A Good Wife
By Leslie Lee
The instant I saw him I knew it. We were destined to be together. As I was walking into the grocery store, I passed by one of those Animal Rescue set-ups. They displayed about twenty dogs and cats in various cages, which were stacked, one on top of the other. The uppermost cages reached as high as my shoulders. And inside those tiny jail cells were eyes. All those eyes. Staring. At me. I couldn’t stand it. I looked away and strode towards the grocery door. A little paw patted my cheek as I walked by one of the cages. I turned around – and stopped. Emerald green eyes gazed at me, shining with a brilliance that simply could not be ignored. I caught my breath, then the paw. The paw was attached to a kitty, really a young Tom, about six months old. His velvet coat was so silver that it almost looked blue in the sunlight.
“Would you like to hold him?”
I forced myself to look at the young woman with yellow braids who had been talking to me. “Well, uh… sure. Sure, but only for a minute. I’ve got a lot of shopping to do.”
She opened the cage and set the cat in my arms. He lay against my chest, his two front paws embracing my neck. I fell into those green eyes. They seemed to be saying to me, “We belong, you and I”.
“Wow,” I breathed. “Hey, Mr. Fuzz Ball.”
Staring into my eyes, a low rumble started in his throat and spread throughout his body. And that was it. He was mine. End of story. Then I remembered my husband, Harland. I smiled, stroking my new kitty. Harland? No problem.
Armed with Harland’s favorite treats I crept into the house and hid Mr. Fuzz Ball in the basement. I knew he’d be quiet because he’d been playing with the catnip mouse I had picked up for him at the store on the drive home. Harland was in the bedroom, watching the Master Golf Tournaments. Tiger Woods was winning. Good, the timing couldn’t be better. Time to implement “The Plan”. I waited for the commercial. Stage One. Sticking my head in the doorway I called out, “Hey, Harlie. Just got back from the store. Hungry?”
Harland smiled. He was lying on top of the bed. After he pulled the TV tray closer, he sat up straighter, rubbed his hands together and asked, “Get any beer?”
“Yep, sure did. Got you some nuts too – cashews.”
I brought in the beer and nuts. “Heineken!” Harland looked like he wanted to hug me. “Thanks!” I smiled then sat next to him on the bed. So far, so good. Now for Stage Two. I picked up his hand and stroked it a little. Frowning, he pulled it away. “What are you doing, Gladys? I can’t eat with you holding my hand.”
“Oh, sorry.” After waiting for a while I tried again. “That Tiger Woods… he’s something else isn’t he?”
“Yeah, he’s great. You should have seen this last drive. It was incredible…” I let Harland go on for a bit, smiling sincerely and shaking my head up and down from time to time. Now, say it now before the commercials end.
“Harland” I began. “I’ve been finding mouse droppings in the pantry.”
Harland turned round and glared at me. “Why didn’t you say something earlier?”
“Well, I just noticed it today when I was putting the groceries away.”
“Oh. Well, remind me to buy some traps tomorrow.” I smiled at him showing all my teeth and picked up the can of cashews. “Nut?” I offered. Staring at me as if he were trying to read my mind, Harland dug into the can. “The thing is, Harland.” I continued, talking quickly before he could cut me off, “We won’t need any traps. I’ve got something better.” Just then the game came on. Holding up his hand with his palm facing me, Harland said, “Shush. Tell me the rest after the game.” Stage Three. Wait and stay quiet.
A half hour later Tiger Woods made the final putt and won the Masters in a decisive victory. My moment had come. I walked into the bedroom with Fuzzy in my arms. “Harland, meet Mr. Fuzz Ball. Master Mouse Trapper.”
Harland’s eyes widened. Before he could speak I said, “I’m keeping him, okay?” I brought Fuzz up to my lips and kissed his little nose. “He’ll get rid of those mice in no time, won’t you Mr. Fuzzkins? Isn’t he the most adorable thing you ever saw? Look at him!”
Harlan grunted, “Just keep him away from me.”
Yes! Hole in One! “Want another beer?” I asked.
Carrying Mr. Fuzzy with me I laid down on the living room couch. I felt deliciously drowsy. With his little soft head tucked under my chin my silver motor heater lay on my chest purring away. Life was good - very good.
As I fell into sleep, my thoughts drifted towards Harland. There was another side to Harland, a side no one else saw but me. This side wanted to share beautiful things with me; the rain falling outside our window during stormy nights, the planets and stars, and the first blooms of spring. This side made sure the dryer door opened from the left side (making it easier for me to put the wet clothes in without hurting my back), brought home movies he’d think I’d be interested in, worked long hours and saved for our retirement. And now I get to keep Mr. Fuzzy. I slept, my thoughts floating through my dreams, and my dreams floating through my thoughts, and I did not really think that I was asleep until I awoke and discovered that two hours had past. I had slept the middle of the day away.
Harland called. Putting Mr. Fuzzy down, I went into the bedroom. Harland was upset that I slept. He said it was wasteful to sleep. “Look,” he said, jabbing at the TV Guide in his hand. “Look, look, look. You’ve missed the new Star Trek show. I tried calling you before but you didn’t hear me. You’re late with my lunch. I’ve been wasting away while you’ve napped. What’s wrong with you? Hurry up. I’m starving. I’ll take a roast beef sandwich, with chips and milk.”
I usually don’t mind serving Harland food the way he likes it. From what I’ve seen of marriage it’s how women show their love. My mother served my father, my grandmother served my grandfather, and I saw my mother-in-law serve Harland’s father. After all Harland did for me, he deserved to be pampered a bit. He didn’t object to keeping Mr. Fuzz Ball He was my man, and I was his woman. I’d show my appreciation and love for him by making him the best roast beef sandwich he’d ever had.
I walked into the kitchen, Harland and Fuzz Ball following behind. Looming over me as I reached for the bread and meat, Harland said, “Lightly toast the white bread, and be sure to put pepper, mayonnaise, and lettuce on it. He stopped for a minute when I took the roast out and stared. “Is that fat on that beef?” he asked. Placing his hands around his neck he made mock choking sounds.
I rolled my eyes. “You know Harland; you could always make it yourself.”
“Why should I when I have you? And ice my milk.” Harland shoved his watch under my nose and tapped it. “Be sure you time it for five minutes.” I didn’t answer, but instead stared at him until he finally left the kitchen and returned to the bedroom.
While I prepared “The Master” his lunch Fuzzy meowed softly. Stretching both his paws towards the breadboard, he stood almost upright on his hind legs. I glanced down and fell once more into those captivating green eyes. “Here you go, Fuzzy,” I said and fed him a little piece of meat. He meowed again and scrabbled up towards the board. “Oh, you like that, don’t you? Here’s a little more.” I gave him another scrap of meat. The little mews grew louder and louder until they echoed around the kitchen. I could feel the knife vibrating under my hand as I cut the toast. “Shush! Don’t want the ogre to hear you. Be quiet!”
“Gladys!” Harland called from the bedroom. “I’m waiting! Shut. That. Hair. Ball. Up!”
I slammed the sandwich on the plate and rushed into the bedroom. “Don’t call him Hair Ball. He’s Mr. Fuzz Ball”.
“Gladys,” Harland said, enunciating each word. “That cat doesn’t even have long hair. He’s a short hair. He’s not even fuzzy.”
“Look, I named him Mr. Fuzz Ball and that’s it. Fuzzy, Fuzzkins or Mr. Fuzzy to you. Not Hair Ball.”
“How about Mr. Ball?” Harland inquired, looking at me with wide eyes. I looked at his nose. His nostrils were flaring the way they always did when he was teasing me. I bit the inside of my cheek so I wouldn’t smile. Instead of answering I said, “Here’s your sandwich.”
“Milk?” Harland inquired with a grin.
“I’ll get it. It still has thirty more seconds to ice.”
I brought the milk in.
“Here you go!”
I hope your tongue freezes! “Enjoy!”
By the time Harland called me into the bedroom to watch Julie’s Travel and Cook Show I had crammed down five chocolate chip cookies. Nothing was going to stop me from keeping Fuzzy. Besides, I love chocolate chip cookies. They make me happy, at least for a little while. I settled on the edge of the bed, with Fuzz perched on my chest, his furry arms around my neck. His small body was a nice warm contrast to the cool evening breeze that slid in through the windows. Julie, a perky blond lady with a vacant look on her face took the viewing audience to the famous wine producing village of Sancerre , France. In between sips of wine, Julie informed television viewers that Sancerre first became famous for its wines under the guidance of its twelfth century Noblemen. Julie recommended Sancerre’s white wines. By the time the first commercial aired, Julie was drunk.
I watched the commercial intensely. A tall slit-eyed man boasting a chin-dimple and a willowy brunette lay upon a white bear skin rug, tangled together in a passionate embrace. They managed to smile and hold onto two glasses of burgundy. Firelight flickered in the in the wine glasses’ reflection, and then the camera panned to the bottle of wine on the polished wood table. “Sonoma Aria… for the world’s most discriminating palates” intoned the announcer’s deep English accented voice, as the man entwined his fingers through the woman’s hair, and, grasping the back of her head, swung her into a low dip, all the while holding his glass of wine. The woman, in turn, held her glass up high, as if in a toast, and sliding one leg up, wrapped it tightly around the man’s waist. The wine shimmered in the glasses, barely moving.
Does anyone really act like this? How do they manage to hold those glasses and do that without spilling wine all over that bear skin rug? Maybe they took gymnastics. Boy, those stains would be a bear to get out of that rug. I started giggling. Harland glanced over at me.
“What’s so funny?”
“That commercial. I was just thinking about what would happen if they spilled their wine on that white bear rug. Those stains would be a bear to get out! Get it? Get it, Harland? See, they’re on a bear rug and it’d be a bear to get out the stains!” Fuzzy and Harland looked at me in alarm. Fuzz sprang out of my arms, jumped onto Harland’s crotch, and dug in. Harland screamed. It sounded so high, almost like a young girl’s. Then he screamed louder, or rather, I should say, he yowled.
“Off! Off!” He gestured toward the cat, crouched down on his crotch. I stood, and, reaching over, lifted the cat into the air. The covers lifted like a tent over his privates. I lowered Fuzzy, who by now was glaring at me with those large eyes of his, and pulled out each individual claw from the blankets and Harland’s skin.
“Out!” He screeched. “You and that damn hair ball! Out!” I scooped Mr. Fuzz Ball up and left the room, closing the door behind us.
“We’re safe now,” I whispered. But Mr. Fuzzy wasn’t too happy. He wriggled out of my arms and fled to the basement. Feeling a little defeated, I took the TV remote and settled into the living room. Maybe I could do something to make up to both of them, I thought. They deserve something special. Mommy will make it better. I tuned into Julie’s Travel and Cook Show. Julie was leaning against a tall tan man who had on a white chef’s hat. Julie had on a white hat too – only hers was on sideways. They stood in a kitchen. A small sign on the counter said “100 Year Old French Chicken Pate”, surrounded by small glass bowls, each with a different ingredient. The tall man was tossing tiny pieces of meat into a glass container. They looked like something I might find in Fuzzy’s litter box.
”Oh.” Julie breathed. “The way you throw those chicken livers into that food processor. It’s amazing.” The tall man flashed his white teeth at her. He looked like he wanted to bite her neck. Julie giggled in response, covering her mouth delicately. “We’ll be back in a few after some words from our sponsors,” she said.
“Choose Picky Palate for Your Picky Eater.” Gosh! It’s that wine commercial voice! I stared at the television, transfixed. A brown mushy pile set in a silver tray occupied the whole television screen. The camera angle shifted, revealing a white fluffy cat padding up to a small red cushion and the tray. The camera zoomed in. I could see the small pink tongue licking away at the slushy pile. “Treat your picky eater to Picky Palate cat food and he’ll never be picky again. Picky Palate--for the cat with discriminating taste.” I’m getting that for Fuzz, I decided.
Julie’s Travel and Cook Show returned. Now Julie and her chef were feeding each other small crackers piled with brown mush. “Mmmmmm! This is so yummy! The best ever!” Julie cried. She leaned toward her chef, white napkin in hand, and wiped a bit of brown sludge off his lips. Then she kissed him, just as her eye caught the camera. “Oh. Oh, we’re back.” Turning suddenly to face the viewing audience, she adjusted her blouse, and brushed her hair off her face. “Yes, we’re back.” She grimaced in what I thought was a smile, but I couldn’t be sure. “You out there! Make this chicken pate! Remember, it’s a 100-year-old recipe, but don’t wait a hundred years to make it! And it’s French! From Sancerre! Here’s the recipe.” The screen blanked out for a moment then the recipe was displayed in large clear letters. I copied it down. Tomorrow. Chicken pate and that Sonoma Aria for Harland, Picky Palate for Fuzz. They’ll both be happy.
At the store I stood in line for five minutes at the butcher counter, waiting to buy the chicken livers. It seemed as if the butchers were more interested in catching up on the latest gossip rather than waiting on their customers. I decided to skip the butcher line until last, zoomed around the store with my list, and bought all the necessary items for the chicken pate. I made a special trip to the pet food aisle, and found—of all things—Picky Palate Chicken Liver Pate! The label said “Made with Genuine Chicken Livers” on it, so I knew it was the real thing! Mr. Fuzz Ball will be so happy! This will make up for his scare last night. I found the same water crackers that Julie and her chef used on the show, and the Sonoma Aria wine. I got a bottle of each – red and white. I figured Harland could decide which one he liked best with his pate. I was so happy I hummed the Picky Palate jingle from the commercial all the way to the car.
When I got home I could hear the football game coming from the bedroom. I walked to the doorway and froze. Unbelievable. I gawked. There was Harland on the bed. And perched on his chest, staring at the television was Fuzzy!
Harland turned his head toward me and smiled. “Look at us!”
“I-I thought you hated ‘that damn cat’.”
“That was before. Didn’t realize he was a ‘niner’s fan.”
“I’m ready for my deli plate.”
“My deli plate. I’m ready for it.” Harland flashed me a cheerful grin.
“Oh, all right. What is it again?”
Harland’s smile faded. “Can’t you remember anything? Okay this is it. I want three slices of sourdough bread, cut one-fourth inch thick. Don’t slab the butter onto it, just put enough on to cover. I’ll take five slices of salami and be sure not to cut them too thin – and not too thick either. Hey! What are you writing down?”
I had gone into the kitchen when he first started talking and came back into the bedroom with a pen and paper.
“I want to make sure I get it right. Go on.”
“Why can’t you remember? I’ve told you before!”
“No! I really want to get it right. Go on.”
I wrote the rest of the deli plate down. When I finished my list looked like this:
3 slices French bread, lightly buttered, ¼ inch thick
5 slices Salami (not too thin/thick)
2 1-inch wedges cheddar cheese
1 dill pickle (drain juice off first)
I dashed into the kitchen, poured a glass of milk, put it in the freezer and set the timer for five minutes. Then I opened the utility drawer and pulled out a ruler. I carefully measured the bread and cheese before slicing. I scraped off the extra butter from the bread. The cheese looked a little thick. But Harland did say one inch. I eyeballed the salami, threw away a slice that was too thin, took a pickle from the jar and tapped off the excess juice. By the time I had everything prepared the timer went off.
I carried the deli plate and milk into the bedroom and placed them on the television tray.
“My napkin?” Harland inquired.
I got the napkin.
“Thank you. This looks great. But Gladys, I told you!” Harland held out two fingers, about a half inch apart. “I said one inch.”
“That is one inch. I measured it.”
“Oh.” He cleared his throat. “Oh. Well. Next time make it a half inch.”
“I’ll take Fuzz out so you can eat in peace.”
“No, that’s okay. Leave him here.” As I turned back toward the kitchen I saw Harland feeding Mr. Fuzzy small bits of cheese. Traitor!
I dug into the grocery bags, dumping cans, boxes, and spices over the table. I threw the empty bags on the floor. Kicking through them as I made a path to the pantry, I watched them sail into the air, and imagined that each bag was Harland’s head. Then I flung open the pantry door so hard that it banged against the wall and bounced back, hitting my face. Rubbing my cheek, I kicked my way back through the bags to the table and began putting the groceries away. I felt a little better, but not much.
“Come look at us now!” Harland’s voice sounded like a kid learning to play the violin and missing all the notes.
“I’m busy!” I shouted, and turned to look for the Sonoma Aria bottles. Thankfully, he remained silent; because there was no way I was going in there. I grabbed the burgundy, poured some into a wine glass, and sat down to compose my thoughts. The Chicken Pate recipe was sitting on the kitchen table. I read it. Damn! I never went back for the livers. How the hell am I going to make this without the livers?
Pouring, chopping, mixing, stirring, and sipping wine throughout the next hour, I created my masterpiece. This was the Pate of all Pates - made for those with discriminating palates.
I stuck my head just inside the bedroom door.
“Red or white?” I asked.
Harland turned round. “Red or white what?”
“Wine. To go with the special treat I have for you. Chicken Pate.”
Harland’s eyes widened. “From the show last night?”
“Yeah. It’s your favorite right?”
“Did you get those crackers they had?” Harland pushed Fuzzy off his chest, sitting up.
“The very same. So which do you want? Red or white?”
“I’ll have the red.” Harland grinned at me. “Gladys, you’re something else. Thank you.”
“You deserve it, sweetie.”
I poured Harland the red, and returned with the pate, arranged on a white plate. I had adorned each appetizer with a sprinkle of chives and capers, topped off by a bright red pimento.
Harland took a bite. “Gladys. Gladys.” I looked at him.
Finally, he found his voice. “Gladys,” he said. “I can’t believe it. Cannot believe. I know I always complain about your cooking. But this time… this time…” He put a little on his finger and held it out to Mr. Fuzz Ball. “Gladys, this is the best thing I’ve tasted in years. Have you had any?”
“No, baby. All for you. You enjoy.”
“Thank you again, Gladys.”
I smiled. “Oh, honey, you earned it.”
I left Harland and Fuzzy eating their pate.
I sung quietly to myself, “Treat your picky eater to Picky Palate, and he’ll never be picky again.” Then I rinsed the cat food cans out in the sink.