Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsFall 2022  Vol. 21  No. 2
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Don’t Mention It

What a long day. They are in bed, both tuckered out. Their daughter’s asleep in her own room and everything in the house is calm and quiet. The only sounds are the little chuffing noises his wife makes just before falling into a deep sleep. She’s beside him, burrowed beneath the covers, but he’s wide awake. He’s thinking of the thing that’s bothered him all evening.

He’d done his daughter’s hair after dinner. While his wife cleared the table, he’d wrestled Hailey’s thick hair into a semblance of order. Parting the kinky-coily mass down the center, fashioning a braid on each side of his daughter’s head, securing the ends of each braid with a colorful plastic barrette had made him feel like Michelangelo putting the finishing touches on the Sistine Chapel. He’d pulled out his cell phone and taken a few quick pictures of the top and back of his daughter’s head to post on social media, careful not to show her face. When he’d proudly called attention to his handiwork his wife had briefly looked up from where she stood at the kitchen sink and nodded before returning to the dinner dishes.

“Don’t I even get a thank you?” he’d blurted out, deflated.

With her back to him and her hands deep in suds she’d said, “Sweetie, don’t forget to thank your father for doing your hair.” His daughter had kissed his cheek wetly and said, “Thank you Daddy,” but her gratitude left him hollow.

The chuffing sounds grow louder. Five more minutes and his wife will be dead to the world. Falling asleep at the drop of a dime is her special talent.

He nudges her until she turns to him and pushes her satin eye mask onto her forehead. “What is it?”

“I didn’t mean Hailey,” he says.

She eyes him groggily and yawns into his face. “What?”

“Tonight, you told Hailey to thank me for doing her hair, but she wasn’t who I meant.”

His wife is wide awake now. “So, you meant me?”

“Well,” he says. “It was you I was doing the favor for.”

“Doing your own daughter’s hair is not a favor to your wife.”

He doesn’t turn to her. He places his hands behind his head, finding it easier to say what needs to be said. “There are women who wish their husbands would help out around the house, but when I help, you don’t even say thank you.”

“Help?” She raises herself on an elbow to look down at him.

All of a sudden, he feels sleepy. He closes his eyes. He can feel her staring, but he knows he’s right. “They say men never help,” he says. “Today I helped. Why shouldn’t I be thanked?”

He opens an eye to see what she thinks. She’s still looking at him queerly.

“Thank you very much,” she says. She slides her eye mask back down, and huddles beneath their blankets once more.

“No problem,” he says, pleased to be magnanimous. That’s all he wanted. He is glad that he’s stood his ground. He is glad that she understands.


The next morning is a horror. There is no breakfast when he comes downstairs. There’s not even any coffee. His wife sits at their kitchen table with the morning paper and his daughter concentrates on tying her shoelaces. “Slow start?” he asks.

“Hmm?” His wife doesn’t look up. She’s engrossed in the funnies.

“Where’s breakfast?” he asks her.

“We’ve already had it,” she says.

He looks to the sink where syrupy plates soak in soapy water. On the counter, the waffle iron is still smoking. “Where’s mine?”

She shakes out the paper and turns the page, going from Cathy to Blondie. “You’ve never thanked me for making your breakfast, so today I didn’t make any for you.”

He’s miffed that she’s stooped to punishing him for last night, annoyed she feels the need to make a point, but he doesn’t have time to discuss her pettiness or even to find something to eat without making himself late. He says only, “I like waffles too, you know,” before kissing their daughter and leaving for work.


The house is cold and empty when he comes home that evening, and the dishes are still floating in the sink. He calls his wife’s cell phone, but when she answers he can barely hear her over what sounds like incredibly loud bad rock music. “Where are you?”

“At the gym,” she says.

“Where’s Hailey?” he asks.

“I don’t know.”

“You didn’t pick her up from school?” He is practically shouting.

“Didn’t you?” she asks, sounding out of breath. He hears a clang, like the sound of a free weight being replaced on the rack.

“But you always pick her up!”

“Yes, but you’ve never thanked me for doing it.”

He hangs up and hops in his car. When he gets to his daughter’s school, no one is waiting outside. The schoolyard gate is locked, the building’s lights are all off, and all the children and their teachers are nowhere to be seen.

The joke is wearing thin now. He can’t believe she could stoop so low. The more he thinks about it, the more certain he is that she hasn’t. She was probably picking Hailey up when he called and was just trying to make him sweat a bit. He guesses she’s pulling a prank.

He drives straight home, but his wife and daughter are still not there. A few minutes later his wife pulls into their driveway and exits her car carrying a Styrofoam cup and a takeout bag blooming with grease. Their daughter is not with her, but he’s no longer worried. He’s sure she’s picked up Hailey and dropped her off at a friend’s house as part of the prank.

“Is that dinner?” he asks.

“For me, yes.” She sets down her cup and bag on the coffee table and plops down onto their couch. She’s still in her gym clothes. A fine sheen of sweat glows on her forehead and at her collarbone.

“Didn’t you take something down for tonight?” He is trying to be patient.

She digs around in her bag and pulls out a handful of fries. “Did you?”

“I get it,” he says. “You’re upset. Fine, but you didn’t have to use Hailey.”

His wife looks up, puzzled. “She’s not here?”

“Cut it out!” he yells. “OK, so you’re mad. Teaching me a little lesson? The school for bad husbands is now in session?”

From the bag she pulls out a small carton of fries and a cheeseburger wrapped in wax paper. She upends the bag, scattering napkins and ketchup packets all over the coffee table. “I’m just following your lead. We’re only doing what we get thanked for, right? You want to be thanked every time you lift your little finger, but you don’t ever thank me for all the things I do to keep this house running smoothly. In fact, you don’t even see them.”

“What do you mean I don’t see them?” he demands. “And I do plenty around here. I help.”

She unwraps her cheeseburger and eats it greedily. “Helping is when you stay in a hotel, and you make your own bed to save the housekeepers some time. It’s when we’re at a restaurant and we push our cups and plates to the end of the table to make it easier on the servers. There’s no ‘helping’ when you’re in your own home, there’s only doing. You’re not helping me when you braid Hailey’s hair. Braiding her hair is not solely my job. Hailey is your daughter as much as she is mine. I do it every night and you’ve never said a word, but you do it once and we’re supposed to strike the band and throw a parade?”

He stands over her, leaning down and speaking in measured tones, as if to a child. “All you have to do is tell me when you need more help. All you have to do is just tell me what needs to be done.”

She points a fry at him. “I’m not the maĆ®tre d’ of our home. We both live here, and we both have the same number of hours in each day. We both get up each morning and go to work full-time jobs in the morning and then we both come home each evening to this same house that has to be maintained and kept up. When I see something that needs to be done, I just do it. Why do you need to be told that homes and children require continual care? Why do you have to wait for me to point this out to you?” she asks. “I signed on to be your partner, not your mother.”

“Some mother,” he says. “You didn’t pick up Hailey!”

“Neither did you!”

“But I never pick her up.”

“I know.”

He pushes aside her takeout food and sits on the edge of the coffee table, facing her. He takes her hands in his and holds them between his open knees. He drops his head to his chest, closes his eyes. “All of this because of what I said last night?” he asks. His father never cooked a meal, never washed a dish, never lifted a finger. By the time he got to work this morning, the pictures he’d posted of his daughter’s hair had received over a hundred likes. Men and women alike commended him—his male friends praised him for being a good father, and his women coworkers wished their husbands were as helpful as he was. He doesn’t understand this tempest in a teapot over what he’d said last night. Somewhere in his wife’s words about hotels, houses, and helping there’s a lesson, but it’s been years since he’s attended school. He almost wishes he could have a do-over and go back to last night and zip shut his mouth, but even if he could somehow turn back time and do it all over, he would still want to show off, and he would still want his wife to take notice of his effort. He looks up at her now. “Is it so wrong, then, to want to be thanked?”

She rubs his knee. “Everyone wants to be appreciated.”

“Please tell me where Hailey is.”

“She’s over at my mother’s.” She pushes herself up from the couch. “I’ll go get her.”

He waves her back into her seat. “I’ll do it.”

“Thank you.”

“Please,” he says. “Don’t mention it.”  

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