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A TONGUE CAN cut like a knife and bloodlessly eviscerate the soul.

She speaks. “Okay, so I’ll go and get my haircut, then I’ll drive over to Kate’s to get my nails done. On the way back I’ll stop at Stop and Shop and pick up a few things. You’ll be ready to go when I get back?”

“Uh-huh.” I’m taking in every word. I think about how focused I am on my wife’s plan. Just then it occurs to me that the door I painted and left downstairs should be dry by now. Better remember to bring it up and reinstall it. Won’t do to have the porch open to weather, let alone have a messy, barked up door when company arrives on the 4th.

A danger signal whaps me up side of the head. My wife is still talking! The attentive look must have faded, because she says sharply, “Dick, are you there?”

“Sure,” I lie, because I do woolgathering, you know, off on my own plans - that old ADS thing kicked in again. I feed her the last thing I remember. “You want me to be ready when you get home.”

“Right. So you’ll take care of those things, right?”

“Sure, count on me.” Sounds like she wanted me to do something. Wonder what? I wasn’t here, how would I know? I agonize…what did she say? Better yet, how am I going to find out without tipping her off that I have a listening problem?

I must be clever. “When will you be back?”

“I told you already. Weren’t you listening?”

“Sure.”

“Then you know I’ll be back after I get a few things from the store.”

“Well yeah, I knew that! I just wanted to know if I can get those things done that you wanted and still have time to dress.”

“How long will it take you to vacuum the living room and hallway?”

Aha! That’s one! “Not long, I suppose.”

“You suppose? It’s not a major project, you know.”

“Be fair. I have to get out the vacuum, avoid all the varmints in this house and move a bunch of stuff to get it done. That takes time.”

“What do you have to move?”

“The flower pots? The lamps? Clean under them?”

“When do you move anything to clean?”

"You want me to do a slipshod job?”

“I’m going to be late. I have to go. And don’t forget the birds!”

Number two. I’ll look around and see if anything is out of place. That should take care of it.

“Okay, you run along. I’ll be fine.”

Thundering silence.

A far from passionate brush of the lips and she’s out the door.

Not so bad. Let’s see, vacuum the dumb house and feed the stupid birds, make sure everything is in order, get dressed to go on a picnic. Did I forget anything? She said a third thing; I just know it. Our agreement, she will work and with what few hours she has at home she won’t be obligated to do cleanup. Good old macho me fought it for years. Eventually I saw the light. Helpmate, strange word. Looked it up once. Unisex word. Meant guys could do it, too.

Well, better get about it. If I do it fast enough, maybe I’ll have some time to read. Got a good book by Jonathan Kellerman, an Alex Delaware story. Love ‘em, really engrossing. I zip through the house and do the job. I check the glass shelves in the bathroom, just in case they were dusty. They’re clean. I draw a finger across the glass tables in the living room. They’re okay. Still no clue.

I check the clock. Doubt my wife will be back before one p.m. I throw on some shoes and go out to the garage, get a container full of birdseed and trek out to the back yard. Not the birds; I thought that one up all by myself. Pretty warm. Should be fun up on the hill. Might have a breeze. Meantime, my brain is hashing back and forth that third thing.

In the back yard I take the two feeders off the T-shaped thing I mickey-moused together last fall so my wife could watch the selfish, ravenous birds. Ingenious in a ho-hum sort of way. Two sections of an old TV antenna I took off the roof last year with a twenty-inch piece of half inch copper water pipe peened onto the top. Bought a two-foot piece of iron pipe I sunk into the ground and dropped the old antenna into it for a perfect fit. Cheap bird feeder rig.

I fill the feeders and make quick work of it. Then I go back inside, still mulling. I dash down to the bedroom and get out of my work duds. I pull on shorts and a tee shirt. I take a moment to wonder why we’re having a picnic at this time, I mean, just a day before the 4th of July when we have our big shindig planned, but wife and granddaughter want to go and who am I to say no? Picnics are fun.

I grab my book and nestle into the love seat in the living room. Half an hour passes. A flash of color brings me out of the story. My wife’s little yellow VW zips in and parks in the garage. I close my book and take off my glasses. I walk into the kitchen as she opens the mudroom door.

“Hi.”

She looks at me. “Food in the trunk. We have to pick up Ashley in fifteen minutes.”

“Okay.” I go out and bring in the two bags of groceries.

“You’re ready to go?”

“Ready.”

She looks around. “Where are the sandwiches?”

“Sandwiches?”

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