May 13, 2014 § Leave a comment
War would hardly wake me, but Timmy couldn’t sleep through drizzle. Not until fatigue does him in and knocks him out. Rhoda is in between. Nothing worth noting unless perhaps the one-off sleepwalk. Trips to the kitchen to check on the chicken in the grill. Once caught taking a midnight tinkle in the bin. Timmy would never find out about it nor would she. A man must protect the ones he loves. A man must protect the ones he loves but he can do so only so much. Heaven and hell and everything between knows I would have chained my beloved of two decades to the bedposts had I foreseen the terror in the eyes of our ten year old Timmy. Our only kid, Timmy.
From what I gather there wasn’t much drizzle that night. So whatever kept Timmy awake is Timmy’s secret to keep. I suspect it was the dog.
Me, I was out like a blow to the head with a spade. My boy must have pinched me, punched me, slapped and scratched me but I woke to only a gentle rocking of my shoulder. And when he said to me, ‘daddy? Daddy?! Daddy,’ I knew all wasn’t right.
Her silhouette spooked me as it did our boy, motionless against moonlight that leaked into the dining room from who knows which window. I called her name saying, ‘Rhoda’. She said nothing so I took Timmy by the hand and we went to her. But halfway to her I stopped and said to Timmy, ‘Timmy, go to bed.’ He said, ‘but–’, but I said, ‘Timmy–’. So he left me with his mother and I took her by the armpits and staggered back to bed.
Taking Timmy to school in the morning I told him mommy simply had a really big dream, a big humongous one. He asked me, ‘is mommy going to be okay?’ and I said, ‘I think mommy is.’ I dropped him off at St. Ignatius saying, ‘don’t worry, okay?’, and then I drove myself straight to the offices. Jill was in the copy room when I walked in just before midday. I said her name in an offbeat sing-song and she responded saying, ‘hey, Tobes.’ There and then I asked her who to see if I knew someone who sleepwalked. But first we talked about that evening’s lottery, about our chances of hitting the jackpot.
Hay fever was in the air and spring cleaning in the bones, Rhoda’s bones to the very core. She pulled down every curtain one Saturday morning and let the sunlight kill my slumber. And then made me sweep clean the garage for which I hated her until lunch. All Timmy had to do was smooth out his duvet. After a sandwich lunch he gazed at the TV in the sun-beaten living room while I washed the dog and Rhoda tended to the pot plants.
Coda was an Alsatian, a lean streak of shades of black and brown with a regal greying round the flanks and muzzle. Ears that pricked at every rustle, eyes like needles, breath like a gassing, for all he was worth Coda was the dumbest thing I knew on four legs. He was moulting so I quickened things with a heavy duty brush. Funny, each time I dragged it through his coat he whimpered like Rhoda’s nose circa that time of year.
‘They have doctors for sleep.’
I said this to Rhoda in bed, after she was done talking about April. Rhoda always talked about visiting her sister who lived interstate. When we had Timmy April spent two and a half months with us while Rhoda got over her depression. We lived somewhere else then. But Rhoda dragged with her a sense of debt to April, dragged it to every place we’d been since. I see, sometimes, that it makes her sad.
I told her about the sleep doctors. I said, ‘these people dedicate their lives to sleep, Rhoda, think about it.’ And she said, ‘the less they know the more they make. They’re good, these doctors. What did you say they call it?’
‘A parasomnia,’ I said. I’d looked it up.
She considered it. ‘Parasomnia.’ Then she sighed. ‘Coda’s hairs are everywhere.’
I said, ‘sorry. It must have been the wind.’ Then I tickled her tummy, but she turned away; I kissed her nape, but she said, ‘Toby.’ My rise fell. I tugged myself in silence but never quite came and never quite went to sleep. Must have been why I saw the dark blotch cross our doorway like the shadow of a cloud.
My word was to his body what a shock was to the heart and he spun like a wind vane in the gust. He’d been peeking through a window that looked out onto the front yard and front gate. I asked him why he wasn’t sleeping as I shifted the curtain and lace with my hand and squinted into the moonlit dark.
‘Coda squeezed out again.’
As I looked upon the front gate no sense was being made inside my head. The spaces would hardly let through a big man’s thigh; the bars were thick galvanised sheets angled like rooftops, with blunt edges that would peel the same man’s thigh like a carrot being peeled with a fingernail.
‘Again?’ I said to Timmy.
He must have thought I was reprimanding him because he froze up. Maybe I was in a way. My hand swam in his head hair as I told him to go to sleep, that I’d wait for Coda if Coda ever chose to come back. I promptly nodded off against the wall but came to in time to see the dog string his rump and hind legs through two of the bars like a paraplegic, making that dog sound which sounds like a cheap dog whistle, with the odd yelp thrown in. Each yelp he gave shot through me like pain. But as soon as he was through he limped a step or two and trotted off out of sight into the back.
Carlton Keyes was perhaps into dogs because he was himself a dog; on this the whole office could agree. At the water boiler I questioned him about Coda and about the night before. He said it happens, in that voice of his; that it was that time of year, and that the bitches were in heat. He told me this as though no one else in the world knew it. Death alone would stop the males and their heat- seeking missiles, he said. He was painful to be around but he knew things, Carlton Keyes.
I came home that evening to a wife paging through women’s magazines on our marital bed. Three or four of them were spreadeagled beside her submerged ass and hips. Lingeried and like porcelain, every Playtex girl on every open page was a benchmark for and an affront to real women. Rhoda’s eyes searched me where I stood in the doorway.
‘Is this normal?’
The words tumbled past something caught inside her throat.
‘This, Toby, is this?’ she said, and raised up a magazine and thumbed what looked like a chip fat stain on it. ‘He’s only ten. Do they think like this at ten?’
I wished I had an answer she would have liked.
I wished I had something I could have said to her at dinnertime to stop her draping dirty, sad looks over our boy. Sorry looks. Looks you gave someone who was into pain and suffocation and feet. I wanted to tell her not to worry as I put away the dishes she washed and handed to me; I wanted to tell her that there was an explanation for it. But I had to protect them from the facts.
Timmy was in bed and yet to doze off. Walking past the en-suite to my bedside I saw Rhoda inside, in front of the mirror, wearing a dressing gown. She mustn’t have known I was looking. She stared at herself. She touched herself, touched her face, touched her neck, turned her head, stroked her curls, trailed her fingers down her chest and touched her breasts like they were stray dogs. Flicked them up and down because they sagged just enough to allow it. Flicked them with distaste. Then she continued to floss.
When I told Rhoda about Coda she said she’d told me so. By now we were in bed.
‘Told me how?’ I said.
‘We should have had it neutered,’ she said, but I asked her what good would have come of it. She was right in saying it would have been good for Timmy in the end but I wished she would look at me when she said it.
I told her I’d talk to Timmy. I said, ‘I’ll talk to him.’
She said, ‘I’ll talk to him too’ but I said, ‘you wouldn’t know how.’
I pulled the duvet to my nipples and told her not to fret, that it was my place as a father and that I’d do it.
‘Toby,’ she said, ‘I don’t like that the dog does that. It’s not civil.’
‘It’s a dog, Rhoda. What else is it going to do?’
‘I’ve seen better.’
‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that can roll over too, and sit.’
I sighed and pulled at my chest hairs and said, ‘chopping its balls off might be harsh.’
‘Why must I see a shrink because you say I walk when I sleep?’
‘Because you need to get better sleep. And it won’t be a shrink. Just a doctor.’
‘My sleep does me fine.’
‘You never have any energy for us anymore.’
She looked me up and down and looked me all over and her face seemed to twitch a little and before we knew it we were both asleep until I woke and decided to please myself a little. It was while pulling that I heard Coda and his dog sounds and stole away from bed to take a look. Again I drew aside the curtain and lace and witnessed him squeeze himself like a rock-hard motion.
Then he was gone.
That night I took the car for a roll through the neighbourhood. I wasn’t sure if I was in search of the dog or just rolling through the streets of our neighbourhood. Not much was about. I did catch a possum in the headlights scurrying into some poor class act’s prim little hedge. I must have circled our block four times before I turned off onto Karlsson Street and then onto Hunter before busting onto Oates; rode it all the way down to where it became Convent-Leigh. I saw people on the street forming non-memories and being drunken silly with one another. Somehow I found myself down Mason Avenue where all the naughty places were. Places announced by cheap neon lights that bleached clients blue, green and pink. Further along Mason were women and wannabe women smoking and squelching stubs with their stilettos as they held out for guys like me. I parked in an unlit spot and window shopped, thought about finishing that tug but never got round to it. There were cute young ones that looked too right in their school-girl get-up. One of these was acquired by a man in a Burgundy sedan but as they drove past it struck me that he looked like he might be a monster; something about the way he stared out from beneath his brow made me dread one of the next mornings’ papers.
The route I took home was convoluted and stupid. I wanted to wash my hands and rinse my eyes. I rolled through familiar turf not far from our house. And as I did I let the headlights sweep the streets. They caught two more possums; a tyre almost killed one. Calling it a night I headed home and somewhere along the way I found him.
The dog was skipping along the footpath in my general bearing and his eyes flashed twice in the headlights. As did, perhaps, what must have been his dick as it dangled from its sheath. I just drove myself home and left the car in the driveway, left the keys on the coffee table on the way to the master bedroom and was relieved to find Rhoda sleeping. Lay in bed and waited for Coda and, when he came, listened to him yelp and whine his way back in.
Rhoda was at the hotplates flipping cakes in a pan. I was having my juice and my paper but would later be having coffee with pancakes.
I said to Rhoda, ‘you should drop in on April one of these months.’
It took her a while to answer what with all the mixing and pouring and flipping and stacking she was doing.
‘You don’t just drop in, not interstate.’
‘She’d give up her bed; you know it. Call her. We’ll be fine on our own for a few weeks.’
She talked over her shoulder. ‘But you’d have to come too. Wouldn’t you?’
I told her I guessed so and drank some juice.
‘What are you going to say to Timmy?’
I said nothing.
‘Right–’ I said. ‘I’ll just take it as it comes. It’ll be better that way.’
Rhoda took a scourer to the pan in the sink.
I said to her, ‘you should see your sister if you want to. You should see April. I’d hate for me to be keeping you from anything.’
Rhoda said, ‘promise you’ll talk to Timmy,’ and I said, ‘yes, yes, promise.’ Then I watched whatever news was breaking on telly while I waited for Timmy to have his milk and cereal.
Coda watched us exit the driveway after Rhoda had closed the front door.
I drove Timmy to his school and we listened to the radio the whole way there without saying any words. In the lot he hardly let me slow down for him to get out and as he shut the door on us I realised I’d forgotten to talk to him about a thing I’d been meaning to talk to him about. I would have called him back but he was late and in a rush. I’d forgotten to tell him that I would be picking him up from school a little late that day because his mother would be seeing a sleep doctor and we just might be a little late.