Pickles And Whispers
Illustrated by Michael Ilkiw
“Honey, I promise. Pickles can go one night without food. He’s a thirty-three pound dachshund, he actually needs to skip a meal.”
“You’re just saying that because you don’t want to drive to the store.”
“No…well… maybe… Alright, yes, that’s true, but I have a lot of work to do, and the store closes at seven. There’s no way I’m going to be done by then.”
“Well, I have parent-teacher conferences from now until nine, so I can’t make it, which means you’re going to have to figure out a way to get it done. Just make your sprockets faster or something. Alright?”
“Alright, Karen. Bye.”
Annoyed, I returned to my work, muttering under my breath, mocking my wife’s voice. “Just make your sprockets faster or something.”
Ugh. I should have never told my son that I made sprockets. It gave the rest of my family an excuse to avoid learning about my actual work. But he was six, there was no way I could explain compounding fluoroelastomers to him. Even the products that are made from fluoroelastomers are beyond his comprehension. What does a first grader know about shaft seals, pipe gaskets, or O-rings. Telling him I made sprockets like the dad on The Jetsons just made sense. Little did I know that my entire family would start describing my work in that fashion. Demoralizing. I have a goddamn PhD for Christ’s sake.
I looked up at the clock and saw that it was six. I had an hour’s worth of work left but only thirty minutes to complete it. If I wasn’t headed out by the bottom of the hour there was no way in hell I would make it to the store on time. “Fuck it,” I said and rushed through the process. Normally, I double-check everything but there was no time for that. The ski slope groomer or dry cleaning machine that received the sprockets made with this batch of fluoroelastomers would just have to deal.
By 6:35 I was out the front door and into my brand new Honda Prelude. George Michael carelessly whispered to me the entire drive to the store. Upon arrival, I hopped out of the car, walked inside, grabbed Pickle’s food, grabbed a New Coke, and checked out. On the drive home I took a sip of the New Coke. A second later I awkwardly dribbled the sugary disaster out of my mouth and back into the can. The critics were right. It was terrible.
Pickles greeted me as I stepped inside, her rotund belly brushing against the floor, her thick tail wagging. Five seconds later, enraged by the audacious fact that I had taken three steps inside without feeding her, Pickles began to bark incessantly.
“Calm down you heifer,” I said as I poured food into her bowl.
Placated by her kibble, Pickles shut up. Capitalizing on her silence, I asked the kids what they wanted for dinner. Two voted for Ramen and two for Steak-Umms so I made both. After dinner we spent an hour together hunting ducks on the TV. I think my zapper was broken because I missed the vast majority of my shots. That damn dog laughed at me every time.
Around 9:15 I tucked the kids into bed, and roughly ten minutes after that Karen got home. She was singing softly to herself as she came in the door —“Ya, know I’m never gonna dance again. Guilty feet have got no rhythm. Though it’s easy to pretend, I know you’re not a fool.” George Michael must have carelessly whispered her home as well.
Despite the annoyance that I felt toward her for making me run to the store, I was happy to see my wife. Greeting her at the door I put my hands on her waist, initiating a slow dance in time with her rendition of the Wham! chart topper. Finishing our dance with a kiss on the cheek, I walked over to the cabinet, got down a bottle of wine, poured us each a glass, and then asked her how the conferences went. She vented about parents that refused to discipline their children as we sipped our merlot. After polishing off our glasses, we headed to bed. I didn’t think about my hurried fluoroelastomers once.
The following day at work my boss asked me if I finished all of my compounding work. “Sure did. That batch is going to make some of the finest gaskets and O-rings the world has ever seen.” I replied a tad flippantly.
“Good. Those guys over at Thiokol have been up my ass about getting them that material. They have some SRBs that they need to finish up and ship off to Cape Canaveral ASAP.”
“Right. Well, no worries. Everything is sent.” I responded. I had no idea what the fuck he was talking about.
As soon as our boss left, I leaned over and asked one of my fellow chemists what the hell an SRB was. “A Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster,” he answered.
“Oh, okay… Wait… Oh shit.”
Seven months later, as the remains of Space Shuttle Challenger cascaded down into the Atlantic Ocean on our family’s television screen, I looked over at our dog and shook my head in disgust. “Bad, Pickles,” I thought.
That night, looking to lighten the mood, my wife took me by the waist and initiated a slow dance, singing Careless Whisper in her soft alto. No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t get the steps right. Over and over again, I stepped on her toes. When she got to the second line of the final chorus I sang the words with her: guilty feet have got no rhythm.