The Writers Voice
Days of Our Years
Part 3 - This Evening
It wasn't a new house and it wasn't in good shape. It stared belligerently at its well kept neighbors and when the wind blew, a shutter on the street side living room window pounded relentlessly on the worn clapboard siding. But the agent praised its latent virtues and told them it was the best buy in the neighborhood.
All things considered, it was the answer to Barney and Sheila's prayers. The baby was a year old now and took up all the available space in the apartment. The bedroom was a nursery and a changing room -- it often smelled like a kennel. The baby, a light sleeper, (if he slept at all) spent most of his nights restlessly thrashing in bed between them. The bathroom was a drying yard and the dressing table was a sea of baby oils, powders and paper diapers. The kitchen resembled the laboratory of the late Dr. Frankenstein and the dirty dishes waited patiently as the infant was bathed in the sink.
With the arrival of the new baby exactly thirteen months after the honeymoon, Barney and Sheila were now a threesome. They had to get out of their apartment or go mad.
Barney was doing well now, the haberdashery was thriving and his father was thinking of moving into the mall. He was doing well enough that Sheila could stay home with .... Montgomery, little Montgomery Trammel. The name was Barney's idea. Monty Winger, third baseman for the Orioles was his boyhood idol -- one of Barney's cherished possessions was a baseball signed by Monty Winger in an almost illegible hand. Sheila was about to put her foot down and dig her heels in about the name, but after thinking it over she decided it could have been worse and 'Monty' wasn't a bad name after all. Her father's name had been Newton.
It wasn't easy in the beginning. When the weather cooled, they tried to operate the furnace with mixed results -- the oil burner filled the basement with smoke which found its way through the ductwork and ruined the pale lavender drapes Sheila's mother had given them as a wedding present. There was a family of squirrels in the attic and an army of termites in the base plate of the kitchen wall -- the water closet in the upstairs bathroom was reluctant to flush and a hungry menage of field mice under the kitchen sink had to be trapped one by one.
Can any couple put their fingers on a point in their life and say, "Here, this is where we changed from a pair of newlyweds to a married couple? Here, right here -- this is where I became husband and you became wife!"
More likely one of them will wake in the morning and wonder why things have suddenly changed. They will know exactly what has to be done, there's no choice. Gone are the days when the husband could lie in bed, look at his newlywed wife and say, "What shall we do today dear?" No! He knows exactly what must be done that day. If it's a week day, he's got to get the store open at nine, get the dust covers off the merchandise, check on the shop windows to see if the displays haven't fallen over and the sale prices are accurately placed. He's got to test the lights, nothing repels a customer more than burned out light bulbs. He's got to do all this before nine because Pop doesn't get in 'til eleven or so, and then has to take a nap at three in the afternoon.
If it's a weekend, Barney might spend a happy half hour in bed, (if Montgomery is willing) then he will put together a hasty breakfast for both of them. After all, Sheila's week has been just as trying as his -- then, he has to get started on the painting of Montgomery's bedroom, scrape the wallpaper off the bathroom walls and fix the third step from the bottom on the stairs to the basement. Will it ever end, he wonders? Is this what Sheila meant when she said -- "Aren't you glad you waited?"
If you're Sheila you're up on a weekday morning before Barney. She tiptoes down the hall, hoping Montgomery has at last decided to sleep an hour or two before regaining strength. Does Barney have a clean shirt? Will he have to wear his underwear another day, and where, oh where, is the mate to his black silk sock? When Barney leaves, Sheila waits for the second awakening. Montgomery, sensing he is the only man in the house -- and therefore in complete charge, demands her complete attention until the middle of the afternoon.
Most weekday evenings the store is open until nine p.m. and Barney gets home somewhere around nine thirty. He's hungry, but he's more tired than hungry -- almost as tired as Sheila. They look at each other dully, like two automatons whose batteries have run down.
"Hi, Sheila -- "
"Yeah, -- you?"
"A little better today. The rash is going away and he seems to be taking the formula -- at least he doesn't throw up."
Sheila rouses herself from the sofa and stretches. "I suppose you're hungry. Me too. I haven't eaten all day." She picks up the receiver for the transmitter that hangs above Montgomery's head in the nursery and walks slowly to the kitchen. "C'mon Barney, maybe we can eat before he wakes up."
Sheila has learned the fine art of cooking a meal while caring for a baby, and in less than ten minutes dinner is on the table.
"I've got great news, Sheila."
"Save it 'til you open the wine."
"I bought wine today. It's in the fridge -- and here's the corkscrew. I finally found it, it was in that tool chest of yours. That's what gave me the idea of having wine tonight."
Montgomery's steady breathing is amplified in the radio receiver that sits on the table between them. Sheila keeps the volume at maximum so she can hear him wherever she is -- he sounds like the sleeping giant in Jack and the Beanstalk, and as they eat they listen for the first catch in his breathing that signals his awakening.
They don't have to wait long. With a gurgle
that grows in volume and then a
"We should let him cry a little," Sheila said. "It's not a good idea to pick him up the moment he cries."
"Well at least turn down the volume, he'll wake the neighborhood."
They listen for a bit, then Barney sheepishly announces that after hearing the name Montgomery for a year and a half he is sick of it and would like to change it to Benjamin.
"You're out of your mind," Sheila said. "You can't change a baby's name, what's the matter with you? He's already christened. You picked out the name in the first place." She looked at him as though he had lost his mind. "There was this Monty something -- the football player ...."
"A child's name is not not something to
fiddle with, Barney. You should know
Barney sits back in his chair and looks up at the ceiling. "Oh .... I don't know. I had a dog once, a sort of a cross between a terrier and a spaniel. I called him "Whiskers" for a while. Then I got tired of the name and I called him -- I forget what the second name was. It's not important. The thing is .... he got used to his second name in a week flat." Barney lowers his gaze and smiles at Sheila -- "C'mon Sheil -- I'm only kidding, you know that."
Sheila shook her head -- "Go in and pick him up -- he's been crying long enough."
"Me!" Barney panicked, "S'pose he wants something I can't give him?"
"Bring him down here -- I'm open all night."
Barney struggles to his feet and makes for
the stairs. When he walks into the
Sheila, sitting next to the receiver can hear them both, and sensing the problem, momentarily philosophizes about motherhood and the complete inadequacy of fathers. What good are they? They really have no purpose after the birth of their offspring. They can neither feed them, change them, or swab their throats when they are sick or sit at their side in the middle of the night.
"You can handle it, Barney." She wonders vaguely what Barney's surprise was.
"I'll tell you what the surprise is if you come up, Sheila."
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