Stephen Baily

Bet You Can’t Eat One

–So, madam. How long were you and your husband together before you left him?

We were married a little over two years, your honor.

—And prior to that? Did you live with him for any length of time before your marriage?

My religion forbade it, or I’d have discovered the truth about him in time to call off the wedding.

—In your petition, the reason you give for seeking release from your marital bonds is your husband’s vulgarity. Would you mind being more specific? How did this vulgarity manifest itself?

For one thing, in his way of disposing of his—forgive me, but I can’t think of a more respectable word for it—his boogers.

—Just to be clear, you refer to bits of solidified mucus picked from the nose?

That’s correct.

—And what did he do with these? Flick them on the floor?

Not that I noticed.

—Fix them to the bottom of his chair?

I never caught him doing that either.

—Then what? Surely you’re not going to tell me he ate them?

The use he put them to was even worse than that. Try to imagine how I felt when I discovered—concealed behind the curtain on the windowsill by his side of the bed—what I at first sight took to be a rather dirty ping-pong ball. Except it definitely wasn’t made of—whatever ping-pong balls are made of.

—Do I understand you to mean—?

You do, and not only did he threaten me with physical harm if I dared to throw the thing out, but he kept adding to it every day, till it grew to the size of a peach, then of a grapefruit, and finally of a basketball. It was all I could do to stop him from exhibiting it at the county fair, he was so proud of his creation.

—Something tells me this wasn’t the  extent of his offensive behavior.

Unfortunately, no. He proved to be similarly devoted to preserving his toenail clippings.

—What for? He could hardly hope to mold these into spherical shapes.

Of course not, but he was religious about storing them in an old shoe box he liked to open and sniff whenever he was feeling blue. 

—I see. And is that it?

Not quite. What repelled me about him more than anything else was—not so much the loud belches he was in the habit of emitting even in mixed company but the disclaimer he invariably followed them up with.

—Feel free to quote it for the record.  

“Pardon me, I meant to fart.”

—In light of all this, I wonder you managed to stay with him as long as you did.

What made things easier was that his job—he’s regional sales manager for Bumfree and Sons, the toilet-seat manufacturer—took him out on the road every other week. That left me ample opportunity to swap horror stories with Mr. Rubson, our next-door neighbor, who was trapped in an equally unhappy marriage.

—His wife specialized in vulgarity, too?

Just the opposite. In her morbid fear of fleas, she never let him enter the house or sit down on the sofa without vacuuming him first from head to toe.

—I assume your religion, that you spoke of earlier, prevented the relationship between you and this sympathetic neighbor of yours from crossing the line into impropriety?

Till the day we made the mistake of drinking a gallon of Chianti together. I don’t remember which of us took the first step, but Elmer had hardly begun to unbutton when we were startled by the sound of a key in the front door. 

—Why is it adultery is so prone to interruption?

I couldn’t say, but I managed to keep my wits about me and, in a flash, bundled Elmer into the closet, just before George—pale from the bug he’d come down with—entered in a sweat.

“Fix me a pot of tea, will you?”

When I returned from the kitchen with the tray, George was sitting on the edge of the bed in his BVDs, painstakingly clipping his fungus-riddled toenails.

“Do me one more favor.”

With my heart in my mouth, I opened the closet door and, crouching to remove the shoe box, observed with relief that Elmer had concealed himself so well behind the hanging clothes only the tips of his tassel-toed loafers could be seen, if you looked really hard.

“Ah, that does a body good. I think I’ll try to get some rest now.”

After I restored the shoe box to its place, I tucked him in and left the room. I was confident I’d be able to sneak Elmer out once George—ordinarily the soundest of sleepers—drifted off, but, every time I looked in, he was tossing under the covers, no doubt because of the fever he was running. Hours later, when I had no choice but to climb into bed alongside him, he opened a rheumy eye and looked at me wearily.

“Maybe if we talked a little,” he said. “Have you heard the one about the proletarian buzzard who inherits an old mansion and determines to join the upper crust?”

Like the dutiful salesman he was, George was always trying out new jokes on me, with a view to incorporating them into the line of patter he used on prospective customers. 

—That’s all very interesting, but if you could get to the point?

The point is that the first thing the buzzard does is to hire an old friend of his, a rabbit down on his luck, to help him revive the mansion’s neglected garden. 

“We’ll need fertilizer,” the rabbit says after tasting the soil. “I’ll take your new Bentley and get some.

During his absence, a camel in a tuxedo appears at the front door.

“You advertised for a but-laire?”

So aristocratic is the camel’s bearing that the buzzard at once puts him in charge of the house, before resuming his exertions in the garden. He’s busy clearing weeds with a hoedag when the rabbit, toting a heavy sack, returns and rings for admission.

 “Who the hell are you?” he demands when the butler opens up.

“I’m Mr. Ca-mel. I answer the bell for Mr. Buz-zard, who’s out in the yard.”

“Oh yeah? Well, do me a favor.”

“Certainly, monsieur, if I can.”

“Tell him Mr. Rab-bit is here with the shit.”

At this, I laughed so hard George took it for a tribute to his knack with a narrative, but the truth was I feared I’d heard giggling in the closet and was doing my best to drown it out.

—Did you succeed?

Beyond my expectations, because, soon afterwards, George and I both fell asleep.

In the morning, he was feeling so much better he let loose with a long contented fart.

“Pardon me, I meant to belch.” 

—That’ll do, madam. You can stop right there. The court has heard more than enough about your husband, and is persuaded to rule in your favor.

You’re saying my petition is granted? I’m free to marry Mr. Rubson?

—If he’s free to marry you. What happened to him anyway? Did he escape in one piece?

As soon as George bounded from bed into the shower—where I knew he could be counted on to spend at least ten minutes perfecting his yodeling—I hastened to extract Elmer from the closet.

“Poor darling, you must be starved.”

“Not a bit,” he assured me as I hurried him out of the house. “Those potato chips you smuggled in for me were delicious!” 

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