Sven looked at me with a gaze so neutral that I thought he was going to turn Swiss on the spot, but what it really meant was, “You are so full of shit.”
“Okay, okay, okay,” I said. “I know it isn’t Ammie’s fault.” I said out loud, but deep down did not believe it. You see, my wife has this rule, one of many, which states that we are not allowed to buy each other birthday presents. We have to make them. She grew up in a household where her mother sent her personal assistant out to shop for the “latest thing that kids would want,” wrap it in paper more expensive than the cook’s car and then place it on the foot of her bed before she came home from school. Ammie said she would cringe before opening her door to yet another proof that commercialism was alive and well. But even worse, if her mother managed to make it home from the office for supper she would be expected to swoon with gratitude over it.
That’s almost the same as what went on in my house. Except instead of his personal assistant my dad made the chauffeur get mine. My favourite was when Ricardo, who was working illegally in the country, got me a live chicken. I called him Fred. Best birthday present ever! I miss Fred.
That’s why I’m in the predicament I’m in now. Me and my three daughters, Bill, Dora, and Seven decided that this year we would make Mom an Art-Craft that would blow her socks off. Instead we blew the kitchen down. Okay, I burned the kitchen. You see after making this doughy concoction out of salt, flour, and water, and shaping it into a beautiful bowl of fruit which then had to be hardened in the oven, very low heat for at least six hours, I kind of misread the instructions and by the time we got back from swimming lessons, park time, and lunch, the entire kitchen was black with soot and according to the fire fighters, the cleaning agency, the contractor, and Sven, the only solution was to gut it and rebuild. Did I mention that it was a brand new kitchen?
Ammie took it in stride, even after I told her that I sort of, kind of, a little bit, forgot to pay the house insurance last month. She’s a trooper, but of course she can afford to be all magnanimous about it when the fault lies with her and her stupid rule, but I digress. You may be thinking to yourself, “Big deal. Your wife is the heir-apparent to Bristol Industries., and the current V.P. of the Western branch, which happens to be the largest portion of the company’s portfolio. So replacing the kitchen, even if it means paying for it out of your own pocket, should be chump change.”
Well it should be, but it isn’t. First off did I mention that we have three kids? They are ages 9, 7, and 5. All of them, we imagine, will eventually want to go to college, which means we should have started saving for that from the time we were both in primary school. Plus the fact that all three are signed up in so many activities that it would be cheaper if we built ourselves our own arena/dance studio/basketball court/Taekwondo dojo/art studio/place the name of a kid activity here and you get my point. On top of it all we have to pay Sven’s salary – did I mention that Sven was our own personal body guard? Why we need a body guard is a story I won’t get into here; that wasn’t my fault either. Then add to that the fact that I’m a stay-at-home dad, and you can understand that we aren’t exactly swimming in liquid assets.
That’s how I found myself staring at my phone. “Oh, just make the phone call,” the usual taciturn Sven finally said.
“Okay, okay,” I grumbled. “Quit pushing.” I raised my finger over the keypad, then realized that I didn’t know the number. I scrolled through my contacts and it wasn’t there. I finally had to go and search through my office and drag out my old rolodex to find it. I almost hung up after the first ring, but then caught Sven’s bland expression.
“William Hays,” the gruff voice said.
“Hey, Jake,” my dad said, his voice suddenly jovial. “I wasn’t expecting your call so soon.”
“It’s not Jake, dad,” I said.
“Mike, you two are starting to sound more and more alike,” he said.
“Dad, it’s not Mike. This is Parker,” I blurted out before he launched into one of his stories.
“Oh,” he said, his voice flat. I could have written a whole novel about what that single word said. Oh, it’s the biggest disappointment of my life calling. Oh, it’s my emasculated offspring. Oh, it’s the traitor who went over to the enemy. There was a long silence as both of us adjusted to the idea of this conversation. Finally he cleared his throat and said, “Parker?”
“Hey dad, how are you,” I said, trying to keep my voice light. I glanced up at Sven who was doing his best to pretend to not be eavesdropping. “How’s things?” I ended lamely.
“Things,” he emphasized, “are the same.” A long pause. “And how are things for you?”
“Good,” I said. “The kids are good – Ammie sends her love.” Shit, I mouthed silently, and Sven shook his head. Ammie would as much send her love as the Rainbow Flag Association would hold hands with the Tea Party and sing Kumbaya.
“Oh,” he said. And I knew what this oh meant as well – oh, so the world is finally coming to an end. Oh, my son has had an accident and sustained a head injury. Oh, my son is full of shit.
“Um, yeah, well, dad, I was sort of wondering if I could come in and talk to you,” I stuttered.
“We’re talking now,” he said.
I took a deep breath, raised my arm, looked at Sven and pointed at the door. “I was wondering if you still had a job available for me.”
“Fruit Bowl” by Leonard John Matthews. Flickr Creative Commons. Some rights reserved.