“Why can’t you be nice to me?” The Mrs asked. Her eyes do not leave the painting she is working on, whilst her brush busily dabs away at the elaborate lace-top of the woman’s dress. A Middle Eastern Princess, I think. I dare not ask if they are diamond studded beads or pearls. When it comes to The Mrs, it is best to pretend you know, even if you’re not really sure, because “it should be so obvious to you!” I shudder whenever she asks me for my opinion about her painting. “What do you think?” I think she means for me to say I like it. She has been working on her masterpiece for over a month. At the end of each session, she will ask me to comment. So far, I have been able to offer some thirty well-considered and more importantly, intelligent and well-delivered comments. One wrong word or a slightly critical phrase or an opinion that is totally unacceptable to the artist would be disastrous! A good dinner depends on how honest and clever my comments are. “Umm, the dilapidated wall behind her looks too clean.” “I know. I haven’t finished yet!” “Umm, there is not enough depth between her chin and her neck. It looks one dimensional.” “I know. I haven’t finished yet!” “Umm, the persimmon seems to be too pale behind her lacy veil” “I know. I haven’t finished yet!” “Umm, her white Romanesque garment seems too solid. Stiff.” “I know. I haven’t finished yet!” The Mrs is, of course, well aware her work is a work-in-progress and of all people, she would know best what’s yet to be improved, corrected or changed. The long and deep cleavage that I liked so much about the subject next to the Princess is gone! Rubbed out. Her two soft white mounds that made that dark cleavage have been covered up. Painted over and flat like an ironing board. Just like that, the young girl in the painting is no longer nubile. Damn. Now, both her women are flat-chested. WHY?! The Mrs very well knows I liked that beautiful woman she painted – she had a pair of voluptuous breasts cleverly presented through an alluring piece of see-through top with a plunging neckline. She is cruel to shrink their busts. And so, I proceed to tell her what I think beautiful women should have. Blah blah blah blah blah. She has heard it all before, and it does not surprise me one bit that she has already disappeared into her own world where the beads on the woman’s clothes take precedence over everything I have to say. I should remind myself that when asked to comment, people only want to hear what they want to hear. Be positive! People like positivity. No negative vibes please! (Even during a football match)
I am some seven feet away from her, splaying lazily (and somewhat obscenely) on my weathered dark olive green leather sofa chair. I loved the smell of new leather. Those were pre-vegan days. I had only heard of vegetarianism in the eighties and nineties. In someone’s car back then (I can’t remember whose), I luxuriated on the back seat and told myself to enjoy it, leather being a luxury I could least afford. And when I finally owned my leather furniture, I beamed with pride and joy. A few years later, just before the media crew from RTHK flew over to interview us for a documentary on the life of our 18-year-old musician son, I added a matching set of dining chairs to my leather collection. I believed in fate then and knew the filming of the doco would be a success. What were the odds to find those leather chairs in the identical colour made by a different brand, from a different furniture retailer, quite a few years later? The TV documentary had to be a success! Adelaide’s harsh climate hasn’t only damaged my skin; the extreme dryness has been unkind to my leather furniture also. The once magnificent and expensive leather lounge set is riddled with white jagged scars from years of neglect – the fleeting imperfections of fine crack lines that were easily polished off with Meguiar’s leather cleaner and conditioner are now permanently and grossly etched on the old leather. As wrinkled and deformed as their owner. The broken back leg on its right side informed me years ago that my bad sitting posture needed correcting. I haven’t fixed my posture, looking at how I spread my legs sitting heavily on my right side, and the extent of me fixing the broken leg? I cleverly used an old round lolly tin to prop the chair level. Fate played its part again, I was presented with the lolly tin that was exactly the required height.
I rattle off the many assets a beautiful woman should possess. Poise, grace, posture, shiny long hair, a great body and long slender legs, and…. and then my phone lights up from a WhatsApp notification. As usual, when my mind is inattentive, the notification will impose on me to stop whatever I am doing. I find my eyes moving away from her painting to read the message, but a reflection on the black plasma screen of the TV distracts me instead. Instinctively, my eyes swerve away from it after a brief glimpse of the ogre. I know the reflection has to be mine. There is no one else in the room. I feel relieved to have avoided looking at myself. The Mrs was right a long time ago. The reflection although fleetingly caught on the black screen is undoubtedly that of a whingeing old bastard, whose angry scowl and ice-cold sneering eyes belong to the person I did not want to become.
“Why can’t you be nice to me?” Can you blame her for asking? I know I am a dubious character. Happy wife, happy life. My friends drummed it into me in recent years although they have gone silent about it for awhile. Like most things about me that need fixing, people give up on me eventually. After learning that I cannot be persuaded. The Mrs’ often used sentence about me springs into my mind. “Stubborn old man!” Happy wife, happy life. It makes so much sense. When she is happy, I’ll be happy! Be uxorious. Women love uxorious men. Which woman does not love to be pampered by her husband? or be the centre of his universe? He who does everything for his woman, and thinks of her every need and every want is well on his way to building a happy life with his wife. He who impresses his wife with his knowledge, and is able to articulate them intelligently and positively will enjoy better dinners together! It sounds easy. I can be that man also, surely. But, I am the type who instead goes searching for the female word for uxorious. What do we call a woman who is passionately fond of her man and does everything for him? Especially being submissive to all his desires? A woman who makes him a hot breakfast? Cooks him lunch, since he is working from home? How about afternoon tea? Would you like an Arnott’s biscuit, luv? To go with your piping hot coffee? Just the way you love it, my precious? But, let’s not spoil your appetite, darling. I am planning tonight’s dinner menu already, my sweetheart. You will simply find it divine, my angel. It’s your favourite, babe. Always, I will cook your favourites. Lobster noodles! Yes, love. Oh, my darling. You will be so delighted. There is no such word that applies to a woman! Only a man can be uxorious. And so, I am off on a tangent, forgetting how to be uxorious, and instead, I find myself asking why. Why is there not a word for women to pamper their men? That is simple. They don’t!
Why won’t honesty pay? Why can’t men be honest and tell their Mrs what they really think? I am supposed to tell her first the good news. Heap the litany of praises she feels she has earned first. “Oh, darling, This is a masterpiece!” “I love it! You’re amazing!” “They are Klimt women!” “NFT it, You’ll make millions!” And then, when she is visibly pleased and feeling proud of herself, I can then continue with some constructive comments. “I like women with big knockers. Paint them with big knockers!” “Don’t hide the cleavage! There is nothing wrong for women to flaunt their God-given assets! Use it or lose it. Show it if you have it, right? Yet, I would be the first to castigate other men for sharing nude photos of younger women, “Think! What if she were your daughter? Would you share her photos?” I stood on my pedestal and slew my friends with my pointy finger. “Will you be this happy with your stupid smiles if your daughters were sluts?” “What if those milk jugs were theirs?” With those words, I wiped the smiles off their faces. But, I am as guilty of dishonesty and double standards. Flaunt it if you have it. Yes, but that shall not apply to The Mrs. We fought for years over that. Didn’t the Old Testament teach us the woman is her husband’s chattel? I support coverture. Cover yourself up! She wanted her freedom. Protect her rights. Be independent. “What’s mine is mine, and these are mine!” she screamed. Flaunt them since they were hers. Since she has them to flaunt. Many can only wish they have them! The little person that I am was only interested in hiding her cleavage, and I began to hide her dresses that I deemed too revealing. If she can’t find them, she can’t wear them. You know the ones. The black body-hugging tank top with the sharp V-neck. The silly summer dress with a round cut-out circle that’s bigger than a peep-hole. It doesn’t just show a glimpse of her cleavage. It shows EVERYTHING! The damn loose-fitting blouse with a lightweight paper-thin fabric that also showed EVERYTHING whenever she bent forwards at the dining table. No, I can’t be uxorious! I am egregious. Too possessive.
Why can’t I be nice to her? I am so nice to Murray. He’s my son’s pet although I am sure Murray thinks I am his pet instead. Murray greets me in the mornings like he has missed me for an eternity. So enthusiastic. With so much love and excitement. If I had to use one word to describe us, it would be ‘inseparable’. We are glued together throughout the day and when we go for our walks, I am his shadow. He leads and I follow. Loyally. Without a protest. Without any attempt to dissuade him. The Mrs and I were glued together too, once upon a time. For a very long time. Until she decided I wasn’t uxorious. Did she expect me to be? Why?! But, I am at the extreme opposite end of uxorious to her. Obnoxious, actually. So, the glue lost its adhesive properties. I suppose that is what freedom is. Independence is what she demanded. But, Murray doesn’t care about independence. He loves my company. He doesn’t insist on freedom, quite happily tagged with a collar and leash. I know he is smart. He actually enjoys his independence without demanding it. He always gets his way anyway. I told him he can sit on my lap during office hours but he outgrew the square pillow ages ago and has also recently outgrown the long contoured orthopaedic pillow. So, he simply plonks himself on my desk. Murray, how do you expect me to work? Murray has no shame. He has no inhibitions about letting off his dog farts. If you have not been exposed to dog farts, let me tell you. They stink! I could be in the middle of a phone conversation with a customer. It is of no consequence to Murray. He simply sets off his silencers right into my arms. The pungent invisible cloud envelopes me, it seems forever. The customer on the phone has no idea. My voice remains calm, professional. I do not show any annoyance. I feel fine about it. There is no protest, no reprimand, no threats. Murray gets away with anything. It is a relationship that thrives, unconditionally. I should begin to treat The Mrs like Murray. Like a dog. And then, she will get away with anything.
Two mornings ago, we had a violent storm that lasted through the night. The fierce winds were not the playful gully winds that often visit – they didn’t stop howling and lashing at everything till about seven that morning. There was still a light drizzle when I shared a couple of photos of my roses on WhatsApp. It felt like just a normal morning despite the violence during the night. But, as soon as I stepped outside, it felt different. Something did not seem right. It was too quiet. The birds, normally noisy in conversation and laughter, were silent. The air felt foreboding before sending down a heaviness that choked me. The colour of the sky was grey. It escaped me that the dark clouds still looked menacing. The ground was wet and littered with dead branches and leaves. The gorgeous panicles of new blooms I admired the day before laid wasted, destroyed by the storm. My inner peace thrashed. Death. I felt death was everywhere. The silence forced me to quicken my steps. My chooks! I feared for their safety and rushed towards their coop. Oh no. Oh no! The roof of their nest box was on the ground, its hinges had broken off from the softwood frame over a year ago, and I didn’t see a way of fixing it. Bloody made-in-China shit. Why would they use softwood to make this? Coops are meant to be out in the open, facing the harsh elements. Softwoods won’t ever do. An old piece of discarded timber seemed heavy enough to weigh down the roof and kept my precious hens safe and dry. Good enough, I told myself. The last killings by a fox was over two years ago. It won’t happen again, I told myself then. I was resolute to make sure my last three chooks would retire gracefully and die a natural death from old age when the time comes. I promised them that when their other four sisters were taken by that evil fox. Yes, evil. It killed them for joy, not for food. Unforgivable. I found all four of them that day, two without their heads. After that disaster, I got a Foxlight for added protection. It’s a gadget that throws psychedelic light after dark. The sly fox will think it is a farmer patrolling the area. It won’t come near. It was just last weekend I decided not to “waste” the battery. We are home all the time, and I always check that the hens are back in the coop before locking it up every night anyway. There is no need to have the Foxlight on. I cleaned the predator deterrent and packed it away, separately from its battery. Save the battery for when we next go on holidays. I did not think we would be travelling anytime soon, despite Australia reopening its borders later in December.
The coop was empty. The clumps of feathers on the metal tray that catches their poo from where they perch sank my heart. I started to panic. Maybe they managed to fly away. Please. Please. Do not let them die. But, it wasn’t to be. Fate can be unkind. I found Dottie first. She was lying a mere meter away behind the coop. I picked her up and sobbed. She was still warm, but headless. “I am so sorry, please forgive me, Dottie.” I continued to sob. Why did I not leave my bed as soon as I woke up? I woke up a good half hour earlier than normal. Instead, I laid in bed reading some inconsequential news. News that won’t change my life. And then I wasted more time checking on crypto prices. Wild fluctuating prices that won’t change my life either. But those actions took their lives. I could have prevented their slaughter. Dottie was still warm. She was the most beautiful. The prima donna. She never allowed me to cuddle her, not voluntarily anyway. The only times I did was when she was brooding. Contentedly captive in her nest, tricked by millions of years of evolution. Sitting for weeks on her empty nest, fulfilling her duty as a mother hen hatching her eggs that weren’t there. I laid her down on a dry patch to find the others. Where are the others?
Reddie and Dottie grew up together. They were siblings from the original five chooks we adopted on 25 March 2017. They died close together. I found Reddy just a few steps away, under the broken tree branches. She died of fright, I think. There were no wounds on her body. No bare patches, feathers intact, no teeth marks, no blood. Thankfully. I deluded myself briefly. No matter the lack of evidence of violence. It was a terrible way to die. To die from terror. That is violence of the worst kind. The fear of being eaten alive killed her. I feel remorseful. A promise so easy to keep, yet it was not. A promise to keep them safe. To reward them for all the eggs they have provided us with. A well-deserved reward that any of us would want. A peaceful retirement in an environment that is pleasant and serene. And then to die a natural painless death. I failed them. I am so sorry, my lovely trusting friends. It may be true I looked after you with diligence and loving care. Bade you good morning as I let you outside for you to freely roam in your run. Cleaned your coop without complaint. Collected your poo daily. Checked for ticks dutifully: Fed you unfailingly twice a day. Made sure you were contentedly cooing in your coop before closing the doors by sundown. Wished you good night very evening before the sun retired. But, I didn’t protect you. No, I did not. I neglected to do the most important thing – to check on your safety. Your untimely death is the undeniable truth about my guilt.
Their obsequies were simple and humble; not televised, no long queue of black limousines and not even a single hymn was sung. Just the one grave digger, one pall bearer and one mourner. Just me. No fancy coffin, just a bit of used cardboard, no white flowers common in funerals, but two freshly cut red roses were placed on their bodies. I laid them side by side. I knew they would like that. Together in life, always. And now together in death, forever. No priests, no prayers, no eulogies. Just the sounds of the mournful rain. Yes, the heavens opened up and even the gods cried for them. I am so sorry. So guilty.
Please forgive this old fool. This irresponsible old fart you unluckily came home with. Come 7.30 pm when the day is almost lost to the night, I would be looking out into the backyard from where I sit. Head half-turned to my left, staring at your coop, wishing you goodnight. Sleep well, my ladies. Please forgive me, for I can’t forgive myself. You trusted me to look after your well-being, yet I failed you. I failed but you paid the ultimate price. That makes me one lousy urghhling. I am so sorry. So miserable.