But, I Digress
After Blythe sashayed off to bed I watched a final dreary inning of baseball on TV. A few minutes later I switched off the game and padded down the hall toward the guest bathroom, a prudent step before retiring for the evening. We go barefoot around the house because the tiles feel so splendidly flat under our feet, and it saves on the need to buy new socks in these unending difficult economic times.
Fortunately, when I walked down the hall past the bedroom door, she called out, “Hey, Hon, turn on the fan please.”
Blythe calls me Hon a lot, which worries me some. I remember when the kids on the school chess team at school called me Coach, and I sometimes thought they’d forgotten my name even though Mr. Chosowalskowski is not all that difficult to remember. Be that as it may, for whatever reason, I’m Hon to Blythe.
My first thought was, if she had worn one of the sheer negligees I have given her over the years she wouldn’t need the fan. But that topic had already been explored on a recent Sunday ride to Costco.
“I prefer cotton jammies,” she had said. She stared out the car window without a word for ten minutes. “Feels so soft on the skin,” she added, finally finishing her thought. With no decent rebuttal, I let it alone.
Also, I couldn’t help but note Blythe had tacked on the magic word please in her request for me to turn on the fan—a word my mother had drummed into my head as a child—and, I confess with some pride, a word I had readily mastered by the time I graduated college. I’m quite certain many wives wouldn’t bother with such civility at that late hour.
For example, I’m positive Cynthia Branfevervogue, a neighbor lady just across the street, and down one house, has never used the word please in her life. We invited the Branfevervogues to dinner one time, and the first thing she said, while I was still unfolding my napkin was, “Pass the mashed potatoes, damn it.” The dinner party went downhill from there.
Hoping to maintain Blythe’s polite, upbeat attitude, I detoured into the bedroom to turn on the fan. But my eyes were still adjusting to the dark so I switched on the hall light. Now, able to see, I turned on the fan before starting down the hall to pee and brush my teeth. I can only imagine the dire consequences if I had continued on my mission in total darkness.
Six feet in front of me, squarely in the middle of the hall, I noticed a slight movement, a mere twitch of fluorescent muscle and sinew. At first I surmised it just a shadow, a wandering moonbeam kissing the floor; or perhaps it was the stray chunk of belly button lint I’d misplaced a few days earlier and had been searching for; or at the very worst, a harmless house spider. Surely it was a roaming moonbeam—belly button lint—or house spider—nothing more.
Unable to make a proper diagnosis, I retreated to the darkened living room and retrieved my glasses, momentarily fumbling tentatively on the end table for them as if blindfolded and inching my toes out the pirate’s plank jutting over an angry sea.
I returned to the hallway for a second more deliberate look and straight away recognized the danger lurking there in a cunning pose of nonchalance. A scorpion sat quietly, a sly, premeditated scowl plastered on its face, ready to strike. It was the first time I’d ever seen one in the wild, and there was no question it had staged a bald ambush, and was more than willing to unleash its terrible fury on the bottom of my bare foot.
I gathered my meager store of courage, and called for Blythe to come take a gander. A second opinion before starting a war is always a good idea, unless, I take it, you‘re Vladimir Putin or Little Rocket Man.
“Blythe,” I called. “We have company.”
Always ready to greet visitors, invited or not, Blythe popped out of bed without complaint and joined me as I studied the situation.
“Oh, my,” she said. Her happy squeal of recognition bordered on the kinship usually found only at airport arrival gates.
Not having a brick at hand, I grabbed one of Blythe’s nearby sandals, deliberately left where I might stumble over them in my nightly meanderings in the general direction of the toilet. Without any verbal or written warning, I bent over and gave the invader a good whack. The scorpion flattened out, and the scimitar it carried arched over its back straightened out behind it like the tail of a wild horse galloping toward a steaming pile of winter hay.
“Bravo!” Blythe called out. “You’ve flattened him.”
“Serves him right,” I muttered, grateful for the support.
A dreadful silence followed; I raised the sandal for the coup de grâce, but since I didn’t hear any whimpers of pain, cries for mercy, or struggles for a last breath I assumed it had been properly dispatched. I waited a few more seconds just to make sure it wasn’t playing dead like one of those evil characters in paperback crime novels.
While I was considering these and other important philosophical matters, Blythe, determined to keep the floors clean no matter how late the hour, fearlessly scooped up the scorpion’s remains in her trusty dustpan before I could conduct a proper post mortem.
“That’s that,” she said with a knowing smile. “Off to bed. See you in the morning. Oh, who won the game?” I so admire her ability to stay on course no matter what.
However, one bit of collateral damage the incident inflicted on me, was to sear my imagination, perhaps forever, instilling a goodly amount of unchecked fear in what moments before had been my pristine psyche—best described by my former friends and blood relatives as childlike innocence.
The rest of the night I tossed and turned, unsure the Scorpster, as I had recently begun calling him, was truly dead. I imagined he had been merely a fore scout for massed hordes of his tribe bearing tiny trumpets and fluttering multi-colored battle flags. I had visions of him scaling the vertical walls of the kitchen garbage can where Blythe, in her reckless haste, had unceremoniously placed it without regard to a proper burial. (Who knows for certain the quaint rituals of these pests?)
I could visualize him bravely clinging to a discarded tea bag string, ascending to dizzying heights to secure his escape, and though grievously wounded, crawling with a pronounced limp from the kitchen to our bedroom, its terrible weapon impotent, dragging limply behind, and a few drops of its life blood leaking here and there from popped arteries, no doubt staining the tiles.
I knew Blythe would not be pleased at such a sloppy turn of events. Never in the history of the world has a woman been so committed to cleanliness. Even though she never served in the military she frequently remarks out of the blue, “A clean ship is a happy ship.” Without any official navy training whatsoever she has totally bought into the concept.
In defense of Blythe’s parents, Balm and Gilead Fletcher—of the upstate New Mexico Fletchers—they would have had no inkling of this woman’s future obsession with neatness. I doubt it was learned behavior. More likely, it stems from an overzealous fragment of DNA carried by a distant female relative of hers who swept out the cave floor every morning without fail—gnawed bones, unfinished sacred scrolls, precious stones—rubies and such. I truly admire Blythe, but. . .
What bothered me most was I sleep on the side of the bed nearest the door. The idea being, as the man of the house, if our home is ever beset upon by midnight burglars, murderers, birders, or the like, I would be more able to defend my beloved wife as she slept. But in this particular instance, if the Scorpster did come looking to settle up, Blythe, sleeping without a care in the world on the distant side, would be unable to protect me until it was much too late.
My sleep was superficial at best, merely short worried dozes like those on long airplane flights over deep, shark infested waters, where the odds of surviving a crash landing would be akin to winning the lottery five weeks in a row.
I woke frequently to listen intently for sounds of my adversary’s tiny lobster-like claws clutching the sheet like steel pitons being hammered into the face of a vertical stretch of ancient glacier. I sensed the sheet would provide him his only safe route up to my body. I silently reprimanded Blythe for insisting on buying the six thousand-thread count Egyptian cotton Percale sheets—no doubt the very best money can buy, at our local Ross For Less store. I instinctively knew the sheet would support the weight of a locomotive, but there is no point discussing the tensile strength of linens with her. “Stout sheets are inherently superior,” she once told me, as if we were talking lumber. I grew up sleeping between threadbare rags, or worse. What the hell do I know?
At that particular moment, given the harrowing circumstances, I would have preferred being laid out stark naked, high and dry on an icy slab of granite awaiting autopsy at the local morgue. I was certain, even severely wounded as the Scorpster was, a considerable reserve of venom remained; and like the undeterred mailman bent over in a howling South Dakota blizzard with a fistful of overdue bills, he would gleefully find a way to deliver the pain.
Even though the night air was peaceful, the empty spaces in my head roiled in desperate visions of imagined combat. How does one hold off such a creature while dressed only in undies? I had serious doubts my fists would be effective—brave jabs bouncing harmlessly off his protective armor—angering it even more and further inflaming its desire for the cruelest possible measures of retribution.
Foolishly, I had stopped sleeping with the hatchet under my pillow some few weeks earlier, and I was not about to traipse out to the garage now to retrieve it. I had the fleeting thought of tapping lightly on Blythe’s cotton clad shoulder to inquire if she would fetch the hatchet, but, oh never mind. I gave up on that poorly conceived plan almost immediately.
As a former career junior high school cafeteria monitor, I place a lot of faith in respectful diplomacy, and I wished to explain to the scorpion, through my faithful intermediaries of course, that the sandal I had whapped him with was a very lightweight model, and I had actually accidentally dropped it on him; I had intended no real harm, and furthermore, I had once been awarded the monthly Good Citizenship Certificate in fifth grade, even though I secretly despised half the class, maybe more, but most especially our teacher. Ms. Strangle had confiscated and hidden my marbles in a padlocked drawer in her desk under a signed first-edition Bible and a can of saffron flavored chewing tobacco merely because forty-three marbles had spilled out of my pocket just as I was mastering moving decimal points here and there—seemingly at random. Whatever. Lets face it, some people aren’t cut out to teach fifth grade.
But my lips were stayed against these truths and slight exaggerations, and though my brain quivered like a piece of fresh calf liver, I could not speak. My aides stood in patient obedience under a blazing sun while I mumbled about malaria and the need for quinine mixed with gin.
The relentless ceiling fan, whirring overhead like the chopper blades of a desperate Vietnam rescue mission, only added to my misery, chilling me, and confounding my feeble attempts at slumber. Would dawn and safety never come? Talk about a shitty night’s sleep. But, I digress.