It’s been a tough three weeks for my wife; she fractured a bone in her foot falling down the stairs and has been in a cast ever since. She’s got three housebound weeks ahead of her, and I noticed uncharacteristic signs of depression on the countenance that usually radiates nothing but upbeat sentiments–except for skepticism of my every thought, word and deed. It was clear to me she needed a little cheering up.
“You’re looking rather down,” I said, feeling her out.
“You know me, I like to stay active,” she said, and I knew whereof she spoke. On the first weekend after our honeymoon was over–when it became clear that I hadn’t made plans to take her out to dinner–she gave me a look that would have deflated a basketball and said “So what are we going to do–sit and stare at each other?” That sort of stiletto-like quip to the midsection can do the work of a thousand, more literally-intended words.
It helps, of course, to have a plan of action when proposing to relieve a hobbled person’s gloom. You don’t want to waste her time driving around aimlessly, you’ll only compound the fracture, so to speak. You need to have something specific in mind, a narrowly-tailored remedy as they say at the Supreme Court. Along with “Oyez, oyez, oyez!”
“I’ve got an idea,” I said, and she looked at me with a surprised expression, as if shocked by the novelty of the claim.
“Would you like to go obey some rules?”
She considered the question for a moment. “Why do you say that?”
I got down on one knee in front of her, the way you’re supposed to when you plight your troth, which no one does any more. Either kneel or plight, I mean. “I know how much it means to you to be a good person and play by the rules,” I said.
“Um-hmm,” she hmmed.
“Well, you don’t get any opportunity to do that cooped up in an apartment.”
“I don’t get to do anything cooped up in an apartment.”
That wasn’t true, not by a long shot; if I was cooped up in an apartment, I’d eat breakfast, get some reading done, take a morning nap, eat lunch, read some more, take an afternoon nap. Lather, rinse, repeat. Still, there are certain truths that are better left unsaid.
“Well, if we went out, there’d be lots of rules for you to obey. And not just the obvious ones you’d get credit for just riding with me. Like not running red lights, i-before-e-except-after-c, cross at the green, not in between.”
“You sure . . . that’s all right with you?” We usually clash like stripes and plaids when we go out, with me taking the it’s-all-right-we-can-park-here position, and her saying “I told you so” when we retrieve our car from the tow lot.
“Sure it’s all right with me, it’ll be a special treat for you. I’ll let you call all the shots.”
She did whatever it is she always has to do before we go out, then made her way to the kitchen door on crutches. As she stood there waiting for me to open the door, I saw her sneak a peak at several envelopes, stamped and sealed, that contained payments on our bills that wouldn’t be due for another week. Storm clouds gather on the horizon whenever this subject comes up; I say don’t pay a bill before you have to, she says what if the mailman is abducted by aliens and our check never reaches the payee and the late payment goes on our credit record and we get turned down for a mortgage loan? Her mind works that way.
I could see her lip quivering–she didn’t want to impose on me since I was already her full-time helpmeet-manservant-handmaiden–so I intervened. “Let’s get those bills in the mail early–whadda ya say?”
She looked at me and I could see a faint trace of happiness come back into her eyes, like sunlight through parting storm clouds. “Are you sure it’s not a problem?”
“Sure I’m sure. I might not catch you if you fall while my hands are full, but life is fraught with risks.”
We turned out of the residential neighborhood where we live and onto the state road that leads to the larger pleasures of the wider world. “Where would you like to go?” I asked.
“I could use some things at Bed, Bath & Beyond,” she said.
“Okay,” I said, then said nothing more.
“Aren’t you going to make some stupid joke about what they sell in the ‘Beyond’ section–like you always do?” she asked when the silence began to hang heavy on her ears.
“Nope, today we’re doing things your way–you’re the one who’s hurtin’!”
We head west, toward the Land of the Malls, when I see a line of cars backed up at a stoplight. Taking evasive action, I cut through a shopping center parking lot, which will allow me to exit onto the crossroad I want to get to.
“You can’t drive through a parking lot,” my wife says.
I give her my best raised-eyebrow-of-skepticism, then reply. “You’re supposed to drive through parking lots. If people didn’t, the stores in the shopping center would go out of business.”
“It’s the law!”
“No it’s not,” I say. “Parking lots are private property. There may be a rule, but it’s not a law.”
“Whatever,” she says and starts to brood, and then I remember my promise.
“You’re right,” I say as I turn the car around, drive out of the lot and get in line behind twenty-some cars–all out of principle. “Happy?” I say, as I pat her thigh.
“Thank you,” she says more warmly than before, but still not completely mollified. We reach the mall where BB&B is located, and I turn into the parking lot. I can almost feel the Presbyterian synapses firing in her brain as I cruise among the aisles of cars, trying to balance slavish adherence to hidebound authority with the need to keep her walking to a minimum.
“Do you want me to park in a handicapped space for you?” I ask gingerly–it’s a trick I picked up from my big sister, Ginger.
“I don’t think we should,” she says, looking around to make sure there’s no policeman around to charge me with intent to park in a handicapped spot.
“Okay–why don’t I just drop you off and . . .”
“The sign says ‘No standing.'”
“I wouldn’t be standing, and you’d be on crutches, which isn’t really standing, because you . . .”
She grits her teeth and I get the message. We’re here to obey rules, not skirt them, not fer Christ sake to flout them.
“Okay, sorry, lost my head there for a second.” I circumnavigate the lot, like I’m Ferdinand Magellan of MetroWest/Boston, then see an open space–in the very front row!–and start to pull in.
“Are you sure this isn’t for women with strollers?” she asks. I would say her tone is “incredulous.”
“There’s no sign . . .”
“I think it’s pretty much understood that you shouldn’t take a spot in the front row. Suppose a pregnant woman drove up, or a senior citizen . . .”
“I’m a senior citizen by most standards,” I point out, and not without some personal pain in the admission.
“Maybe by McDonald’s standards, but there could be a really old person who needs handlebars for his shower.”
I know she’s going to get misty-eyed about her parents, who are in their 80’s, and my parents, who are dead, so I give up and start cruising again. I find a space that’s still within the same zip code, and park.
Once we get out of the car I press the button on my key fob to lock the car and start to walk away, but she clears her throat, and I can tell it’s not because of post-nasal drip.
“What?” I ask.
“You’re supposed to press the button twice–until it beeps. That’s how you know it’s locked.”
“But I heard the locks click . . .”
“Just do it!” she snaps.
“I think you’re the one who’s breaking a rule now.”
“‘Just do it’ is a registered trademark of Nike, Inc., an Oregon corporation.”