When my husband, Stanley, gets out of the shower, he shakes himself like a St Bernard fresh out of the pond, drenching everything in the bathroom - the towels, the sink, the three varieties of toothpaste, the two hairbrushes, the toilet seat, the walls, the door, the floor and the ceiling. Every time I look in the bathroom after he's had a shower, I stare in horror. The layer of black dog hairs on the floor doesn't help.
Stanley loves to bring me bad news.
"This blanket is teaming with fleas," he says when I lie down next to him on the king-size bed in the room where we sleep. "Ten of them jumped on me as soon as I lay down on it, and four of them got away."
"My hero," I respond.
"Did you know," he asks, "that the world's largest flea was discovered in 1913? It was a third of an inch long."
I could live without knowing that fact.
No fleas jump on me, but then again I have this bizarre acidic skin flavor that causes my arms and hands to turn black if I touch aluminum. We discovered this in a canoe with aluminum paddles one time. Mosquitoes have little interest in me if there is anything else around with blood.
Our whole house needs to be condemned. An enormous swamp has sprung on the rug in our hallway. Apparently if water gets on the floor in the bathroom, it seeps through the caulking around the tub and then collects in the hall. In one of the bathrooms, the shower leaks profusely; the toilet in the other bathroom needs to be jiggled after every flush. My daughter woke me at three this morning to announce that she had "jiggled the potty." I read in USA Today recently that the most common phrase ever heard in a redneck household is "Will someone go jiggle the toilet?" The landlord says he'll come by in a week or two. In the meantime, he wants to know would I mind using my towels to dry up the swamp in the hallway so his rug doesn't rot?
The only room I can stay in for any length of time is my office. My office is much like my mind. It is full of information. The only problem is that I can never find the information when I need it. For instance, the insurance papers. I have been trying to get health insurance for Stanley and me and our little girl since the beginning of the summer. This has not been easy. Eight years ago, Stanley had hypertension for about three months. In a rather naive move, he mentioned this to the insurance person. Then the insurance company wanted proof his blood pressure was back to normal. Since Stanley has a pilot's license and had gotten a recent flight physical, we thought it would be no problem. We'd just have them send over those records. The doctor refused to send the information. It took us until August to get one lousy piece of paper. Then the insurance company said that wasn't enough and turned us down anyway. Now they've sent me some new papers to get filled out by another doctor. But I've lost them.
We are driving to Eckerd's in the rain to get some prints I had dropped off a week ago. We pass a schoolyard teaming with young boys, hopping around in the rain like fleas on a green blanket. Their parents watch them from umbrellad lawn-chairs. And the Little League coaches pace across the wet grass.
"They're making them play in the rain," I tell Stanley.
"What if we'd had a boy?" Stanley suddenly wonders. "And what if he was interested in sports? We'd have to take him to Little League practise every day, have to pretend like we cared. Have to stand in the rain for all his games."
"And what a terrible father you'd be," I say. "He'd tell people how you never played catch with him like that guy across the street does with his kids."
"It would be really bad," Stanley says. "Really bad."
We buy our daughter an extra doll when we pick up the prints at Eckerd's. I also pick up some flea spray for Poochus Pilate.
My life should also be condemned. Pellets of dogfood roll around the back seat of my car, which smells from all the rain. The backs of my bottom teeth are green. I cannot see the backs of my top teeth. I've been calling every day to get a cheap cleaning, but the receptionist is never there.
Stanley always props the front screen door of our house wide open. I think this looks trashy and is way too much of an indication of the way our house looks inside, which is indescribable disorder. But Stanley thinks it is too much trouble to open the front door and a screen door.
Though I say it is indescribable, I am going to try to help you picture the inside of my house. When you first come in, you will smell the rotting hallway carpet. Just beyond the carpet is a pile of clothes and towels that Stanley has tossed there in lieu of using the clothes hamper. (His office resembles a hamster cage, and so I will not take you in there.) In one corner of the entrance way is a soiled towel which I used to try to dry the swamp in the hallway. In the living room, Stanley has his computer on a small table. He has wired one of those long multiple outlet plugs to the leg of this table. On the end table next to the couch his printer sits along with several thousand documents of one sort or another. On the floor, you will see wads of paper. Stanley loves to wad up trash. Then he leaves it on the floor. I do not pick it up. You will also see two belts lying across the other couch, a pair of pants draped over a chair, possibly a pair of underpants on the floor somewhere and a three-hole punch on the arm of the couch. Our daughter has interspersed her puzzles, books and blankets among Stanley's things, but at least she usually picks up after herself. Several boxes full of electronic parts and plastic bubble-wrap are stacked around the wall. We all enjoy walking on the bubblewrap and hearing it pop. I'm thinking of placing it in front of all the doorways for a burglar alarm. Poochus Pilate doesn't like it, however.
Stanley works in televised sports, and so he travels a lot. When he goes out of town, I simply shovel everything into his hamster cage, vacuum the living room floor and sigh with contentment as I feel myself edging up toward the lower middle class.
There are so many things I hate about living in the contemporary world that I don't know where to begin. I'm sitting right now in a coffee shop near my daughter's pre-school. I thought I'd come in and get a little writing done. Writing in restaurants like dislocated Parisians is what my friends do. They say it helps alleviate the isolation. But everywhere I go, my eardrums are assaulted by noise.
I see a woman, a young woman who already looks middle-aged, sitting at a table with an older man. She wears purple stretch shorts and a purple flowered shirt, the kind someone's grandmother might wear. She is plump and pale and morose-looking. I wish I knew why she was so sad. Then I could get my mind off this obnoxious music rattling around my brain pan. Why does no one else seem to notice it? And why is it everywhere I go? Loud, loud music. I never have conversations with anyone anymore except through e-mail because it is impossible with all the noise. I was at the doctor's office not long ago and thought I'd get some reading done during the usual five-hour wait. But the doctor's office insisted that I watch soap operas instead. At the McDonald's down the street I tried to meet with a client about some copy she wanted written for her bank. But Oprah was on the big screen. We couldn't hear each other. It was like those dreams where you try to scream and nothing comes out. There's another place in town, a quaintly-decorated place with baskets hanging from the ceiling, but in the middle of the room is this large black monolith with television screens facing in all directions. Stanley says it looks like 2001. He expects people to pick up their knives and forks and start dancing around the monolith. I'm reminded more of Orwell, who had the right idea but had it backwards. We don't need to be watched all the time to stay out of trouble because we're all hypnotized by what we're watching.
I am at the threshold of my fortieth year on this planet. I know this by the fact that men no longer look at me. Actually, that's not such a bad thing. What is bad is that not only do they not look, they also do not see. This can be annoying when you are expecting the person selling you a bagel to at least make eye contact. Even the highway workers no longer see me. That really burns me. I always make a point to admire their muscled-up bods as they stand on the side of the road, flagging me by with one of their little orange banners that they handle so efficiently. Sometimes my girlfriends and I will get in my Mustang and drive by a construction site, hang our heads out the window and whistle and holler and hoot. I think that construction workers are the male equivalent of Hooter's Girls.
Fifteen minutes after we met, Stanley and I ran out of things to talk about. This has been one of the strengths of our marriage. We are not surprised ten years later to find ourselves lying next to each other in the king-sized bed with nothing to say. Instead of invading the privacy of each other's mind, we roll together and begin the slow process of arousing one another so that the marriage remains a steady center in our lives. We cling to each other like Dorothy and Toto as the icons of our world swirl around us, cackling in glee.
"Beyond that door, there's danger," Stanley always says. He should know. He says he might get a row of airline seats to sleep on instead of sleeping in the bed. That way he'll never know how miserable he really is when he travels.
Sometimes at night after our daughter has gone to bed, I will read to Stanley. He's developed a fondness for the 16th Century curate and writer Rabelais. In his four-volume history of giants entitled The Lift of Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rabelais describes Gargantua this way:
Stanley loves that shit.
|© Pat MacEnulty
This electronic version of "The End" appears in The Barcelona Review with kind permission of the publisher. It appears in the author“s collection The Language of Sharks, Serpent's Tail, U.K., 2004. Book ordering available through amazon.com; amazon.co.uk
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Pat MacEnulty is the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship from the Florida Arts Council and several other fellowships and awards for her writing. She is the author of Sweet Fire (Serpent's Tail, 2003) and the short story collection The Language of Sharks (Serpent's Tail, 2004), from which "The End" is taken. She lives in North Carolina.
(See review of The Language of Sharks)
issue 41: March - April 2004