by William Michaelian
After the rain came, our mood lightened. For the first time in two months, we were able to open our windows and actually leave them open. Fresh air flooded the house. For quite awhile, the closets remained stale as the air rushed past them down the hall. But little by little they let go of their tired smell. We even opened the cupboards in the kitchen so the dishes could cool down. Randy said it looked like we were moving. It didn�t, really. It�s just that he�s always wanted to move, and this gave him a chance to say so. Can�t say that I blame him, really. I wouldn�t mind moving either. We�ve been here for nine years and we still can�t call it home.
Better open the one in the bathroom too, Randy said. It stinks in there. Then he kidded me for not cleaning out under the sink and for keeping my old sponges. Of course I knew it was coming. If I had a little more time at my disposal, I said, maybe I�d do that. You�re lucky the toilet�s clean. And he laughed and said, I guess I am at that. The truth is, he cleans the toilet just as often as I do. And helps by mopping the floor and running the vacuum cleaner. At least he did until it stopped working. Now he uses an old carpet sweeper he found at a garage sale. Thank God for them. If it weren�t for people getting rid of their old stuff, we�d really be out of luck.
Crazy thing is, it�s turned into kind of a game. My Randy is a good man. He loves me, and I love him. We�re not super-romantic about it, but that�s okay. Neither one of us is going anywhere. That�s what counts. It would have been nice, though, if we could have had kids. It�s funny. I know people who choose not to have kids. Instead, they keep themselves busy trying to find ways to fill their time and spend their money. They�re always buying something or going somewhere. I guess it�s okay. But I can�t help wondering if maybe they had miserable childhoods. And here we are, Randy and me. We wanted kids, but we couldn�t have them. I don�t know.
Didn�t I say it was going to rain, Randy called out from the front step. He was standing in the open doorway, holding his arms open like Moses. You say anything long enough, I said, and it�s bound to come true. If only that were true, I said to myself then. If it were, we�d be on a nice island someplace. I hope it doesn�t stop, I yelled back at him. Those bushes outside are almost dead. Let �em die, Randy said. I hate �em. Should�ve dug �em out long ago. Oh, Jesus, will you just smell that air? I went and stood with Randy in the doorway. The raindrops falling on the leaves of the maple tree in front of our house sounded like music.
Easy it hasn�t been. But I�m not complaining. I just wish we did more than eat and sleep and go to work. It bugs Randy even more than me. He feels guilty for not giving me a better life. He doesn�t care about himself, he says, and I know that�s true. Had he been interested in some of the things people do these days to earn a living, things would be different. But he�s not a teacher or a mechanic. He doesn�t do computers, and he wouldn�t last one week at trying to sell real estate or insurance. So he pushes a lawn mower, or helps people move, or does janitorial, or works part time cleaning up at construction sites. Sometimes, he doesn�t work at all.
Frankly, I don�t give a damn. Being a housekeeper at the hospital isn�t exactly a prestige position. You should see some of the stuff I get into. The only difference between me and Randy is, I went to college. Two years, it was. I learned to use a computer, and how to do word processing and spreadsheets. Then I found out I hated working in an office. I hated answering phones, making copies, and punching in numbers on a computer. I�d rather work on a tuna boat. Come to think of it, it wouldn�t smell as bad as the job I have now. Nothing would. The main reason I stay at the hospital is so we can have their lousy health insurance.
Get me a beer, will you? Randy said when I was on my way back to the kitchen. Get it yourself, I said. What am I, your slave? No, you�re my concubine. That�s great, I said. And my mother said there was no future in this job. I opened the refrigerator and got out a beer. There�s enough Pabst in here to drown a horse, I yelled. Yeah? Randy said. Great. What a way to go. I took a sip and went back to give him the can. Before drinking any, he held the beer up and said, Here�s looking at you, kid. Then he gave me a little pinch. What�s that for? I said. Just keepin� you in line, that�s all. Lettin� you know who�s in charge. Yeah, right.
Hurry if you want to see something funny, he said a few minutes later. What is it? I said. I�m busy. Drying my hands, I went back to the front door again. Trevor, the little boy who lives across the street, was stomping through a big puddle where the rainwater had backed up behind some trash in the gutter. For some reason, he had his shoes on, but no pants, just his underwear. Muddy water was all over him, but he was screaming with delight. He was having a great time, and so were we. Then his father came out and started yelling at him. Get your ass in here right now, he said loud enough for everybody on the street to hear.
Idiot, Randy said. I ought to go over there and kill him. Look at the poor kid. Ouch. I bet that hurt. Hey, not again. Okay, that does it. Wait, I said. Don�t. It�s none of our business. What do you mean? Randy said. The kid�s just bein� a kid, that�s all. What right does he have? No right, I said. No right at all. Except that he�s the boy�s father. Randy�s face was flushed with anger. He isn�t a father, he said, anymore than I am. We watched as Trevor was dragged screaming into the house. It kept raining. Randy and I stood there together, not saying a word. Finally, he calmed down. Dirty sonofabitch, he muttered under his breath, and I followed him back inside.
Just when you think you�re getting somewhere, something happens. If there�s any rule I�ve learned, that�s it. When we first got married, there was no one in the world who could have convinced me I�d be where I am today, stuck in a dumpy rented house with no money in the bank. I don�t know what I expected. I guess a real house in a real neighborhood, with a pretty front yard and backyard, and a washer and dryer that works. And of course children. I don�t know. Maybe if we�d had kids, things would have been different. I mean, I know they would have been different. We would have had some motivation, at least. Some reason to better ourselves.
Keep up the good work, sweet cakes. Watcha makin�? Brownies, I said. Hey, great. Randy took a lump of brown sugar out of the bag on the counter and shoved it into his mouth. Brown sugar and beer? I said. Does that go together? Nope, he said, not really. I just couldn�t resist. Hey � speaking of beer, how about another Pabst? Are you asking my permission? I said. Because if you are, the answer is yes � as long as I get the first sip. Anything for you, sweet cakes. Randy gave me another pinch. He loves doing that when I�m cooking. Thank goodness. And every once in awhile, I don�t mind returning the favor. What the heck? It keeps us young.
Luck is something we haven�t had much of. I�m not sure why that is. Not long ago, one of the girls at work told me you have to make your own luck. It sounded good, until I remembered she was fifty-three and working in the hospital as a housekeeper. Still, she seems fairly happy. She�s been married to the same man for thirty-one years. Her kids are grown and, as far as I can tell, doing okay. But what happens when she�s sixty-three, or seventy-three? How long can a person be expected to mop up puke and carry around plastic bags of dirty sheets and diapers? Where does it lead? Something tells me it�s going to take a lot of luck for her, or me, to survive.
Money is what it comes down to. If you ain�t got it, you�re shit outta luck. They say it doesn�t buy happiness, and I�m sure that�s true. But it does make life a lot easier. And I�m not talking about a fancy life. I�m talking about being able to get your teeth fixed, and having a chance every now and then to go on a trip. Randy and I haven�t been camping for twenty years. We haven�t even slept in a motel. We�ve gone to the beach a few times, but we always have to hurry back because of work the next day. About all we can manage is to go out and eat Italian once or twice a year, and maybe see a movie. The rest of our money goes for video rentals, groceries, and car repairs.
Not that I�m complaining. Well, maybe I am, a little. Or a lot. I don�t know, really. We do have a lot to be thankful for. One look in the newspaper is all the reminder I need. People starving everywhere, bombs dropping, earthquakes. There is plenty of suffering going on here in this country, too, for that matter. But at least we�re not homeless. At least my husband and I have something to eat, even if we are tired all the time. I don�t know what the answer is, or if there is an answer. And I�m sure nobody is going to ask me � not the president, not our congressmen, not even the mayor. To ask, you have to care.
Obviously you�re in one of your moods, Randy said when I told him the brownies had to cool before I cut them. You know the rules, I said, taking his hand away for the third time. By now you should have them memorized. Well, I gotta eat something. Good, I said. Have a carrot. A carrot? What am I supposed to do with a carrot? What do I look like, Bugs Bunny? No, actually you look more like Elmer Fudd. It was still raining. The fresh air in the kitchen was perfumed with my baking. Heaven. Randy went to the door again. I�m sure glad it�s Sunday, he said, standing on the front step. Look how quiet it is out here. I can�t even hear the freeway.
Precious few men like him, really. I put water in my bowl to soak, then joined Randy on the step. It smells good out here, I told him. He put his arm around my waist and squeezed. You�re the one who smells good, he said, sniffing at my hair. Oh sure, I said. I smell like brownies. Well, if they sold that in stores, they�d make a fortune. Randy looked at me. Hey, he said. There�s an idea. We�ll bottle up your brownie smell and then set up one of those little carts at the mall. What do you think? What�ll we call it? I said. Brownie cologne? Nah. It�s gotta be something catchy. Wait. How about this? How about country kitchens, with two K�s. Pretty snazzy, I said.
Quit laughing at me. I�m not laughing. Yes you are. Okay, I am. Why, though? Is it because you�re jealous of my ideas? Ideas? Brownie cologne? Is that supposed to be an idea? Country kitchens, Randy said. But, fine. Go ahead and mock me. You�ll change your tune when the money starts rolling in. When the money starts rolling in, I said, I won�t change my tune, I�ll hire us a whole band. Then I�ll leave town. What? You�d leave all this? In a heartbeat, I said. I don�t know, Randy said. I like it here. Oh? Since when? Since I had such a beautiful wife, that�s when. Yeah, right. No, I mean it. You�re soft in the head, I said. That may be. But I stand by what I said.
Restless, I decided to make something else. What�re the potatoes for? Randy said. Stew, I said. Oh? You�re making stew? Well, you said you were hungry. True. But that was for brownies. Anyway, I thought we had plenty of leftovers. We do. But this is good stew weather. I see. Well, fine with me. I could use a good stew. Need any help? Not really, I said. I just need to peel these onions and potatoes. Randy watched me work for a minute, then wandered off. I had the kitchen window open part way so I could listen to the rain and look outside. There isn�t much behind our house. Just some cement and a tiny bit of grass no one waters or mows.
Stew is something my mother used to make all the time. Dad loved stew, no matter what was in it. Stew and bread. Of course he�d eat anything. Poor guy. He smoked to beat the band, then died of lung cancer. He was so skinny at the end. I don�t like to remember him that way. I like to remember him eating stew. He played with me a lot when I was a girl. I like to remember that, too. I like to remember riding around with him in his pickup, and going for ice cream cones when they used to cost fifty cents. Dad worked for the city and knew everyone. Is this the baby of the family? people used to ask him when we were together. Yep, he�d say. Last of the Mohicans.
Trouble is, that�s not all I remember. I also remember my brother, Danny, getting killed in Vietnam. Danny was older than me, and just as gentle as a lamb. He had big brown eyes that all the girls loved. He could sing, too. He used to sing in the shower, or outside when he was working on his car, trying to get it to run in time for his next date. Danny knew all the songs on the radio. I did, too. Danny used to say I sounded like Joan Baez, and that I should be singing in all the clubs. When I told him I was too shy, he said I�d get over it. You have a beautiful voice, he said. If I had a voice like yours, I�d sing for the entire world.
Ugly. That�s what wars are. And stupid. To this day, I feel sorry for boys who get tricked into thinking it�s their duty to go and kill people. I don�t care how many flags you wave, or what someone says in the White House. Randy agrees with me. He knows. He was in Vietnam. He remembers. He saw boys just like Danny, lying in the hospital with their faces gone, or their arms and legs. Or their minds. And still people don�t learn, or they have to learn all over with each new generation. They have to learn the hard way. That�s why I hate watching the news. That�s why I hate politicians. They�re safe. For them, war is a game.
Very nice, Randy said when I had the stew simmering. This was a good idea. Without asking, he started cleaning up for me in the sink. He got all the peelings together and put them in a plastic bag, and washed the stuff that had collected since morning. The rain hadn�t stopped, but in the west the sky was lighter. We ought to take a walk later, he said. I told him that sounded like a great idea, that we could go after the stew was done. Randy wiped the counter, then went to the stove and lifted the lid on the pan. Paradise, he said. We sat at the table and looked for awhile at the Sunday paper. I got out my scissors and clipped coupons.
Which way do you want to go? I said when we reached the sidewalk. I don�t know. Doesn�t matter. We headed east, toward Beverly Street, then we turned and headed north. It was still cloudy and cool. There was a nice breeze blowing behind us, but it looked like the rain was over. To avoid traffic, we kept to the narrow streets. We saw more houses that looked like ours. In our neighborhood, if you can call it that, the places are all run down. But at least there isn�t much trouble. Not too much, anyway. Every once in awhile there�s a domestic squabble. Usually it�s some cave man who gets worked up and tries to drag his wife around by her hair. Real smart.
Xylophone music was coming from the garage of an old duplex on Perkins Street. At least it sounded like music to us. As we were walking by, we could see a girl pulling her toy-sized instrument across the cement floor. Her xylophone had wheels. Pulling it made it play. The girl, who was five or six at the most, also had one of those little rubber hammers to play her instrument with. When she saw us, she stopped pulling her xylophone and started playing it with her rubber hammer. She was squatting in that cute way kids do, with her little bottom almost, but not quite, touching the floor. She had a happy smile. Randy and I both clapped.
You remember being that age? Randy said, taking my hand. I told him I did. How about you? I said. I think so, he said. That was a long way back. It started to sprinkle. Randy laughed. Looks like we might get wet after all, he said. I squeezed his hand. That�s okay, I said. It�s worth it. After the last few weeks, especially. Yeah. I don�t know why it has to get so hot. We turned on the next street and started working our way back home. We held hands the whole way. It was a good feeling. That�s one thing about rain. It slows you down and helps you appreciate things. We don�t have much, but we have each other.
Zany boy, that husband of mine. That night, he insisted on eating by candlelight. But the only candle we have is the old ugly round one I keep on the shelf with matches in case the electricity goes out. We used it anyway. Before we started eating my stew, Randy went through the house and made sure all the lights were off. The radio was on in the bedroom. He turned that off, too. We sat down. I feel like we�re in a fancy restaurant, I said. Randy smiled. That�s the idea. Best part is, we have the whole place to ourselves. Then he said, Thank you. And I said, Thank you. We picked up our spoons and started to eat.
William Michaelian�s newest releases are two poetry collections, Winter Poems and Another Song I Know, published in paperback by Cosmopsis Books in San Francisco. His short stories, poems, and drawings have appeared in many literary magazines and newspapers. His novel,
A Listening Thing, is published here in its first complete online edition. For information on Michaelian�s other books and links to this site�s other sections, please go to the Main Page or visit Flippantly Answered Questions.