|Edward Kelsey Moore
I have been waiting all day for this. The house is silent, the boys are in bed and I am crouching in the tub just about to dip my naked rear end into the sudsy water. There's just something about this moment that I love. You know, that moment when you're wondering if the water is too hot because your toes are tingling from the heat, but it still feels really good so you slowly sneak your butt down into it. And when you finally submerge all the tenderest parts of yourself, it feels so fantastic you can hardly believe it. Then, there you are, surrounded by bubbles, all of the day's tension leaching out of your body into the water.
I've been thinking about this bath ever since I woke up this morning and found that three of my four boys were too sick to go to school today. The seven-year-old, the ten-year-old, and the twelve-year-old all woke up with fevers and chills. Only the oldest made it to school this morning. By noon my house was filled with the sounds of phlegmy coughing, vomiting and incessant whining. I was pretty much on the run from then on, dealing with this symptom and that.
My husband Frank was at work during all of the festivities, of course. I called him at his office and asked him if he could pick up a few things at the drugstore on his way homeaspirin, a few boxes of tissues, a plastic bucket or two. He said he couldn't because he had to work late tonight and didn't know when he'd be getting home. I was pissed off, but I didn't make a fuss about it. I expected as much. Frank has a funny way of making himself scarce whenever things get gross around the house. I don't get it. This is a man who runs to the theater whenever a movie promises gouged eyes, decapitations and disemboweling, but put him in the room with one of his own children shooting something out of an orifice and he goes weak at the knees.
I tended to the boys until Frank Jr. got home from school. Then I left him in charge and drove to the store myself. I shouldn't have done that. Frank Jr. has good judgment for a boy his age, but he is just fourteen. I was lucky that nothing bad happened during the forty-five minutes I was gone. I'm sure those women who get arrested when some tragedy befalls their children after they left the house on a quick errand never thought anything would happen to their kids either. You can tell by looking at their mug shots in the newspaper that those poor women had no idea that they should have prepared to be photographed that day. Their hair is always a mess and they're never wearing a bit of make-up. They look exactly like I looked this afternoon.
Settled into my hot bath surrounded by scented candles, that's the first thing my mind latches ontothe mistake I made in leaving the kids in the house without adult supervision. I wonder what would have happened had one of my nosier neighbors chosen that little window of time to drop by. They'd have found my boys, vomiting and feverish, with no mother in sight. I can see it. I drive up to the house after running my errands, and find a group of neighbors gathered on my front lawn. There are four police cars in the driveway and two local television news vans parked at the curb. "Why did you abandon your children?" the news reporters ask as I step from the car. My shocked neighbors jeer and curse me as I am led past them in handcuffs and shoved into a waiting police car.
The police take me downtown to the station and process me. Un-made-up, unkempt and still wearing my pajamas, I am the subject of the worst neglectful mother mug shot ever to grace the front page of the newspaper. I can't imagine anything worse. Then again, it might not be so bad if they arrested me for neglecting the children. The boys wouldn't be put in foster care or something awful like thatthey do have a father and a nice home. Child Protective Services would just want to make sure I was out of the house. Since it would be my first offense, I could serve my sentence in the apartment over the garage that Grandpa lived in until he died last year.
I spend my days in the garage apartment, reading quasi-pornographic romance novels and remorsefully contemplating my crime. I monitor the boys' comings and goings every day and watch them playing in the yard on the weekends. Occasionally, I wave to them as they walk to the school bus in the morning. From the apartment window I shout, "Sorry I can't make breakfast or clean house for you anymore, but Mommy's unfit and there's a restraining order. Love you."
The bathwater has cooled. So, I extend my left leg and point my foot. This way I can get just enough of a toehold on the faucet to open it and make my bath nice and toasty again. Experience has taught me that running the hot tap for three minutes guarantees another twenty minutes of hot, steamy comfort in the tub before the water goes tepid again. Mmm boy, does that feel good. I think I hear a car in the driveway and I sit still for a while, listening. It might be Frank. I don't hear anything more, so I assume it was my neighbor Carol. Her house sits directly opposite ours on the other side of the cul-de-sac. Carol and her husband Larry own the largest SUV I have ever seenthis, in spite of the fact that they have no children and, as far as I know, no business responsibilities that require carting heavy machinery from place to place. One morning, about a week after getting that behemoth, Carol accidentally drove over her husband's foot with one of the SUV's semi-truck size tires as she left for work. Now the poor thing is terrified that she'll squash her husband to death one day while backing her giant car out of their driveway. So, whenever she comes home, she pulls into my driveway, then backs all the way across the cul-de-sac and parks, facing backwards, in her driveway so she can drive forward when she leaves in the morning. All this to save the life of a man who has made passes at every woman in the neighborhood and mows his lawn while wearing just a Speedo and a pair of mirrored sunglasses. Love is truly blind.
When I am in the tub, I often think about what it would be like if my Frank were dead. Not that I really want him dead, I just like to imagine it sometimes. In my bathtub fantasies Frank always dies in an especially gruesome or shocking manner. I imagine him falling several stories down an elevator shaft or being devoured by wild animals. There are news cameras in this fantasy, too. But unlike the fantasy in which I am arrested for being a neglectful mother, I am perfectly coiffed and made-up for the photographers when Frank meets his tragic end.
When Frank dies, I am an attractive young widow crying her eyes out in a heartbreaking, but dignified, way for newspaper readers and the television viewing audience. I wail, "How did this happen? He was too young to die." Then, in a kind of Scarlett O'Hara moment, I pledge that, as God is my witness, I will devote the rest of my life to making sure no one else has to suffer the fate of my beloved Frank.
Months later, having channeled my grief into activism, I appear before the United States Congress in a powder blue Chanel suit and plead with the lawmakers to pass legislation protecting others from deadly elevator falls or being eaten by roving the packs of animals. The bill passes and becomes known as "Frank's Law."
According to the clock on the shelf next to the toilet, it is just past eleven. Frank still has not come home. Even though getting in this late isn't unusual for him, I find myself wondering if he could be having an affair. Frank is somewhat of a catch. He makes good money. He's in okay shape for forty-six and, thanks to good bone structure, will always be a handsome guy. Still, I don't see myself putting up a big fight to keep him. Or going all psychoticthreatening him and his mistress with a gun or slipping small amounts of arsenic into his food until, on the brink of death, he tearfully confesses his infidelity and asks for my forgiveness, clearing the way for a cessation of poisoning and an eventual miraculous recovery, for which he will credit me. No, if Frank is cheating I will gladly hand him over to his mistress. I imagine that her name is something like Brandi and she tells you when you meet her that she spells it with an "i" which she dots with a smiley face. She works in a nail salon, but claims she is saving up to go to dental hygienist school. She is twenty-three years old and her body has definitely not experienced four births and two miscarriages. She is so thin that there are three inches of space between her upper thighs and her stomach is concave. Brandi wears brightly colored, child-like outfits and has one of those bright orange artificial tans, calling to mind a slutty Ooopa-Loompa. Because of her limited vocabulary, she fills in the inevitable gaps in every conversation with a high-pitched giggle that Frank finds beguiling at first, but eventually grows to hate.
After Frank moves out, he and Brandi take up residence in a cheaply constructed high-rise condominium complex full of twenty-somethings who think of Frank as a middle-aged joke. I use a portion of my very substantial divorce settlement to rig their home with audio and video recording devices. In the evenings, after I get home from nightclubbing or taking in an incomprehensible foreign film with my new bohemian friends, I sit on the couch and entertain myself by fast-forwarding through the surveillance images. My thirst for revenge is completely satisfied when, while scanning the tapes one night, I come across the precise moment when Brandi's rapidly aging face finally registers full understanding that the good-looking, charming, successful man she stole from his loving wife and children is also a childish, inconsiderate, flatulent oaf. Realizing that she has been the victim of a classic bait and switch scam, Brandi begins to act out in ways that humiliate Frank and turn him into a miserable recluse.
While Frank languishes in his condo, I begin a comprehensive self-improvement process. I lose the weight I've put on since having the boys and have my breasts surgically relocated to their former sites. Perhaps I'll buy a set of those anti-gravity boots that were popular in the '80s, if they still make them. Since Frank is living with Brandi, I am free to transform his office into a home gym and have a parallel bar installed in the doorway. In the afternoons, I hang from my feet doing stomach crunches in pursuit of a tiny new waistline. Unfortunately, one day I strap myself into my anti-gravity boots and so much blood rushes to my head that I suffer a fatal cerebral hemorrhage. My sons come home from school to discover their mother dead, hanging upside down like a bat. Without their mother, they are forced to live with Brandi and their father, who has taken to drink.
I stop that fantasy in its tracks, I have killed Frank thousands of times in my bathtub, but I refuse to picture my boys living lives that are anything less than joyous. However, I do sometimes imagine that my sons were daughters instead. I've always wanted girls. With each pregnancy I imagined myself sitting with my dainty daughter playing afternoon tea party and gossiping about cute boys. But no, each trip to the delivery room brought me another soneach one of them enormous, the smallest of them weighing in at eight pounds two ounces. Finally, came the two miscarriages and I had to accept that there would be no little girl for me.
Still, there might yet be a tea party or two and some gossiping about cute boys in my future. Unless my instincts are way off, my second son, Jake, is as gay as a goose. So, I guess that old saying about God closing a door and opening a window is true.
I am sheer perfection in my role as a gay man's mother. I enjoy sparkling conversations at fashionable bistros with Jake and his artsy friends. Sometimes, if I am feeling naughty, I accompany Jake and his buddies to a dark bar where muscular young men dance in their underwear on elevated platforms. Every time Jake and I go out, total strangers repeatedly approach me to tell me how much they envy the open, loving relationship my son and I share. I modestly respond that I am not special. I am only giving my gay son the same support and acceptance that any loving mother would. But they know as well as I do that, when it comes to mothering my gay son, I soar high above the rest of the maternal flock.
One afternoon, Frank sees me on television during coverage of the annual Gay Pride Parade as I walk alongside our son and his dashing Italian life partner Maurizio. I look radiant, having received valuable cosmetics tips from the drag queens riding on the float behind us. Lonely and dejected in the tastelessly decorated condo he shares with his promiscuous child bride, Frank stares at my lovely image on the television screen and wonders how he could have made the mistake of leaving me. Frank decides to calm his nerves by taking a spin in his red convertible midlife-crisis-mobile. On his way out of the condo building the depressed and inebriated Frank fails to notice a too small out-of-order sign on the elevator door and plummets eighteen stories. He survives the fall and lies badly mangled at the bottom of the elevator shaft for days until his weakening cries of, "Margie, Margie, forgive me," are finally heard by a pack of hungry wolves that escaped from a nearby zoo and somehow found their way into his building. The ensuing media coverage of Frank's grisly death shows the widowed Brandi looking whorish and orange. There is a knock on the bathroom door and I hear, "Hey Margie, I'm home." "Frank?" I say.
Opening the door and walking into the bathroom he laughs and says, "You were expecting someone else?" Minding the burning candles, he leans over the tub and kisses me on the lips. "Sorry I'm so late" he says. "How are the boys?"
I punish him for getting in so late by recounting his sons' expectorations and evacuations in vivid detail. When Frank looks sufficiently queasy, I ask about his day.
He is being charming now and soon has me laughing with a story about one of the men he works with. On his knees beside the tub, he dips his hand into my bath water and moves it back and forth, making little bubbly waves. He is smiling what I recognize as his seduction smile and I begin to think that I just might let myself be seduced. Frank's timing is good. The bath has me feeling relaxed and attractive. I like the look of my body when I'm in a reclining position; there's less of that funhouse mirror effect of gravity. Just then, a series of coughs comes from the direction of the boys' bedrooms down the hall, breaking the spell.
"Sounds like Aaron," Frank says. There are more coughs and, when I don't immediately leap from the tub to assume nursing duty, Frank finally rises and says, "I'll go check on him."
"Thanks honey," I say to his back as he leaves the bathroom. "I'll be out in a second." When the door clicks shut, my mind and body rebel against the thought of returning to reality just yet. I extend my left leg and begin to turn the hot water faucet with my toes. I think to myself, "Twenty more minutes."