It all started with the bathroom rugs--the squishy-soft plush ones that Simon could really sink his feet into while he used the toilet or when he stepped out of the shower. Those rugs were, he would easily admit, such a small creature comfort, but that didn’t make them any less important, nor mitigate the sense of peace they brought him when the December wind howled outside . But on Day 1, as Simon came to label the days, the bathroom rugs disappeared. His long-time companion, a golden retriever named Willow, sniffed suspiciously. She loved the rugs almost as much as Simon, but now all that remained was a stark-white tile floor that bit at his feet until he tugged his socks on.
When his wife, Laurel, finally stumbled in the door a little after nine, carrying bags and holding a lamp in the crook of her arm, she told him what had happened to the rugs. Simon’s worst nightmare had come true--Laurel had gotten the call.
“I had to throw them out! I’ve only got a few days until the judges come to evaluate the house. This could be it, Simon! If we’re picked, there will be a full spread in the magazine, both online and in print. So obviously, we can’t have rugs in the bathroom that show footprints!”
Simon laid his favorite slippers by the bed, in preparation for confronting the floor in the morning, or at midnight if his bladder betrayed him.
Next to go were his car magazines. He didn’t have time to work on cars anymore (Laurel wouldn’t have stood for him putting on such a display of disorder outside anyway), but he still indulged and hoped for the best when he retired. Those glorious future days when his time would be at his command. In the meantime, he satisfied these cravings reading about all the things he could invest in later. The magazines were a simple, harmless diversion, but now they were gone.
There was some new reading material available--a lavish coffee table book on hand dryers.
“Those magazines just create clutter,” Laurel informed him. “They won’t photograph well, and you can just find all that online anyway.”
“What about hand dryers? Can you see those online?” Simon asked.
What he didn’t say was how he remembered his father poring over the exact same types of magazines, and how some of Simon’s happiest moments were when he received an invitation to join him. Now his dad was gone, but Simon still heard his voice when he flipped the pages. He wasn’t sure that would work the same with scrolling.
At least Laurel had left the picture of his parents on the coffee table.
The picture vanished on Day 3 and was replaced by a frame that held an image of two children frolicking in the snow.
“Who are these people, and what have you done with my parents?” Simon demanded when Laurel stopped hastily by the doorway to inform him she was heading out for more home supplies.
“Really, Simon, that picture of your parents is ghastly. The colors are all off and they look shell-shocked.”
“They were young parents. I think that goes with the territory. And you still haven’t told me who these people are.” He gestured toward the cherubic children.
“They’re whoever you want them to be though I doubt anyone will ask. If they do, I’m going with our niece and nephew whom we absolutely adore. Your parents, on the other hand, now reside in the attic.”
Simon’s well-worn coffee table was the next victim, shoved aside by a metal, glass-top monstrosity that would slice his Achilles tendons if he attempted to put his feet up.
“The lady at the second-hand store said the old one will make such a nice piece for a young couple just starting out,” Laurel said dismissively.
Simon attempted to curl his feet up on the couch and Willow laid her head on them, but it just wasn’t the same.
It had been a hell of a day, and Simon was in search of one of his remaining creature comforts. “Laurel? Where’s my blanket?”
Laurel appeared in the doorway, her phone held to her ear. “Had to be replaced. See that throw on the back of the couch? Isn’t it gorgeous?”
Simon reached his hand out to touch the covering that, in his opinion, looked more like a shrunken, prickly rug, but what did he really know about style?
Laurel’s gasp stopped him short. “Don’t move it, Simon. It’s perfectly placed, and it’s not actually meant to be used. It’s purely decorative.”
Simon had just finished ringing the bell at the local market and was brimming with goodwill toward men even though his toes were frozen. Halfway through his duty, he had begun dreaming of his favorite slippers, the ones with his toe imprints that slid on so easily.
Another imposter, however, waited for him at home. A pair of plaid socks now resided in the former resting place of his old friends. He sat down to put them on, careful not to disturb Laurel’s new throw that, upon further consideration, looked a bit like a cat's back with its fur raised in warning.
He called to Laurel as she passed by the den with her new best friend, Carla, the interior guru who gurgled out suggestions like a babbling brook. “My slippers?”
“In the trash, dear.”
“I think I’ll get them back out.”
“Those slipper socks cost a small fortune, and they look so modern. Besides, the trash just got picked up.” She lifted her shoulder and shot him a look of fake sympathy.
“I think the socks are fabulous!” Carla called over Laurel’s shoulder. She flashed him a thumbs up. Simon wanted to use a hand gesture also, but his choice wouldn’t be nearly as encouraging.
Reluctantly, he tried the new socks. They had the non-slip dots that felt like knobs grinding into his feet each time he tried to walk.
He threw them under the couch.
Simon had a bag of tacos for dinner, which put him in an indescribably good mood. For him, it was the little things that meant the most. Dinner had been a forgotten prospect at their house lately, and he was looking forward to surprising Laurel. A few candles, some soft music. They could get the romance back. A relationship required feeding or it grew brittle. Brittle led quickly to broken. He had heard enough of this from lawyer friends at the firm.
But Simon was only greeted by Willow, who nudged her nose against the bag.
His phone buzzed, and he sighed when he saw Laurel’s name. “I’ve got tacos,” he announced.
“Oh, how sweet, Si. Listen, Carla and I just had to run downtown. Believe me, it’s a decorating emergency. There are some gaps in the table decor that are just screaming to be filled.”
“Well, I’ll set the food out for when you get home.”
“Don’t worry about it. Carla and I grabbed some protein shakes just a few minutes ago. I won’t be hungry for hours. And, Si?”
“The table is off limits. Nothing on it can be disturbed.”
Simon ate his tacos at the kitchen counter and stared out the window, where he caught a glimpse of the family next door, carrying dishes to a table that was not as beautiful as his, but which was certainly what he’d prefer.
He placed a plate on the floor and invited Willow to join him for dinner.
“No, no, no! You can’t sleep in the bed.” Laurel wore a horrified expression. “Back away from the bed, Simon. That’s a brand new duvet that cost a month’s salary. It’s not really meant to be slept on. Or under.”
“Where would you like for me to sleep, Laurel?”
“I have cots! Give me just a minute and I’ll get yours made up.”
“Mmmm. Could we push our cots together?” Simon lifted his eyebrows and smiled seductively at his wife. “It’ll be like summer camp, but with a lot more privacy.”
Laurel dropped a couple of blankets unceremoniously on the cot. “If only. I’ve got a couple more hours of work to do. You go ahead and turn in.”
When she left the room, Simon pulled the cots together anyway. It was worth a shot. He smoothed out the blanket on Laurel’s.
At 2:00 am, Laurel pulled the cots apart and slid contentedly into hers.
Simon woke up with a pain in his back and a crick in his neck. At some point through the night, he realized Laurel had left the good pillows on the bed and supplied him with the flat ones from the hall closet--the emergency pillows that hung around for whatever reason emergency pillows might be required.
Did this count as an emergency? Simon wondered. No, this was pure insanity.
He made his way to the kitchen, massaging his lower back as he went.
His irritation vanished when the heavenly scent of sugar cookies brushed lightly against his nose. He inhaled deeply.
Laurel knew. Finally. She knew she had gone too far, and now she was going to make it up to him. He was primed for a little makeup sex. Maybe even in the bed.
But it was Carla, not Laurel, who greeted him in the kitchen.
“Hi, Simon! We’re at it early this morning!” She grinned and folded a dish towel on the counter.
“Where’s Laurel?” He tried not to sound snippy; Carla was just doing her job after all.
“She’s just grabbing a few things out of the back of the car she didn’t feel like carrying in last night.”
So no morning makeup sex, but at least there were still cookies.
“And Simon? Laurel told me to tell you not to touch the cookies. She’s experimenting with a set up for the kitchen counter when the judges come through. She’s going to spray them with shellac or hairspray, I can’t remember which one for sure, in order to preserve them. Isn’t that just a fabulous idea?”
“Hey, Si?” It was not lost on Simon that Laurel had recently reverted to using her pet name for him, but it produced no goodwill or desire to listen on his part. “Listen, I’m having the toilets deep cleaned today, so if you can, just try to limit your use for the next couple of days.”
She smiled at him through the doorway, as if she had just happily announced the sun was shining. “Oh, and if you have to do the other, could you try to take care of that at the office? I want each toilet to be sparkling!”
It crossed Simon’s mind to buy some prunes on his way to work and eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Simon and Willow had a date planned. One of his favorite old movies was on, and he was just preparing to make his way to the kitchen to fix his popcorn and peanut mixture. Laurel had bought him a bean bag chair that wasn’t half bad. Her fear over him messing up the throw on the back of the couch had finally been too much for her already frayed nerves, so she told him the bean bag chair would be his new seating for the time being. She’d hide it in the van when the judges came to perform their walk-through.
Willow liked the seating because it brought the two of them down to approximately the same level.
“Willow, old girl, if you only knew,” Simon murmured as he gave her a lengthy scratch under the chin. “I’ll be right back.”
He hoisted himself up from his lowly seated position, grabbed the remote to pause his movie, and headed to the kitchen. He had just grabbed the popcorn from the snack cupboard when Laurel appeared at his side.
“What are you doing, Simon?”
“I’m fixing popcorn, Laurel, with peanuts. That okay with you?” Could she argue with popcorn and peanuts? It was hardly a messy endeavor.
“No. No, I don’t think that’s a good idea. You might accidentally burn the popcorn, and who knows how long that smell might hang around, or what it might get into.”
“So I can’t have my popcorn because it might accidentally burn and then it might produce a smell that might get into some of the fabric. Are you listening to yourself, Laurel?”
“I always listen to myself, Simon. I’ve found it’s the best rule to follow.” With that, she plucked the popcorn package from his hand and sent it clanging into the trash can. “I think that was expired. Have an apple. It’s better for you anyway.”
Day #12 Doggone It!
Simon stopped at the pet shop that afternoon. The treats he purchased for Willow were expensive, but they were her favorites. He felt his heart lift as he paid for his purchase and headed home. This was exactly what he needed--a little quality time with man’s best friend. Maybe they’d go for a walk after dinner. He didn’t realize it, but he no longer factored Laurel into his evening plans.
“Hey, Wills!” he called as he entered the house and shut the door. “C’mere, girl!”
Silence greeted him. “Willow!”
Laurel emerged, with Carla in tow, from the sunroom at the back of the house.
“Oh, Si, didn’t I tell you? I decided to board Willow for the next couple of days. It would just be too hard to have her underfoot with the judges coming through. And the dog hair. You know that’s a constant battle. So Carla told me about this great little place on the other side of town.” Carla nodded like a bobble-head and smiled incessantly.
Neither of them seemed to notice the stillness that had enveloped Simon. “But Willow’s never been boarded, Laurel. She must be terrified.”
“Oh, she’ll be fine. She seemed okay when I dropped her off.”
Carla added, “I’m sure she’ll have a fabulous time!”
Through it all, Simon had stayed calm and reasonable. Through the rugs, the magazines, the picture, the coffee table, blanket, slippers, lonely dinners, his bed, and the cookies, Simon had maintained his composure. But this, the utter disregard for his dog, for their dog, was just too much.
“I’m leaving, Laurel.”
Laurel glanced up briefly from the pillow cover she was considering. “Okay. What time will you be back? I need help with a few last minute details.”
“I’m not coming back.”
For a moment, he actually had her attention for some other reason than to scold him. “What is there to come back to, Laurel? Stark white granite countertops I can’t touch, sparkling toilets I can’t pee in, and couches I can’t sit on?”
“You’re being silly. You know I have to get all of this ready. . .”
“You’ve been getting ready, Laurel, for years. It’s not just been these past twelve days. It started back even before we began building the house, and it’s never stopped. I don’t know what your end goal is, but I no longer think it includes me. You enjoy this house, Laurel. I think I’ll go find a home.” And with that, Simon left her life as quietly and humbly as he’d entered it.
Carla spoke softly, “I think I’ll just show myself out.”
Laurel nodded. She found her way to the couch and, without thinking, pulled the once-so- carefully-considered throw around her, but its roughness only scraped her skin and provided no comfort.