Home > Domestic Violets(3)

Domestic Violets(3)
Matthew Norman

“Jesus Christ, Dad.”

He spins around smiling and nearly spills his wine. “This is the only red you seem to have. I’ve never heard of it. Is it any good?”

“Have you ever heard of a doorbell?”

“I have. It’s a fantastic invention. Yours, though, doesn’t appear to be loud enough.”

As I close and lock our front door, I think of Anna’s sexifying music/animal sounds and the rushing of the sink and the deafness of impotence. I didn’t hear the doorbell, and so my dad let himself in. He has his own keys, because, technically speaking, this is his house.

“Well, you’re lucky I don’t have a gun then,” I say.

“I think we all are, son. You and I aren’t the sort of men who should be armed. Oh, you’re not still playing with those old Callaways, are you? Let me get you the new PING irons. Pure graphite. You’ll never hit a ball straighter, my hand to God.”

He plays golf about twice a year, badly, so I ignore his bullshit. From upstairs, Anna yells down, welcoming Curtis as if it’s the middle of the afternoon.

“Hi sweetie,” he tells the ceiling. “Sorry to barge in.”

He pours me a glass of wine, which is no easy feat considering he’s obviously drunk. His overnight bag is sitting on the kitchen table, but I ignore it, certain that I’ll be hearing about it soon enough. He gives me a lurid smile and his eyes are red and a little glassy. “I wasn’t interrupting anything, was I?”

“No, Dad, not tonight.”

We’ve exchanged a few phone calls and an e-mail here and there, but I haven’t seen him in a month or so, and when I flip on another light I see that the time hasn’t been kind. He hasn’t shaved in a while and he’s lost some weight. Some men can pull off a few days without shaving, but it tends to make Curtis look like a domestic terrorist.

With the coast now clear, the dog storms the kitchen with gusto, completing a quick victory lap and then landing at Curtis’s feet. He’s leery of strangers, this little dog, but he’s hopelessly devoted to the people he knows. His weird, curly little tail is wagging in a blur.

“Well hi there, Hanky Panky.” As he crouches to pet my dog, Curtis has to catch himself on the counter to keep from pitching forward onto the floor.

“You’re drunk, Dad,” I say.

“I very well might be. But I’m not afraid to be drunker. In fact, I’m determined.” Hank rolls over, flashing some skin, and my dad laughs.

I take a long sip of my wine, which is ridiculous on a random weeknight. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe alcohol is exactly what I need—buckets of it.

“Have you talked to your mother lately? How’s she’s doing?”

This is my dad’s default question, one asked simply to fill space in a room. Whenever he asks, I consider asking him why he’s so much more interested now than he was during the handful of years they were married three decades ago. But I never do. “Not bad. She’s teaching Catcher in the Rye again this year. I guess her kids love it.”

Curtis shakes his head. “Well of course they do, Tommy. The only people who can actually get through that self-indulgent tripe without throwing up are teenagers and the criminally insane.”

Thankfully Anna and Allie arrive to save me from my dad’s lecture on Salinger’s shortcomings. Allie is in Sesame Street pajamas and Anna has changed to shorts and a T-shirt. In her glasses and sensible sleepwear, she’s the bookish version of the sultry harlot I failed only moments ago, and her mere presence embarrasses me.

Allie crashes into her grandpa’s trousers, wrapping her arms around his legs.

“Well there’s the prettiest girl in town.”

“I thought you were a burglar, Grandpa. I got scared because you were either going to take us hostage or shoot us.”

“Well, you should be scared. I am a burglar.”

“Burglars wear masks,” she says.

“I left it in the car. It’s very itchy. I never said I was good at being a burglar.”

Anna notices the overnight bag on the kitchen table and gives me a look. I shrug just enough to tell her that I have no idea and then she rolls her eyes at my perpetual lack of knowledge. It’s the silent language of marriage.

My dad sets Allie on one of the stools along our counter and touches the top of her head. “So tell me, Allie. Would you like a glass of wine? Or maybe a cigar? I’m buying.”

She finds this hilarious, and her laughter fills our little kitchen.

“It’s very late, sweetie,” says Anna. “How about you go back to bed?”

“Are you going to be here tomorrow, Grandpa? You should have a sleepover party!”

“My plan is to go wherever the night takes me, darling,” he says, and then he tips his glass.

“Allie,” says Anna. She’s stern now.

Our daughter looks at me, hoping that I’ve got some sort of veto power here, but she quickly resigns herself to defeat and begins a slow march up the stairs.

“I’ll come tuck you in soon, honey,” I say. “And no spying. Lights out.”

I can see by her expression that she’ll do whatever she damn well pleases until she hears me coming up the stairs. By now she’s old enough to know that we’re not going to beat her, so she’s pretty much got the run of the place.

When she’s gone, Curtis turns his attention to the wine, sniffing the rim of his glass like we’re in the south of France. “Is this from one of those little vineyards in Virginia—over in the sticks?”

“I have no idea, Dad. I bought it at the Giant because I like the picture on the label.”

He squints at a cartoon kangaroo bounding across the bottle. “You’re right. It’s cute, isn’t?”

“So, are you just dropping by, Curtis?” asks Anna.

I could have stood here all night sipping wine without asking him what he was doing here, but my wife has gone and blown it, and for some reason I feel like we’ve just lost a battle of wills. Women don’t understand these things. The bag itself was really just a prop to get one of us to ask him if he’s OK.

Classic Curtis Violet.

He sees his opening, of course, and embraces it. “Not exactly. I have some news. A lot of news, as a matter of fact.” He looks out from our kitchen at the rest of our ground floor, assessing things. We still hardly have any furniture, and most of what we do have was put together by me, incompetently, from a box.

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