Summer 2016 — THE POTOMAC

Red Rover

  Paula Willis

Sometimes finding the stuff Harry loses is worse than the losses themselves.

I'm staring at the face grinning from his driver's license. The old one. The one we spent all of this past Wednesday replacing. The one with five years still left on it. The one that's floating face up in the powder–room toilet tank, which I just now de–lidded and reached into in order to stop its costly constant refilling. A plumber once told me American Standard was the Cadillac of toilets, but it's 100 years old, and the tank's enormous. I've learned how to hold the flush handle a certain way so as not to make the tank keep running, but Harry sets it sloshing every time.

Well, so, there's good news and bad news. The good news is that Harry's still as handsome as he was five years ago—two years before he was diagnosed with the Big A. The bad news is that his plastic face somehow ended up in the tank. The bad news is that he may not even be alive when the replacement license expires ten years from last Wednesday. The bad news is the surge of rage. I'm not the one with Alzheimer's, but goddammit, I'm as old as he is, so my days are just as numbered. I shouldn't have to use them up this way.

The bad news is that I'm thinking like this. I used to be a nice person. A nice goodhearted atheist who suddenly wishes God existed so she could beg forgiveness for such thoughts.

If I could just reconstruct the thought process that got his license into the toilet tank, I might be able to figure out how he lost the key to my car, my Prius — luckily just a cheap Prius C that has an actual key attached to the fob for opening and locking the doors, but still, it's the key that enables me to drive the thing, for godsake, and it's almost as crazy expensive to replace as one of those keyless ignition thingies. Harry seems to have lost it somewhere between carrying grocery bags inside and going back out to make sure the hatchback was closed. We are talking about a distance of maybe twenty feet.

It cost me over three hundred bucks to get some guy to come out and create a new key. A new remote door-opening/closing thing will cost a couple hundred more. But the worst part will be having the lost key turn up someplace totally bizarre after spending the better part of a lovely sunny early–spring day pacing up and down the grass strip from the car to the front door, staring at the ground. Jesus, I quit wearing contacts years ago precisely because of not wanting to waste my life looking for them when they pop out, pacing back and forth, staring down. Hopelessly staring down.

Harry helped me look for the key for a while but got distracted by the cherry petals blowing around us. Fact is, I was distracted by them too. I love how he loves beautiful things. He called the petals "pink things" like he calls the cardinals who live in our lilac bushes "red things" and the lilacs "purple things," but he loves them. And I love Harry.

I'll bet most people think I love him like you'd love an old doddering parent. But no. We may be in our seventies, but we didn't get together till our fifty-fifth high school reunion, and during the interim we'd each had two spouses, two sets of children, and two sets of grandchildren. So we are still in the early stages of our romance. Yes, we still Do It. Pretty much the way kids did it when we were teenagers: a lot of licking and sucking and hand jobs (own hand or other person's hand). And the occasional Appliance.

Which is why I know exactly what the two cleaning ladies (really girls) are talking about when I hear the following exchange:

Sarabeth: You ask her.

Marcy: No way. You ask her.

Sarabeth: You ask her. You were the one who asked her about the book on the hall bookcase.

Marcy: What book?

Sarabeth. You know perfectly well. The one called FUCK POEMS. In huge letters.

Marcy: Well, you were the one who came right out and asked her if she had any poems in it.

Sarabeth: And she said Yes. So all right, I'll ask her.

Sarabeth to me: "Miz Norris, you don't really want this to be in the flower pot, do you?"

Sarabeth is holding Red Rover, my trusty vibrator, eight inches of hard plastic, hot pink. Harry thinks it's red. After this morning's appliance–aided wake–up, I'd asked him to bring it to the kitchen when he came down for his coffee so I could replace the batteries. But he didn't bring it. I should've known it would not come to the kitchen, would end up nowhere to be found. Till now.

"Thank you, Sarabeth. I figured it'd turn up someplace. Glad my grandkids weren't the ones who found it."

Sarabeth and Marcy laugh. They aren't very good cleaners, but I enjoy their raunchy sense of humor that's evident when they talk with each other about their boyfriends. I'm sure they talk about Harry and me when they're at other people's houses.

After the cleaning kids leave, Harry lays a nice little fire in the fireplace, though it's already hot Baltimore March (never mind, it'll soon be cold Baltimore April). His fire prep lets me know that he has some after–supper fun in mind. After dining on one of March's local blessings—shad roe—we'll take turns on the low Victorian "slipper chair." It's just the right height for, well, you know, one of us on the chair, the other kneeling on my mother's antique Sarouk rug. Recognizing his plan in advance gives me a chance to talk myself past anger and despair. He clearly doesn't remember that we a session upstairs a couple of hours ago, utilizing the chair where I sit to put my shoes on. Beneath it is a humbler Oriental than the one in front of the fireplace, thicker and easier on the knees.

I go all out tonight. Shad roe as appetizer, then roasted shad, the carefully de-boned fillets rubbed with lemons I've preserved in salt. Harry is in fine fettle.

"Wait'll you see what I have for our dessert," he beams. Runs upstairs two steps at a time. I hear him rummaging both dressers in the spare bedroom, mumbling a couple of dammits because he can't find whatever he's looking for in this large room which has become his own personal closet. I hear a happy sigh. He returns brandishing Red Rover. Somehow he must have taken it off the bedside table where I'd replaced it after the cleaners found it, stashed it in the guest room dresser, and forgotten all about it.

"Look what I found," he crows. "My feet were cold so I was looking for some gloves and there it was. I don't know where it came from."

He sees my mouth gaping open in amazement. "Don't look so shocked," he says. "It's just a dido, for goodness sake. You know what a dido is, right? It could be fun. A lot of people have fun with these things. Maybe," he adds, "I don't have the word quite right."

I do not say "We are among those people who have fun with that thing. With that exact same dido. Which by the way is a dildo. You were supposed to bring it to me this morning so I could change the batteries. I never saw it again. One of the cleaning ladies found it. I was about to order a new one online."

I say, "Don't you even remember?"

Harry is so crestfallen I wish I'd said nothing. Or maybe just "Oh wow, super, let's call it Red Rover."

He walks away with it before I can grab it. Lost, found, sure to be lost again.

I paste a smile on my face and head for the powder room. Throwing up seems a distinct possibility. But the damn tank has started waterfalling again. Christ, can't a lady even barf in peace? I move the guest towels and hand lotion and room spray off the heavy lid, place the lid on the floor, reach in, and come up with the car key. The old one.

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