do not engage him when he does this, we simply look elsewhere, using the moment to search for an irregularity in the house’s construction or violation to report, a crack in the plaster, warping if we’re lucky enough.

“Percy!” His parents call out in unison, Mrs. Fisk adding, “go get your friends’ bag, it’s right outside, can’t be more than one hundred fifty feet from where you’re standing.”

“One hundred forty-seven when I measured last,” Mr. Fisk boasts, unable to help himself, adding, “if they parked exactly in front like we told you to tell them.”

“Yes, that is where they parked. I told them twice before they arrived.”

“Yes, I know,” Mr. Fisk says, calmed by his son’s affirmation.

Neither of us move. Dogs begin barking in neighboring yards. A finch calls for a mate. At last, Percy leads us out. He takes a tape measure from the mantle in the living room, which we assumed was part of the home’s rustic décor and said nothing for fear of insulting our host.

“Why are you bringing a tape measure?” I ask, wondering how he could assault us with it and what kind of damages we might be awarded.

“We have to be sure,” he answers.

Percy approaches the car and stares at the lone duffel bag in the backseat, studying the ripples in the nylon, and critical of the stitching. He drops to a knee right beside the rear tire and measures the distance between our car and the driveway, repaved last summer by a licensed masonry contractor. He stands up. He wants us to be impressed by how precise he measures, a family trait, but we are not, nor do we bother to give him that impression inorganically.

“Another 3/16 of an inch and you would have gone too far. Do you want to walk into my parents’ bedroom and tell them about the 3/16 of an inch?”

“If you insist,” I tell him.

“I insist,” he says. We’ve often theorized that his blood contains too much water. The poor bastard. I consult my wife whose eyes instruct me to oblige our host once more. Slightly disappointed, I walk back in, extending my stride by more or less a centimeter, a show of confidence. Inside, more occurs to me regarding the Fisks’ carpet, which is suspiciously clean and bouncier than before.

I reach the master bedroom and tap on the door, “Mr. Fisk?” The Fisk patriarch has long been suspicious of our influence over Percy. Dawn and I once expressed interest in using Percy’s bedroom for light manufacturing and were asked to leave for a period of ninety days.

“Gene, we have not left. You would have known it if we had.”

“Yes. Your son—”


“Yes, that’s the one,” I pause. “Percival has instructed me to tell you that my vehicle is exactly where it should be,” pleased, I add, “and within your allotted bounds for a vehicle of my size.”

Unimpressed, he asks, “by how much?”

“3/16 of an inch.”


Back outside, Percy is answering my wife’s questions with as few words as possible, abbreviating sounds where and whenever he can. He is intimidated by Dawn one-on-one. He stares at the ground, which is less jarring than when he forces eye contact, unaware that he is allowed to blink.

“What did my father say?” Percy asks, relieved by my presence.

“He said, ‘I am impressed with my son’s ability to relay instructions.'”

“Okay.” Percy looks pale, slightly more than usual, again his blood.

“Percy, I wonder if we might have that discussion,” I say, while considering contingencies, a hotel maintenance room being the absolute last resort.

“About putting a television in our living room when we already have two within sixteen and twenty-eight feet of said living room? It is not allowed. I do not recommend that you bring it up to my parents. It is their house.”

“No, we—,” I pause once more, “no, Percival, we are not interested in the living room, though a television would be a nice touch, my wife will agree with me. Dawn?” Dawn says nothing. We join hands furtively, our fingers clumsily lacing themselves.

“We cannot have any more televisions,” the anemic declares. “Think of my home as a small town and each television set as a store that sells television sets. It would be like having three stores, all selling the same television sets within clear sight of one other. People would not know which store to go to and all three television purveyors would go out of business.” His logic seems like that of a man with diluted blood; his platelet count must be low.

“Are you saying that out of sheer confusion, people would just give up rather than choose one?”

“Think of the television stores as televisions in a home, my home if it’s easier.”


“Imagine having a television set for every surface in the home. We wouldn’t know which television to watch and therefore we wouldn’t watch any. The indecision would drive us insane, like my brother.”


“He is my only male sibling, so it could only be him.” My wife gives my hand a loving squeeze. The urge to be alone with her hastens my approach and I play along expeditiously, “what is going on with Verne and his television sets?”

“He keeps having affairs because they have too many television sets. His wife just bought another one and we’re worried his heart might give out. From the abundance of television sets. He’s also broke.”

Dawn asks, “he’s betraying his wife for buying the televisions that he can’t afford?”

“I only stated that she purchased one recently. We don’t know where the televisions are coming from. We think it’s ‘spontaneous production.’ Every day, two, sometimes three sets materialize in the basement or attic. The pressure from all the televisions is causing him to have sex with women who are not his wife. My parents are appalled.”

“Is Verne drinking again,” I wager, “tell us the truth, we won’t judge.”

“Do you mean alcohol?”

“Gene!” my wife is uncomfortable.

“Honey, it’s fine, we’re just trying to get to the bottom of this. Now, Percy, where is Verne currently living?”

“It’s those damned televisions. His wife is a wreck. That’s why she bought another one. For spite.”

“That’s slander if you can’t prove that,” I warn.

Dawn cuts in, “Percy, listen, don’t think us ungrateful, but why not let us stay in the guestroom down the hall from yours, upstairs?”

“You will have to ask my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fisk.”

“With whom I just spoke regarding my parking, you mean them?”

“Yes, Gene, the only parents in the house,” and I anticipate the statement will upset Dawn. She miscarried last year, before all the trouble. I squeeze her hand consolingly. She lays her subtle glance upon me.

“Despite our differences and past litigation, you’re our friend, Percival! We respect your autonomy! We barely know your parents. We don’t even know their first names,” Dawn steps forward to bolster my argument, it concerns her as well.

“Yes, and wouldn’t it be more comfortable for everyone to give us the upstairs guestroom where, if for no other reason, we wouldn’t have to disturb your parents just to wash up? Would that not be agreeable to all?”


The overcast sky obscures the day’s timeline giving mid-afternoon the feel of early evening. The chirping of sparrows can be heard over the blaring of Percy’s television down the hall from where I’ve just come. Dawn is resting atop the comforter of the double bed, a coaxing image. The windowed alcove catches my eye, the perfect spot for a modest storage server; we could be back on our feet in no time.

I lie down beside my wife, waking her by doing so. I feel the urge to speak but ignore it. The stillness relaxes me as it did Dawn. I admire the room’s television, a newer model, but from a brand I do not recognize. The room ensconces us, consoles us both physically and metaphysically, according to Dawn. I’m no longer under the impression that the Fisks stock alcohol. We’ll have to get a case delivered, which can be done, but the trust fund is under the watchful eye of Dawn’s father. We’ll say the money is for a procedure that she needs.

Dawn turns and looks at me, she asks if we can inspect the backyard and driveway after everyone has gone to sleep.

“Yes, my love,” I whisper, “absolutely.”


Derek Lake Berghuis is a Dutch American writer and PhD student. He also writes poetry and enjoys taking photos, the latter of which can be seen on his website, dereklakeberghuis.com. His passion for the written word took root as a young child and has grown with him ever since. He prefers to shower at night.

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