Short Story: Johnson

I have four guests coming around for dinner later today. One, two, three, four. Susan from work, Matilde from work, Hassan from work, Hassan’s wife, who isn’t from work, but whom I wanted to thank for all her Pakoras and what-have-yous with… whatever food we’re serving for them today.

The house needs to look perfect. Not IKEA-showroom ‘perfect’ – no, no, that won’t do – but it must seem quite so nonetheless.  I need to make it known that we – Karen and I – are not like those couples who obsessively clean and bleach things down. We do like to let our children play. They can get their crayons out sometimes; once, I even let them use watercolour paints in the living room. Yes, they should be very grateful indeed to have parents like me… I mean, us.

Two of Jake’s paintings have been lovingly displayed on the top compartment of our fridge. Three of Gemma’s miniature paintings have their place, in a straight line, of course, on the bottom compartment. Ooh, and I need to check the bathroom for any signs of messiness. It’s probably true what they say – about how judgemental people can be when it comes to others’ bathrooms.

We don’t really actually use all those ‘designer’ shower gels and body cremes that we keep being gifted with at those abysmal work New Year’s parties. Still, it won’t do to have the ones we normally use, out, for everyone to gawk at. So I pour out some of the product from the ‘designer’ bottles, and place them on the shelf. The blue-y ones on one side, and the more reddish ones on the other. And, of course, the kids’ toothbrush holder in the middle – the Disneyland one. Our guests just have to know that we’ve been to Disneyland. We’re good parents, we are.

Next, Gemma’s room. Bed made, check. Things in good order, yes. But the pots of kiddy slime that currently plaster her desk. No! We can’t have them thinking that my precious daughter is only like any other abhorrent little child. The thought of them thinking that my Gemma is fascinated by… goo. Preposterous, absurd. My Gemma is a little genius, and she has three certificates from school to prove it. “Karen, darling! Have you seen the Blu-tack anywhere?”

Jake: my firstborn. Heir to whatever titles I may claim to have, all-round apple of my eye. But why oh why, Jake, do you insist on keeping all those books of yours under your bed, away from view? How else are my guests going to know that you’re an avid reader? I’ve seen your books. You’ve been reading about (what’s it called again? Dinosaur facts and stuff? Paleo… Paleology? Oh, no, yes —) palaeontology – since you were barely six years old! Okay, now where’s your sports gear? Also under your bed? Wait, what’s this? Football certificates, framed, and on your wall? Atta-boy, son, atta-boy!

My mug collection, everything in its correct place. The one from Berlin, the one from Jerusalem, the one from Athens. We need to let people know that we are a well-travelled bunch. After all, what’s the point in having something – an experience, or a brilliant trait – if it cannot be shown, known?

Karen has informed me of the fact that she thinks I only do all of this stuff before dinner parties because I’m “given to exhibitions of tasteless showiness”. But I always think, shut up woman. I married you for your pretty face and for your hourglass figure, mainly. Don’t give me all that, all those big words. What could they possibly even add to your character – to your role as my wife?

My wife plays tennis. The evidence: framed pictures lining the hallway. Sometimes, my wife and I play tennis together. The evidence: more picture frames, in our living room, of course. She’s perfect for me, Karen is. We are both so in sync with one another, so undeniably compatible. We both like brown bread and we both work in the financial sector!

We’re serious people, too. See, I, for one, really like to follow the advice of renowned architects when it comes to interior decor. I do like reading those stylish urban magazines. Put the most recent edition on the coffee table, naturally – the one that talks about the value of rustic vases. Five minutes after reading that article, I purchased four of said ornaments online – the most expensive ones I could find, naturally. 

We’re also interesting people, don’t get me wrong. Our home is not black and white. We have coloured rugs. Our kettle is blue. And did I mention, we like to put our children’s artistic creations up on the fridge. My best friend’s half-Muslim; Hassan from work knows this. I think we’re quite liberal, as parents, and as people.

Karen, your hair. Your hair, Karen. Why does it look so messy? A French braid, Karen. Tie it into a French braid. How do I tell her to tie it into a French braid, without sending her off into another one of those strops of hers? I can’t have her embarrassing me, in front of them. Hassan’s wife, by contrast to this sorry woman, seems like she is quite a cheerful lady. I have never seen her frown, not once. Actually, maybe the Botox on her forehead has something to do with it. Oh, and her Pakoras – have I told you about her Pakoras? Heavenly!

Karen only knows how to make sandwiches. Sandwiches made with brown bread. I loved this about her for a short while. But, boy, do I crave some homemade stew sometimes. Some Pakoras. Our solution, a happy compromise: we buy homemade food from a local bistro. Arrange it on plates to look like Karen made it. And everyone’s a winner! Well, except me, of course. I’m married to her!

The kids are sitting on the stairs. They are holding their instructional flash cards. Good; they are doing exactly as they should. My wife, on the other hand, she simply objects to using these cards that I make for her. If she messes up today, without them, it will be entirely her own fault. If she messes up, I will simply not speak to her for two days and half of another one. Then, we will go and play some tennis, take some pictures for Facebook…and maybe we will have some brown bread sandwiches.

Can you keep a secret? I don’t actually like brown bread — not even by a crumb. I only told her I loved it pre-marriage, you see, when I had been trying to impress her, at work. I’m not even sure if she likes brown bread all that much, either. I’m not sure if she thinks anything of anything, most of the time. In fact, I am convinced that the only thing she talks about with her therapist each week is her most recent weight loss venture.

DING DONG. Okay, they have arrived. Everybody in their places. Do not get me wrong. This household belongs to me, and I am its director. Bueno. Now, Door, smiles, 



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