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I, Rhonda, Keep Track of the Family Calendar
David C. Madden

My story is bad and starts like this.

I have two sons and a husband. My sons are six and nine, and my husband is significantly older than me. I say “significant” meaning like Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller, not Anna Nicole Smith and that old man whose money she took; meaning it comes up in conversation but not with hushed voices or raised eyebrows. Joey and Jason, my sons, sometimes look too much alike. They both have unkempt hair, and carry their bodies in lanky, unsure ways. To tell them apart, I check their eyes. Where Jason's—my Jason, my boy, the son I wanted—are hooded in apology, Joey's are fiery and untrustable. He's his father's son, and by this I mean to say that he will grow up into the cunning, crafty man that I married.

My husband, Jim, is not only significantly older than me, he's also the chief coordinator of regulatory affairs for the Humanity Council here in Pensacola. To be honest I don't quite know what-all that means. He told me about it after he got the promotion, and we both had an understanding that I'd remember the conversation. But I didn't, and Jim's not a man who brings his work home with him, and, despite this job's turning my husband into what I as a younger gal would have called a “suit”, I suppose I love him for this, for keeping his boring job where it belongs.

I, Rhonda, keep track of the family calendar, only one of my duties as wife and mother. The calendar I use is one of those paper monthly things you can pick up at any Staples. Very plain-Jane, but practical. I keep it hung in the kitchen next to the phone where everyone can see it, so no one's surprised when I load them into the van for shoe shopping or a daytrip to my Aunt Alma's. When they complain, I refer to the calendar. I even point to it and say, “It's not my fault.” I say, “It's not my fault that you can't read,” though I don't say this around Jason because he's been coming home with notes taped to his backpack saying that his reading skills are, well, I'll just call them late-blooming.

Just to give you an idea, here's what I have listed on the family calendar for next week, just to give you a sense of what my life is like. On Monday, Jim has his prostate exam at 9am with Dr. May, and I have to pick up Jason's Wondercape from the dry cleaner's. It's been there, the Wondercape, for more than a week because they had to send it out someplace, after Jason stained it while collecting “Wonderberries” (probably poisonous; I about had a fit) in the woods behind our house. Supper that night is Shepard's Pie. Tuesday I have to clean Sally's cage (our bird) and give her her worm pill, and then pick the boys up from their afterschool activities. Joey has little-league basketball and Jason goes to the Y with his friend Kristine for their Junior Robotics club. He's told me he's building a spy assassin and despite his obvious limitations I have no choice but to believe him in this. Shake-and-Bake Pork Chops with Applesauce, then, for supper. Wednesday I have a few more Christmas presents to return: an ugly sweater Jim's sister was wise enough to send with a gift receipt, and two toys Joey couldn't be bothered with. And that night Jim has to change the oil on the cars, which he loves to do, which reminds him of the days he drove a Camaro instead of a Saab. Wednesday's supper is Spiral-Cut Ham and Curried Fruit. Thursday I have to send a Happy Anniversary card to my cousin Terry, and that evening, Joey and Jim will go to the barbers together while Jason and I stay home and work on his reading. He doesn't like to sound out words with his older brother around, he gets embarrassed, and Ms. Hatcher, Jason's teacher, says that if only he could sound out the words he's trying to read, slowly, and calmly, he wouldn't get so frustrated, and he would stop throwing his books against the wall. This will all come after a supper of Chicken Tonight with veggies. Friday's an easy day. McDonald's for supper because no one likes to cook Friday nights, and then we'll head to the Video Den for movies. I'll take Joey and Jason to the family section while Jim will wander off to pick up something for the two of us, something we'll watch later on the television in our bedroom.

I leave weekend meals for Jim. “Surprise me,” I say and he does. Last Sunday we had crab cakes, which he actually got the boys to eat, though Joey at one point said, “This tastes like girls,” and Jim and I shared a look, uncertain how to continue.

I'm going to be frank, as I think it'll help my position. I'm much more of a natural fuck-up than the whole family calendar thing may put forth. Right now, we're a few calendar lines into January, and I'm still able to look around the house and find leftover rubble from the holidays—those unwanted toys, for instance, and Christmas cards stacked on the mantle, and big stupid tins of sticky popcorns that nobody wants to eat—all laying around just daring to be taken care of. I'll get to it when I get to it, when I care enough to schedule it in.

More disclosure: I've never liked living in Florida, with its humidity and crowded beaches. It's a terrible state. America's dick is what it is, hanging down there all brazenly, as if the rest of the world is supposed to be impressed. But it's here in Pensacola that Jim had a job. A good job, even, and when he asked me to marry him I didn't object to moving someplace where I didn't have to work. Would you? Sure, it's not much of a life. A shut-in life, really, I mean look at the calendar. I go out to run errands. I schedule in the sending of various greeting cards for God's sake. I know. This is not movie material. But it's mine. It's one of the few things that is, and I find I don't have a hard time taking ownership of it.

I'll tell you a quick story. When I was young I had a rabbit named Flopsy. I know, Flopsy's not very original, but I was five. And when Flopsy bit my sister Marcie, my folks sent him to my grandparents, who lived across town. “You can still visit,” they said, “whenever we go over.” Which was often. About once a month we'd go for dinner, and one such time I went out back to Flopsy's cage and found it empty, so I asked what happened. My grandfather's eyes looked down at mine, and I could tell he felt sad, and he said that her cage had been left open by accident. He said, “She ran off, Little Rho,” which is what he used to call me. So I cried a little and we all sat down to supper, some hearty Italian stew. Afterward, Marcie and I went down to the basement to play, where some sausages and animal furs hung from the ceiling. This was nothing unusual. My grandfather was one of those first-generation Italians who did everything himself; industrious despite whatever laws might have been in place. He fermented wine in the garage, that sort of thing. Anyway, I noticed that one of the pelts was the same greyish-brown as Flopsy, and I put two and two together. I ran upstairs shouting, “You ate him! You ate Flopsy!” I even think I had my finger pointed at arm's length, like some old woman with her cane. My grandfather just sat in his easy chair and tried not to smirk. “I wasn't the only one,” he said. “You ate him, too.”

Turns out there was rabbit meat in the stew. In other words, my grandparents fed me my own pet. It's stupid, I know it's stupid, but I never got over this. I never wanted another pet for fear of what would happen to it. I learned early what it is both to lose things and never find ways to trust people. And it's been part of my job as a mom not to let this happen to my sons.

I am more aware than you are of two things. First is that my life, this life, is dull and common. Second is how much nicer this is than any alternatives I could come up with. I still remember those unthinking, easy times when the only thing I wanted to hear was whatever played on the radio. But things are quieter these days, and my able body's now pulled in more urgent directions.

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