‘Nose to Nose’
“Maybe because you only got one kid, it’s different. Mama has two girls. I’m extra,” she said earnestly. “But Mama was really mad. She had to punish me. I won’t do it again.” She picked up her fork and carefully approached her plate of macaroni. She ate deliberately, not dripping or spilling or even smudging food on her lips. A neat eater. Rick couldn’t help wondering what the punishment had been, but didn’t want to ask, not really wanting to know given the yelling he often heard from their apartment.
After dinner, Rick and Ellen sat in the living room while Susana and Brian colored at the coffee table. Rick held Ellen’s hand, stroking her fingers while they watched the news. Nothing interested him tonight. Usually he argued with the newscasters or commented on the conditions of the world, but tonight, he didn’t care about the world out there. He only cared about the world inside this room, Ellen, Brian, and him. That was it. The evening passed with them listening to Susana tell tall tales to Brian who loved every one of them. Rick couldn’t shake the feeling of impending doom. He was turning over in his mind all the possibilities for their survival as a family if he lost Ellen. He was not usually a morbid man, but this was an exceptional circumstance. His life would end. He just didn’t know how long it would take him to actually lay down and die from loneliness, from having his heart cut out.
The night sounds never kept Rick from a good night’s sleep. But tonight, he heard everything from the rustling of the leaves outside to the settling of the floorboards and the breathing of his wife. Every noise was an assault, an invasion on his ability to climb inside sleep for protection. At 1:00 am, he finally got up and went into the kitchen. Ellen usually kept brownies or cookies in a tin on top of the refrigerator. He brought down the silver tin, took out a brownie, and poured a glass of milk. He heard a new sound now. A kind of whimpering. He went down the hall and entered Brian’s room. He could see his son standing next to his bed, yanking the sheets off.
“Brian, what’s up?” he asked.
“Where’s Ma?” Brian continued to yank on the sheets without untucking them.
“Ma’s sleeping, I’m here.” Rick could see now that Brian had wet his bed and was shivering, his pajamas dark and clinging to his legs.
“I wet my bed. I want new sheets.” Brian and Rick continued to strip the bed together. Rick wondered how often this happened. He’d never been awakened when Brian needed anything. He was always Ellen’s responsibility. After all, Rick had to get up to go to work in the mornings.
“Do you wet the bed a lot, Brian?”
“No.” Brian was now stepping out of his wet pajamas. “I want a bath.”
“Why don’t we take a shower. It’d be quicker.”
“No. I don’t want to.” Brian sounded frantic. Rick let it go.
Rick took the wet pajamas and sheets and led his son down the hall to the bathroom. They tiptoed past the master bedroom so’s not to awaken Ellen. Rick placed the wet sheets on the floor in the corner of the bathroom and ran the water. With the lights on and Brian sitting naked on the edge of the tub, Rick tried to avoid looking at his son’s adult body. Brian’s testicles and penis were fully developed as were the muscles on his arms and hard, defined chest. It occurred to Rick that Ellen must shave his twenty-two year old son in the mornings and that he must use deodorant. All the usual tasks that men do for themselves, Ellen must do for him.
As soon as the tub was filled, he beckoned Brian.
“Why don’t you take a shower, Brian?”
“No. I tried to. I fell down. I want a bath.” Brian soaped up his legs and arms, forgetting the rest of his body. Rick lathered up the facecloth and handed it to Brian. “Do your…crotch.” He said. Brian shook his head. Rick didn’t want to press the issue so he pulled the plug and let the water run out while he helped Brian towel off. What would happen to Brian if Ellen died? Could Rick deal with all the stuff that Ellen did for their son?
They went down the hall with Brian wrapped in a towel. Once in the bedroom, Brian found clean pajamas, and Rick remade the bed with Star Wars sheets from the linen closet. Brian’s bed had a plastic liner on it, which Rick wiped down with a disinfectant spray and a sponge. this was not the first time that Brian had wet the bed, but this was the first time that Rick had to deal with it. What else was he missing? What was the rest of Brian and Ellen’s life like?
Brian climbed into his freshly outfitted bed and snuggled up to a stuffed koala bear. Rick watched him curl his body around this bear, tuck a hand between his knees and happily shut his eyes. “‘Night, Daddy,” he said as he went off to sleep. Rick leaned over and kissed Brian on top of his head.
“Night, son.” Turning off the light, Rick made his way back into the kitchen and put his snack plate into the sink. He looked around the room as if regaining his sight after a great catastrophe. Imagining what would have changed. But there was no big storm, no flood, no tornado, no death or loss. Outwardly nothing had changed at all. Rick flicked off the light switch and went back to his own bedroom.
“Hmmm. Why you up?” Ellen mumbled at him as he rolled over against her.
“Brian wet his bed.” Rick nuzzled the back of her neck.
“Oh,” she started to rise.
“Don’t get up. I took care of it. Bath and everything.”
Ellen turned to look at him. “You did it?”
“Yeah,” said Rick with a bit of pride.
“I like this.” Ellen rolled over to spoon her husband.
“What? The snuggling or my taking care of Brian?”
“Hmm. I think both.”
“I always think of him as a little boy. He’s not.”
“He’s been a man for years now,” she whispered. “I’m surprised you hadn’t noticed.”
Ellen shifted to look at Rick. “He worries about things as much as you do. He watches you to see how you’ll react to what he does. You are very important to him.”
“He’s important to me too.” Rick felt a great pressure relieved as he spoke.
“I know you’ve always wanted more children. Normal sons. But this is all we’ve got. I always wished it could be enough for you.”
Rick was astonished at how well she knew him. He thought that he could keep his emotions and reactions to himself. She knew his every thought even before he thought it.
“I love Brian,” he said. ”And yes, I always wanted more kids, but for you not for me. I could be happy with just you and me.”
“But we got Brian, and I wouldn’t change my life in any way.” She yawned and squirmed further against Rick.
“Neither would I.” He yawned and wraped his arms around his wife, sharing his warmth and her lie.