The Cider Maker’s Wife

I’m constantly worrying about our safety, especially here in earthquake country. Now that we are responsible parents, the Man I Married finally agreed with me that we should earthquake-proof the house as much as possible. He went to the hardware store to buy a kit to strap our water heater to the wall.

A darn good thing, too, because look how handy the strap came in:

Keeping Us Safe From Keg Bungs
 
Not exactly what I had in mind, but in case of an earthquake, at least we’ll have something to drink.
 
We’ll need something to drink, because you know how they tell you to fill up your bathtub with water at the first sign of disaster? Cormac McCarthy’s hero does it right quick at the first sound of explosions in The Road, enabling him to continue his cheerful, ash-filled existence so that he can finally consent to appearing on Oprah. (Yes, I am conflating the author and his protagonist, so sue me.) 
 
But we won’t be able to drink the bathtub water, because: 
 

Not that I’d necessarily be inclined to drink the bath water from the tub where the Little Monster bathes. Well, bathe wouldn’t exactly be the correct word. Let’s just say that his lower half gets damp from sitting in soapy water.

I recently had the opportunity to instruct the Little Monster about drinking water from the toilet tank in case of an earthquake. The toilet runs and runs and runs for some reason when LM flushes–note the “when” LM flushes, a sporadic occurrence at best. Oh! the lovely surprises he leaves for me to find after he’s gone off to school. How can such a small child manage such awesome mementos?

When he does remember to flush, something about his technique causes a thingie to get stuck under the sealing thing, so the water keeps draining out of the tank. So one morning I lifted the lid off the tank and instructed him on how to fix it if he heard the toilet running. I commented that he could drink this clean tank water if our water supply was ever cut off.

“Why would there be no water?” he asked.

We try hard to keep the Little Monster’s world as stable as possible, because life gets a little too interesting around our house when he experiences emotions that other kids handle with simple screaming meltdowns. He’s had his share of worry and trauma already. We didn’t let him know, for instance, when I went to the emergency room because the room was spinning and I had no martinis to blame. I refrain from voicing the constant thoughts in my head about earthquakes striking when the Man I Married is on the unstable viaduct or of imminent nuclear disaster (although I do teach him how to correctly pronounce nuclear, as in nuclear power plant, not nuclear destruction). I did not state that I was instructing him on drinking clean tank water now because he might have to do it himself if his mommy was squished flat under a fallen house beam.

So I answered, “Oh, you know, in case someone at the water plant turns the wrong knob.”

That’s when he hit me with one of those out-of-the-blue comments about his past.

“I used to drink toilet water at the last house where I lived,” he told me.

The Mask of Neutrality can be really, really hard sometimes around the Little Monster. “Hm, that’s interesting,” I said. “Thank you for telling me. Why did you drink toilet water?” La la la la la, this is just a normal, everyday conversation that all mothers have with their sons. ‘Would you like milk, juice, or toilet water with your lunch, honey?’

I knew his former foster home stocked plentiful supplies of sodapop, so LM wasn’t slurping toilet water because of a lack of options. Also, for being a nine-year-old, LM is a fairly fastidious guy.

“Mm, I dunno,” he answered.

“I don’t know” doesn’t normally fly as a good reason in our house, but in this case it was probably true. Kids who have been through the sorts of trauma that he has seem to be very confused about urine. I imagine the synapses in their little forming brains are a jumbled mess, rather like the tangle of wires running from our stereo/video/computer/lamp/digital photo frame shelf.

One boy that we met during our Child Search peed into cups and then hid the cups throughout the house, which charmed his foster mother to no end. Our poor dog was unfairly blamed for certain incidents before the Little Monster got over a similar delightful phase. Luckily, being a fastidious guy, he always told us what “the dog” had done, so we never had to play hide-and-seek with urine samples.

At this moment over the toilet, I found myself heavily invested in the “got over” part of that last paragraph. Not that we didn’t expect relapses now and then, which is why we didn’t tell him that I was hooked up to tubes in the E.R. when he asked where I was, and I answered that I was relaxing with friends. Which I was. Friends with lovely drugs that made my world a nice, flat place again.

How did we get to the “got over?” Patience. Just like untangling those wires. We kept our cool and treated it no differently than someone accidentally tracking mud in the house; admit the mistake, help clean it up, and there’s no problem. He could not be faulted or disciplined for kneejerk urges that had no logic. He simply (quite literally) needed to work old toxins out of his system. We stressed that blaming the dog was worse than the mistake he’d made in the first place.

Also? We ripped up all the carpet.

“Well,” I said during our head-to-head over the head, trying to keep my voice from climbing a half register, “you don’t do that anymore, do you?” La la la la la, no hysteria here, nope, this is just a hunky dory mother-son bonding moment.

“Yuck, no,” he said.

“You know you can tell me and you’re not in trouble.”

“No.”

“Anything else you want to tell me? Now’s the time.”

“No.”

It gets complicated. Because it’s possible that he never did drink toilet water, but he’s just telling me he drank toilet water. Why would he want to tell me that he did something that might get him into serious hot water even if he didn’t do it? I might as well ask why half the planet can’t pronounce nuclear correctly. Surely it’s one of the most important words in our lexicon, deserving of a respectful accuracy. But I’d drive myself crazy if I needed answers to questions like that.

At least I can have peace of mind that if The Big One hits, LM will be ready, willing, and able to drink toilet tank water.

We will be able to save all of the safe water for him, even if the Man I Married and I both survive the initial catastrophe, because we’ll be drinking this:

The Cider Maker
 
 

 
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The Erotica Writer’s Husband and Other Stories by Jennifer D. Munro
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PRAISE FOR JENNIFER D. MUNRO’S SHORT STORIES

“Jennifer D. Munro had me howling with [her] irony…”  —Susie Bright, Best American Erotica Editor

“[I] was fixated. I really laughed out loud (by myself)…”  —Bobbi, Literary Mama Reader

“…marvelously refreshing…”  —CleanSheets

“Munro writes with an honesty and rawness… a brilliant piece of writing…”  —Innsmouth Free Press

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5 thoughts on “The Cider Maker’s Wife

  1. I agree — this is breathtakingly painful but feels important to document. Oddly, I can relate a little bit. As a teacher of community college students, I often have to rein in my judgments and matter-of-factly talk about consequences (“Well, I can see that you have no choice but to go to court because your girlfriend has taken out a restraining order against you, and you will lose some points for not turning in the first draft, but [cheerful smile!] as long as that final draft comes in on time, it shouldn’t matter too much to your overall grade.”)

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