-To Olivia, for making me laugh so hard that two words come out as one.-
Thursday was the best day of the week for George, though if it weren't for the primetime shows he would not have recognized it as such. Every Thursday George's mother came over to cook him dinner. Sometimes she even did his laundry. After dinner, they would play scrabble and complain about the yappy dog next door. "Boy, if I had a dog like that..." they'd say.
On this particular day, George had news to tell his mother, of his trip to the doctor. Being the worrying kind, Margaret (that was his mother's name) was sure to only make half as much meat and make twice as many Brussels sprouts. George hated Brussels sprouts but he would never say so. Having lived her life around generations of men who could not assert themselves, however, Margaret subconsciously overcooked the Brussels sprouts every time she made them. Thus, George has only ever known the vegetable to be rubbery and taste like sulfur.
"Let's go for a walk after dinner, George. It'll be good for us."
"I don't know. Dane Cook's new special's on at eight." Margaret made a point to put her silverware on her plate so that the knife and fork made a ping sound.
"That may just be the worst excuse I've ever heard."
The street was quiet that evening, save for the occasional yelp from the neighbor's dog and the light buzz of Spring trying to keep in tune with itself. The son and mother walked along a white, concrete sidewalk. Margaret remarked on the beautiful orange hue in the air and how well the neighbors were maintaining their lawns.
"You're so lucky to live on a tree-lined street. Why don't you keep your yard as nice as these?" George was scraping buildup from under his fingernails.
"I water the lawn."
"You do not. When have you ever watered the lawn?"
"Last Saturday. I put my thumb over the nozzle of the hose and made sure to cover the whole lawn evenly." He was proud of himself quite self-righteously. Any half-decent mother, such as his, can see right through lines like that.
"George, I love you, but you've got to get your act together. I come over here every week and it's the same story. If it's not the yard work, it's the dishes piled up in the kitchen or one of about a million other things! And what about work?" She breathed deeply, through her nose, and somehow found herself unable to keep her chin parallel to the ground beneath her. "I've been giving you a break since your father died because I know how close you were to him. But I can't cover your expenses forever." They had stopped walking now. George was standing with one leg back a little as if he were trying to physically brace himself. He and his mother had always been completely passive around one another.
"You haven't spoken to me this way since--" He paused, realizing what the end of that sentence would have to be.
"I know, Georgey, since you were a child." They were walking again, but this time no-one remarked on anything.
When they had circled the block, they took their places on the patio. George always sat in the chair on the right side, near the house. The conversation started up again right away. It was George who spoke first, desperate for his mother to see him differently, as someone she could respect again.
With the most conviction such vulnerable words could ever be spoken with, he admitted, "I don't know what to do."
"You could get a job. I had to. Do you have any idea how uncomfortable nylon stockings are?" She tipped her head sideways, looking at her son delicately, but with obvious readiness to revert back to "tough love-mom" if the moment required it. "Let me show you something." Margaret sprung up from her seat and disappeared into the house, leaving her son half-sitting and half-standing out of confusion. Seconds later, she returned holding a leash George had kept from his dog, Pepper, who had been dead for years.
“What is this, Mom? What are we doing?” Margaret had started walking away from the house so George shuffled to catch up to her. “What are we doing,” he asked again. Margaret had stopped outside the gate to the neighbor’s yard. She reached over the white pegs and unhooked the lobster-claw latch. The dog, who had been pacing between the fence’s parameters, noticed that these particular visitors were lingering and approached the buttoned up duo with his tail high in the air. Margaret kneeled down and gestured for the dog to come to her. She put the leash on and began to casually walk away from the scene. The three of them walked for miles. George still could not figure out what his mother was trying to do. On the way home, they stopped at the deli to get some water and poured some into a dip in the concrete for the dog.
“Where are we going to keep him? How are we going to keep the neighbors from finding out? What if the police get involved?” George asked many questions but Margaret answered none. She talked about everything and anything other than the neighbors.
“Do you hear those birds chirping? Why is it that they sing at night sometimes, in the spring?”
“I don’t know, Mom, but it’s lovely.”
“Oh look, someone made impressions of their baby’s tiny feet and hands when the concrete was drying. How grown do you think that baby is now,” Margaret asked.
“At least kindergarten age, I’m sure.” It was dark out by this time of night and had been for at least an hour. George had become completely immersed in the absence of angst and hypnotized by the rhythm of his walk, but as they approached their street his thoughts immediately returned to his mother’s delinquent act.
George kept his head down as they neared the house next to his and acted as if he had an itch along his hairline in order to cover his face. Margaret was composed. She reached her hand over the fence for the second time that evening, unhooked the latch, and detached the leash from the dog’s collar. George stood in his place, stupid and staggered, as Margaret started to walk away.
“I thought we were stealing the dog!” George howled.
“You can’t steal people’s dogs, George.” And with that, Margaret walked to her car and went along her way.
That night, as George stared at the ceiling of his bedroom, he knew the dog was sleeping, curled up in a perfect circle as dogs do, peaceful and very, very quiet.