My Fake Life

I don’t smoke because in our house, there is no smoking allowed and we got rid of the last of our ceramic ashtrays at the McGarrigan’s garage sale this past summer.

The thing is, this isn’t my house, and the children here do not carry my DNA and the woman with whom I have nightly monkey sex is not my wife.

One day I just walked inside and sat down in the ergonomically designed Barca-lounger and began my experiment. Watching the household bustle of food-smeared, hyperactive children and their overwrought mother, it struck me that someone could just show up, and, minding his own business, go undetected.

Day One: 4:33 P.M.

I’ve recently left a sixty-hour-a-week job in order to engage in activities and adventures that will be published in major periodicals once the adventures and activities are recast into breezy journal form and written in such a way as to confirm those things that the editors of the major periodicals believe to be true about our declining culture. These events will appear to be so true that these major periodicals will not bother to check if said events are, indeed, true.

So, I ease open the porch screen door (my mother suggested the address, having once played canasta here) and introduce myself to the dog with some meat-basted biscuits, thinking that if I get him on my side I’ll be able to come and go as I please.

Soon enough, a woman walks in. She is, naturally, attractive, as I have had my pick of wives to whom I am not married.

"You’re home early. How was work?" she says. This attractive woman’s hair is charmingly tousled and she doesn’t seem to notice that I am not her husband.

"Brutal." I say to my new fake wife. "How about some sex?"

My fake wife’s hands are rubbing my shoulder blades, then my chest. "There’s a lot of tension in your neck and shoulders," she says.

"Tell me about it." I say.

The dog barks viciously at the mailman. "Quiet, Max!" I say.

"Her name is Madeline. We call her Maddy," my fake wife says.

"Right. Isn’t that what I said?"

Day 2: 7:27 A.M.

At the bathroom vanity, some finesse is required.

"Which color is mine, again, honey?" I shout into the bedroom.

"Blue," she says. I brush my teeth slowly and scan the bathroom. Two small, stuffed bunnies with their ragdoll arms thrown around each other rest on the toilet tank top. The wallpaper also depicts bunnies playing different woodwind and brass instruments in a kind of lagomorph jazz combo. I make a mental note to ask the editors at the major periodical if this is a demonstration of kitsch, bad taste, or perhaps both at the same time. I imagine that as we puzzle over this we will share a chuckle over these people and their quaint ways of "living."

Day 5: 8:30 P.M.

It appears that I’m in a spot of trouble, but I have only myself to blame.

Thus far I have performed my husband and father duties through an artful series of evasions: a semi-scowling breakfast of shaking the morning paper and grumbling angrily at the latest reports from the renegade city council meetings, followed by a day of "work," meaning drinks at the local with friends new and old. Finally, I come home, drop my briefcase (filled with a mix of Wall Street Journals and porn so as to not attract attention) to the floor before collapsing in the lounger for a good stare at the television before a silent dinner at which I tell the various male and female children to "keep your elbows off the table," after which I retire to my "office" (the spare bedroom where even more bunny curios are kept) to do some additional "work."

So now, my fake wife stands over me, arms akimbo as I shuffle the porn beneath the yellowing Wall Street Journals. The smaller of the female children squalls in front of me, begging for a "bedtime story." I notice from her smudged cheeks that she is also in need of a bath.

"Your turn, Bud," she says. "Or no Mr. Winky tonight."

Day 5: 8:40 P.M.

"What do you do here?" the child asks as I scrub behind her ears. I am prepared for this:

"Family management," I say, while at the same time pretending to "get" her nose by snatching at her face with my fingers and then holding my thumb between index and forefingers.

The child cries in utter terror until I "give back" the nose. My heart races, but I do not hear my fake wife’s heel clicks down the hall floor.

Later, to the small child, I read a bedtime story about coöperation because I have dreamed of seeing an umlaut in a story of mine published in a major periodical.

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