for Stephen Dixon.
Then there’s a knock at the door. Several knocks, then pounding. Henry doesn’t hear it or them, any of the times, because he can’t hear anything over her screaming. For that very reason, he can’t hear the voice shouting: “Police! Open up now or we’re going to break down the door!” But none of which he hears over her screaming, so he doesn’t stand to answer the front door, and then the door busts open, and two policemen enter. Two officers of the law have just busted down his front door. His wife stops her screaming for a moment and says, “Thank God,” and invites them into the living room before he had a chance to demand a search warrant. One of their neighbors must have heard his wife and thought she was being tortured and called the police, or maybe the police heard his wife screaming themselves from the station downtown or even the next town, the way this woman screams. “Are you all right, ma’am?” “No,” she says. “Did this man here hit you?” says one of the officers, the bigger of the two, who’s giving him the eye like he’s a wife beater. “No, my husband never hit me,” she says. “Did he threaten to hit you?” “No,” she says. Good, he thinks, they’ll be leaving soon, see the pointlessness of breaking down our door, and an apology would be nice, while they’re at it. “So he didn’t do anything, your husband?” the smaller one asks, pulling his partner back by the shoulder. “No, he didn’t do a damn thing — that’s the problem,” she says. “I see,” says the smaller one. “Sir, is this true, what your wife is saying, you didn’t do anything?” “Yes,” he says, “that’s utterly and completely true.” “So you agree you’re a lazy bum, then?” says the larger one. “No, I didn’t say any such thing,” Henry says. “But you agreed with your wife, didn’t you?” says the officer. “Yes, but you twisted my meaning.” “I didn’t twist your meaning, I stated a fact and you agreed.” “Wait a minute, here,” Henry says. “Pipe down. When we want you to speak, we’ll tell you to. Ma’am—.” “Listen here, I know my rights,” he says. “Yes, you have the right to remain silent. You have the right to pipe down and you have the right to shut your trap, bub, which is what I’d suggest you do now,” says the larger one of the two, reaching for his stick or club, a billy stick or billy club, billy something? “Ma’am, do you want to file a complaint? We could take you down to the station; you’d be perfectly safe with us, no one will not do anything for you ever again, I promise.” “You mean I can file a complaint against my husband for not doing anything?” “Yes,” says the officer, “I’ll type the report myself,” the big one said, squeezing the club in his hand, keeping one eye on Henry. Cop obviously wanted to club him to death, though he doesn’t know why, seeing as they all agree he hasn’t done anything. He hasn’t moved from his chair, wasn’t going to move a muscle, was just going to keep doing nothing like he had been. “I didn’t know that,” she says. “It’s true. We’ll take you down to the station, get you a cup of coffee, and you can tell us all about the things your husband didn’t do and never did, to begin.” “I had no idea, I thought I was alone. I thought I was the only woman whose husband did nothing at all ever.” “No, ma’am, you are not alone. Many, I dare say countless wives feel exactly as you do. And it’s exactly because so many wives feel that they are alone that so many complaints go unreported. Trust me, you are not alone. In fact, there’s an epidemic of husbands who do nothing at all ever. Support services are available, and there’s a 24-hour hotline for wives of lazy bums.” “Really?” she says. “Yes. It’s the most common and widespread form of domestic abuse, husbands who do nothing. Millions of women just like yourself, women who could’ve done better, ten, twenty times better in their pick of husband, but just get worn down over time, day after day. Eventually forget their worth. It’s tragic, ma’am, a beautiful woman like yourself. I bet he takes you completely for granted, doesn’t he?” Maggie was beaming, gave him the eye, he, Henry. “Yes, officer. Yes, he does. Completely.” “Wait a minute here. The other things might be true, but this thing you’ve just said is not. Don’t I tell you how much I value you and desire you at least once a day, if not more?” “No, Henry. No. You don’t tell me you how much you value and desire me at least once a day. You tell me you want to screw around, or if you’re not feeling communicative, you just roll over and poke me in the back or the hip or my butt with your penis, which is not the same thing at all.” “He doesn’t tell you how beautiful and sexy you are?” asked the big dumb blonde one. “No. Never.” she said. “What a pig!” the officer said. Well, that was rich. “Well, if it makes you feel any better, I assure you I had only the best intentions, and I thought your desirability was implicit my actions taken toward your person.” He was going to return to reading the paper when the big officer said, “Tell me one more thing, ma’am, if you don’t mind my asking?” “No, I don’t mind. You can ask me anything,” she says. “How did you get yourself hooked up with this good-for-nothing excuse for a man?” he says. “That’s funny,” she says. Or, she said, and he put the paper down to listen, but wasn’t sure how she put it, “Funny you should ask me that, Officer, because everyone asks me the same question.” “Everyone?” Henry asks, failing to see the humor or the funny part she mentioned. “Everyone, yes. That’s what I said, Henry.” “Our daughters, too? The girls said that about me, their own father?” “Henry, face facts. You aren’t very considerate. Well, to be honest, you are the least considerate person I know. What’s more—.” “There’s more?” he asked. “Yes, plenty. And what’s more, you’re short-tempered. You’re moody. You’re selfish. You’re arrogant. You have a terrible mean streak. You scold the girls over nothing. And you never take them to the park when you say you’re going to.” “They said that?” “Yes.” “I told them I was going to take them, and I will.” “Yes, you told them as much, but you didn’t take them when you told them you would the first time, and you didn’t take them to the park when you told them you would the second time, or the third time. And now they’ve lost count of how many times their father has promised them and failed to keep his promises, on that count and many others. Just like you didn’t mow the lawn when you told me you would all those times. So now the girls have to play inside on a perfectly beautiful day because the lawn’s such a mess. The point is, how can we trust you? We can’t trust you any more, Henry, maybe never again.” The officers stared at him, and the smaller one crossed his arms in disgust. The big one still hadn’t taken his hand off the club and said, “I bet he makes you do everything, doesn’t he?” “Yes! I shop, I cook, I clean; I drive the girls to their appointments and their lessons and after-school activities.” The cops nodded their heads in shame. “And there’s more.” “I knew it, could tell just by looking at the loaf,” said the little one. “Yes, if that wasn’t enough, just to add insult to injury, I pay the bills, too, the ones Henry didn’t pay when he said he did, because he’s a liar on top of being good for nothing.” “Classic abuse case,” said the big one, "that’s why I urge you to file a complaint today, now — for the countless women who have no voice. Take action, and set an example for your daughters, and their daughters, Mrs. . .? " “Petrich, but you can call me Maggie, please.” “Thank you, Maggie. You can break the cycle here and now.” “Yes, gentlemen, I will file a complaint against my husband for doing nothing at all. But first, could I offer you a cup of coffee, a piece of cake?” she said. “I didn’t know we had any cake,” said Henry. " We don’t. But I’ll make them a cake, and why, Henry? Because I said I would. I offered, and I will do as I say. Not in two minutes, now," she said, turning her back and smiling at the officers. “We’d love some cake and coffee, ma’am.” “Good, why don’t you follow me into the kitchen and you can have a seat. It won’t take me but a minute. Henry, don’t you have work to do?” He was staring at the three heading for the kitchen, thinking to stand and join them in the kitchen. Cake made from scratch sounded pretty good. “You heard the lady. Get to work, you bum. I want to see a freshly mowed lawn when I finish my cake. Do yourself a favor and take the hint, already.” The officers waited until he stood, and stepped over the broken down front door, out on to the front porch.
The lawnmower was waiting for him there, near the front step. Someone must have wheeled it out of the garage and gassed it up for him. But they didn’t start it, and that was the hard part. Almost threw his shoulder out, starting the damn thing up. Got so fed up he had to give the mower a few good kicks. Already pretty dented up from the last time he gave it a few good kicks. Could turn the damn thing upside down, let the gas pour out, say it ran out of gas and then take a nap. No, if he said that, his wife would make him run to the gas station and buy more gasoline, or the officers would, maybe even drive them there themselves, making him sit in the back like a regular convict. Or, he could pop the hood and tinker, pull something out or cut something off, and tell her the damn thing was broken and they’d have to get a new one. A lawn mower with a seat. Then he’d mow every day. Could mow while reading the paper, after he exercised in the morning, a few calisthenics, just to get the blood flowing. But he’d tried that before, too, pulling something out or cutting something off, a wire or what not. Wife fixed the lawn mower, rewired the damn thing, herself. Might have applauded her for her mechanical know-how if her know-how hadn’t put him right back where he started, which was right here, sitting on the front step with a sore big toe.