The phone rang, and my wife answered. She paused, long enough listening to what the speaker was saying that I figured I was off the hook. Maybe it was Mary from the DAV saying how they'd have a truck in our neighborhood on Tuesday. Or it was one of her family members, calling to bitch about this or that.
Instead, she soon enough handed me the phone, covering the receiver holes with her palm. "It's your mom. Your dad's not doing so well."
I took the phone into the study for privacy, though my wife tailed me. She proved good at keeping our suddenly curious kids scooted out of the room. The upshot was my father was in the hospital again, maybe for the final time. Mom had already called Amanda, my sister, who was driving down the next day--a Wednesday. I reassured Mom that I would do what I could. My wife stood offstage, nodding with my every word.
I was in my best passive-aggressive mode, saying yes when I meant no. My father wasn't a bad man; he was a salesman. Growing up, he was always away, until bringing home the money. We'd had a happy enough childhood, disturbed once in awhile by this father-man appearing around the weekends, burping false complaints about Mom's cooking. I wasn't exactly going to miss the man. I just hoped he didn't stick around too long and drain their savings. Probably he'd get out of the hospital and be just as distant and as ever. Before Mom had to re-mortgage the house for his long-term care, I'd pull the plug, or smother him with a pillow.
I was surprised to hear that Mandy was abandoning her family to come down for this faux crisis. Amanda had, if possible, even less empathy for the man.
"I think you should go," my wife decided, as though I was on speaker-phone. Hours later, she slid off me, my shrinking me, leaking me. When tonguing my ear as we settled into a sticky sleep she whispered, "Family is the most important thing. In times like this. I'll hold down the fort. The kids and I will stay here, awaiting your return."
I lay there in the dark with my wife curled up and draped against me. I was in shock. The expected post-coital type should've sent me drifting. But it'd been ages since my wife had just jumped me out of the blue like that. I liked it. I couldn't fall asleep because I kept thinking about it.
She got me hard again, just by my thinking about it. I rolled her sleepy self over on her back, and she let me. "Oh my," she squeaked, spreading her legs and letting me punch my own damn ticket.
Mom and Dad lived in a town a hundred miles away. It would've made sense to share the gas, since Mandy and I lived in the same city. But I had a Wednesday meeting I couldn't miss. My sister never called with the suggestion anyway, so to hell with her. My plan was to get up early and drive down first thing Thursday, after, I hoped, another night of enthusiastic encouragement from my wife. Instead, she was shooing me out the house Wednesday after dinner.
Even the eldest, our 12-year-old daughter was in on it. "Daddy," she solemnly recited, "family is the most important thing. In times like this... " Then she broke script, bless her heart, getting all teary. "Daddy! He's your Daddy! If it was me and you were in the hospital, I'd go through a drive-thru and eat my dinner on the drive down."
I was outnumbered, so I went to pack a small suitcase, but at some point earlier they'd already done that. My daughter nodded brightly, "And I got to pick out your newest socks and your nicest underwear."
That seemed a little weird, but she seemed so proud I froze a smile on my face, refusing to let it melt. "Thanks, sweetheart. And I apologize. I know a lot of those socks need to just go in the rag bin..."
"And underwear, too!" she interrupted.
I went to grab my keys and go.
"Mom says while you're gone we're going to weed out your top drawer and then go out and buy you a bunch of new stuff."
That was even weirder, until it made sense. I was thrilled by the fact that when I came back my top drawer would be filled with socks and underwear that weren't all holes and worn elastic. My wife was simply teaching our daughter an early lesson about the laziness of man. Or many men, anyway.
Because, I fumed as I got into my drive, men are that way. Sensible-like. Girls always think they're so smart, but it's the boys who have the big brains. Girls see a sock with a hole and throw it away. Unless it's a fitted sock, once your heel wears through, all you have to do is start wearing the sock upside down, and you gain that much longer until you have to go out and buy a new one. Oftentimes a new girl will enter the boy's life and gift him with new socks. It's a steady steadfast formula.
And then I was bored with the drive, barely halfway through it. All I had working was my radio--there was nothing but that pop country crap. Instead, I spent the rest of the drive cussing all the cunt truck drivers always getting in my way. Who didn't have such Interstate Blues?
Visiting Dad in the hospital was pretty boring, so we didn't do it that much. We left that to Mom. When he was cogent, he was just Dumb Dad.
Mandy was trained that way, so she made sure to shift the numbers so that Dad's final decline got billed to the government, instead of bankrupting Mom.
I did the guy things like erecting the extension ladder and hosing the gutters clean. First I had to dig the fuckers out with a hand trowel. Each year a forest of maples tried and failed to grow in these fertile crescents. Guys were good at jobs like this. Judging by how many years' layers of leaves had been allowed to decay and turn into dirt, I made two observations. One was that it was a miracle that the gutters hadn't pulled away and collapsed off the house from the weight many years before. The second was that, as a guy, my father had been a lazy useless fuck--that part of the job took me hours.
I got Mandy out to help when I got to the hose part. I couldn't find any spray nozzles anywhere around the house--probably an unnecessary luxurious expense in Dad's bookkeeping book--so I figured I'd just use my thumb. I needed Mandy to turn on the water. I didn't want to climb up that rickety ladder with a hose gushing like a broken fountain.
I was up there hosing things out quite right, when the water suddenly stopped. My sister was at the spigot, tittering. "C'mon, Mandy, I want to get off this goddamn ladder sometime this week."
She obliged and I was finishing up when the hose went dry again. Mandy was practically rolling in the grass--she was always good at running a joke dry.
"You should be wearing a big red helmet," she announced, laughing her ass off. "You look like a month's photo in a Hot Firemen calendar! Holding firmly onto your hose and looking so serious as you spurt."
She turned the water back on, and I turned the hose on her, sending her soaked and squealing into the house. My aim was true. Her shirt was drenched and ... bouncing. "You look like a slut in a bar getting your drinks for free," I called out after her.
We spent the evening vegging in the livingroom. The sofa was sectional, and positioned in a corner of the room like two wings of comfy meeting in a right angle. The t.v. was on and we sat through several episodes of different shows. Mom was in her spot, kind of right up against the vee of the angle, working a crossword while watching. I was close enough, based on the other wing, with a book of Wyeth paintings open in my lap. Mandy was sprawled down by the end past me, flipping through magazines like a speed-reader.
The late news came on, starting with raw footage of a bomb blowing up somewhere an ocean away. Mandy started whining about changing the channel to something real, but Mom insisted on watching the news. "The news is important!" she declared, "It is real." But since they didn't really know what that bomb was about, they started talking about that other bomb--the paparazzi photos showing a certain princess climbing out of her carriage, and clearly revealing she'd forgotten her panties.
It went on like that for half an hour. And then, abruptly, a movie began. A guy in a car was chasing another guy in a car through some narrow European maze of streets. They kept leaning out their windows and shooting at one another, both looking in their own way so recklessly handsome it was hard to tell who was wearing the black hat. Both cars were approaching a building that suddenly exploded from an unintercepted bomb. Only then did the opening title and credits start to roll.
Mom stood up. "Well, when the bombs start to blow, that's my cue to go to bed."
"Well, that would've been half an hour ago," Mandy quipped, "when the news began with a bang."
"But that was reality, not movie people inventing bombs going off."
I was happy to watch my sister and mother squabble, but nevertheless I opened my big dumb mouth. "Like the reality of the rich little princess too poor to own a pair of panties?"
"It's a mystery," my mother shrugged in explosion. "And I leave the detective work on that matter in your capable hands."
And thusly, Mom went to bed.
We kept watching. You learned who the good guy was by the way the script kept throwing hot babe bones his way. Where there's smoke, there's fire.
I turned to my sister, intending to say just that, when I noticed exactly what she was doing. She'd seemed sort of fidgety on my peripheral. She was nestled against pillows, with a throw across her lap. But it kept slipping. And I kept seeing how my sister had an arm under the draped hem of her sleepshirt, her hand clearly visible inside her panties, her fingers in obvious action.
.... There is more of this story ...