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Domestic Violets

I creep down the stairs holding my nine-iron, which is the best weapon I can come up with. This seems like a better option than Anna’s hair dryer or, for that matter, it’s better than leaping from our bathroom window and fleeing off into the night by myself. I’ve got some clothes on now, a T-shirt and pajama pants, and Anna is at the top of the stairs in her sexy outfit with her cell phone.

“Who is it?” she whispers. Apparently she believes that I can see through walls and ceilings.

I’m nervous, but, more than that, I’m annoyed with the cosmic order of things because there isn’t an adult here to take care of this --- a real adult, instead of an impostor like me. At this moment, I’m clearly fooling no one.

At the bottom of the stairs I turn through the entryway. Our front door is standing open, but it’s unscathed, and I wonder if I’ve forgotten to lock it. After all, this pretty much has to be my fault, the violent death of my family and the theft of our meager possessions and DVD collection. The refrigerator is open and there are bottles clanking. Our house is long and narrow, and so I can see through its length all the way into the kitchen where there’s a man rummaging through drawers. Despite the drama and this idiotic golf club, I take a breath and relax. There’s the familiar shock of graying hair and the tweed blazer that should have gone to Goodwill years ago. This burglar who has frightened the women in my life and exposed my questionable status as the man of this house is Curtis Violet, my stupid father, and he’s pouring himself a glass of wine.

“Jesus Christ, Dad.”

He spins around smiling and nearly spills his wine. “This is the only red you seem to have. I’ve never heard of it. Is it any good?”

“Have you ever heard of a doorbell?”

“I have. It’s a fantastic invention. Yours, though, doesn’t appear to be loud enough.”

As I close and lock our front door, I think of Anna’s sexifying music/animal sounds and the rushing of the sink and the deafness of impotence. I didn’t hear the doorbell, and so my dad let himself in. He has his own keys, because, technically speaking, this is his house.

"Well, you’re lucky I don’t have a gun then,” I say.

“I think we all are, son. You and I aren’t the sort of men who should be armed. Oh, you’re not still playing with those old Callaways, are you? Let me get you the new PING irons. Pure graphite. You’ll never hit a ball straighter, my hand to God.”

He plays golf about twice a year, badly, so I ignore his bullshit. From upstairs, Anna yells down, welcoming Curtis as if it’s the middle of the afternoon.

“Hi sweetie,” he tells the ceiling. “Sorry to barge in.”

He pours me a glass of wine, which is no easy feat considering he’s obviously drunk. His overnight bag is sitting on the kitchen table, but I ignore it, certain that I’ll be hearing about it soon enough. He gives me a lurid smile and his eyes are red and a little glassy. “I wasn’t interrupting anything, was I?”

“No, Dad, not tonight.”

We’ve exchanged a few phone calls and an e-mail here and there, but I haven’t seen him in a month or so, and when I flip on another light I see that the time hasn’t been kind. He hasn’t shaved in a while and he’s lost some weight. Some men can pull off a few days without shaving, but it tends to make Curtis look like a domestic terrorist.

With the coast now clear, the dog storms the kitchen with gusto, completing a quick victory lap and then landing at Curtis’s feet. He’s leery of strangers, this little dog, but he’s hopelessly devoted to the people he knows. His weird, curly little tail is wagging in a blur.

“Well hi there, Hanky Panky.” As he crouches to pet my dog, Curtis has to catch himself on the counter to keep from pitching forward onto the floor.

“You’re drunk, Dad,” I say.

“I very well might be. But I’m not afraid to be drunker. In fact, I’m determined.” Hank rolls over, flashing some skin, and my dad laughs. I take a long sip of my wine, which is ridiculous on a random weeknight. Or maybe it isn’t. Maybe alcohol is exactly what I need --- buckets of it.

“Have you talked to your mother lately? How’s she’s doing?”

This is my dad’s default question, one asked simply to fill space in a room. Whenever he asks, I consider asking him why he’s so much more interested now than he was during the handful of years they were married three decades ago. But I never do. "Not bad. She’s teaching Catcher in the Rye again this year. I guess her kids love it.”

Curtis shakes his head. “Well of course they do, Tommy. The only people who can actually get through that self-indulgent tripe without throwing up are teenagers and the criminally insane.”

Thankfully Anna and Allie arrive to save me from my dad’s lecture on Salinger’s shortcomings. Allie is in Sesame Street pajamas and Anna has changed to shorts and a T-shirt. In her glasses and sensible sleepwear, she’s the bookish version of the sultry harlot I failed only moments ago, and her mere presence embarrasses me.

Allie crashes into her grandpa’s trousers, wrapping her arms around his legs.

"Well there’s the prettiest girl in town.”

“I thought you were a burglar, Grandpa. I got scared because you were either going to take us hostage or shoot us.”

“Well, you should be scared. I am a burglar.”

“Burglars wear masks,” she says.

“I left it in the car. It’s very itchy. I never said I was good at being a burglar.”

Anna notices the overnight bag on the kitchen table and gives me a look. I shrug just enough to tell her that I have no idea and then she rolls her eyes at my perpetual lack of knowledge. It’s the silent language of marriage.

My dad sets Allie on one of the stools along our counter and touches the top of her head. “So tell me, Allie. Would you like a glass of wine? Or maybe a cigar? I’m buying.”

She finds this hilarious, and her laughter fills our little kitchen.

“It’s very late, sweetie,” says Anna.

“How about you go back to bed?”

“Are you going to be here tomorrow, Grandpa? You should have a sleepover party?”

“My plan is to go wherever the night takes me, darling,” he says, and then he tips his glass.

“Allie,” says Anna. She’s stern now.

Our daughter looks at me, hoping that I’ve got some sort of veto power here, but she quickly resigns herself to defeat and begins a slow march up the stairs.

“I’ll come tuck you in soon, honey,” I say. “And no spying. Lights out.”

I can see by her expression that she’ll do whatever she damn well pleases until she hears me coming up the stairs. By now she’s old enough to know that we’re not going to beat her, so she’s pretty much got the run of the place.

When she’s gone, Curtis turns his attention to the wine, sniffing the rim of his glass like we’re in the south of France. “Is this from one of those little vineyards in Virginia—over in the sticks?”

“I have no idea, Dad. I bought it at the Giant because I like the picture on the label.”

He squints at a cartoon kangaroo bounding across the bottle. “You’re right. It’s cute, isn’t?”

“So, are you just dropping by, Curtis?” asks Anna.

I could have stood here all night sipping wine without asking him what he was doing here, but my wife has gone and blown it, and for some reason I feel like we’ve just lost a battle of wills. Women don’t understand these things. The bag itself was really just a prop to get one of us to ask him if he’s OK.

Classic Curtis Violet.

He sees his opening, of course, and embraces it. “Not exactly. I have some news. A lot of news, as a matter of fact.” He looks out from our kitchen at the rest of our ground floor, assessing things. We still hardly have any  furniture, and most of what we do have was put together by me, incompetently, from a box.

“What is it?” asks Anna.

“Well, first off, I’m sad to report that Ashley has asked me to move out. Well, to be more clear, she did more than ask. She was pretty adamant about it. You know how she can be.”

“Oh, Curtis. That’s terrible.”

“What happened this time, Dad?” Anna’s glare is sharp and sudden. Perhaps “this time” wasn’t completely necessary, but it’s late and I’ve had a shitty night.

He returns to the morose study of our kitchen, touching a shriveling orange that’s sitting on our countertop. “A lot of things, I guess.”

Anna pours herself a glass of wine, too, and I sip my own, and now we’re both drinking, waiting to see what my father has done now. 

“It’s a little embarrassing. But I’ve become involved with someone else,” he says. “Another woman. I didn’t intend for it to happen. It just did. It was an accident. It’s something I simply couldn’t control.”

“Of course,” I say.

Anna touches his shoulder, giving it a little squeeze. The fact that she can be acting both surprised and concerned by this inevitability is worthy of an award from the Screen Actors Guild.

He frowns, showing a row of deep-set lines above his eyebrows. He’s about to say something, but he’s suddenly gotten distracted. “Anna, dear, my God. What have you done? You look absolutely wonderful.”

My wife blushes and tugs at the bottom of her old T-shirt. “Oh, shut up,” she says.

“No, I will not shut up. I’ve never seen you like this. You didn’t have surgery, did you? You’re too young for surgery.”

“I wish. That’d be a lot easier. The gym, five days a week. It was a New Year’s resolution.” She pats my stomach. “Actually, it was our New Year’s resolution.”

“Well,” he says, “it seems one of you is more committed than the other. I urge you to keep it up. You’re doing mankind a great service. Look at your calf muscles. I didn’t even know that calves could look like—”

“What’s your other news, Dad?” I ask.


“You said you had a lot of news. So far you’ve just told us one thing.”

“Thank you, Tommy, you’re right. I have some gifts for the two of you.” He sets his wine down and digs around in his overnight bag for a while, finally removing a bright yellow T-shirt. Across the chest it reads, “WWCVD.” Beneath that, “What Would Curtis Violet Do?”

“What does it mean?” Anna asks.

“I’m not entirely sure. One of my Advanced Fiction students came up with it. I guess he made dozens of them, and he’s been selling them around campus. Apparently it’s a satire on some religious saying, ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ I guess when Republicans or God people are confronted with a challenge or some sort of existential dilemma, they’re supposed to think about what Jesus would do and then use that as a guide. I thought you might like one.”

“Of course,” I say. “I don’t see how comparing yourself to Jesus could cause any problems.”

“But that’s not all.” He’s on too much of a roll now to be baited by sarcasm. Next he takes out a thick, hardcover book. There’s a black and white picture of a much younger version of my dad on the cover. He’s sitting at his old typewriter, a sweater around his shoulders, looking all square-jawed and WASPy. I’ve seen it many times—it’s The Stories of Curtis Violet.

“Dad, we’ve got like five copies of that.”

“But look, I’ve signed it for you.” On the title page, I see that he’s written: To my son and his beautiful wife --- Curtis. Next to his name, he’s drawn his trademark violet, twisting and looping through his messy script.

“Thanks. But you signed the other ones, too.”

“Oh, I know, Tommy. But I thought you might like another one. I imagine they’re going to be pretty valuable someday. Maybe you can sell it and buy some furniture.”

He’s smiling at us in his academic way, and beneath the bloodshot eyes and the patchy growth of hobo beard, I see a familiar arrogance, one I haven’t seen in a while. “OK, Dad, I’ll bite. Why’s that?”

“I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen online, signed first editions of Pulitzer Prize winners can bring in a lot of money.”

Anna gasps into her hands and a chilly path of goose bumps runs up my arms like electricity. “You’re kidding me,” I say.

“Sonya called this morning. A lovely surprise, at long last.”

Anna hugs/tackles him laughing and they nearly fall over the kitchen table together. “I thought Nicholas Zuckerman was gonna get it again this year,” I say. “That’s what everyone was saying.”

With my wife in his arms, Curtis Violet rolls his eyes like he’s smarter than all of us combined. “Don’t be an ass, Tommy. That boring old Jew couldn’t write his way out of a paper bag.”

It’s easy for me sometimes to forget who my father is, especially when he shows up drunk and reeking of pot. But the world has a way of continuing to remind me.

“We need another drink,” my wife says. She’s smiling and a little flushed. It reminds me of the first time she met him, back when we’d just started seeing each other. I was so ridiculously in love with her then after six dates that I pretended not to notice how flustered she got when he kissed her hand.

“I agree,” says Curtis. “I don’t think this one bottle is going to do it, though. What else do we have in here, Tommy? You don’t have any dingo champagne do you? Koala, maybe?”

Domestic Violets
by by Matthew Norman

  • Genres: Fiction
  • paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial
  • ISBN-10: 0062065114
  • ISBN-13: 9780062065117