By Matthew Wallenstein
We were sitting by the fire in his living room. The smoke was clearing up from a minute ago when we both forgot the flue was closed. My father, as usual, eating a bowl of Turkey Hill coffee ice cream, and me telling him he was eating too much of it. I stood up, poked the fire with a stick, watched it turn and loop and pop. I wanted my friend to hear one of my dad’s stories. I knew one day he would be gone and I hated the idea of recounting one of his stories and saying, “Oh you should have heard him tell it though.” I never got tired of hearing them either, stories always seemed like spellwork to me. His were funny as hell.
“Tell the one about the outhouse,” I said.
“When Andy thought there was a bear pooping in the outhouse?”
“No, about the people who lived down the hill from you when you were a kid in Weare.”
“Oh you mean the Whitakers. Well, there was Gertrude and John and David. David was about 40, John and Gertrude were his parents. And old Gertrude never let David get married because they needed him around to work the farm, it was their only source of income, on account of John had some kind of ailment in his back. He was all bent over like this. I mean if he was any more bent over he would have been doing a summersault.
“The way it was set up, the barn was attached to the house in the back, and the outhouse was attached to the corner of the barn. It was on a hill, so if you were on the ground level of the house and walked back to the barn you were on the second floor. And that’s where the chicken coop was. And the outhouse was a sort of indoor-outhouse, it was attached, part of the barn. It had this tiny little window on it.
“Anyway, they were shoveling chicken shit from out of the coop into a big pile next to the outhouse. It was probably ten feet from the coop to the top of the pile of chicken shit and I’d guess the shit was, oh, probably about ten feet deep. The pile of manure leaned right up against the outhouse. Now, I said they were shoveling, but it was really David. John just sort of leaned on his shovel and pushed some of the chicken shit around on account of his bad back. And eventually John realized he had to poop, had to do his business, and went over to the outhouse. A couple minutes go buy and David walks over and locks the outhouse.”
“Why was there a lock on the outside again?”
“Yeah, well, you know in the kitchen over there that cupboard I made, has that spinning piece of wood, you turn it and it holds the door shut? That one over there?”
“Well it was like that. So anyway, he turned the lock and walked back over to the chicken coop and went back to work. After a little while John finishes his business and tries the door and it won’t open. He says, ‘David come over here and unlock this door,’ he says. And David pretends he doesn’t hear him and he starts whistling like this, ‘hwuttt, hwutt, wutt wuttt,’ you know. And so John says a little louder, he says, ‘Daviiiid. Daviiiiiiiid, open up this door right now.’ And David starts to hum louder, ‘hmmmm hmmm hum hmm hmmm.’ John, he can hear him so he gets really mad and says, ‘Daviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiid, you get your ass over here and open this goddamn door right now.’ Oh man.”
“Yeah. And David, he starts to sing and just keeps shoveling that chicken manure ignoring John, pretending not to hear him. After long enough John must have said to hell with it. I don’t know how he did it because of that back condition but he stood up on the, you know, like the toilet, and he must have somehow gotten that window open. And here comes old John jumping out of that window and landing right in the middle of that ten foot deep pile of chicken crap. Oh boy.”
“Damn. How deep do you think he sank?”
“Oh I don’t know, he sank right on down in there.”
The fire went on for a little while and the three of us sat there and laughed and told more stories. My dad got more ice cream, and apple pie, and put cheddar cheese on top of the desserts, which were amounting to a small mountain. I took my dog out. My friend stayed inside and I could hear the two of them talking through the wall. My dog smelled the cold dirt of the driveway and peed on it. I kicked a stone loose, walked around with her leash in my hand, smelled the air. I went back in. I left the dishes for the morning and brushed my teeth.
My friend settled into his sleeping bag on the couch. My dad took out his hearing aids, lay down in his room, snored. My dog farted, lay down on my bed, snored. I gave up fighting her for the blankets. I knew enough to know when I was outmatched.