There was nothing he could do to stop her. Ever since he had been forced by the powers that be to leave his sweet job as the caretaker of Cool Cricket Meadows, the wife had dragged him around town to every museum, civic function and picture show she could conjure up. She had a wicker basket filled with clippings and coupons and flyers for this and that, but she would not let him get anywhere near it, and he never knew what was coming next.
At first he had tried to protest. "Woman, I didn't retire so I could work," he had said, and he'd tried, "We got cable. Why come we got cable for?" But she made plans anyway, and she knew what to withhold if he didn't go along.
In the end, he recognized that he couldn't live without her ginger chicken on Tuesdays or her mint lamb chops on Thursdays, and he for sure wouldn't make it past 70 if he had to go without her blackened catfish on Fridays or her Sunday morning cinnamon waffles. It drove him crazy if she neglected to fix him one of her special pastrami sandwiches in the afternoon because he refused to go see a grandnephew's piano recital that night. For the thirty years he did have a job that forced him out of the house, she had trained him to eat vegetables along with his favorite dishes by using the same mean tactics. He didn't have anything he could keep from her, dang it, and he was getting tired of being dragged around by the rope.
It was a Saturday morning and he had hoped to sleep in. He had put on his favorite striped silk pajamas the night before, and he had warmed up his side of the bed right nice when the drapes opened and the rude light from the outside came barging in like the in-laws. "Oh, no," he said. "Oh, no, oh, no. What you got cookin' now?"
"We're going to the carnival today, my husband, and our ride will be here at 9:30."
"Then I got time to sleep!" he said. "Close the drapes."
"No, now, Tiger Moody. I know you, and you're a slow man on the weekends. Besides, you don't want me to feed the dog those blueberry hotcakes I know you can smell."
He sniffed and his nose filled with delight. Dang her magic!
They took the shuttle bus instead of driving. She told him they could avoid the extra money it would cost to park. She said everything was planned out, and he believed her.
She had a tote bag and she took out an old thermos from which she poured two cups of coffee while they rode alone in the front seat behind the driver. "I sure do miss using that thermos," he said. "Whatever happened to my old lunchbox, the one I used to take with me to work?"
The wife said nothing. She screwed the cap back on extra tight, and he noticed she'd done up her nails--pink as a tulip in May. He held his coffee and sipped and kept quiet the rest of the trip. Why bother talking? He was running out of things to say anyhow, and she was getting on his last nerve besides.
They were the first ones on, but after a lot of stops, the little blue bus was full of people his age and older, creaking here and there like ships on the wharf he'd seen in the Navy. He turned to the wife as the shuttle jolted to a stop and the people started filing off. "What'd you do, Mrs. Moody, sign us up for some seniority citizens' day out?"
"Yes, indeed, I did, Mr. Moody. We're part of a group today. Saved us twenty dollars."
"You coulda saved a whole lot more than that by leaving me home snug in my bed!"
"Come along, Tiger," she said, and she took the empty cup out of his hands and put it with her own into the tote bag.
"Woman, I don't want to be shackled up all day to these old geezers!"
"Man," she said to him, gathering up her tote bag and standing, "when is the last time you looked in a mirror?"
He frowned and scratched his knuckles against his beard and knew the whiskers had gone from black to grey to white, but he blamed her, not the years. Heck, if she had let him alone, he'd be dating a stripper.
"Come along, now," she said. She was like a mockingbird with nothing new to say.
The wife got off the bus and he followed, but not before giving the driver a once-over. "How you doin'?" he asked. She was a young woman in uniform, and he couldn't help but notice she had the same shade of pink on her nails as his 66-year-old better half. Other than that, they had nothing in common. What had happened to the wife? She used to have something like those curves under that flower-patterned sundress and that big purple hat. Gravity and good-eating had sure taken care of that. And she thought he was old?
The driver didn't take notice of him, and he sneered and said, "Oh, that's how it is," and climbed down, using the railing to keep from going down too quick.
He put the soles of his shoes on the dry yellow grass and looked up. It was a hot day already. A sign overhead, its miniature light bulbs dimmed by the bright sunlight, said, "Crooked Corners Carnevale." He couldn't say he liked the fancy spelling. Seemed kind of highfalutin.
His wife had the tickets and handed them over to a shaggy looking teenager whose face was covered in pimples, freckles and peach fuzz. He was a right fine mess, Tiger thought, but he stood as still as a stuffed rat while the kid pinned a badge on his shirt. "What's that say?" he asked.
"Gets you on the rides," the youngster said.
"Boy, I'm too old to ride these crazy roller coasters."
"We don't have one of those anyway, sir."
"Don't sir me!"
"Tiger, come along," the wife exclaimed. She grabbed his arm and pulled him through the entry, arched with dangling bells and lights.
"Let go, woman. You're pinching my skin!"
They followed the line of old folks along an alley of games with stuffed animals and other trinkets hanging from wall to wall. He wanted a closer look, but the wife wouldn't have anything to do with that. "First things first," she informed him.
"But we're here to have fun, ain't we?" he protested.
"We are following, Tiger Moody, what is known as an itinerary."
"Well, well, well." He watched the games go by as they walked along the dusty path. They passed a booth with lots of leather bags and wallets, the odor of which made him flare his nostrils and gave his stomach a quick turn. He had only been able to eat two hotcakes before they heard the toot of the shuttle outside, and the wife had made him rush out without even brushing his teeth. Now he had an almost empty stomach and a bladder full of coffee and he needed to use the facilities.
"I gotta go to the bathroom," he said.
"Why, Mr. Moody, that's first on the list," the wife told him. They stopped walking, and he saw the port-a-potties lined up like fat green soldiers. They were already in line.
The morning oozed along just about as slow as syrup in winter. They wandered the exhibits of arts and crafts with the ugliest pictures hoarding all the blue ribbons. The permed-up white-haired painters were selling greeting cards they'd designed that he wouldn't buy if he was desperate in an outhouse.
A little after that they rode the Ferris wheel a few times around, and he began to enjoy himself--almost. It brought him back to when he was single and still dating loose women, back to when he called the shots and if he wanted a kiss, all he had to do was pretend he had run out of change and couldn't afford any more cotton candy.
He saw his hunched-over, denture-wearing and fiber-eating contemporarians huddling together near the entrance to a big pink-and-purple tent, and his cheeks filled with air. No more rides for a while, he figured, and he looked meanly at the sky as the ride came to a stop and he and the wife climbed off.
"Come along, Tiger," she said. "We're going to watch a magic show."
"Well, whoop-de-doodly-dee," he said.
They pushed their way through toward the front like chickens in an overcrowded hen house. "You can turn on the air conditioning any time you ready," he said. Beams of sunlight carved out spotlights on the dirt floor of the tent as they stood and waited for the show to start.
"My husband," the wife said, "You are a complainer."
"Yeah? A man my age got the right, even as young as I am in this crowd of methuselahs."
"Yes, that's true, yes, I know it. But I don't know understand you, my husband. Here it is a sunny happy day, with the birds singing and a nice breeze blowing, and all this colorful display. Why is it all you got to say is what's wrong? Why are you so unhappy?"
"I don't feel so good."
"Uh, don't you argue now," she said, under her breath, since the crowd had hushed and the magician had appeared onstage. "You are a crank," she whispered. "Ain't no way around it. You are a crank sideways, foreways and backways."
He looked at the wife. He'd had about enough of her mouth, he thought. It was hot, and a ripe beam of sunlight was beating down on his bald head. He leaned forward, back, then fell over on his face.
His nose in the cool dirt, he heard the wife exclaim, "Oh, my goodness!"
They spent about half an hour in the first aid trailer and the nurse arranged a taxi to send them home. She said the heat can get to older people that aren't used to it, and he should see a real doctor later if he had any more trouble.
When they got to the house, the wife walked him straight to the bedroom and made him lie down. "I've been pushing you too hard," she said, "I know it. You can blame me. I'm going to go make you your favorite lunch--rice and gravy with sourdough bread, but then I want you to take a nap."
"I'll eat what I can," Tiger said. He her take his shoes off for him and put them on the floor.
He heard a "bark bark!" and the door swung open. Little old Spook, his cocker spaniel, jumped up on the bed, fell off the other side, then jumped up again.
"Hey, now, what's got into you?" he said. "I thought you had the arthritis. What's your secret?" The dog bounded over the quilt and he picked it up.
"Now, Mr. Moody, that dog is not allowed in here today."
"It's okay for now, missus. I don't mind."
"All right, but he has to go when I come back with your lunch."
"You win," he said. "You win again."
She sat down and put her hand on his head. "You're warm," she said. "I'm sorry. I only just want to have a good time with you, now that you're home. I spent a good wide portion of our married life waiting for you to retire, and now we're too old to have fun. Life just isn't fair, is it, my husband?"
"No, wife, it ain't."
She got up and left the room, and he heard her walking down the hall. As the faucet in the kitchen ran and he heard the noise of cupboards and pots and spoons, he grinned at Spook. "Wife always wants to know why her husband's so unhappy," he said. "Well, I'm happy now."
He gave the dog a good belly scratch. "Can you believe that worked?"