Copyright 1999 by Jane Urquhart. The author is a member of the Net Authors and Creators Union (NACU), which defends the rights of Internet authors and creators. NACU intends to bring suit against any person or corporation infringing copyright.
Specific permission is granted for publication in the news groups Alt.Sex.Stories and Alt.Sex.Stories.Moderated and for archiving by the Alt.Sex.Stories.Moderated archive and DejaNews. All other rights are reserved. Do not repost or distribute by any other means without express permission from the author.
My husband is impossible. Well, improbable, anyway. He never was very enthuisiastic about household tasks, but he finally ceased totally and without exception to do anything useful around here at all. He didn't even take out the garbage, and everybody knows that's what men are for. Oh, he'd say he'd do something--it just never got done. His brother came to stay with us for a month, and it got even worse. Finally, however, I discovered a perfect, foolproof solution to this distasteful situation. I thought.
My friend Beth inadvertently got me started thinking along revolutionary lines.
"I mean, he won't even take out the garbage," I told her on the telephone.
"Off the top of my head I can produce two tactics," she said. "(A) Threaten divorce. (B) Cut off the sex. Just say no."
"A and B both would have a serious side effect I don't think I could tolerate," I said. "Either would cut off my sex, too."
"Well, if you can't make a few little sacrifices you'll never get anywhere," she said. "Besides, I could lend you my husband, say once a month."
"You are so generous," I said. "But once a month absolutely will not cut it."
Beth is pretty smart, but she couldn't come up with any better ideas. She promised to think about it.
Forced to shift for myself, I took up serious cogitation. I considered hitting him. Bad idea. I'm nearly six feet tall, and even if my muscles are starting to atrophy I'm pretty strong, but he's bigger and stronger than I am. I thought about going on strike--I wouldn't do any work, either. That seemed attractive until I realized the place would go to hell within a couple of days, and I hate mess. Besides, the poor little kids would starve, and I have this uncontrollable nurturing gene. And I love doing laundry better than anything. Almost anything.
I was still thinking, to no avail, when the mail came through the slot with the usual thud. I sauntered over and started looking at it, throwing three-quarters of it directly into the wastebasket. Then one thing caught my attention--a circular full of coupons for all sorts of junk. Coupons. Hmmm. A glimmer of a possibility took up residence in my capacious brain.
If I took one of Beth's ideas and altered it a bit, it just might work. Worth a try. I sat down at the computer and started composing a list.
One coupon: Permission to cop a feel, left boob.
Two coupons: Medium strength hug.
Three coupons: Good hug, with grind.
Four coupons: Wait a minute. Make green coupons with a big "One" on them, yellow ones with a "Two," and blue with a "Five." What would a blue one be worth? Obviously it would be take a while to figure out the proportionate value of these things, but the idea was definitely sound. I could even use hundreds or thousands instead, like Italian money, which I just love to spend. (I don't think I'm going to like Euros much.) Then I got another great idea. We have a color printer that I seldom use because my stories look just about as good in black and white, but with that I could make those coupons beautiful!
Then I would hand them to him as rewards for the performance of household chores. Along with a list of the goodies they would get him. Heh-heh.
It took about two hours to make the first coupon, what with searching for clipart and all that stuff. I started by scanning a Belgian 200 franc note, taking off all the pictures and words but leaving the numbers, and pasting a mermaid on it. I made a beautiful set of coupons; in three hours I had printed out enough to start operations, along with a fairly satisfactory list.
I went and found Bob sitting in the living room reading.
"Hey," I said. "I've got a proposition."
"Huh?" he said.
"If you'll wash the supper dishes I'll give you a thousand chore coupons."
"Huh? What's a chore coupon?"
I pulled five 200s out of the pocket of my sweatshirt and handed them to him. He looked at them. I think he liked the mermaid.
"Those are," I said. "That's the thousand you'll get." I snatched them back out of his hand.
"You nuts?" he said.
"Nope," I said, "you need them."
"What for?" he asked.
"Sex," I said, standing there with my arms folded.
He looked at me as if I were some sort of peculiar animal that had invaded his living room.
"Sex? What sex?"
"The sex you're not gonna get if you don't have a fist full of coupons."
"You've got to be kidding!"
"Nope," I said, "not kidding."
"Is this some sort of extortion racket?" He was beginning to smile.
"I guess some people might call it that," I said, "but I look at it as a kind of a game. Except everybody wins."
"But what do you need the coupons for? I don't need coupons to do chores."
"Oh, yes, you do," I said. "You may not recall, but I mentioned last week that you haven't lifted a finger around here for a month, and you promised to reform. Things haven't changed a bit. I figure if I give you a coupon for doing something, you'll actually do it, instead of just saying you will and then not doing it."
"I get distracted," he said. "I mean to do things, but I just forget. I have a lot on my mind."
"You have a large mind," I said. "Soon you'll be using part of it to count coupons."
"I'm beginning to think you're serious."
"That means you're beginning to catch on."
"So what do I get for a coupon?"
"They start at a hundred. For two hundred you get a kiss. For five hundred you get a real good kiss, complete with hug." Then I whipped out my list and handed it to him. "This is your catalogue. You decide what you want and earn enough coupons to get it. Nothing is free anymore."
He started to read the list, but before he finished he looked up at me and said, "But if I don't get any of this good stuff, you don't, either." I don't marry stupid men.
"I think I can hack it," I said. "Anyhow, I suspect you're already considering going out there and doing dishes."
He looked at me some, shook his head, and stood up.
"I could get mad."
"You could," I said, "but there's no coupons for that."
This guy has been married to me for twelve years. He knows that mostly I just go with the flow. He also knows that once in a while I dig in my heels.
He washed the dishes. That got him a thousand coupons. He spent two hundred of them on a little kiss after he got through, and saved the rest.
Amazing things happened in the next few days.
Bob spends a lot of time in his office at the university talking to students, he goes to committee meetings, he does research in the library, and he teaches a few classes. As soon as the coupon scheme went into effect, I noticed that he got home earlier, sometimes didn't go in until noon, and generally spent a lot more time than usual around the house.
One day I got home from work at a quarter to one, and he had lunch ready for me. He took up setting the table for supper regularly. He emptied the dishwasher every morning. One afternoon he started cleaning the garage--that was easily a twenty-thousand coupon job, and he didn't come anywhere near finishing that day, but I paid by the hour. He began to amass a nice collection of coupons. Occasionally he would part with five hundred for a quality hug, and I guess he spent maybe a thousand on feels, but that was all. I really hadn't reckoned on the fact that he's a natural born skinflint with money, so he was the same way with coupons. I finally had to print a ten thousand note and trade it for his small change.
I began to get some mild urges that usually got satisfied in the normal course of things before I really noticed that they were developing. Finally I mentioned this, gently.
"What's going on?" I said, "Are you trying to get to be a millionaire?"
"Waste not, want not!" he said with a leer. "Don't worry, I'll cash them in some day. What's the matter, you got a problem?"
"Oh, no," I said. "Everything's fine."
It was right after this that my boy, Alan, who is eleven, came down the stairs from his room and sloped over to my chair. Fortunately, I was writing a letter, not the kind of stuff I write when he's nowhere around.
"Mom," he said, "what can I do to help around here? I want some of those coupons you give Dad all the time."
"You help enough," I said. "You're pretty good about it. You don't need any coupons."
"But I want some coupons! When Dad does some work, you give him coupons, and I want some, too! They're cool!"
Yeah, well, I wasn't. I had to think fast.
"All right," I said. "I'll print some special ones up for you and Judy, and you can save them up and get something you want."
"Like an action figure or something?"
"I guess," I said. "Or maybe a surprise. You save `em up, and I'll think of something."
"Wow!" he said. "That's cool! What's Dad gonna get?"
Gulp! "He's going to get a surprise, too," I finally said.
This project was getting out of hand. Fortunately, my daughter Judy thought the whole thing was silly and refused to have anything to do with it.
Bob's brother, who is a lieutenant colonel in the paratroops, is even bigger than my husband--he looks like some pro team's right tackle. He was taking a special course at a place in Waltham; that's why he was staying with us for a month. Usually I didn't see him much, but I liked him. Bob said he stayed away because he didn't want to wear out his welcome.
One morning Bob had gone off early to the university. It was my day off, so I planned to spend the day writing. Then John came in and sat down at the kitchen table, where I was finishing the tea that fuels my writing and about everything else I do. He was wearing a polo shirt and jeans.
"Hi, Janey, how's it going?" he said.
"Absolutely wonderful," I said. "It's my day off, the kids are in school, I'm working on a really great story and I get to write for maybe four hours."
"It's my day off, too," he said, "and I want to do something to help around here. I owe you big."
"Forget it," I said. "It looks to me like the Army works you hard enough. Why don't you just do whatever you like to do?"
"No, really, I want to help," he said. "All I've been doing for three weeks is sitting at a goddam desk. I'm turning to jelly. So I want to do something physical--some hard work that'll make me sweat."
"Oh, John, you're sweet," I said, "but I don't even know anything that hard that needs doing around here."
"Well," he said, "I noticed that old maple tree in your backyard that the lightning split a while back. Bob wrote me about it--big noise, he said. It's gonna cost you a fortune to get somebody to take it down, and it needs to go. So, if it's OK with you, I'll do it. Ought to take four or five hours if you have a chain saw."
I'd already had an estimate, and $900 is big money around here. Here was this dear man offering to do it free. As Beth would say, (a) this guy really did owe us, and (b) I am as cheap as Bob is about spending money.
"OK," I said, "You don't have to do this, but if you really want to, the chain saw is in the garage. Bob's starting to get the place cleaned up, so you probably can even find it."
"Will you give me lunch?"
"Indeed. Lunch, supper, and a midnight snack," I said. "Just holler when you want it."
"It's a deal," he said. He got up from the table and headed out toward the back yard. It looked like maybe part of the wall was moving outside.
So I spent the morning happily beating on the computer keyboard with great background music--the noise of a chain saw out there saving us money. Better than that Mozart they play practically all the time on our classical station. More modern sounding, too. I made us a delicious lunch, rather better than the leftovers I usually eat, and then we both went back to work. About two-thirty, just as Alan came home from school, I heard John come in the back door. I figured I ought to see how he was doing. Alan came along.
John was standing at the sink drinking a glass of water. Alan went to the back door and gasped.
"Wow!" he said. "Who cut down the tree? It's awesome!"
Practically everything is, according to Alan, but I thought I'd better take a look. The tree was gone. The yard was cleaner that it had been earlier. A nice stack of firewood was sitting by the fence.
"Your uncle did," I said. "You're right, it's awesome."
"Man, I bet he gets a lot of coupons," Alan said, sagely.
"He doesn't want coupons, Alan," I said quickly.
John looked puzzled. "What kind of coupons?"
"Oh, when Dad or I do something useful around here," Alan said, "Mom gives us coupons. Then, when we get enough, we get a surprise. It's neat. And I bet you get a couple of thousand!"
"Well, hell," said John, "I guess I want my coupons, Janey. I'm a member of the family, after all!"
Oh, my. That was just the trouble.
"Well," I said, "Alan estimated a little low, I think. I'll give you four thousand." I hauled the requisite sum out of my pocket and handed it over. Gotta be fair.
Oh, my. I believe I told you, didn't I, that I try to avoid thinking because it always gets me in trouble? Now you know what I mean.
The next evening, after supper, Bob hauled John out to the garage and they worked together on cleaning it up until nearly midnight. Every once in while I walked into the kitchen and peered out the back door. Twice I heard loud laughter. I figured they must be telling stupid man jokes or discussing their joint childhood idiocies; it was nice to hear Bob laugh like that, because he's one of these serious guys--typical workaholic oldest child--who's usually hard put to it to manage a chuckle.
They came in just as I was closing down the computer, having almost finished the greatest story in the history of literature. It was terribly pretentious, so I was feeling great.
Bob stuck his head through the study door. "Hey, we're having milk and cookies--want to join us?"
I only drink milk when it has eggs and bourbon in it, but you never can tell what these Yankees will do. Anyhow, they were into second childhood. So I went out, poured myself a nice glass of wine, dug out some Polish sausage and corn chips, and sat down at the table.
John had this goofy smile on his face. He's the youngest, like me, so something's always funny.
"Well, Janey," he said. "I timed this work detail we just finished. It'll cost you twenty-five hundred coupons. For each of us." Whereupon Bob, who obviously was playing big brother, not husband, that night, donned a sneaky little grin I recognized from years of so-called humorous situations.
Let's just say that made me a little uncomfortable. What was everybody smiling about?
"OK," I said, "I'll go get them." After all, John wore a watch the size of a dinner plate with forty dials on it--I wasn't going to argue about his hourly pay figures. I got the five thousand out of my purse in the study, came back and paid them off. John counted his cut carefully.
"So how about those Vikings?" he said.