A Short Story by Joe Phipps
Today I ran errands. I usually run the errands and my wife usually does the chores, except for cooking. She doesn’t run errands because she believes that, if one commutes to work like she does, it is bad luck to stray from one’s established route for any reason. She does not cook because she never learned how. She never learned how because she claims to be afraid of certain vegetables. I find this hard to believe but, in our five years of marriage, she has maintained her position on the matter even though she is fine with eating most of the feared vegetables when they are undetectably added to her meals.
However, the one vegetable to never enter the house: onions.
Once I asked, “What is so much more horrid about onions than any other vegetable that you are afraid of?”
My wife responded, “There is nothing so much more horrid about onions than carrots or beets or any other vegetable.”
“Then why are you so much more afraid of them that they cannot even come into the house. You are fine with other vegetables if I disguise their presence well enough?”
“It is not accurate to say that I am afraid of onions. Onions are like wolves. I find that most people do not have an accurate understanding of wolves. And, while most people are not afraid of wolves, and really why should they be, these same people would not willingly let a wolf into their home,” she said.
“I think that a pet wolf would be nice to have in the house. If we let it come and go when it wanted it could keep me company while you work, and keep deer out of the yard at night,” I said.
“If I cannot have a cat you cannot have a wolf either.”
“I’m allergic to cats, but okay. No onions.”
That was on Monday, and on Sunday I did the errands. I went to the grocery store, bought my usual assortment of food, and picked up a large bag of birdseed for the neighbor’s chickens. I told him that I thought he wasn’t feeding them enough because they look far too skinny. He told me to stop bothering him about his own birds.
I said, “I am not trying to preach anything to you about how to take care of birds that aren’t my pets. It’s not like they are your pet either, and I guess you can raise your food however you like, but in my opinion your rooster looks more like a parrot than a chicken given how skinny it looks.”
This was an exaggeration that made him very upset with me and he told me that if I cared so much about the birds I could go out and buy food to feed them myself, which I decided to do so I could watch him pop a blood vessel when I walk into his yard.
After that I went to city hall to pay our water bill. Outside were a couple of kids playing baseball. One girl hit the ball so hard that it went flying over a fence separating the field they were playing in from an apartment complex. It wasn’t really that far, but the kids had looks on their faces like she had hit that ball hard enough to create a sonic boom, and the ball had burnt up trying to leave the atmosphere. To them it was enough to pack up and go home for the day. The score up to that point had been forgotten, and in a team sport that one girl was recognized as the singular winner.
The sun was in the middle of the sky and all that was left to do errand-wise was to stop by my friend Georgie’s house to return his toolkit. I needed it to fix one of the doors after I accidentally bust it down moving in a new bed frame. My wife was concerned about the cold air killing us and demanded that I fix it that day despite loaning my tools to her brother to fix a window in his kitchen. He did not have his tools because he had loaned them to a friend who’d loaned someone his tools, and so on to the point that I am beginning to think that no one owns tools. Instead they just exist in a constant state of being used by someone who didn’t buy them.
When I got to Georgie’s he was already outside stripping the metal off a broken-down truck that had sat in his driveway for years. He was shirtless and covered in sweat. His entire upper body was pink from a fresh sunburn, and his black hair was greasy. When I pulled into the driveway, he ran over to my car and said, “I was hoping you’d stop by soon. I want to talk to you about this plan I got. I know a way that we can both get set up real nice once I get my hands on some bees.”
I responded, “I’m not exactly sure what you are trying to get at.”
“There is no way that this can go wrong man. I know that you don’t really know nothing about bees, but you got to trust me that this can really be something worth the money, and I want you to be a part of it.”
“How exactly is this supposed to work?” I asked.
Georgie said, “Its real simple man. All I gotta do is go and buy some bees and build them little bee homes for cheap, and then they start making honey like it is no one’s business, and there are plenty of suckers out there that’ll pay big bucks for honey if you tell them it is straight out of the bees’ ass and you treated the little buzzers nice. And I do intend to treat them nice. I’m going to make them little houses out of bean cans, and that is where you come in, because I went ahead and did the math on all of this and for the number of bees that I intend to buy the most cost effective way to build the houses is to use old bean cans. So, while I am out taking care of the bees, I need you to start eating beans up a storm so I can keep making them houses. And make sure that you actually eat them and not just throw them out because food waste is a real problem man.”
“How many cans of beans are we talking, Georgie?”
He said, “I don’t know. Couple a day at the start, but you should be able to slow down eventually.”
“Okay,” I said. “I got to go then. Here are your tools back. I lost a screwdriver somehow under my house. It rolled under while I was working, and I’m not going onto that snake-pit to get it. If you want to get yourself bitten you can go down there and look for it, but I don’t do snakes.”
I parted ways with Georgie and drove off back to the store to stock up on beans.
Back at the store I thought about what I was going to cook for dinner and decided that it was going to be something with onions in it to prove a point.
When I got home first, I fed the neighbor’s chickens, and then I made me and my wife two separate meals. I made her a meatloaf where I diced the onion up so small, and put so little in it that there was no way for her to notice I had slipped them in. At the dinner table I served it to her while I ate beans directly out of the can to avoid dirtying more dishes. When she asked me why I was eating something different than her I told her I was doing a favor for Georgie.
“You shouldn’t just accept everything he says like it’s always right,” she said.
“But he’s usually right. He was right about the weather. He was right about what times are best to go to the grocery store, and he was right about what horse we should have bet on at the fair. If we’d listened to him, we could spend all day wasting time like he does ripping apart machinery and partying.”
“Those are things you want to spend all day doing. Most days I want to drive to work and back. I don’t really like the job, but I like going to and from it. There are several stores on the way there that I always look through the windows of as I pass to see the decorations the owners have put up. And there is a hayfield that I think about how it might be nice to disappear into. In the summer an old farmer goes through it and bails it all up. Sometimes he smiles at me like he recognizes me,” she said.
“Those things do sound pretty nice,” I said.
“Did you put something different in the meatloaf?”
“I don’t like it. What is it?” she asked.
“Chives. My mother said to put them in.”
“Lair,” she said before taking a loud drink of water.
“Onions,” I said.
She took another bite and chewed it slowly. “I understand,” she said.
“I can make you another one if you want,” I offered.
“No, this one is fine,” she said as she continued eating, “but we are going to have to talk about things when I get done.”
“Things like divorce?” I asked.
“Yes, and other things like, is there any alcohol in the house?”
“We still have the bottle of wine we bought for your birthday that we never opened.”
“Good. I feel like opening it tonight.”
“That seems like a good idea. Do you plan on running away with that elderly farmer?”
“I might. If I do be prepared to get dressed up nice for the wedding, because I am going to need a maid of honor. We’ll probably get married in the fall, in the middle of his hayfield where we first met. That to me seems appropriately romantic for a second marriage. You can even bring Georgie if you want, as long as you promise that he will clean himself up. Do you think that the farmer is allergic to cats too? How unlucky would it be for me to find myself smitten by two men in a row allergic to cats? It would make me think that love and cats are completely incompatible,” she said.
“I’m not sure that smitten is the right word for it. Smitten implies something divine or forceful, and I don’t really remember it happening like that. I just remember I was here, and you were here too, and it just made sense to us to be here together. That just doesn’t feel like anyone was smitten,” I said.
“I suppose you are right, but even if I wasn’t smitten, I still think love’s an accurate word for it,” she said.
“I agree, and maybe you actually will be smitten with love by your farmer. Assuming he is not allergic to cats, what do you think you will name it?” I said.
“I am thinking of something like Turkey. I like it when animals are named for animals they are not. I think it confuses people in a good way,” she said.
“That sounds like a great name for a cat.” I said.
“And once Georgie goes and makes you rich enough to do whatever you want, what will you name your wolf?” she said.
“I think I like the name Lawrence,” I said as I began collecting her empty plate.
“Lawrence is a good name for a wolf,” she said.
Joe Phipps is a writer from Logan County, West Virginia, an MFA Candidate at Syracuse University, and a lover of comic books.