Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Wife [A Scene]

The Wife

Sam Roll’s wife had these false teeth that would clatter around and nearly fly out of her face when she talked. I guess this was in the days before the invention of that adhesive stuff. And she talked a lot. Your eyes jittered watching her rattle on about something, waiting for that big pile of teeth to leap out at you, as from a skeleton.
Amazingly, it never happened, and so you’d look at her hair. It sat atop her head like a wiry black crow’s nest. Or a lopsided jumbo pot-scrubber, and not a brand new one. She rarely blinked, and her small bright eyes seemed constantly amazed, like poultry. I was a kid, and so she reminded me of a big friendly chicken. A cackling henwoman.
And her name was Polly. Mrs Polly Roll. Wife of Sam.

The Rolls lived three houses down from us, to the west. They had a tree out front, close to the sidewalk, and at a certain time of year, millions of little aphids would congregate in a single V-shaped section. It became a seething green clump, and I would take a stick and knock it down. Then I would ride back and forth over them with my bike for a while.

You could walk into the Roll’s house anytime of the day, without knocking. Not the front door though, only the screen one in the back. And so I would.

I loved the inside of the Roll’s place. They had two things I had never seen in a house before. The first was in the kitchen, where, instead of normal chairs around a table, there was a bench built right into the wall. A bench. So I would love to sit on the bench seat because then it was like you were in a restaurant, and Mrs Roll would make breakfast.

The way she made breakfast was to make a hole in the piece of toast, and then inside there was a fried egg. And at the Roll’s house, butter always tasted more buttery. Sometimes Mr Roll would also have breakfast, but not always. And sometimes my sister would be with me and we would both be served the restaurant-style toasted egg.

The second thing their house had, was a piano. Right there in the living room. And I had always thought that pianos were only on television and in schools. Once I asked about the piano because I wanted someone to play it, but Mrs Roll said that she couldn’t.

My dad worked, but Sam Roll did not work because he was so old. So we would do stuff together, when I was not in school. For instance, he would fix my bike’s chain, or one time we went and talked to the old man down the street who collected beer bottles. His garage did not have room for a car because it was so full of beer bottles from everywhere in the world. I was told to never go into the garage if the door happened to be left open, because if I broke a bottle, everyone would be mad. Some days I helped Mr Roll work in the big garden, because they seemed to grow everything they ate, except eggs, I guess.

My dad liked Mr Roll because they would do stuff together when they could. Mostly, they would fish.

One day they were sitting out on our back porch, smoking cigarettes amidst the chirping sounds coming from the guitar that my dad had nailed to the top corner of our house, way up high. He had taken the strings off, and put it there, and it was full of birds.

Sam Roll and my dad were talking about something, and I was close by, just listening.

At one point, Sam Roll said “Yeah. The wife and I are planning to.....”

I forget the rest of the sentence, because my head had snapped up and was stuck on hearing the phrase “the wife and I” which he had uttered. I was such a meticulously sensitive kid that the slightest strangeness in things heard or observed, startled me. As this phrase did.

I guess I had never thought of Mrs Roll as a “the”. It seemed to me as though there was something wrong with calling her “the wife”, even though I had been thinking of her as sort of a big chicken myself. Still, I guess that even as a kid, I would have thought it more proper for him to refer to her as “my wife” rather than “the wife”. I may have even had an inkling that “my” sort of meant that this was indeed one aspect of who she was, but that “the” seemed to sound as though this was all she was.

And so, later on, when Mr Roll was three doors west, I asked my dad about it.

I said, “Dad, why did Mr Roll call his wife ‘the wife’? Do you call mom ‘the wife’”?

I think my dad just sort of stared at me for a long while. In all fairness, he did say something to me about it, but I completely forget what it was he said. And I know that at the time, his answer did not satisfy my curiosity.

Sometimes Polly would come over to our house and sit with my mom. More often, rather than sit, they would cook stuff, mostly bake bread. And they would chatter as though they had each just lain half a dozen eggs. In Polly’s case, her teeth were pretty much flying all over the room, always somehow coming to rest, back in her mouth.

I would watch her intently, my elbows on the table and face in hands, staring... waiting.

Just once I wanted to hear her use the phrase “the husband and I” in a sentence.

But she never did.

She always just called him Sam.

© Ciprianowords Inc. 2008

1 comment:

Beth said...

A wonderful glimpse of your childhood - and of your fascination (and skill) with language.

(And if it's fiction, still...)