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Home Depot

Robert Oldshue

You know how it is. You think you’re married, you’re married to Albie forty-two, what is  it, forty-three years, so at least you know Albie. Right?  

But one day, we’re upstairs, we’re lying in bed because it’s Saturday and it’s July and  everybody else is out mowing grass, but we’re retired so what do we care? We’re lying  there, and the phone rings. Albie, I say, get up and get it because it’s our daughter Chris  and she’s going to ask me about the baby. (She’s forty but it’s her first, so she’s acting  like she’s twenty, she’s acting like she’s three. “I felt a kick, I felt it here, I felt it there.  You think the baby could be breech? You think the baby could be something else?”)  Mother of God! I’ll give her a kick if she calls me again. Get up and get the phone, Albie.  Get it downstairs so I don’t have to hear (which will never work in a thousand-million  years because I’m lying there listening to Albie as he listens to Chris). “Oh Chris,” I hear  him say, and I’m lying there, I’m thinking, Oh Chris what? I’ll split if I don’t find out.  And then the house splits. BAM! It’s the furnace. It bangs when it comes on. BAM!  BAM! BAM! I’ve been telling Albie for two years. I’m halfway down the stairs when I  remember, it’s July, it’s hot, so it can’t be the furnace. It’s Albie. I can see him in the  kitchen. He’s banging the phone on the wall. What’s he doing that for? I’m asking until  he turns and says he can’t tell me; he can’t tell anybody. “Call Chris,” he says, but I tell  him, how can I; you broke the f-ing telephone.  

Excuse me. But you say what you have to say.  

And you let your man cry. You let him cry at funerals, weddings, all the other stuff.  Fine. I tell Albie he can cry, and then I tell him he can stop. That’s enough, Albie. You  take what God gives you and do what you can. So who has it any different? “The amnio  was positive.” He says it like it’s my fault. He says it like this time he can’t stop crying;  he’ll never stop. So I tell him, so? So, the baby’s going to look funny? So, the baby’s  going to act funny? So, the baby’s going to grow up and be a kid that people notice at the  shopping mall? Aren’t you tough enough? Aren’t you man enough? I’m breaking up  inside while I’m saying this, but I’m saying it because men get to work when they want  and rest when they want and cry when they want. It’s been that way a long time and it’ll  stay that way a long time more. There’s no point in starving, I say finally, and while he’s  eating the breakfast I make, I’m calling from the phone in the living room, and the line’s busy, and it’s busy again, and then I’m talking to Chris, and I’m saying, “Chris,” and  she’s saying, “Ma,” and I’m breaking up in places I never knew I had. I’m noticing every  breath as I take it, and I’m telling her, you think you know, but you don’t know. You  don’t know me. You don’t know your father. When this baby comes, we’ll give you  whatever help, whatever money, whatever anything. Stop crying, I say, but I’m crying  when I say it, and Albie, he never stopped crying. We’re playing ping-pong. I’m on the  phone, he’s on the phone, me, him, me, him. We’re crying, and Chris is crying, and after  a while, there isn’t any point, so we hang up and go to the kitchen and make a list. Things  To Do To Get Ready. Number One: fix the telephone. Number Two: fix the wall. I’m  saying it, and Albie’s writing it, and we’re looking at what we’re doing and we’re  laughing, of course. We’re saying we’ve got the kitchen to paint, so we might as well  paint the dining room, so we might as well paint the living room too. The dining room is  peach, and Albie loves it, and I hate it, and the living room is parchment, and guess what?  I love it, and Albie hates it. “Let bygones be bygones,” he says. “I can live with  parchment. After this morning I can live with anything.” So we’re looking at a sheet from  Home Depot, it’s got white, it’s got pale white, bright white, off white, every kind of  white. It’s got a color that’s kind of half-peach, half-parchment, and guess what? It’s my  sister. She’s on the telephone. She’s like radar, this one. She’s like something the  government should put on a satellite. She asks me, what’s the matter? And I tell her about  the paint but she can hear it in my voice. “You’re crying about paint?” she says. So I tell  her, and she’s the oldest, so she tells me not to worry. “There’s all kinds of retards,” she  says. “There’s bad retards and not so bad, and there’s retards you wouldn’t know were  retards if you didn’t ask. There’s a retard on television, or there used to be. These days,  they got retards doing everything.” My sister isn’t Shakespeare, but she’s a good f-ing  sister.  

Excuse me. But you say what you have to say.  

And I do what my sister tells me. I call Chris. I tell her, you and Kenny, go some  place, any place. Albie gives them fifty dollars, and they go to dinner or a movie. Maybe  they stay home, I don’t know. But we see them at church the next morning, and one by  one, people go over. They talk to Chris. They give her a hug, and they say a little  something to Kenny, and you can see how much he’s changed in just a day. He’ll make  it. They both will. It’s beautiful. Holy, that’s the word. And guess what? The next day is  Monday, so Albie goes to work. He’s retired but he still goes to the shop on Mondays to  see if he can make a little trouble. He stays a few hours and comes home, and I’m doing  what I always do. Nothing. Oh, I might read the paper. I might watch television. Anyway,  he comes home, and I’m watching Judge Judy. There’s a guy with two wives and the first wife is telling the judge and the second wife what a louse the guy was, how he never took  her any place, and when he did, he made her pay. “Cheap date,” I say. And Albie says,  “What do you mean cheap?” And I say, “I mean I’m watching the program and saying  what the program says.” But he says, “You’re saying fifty dollars was cheap. You’re  saying I should have given Chris and Kenny a hundred. Well, next time marry a  Rockefeller. Doncha got a house? Doncha got food and clothes and that television?  Doncha?” He’s saying the word like it’s a swear word, and I’m saying it back—I’m  making a face while I’m saying it—and he’s saying I should do something to myself I  won’t repeat. I might as well do it since you can’t do it anymore. (Mother of God, why do  I say these things?) He’s yelling, and I’m yelling, and before you know it, the kids are on  the phone—Marie, my oldest, and Carmine, my youngest, and Lucille and Anthony, and  Chris, of course. She’s talking like Judge Judy. She’s talking like Oprah Winfrey. She’s  talking like she’s never had a problem in her life. Oh no, not her. “Come on!” she says.  Can you believe it? I hang up and walk to the door, and there’s Albie. He’s got his coat.  It’s ninety-five degrees, and he’s got his coat and his hat, and he’s got his suitcase. He’s  leaving for the ‘Y’ like he’s always leaving for the ‘Y.’ He’ll never do it because there  are gays at the ‘Y,’ as if they’d waste their time on Albie.  



“Get in here.”  


“I’m worried.”  


“So, get in here,” I say.  

And when I tell him Chris is acting like nothing happened, he says, maybe it didn’t:  “A – B – O – R – T – I – O – N.” He’s looking at me and saying this. And it’s like peeing  with somebody watching. I can spell but I can’t do it with somebody spelling right at me.  I’m saying the letters and counting them on my fingers. “That isn’t spelling, that’s  counting,” he says, and then I get it, and I’m walking to the kitchen. I’m looking at the  kitchen table. I’m seeing the sheet from Home Depot. Home Depot. I say it like I  discovered Relativity. I say it like he better do what I tell him or we’ll all burn in hell  (which we would, by the way). I tell him to get the paint. I tell him he’s going, so Chris is  going, so she can look at the patio chairs she needs but says she doesn’t. “Tell her I’m  getting the chairs whether she wants them or not, so she might as well tell me what she  likes. Tell her it’s a surprise,” I say. So we’re all set. Albie picks her up. They drive to  Home Depot, and the rest of it I can picture. I’ve been there about a thousand-million times. They go to the Paint Department and tell the guy they want something between  peach and parchment, and the guy gives them a look. He pulls out a color, it’s the color  of raw hamburger. I’m serious. And guess what? Albie buys it to make the guy feel good.  Eight gallons. Our house looks like it’s been inspected by the U.S. Department of  Agriculture. Anyway, they can’t carry eight gallons, not the two of them. The guy gets a  cart, and while they’re pushing it to Garden and Patio, Albie does what Albie always  does. He sees some batteries; he puts them in the cart. He sees an extension cord. That’s  right, in the cart. Two or three, why not? He’s got masking tape, duct tape, four bottles of  Crazy Glue and a window shade—he’s got a doorknob. What’s he doing with a  doorknob? He’s walking along, having a fine time until they get where they’re going and  he remembers and he’s crying so bad Chris tells him to sit in a chair. It’s one of those  tables with four chairs and an umbrella in the middle of the table, and Albie’s sitting in  one chair and Chris is sitting in another chair (she’s pregnant, remember). Anyway,  they’re sitting, and Albie’s crying, and one of the girls asks what’s the matter, and Chris  tells her, and she says there’s a lady in Flooring who had a Down’s kid. “Eileen in  Flooring, extension 406, Eileen in Flooring.” But Eileen isn’t there. Whoever calls says  she isn’t working but there’s another guy. “Dave in Electrical, extension 406, Dave in  Electrical.” And this guy comes over. He’s nice, I guess. He doesn’t have a kid with  Down’s; he’s got a nephew with diabetes, but who cares? The girl sits with Chris, the guy  with Albie. They’re sitting at the umbrella table like they’re having margaritas. And  guess what? The manager comes along. “Get to work,” he says. “What the hell?” he says.  He’s complaining until Chris tells him what’s happening, and then he feels so bad he tells  Albie to just take the table and all the stuff in the cart—no charge—and he even helps tie the table to the car.  

“What’s that?” I say when they pull in.  

“It’s a table,” says Albie.  

“What’s it for?”  

“It’s for sitting at.”  

And he shows me the chairs and the umbrella. He shows me the batteries and the  window shade. He shows me a step stool. He tells me it’s for standing on and reaching  things. I know all about stepstools. Did you ask her? “Ask me what,” says Chris. And  that’s it. Chris is calling me a meddler, and I’m calling her a murderer, and Albie, he’s  walking around with the umbrella. He gets it off the car, and he opens it, and he can’t get  it closed. He looks like Mary Poppins; he looks like he might start singing or maybe  dancing. And the Rizzos, they never miss a show. They’re sitting on their porch, and  they’re watching until I walk across the street and take my shoe off like I’m going to throw it. I’m telling Patty Rizzo to keep her dog out of my yard. I’ll poison him if she  doesn’t.  

And guess what?  

Five months later, there’s the baby. He’s got the funny ears, the funny eyes, the funny  fingers—we’re a mess all over again.  

But guess what else?  

Bing-bong! There’s Patty with lasagna. There’s the Lawlers with a pie. There are  people we don’t even know asking if they can do things. It’s like I tell Albie, you don’t  know anything, Albie, not until it happens, Albie.  

And Albie—we’re married forty-two, what is it, forty-three years, and Albie might  have changed a light bulb. He might have opened a window if I told him I wouldn’t get  up and do it for him. He paints, but I have to get it all ready. I have to clean it up at the  end. The only time Albie helps is when you wish he was doing something else, so I tell  him, Albie, we’ve got a baby here, go in the basement and find something to keep you  busy, which he does. He’s down there a week, a couple of weeks. He’s down there so  long I get to wondering. What’s he doing in the basement? “Nothing,” he says. What’s he  doing at Home Depot? “Nothing,” he says. But he’s going there. He’s buying stuff. He’s  got a list. It says 2×4’s, 4×4’s, this kind of nail, that kind of nail, every kind of nail. He’s  got enough stuff to build a house. He’s got enough stuff to build every house on the  street. What’s he building? “Noah’s Ark,” he says. But I know. It’s the table, the one with  the umbrella in the middle. Chris doesn’t want it, and he can’t bring it back, and he can’t  throw it out. “It’s new,” he says. “It’s nice.” So he’s making a deck to put it on. Once the  weather breaks, he’s out in the back working until one day he asks me to take a look. So I  ask him, what’s this? Where’d it come from? And when he tells me, I make like I don’t  believe him. “Drop dead,” I say. “Drop dead yourself,” he says. So we get the table. We  put it on the deck, and we get the margaritas. We sit there and drink until we’re stupid  and one of these days, we’ll do it again. We’ll do it with the Rizzos and the Lawlers.  We’ll do it with Chris and Kenny once the baby’s settled and life’s not so f-ing crazy.  

Excuse me. But you say what you have to say.