We were at the doctor because Hailey's breath was beyond bad. The shit was like death and it wasn't just in the mornings and that's something I don't understand, how in movies people wake up kissing but it was becoming constant, my wife's halitosis. It was eating at the dinner table, jostling for position as we brushed our teeth at night, even talking on the phone it's like it seeped through telephone lines or whatever magical wavelength cell phones operated on.
Our daughter, Kelly, is three and even she noticed and said, Momma, dirty diaper.
Hailey thought it was cancer. Cancer of the throat. Cancer of the tonsils. Maybe some sneaky cancer residing between her gums and molars. But she thinks everything is cancer. Her mother and father met their demise in their forties through their breasts and prostate, respectively.
It's not cancer.
You don't know that.
It's not cancer.
Then I'm just disgusting.
You're not disgusting.
But I went with her because I'm a good guy and she was so sure she was going to receive her death sentence and we were in the doctor's office and it was small with all the usual things and my wife sat on the little table covered in white paper and it crinkled under each nervous movement. I looked at her and tried to make my gaze calming. My wife, she's pretty sexy with blonde hair and eyes like semi-finished jade and her body is still rocking even after our daughter. I met her sophomore year at the University of Wisconsin when she was trying on being a slut. We slept together after a half-hour of talking. The doctor had a gobble for a chin and bushy eyebrows. He dug in her mouth. He didn't have a mask on, but I bet he wanted one.
Hailey gagged with his popsicle stick instrument and I was thinking, really, with all the advances in medicine, you're still using those? Then the doctor used a giant Q-Tip and scraped the back of her throat and this made her gag even more and I held onto her hand.
It's not cancer, the doctor said.
Her hand relaxed and she sighed. Then her hand squeezed mine again. She asked, then what is it?
It's tonsilloliths, more commonly known as tonsil stones.
It's really no big deal. Just bits of food and bacteria getting caught in the recesses of your tonsils. Mix in some white blood cells, and you get little stones.
The doctor smiled like this was good news, so I did too. Hailey, she smiled but it was the one like when she asked if she'd had an accident when giving birth to Kelly and I'd said no but she knew the truth.
The doctor said to gargle with warm salt water at least three times a day. That she could use the long Q-Tips handing her a few to try to excavate the visible stones.
We left and in the parking lot, she came in for a kiss and I held my breath and gave her a peck.
My daughter is fat. She's only three, but it's obvious she isn't the most gorgeous of creatures. Hailey says it's just baby fat and I nod like I know, you're right, she's beautiful. But I just don't get it. I'm a buck-seventy, Hailey's one-twenty, and Kelly's at least forty-five. At three. Just above knee level.
I dropped her off at daycare and I hugged her and she scampered off and I loved her, my little cookie dough bite. Then I drove around for a half hour even though Allstate was only five minutes away and that's the reason we chose Bright-Horizons Daycare, its proximity to my work. We'd had a lot of those talks when I was coming inside of Hailey during our first go around the pre-battle pep talks about being an involved father, a presence in her life, unlike my father, our bodies sweaty and her breath not yet rotten, us talking about two kids, trips we would take to the Iron Range, talking about sitting at piano recitals, our children performing a duet, us holding hands and proud. I'd wanted those things too.
My office was in a strip mall and our neighbor to the west was Subway and our office smelled like yeast. I smiled at my coworkers, the people who told me about Johnny's double in little league, who asked if I caught last night's episode of The Office them saying, god, it's like we are in that show and really, these people, I was to the point where I didn't care if they all died of AIDS. But I was polite so I said wow, a double is impressive and yes, we are like a sitcom. I sat at my cubicle and I put in my earpiece like a serrated Q-Tip and thought about Hailey digging in her throat over the past week to try to get those pesky little tonsil stones. She was batting around one-ninety. Last Thursday, she came running out to the bedroom. She was wearing her one piece of lingerie that I'd bought her three years before for our fifth anniversary, the white one that just barely covered her ass, and I was thinking oh, here we go, but she thrust her giant Q-Tip in my face, saying look, I got one, I got one. It smelled like hell. There was a white chunk the size of a number two pencil eraser on its end.
Then she put it on the nightstand, which wasn't real wood, just stained particleboard, but new, and I wanted to say something but she straddled me and said it's time. She must have been fertile. I'm no masochist so I avoided her mouth by kissing her neck, then flipped her over and made love/fucked her doggy-style.
I came inside of her.
All-State Insurance, this is Josh…
Our neighborhood is like TV and the movies and it's in the suburbs and there are three styles of houses and they alternate in a little line down the evenly spaced blocks. Ours is the garage front-right, screened porch back-left. This is Minnesota. This is the result of Clinton economics and it is the entire country and this is us sitting in our screened-in porch (back-left) and Kelly is serving her stuffed animals dinner even though we already ate. Hailey is nursing a cup of hot water filled with salt. We are talking about work and I say that I am looking good for commission this month and Hailey complains that one of her clients wants a better website than they can afford. Mosquitoes search for blood outside of our screens. This is every night.
Hailey has a period tracker on her iPhone. It tells her when PMS will rear its ugly head, when The Red will flow, when she is fertile. This application, it is the Bible to our life. Those few days of perfect soil are like the Sermon on the Mount and we bless the meek in every conceivable position the other day Hailey greeted me upside down, her resting on her neck and shoulder blades, balancing against the base of the bed with her legs like a capital Y and I asked where I fit in and she guided me just so and it was like my dick was a jackhammer and she just kept saying yes, yes, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't because it felt good, but rather, because she was sure my downward thrusts and gravity would team up for an alley-oop on her egg and I wasn't so sure if I wanted them to.
On Monday, I sold a thirty-three-year-old woman life insurance. She was the same age as me and I used this to my advantage, veering off course from my usual script, telling her that yeah, we're still young, still have the best years ahead of us, God willing (Christian talk soothes most people), but it is the responsible thing to do. I told her that I had a five-hundred-thousand-dollar plan for myself. I said yeah, maybe it's a bit much, but when I think about my amazing wife and my beautiful daughter How old? Just turned three Mine just turned one That's great Yeah and when I think of them, I realize there is no monthly expense too great.
I told this lady that accidents happen. Tragedies. I told her that things don't always go as planned. I said, we need to be prepared. It's an act of love.
PMS came in the form of a frowning face on Hailey's period tracker app. I checked it when she was gargling salt water. Her period came in the form of a stain in the shape of Louisiana on our sheets. She cried. I told her it was no big deal, they were just from Target and I'd pick up some more, the same ones, new ones? She didn't say anything. She didn't even get out of bed to put in a tampon.
That week, I quit using my Breathe Rights for my snoring because the widened nasal cavities were making the smell even worse. I'd be lying in bed and my nose would be getting every bit of her decaying white blood cells, the chicken parmesan from two nights prior festering in the moist pickets of tonsil. I didn't know how much more I could take. But I didn't say anything because I'm a good guy. I just rested my hand on her tummy and there was just a hint of a pouch that she called her blueberry muffin top and underneath was her moderately-to-severely tilted uterus and her face was turned to me and her breath hit me before her words and she said, it's getting worse, I can taste it.
I think the salt water is helping.
I'm fucking toxic.
I love you.
The doctor said that nothing else could be done, unless, of course, she wanted to have her tonsils taken out. He told us the price and at work I asked the HR woman with a perm and cheeks like ass implants if the insurance would cover it and she said it was a form of cosmetic surgery. I said it's a real condition but she just shook her head, saying halitosis isn't a covered expense.
So we went to a holistic medicine place that Hailey's sister swore by. Her sister was one of those kinds of people so I groaned but when Hailey started to protest, last week's fish tacos stronger than her breath mint, I shrugged and said okay. I was expecting some sort of cross between an opium den and Whole Foods, incense and people who thought their organic shit didn't stink. But it was just a store in a strip mall and I tried to recall if it used to be a Blockbuster. I'm pretty sure it had been. Hailey chewed gum, two pieces at a time. She was playing with her phone. It must have been getting close to fertile soil.
A lady with an isosceles triangle of moles on her left cheek came out and she shook our hands and said her name was Maria. She didn't look like a Maria. Hailey talked with her mouth pretty much closed, as she'd mastered over the last month. We followed her to a back office.
There were diplomas framed above her wall so that made me feel a little less ripped-off. Maria asked about the stones and Hailey said they were getting worse. That she could feel them back there growing and decaying. Maria never let her eyes fall away from Hailey's and I liked this about her, the way she nodded like she really understood and felt compassion. I'd rented Bambi for Kelly in this very store and she'd cried because she was too young to understand that things died.
When did they start to worsen, she asked.
About a month ago.
Have there been any changes to your diet?
Any additional stress?
I looked over at Hailey who seemed rigid then, determined to ignore my gaze.
Okay, Maria said.
I cleared my throat.
Hailey, the look she gave me was like I'd just stabbed Kelly or maybe called her fat.
Then it was smiles all around. Then silence.
The body is a strange mechanism, Maria said. It always seeks a balance, an equilibrium. Sometimes physical manifestations of emotional issues present themselves. The throat, the portal for the fourth chakra, it usually deals in the realms of withholding.
Is it cancer?
No, Mrs. Hudson, it is not cancer.
Is there a cure?
Yes, we can treat the symptoms.
Okay, let's do that.
I tucked in Kelly. I stroked the hair out of her face and it was my wife's hair, limp and dead and blonde. She asked for a story. I told her I was tired. I kissed her on her forehead. Even that was chubby. She said, please Daddy. I told her okay. I lay down and she curled up to the nook of my neck and I read a story about a mouse in a pumpkin patch and Kelly pointed at the pictures, telling me which ones she found funny. I flipped off the lamp. Kelly said, love you. She turned away from me. I wished she hadn't. In five minutes her breathing deepened and I was careful to not wake her when I got up a half hour later.
I sold a forty-nine-year old teacher insurance. He told me that he was a grandfather now. That he realized it was time. I went through all of the questions. He paused when I asked about smoking. A few minutes later he coughed a moving-the-armoire-across-a-wooden-floor cough so I marked yes and his monthly premium went up seventy-nine dollars but I didn't care because he was a fucking liar.
Hailey on top. Hailey on all-fours. Hailey sideways and Hailey in the bathtub and Hailey drinking her prescribed aloe-peppermint-cayenne tea and Hailey taking her temperature and what about me? I was simply the guy depositing my ejaculate into the vagina of my wife. That's what it felt like. I wanted her to wear her one piece of lingerie. I wanted her to tell me I was sexy. For her to light candles and for her to not smell and for her uterus to be straight and for her to say, why are we doing this? But I kept pumping to her demands deeper, push, deeper because I'm a good guy.
Hailey on her iPhone. Hailey calling in sick to work. Hailey not getting out of bed. Hailey telling Kelly to leave her alone.
No, I missed the last episode of The Office.
Wow, Johnny went three for three?
All-State Insurance, this is Josh…
It was the middle of July and I grilled burgers. We didn't really like hamburgers but with a backyard, I felt like a grill was something I needed. I'd gone to Lowe's. I'd been up-sold because I am the kind of guy who usually lets this happen. It was big and red and had four burners and even a heating-burner on the right side. One of my neighbors said it was a mighty fine specimen. I didn't know what to say to that.
I grilled the burgers and Kelly set the table because we believed in trying to teach her responsibility. Hailey drank a beer, her first one in the past three cycles.
Here we go, I said. I doled out the patties.
Anything for my girls.
Hailey passed the baked beans. Then the corn (off the cob). She served Kelly.
Why don't you eat this first, then you
Kelly, we do not raise our voice in this family, I said.
We started with our meals.
Looking at my daughter eat like she'd never seen food before, I wondered how old a child had to be to sign up for soccer. Maybe Hailey was thinking the same thing, that she was finally turning, seeing something not normal about our daughter's appetite, her weight, her bowling ball face, but Hailey was just staring at her burger. There was one bite missing. I followed her eyes and they were looking at the pooling grease and blood in the small divot of her plate.
Is something wrong, I asked. I gave her arm a gentle squeeze.
She shook her head and it was blonde bangs over her eyes and Kelly saw this and started doing the same, the same sweeping of golden hair.
Stop that, I told Kelly.
Stop that now.
The mosquitoes and the neighbors and the country went on living outside of our screened-in porch.
What is it, I asked.
Hailey took a swig of beer. It was weird seeing her drink, brought me back to college and cramming for tests and sex for the purpose of climaxes.
Maybe it's you, Hailey said.
Kelly was shaking her head again. The ends of her hair painted strokes in her ketchup and baked beans.
I took another bite of my hamburger and wiped the blood off my chin with a napkin, a cloth one with a pastel floral print. I wanted to tell Hailey that it was bullshit, hurtful, her comment. That it was her insides, not mine. And I wanted to ask her if it would really fix a goddamn thing shopping for gender-neutral one-pieces, converting her office to a nursery, watching TV on the couch and her between my arms, all twenty of our fingers on her belly, shielding our next child from the world outside, as if this was all we really needed and I almost said these things but she took another bite of her burger and I then I did too.
Two days later, I was at another doctor's office. He was mine, Dr. Stoltz, and had been for years. He asked how long we'd been trying. I said three months. He jotted down a note. I told him it took a long time before Kelly. He took another note. I told him about her uterus, how it was tilted. Pen to paper and he asked if I had any idea the angle and I didn't know but I said the specialist had said moderate-to-severe. The white paper crinkled underneath me. Dr. Stoltz said that it was pretty remarkable that you guys were able to have a child in the first place. He said that even with a uterus being slightly tilted, oftentimes even artificial insemination doesn't work.
He apologized that he didn't have any aides.
I blushed and said that was okay.
He left and I started to jerk off. I thought of one of Kelly's preschool teachers with her red hair and body like Irish rains and imagined her freckled tits in my face. Then I thought of Hailey and her commands and our foreplay being the checking of her period tracker and the taking of her temperature and her telling me to get every drop inside of her. And then I thought of ten years before when I first saw her and it wasn't love at first sight because that shit doesn't happen, but maybe it was, love that is, Hailey in her little jean skirt and red halter and ponytail and the way she'd kept my stare like an invitation and how we'd been drunk and talked and I'd made her laugh and how we went to the bathroom and it was the best sex because everything was still yet to happen. I came into the cup the doctor had given me.
A woman of middle age said it was kind of fucked up what I was doing. She said making money by playing off the fear of death, of leaving her loved ones not only motherless, but financially destitute, it was shitty of me.
I have a five-hundred-thousand-dollar policy for myself.
Because I care. Because it's the responsible thing to do.
That's a crock of shit.
Because I'm a
Please don't call again.
I picked up Kelly and smiled at her redheaded teacher. I hefted my daughter into the car seat and it was for children aged five-to-eight but was the only one that could hold her.
How was your day, honey?
She started to sing and kick the back of my seat and sometimes I thought that was all I was to her, the person who picked her up. My phone rang and it was Dr. Stoltz and he said Mr. Hudson, I have the results of your sample. I asked if everything was cool. He paused. It was the same pause I used when I was about to give a client his monthly total. I said, what? He said, well, your sperm count is perfect for your age.
Dr. Stoltz said, I'm afraid the problem must be on your wife's end.
Kelly sang and kicked my seat.
I thought about telling him that he had it wrong but I said thanks and goodbye.
That night, I stood in the doorway and watched the two girls of my life. They both lay there on the bed, Hailey reading a story. Their yellow hair met on the same pillow. They were fucking beautiful and I wanted them to extend an arm, an invitation. For a new baby to bridge the gap between us. They both looked up from the pages and I thought what I must look like to them a strange man with dark hair, backlit and ominous, standing on the outskirts.
Later, I was in bed myself. I watched Jay Leno. Hailey was in the bathroom and she called my name and I was thinking maybe a piss test showed with a plus sign and I rushed into the bathroom ready to embrace and be excited together but Hailey was in tears and I'm not always a good guy because my first thought was fuck, not again.
I can see it. It's huge. It's huge.
The chunk. The white chunk.
I relaxed because it was just her toxic fucking throat.
You have to get it out.Her breath was worse than it had ever been.
Just use the Q-Tip thing.
I can't get it. Please.
She held onto my arms and her face looked older, not wrinkles, but just like she was tired, sick of fucking everything, and she begged me, saying she thought this was the one, the root of it all.
I told her to sit on the toilet. She did. I told her to tilt her head back. She did. I told her to open up. She did.
I could see it. It was the size of a penny, growing from her left tonsil, and it looked bumpy and hard and I put the Q-Tip into her mouth but jabbed her uvula and she gagged and we started over. My hand around her throat, I held my breath and I touched the stone with my instrument and she was gagging so I flexed my hand around her throat because I was close and I pushed harder and retching and I dug but it wouldn't dislodge and I had nobody to blame but myself and she flailed at my hand around her throat and I was so close and the stone was bigger than a penny because it was deep, more like a marble, and I could see blood gathering on her tongue and her flailing became clawing and I almost had it and Kelly was fat and the only daughter we were ever going to have and maybe that didn't matter and maybe Hailey was moments away from losing consciousness and maybe this was everything I'd wanted, my little family in my little suburb with our screened-in porch.
The stone rolled onto her tongue.
I let go.
She spit it on the floor.
We both looked at this foreign substance on our Spanish tile and silly me, I thought I'd accomplished something.