Author's Note: All comments are welcome and appreciated.
"Hi Hank, whatcha doing?"
Parker the little boy who lived next door, asked me that question at least ten times a day if I happened to be outside working. He had just turned six a couple of months ago, but the pattern had been the same ever since he and his parents had moved in three summers prior.
"Digging a hole, Parker, what are you doing?"
Of course I knew the next question before it ever left his lips, but he asked it anyway.
"Why?" His little blonde head bobbing up and down above the top of the fence that separated our two yards as he climbed up on a toe hold that one of the boards provided, if but temporarily.
"Well I'm going to plant this new tree," I said pointing at the balled tree near where I was standing, "and then make a planting bed for some more flowers." I always answered Parker even though I knew it would just continue.
"Why?" Just like clockwork.
"Because Tina wants me too." Tina being my wife of over twenty-five years.
Just then the back door slid open and out ran Parker's little sister Ally, all three years old of her.
"Hank," she squealed "whatcha doing?" She had learned her part well. As she ran towards the fence next to her brother. I could see her little hands grasp the top of the fence but even after climbing as far up as her little legs could boost her I still couldn't see the top of her head.
"Digging a hole," I repeated.
"To plant a tree."
"Because Tina wants me too."
This game never ended. What usually happened was after a few minutes of the why game either they would find something more interesting than whatever I was working on or their mother would come flying out the back door yelling for them to leave me alone. More often she would just come over and scoop them up and take them back inside telling me for the hundredth time how sorry she was that they were bothering me. The truth was that the kids didn't bother me near as much as her always yelling at them did. Dad was worse especially when he was drinking which was just about every Friday and Saturday night. The kids were just kids. Mine had been the same way when they were young, in fact they reminded me a lot of my two. Maybe that was why they didn't bother me near as much as they did her. Age gives you a different perspective. I could think back twenty years and see my own kids in those little faces, these days my son is in grad school a thousand miles away and a year ago fall my baby got married and would soon be giving us our first grandchild.
Just about then Tina came from around a larger grouping of trees carrying a tall glass of iced tea for me, as soon as Parker spotted her on one of his head bobs the game started over.
"Hi Tina," he started, "whatcadoing?" His long string of syllables stitched into one long word.
Tina smiled, "I'm planting flowers Parker what are you doing?"
Both of us always asked them what they were doing as a way to maybe distract them, it rarely worked, but sometimes it inadvertently led to them perhaps blurting out things that maybe the neighbors weren't supposed to know. Like the time they had told us that mommy and daddy had pushed them out of the bedroom and shut the door. Twenty minutes later mommy was standing on the back steps yelling for them to get their butts back in the house. Her hair was a bit messy and she was wearing her bath robe. When she saw me in the yard she had turned several shades of red and hurried back inside the safety of her own house.
Our houses really aren't that close, we live in a rather decent and upscale neighborhood, each lot had an acre or better, it was just the way our two particular houses sat and the fact that I spent a lot of time outdoors working around the house. We like to garden and Tina is always adding flowers, or bushes, or trees, or something to the landscaping. I might just be working around the pool or building a new birdbox or who knows just enjoying the sunshine. The point was we saw a lot of what happened on the other side of the fence mostly without trying.
The game continued and then concluded for this round, they had seen a butterfly so off they went laughing and playing like children will and should do. I kept on digging. The day was warm, the late spring sun shining down on me as I dug in the clay, I had sweat pouring off of me in huge droplets. I figured I might as well work on not having anything but my normal farmers tan so I pulled off my sweat soaked shirt. This is something I rarely do and pretty much never outside of the confines of my own backyard. I guess I am a bit self-conscious these days about my body, let's just say the years have not been kind or better yet the food and I get along well. It's better to keep things covered, too many late night steaks and beers and all you can eat buffets have definitely left their mark. I'm not complaining I've, we've, had a good life and I've got the beer-gut to prove it. There is still a lot of muscle under all of this just that there is a lot more padding covering all of it these days. The sun feels good, I can hear the kids' laughter drifting over the fence, so I keep digging.
The tree I'm planting this particular afternoon is a red oak, Tina loves oak trees, who am I kidding she loves all trees and growing things. Plants in general, flowers, shrubs, bushes, trees: annuals or perennials doesn't matter our yard is a cornucopia of trees and plants she has obtained over the years. She gets them and brings them home and I dig in the dirt so she can plant them. It is her therapy she says, keeps her stress levels down. Its good work for me keeps the heart pumping, good exercise for someone who could use a lot more. This particular tree's root-ball is about twenty-four or so inches in diameter which means I need a good four foot diameter hole that is also about two foot deep, and the clay isn't the easiest stuff to dig in.
After a good hour of ignoring me the game begins again.
"Hey Hank, whatcha doing?" I can just see his bright blue eyes starring across the top of the fence, he had drug his tri-cycle over to the fence and was standing on the seat, it might have given him an extra four inches of height.
"What's it look like I'm doing?" I asked leaning on the long handle of my spade. The sweat dripping off the end of my nose.
"Digging." He answered.
"Well then that must be what I'm doing. What are you doing?"
"Can I help?" The next phase of the game was afoot.
"Well I don't know about that, this ground is pretty hard for such a little fellow."
"I can get my dad's shovel out of the garage."
"Why don't you just stand there and watch me dig for a while, then maybe."
This satisfied him for a few minutes, then it began again when Ally's attention was again directed my way. Back and forth the game continued until I heard their back door slide open again. Mom had spied them over by the fence and as she came out the door she also saw me.
"PARKER, ALLY you get your butts over here right now and leave Hank alone." She bellowed.
"They're fine." I answered "Just watching me dig a hole."
Out she stormed right to where they stood by the fence. "Go on leave Hank alone." She grabbed up the tri-cycle and both kids went running.
I tried to just ignore it, the kids were not a problem. I couldn't say she wasn't a good parent I really didn't know. I knew what I had seen and heard over the last three years but that was minimal at best. Soon she had them each by an arm and practically dragged them into the house. I just kept digging.
Over the next couple of hours I got the tree planted, and Tina and I took a lunch break, sitting under an umbrella by the pool. She mentioned she had heard Heather, the kid's mother, and I replayed the story for her. We agreed with each other again that maybe mom was the problem. After lunch I went back to work I had plenty more to get done, and soon Friday afternoon stretched into early evening.
I was still working, trying hard to wrap up at least part of my "to do" list. The kids had made it back outside to play, we had played a couple more rounds of whatcha doing, and we had managed to not alert their mom. Dad had made it home and seeing how it was nice evening he had the grill going and the beer flowing. I started putting things away for the day I was tired. Tina had quit an hour or so before me. She had already showered and was mostly undressed, wearing only a thin t-shirt that didn't totally cover her ass standing in the kitchen preparing us some dinner when I step through the back door. Normally I would have stepped up behind her, reached around and taken both of her lovely breasts in my hands but being as dirty as I was I thought it would be better to get a shower first.
"I like your outfit." I said as I kicked off my boots. She grinned as she turned around flashing me her freshly shaved mound.
"Know where a girl can get a little attention?" She teased.
"Maybe after I've had a shower, and whatever you are fixing smells fabulous."
She took another drink from her wine glass a twinkle in her eye.
"Keep it up big boy and you just might get lucky." She answered her nipples poking through the thin material of her shirt. "I've got some chicken I'm going to throw on the grill while you shower."
"Be careful going out there Heather was setting out dishes and Connor had the grill going. Looks like the neighbors are having dinner outside as well."
"Oh, glad you told me, I'll throw on some shorts, don't want to put on a show." She said as she kissed me, "go on take a shower, you stink."
I swatted her on an exposed check as she sass-shayed her way back across the kitchen. After my shower, I returned to the kitchen and found a beer on the counter waiting on me.
"Eat outside?" Tina asked as she re-entered the kitchen a plate full of chicken in her hand.
"Sure." I said taking a large drink of my beer.
The night closed in around us, the only light we had coming from a couple of candles that Tina had lit and sat out while I showered. We ate well, had a couple more drinks, flirted with each other, and were just generally relaxing enjoying the evening when the volume across the fence began to increase. Soon after, so did the intensity.
"Goddammit Parker, how many times have I told you?" We heard Conner, the father, bellow. We had no idea what Parker might have been doing. We had been focused on the food and each other, but an occasional word or phrase had wafted through that we had ignored, now our dinner was the last thing we were paying attention too.
The yelling continued and soon both parents were laying it on thick to both kids. I don't think they were ever actually physical with either child but soon both were sobbing loudly. This situation continued for way longer than was truly necessary and twice Tina had to tell me to sit down it wasn't my place to interfere. I was mad no doubt about it and knew I shouldn't, but I sure wanted to. Didn't these idiots understand that verbal abuse was ten times more dangerous than physical abuse would ever be? We sat in silence for several minutes, my appetite had left, and the general mood of the evening had been destroyed. Soon both children had been ushered indoors and I presume put to bed. We sat in silence a few more minutes, before cleaning up our dishes and heading inside ourselves.
We cleaned up the kitchen in silence each of us lost in our own thoughts. As we finished Tina snuggled up close to me and hugged me tight. "Thank you," she said.
"For?" I questioned.
"For never treating our children that way. For being a great dad. I don't know," she paused looking deep into my eyes. "For just being you."
I hugged her back tight I knew what she meant. "Right back at you."
We went to bed soon after, the mood ruined and with the labors of the day, we were both soon asleep.
Saturday morning dawned early. We had several more plants to get in the ground and Tina wanted me to finish the bed around the tree I had planted the day before. After a quick bite to start the morning I was soon once again with shovel in hand digging away. Saturday mornings in our neighborhood are usually hectic, lots of families with kids so folks get an early start. It isn't uncommon for mowers to start at 7:00 AM, so I wasn't surprised when I came around a stand of trees pushing the wheelbarrow.
"Hi Hank, whatcha doing?" Parker's head and shoulders above the fence and just to his left I could see just the top of Ally's head. "Hi Hank." She chimed in, grinning from ear to ear. They had worked together to drag a small table that sat on their patio, to near the fence where I had been working, and were now both standing on top of it about five feet from the fence.
Usually I just kept working as we played this game, but this morning I didn't. I simply walked over to the fence near where they were and leaned against my shovel handle.
"Well look at you two standing on a table."
"We pushed it," Ally declared proud of their endeavors. "Whatcha doing?"
"I'm standing here talking to you. What are you doing?"
"Before that," Parker piped in.
"I was digging a flower bed."
"Why?" nearly in unison.
"Well mainly just because Tina wants me too," I answered as truthfully as I could.
"Because she wants to plant some more flowers to go with her new tree."
"She likes flowers."
"My mommy likes flowers too," Parker injected
"She does?" Both their heads nodding in unison "Well that is great." The truth was that I think she was fairly envious of our landscaping as she was always dropping hints about how she wished Conner would do more to improve the look of their home. Most times these hints occurred while she was firmly seated in a chair under an umbrella, and I don't think I had ever seen her once actually do anything to help herself, but she had lots of ideas how others could help her. Conner didn't want to spend the hours working in the yard the way I did, which was fine by me, but I don't think that was what Heather wanted. Their relationship had appeared to be more she wanted everything, and wanted someone else to do the work, while he wanted to do just enough to keep her marginally satisfied with the almost outcome.
"Mommy told daddy last night to buy two trees for the backyard," Parker offered.
"She did?" I asked trying to sound genuine. "What kind of trees does she want?" I asked.
"What kind?" he answered, I nodded, and he shrugged an answer.
Ally thought it was time to start again. "Whatcha doing?"
"I'm digging a new bed to put some flowers in."
"Because Tina wants me too."
Here I paused and thought before I answered. What I said was well beyond their comprehension but I hoped they would understand the meaning. "Well....sometimes when you love somebody, very much, you do things for them that makes them very happy, even if you get very little out of it yourself."
I got blank stares.
I tried a different approach. "Parker do you love Ally?"
"She's my sister," was all he would answer.
"Ally do you love Parker?"
"Yes he's my brother."
"Parker do you love your Gator?"
This got a much bigger affirmative response. His gator was an oversized electric play car painted bright green that he drove all over the back yard. He would drive it till the battery died and then it would have to be pushed back around the house to be re-charged. It was often his parent's favorite punishment when Parker had done something unacceptable. The gator would be parked on the back patio sometimes for several days at times and Parker would not be allowed to ride it, he would often tell me I can't drive till Wednesday, or Saturday or for three days. I had thought it almost cruel to be punishing and tormenting the small boy at the same time, but what could one do.
"Do you sometimes let Ally drive?" I asked finding a new tactic.
"I have to share," he said as I noted that he really didn't like too.
"Why?" This time I played it back on them.
"Because mommy said I should have a turn," Ally stated matter-of-factly.
"Why?" I grinned.
"If I don't share then daddy will put it up in the garage and I can't ride it anymore." The grim determination showed on his face.
"So you let Ally drive it sometimes so that when she has had a turn you can still play with it?" I asked hoping he would see the light.
"First is Ally's turn and then I can have a turn," he stated while his little head nodding the affirmative.
"Does it make Ally happy to have a turn?"
"I like to drive. My turn," she shouted jumping off the table. She ran straight for the gator, hopped in, and off she went.
"Does it make you happy when Ally drives, do you like to share?" I asked Parker while he watched her drive off across the yard.
Then the six-year said the most profound thing of his short life. "It's good to share, if Ally gets a turn, then mommy doesn't put it away so nobody gets a turn."
I laughed out loud. When Parker turned back to me he had a blank look, and then just grinned.
"Very good Parker, don't ever forget that. It is good to share. Especially with the people you love."
Just then his father hollered from the opposite side of the house so Parker jumped off the table and ran, and I returned to work. I didn't think anymore more about our conversation or the kids all that much as the day was busy. Tina and I had lots of items on our/her To-Do list and the neighbors were out working as well, a couple of minor shouting matches from across the fence, but nothing major. As afternoon turned into early evening I was tired, sore, sweaty, and a little sun-burned not to mention that several other couples had appeared on the patio of the neighbors back yard apparently the were having a dinner party of some sort. The number of children's voices I could hear had increased exponentially. We were at a good stopping point, Tina was satisfied with our progress so we called it a day.
After showering I started dinner. I put a couple steaks on the grill, while Tina went in to clean up, she returned a while later with an open bottle of our favorite wine and a couple of glasses. The party next door continued, with each round consumed they managed to get louder. We weren't really angry, but after working all day we would've enjoyed some peace and quiet to go with our dinner, but instead after eating we decided to call it an evening earlier than we normally would have. The party continued on and we decided to just go on to bed, we really had worked hard all day.
Sunday morning I woke to the sounds of our dogs barking. They wanted their morning walk and then breakfast. As I started to get up Tina put a hand on my shoulder, "Stay. I'll get them." Never being one to turn down an offer of help I pulled the covers back over me and was soon back in dreamland. Sometime later I felt her snuggle up against me and I wrapped my arm around her. Sunday mornings are special, and they have been for all of the twenty-eight years we've been married. Sunday mornings are our day, this is the day that no matter what else has happened all week we stay in the bed together and enjoy each other. We fool around Monday through Saturday as well, heck whenever we get the chance, but Sundays are always THE DAY.
We had gotten married on a Saturday, and by the time we had made it to our motel for that first night of our honeymoon we were both exhausted and it was nearly midnight, so we had both fallen asleep almost as soon as we touched the pillows. The next morning had been special and amazing so it just continued, and had continued through almost everything: the kids, the jobs, the time I was severely hurt in the auto accident that had been really fun, the nurses at the hospital didn't seem to think so, but Sundays had endured. This Sunday wasn't any different, as I slowly drifted back and forth between asleep and almost awake I realized I could feel the smoothness of her skin, she had stripped off her dog-walking clothes before curling up against me. I let my hand curl up under her arm and cupped a breast in my hand giving her nipple a slight tweak between a couple of my fingers. She responded by wiggling her butt against my crotch. I nuzzled my nose into her neck and kissed it lightly, then nibbled her ear lobe. We never hurried these mornings we neither one were going anywhere.