He bought the chicken to make Kathy happy. It would be like before. He’d make his special sauce from ketchup and brown sugar. It could be the two of them together, watching the game. Or Bill and Meg could come over. But when he got home from the store, Kath was mad again, scrubbing the bathroom floor with her little frayed toothbrush.
“It never comes clean,” Kath muttered, her teeth clenched.
Jerry put the chicken in a bowl in the back of the refrigerator. He could tell Kath had done a sweep of the kitchen again. His eggs were gone; so was the seaweed salad he’d meant to have for lunch one day this week.
Jerry trudged to the basement. He could hear Kath opening and slamming the metal doors of the dryer. Best to keep out of her way.
The game. He dug the remote out of his recliner. There were Frito’s around here somewhere, he knew. He found them. He chewed. Stale, but good. The crunching echoed in his ear, drowning out the commentators on TV, drowning out Kath’s movements upstairs. Jerry reached over for the stuffed Tasmanian devil toy he had picked up at a yard sale a few months ago. Its crazy eyes looked past him. Its tongue lolled in its fanged mouth. Jerry tugged at the tuft of fuzz on Taz’s head. The day he’d brought it home Kath yelled at him, like she always did, about junk. But this one wasn’t junk. He would save it for when Brice and Caroline brought the baby over. He’d give it to the baby. It was perfect for the baby.
Brice and Caroline never came over anymore. Kath would plead on the phone.
“I’m working on cleaning the place up—the baby will be safe,” she would say.
Brice always had an excuse. A work thing. Caroline’s allergies. All the dust, you know; it’s not you; it’s the cat you used to have. Caroline can’t handle any residual cat dander. And the baby was showing symptoms of the same allergies.
Kath would wail at Jerry.
“Don’t you care that you never get to see your own grandson?”
Jerry did care. That’s why he’d buy things, just in case. This week at the Salvation Army on MLK Jr. Drive he’d found a whole box of those little baby sleepers, the tags still on.
“Brice’s baby—he’ll love these,” Jerry had said. “Keep his feet warm at night, see? I used to have ones like this when I was a kid. Red, though. With grippers on the bottom so you don’t slip?”
“The baby’s a boy, Jerry,” Kath said. “These are pink. And they’re too small. Six months? The baby will be a year old soon. Take them back.”
“Salvation Army doesn’t do returns,” Jerry said. “We should save them. Brice and Caroline might have another baby. Maybe a girl.”
Jerry finished the Fritos. He tucked the bag down into the crevices of the recliner. He was still hungry. There was that chicken upstairs. But maybe he would surprise Kath with dinner tomorrow. She would come home from work and he would have it all ready, served up on those new plates he had picked up from where the people on Firth Street got evicted. Perfectly good plates. The blue willow kind, each one a different picture. His favorite was the one with an old house on it, trees, children dancing in a meadow. In an upstairs window, a ghost. It only had three little chips. Still perfectly good. He would have to remember where he stashed those plates. Not in the kitchen. No room. Maybe in the den, in one of the crates. Maybe there.
Upstairs, the screen door slammed.
“Kath?” Jerry called.
No answer. She must be going out. Going to the store for something. He turned the TV down, strained to listen for the sound of the truck tires crunching on the gravel driveway.
The screen door slammed again. He heard Kath stomping through the house, rustling things.
“Kath?” Jerry called again. “You’re not moving stuff around up there, are you? I need to know where everything is.”
Kathy appeared at the top of the stairs.
“I’m out, Jerry,” she said.
“Out of what?” Jerry said.
“Out. I’m gone. I’m going. I didn’t touch any of your stuff. I just got my clothes and some of the things from the bathroom. Nothing of yours. I’m going to Meg’s tonight. Don’t try to talk me out of it, because this is too much. I’ve decided.”
“What are you saying?”
“You can have the house. I don’t want it.”
“What about the truck? Are you taking the truck?”
“I’m not. Meg’s coming to get me. She’ll be here any minute.”
“How are you going to get to work without the truck?”
“I’ll figure it out,” Kath said. “I need you to let me be for awhile.”
“If that’s what you want. Is that what you want?”
A car horn sounded outside, two sharp honks.
“That’ll be Meg,” Kathy said. She shut the door to the basement, leaving Jerry alone. He was still clutching the Tasmanian devil. It had a little rip under its arm. The polyester stuffing was starting to escape. He pushed it back in. It was still a good toy. He’d bought it for the baby. The baby would still like it.
When the city officials came with the citation stating that the house violated city ordinances, Jerry vowed to be cooperative. He would accept help. He would downsize. He let them take the crates from the den. The baby clothes. The mountain of books he’d purchased from the friends of the library sale.
The cleaners and organizers were shocked when Jerry wouldn’t let them in the kitchen. They found him clutching a metal bowl of putrid chicken legs, long rotten.
“At least let me keep the bones,” Jerry said, his face ironed of any feeling. “They were for my wife.”
Photograph by: Whitney Ott
Written by: Dot Dannenberg