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Sleeping with Ward Cleaver
By Jenny Gardiner Dorchester Publishing Copyright © 2008 Jenny Gardiner
All right reserved.
Chapter One In roughly four hours, I'm scheduled to have sex with Ward Cleaver.
Ward Cleaver? you ask?
You know the guy: bland gray cardigan with leather-patched elbows, perma-press slacks, stern countenance. Stick up his ass.
Of course, it's not the Ward Cleaver, of black-and-white sitcom fame. The one married to June, that doyenne of conjugal perfection (by contrast with whom I could well be considered the Antichrist). Father of the Beav and all-around curmudgeon. No, no, no. Heavens, no. He's probably dead, for all I know.
Instead, I can stake my claim as being doomed to yet another Sunday-night roll in the hay with my very own version of Ward Cleaver: my husband, Jack Doolittle, a guy who once wooed me with sweet words and kind actions, but who now is content to deluge me with dothises, don't-do-thats, and do-you-understands? Somewhere along the line he morphed from gentle lover into bossy father, and I didn't even see it happen.
Yep. Years ago I went to bed with the man of my dreams. Now I find myself sleeping with Ward Cleaver.
It's six o'clock on a Sunday night, and I'm staring Ward in the face. The pork roast is fresh from the oven, the potatoes tender and hot, the beans steamed to crisp green perfection, and Ward-I mean my husband Jack-is hard at work hollering at one of the kids for some minor infraction. Great. Another dinner ruined because old Wardy-boy is on the warpath.
"Cameron, I asked you to rake the leaves four days in a row, and again you haven't done it," he nags. "So now I'm grounding you for a week."
Granted, Cameron would sooner march off to war than perform expected chores around this household, but the time to inflict extreme punitive measures isn't after I've spent three hours toiling over this picture-perfect dinner that no one but Jack will even eat. I'm lucky enough to have dragged these kids to the table at the same time; I don't need unwanted contention to flush this happy family meal in a swirling rush down the commode of filial resentment.
"If I told you once I've told you a thousand times, don't play with your food."
He's yelling at Chrissy now, who is stuffing green beans into her nostrils so that she looks like a walrus. I think it's kind of funny and let out a laugh despite myself. Jack glares at me.
"Young lady, if I have to pull those green beans out of your nose-and Lindsay, get your elbows off the table. You're old enough to eat like a lady."
We interrupt this lovely family dinner for a one-man bitchfest, brought to you by Ward Cleaver.... Our pleasant Sunday-night supper, which began with happily chattering children, has now devolved into a behavioral sermon conducted by the high priest of killjoy.
"And, Claire, do you suppose you might someday choose to remember not to disturb me on my cell phone when I'm out golfing?"
Out golfing while I'm home dealing with the kids and those to-do lists they aren't to-doing.
"Jack," I say through gritted teeth. I absolutely detest strife and will do most anything to avoid it. Even sleep with Ward Cleaver. "If you-know-who wants you-know-what, then you-know-who had better back off. Now."
Yes, it's Sunday night. Mandatory-sex night. Fuck. No wonder I hate Sundays so damned much. After a week of serving as mistress to house, husband, children, and career, the last thing I want is to have Jack point that gun at my temple.
I don't know when sex went from being the most glorious thing imaginable to being a loathsome necessity, ranking up there alongside trench warfare or changing bedpans at a nursing home, but somewhere along the line sex went from self-serving to servitude, and nowadays I find my mood worsening the closer I get to Sunday night.
Don't get me wrong. I still love Jack. And it's not that I think Ward's such a bad guy. After all, he's probably the one I'd count on to bring home a steady income, or to set the kids straight if we found a bong or a gun or a creepy snuff film in one of their dresser drawers.
But sex? With Ward Cleaver? Spare me. Or maybe send Ward's young nemesis, Eddie Haskell, my way. Maybe what I really need is a bad boy to save the day.
Ten o'clock. All the kids are tucked into bed, though it's guaranteed that at least three of them will waft unwelcome into the room like the aroma of overripe Brie during the next half hour.
Jack keeps eyeing me salaciously; he's a young boy on Christmas morn coveting the twinkling tree and its pile of colorful gifts sheltered beneath its limbs. If you could consider me a twinkling tree, as weary and out of shape as I've become. I'm more like the tree after the Twelve Days of Christmas have drawn to a close, the relatives have all gone home, the credit card bills have come due, and every last hint of life has evaporated from the poor thing and the naked limbs are surrounded by its exhausted needles littering the ground.
Sometimes I wonder how Jack can even look forward to this weekly venture, as I freely admit that sex with me has become about as much fun as getting it on with a week-old cadaver. Trust me, this body sure isn't hot, and in fact could barely qualify as tepid. I've tried to suggest to Jack that God gave him hands for a reason, but he just doesn't seem to take the hint.
The first child to return to the fold tonight is five-year-old Matthew, whose grimy baseball cap, worn backward, has become a permanent fixture on the boy's head. Jack calls him Bubba because he thinks he looks like a truck driver in the hat.
"Bubba, what are you doing up?" I snap, dismayed he's not asleep. Clearly bedtime is considered optional around here.
He squints his eyes at me, the bright light scorching his dark-adjusted retinas. "My nose."
I take a quick glance at his nose, see no blood, and dismiss him readily. "Sweetie, there's nothing wrong with your nose. Now get back to bed."
Matthew starts to cry. "My nose!" He sticks the stubby tip of his pointer finger up his left nostril.
I glance over at Jack, who lies in bed without a care in the world, not even bothering to lift his eyes off the page he's reading, despite his son's plaintive sobs. Where are his Ward Cleaverish authoritative ways when I need them?
I notice that Bubba's clutching something in his right hand, and I peel open his fingers to uncover his cache. Resting in his sweaty palm is an elegant elbow-length lavender Barbie glove, the kind Barbie might wear to a state dinner. My son is staring at the glove and crying, all the while pointing at his nostril. I've always hated mimes; perhaps it's because I can't figure out what the hell they're trying to tell me. And I'm growing impatient with my little miming son.
I hear a soft knock on the door and look up to see Cameron silhouetted against the hallway light.
"Didja tell Mom yet, dopey?" Cameron enters the room and takes a tug at the sandy brown hair that's protruding from the adjustable strap of Bubba's cap. Bubba's eyes, as damp and dark as a tide pool at dusk, well up with tears of frustration.
"It is not okay to call your brother names," I say in a stern voice rich with unspoken threats. Then I realize Cam knows what's going on with his sibling. "All right. Confess. What's wrong with your brother?"
Cameron laughs above Matthew's wailing. "I'll give you a hint. You need pliers."
I see that Jack has donned a set of headphones, deliberately tuning out from this emerging crisis. His toe is tapping to the beat of whatever song he's escaped into. Probably Guy Lombardo. I could kill him.
"You two had better tell me what is going on before I count to ten," I say, then pull Matthew's hand into mine and drag him into the bathroom. I grab his chin and tip his head backward, using the light from the bathroom vanity to peer up the boy's nose, yet I see nothing.
"My nose, my nose," Bubba insists, tears wetting my hands that are still clutching his face.
I rifle through my Drawer of Excess in the bathroom, the clatter of inhabitants contained therein mocking me, reminding me of the complete disorganization that is a hallmark of my life. Finally I find the flashlight I'm searching for, buried behind the stash of condoms (long past their recommended shelf life), Band-Aid wrappers (which the kids refuse to dispose of properly), Vaseline, rusted safety pins, fingernail scissors, dental floss, wheat pennies, sullied cotton balls, and old tweezers, the ones I just can't throw away even though their tips no longer meet. I lean Bubba's head back again, shining the light up his nose.
"Aha, now I get it," I say, finally in on the secret.
Wedged deep into the recesses of the boy's tiny nostril is a lavender blob reminiscent of its mate, the one awaiting Barbie's White House dinner invitation in my son's tiny palm. Now that I've gotten to the bottom of this, I'm really angry.
"Matthew Joseph Doolittle. What in the hell are you doing with a Barbie glove up your nose?" I have this little problem with angry-mother-gutter-mouth syndrome. One time Cameron's teacher reprimanded him for saying the word darn in class, and he nonchalantly told her that his mother said far worse than that at home. It's a wonder Child Protective Services hasn't knocked on my door.
I turn to Cam. "And Cameron: A) How did you know that your brother stuck this up his nose? And B) Why did I have to discover this on my own while you insisted on playing twenty questions with me?"
His boyishly innocent pale blue eyes tug at my weak-willed heart. "Well, he was supposed to be asleep-"
"Yeah, and so were you."
"I went into his room to find the cat, and I found Bubba crying in the dark," he says.
"I want Dolly Llama," Matthew pipes in, sobbing now about the damned cat. Everyone fights over sleeping rights with that cat, who I'm convinced has mystical powers far beyond those of any normal household pet. How else would she know to run from me the minute she coughs up a hairball or pees on the living room carpet?
"So, let me get this straight," I say, then pause to peer out the bathroom door and again look at Jack, buried obliviously in some no doubt extremely engrossing biography, and want to smack him one. As horny as he might be, he'd rather check himself out of daddy duties and relax for a few minutes than help resolve this bedtime headache, even if his own sexual gratification is in the offing.
"Jack, do you think you could reenter the world of parentdom?" I ask.
"Huh?" He looks over at me, peering above his half-moon reading glasses. My God, he couldn't look more Ward Cleaver if he were sternly lecturing Wally and the Beaver right now. "D' you say something, dear?"
I roll my eyes in frustration and instead snap at the children in a cruel reversal of the old phrase, Love the one you're with: a sort of anger paradox.
Shining the flashlight up Matthew's nostril again, I can tell the glove is shoved deeply enough up there that it isn't going to easily just blow out, so I decide to resort to plan B.
"Grrrrrrr." I reach into the Drawer of Excess and dig for the random tweezers stash. I knew they would come in handy one day. I find an individual alcohol swab, clean the tip of a pair of blunted tweezers, and lean Bubba's head back yet again.
"Oooh, Mom, can I do that?" Cameron loves blood and gore. Once, when one of his sisters got stitches, he stood just inches away from the surgeon's needle, staring in awe as her forehead was sewn shut. The chance for permanent injury enchants him all the more.
"Dammit, Cameron, hold the flashlight, and not another word out of you." I reach precariously up Matthew's nose-I never realized how small those little booger alleys can be-and gingerly guide the tweezers northward.
"Ooooooowwwwww," Bubba yells as I whip the tweezers back out, hoping I didn't pierce his brain or anything. I'm not so up on human anatomy as to know where the nose ends and the brain begins.
"Hold still and let me try again." This time I'm successful, and extract the gummed-up and slightly bloodied glove from the recesses of his nasal cavity.
"Hurrah for Mommy!" Matthew jumps up and down as Cameron leans in to inspect the surgical remains.
"Now, boys," I snarl. "I want those damn butts of yours in bed by the count of three-"
They flee before I can get the threat of punishment out. But all of a sudden I shut up as I realize the sad truth: I am just as much June as Jack is Ward. I am June goddamned Cleaver with a sailor's mouth. I'm no longer sweet young Claire Doolittle, Pan Am flight attendant. I am not Claire Mooney, cheerful and peppy former college cheerleader. I am not Claire anybody. I'm a cookie-cutter nagging, middle-aged mother-slash-sexless housewife, fighting a date with destiny: sex with Ward Cleaver and eventual death and burial as a washed-up has-been of a woman. How depressing.
Excerpted from Sleeping with Ward Cleaver by Jenny Gardiner Copyright © 2008 by Jenny Gardiner. Excerpted by permission.
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