Going to Harry’s | John Vanderslice
Harry said he is going to kick my ass from here to next week. Thats what I told my wife. I put the phone down. I turned to her. I said: Harry said hes going to kick my ass from here to next week. If I dont get over there right away.
I dont believe you, she said.
Thats what he said!
Why did he say it?
Why is he going to kick your ass?
We were in the kitchen. She folded her arms, leaned back in her chair. I saw every inch of her big gray eyes. I had better say something.
His clippers, I said, remember?
The ones in the garage.
At that moment, our son started rampaging with his cereal, dumping the milk and Cheerios on the table, banging the back of the bowl with his shiny toddler spoon. And our daughter shouted something from the living room. Something about cartoons. I was saved from being asked to go to the garage and produce the supposed clippers. My wife went the three steps into the living room to find out what Jessica wanted.
Oscar, I said, stop banging your bowl.
He kept on banging.
He turned his head. He looked at me. He smiled. Bang! Bang! Bang!
Goddamn it, Oscar!
My wife came back.
Dont cuss at him!
I didnt cuss.
What do you mean? You said the god thing.
Thats an expression, not a curse. Its me venting.
Oh yes, of course. Now I see. So how exactly do you define a curse?
A curse is an intentional defamation. An attempt to malign someone. To make him feel small.
How do you think Oscar feels after what you said?
We both looked. He was smiling. He banged on his bowl.
Her face turned upside down.
Youre impossible, she said.
Im going to Harrys, I said.
I know, but look around.
What do you see?
Oscar, with an open right palm, was flattening the milk and Cheerios into a level layer of mush, to go with the banana he smashed earlier and puddle of apple juice from an overturned cup. Jessica was screaming tv songs as she danced around the living room with a broom, stepping between the extant artifacts: four Barbie dolls, a half dozen childrens books, Legos, a jumprope, a plastic backhoe, green army men, a couple of couch pillows, a Magna-Doodle set, lincoln logs, a makeup kit, three saltines, a collection of miniature plastic horses, a telephone book, a stapler, a crossword puzzle, Mr. Potato Head, a bag of animal crackers, the TV Guide, and a schoolbook titled Adventures in Math.
Youre not going anywhere.
But what about
She gave me a dark, doubting look.
I sat in a chair. I didnt know what was going to happen.
Hey, I said, what about Harry?
It was later.
What? my wife said.
He said hes going to kick my ass so hard I wont be able to shit right.
She leaned into the couch. Oscar was taking his nap. Jessica was at a friends. The living room looked pretty much the same. She was waiting for me to clean it up.
Why do you care so much about Harry all of a sudden?
I dont. I care about my ass.
How about if I call Harry for you and talk to him about it?
I didnt answer right away.
What would be the point of that, I said.
Are you done with his clippers?
I looked away.
If youre not done with them, Harry will understand.
You dont know Harry, I said.
I do. I certainly do.
No, you dont. Not if you think you can just call him up.
Why cant I?
This is Harry, I said.
I just stared at her, for a long time.
Okay, go ahead, I said. Go ahead.
A strange look crossed her face. A frown, I guess. She got up and started to the phone. Then she stopped. She just stood there, bothered, like she forgot something.
What? I said.
What? Call him. Go ahead. I dare you.
She didnt move.
Nothing, she said.
The phone rang. It was later. I picked it up. I listened to someone talking: a woman. She was talking low and carefully; nowhere near so loud that my wife could hear it was a womans voice.
Right, I said. I hung up.
I really, really have to go, I said. She was stretched like a patient lengthwise across our couch. She gave me a bloated look but didnt reply.
Harry said if I dont come over right now, he is going to grate my ass like mozzarella.
She just kept looking at me: dark, gassy glances, like her thoughts were vapors swirling behind her eyes.
I offered a smile.
Her hand went to her forehead. She emitted something through her mouth.
Come on, I said.
I dont know. I dont know.
Then Oscar cried out in his crib: a harsh, articulate shriek. A look of pure relief passed through my wifes face.
Hes up, she said.
She got off the couch. She started to his room.
Come on, she said.
I stood there.
Oscar was crying louder. He was crying out our names.
I sighed. I followed her to the room.
Oscar was standing up in his crib, gripping the railing and squeezing it like he could wring out his freedom.
Oh baby, my wife said and went to him. She reached her arm around his shoulder.
Mommy, Dada, it was cary, Oscar said.
She looked at me meaningfully.
He sat down in the crib.
I wasI wasI wasin a fiel. There wasthere wason the side.
What was on the side, baby?
Wata. Big wata.
Oh, she said.
And the otha side.
A river on the other side, too?
No. A cwiff.
She glanced at me.
Was anyone there? she said. Was anyone with you?
Oscars face turned utterly bleak, like he was back in the dream. Like he was going to bawl again.
Nobody, he said.
My wife stared at me icily. Three, four whole seconds. Thats all she did. Then she turned back to Oscar. She patted his head.
No momma, he said. No dada.
It was just a dream, Oscar, I said.
He looked at me blankly.
You know that, right? Its not real.
He didnt say anything.
Its not real, okay Oscar?
Hey, my wife said.
Dreams are not real.
Stop it, she said. Just stop it.
Oscar began to whimper. He tried to pull himself up but fell back to the floor of the crib.
Oh, my wife said. She gave me the ugliest look Ive ever seen; then she reached in to pick up our son.
Well, you arent going now, she said.
I didnt say anything.
You arent, she said.
I coughed. I checked at my watch. I looked out the window.
She was in the kitchen, stirring something in a big pot. I was on the couch. It was later. It was almost dark outside. Jessica was on the rug, in front of the tv. The rug was still a mess. Oscar was walking all over, playing the little dictator with his green soldiers and plastic horses. The woman had called back.
You know, I said, loud enough, I really should go. I should go now.
My wife looked at me, she looked away. Her mouth stretched. She
Real mad, I said.
Yes, she said. She stirred the pot.
Youve never seen him mad.
She sighed: a little, tired, hopeless one.
No, she said, I havent.
Its not pretty.
She stirred the pot.
Its not pretty, I said.
You said that already.
I didnt know if you heard me.
I hear everything, she said.
I didnt respond.
You attack, you attack, Oscar said, waving his index finger at a group of soldiers, commanding them.
Shut up, Oscar, Jessica said. Im trying to listen.
Jessica, I said.
Im trying to listen.
Dont say shut up.
Its a lot better than goddamn, she said.
I looked at my wife to check. But her face was turned away, as if to make sure I couldnt see her eyes. When her face came back it was black.
Attack, attack, Oscar said. He threw an armful of soldiers at Jessica.
Hey! Jessica stood up. Hey, Oscar!
Oscar was giggling.
Oh, so you think its funny? You know what, you know what? Jessica said. She began stomping on his green soldiers one by one. When she saw that that did nothing she started picking them up.
What you doin, Oscar said.
Im taking these stupid things and Im going to melt them down.
Hey, Oscar said.
How do you like that, huh? How would you like your stupid soldiers
melted into a green goopy heap?
Oscar began to cry.
Im going to Harrys, I said to my wife.
Dada! Oscar wailed. Then he ran at Jessica. He began pounding on her.
Hey, Oscar! Jessica shouted. Cut it out! Cut it out, goddamn it!
My wife looked at me. She put down the spoon and placed the lid on the pot. She stretched out her arms toward our children. Jessica pushed Oscar to the floor and ran to her room with the soldiers. Oscar, half-crying and half-stumbling, chased her.
Well? I said.
Id rather you didnt, she said.
But what about Harry?
She took the lid off the pot. She stirred it once. She put the lid back on.
I dont know, she said. I cant tell you.
It was later. It was dark. Oscar was finally asleep in his crib, after thrashing for an hour. Jessica was in her room. She was supposed to be asleep. Maybe she was. The living room was clean. My wife finally did it.
Now she was undressing. She started in our bathroom, but then came into the bedroom, where I was. She took off her shirt, her pants. She lowered a bra strap off one shoulder, then the other. Her breasts stood there: roundly, openly. She pulled the bra down to her stomach. She rotated it around so that the hooks were in front. She unhooked the bra. She pulled it away from her body. She held the bra like that, suspended from her hand, for seconds. She was doing nothing in particular. She just
stood there, facing me, naked from the waist up. She dropped the bra.
Look, I said, tomorrow I have to go.
I was sitting on the end of the bed. I still had my clothes on.
She looked scared and frozen at the same time. She moved her head. I dont know if to say yes or no.
I have to.
Her hands went to her hips. She gripped both sides of her panties and started to pull them down. Slowly: over her rear, down her thighs, to her knees. She stepped one foot out, then the other. She was totally naked.
Well? I said.
Ill think about it, she said thickly. Then she just stood there. She stood there looking at me. She looked at me looking at her. Then she frowned. She turned away. She went back to our bathroom, where the closets are. I heard her looking around for the right clothes.
I grunted and got up. I stretched one leg out, then the other. I was holding a blanket against my chest. The mattress in here was a lot more comfortable. It was certainly pricey enough. But I decided to sleep on the couch, instead. Like I had for a month.
I started toward the door. My wife came out of the bathroom with her night clothes on. She saw where I was going. Part of an expression started across her face, then stopped. Then her face was blank. Vanished. She pulled back the covers of the bed. She lowered herself. When she was inside the covers; she rolled over. Her back was to me. I reached for the doorknob. She sighed.
Okay, she said, tomorrow you can go.