Puppies Are Better
My first "novel" idea, penned in longhand when I was single, in college and holding down two jobs. I tabled it after awhile - but at some point I may type out the "prequel chapters" and post them here. Five years after this was written...I lived it....
Puppies are Better
The Thing had managed to squirm out of Kara’s grasp again, when the doorbell rang. Unable to answer the door herself, she yells, “COME IN!”
Thank God, Kara thought, that would be the random axe-murderer I ordered, come to put me out of my misery.
“Hey, sweetie, where are ya?”
Damn! It’s just Ruth. No chalk outlines on the linoleum today.
“IN THE BATHROOM!” shouted Kara, her voice bouncing off the walls that desperately cried out for new wallpaper.
Good lord, is that my voice?
It seemed to Kara that recently, she had two voices: Low, and Very Loud. She suddenly realized that the latter was making more and more of an appearance as of late.
Well, get used to it, sister. I’m sure it’s going to be around for at least another 18 years, unless I blow out my voice box.
As she turned her attention back to The Thing, she could hear the footsteps of her best friend thudding down the carpeted corridor. Soon, Ruth appeared at the doorway. She was very attractive, decked out in one of her work ensembles, looking every bit like a picture ripped from the pages of a Dillard’s catalogue.
Ruth surveyed the battleground. The bathroom had taken a direct hit, as debris consisting of towels, clothes and diapers was scattered everywhere. Kara was kneeling on a bath mat, which barely kept her knees out of the water that seemed to be rising right out of the tile floor. Her uniform of the day, an old sweatshirt and jeans, was covered with water stains and soapsuds. She had her back to Ruth, and was struggling with The Thing in the bathtub: her infant son.
“So, how goes it?” Ruth asked. The question hung in the damp air, swirling around Kara’s head, mingling with the tendrils of steam that rose from the bath water. Kara bit the inside of her cheek, stifling the response welling up in her throat like bad Mexican take-out looking to get out.
“Life is good,” was the response that eventually came up. She hadn’t bothered to turn around, as she locked a slippery arm around the squirming infant in the bathwater. As she reached for a bottle of soap, the child slipped from her grip again. This time, his china doll face disappeared below the suds-line, a submarine in the process of crash-diving. Kara muttered a half-swear (Oh, God Da-), as she plunged her hand underwater, and plucked the sputtering child out of the water by one of his soapy legs.
“Nice,” smiled Ruth, wiping an errant soap bubble from her unblemished face. As she watched her best friend struggle with the now-screeching child, she found herself quietly shaking, trying not to laugh at the absurdity of it all. “The kid’s not a carrot, you know,” she said, jokingly, “You don’t have to kill him on my account.” She watched Kara clumsily try to wrap the squalling baby in a fraying yellow bunny print towel. “Need some help?” she offered.
“Yeah, hand me the baby muzzle over there.” Kara freed her hand long enough to flail it in the direction of a small purple pacifier on the floor in front of the toilet.
“Eeeww!” The sound oozed out of Ruth’s mouth, as she picked the pacifier up by its tether, letting it swing loose between her thumb and forefinger. “You mean this thing that was touching the floor?”
“Yeah, sure,” replied Kara, “You think the floor is worse than listening to this?” She snatched it from Ruth’s grasp and plunged it into the child’s mouth. As she attempted to rearrange the towel, the infant plucked the offensive piece of rubber with a balled-up fist, and launched it into the air. It made a sick plooping sound as it landed inside the toilet bowl: A three-pointer for The Thing.
“Oh, yeah, give it to him now!” Ruth blurted out, all restraint gone. Her laughter echoed in the bathroom, mixing with the screams of the child. The sounds seemed to compose some cruel song, dedicated to Kara, number one with a bullet.
Ruth sensed something in the sudden stillness of her friend, and slowly stopped laughing.
“Here, gimme the little troll. You look like you could use a break. Grab yourself a brewski, why don’t cha?”
Kara offered up her child to Ruth, as she sacrificed her grip on him. “Thanks,” she weakly smiled, as she climbed off the bathroom floor and made her way towards the kitchen. She swallowed hard, trying to contain herself. Her coffee colored eyes already had rings around them, and she didn’t want to stain them with the tears that she felt pooling around their edges.
Okay, girl, pull yourself together, she thought, you are fine. Remember, life is good, right? You can do this mom thing. It’s instinctive, right?
When she reached the kitchen, she jerked the handle on the refrigerator door. Brushing her auburn hair from her eyes, she passes a quick glance upon its contents, and eyed her prize. She pushed aside a pizza box, the remnants of last night’s dinner.
You know, Kara thought, they should make pizza boxes with days of the week on them, like the underwear. That way, you could tell how old the pizza is. “Hey honey, is this Monday’s dinner, or Wednesday’s?” “Check the day on the box, ya dork.” Yeah, now THAT’S a million-dollar idea. Have to remember that…
She retrieved two black-&-gold cans from a torn-up box, and closed the door. She entered her small, ill-furnished living room, and was greeted with the sight of Ruth, sitting in a scuffed-up rocker, holding a dry-diapered and pleasantly quiet baby in her arms.
Visions of pizza-box calendars danced out of Kara’s head, as it filled back up with the reality of her situation. She placed her beer on the coffee table, and walked to Ruth with the other.
"Puppies are better,” she quipped, as she popped the can and handed it to Ruth. “Do puppies have Frito feet? I don’t think so.”
“Well, do babies have puppy breath?” Ruth took a small sip of the beer, then placed the can on the coffee table. “Come on, Kara,” she smiled, “look at him. What’s his name? Lee?” She sniffed at the baby’s toes. “Mmm. Baby soap.”
“No, his name’s Les, as in less money, less time, less sex – “
“Less loneliness? Less ‘no meaning’ to your life?” Ruth’s tea green eyes softened, as she looked into Kara’s bleary eyes. “You are living every little girl’s dream, ya know. A job, a home…” She looked down at Les’ angel face again and smiled. “A family…”
“A leaky roof, a loser husband, six months of unemployment due to pregnancy, and a screaming ball of testosterone that needs feeding all the time.” Kara flopped down on her well-worn couch and popped the top on her beer. “Yeah, I still say puppies are better.”
“I thought you wanted this baby,” Ruth whispered, as she nuzzled Les’ furry little head.
“I wanted a girl.”
“Maybe he’ll be gay.”
Kara smirked. “Thanks, Ruth. You always say the right thing.” She chugged down a big gulp of her beer. “’Every little girl’s dream,’ my ever-widening butts. Boobs down to my friggin’ knees, my stomach looks like I burned it with the iron, I never sleep through the night…What century are you living in, anyway? I could have had a career, for god’s sake. Every girl’s dream? Every girl’s nightmare’s more like it.”
“Uh huh,” Ruth said, still staring at the gift in her arms. “Look, you have a job again. You own the leaky roof. Steven is not a total loser. You had sex at least once…I’ve got the proof right here.” As Ruth gently rocked in the chair, Les started to make happy and contented bubbly noises. Ruth smiled. “He sounds just like that old coffee percolator my grandmother used to have. Can’t be all bad, right?”
She looked up at Kara, who was wiggling the tab on her beer can. “I never figured you to take a ride on the Pity Express. Oh, and by the way, I can see your knees. Wrinkles, yes. Nipples? Not a chance.”
Kara nodded as she took another swig of beer. Ruth looked back down at Les.
“Babies make you immortal, right? Part of you is gonna be around forever in your kid, and your kid’s kids.” Ruth nuzzled Les nose-to-nose. “Tell me you honestly hate this little guy’s guts.”
Kara guzzled the rest of the beer in two quick gulps. “Well, I’ll tell ya, now I understand why some animals eat their young.” A loud belch escaped her lips. “Ow, that was a good one. Let’s see if that lives on forever.”
Ruth smiled. “In a couple of years, your boy here will think that was pretty funny.” She stood up with the cooing child nestled in her arms like a favorite doll, and walked over to Kara. “I gotta go. Got some single career woman stuff to do. And you? Well, you've gotta chill, girlfriend. Don’t be so serious. Babies grow, as do mothers. This will all be funny someday, especially when they’ve moved on and the memory of this is all you’ll have.”
“Will that happen soon?” Kara asked, putting the empty beer can on the table, “’cause I could definitely use some chuckles right about now.”
Ruth smiled at Kara, as they passed the now-sleeping torch of the future between them.
“I’ll call. We’ll do lunch.” The clichéd line, told in a sarcastic tone, was followed by the sound of the front door closing.
“Yeah, lunch,” said Kara, to no one in particular. For a moment, she sat on the couch, staring at the doorway that her friend had just used to escape her world. Then, she stared down at the small bundle in her arms. She kept staring, as tears from her eyes gently splashed upon his placid, cherub face. She clutched the baby tight against her chest.
“Puppies are better,” she whispered.
And then the sobbing began in earnest.
TL (Hughes) Boehm
Edited by Frank O Butler