Scales (Part 1 of 2)


Alan is 50. There was an adage when he was 20 about not trusting anyone over 30, and that saying is now more than 30 years old. He has just finished watching a documentary on PBS about the 60s. He was surprised to learn that the Free Speech Movement grew out of the HUAC hearings in San Francisco. He is astounded to realize how many decades have passed since the assassinations and devastations of 1968.

He is still in his TV chair. Alan has a weak back and can’t seem to get consistent with abdominal crunches. But ever since his surgery he knows how to nurture himself. He spent nearly $3,000 on a power-recliner/massager, and he’s never regretted the purchase. It’s more comfortable than bed. He lolls in the chair now, remote commander on the table at his right, sleepy Dalmatian curled on the floor at his left.

“Al? Honey? Alan…” Hope’s voice reaches him from their bathroom; he knows if he doesn’t go to her she’ll come down the hall to him, toothbrush in her mouth or lotion in her hand.

“Be right there,” he calls to her. “I’m just looking up something.” Hope likes him to be with her when she turns out the light, and he’s tired anyway. But he’s had a little trouble falling asleep and staying asleep lately. He’s a bit tense.

The catalogue has two types of sound soothers. (Three actually, if the tiny Travel Soother is included, but it has only Seaside, Summer Night, Brook and Rain – no white noise – so Alan has deemed it not a true soother.) There’s a portable Sound Soother, with or without AM/FM radio, for $120 to $155. And there’s the larger and clearly more serious Stereo Sound Soother (with SuperView Screen) for $229. Alan has the room and the assets; he decides to go for the stereo model.

He also decides to head for the bedroom. He presses the button that puts the footrest down and the chairback up, and by that action disturbs the dog. Cutty is a liver-spotted Dalmatian, with spots so few and light that he looks almost pure white, and they named him Cutty Sark for the scotch they fed him to help him through a rough puppyhood. Cutty was the runt of the litter and born deaf in one ear. He has always been a difficult dog, excitable like a terrier and even more prone to fight, but Hope and Alan love him.

Cutty jumps up and snaps air near the chair as Alan with an “Easy boy” attempts to calm him. He tries to be patient with the dog, but he’s tired of problems. He feels like he’s walking toward a bundle of wifely need, dogged by a neurotic companion about to trip him with frantic movements. Alan wishes he had the white noise generator, now, so he could tune out the whines of his dependents. But he doesn’t have the generator, and he doesn’t want to get the dog agitated, and he certainly doesn’t aim to give Hope anything more to feed her despair. He’d rather avoid her stiff-backed anger in bed and a cold morning tomorrow, and he can do without a couple of hours of “talking” now. So Alan doesn’t kick Cutty. He brushes his teeth, pulls off his clothes and climbs into bed with his wife.

Hope backs her cold butt into Alan’s belly. She wriggles against him. It isn’t that she wants sex; she’s nestling her curved body into his the way she likes to go to sleep, wearing a big T-shirt so her skin doesn’t stick to his. But the shirt always rides up, with the wriggling and nestling, and Hope’s butt is always cold. It used to be a bigger butt when Hope was happier, and Alan didn’t mind that, but in the last year she has lost her appetite and 25 pounds. Now her butt is narrow. Still cold but narrow. Not nearly as much fun to warm.

“I wish we had time tomorrow to work on the deck,” she murmurs with a final squirm as she pulls Alan’s arm across her middle. They have just installed a hot tub in their yard but they can’t use it until the surrounding deck is sealed. Hope talks like her happiness depends upon being able to soak in hot chlorinated water surrounded by her beloved garden, and Alan has therefore been doing more than all he can to deliver her desire. He can’t figure out why she continues to sound so forlorn about it. He’s beginning to resent it that she doesn’t act grateful about his effort. Or even optimistic.

But he doesn’t address his feelings about the matter. “We’ll make time, honey,” he says to her. “We haven’t got that much going on.”

“Cutty needs his bath, and we’ve got to go shopping, and I want to work the far flower bed and cook. And I need to finish some bowls.”

“Um… okay. I’ll bathe the dog and do the shopping. You can garden and work on ceramics or food prep: whatever. There will be plenty of time.” Alan has a fleeting vision of himself, alternately frantic or idle but never in the good Saturday place between, and suddenly, strongly, he wants to make some music. He used to play any keyboard instrument around. He used to play recorded music on the stereo. When did that stop? It couldn’t have been too long ago; he owns a player…

“You better give Cutty a long walk before you try the bath. Otherwise he’ll be way too hyper.”


“Watch him when you walk him. Keep him on the leash. I really think he tried to kill that cat the other day.”

“Oh come on.”

“No, Alan. I was there.” Hope cranes her head off the pillow and turns her face in Alan’s direction. “We both saw the small cat under the car, and I swear – it was like tactical: Cutty waited till the rare car approached and then flushed the kitty out. He raced in the cat’s direction, snarling and really loud, and the car nearly hit the freaked-out cat. It was disturbing.”

“Shit. If Cutty’s going to kill a small mammal, he might as well go for old Play-doh.”

“Alan!” Her reprimand is whispered and sarcastic. Their mutual contempt for the neighborhood Chihuahua promotes an immediate connection. The small tan dog is classically nervous, yippy, and unattractive. It took them months after meeting Play-doh’s elderly owners before they realized the dog’s name was really “Plato.”

“G’night Hope.”

“G’night honey.”

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