Mr. & Mrs. Jones

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Mr. and Mrs. Jones


I like the hamper. The hamper is just big enough to fit. What I do is this: I take out half the laundry and then get inside and pull the laundry back around me, like I’m wrapping a gift from the inside out. I am buoyed by last week’s bath towels, the shirt my father mows the lawn in, my mother’s favorite bra. To my nose, the odors of my parents? dirty clothes are sweet. I am wedged with my knees


tucked to my chin. My right ear is mashed by a pair of grass-stained jeans. From here I can see the toilet, the bathroom sink, and my mother’s bathrobe hanging on the back of the door.


A red candle in a nest of holly flickers on the back of the toilet. Over the mirror is a tinsel boa that says HAPPY NEW YEAR. I can see all this through the weave of the hamper. It is like being a baby in a basket floating down a river and watching the scenery pass by, grassy banks, whistling reeds, through the woven interstices. It is like that, somewhat, the main difference being that I am not a baby, but five years and ten and a half months old. The smell of dirty clothes is cut by the boysenberry candle on the toilet.


There is a holiday party in motion downstairs. Music and the happy murmur of grown-up voices throb through the floorboards, further muffled by dirty socks. My mother and father are great throwers of parties. My father is the preacher, but still, our house is fun. We have open houses (around the holidays) for the pillbox-hatted ladies? worship committee sort and their husbands, and then there are parties where my parents? more spirited wholesome friends (the ones who drink and smoke and tell dirty jokes) get together. Tonight is of the latter. These kind of parties are much more fun. And, truthfully, they are much more frequent than the other churchy kind.


There are a few kids, older kids who have usurped the TV room to watch The Cat from Outer Space. There is also a little girl a year and three-quarters younger than me. I have already seen The Cat from Outer Space nine times, so, for most of the evening I just hid under the tree in the front room and stared up into the colored lights in the boughs, and tried to stay invisible, because if I’m good (i.e., invisible) then I can stay up to see the ball drop. I have never seen the ball drop. I have never made it to midnight. That is my intention this year: to go un-noticed till midnight, to see the ball drop. But then my mother asked me to entertain the little girl. I made her a passing kangaroo on my LiteBrite, which I got for Christmas, but she insisted on re-arranging the pegs into a truck. I almost got upset, but what good would it do? Only get me in trouble, that’s what.


Anyway, I was not married to the kangaroo. Still, I had drank three glasses of punch, so, when it seemed like the little girl could entertain herself, I had a good excuse to sneak upstairs to the bathroom. Then, for no real reason, except maybe that I can, I niched myself away in the laundry hamper.


This is fun too. I have watched six men and three women pee. When Mr. Wiley came in he peed with one hand and held his drink with his other hand. He took forever to drip himself off before he put it back in his zipper. After, standing at the sink, Mr. Wiley crunched ice in his teeth for a while, and then laughed at himself in the mirror. Then he splashed water in his face and went away.


After Mr. Wiley left, Mr. Jones came into the bathroom. Mr. Jones is a dead ringer for Mr. Claus. To my mind, Mr. Jones is Santa. Every year at the Christmas potluck he and Mrs. Jones, dressed as Mr. and Mrs. Claus, hand out gifts to the Sunday school kids and then, after supper, in the Fellowship Hall, where we have all our potlucks, Mr. Jones lets all the mommies sit on his lap and tell him what they want for Christmas. Then we all polka dance. Pauline Jones, who’s about four feet tall, plays the hell out of the piano, her specialty being polka.


This Christmas Eve, in bed, still spinning from all the dancing, feeling giddy because in the morning I was going to open a wrapped box inside of which would be a LiteBrite, though of course, I didn’t know that yet, only that at any moment, hauling a sack with at least one presumed LiteBrite — with all the promise of the visible spectrum! — I knew that Santa Claus, through his illimitable stealth, would lawfully enter our house. And then, just as I was turning off my light, he did! Standing in the doorway of my bedroom (my mother not so well hidden behind) was the unmistakable profile of Cringle. He sat on the edge of my bed, told me a slightly digressive story about one of his reindeer, asked me if I’d been good this year (yes!), and then tucked me in and gave me a scratchy kiss on my forehead. That the pipe smoke smell in his beard was familiar only supported my ninety-five percent suspicion that Mr. Jones more than resembles Santa. We are, after all, quite close to the Canadian border, only a hop skip and a jump from the North Pole as anyone will tell you.


Tonight, when Mr. Jones comes into the bathroom he is not dressed like Santa. He wears plaid pants, a holiday shirt, and white shoes. He is not alone. Mrs. Jones is behind, wearing a dress that looks on fire with flowers. Her hair is long, not as white as Mr. Jones?, and held back with a wooden barrette. She is laughing because Mr. Jones is being funny, and she covers her mouth with her purse. Her eyes crinkle and flash like snowflakes. Mr. Jones carries a glass of wine and a paper plate with crackers and cheese. When he puts the glass on the sink a bright red stain of light from the candle jitters on the toothbrush holder. Mrs. Jones carries, along with her purse, a Kmart bag.


The Jones live across the street. Sometimes I go over in the afternoon and talk to Mr. Jones while he weeds. He has a big garden. Sometimes I find both of them in the hammock under the big maple, napping, Mrs. Jones? head asleep on Mr. Jones? chest.


Mr. Jones helped fix my sled once after I crashed it in the cemetery right into a headstone. It’s the best hill around, so that’s the risk you take, if you want a good sled ride. Mr. Jones lets me smoke his pipe. He can make perfect smoke rings. I am learning. I remember once going over to Mr. Jones? with my father in the summer. We found him in his garden, wearing suspenders but no shirt, his belly sticking out, sitting on a turned over wheelbarrow whittling a cucumber with a pocket knife. We caught him by surprise, he had been in deep concentration, and when he first saw us he looked embarrassed, but then he showed my dad the cucumber, proudly, and my dad laughed. Mr. Jones smiled shyly and told my dad that he was carving it for Mrs. Jones. “No doubt he actually means to use it,” my father told me on our way home. “Damn thing could win a prize; veins and everything.” He winked to let me know I was in on the joke. “Helen’s probably waiting inside too.”




Mrs. Jones once told me the best thing that she ever did was to take a
train trip out to Chicago with Mr. Jones, back when trains didn’t go that fast, so it took a long long time, but that it was more fun that way because she and Mr. Jones had what is called a berth, a little room in the train all to themselves, with a bed and a little desk where she wrote postcards, and they didn’t leave the room the whole trip. I secretly hope that someday Mr. and Mrs. Jones will take me on such a train ride. I would sit in the window and count every tree that went by.


Mr. Jones holds Mrs. Jones’ purse for her when she pulls up her skirt and pushes down her stockings to pee. He leans against the sink with the wineglass, and then puts down the glass to poke through her purse. In the bathroom mirror he runs a tube of lipstick around his lips. Mrs. Jones isn’t paying any attention until he turns to her grinning, and then she slaps both knees and shakes her head laughing: lipstick on his beard.


The Kmart bag sits at her skinny knees. She unfurls a strip of toilet paper and leans to one side and wipes, then pulls up her hose and smoothes down her dress. She looks at her watch, a small gold wristwatch, then does a little excited dance skip-step and pats her husband on his behind. Mr. Jones picks up the Kmart bag and gives Mrs. Jones a flustered smile. She takes the bag out of his hands and puts it on the sink. She pulls something out of the bag. If it’s dirty laundry, I’m in trouble. But then there?s a knock at the bathroom door; the handle jiggles. Mr. Jones starts to speak, but Mrs. Jones puts her hand over his mouth.


“Just a minute!” She says, then touches Mr. Jones? arm and says, firmly, “Shoes.” So he drops the toilet lid and sits. He takes off his shoes.


Then he peels off his socks and stuffs them in his shoes. Mrs. Jones stands back and sips the wineglass. “Britches,” she says. While her husband struggles with his belt buckle that he’s somehow put on backwards, and then, craning on one buttock and then the other, shimmies out of his pants one leg at a time, Mrs. Jones fusses with the Kmart bag. At this point, I fancy another glass of punch. The cake is probably about gone too. I would like to leave, but my legs are numb.


Mr. Jones hands his pants to his wife who hangs them over the towel rack. He stands, wearing nothing but his shirt, naked from the waist down like a little boy, except that his privates are not like a little boy’s, more like a different animal’s, an old satyr’s, his heavy old balls droop almost to his knees, the antique penis nestled in a wild thatch of pure white. Nonetheless, he stands there like a little boy munching crackers. Mrs. Jones takes out of the bag what looks like a white flag, folded in a triangle.


Mrs. Jones unfolds the flag and holds it against Mr. Jones waist. She gives the tip of his thingy a soft little peck with her finger. His belly jiggles. He wags his bushy eyebrows. Hopping on one foot, leaning against the door, he helps her as she threads the flag between his legs, and up around his waist, so Mr. Jones looks like a sumo wrestler. It doesn’t quite fit around, his hip is naked, so she redoes it, this time bracing her free hand against his thigh to winch him tightly into the diaper. He starts to tip over, but catches himself on the back of the toilet. He sucks in his belly best he can to help. When she tucks in the corner, while her fingers are still inside the fold, as if she’s about to give him a frontal wedgie, she gives him a kiss on the corner
of his mouth. He grunts. “Safety pin?” he says.


“Hold your horses,” she says, and reaches for her purse. She puts the safety pin in her teeth. It is a giant pin — it looks like a toy safety pin.


The diaper is a tight fit. The safety pin looks as though it could spring. When he sits back down on the toilet, bulging like a fruit basket, he raises his arms to let Mrs. Jones tug off his shirt; she hangs it over the towel rack with his pants. At this point, my bladder is starting to ache, and the dirty clothes are beginning to itch. Being this close, yet so far, from the toilet is torture. There is nothing to do but pinch myself.


When there’s a whoop downstairs — a group cheer punctuated by noisemakers — Mrs. Jones looks at her watch. Mr. Jones takes her hand and she bends forward to give him a kiss, and as she kneels down onto the tile, he helps her lower herself by holding her elbow, then gives her breast a gentle caress, almost absent-mindedly, as if patting a child’s head. I try to make out what’s happening through my latticed vantage. The bathroom is flickered. Mrs. Jones is on her knees between her husband’s knees. “Sit back,” she says. He winces when his back touches the cold ceramic tank, but he lets Mrs. Jones examine his smooth big belly sticking in her face.


Mrs. Jones has something in her hand that I can’t see. She removes the top of it, and then starts to write on Mr. Jones’ belly, just below his rib. The lipstick! She moves the tube carefully, slowly, pressing his belly skin taut with her other hand to write better, to make the writing surface obey.


Her hand trembles slightly. His belly jiggles. She chides him lightly each time he laughs, “Stay still you fool,” which makes his belly jiggle even more. When she makes a mistake, she stops, and she dabs at his belly with a Kleenex moistened on her tongue.


When she finishes, she puts her lipstick back in her purse and then, again with his help, gets up off the floor. She looks at his belly, at what she’s written, and smiles, holding the wineglass. When he stands, he takes the wineglass from her and then waddles over to look at himself in the mirror.


As he walks past the hamper I can see that “1976,” in red lipstick, is written across his belly.


“Yet?” he asks.


She looks at her watch. “Five minutes,” she says. Then she says, “you
look lovely.”


“I hope they shit laughing,” he says.


The sound of people is louder downstairs and I can hear the TV now and I very much want to go downstairs and watch the ball drop. The idea of having to wait another year makes me have to pinch myself harder. I might have to pee into the dirty clothes. But they are dirty already, right? It is surely almost midnight. But not too early to get caught and sent to bed.


So I wait in the hamper and watch Mr. And Mrs. Jones slow dancing to kill time, her dress on fire, Mrs. Jones dancing with father time and baby new year, old love and new love, fused into one.



Jay Kirk and