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Something Happened 26
"You know I can't stand talking about things like that."
"He's still too small. I don't want to talk about him now. When the kids might hear."
"Should I lock the door?"
"You're just as bad," I remind her. "If I say yes, you say no. When I say send him away, you say we can't."
"It's for his own good."
"No, it's not."
"Maybe we should send them all away," she observes hopelessly.
"What do you mean by that?"
"I don't know what I mean," she retracts. "The kids are embarrassed by him. Ashamed. Maybe we should send them both away and keep him."
"How would it help to send them away?"
"I didn't mean it. You know that. I'm just feeling bad. They don't like to have their friends come to the house and have to see him. Neither do we."
"Talk about yourself. I'm more comfortable about him than you are."
"No, you're not. You just pretend. You put on an act. He makes everyone uncomfortable. He makes everyone who comes here put on an act."
"Fire the old cunt."
"How would that help?"
"It would help us. She's rude to everyone."
"Don't use that word. You know I don't like it."
"That's why I use it. You ought to get used to it. by now. I am. In fact, I'm starting to get very used to it right now."
"It's easy for you."
"I know you. You'll probably be out of town the day I tell this one she has to go and the day the new one comes."
"You can laugh about it. You don't even want to interview them."
"I don't know what to ask."
"And then you're disappointed. You're never satisfied with the one I get."
"I'm just glad you can get anybody at all."
"Until you get used to them. Until you can't stand them and then want me to fire them."
"Get a young one, can't you? Can't you get a psychology major or something?"
"We need someone full time. She has to do everything for him. He can't do anything. You never like to face anything unpleasant."
"Don't you ever feel guilty doing this while we're talking about the children, or even Derek?"
"Even the day my grandmother died you wanted to make me do it."
"I wanted to make you do it the day your father died too."
"Don't say that. You know how I felt."
"What does one thing have to do with another?"
"I do. I don't feel right about it."
"Why should I?"
"It doesn't seem right."
"Do you want me to stop? I will if you want me to."
"It seems all wrong now. It seems dirty again. I don't know. I don't feel right."
"Don't you like feeling dirty?"
"No. You do."
"You feel fine."
"Am I coarse? Am I ever common?"
"Now I do. Yeah, I guess I do feel guilty. You did that. You do that a lot. We don't do it that often when we're talking about the kids or something serious."
"I feel dirty."
"Then I will stop. It's no fun for me. Do you want me to?"
"Lying here talking about sending him away."
"You were doing that. I wasn't. Is that what's making you feel dirty? Or me?"
"Do you love me?"
"I'm trying to. My hardest. Feel how hard I'm trying to love you."
"Don't do that."
"You know what I mean."
"Fuck you again."
"Lock the door."
"You lock the door, since you're feeling so peppy."
"Fire the old cunt."
"Christ, you're vulgar," she says, and means it.
"You're profane," I answer. "Suppose your new minister could hear you now. I bet he'd like to see you now. Aren't you glad I'm vulgar?"
"Feelings," I maintain. "Plenty of feelings. Feel my feelings."
"No, I'm not glad."
"What do you want?"
"I don't know. I'm ready."
"I'll lock the door."
"I'll start looking around."
"I think he's getting much better, isn't he?"
"He isn't. You always say that."
"If I don't, you do."
"I know," she admits.
"I think he listens more. He understands now. He keeps himself cleaner."
She shakes her head firmly. "I don't think she's doing him any good at all."
"Don't you see it?"
"No. He's not supposed to get better. He's never going to. That's what they say."
"Then let's fire that fucking old cunt. None of us like her. She doesn't like us. She reminds me of old Mrs. Yerger, falling into decay."
"Who's Mrs. Yerger?"
"A woman I used to work for. When I was a kid."
"Did you ever do it to her?"
"Christ, no. She was worse than my mother."
"I'm ready, I said. Why do you keep doing that?"
"I like it. You're supposed to like it too. All bosom and no breasts."
"I've got small breasts. You keep telling me."
"They're big enough. I like them small."
"You've tried any other kind?"
"Did you lock the door?"
"Yeah. How come you're so worried?"
I close my eyes sometimes when I'm making love to my wife and try to think of somebody better than Mrs. Yerger or Derek's old hag of a nurse to spice things up. I try to think of pink and fecund Virginia and can't: she is all silk and exotic fragrance when we begin, but my imagination lets me down and she withers rapidly in my mind into what she would be today if she hadn't gassed herself in her prime (although I doubt she thought of it as her prime, ha, ha), a short, dumpy pain-in-the-ass (like just about all the rest. I wish these women's-lib people would hurry up and liberate themselves and make themselves better companions for sexists like me. And for each other) of an offensively chattering woman ten years older than my wife, nearly (Oh, God dammit, why can't some things other than stone remain always as they used to be?), and much less attractive physically, with large pores, a shrill, grating, demanding voice, low-cut dresses with tops of wrinkling boobs, and too much giggling and red makeup. I am much better off with my wife, I know; so I open my eyes and look at her (and that delays my coming until I am ready. I wish I did have some sensational young sexpot in the city I could use in my erotic reveries at home. But I don't: just about all the girls I do succeed in getting and keeping are sad in one way or another and faintly insipid. So I tend to utilize my own wife in my sex fantasies, even while I'm right there fucking her. That's the kind of faithful husband I am. Sometimes when I'm in bed with another girl in the city or out of town and find I'm already sorry I started, I close my eyes and pretend I'm fucking my wife. Such fidelity. My wife should be honored to learn she rises in my thoughts on such occasions when we are apart, but I don't think I'll tell her. She might not like it as much as I do).
I know my boy doesn't like it when our bedroom door is locked (and used to say so before he began to intuit secret sex inside. I think my daughter said to him once: "They fuck in there.").
Or when Derek's nurse reaches out to snare him in gnarled fingers on bloated hands and crush him against her musty, collapsing bodice (neither would I. Like Mrs. Yerger's, there is massive, slovenly, thrusting front with no suggestion of anything else in back but stale and folding space), and more than once, in debased supplication, he has wretchedly admonished my wife: "It's your fault. Why do you let her do it to me? I wish she'd stop touching and pushing and squeezing me like that. I don't even like her. Can't you make her leave me alone?"
try to leave him alone," my wife has said to the nurse countless times politely and awkwardly. It has done no good. "It upsets him. He doesn't like anyone to pay too much attention to him. Don't do things for him. He'd rather do them himself. And try not to touch and hug him so much if you can. He's funny. He doesn't like to be touched and kissed. He really doesn't like it from anyone."
"He doesn't mind it from me," the warted witch cackles back. "I have a way with children. He likes me. I can tell. He likes the way I cuddle him and he likes the way I smell. I always keep myself very clean because I know how children feel about smells."
He doesn't like to be hugged or kissed or touched by anyone, in or out of our family, although he has the mannerism of bumping slightly against me with his shoulder when he is feeling close to me or leaning a moment against my wife (except my daughter, with whom he likes to roughhouse and wrestle, and who enjoys tussling with him when she has time. When he was younger, two, three, four, or five, he used to get hard-ons regularly with my wife when she was bathing, powdering, or dressing him, point to them and comment and inquire about them to both of us with pleased and open curiosity. They even tickled and felt good, he let us know. And we would reply to him intelligently and frankly because we did not want to inhibit him. It was okay with us if he had hard-ons; if anything, we were proud to see them. Today he no longer waves them gloriously in front of my wife or me and doesn't talk about them to us. I can't remember if I had hard-ons at nine. I think I can remember having sneaky, scary, tinglings in my tiny cock much earlier as I sat or hovered near my mother in her bedroom and watched her dressing or removing her street clothes to drape herself into one of her housecoats that always hung shapeless and looked faded. I remember her pink or colorless corsets with those dangling garter snaps and bone or celluloid stays that were always going in or out, although I don't remember knowing what a corset was for. I know I remember sitting mute and devious in her bedroom just to watch. Why else would I want to, if not out of sexual longing? I also remember having dreams later about exactly the same thing: my mother is in her corset and slip and I am prowling about her bedroom pretending to be occupied with something else. My boy gives money away to other kids. I know I shouldn't care), but he has a special aversion to Derek's nurse (to all Derek's nurses, and so do I. And to all of our maids. When he comes into the kitchen for something to eat, he would like to be able to get it himself, and so would I. None of the nurses are young; and all seem to have a peculiar and individual ugliness about them, a lantern jaw, missing tooth, scarred eyebrow, or infected lip. Even when they don't, they do), for he senses some potential destiny for him, some crippling danger, in the fact that she is called a nurse and that she has come to dwell with us only because Derek has a damaged brain, that she came to us from somebody else who had a damaged brain, and that, when she asks for a day off and never returns or when my wife fires her, she will move from here to somebody else with a damaged brain. (He never imagined, I bet, and neither did I, that there are so many people with damaged brains.) She is a veiled harbinger, a jinx, a spinning pointer, a bearer of fatal tidings (he confuses cause and effect, I think, blaming her presence in our home for Derek's condition, instead of Derek's condition for her presence in our home), and he does not want to be singled out by her as next. Yet, he does not want to be forgotten.
"When you were in Puerto Rico," he says, "three years ago, were you very sad?"
His question was unexpected. "That was two years ago," I correct.
"I think you're right."
"Two years ago your convention was in Florida."
"You are right. No, I wasn't sad. Were you?"
"I thought you weren't coming back,"
"Is that why? I did come back, didn't I? You didn't say anything about it."
"I was too sad. I was angry at you also."
"I don't know."
Shrugging, he says he doesn't know.
"Are you angry at me still?"
"I get angry every time you have to go away."
"Are you angry at me now?"
"Do you have to go away again?"
"Will you have to be angry?"
"Will you have to go?"
"I guess I won't. Maybe I won't."
"I miss you when I'm there."
"Do you have a good time?" he asks.
I pause a moment to reflect. "I do," I answer frankly. "All in all. I work very hard. At the beginning. And worry a lot. But then I relax and have a good time."
"You don't telephone from conventions."
"That's why I'm not sure you're coming back. You get very mean to everyone here before you go to a convention."
"No, I don't."
"Yes, you do. You don't listen when we talk to you and you yell a lot."
"No, I don't."
"Is that true?"
"Yes. And you lock yourself in your room or the basement and talk to yourself."
"I don't talk to myself," I answer with annoyance, and then smile. "I rehearse. I practice a speech and a slide show I know I have to give at the convention."
"That's talking to yourself. Isn't it?"
"I want to make sure I can do it right and that I won't forget any of it when I have to give it."
"I get scared when I have to speak in front of the class."
"So do I. I know you do."
"Does rope climbing scare you?"
"Yes. And I'm never going to climb another one, now that I don't have to."
"Do you like it?"
"I think so. I like to be asked, anyway. I get nervous too. But I enjoy it. Especially afterward."
"I'm always afraid that I'll forget what I'm supposed to say. Or that I'll get sick and have to vomit while I'm doing it. Do you know why I'm afraid to swim? I think if I ever started to drown, I'd be ashamed to call the lifeguard."
"You'd call him."
"Or that somebody in the class or the teacher won't like me. It. What I say."
"That's why I work so hard and practice so much. And why I get a little angry if one of you interrupts me. To make sure I remember it."
"Do you always remember?"
"Not at the convention. I've never been able to give one. My boss always stops me."
"Green," he guesses with certainty.
"I don't like Green, either," he confides, lowering his eyes. "Because you're afraid of him."
"I'm not afraid of him."
"You don't like him."
"I like him okay."
"You have to work for him."
"That's part of the trouble. When people have to work for other people, they don't always get along well with the people they have to take orders from. But it doesn't mean I don't like him. Or that I'm afraid of him."
"No. But I like him more than a lot of the others."
"Why do you have to work in a place where you don't like so many people?"
"Because I like it. I have to."
"Do you know what I'm afraid of?" he asks, looking up at me with interest.
"Lots of things."
"Do you know what else I'm afraid of?"
"Lots more things."
"That you won't come back."
"I'm surprised. I never thought you thought about that."
"All the time? Or only at conventions?"
"All the time. But mostly at conventions. Because you're away so long."
"Sometimes I call. When I get there."
"And other times when you're away long. I don't mind so much if it's just for a day. I start to feel you won't come back."
"I always have. I'm here now, ain't I? I'm going to have to die sometime."
"I don't want you to."
"I'll try not to."
"Sometimes I do."
"Do what?" I am more shocked than offended.
"Want you to."
"I'm not sure. When I'm angry. Or have dreams."
"You're never angry."
"I get angry a lot when you go away," he pushes on intently. "No. I don't want you to die. Ever. I don't want to die either. Are you angry?"
"No. Are you?"
"No. I don't think I would be afraid so much if I were with you and Mommy instead of here. I don't want to be left alone."
"You wouldn't be alone. You'd be with Mommy. A person can't be afraid all the time of all the bad things that might happen to him."
"I can," he snickers mournfully.
I smile back at him in response. "No, you can't. Not even you. I'll bet I can name a lot of things you're afraid of that you don't even have time to be afraid of all the time."
"Don't," he exclaims, with mock alarm.
"I won't," I promise sympathetically. "Something comes along that takes our mind away. Should we talk about things that make you laugh instead? Have some fun? Kid around?"
"All right," he answers, with a momentary smile.
"Can a person's blood turn to water?"
"That's what somebody told me."
"That's what makes you laugh?"
"No. I keep worrying about it."
"When did he tell you?"
"A few months ago."
"Why didn't you ask me sooner?"
"I wanted to think about it. He said he read it in the paper."
"I don't think so."
"That's what one of the kids at school told me. That a person's blood can turn to water and he dies."
"He was probably talking about leukemia."
"What's that?" he inquires sharply.
"I knew it was a mistake to tell you," I reply, with a regretful click of the tongue. "Even as I was saying it. It's a disease of the blood. Something happens to the white corpuscles."
"Does it turn to water?"
"No. I don't think so. Not water. Something like it happens, though."
"Do people die from it?"
"Do kids like me get it?"
"I don't think so," I lie.
"It was a kid he said he read about. He said it was a kid who died from it."
"Maybe they do then. I think that once in a while--"
"Don't tell me about it," he interrupts, putting both hands up in another comical gesture of awestruck horror that is both histrionic and real.
"I already have."
"Don't tell me any more."
"You always do that," I criticize him kindly. "You ask me all the questions you can think of about something terrible and then when I finish answering them you tell me, 'don't tell me about it.' "
"Are you angry?"
"Do I look it? No, of course not."