The women were gone, for how long Troy and his dad had no idea. Just yesterday they’d taken off together like bandits. They’d left a note on the kitchen counter that started with the mention of a road trip, followed by how neither of them felt particularly valued, that instead they felt taken for granted. In the note the women mentioned that Troy and his dad didn’t do enough around the house, and that they—the women—had to do virtually everything. They accused Troy and his dad of doing little more than drinking beer and watching TV when home. The note ended with the women wanting to know if Troy and his dad knew how to cook, do the dishes, take out the trash, do the laundry, vacuum, dust, sweep, wash the windows, etc. It was an experiment, the note said towards the end.
Half the note was directed at Troy’s Dad, while the other half was directed at Troy. The entirety of the note was written in Troy’s Mom’s sloppy cursive, but at the bottom of the page were two signatures, one from Troy’s Mom and the other from Troy’s girlfriend.
Because they were both largely incompetent in the kitchen, Troy and his dad went out to dinner at a nearby restaurant the day after the women left. For dinner the day before they’d heated up refried beans in a pan that they’d mixed salsa into, then dipped tortilla chips into. After they’d finished their meal they decided that tomorrow for dinner they’d treat themselves to something special.
The drive from home to the restaurant took about ten minutes. Troy’s Dad drove his old Ford truck, the one he’d used for work before retiring five years ago. They didn’t talk during the drive, and the radio stayed off. They were too occupied with thoughts concerning the women.
An extremely young-looking hostess on the short side seated Troy and his dad outside on the deck. With moored boats in the marina off to one side of them and rock hits from a previous decade playing from speakers on their other side, from the restaurant, Troy and his dad scoured the menus they’d been given. Soon a waitress slightly older than the hostess came and took their orders with exaggerated cheery politeness.
They each ordered beer, and once their beers had been placed in front of them, after they’d taken a few good sips, Troy’s Dad looked at Troy and said, “Well, can you believe it, Troy? Can you believe this?”
Troy shook his head. “No. No, I can’t. But I guess I have to now.”
“I guess so. It’s crazy though. Who would’ve guessed it would come to this? It’s not like there weren’t any warning signs, but still, this is nuts. Women are sensitive creatures, as I’m sure you know by now.”
They each sipped their beers. Then they turned their heads and looked at all the boats. The sun was out and shone against the boats, reflecting brightly off glass and metal railings. It was blinding.
“Maybe we should buy a boat and take off in it,” Troy heard his dad say. “Head for Canada. That’d give them a taste of their own medicine once they returned.”
“When do you think that’ll be?” Troy asked.
His dad shrugged. “Who knows? I’m guessing a week tops, but it could very well be longer. Or not. I don’t know. Probably however long they figure it’ll take for us to see how much work they do around the house and how little we do. Could be closer to a month before we see them again. We should be well-trained chambermaids by then.”
Troy’s Dad took another swig of his beer, and Troy followed suit.
“I guess we’ve gotta clean up our act. That’s the bottom line, I think. That’s the message they’re trying to convey to us. I don’t see any way around it, do you?”
“You could get a divorce,” Troy said.
His old man stared at him. His old man with a nose the texture of a dried apricot and the color of a plum. His old man who’d spent the bulk of his years doing good, hard, honest work building houses for rich assholes to support his family.
The first week, then the second, went by with no word from the women. No phone calls, no texts, no emails, no nothing. It became a waiting game: the men versus the women. Who would crack first? Who would make the first attempt at contact?
It was the men, of course: it was Troy. One day shy of the third week since the women had left, he called his girlfriend’s cell. It took a lot of courage; his hands were shaky as he held his own cell to his ear. When he heard her voice say “Hello?” he swallowed funny, and his own voice came out squeaky, uncertain.
“Hey,” he said.
“Hi,” he heard.
“How are you doing?”
“Fine. How are you doing?”
“Okay,” he said. “Fine.” He could hear nothing on the other line, just silence. Then he thought he heard a toilet flush, or maybe a shower running, he couldn’t be sure. “So, where are you?”
“In a hotel.”
“It doesn’t matter. Not too far away.”
“When do you think you’ll be back?”
“When we feel that it’s the right time to come back,” his girlfriend said, somewhat rudely, Troy thought. “We’re having fun, your mom and me. We’ve been playing a lot of cards, eating out, going on nice hikes. It’s nice staying in hotels and having others clean up our messes for a change. We feel we deserve it after all we’ve done.”
“Emma,” Troy said. “Listen, we’ve changed. I’ve changed. In these past few weeks I really have. You should see the house—it looks the same as when you left. And last night we cooked meatball lasagna, from, get this, scratch.”
“Really. I borrowed some cooking books from the library—Italian, Spanish, Moroccan, you name it. And whatever else I needed to know I got off the Internet. I’ve been very resourceful, and so has my dad. We both only drink two beers a day now, no more. And we only watch TV for part of the news and for Jeopardy! No more Wheel of Fortune for us, no more crap.”
“Sounds like the experiment was a success then.”
“Oh yes, very much so—a huge success. We’re like two different people now, my dad and me. So…will you come back?”
“We’ll see. I’ll have to talk to your mom—she’s in the shower—and see what she thinks.”
“I miss you.”
“Oh, that’s sweet. Sometimes I miss you too.”
The women took their sweet time returning. Troy and his dad’s concern slowly morphed into anger as the days continued to pass. How could the women do this to them? Didn’t they miss them? Didn’t they care?
Troy called his girlfriend again, but this time she didn’t answer. He left her a message to call him back. She didn’t. Troy’s dad finally called his wife. He spoke to her for maybe a full minute before hanging up.
“She sounds happy,” he said to Troy. When he saw the look on Troy’s face he shrugged his wide, drooping shoulders, as if to say, “What can you do?”
They were getting tired of waiting. They were experts in the kitchen now, the house looked like a house in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine, but why would they do all this work if there was no one around to appreciate it? They did it because they were sure the women would return any day now, and when that day came they wanted to impress the women so much that they’d never, ever, think of leaving again.
T. E. Cowell lives in Washington State. His website: http://tecowell4.wordpress.com.