“Jesus! You scared me! I didn’t hear you come in!” said Mr. Stephens.
“Must’ve been these cheap new rugs.”
“Yes,” he said, suspicious. How long had she’d been there? “But I thought I’d locked that door, earlier.”
She shrugged and walked behind him putting her hand on his shoulder. Quickly, he shuffled an assortment of papers—half of them blank—into an unmarked folder, then locked them in his briefcase. He stood in front of his confidential folder, making sure whatever it was Mrs. Stephens was trying to be clever about, he’d shoot her dead before she got ahold of any of his private work.
“John Jr. is washing up and Frannie is almost done with her homework,” she said.
“Yes, the boy’s been making a heap of noise down there. He must have finished that schoolwork 23 minutes ago.”
Mrs. Stephens looked at her watch. It had been exactly 23 minutes since John Jr. asked if he could go outside.
“But now, who could blame him with the racket that dryer keeps making? THUMP THUMP THUMP! You’d think we were washing gold bricks down there!” he laughed at the idea. HA HA HA! Then wished for it.
“I’ll turn it off until you finish dear. How long do you suppose that will be?”
“Well dear, you know I have this report due tomorrow for Mr. Aarons,” Mr. Stephens said. “I don’t need to be rushed on account of you wanting to start dinner. I don’t just fool around up here, you know.” Clenching his jaw, he opened the door to the office as a courteous gesture for his wife who should be minding him and leave.
“Of course. You just work so hard. I hope Mr. Aarons knows how lucky he is to have you. Let me make you a pot roast tonight. I’ll have that ready for you in thirty minutes,” she said leaving with the information she needed.
Reaching the foot of the stairs, Mrs. Stephens decided to check on the children’s progress.
“Mom! You did it again! I’m getting dressed!” said John Jr., throwing a towel over his 10-year-old behind.
“Sorry son. But if you closed your door while you’re doing something private, you wouldn’t need to worry about me sneaking up, would you?”
He slammed his door shut.
Just like his father, she thought.
“Your father wants you to quite down for another thirty minutes while he finishes up his report,” she said through the wooden door the boy’s grandfather, on his mother’s side, had made John Jr. Inside the frame were carvings of his height at different ages. She pressed her finger into the most recent gash in the wood, the one she’d made herself to mark her son’s recent growth spurt since her father had passed and his father was working.
She went down to her daughter’s room, which was also the laundry room. She turned the knob to the dryer and the THUMP THUMP THUMP-ing stopped.
Frannie jumped off her bed, handed her mom a workbook and said, “Mom! I didn’t hear you come in. I’m finished with my homework! Can you check it for me?”
Mrs. Stephens opened the book. Her daughter’s oversized bubbly letters were cuter than they were practical for the workbook.
“Honey, I thought you said you were going to start practicing smaller writing. They won’t tolerate this next year in the second grade.”
“Yes mom.” Frannie put her hand out, while Mrs. Stephens reached in her rolled bangs, and pulled out an extra bobby pin. Fannie grabbed it and fasted back her brown bangs to seem like they were rolled, just like her mother.
“You need to rethink numbers two and six. See if there are some other answers you can come up with,” said Mrs. Stephens as she stood and left Frannie’s laundry room, impressed that her daughter was doing third grade level problems for fun…also like her mother.
She’d already bought the pot roast at the market, so Mrs. Stephens tried to make noises in the kitchen reminiscent of a cooking wife, humming Ba Da Dee, Ba Da Dumm, a song so sweet, the milkman once told her she belonged on stage next to The King. Time passed quickly when she sang, and before she knew it—
Her husband’s heavyset footsteps were hitting each stair like two cast-iron skillets on their $1,018.99 handmade rugs.
The children raced to get their cups on the table, take their seats, and wait while Mrs. Stephens set down the pot roast at 5:47pm—exactly 30 minutes after she’d informed her husband of the evening’s dinnertime. She took the bobby pin out of Frannie’s hair, fluffed out the girl’s fringed style, and replaced the hidden pin in her rolled bangs.
Mr. Stephens sat in his chair, grabbed a fork, and took a bite. He was shocked to taste a fully cooked roast. He looked up at his wife.
“Quite some meal you prepared in such a short amount of time,” he said, unaware of his jaw clenching as he spoke. “I’ve never heard of a thirty-minute pot roast.”
“Well, we had so much of tonight’s meal already prepared from last night’s dinner,” she said.
The children looked over to the trashcan. The frozen pizza box from the night before was missing. Their chattering teeth ding ding ding-ed on their forks. They shoveled food and drink in their mouths to keep from looking suspicious.
“Oh, that’s right. You weren’t here last night, darling. I just couldn’t get rid of all those leftovers! Trying to save our money for a vacation after you get that raise you might be up for. What do you think?”
Mr. Stephens coughed and set back to eating the rest of his food—waiting until he was finished to wipe chucks of beef off his chin and face. He left the table to sit in his favorite chair, turning on his favorite program and laughing HA HA HA! at the comedy of his favorite actors.
The children also finished, and old enough for responsibilities, John Jr. and Frannie went to work on the dishes.
With the table now empty, Mrs. Stephens checked her watch. Assuming Mr. Stephens wanted to watch both of his favorite programs, she would have an hour to herself.
She brought her dishes to the sink and let the children’s clamor disguise her walk behind the favorite chair, without catching a reflection in the T.V. A joke from the program sent her husband cackling HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! giving her a chance to race to the staircase—where she reached the top unnoticed.
Mrs. Stephens took the extra bobby pin from her bangs and unlocked the door to Mr. Stephens’ office. His briefcase was bolted in the left bottom drawer. She slid on black satin gloves and checked the picture frames, paperweights, and expensive pens on his desk for the key.
He must have it on him tonight.
She looked at the drawer, taking in its measurements and dings—sure that her husband, in all of his daydreaming in the home office would have each surface scratch memorized as well.
She slipped off her shoe and slid off the rubber stopper below the chunky heel. She took out a small (but thick) charade knife and sawed away as the SHHHHHHHHHhhhHHhhHHHHH of the water running downstairs in the sink created a diversion.
THUMP! The briefcase and the bottom of the drawer hit the ground.
“What’s going on up there?” her husband called.
“Silly me! I just dropped my hairbrush.”
“Some example you’re setting for the kids! Throwing around your junk..” he said.
She waited for the comedians voices to return and her husband’s HA HA HA! to fire off like a gun shot from his mouth.
The claps on the briefcase had long since been broken, but Mr. Stephens had yet to discover this. She ignored the unloaded gun, and opened the folder to find a sloppy report. Mrs. Stephens counted seven grammar errors on the first page then checked her watch. Thirty-eight minutes left—that is, if Mr. Stephens watched both programs. The next page of the report was half complete and the third was just a sentence with a poor doodle of a mouse from the Sunday Funnies.
Downstairs, the children joined their father in front of the television, either because they took their mother’s absence as a signal or out of sheer boredom.
Mrs. Stephens started typing up a revised report while her children sang the second musical act’s #1 Hit Single. She worked quickly as the first program ended and everyone said, “Goodnight!”
Mrs. Stephens stopped typing. There were no actors, commercials or HA HA HAs to be heard. Then, the children whined loudly enough for a mother to hear upstairs.
Mrs. Stephens sorted the original report, placed it back in the folder, and locked it in the briefcase.
Her husband’s cast-iron steps were taunting metronomes coming up the stairs. She didn’t have enough time to repair the sawed drawer.
She placed the briefcase on the liberated desk-wood. She tore out the sole of her shoe and worked the board back in place using the sole as a lever. The lever had replaced the bottom of the drawer, but was caught in the desk! She tried pulling, twisting, and ripping the sole from her favorite shoe, but it was hopeless. She ran to the door, and stepped into the hallway, wriggling the bobby pin out of the doorknob. Her husband was standing in the hallway as she stood in front of an unlocked door.
With her shoe’s sole missing, Mrs. Stephens was lopsided. Mr. Stephens looked her up and down, trying to figure out what was different. Steadying her balance was impossible, so she caught her husband’s glances, and let his eyes follow her hand down her leg as she kicked off her broken shoe. Standing in front of Mr. Stephens with one shoe and two black satin gloves, she smiled, but his eyes caught her hand on the doorknob, and his face grew fiery red.
“What is the meaning of this?”
“Da da dumm… da da dumm” she began humming and kicked off the other shoe. “Da da dumm…da da da da da dummmm.”
She slowly unbuttoned her cardigan as she walked toward Mr. Stephens. As she let the cashmere slide down her arms, she bit the middle finger of her right glove, pealing it off her hands.
“Mmm hm hummm,” she sashaying herself closer to her husband’s body. He was glaring at her with confused eyes as she reached him.
“Bop! Dadadadadummmm,” sang the love of his life. She continued to pull off layers as he stood, not knowing where to put his hands since she kept sliding back and forth around him. Her itchy stockings made it impossible for him to feel her milky skin’s softness, so they had to go. He tore them off like a rabid dog biting into a pot roasted treat.
She’d successfully kept his attention—and more importantly, his gaze—on her the whole time. She jumped in his arms and ordered him to the bedroom. “At once!” she said. As they passed the office, she passionately kissed him, making sure his eyes were closed and missed seeing that the office door wasn’t.
“Dumm deedy DAAAA!” she sang as carried her into the bedroom.
Once they reached the bed, he plopped her down, and helped her out of the other non-returned bridesmaid’s gifts. She unbuttoned his shirt and folded it before setting it on the chair. He replaced his tailored pants on the hanger from which he’d taken them that morning. And they crawled into bed.
It was exactly 23 minutes later when Mrs. Stephens’ husband began snoring.
She used the buzz of the ceiling fan to conceal the sounds of a wife leaving a bed. She went downstairs and turned the Thump…Thump…Thump of the dryer back on—this time to a lower setting.
Sitting at her husband’s desk, she went back to work humming her Ba Da Dee song the milkman had once appreciated and typed while the snoring of her children and her husband, the dryer, the ceiling fan, and her humming soothed any sounds that might wake a sleeping dog. I won’t be able to get away like this again, she thought. Then she smiled. On the other hand, that’s what I thought last time too.