Then What?

So you beg her forgiveness, tell her you’ve got things covered, no worries, and many apologies for seeming so self-indulgent about a silly little project, and you almost push out past the thin ice to say she should take her time, enjoy a little break out of the house–but you’ve been married more than a few years, and you know without hearing that shopping isn’t a treat, and if she wanted a break, she’d spend the day having her feet massaged by a muscled woman named Olga, and she’s thinking she’ll have to put gas in the car, right? And she’s going to have to take back the bags of bottle returns, and did anyone think to collect the dry cleaning? And here’s the kicker, which you understand, lo, after many years of mistakes: she is already full well planning to take her time, to enjoy a little break–maybe swing past a store with curios and jewelry and sweaters and shoes, and if you open your yap about it, she’ll feel conflicted, found out, and even patronized about her just desserts, and the pleasure will be ruined, along with the rest of the day, and possibly the weekend, and all you wanted was to put a picture on the living room wall.

Which, by the way, you still plan to do, the minute she leaves the house, because you’re so, so close to screwing in those eye bolts, stretching some wire between them, measuring and leveling with your doohickey (which will mark a notch for the star-headed sinking nail, from which you’ll hang your hanging hook), and then you’ll be done.

And it’s nothing that can’t happen while the kids watch a few minutes of TV in the very living room in which you’ll be working, so it’s not like you’re not keeping a good eye out, and it might even be fun for them to help you mark a hole, drive a nail, et cetera, et cetera.

You’re no rube, either, so no child of yours will swing thumb-bashing tools without help, or hold a nail that could end up in an eye or stomach or, who knows how, a sibling’s arm. Because a trip to the hospital is not on the agenda for today. Today you will hang a picture that will be admired not for its content, alone, but for the masterful way in which it is hung so straight. You, at the very least, will admire it for such, and that might be enough.

Only you’re not done yet, because the kids can’t seem to settle on a show, and you can’t simply suggest Sponge Bob, because this has escalated beyond the balms of Bikini Bottom because the older child has declared to younger that those shows she prefers are for babies, and the younger child must, therefore, be a baby of one sort, and the younger child, who is, in fact, so far from being a baby as to know that the term Turd might be applied to an offensive older sibling, applies aforementioned term, resulting in the riposte that, as a matter of fact, younger sibling is the Real Turd, who claims that, No, older sibling is the turd, which forces the older sibling to respond with the blunt, one-word accusation–Turd–which receives a response in kind. And now you must, apparently, intervene.

Because not only are neither of your beautiful children turdlike in any sense (though, maybe, you admit to yourself, their behavior is, at present, certainly crappy)–not only that, but this is not the sort of language that is allowed in the house, and if the two of them would rather sit in their rooms until their mother returns, they’d better zip it, and right quick. And YOU will pick their show, which, you announce, will be pleasant and calming and, therefore, something produced by PBS. It will contain, you announce, floppy bunnies OR a talking dog. They choose the talking dog.

You are not surprised. In your house, dogs are much loved, and this reminds you to let yours into the back yard, because the smallest one has recently had, to put it simply, the shits, and you’d rather not clean up any more pules in front of a door that, in his moments of crisis, the little guy can’t, of course, open. And all almost seems well for a minute, when you call your beasties back in, and they come, lickety split, to get a cookie treat for minding–their back yard business an apparently stunning success, if their tail-wagging joy is to be believed.

And the kids are still focused, because PBS has a great good absence of interrupting commercials, and you might just get a minute to finish your first and most important task, to which you turn, maybe even a little mad-eyed.

But the smallest dog is scooching his butt on the carpet, which can’t be good, and on inspection you see a cracked mud flat of dried and apparently itchy poop surrounding his hiney hole, which is inflamed red and popped out like the tied end of a balloon. And you feel bad for the little fella, but bad, very bad for yourself, too, because your job now involves soaking off that crust of doo and scrubbing the entire area with soap, and then attacking the scooched-on carpet with all the same intentions (plus all the vigor you can’t exercise on the hind end of an innocent dog). Only nothing’s so simple, and confronting the poopy little man involves catching him, first, and he’s wise to the fact that something’s up, and he heads upfield, breaking every tackle you bring to bear, and even the kids can’t get him cornered, now that they’re involved, and all the associated screaming and trampling feet sends said pup upstairs and under your bed, way under the bed in which you sleep, and he’s not coming out, for hell or high water, bared teeth in testimony.

You’re really, truly ready for a dog bite, though, because maybe it could distract you from your anger, and you push off the mattress, pull out the headboard, and grab the little fiend before he knows what’s what. And then you see your problem goes beyond a butt wiping, because this particular pooch is of a long-haired breed, and his whole back end is a fecal carpet, of sorts, demanding a bath, but, before that–a good trimming, for which, you realize, you’re gonna need scissors. And scissors in this house are as plentiful as any other tool–and as hard to find.

So, with some regret, you eliminate witnesses by sending the kids downstairs, and head to the bathroom, where you know a drawer will produce what you need. And it does, and you shake off the truth that these scissors are used in all sorts of family grooming functions, because scissors can be washed, and you set to it.

And it turns out that the only thing harder that trimming a dog’s nails is, well, this, and your otherwise sweet and cuddly little guy squirms like an eel, and, it’s all you can do to avoid lopping off big chunks of fur, not to mention flesh, and you wonder once again how the kids convinced you to adopt an animal whose hair grows and grows till it needs to be cut, like you’re doing, in the worst conceivable circumstances. A real dog sheds.

You pin the little man, as gently as you can, scissors shedding a halo of crusty fur on otherwise clean bathroom tiles. The tiles will need cleaning. After the scissors.

You think you’ll maybe make those toolbox scissors and get a new pair for upstairs. Maybe, actually, you’ll just chuck these in the trash.

Right now, you chuck a Shih Tzu in a tub, grateful he’s too small to climb out, and set the water to warm, realizing you could have trimmed the dog fur in there, and rinsed all the horribleness straight away. Or maybe, you console yourself, searching out a broom and mop, it would have clogged the pipes, which, all things considered, would have been the absolute worst. And likely, given your day.

The simple absence of this possibility, which would have only really happened if you’d maybe done things in a way that never first occurred to you, cheers you right up.

And now, like a most efficient machine, you sweep and mop, and then you scrub a well-soaked dog, remembered to sprayer away the crud ringing the tub.

Then, it’s to toweling, first the dog, and then the floor he’s left soaked. You decide not to worry about the carpet on which he rolls. Or, for now, the one on which he scooched. Or the other dogs, at whose curiosity he growls.

Because this is the moment. This is when it all snaps together, and you’re delivering the kids a snack without thinking twice. You’re picking two eye hooks from your magnificent new collection and screwing them, neatly, in the frame’s back. You’re confirming to the kids that you’re almost done as you double loop wire through the eye hooks and snip it off, and twist the ends into a braid. The picture hanging gizmo works as perfectly as advertised, and with it you locate a right height, and just the right distance from the nearest wall, and punch two guide holes, which then take your three-pronged hanging hook and star-headed sinking nails like fate. And then what’s left but to hang?

Which you do, catching wire on hook on first try. And then you level.

And it looks okey dokey.

“What do you think,” you ask the kids, and they think it looks okay, too. Mostly, though, they want to know when you’ll deliver more crackers in the shape of small fish.

“Yes,” you say, you will do this. Then you’ll clean up your tools (though you don’t know even now, when you should know better, there’ll be no rhyme or reason to where they get returned). Then you’ll clean up the carpet. Then you’ll empty the dishwasher. You’ll start thinking about supper, after which you’ll clean up its mess. Then you’ll play video games with the kids, before getting them another snack and reading them a book or two or three. Maybe your beautiful wife will do the reading. The both of you will harass the kids for a full five minutes before they’ll be bothered to brush their teeth. Then they won’t go to bed, and they won’t go to bed, and they won’t go to bed. Then they will, and it’ll be time to collect everything everyone will need for another week. The backpacks and folders and lunch boxes and the like. Then, you’ll sit for a minute before your own evening’s ablutions. And then your warm, soft bed (after you take the dog back downstairs, because they’ve all decided they’ve got to go out again).

Maybe, while you’re downstairs, you’ll admire that picture on the wall. Maybe, just maybe, you will.

Matthew Roberson is the author of three novels, 1998.6, Impotent, and List. He also edited the collection, Musing the Mosaic: Approaches to Ronald Sukenick, from SUNY Press. His short fiction has appeared in Web Conjunctions, Notre Dame Review, Fourteen Hills, Fiction International, Clackamas Literary Review, Western Humanities Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and others. He has served on the FC2 Board of Directors since 2010.