He put his grease-stained hands under the water and scrubbed the course grain of orange goop in the crevices, but the grease never left certain spots, no matter how hard he scrubbed. It acted like an agent of society, forever branding him a laborer, a mechanic, a man who worked with his hands. He turned the water off and wiped his hands dry on a towel. He looked at his scraped knuckle. The flap of skin uncovered a bright pink layer of skin that would harden over time then peel and reveal yet another layer waiting to callous and bend and get those wrinkles in the shape of an eyeball and grease in each crevice. He turned out the light to the shop, but not before turning off the open sign. The car left on the lift, with its rear axle disassembled and waiting for ordered parts, appeared like a robot left on an assembly line waiting for a heart in a manufacturing plant gone out of business. He walked away.
At home they ate a microwavable meal not suitable for the gourmand, but they sat as a family, and John’s boy told him about football tryouts, and his wife expressed interest in teaching. She already had the certificate and degree, and the elementary school would need a fourth-grade teacher, seeing how Mr. Gordon killed over in his sleep from a brain aneurysm. “He was fifty seven,” his wife declared in disbelieve. “Fifty seven.” John turned forty two three months ago.
After her shower and putting on her pajamas and climbing into bed and under the covers, John told his wife she should take the job. She said “Really?” four times and asked him why then said “Really?” one more time. John cleared his throat and swallowed his own phlegm, a habit he had ever since he started chewing in junior high, then said, “Because I am done working. I am not going to work another day in my life.” His wife objected, asked him what he would do with his body shop, what he would do in his spare time, but John told her in his cold-sober voice that he would be fine, and they would be fine, and perhaps it was time she experienced work and he stayed at home. They argued but agreed in the end. She started work the next Monday. John sold the shop to an out-of-towner named Rowley and started his first day of freedom from five to five existence by sleeping until six fifty nine. He stretched his hands to the air and feeling it good, the air of nothing to do, the difference of his bedroom air from the stuffy air of his shop, with its effervescent smell of greases and work, and the difference from the stifling air he always choked on when he stood over his father’s grave, breathed in as deep as those ladies in leotards did at the yoga class he went to once with his wife.
After her third day of work and John’s of leisure, she came home and found him draped in her calico cooking apron. He had prepared a potato salad, pork chops, and broccoli. The aroma filled the room with a smell made to break even the abstemious. His wife sat down and said, “Let’s eat. It all looks so good.” John had aesthetically prepared each plate so that the colors appeased the eye as well as the stomach. His wife tasted the potato salad as John took off the apron and sat down. He watched her with the enthusiasm of someone who has slaved over something and thus values it far more than the other. “This is delicious” his wife said with her mouth still full. “What did you put in it?” John hesitated to tell her his secret but felt too much anxiety over her pleasure to leave it alone. “You know Sally Johnston who is famous for her recipes?” He didn’t wait for his wife to reply. “Well I got it out of her at yoga class today. We were sitting on the bench putting our shoes back on when I asked her, point blank, what the secret was. She laughed at first then realized I was serious. She got this real serious look in her eye like the information she was about to divulge could cost a life. She leaned real close and then told me the specific vinaigrette to put on the potatoes and that it must be done while the potatoes are still hot. She leaned back and smiled at me and told me she only shared this because she knew I wouldn’t ever try cooking her potato salad. Imagine a mechanic trying his hand at cooking. She laughed. This time I leaned real close and told her I am no longer a mechanic. I am a stay at home dad who does try his hand at cooking, and I love it. You should have seen the look on her face.” John laughed then tasted his own concoction and shook his head approvingly. Their boy ate on in silence, scarfed down his meal then asked to be excused. When the two were alone, she looked at John while twirling the water in her glass. “So you really like this gig, huh?” she said inspecting his face. “I love it,” John blurted out. She got up and put her plate in the sink, leaving it for John to put in the dishwasher then walked away asking, “What do you think your father would say?” John knew she had left the room, but he blurted out, “My father can’t say anything. The dead don’t speak.”
After three months, and much to his wife’s chagrin, who grew tired of the long hours at work and the tedious task of managing little kids, John’s face began to soften around the eyes, and his skin, especially his fingers appeared well groomed, almost manicured. He had nice hands and cuticles once the grease chafed away. This, in particular, these hands of a man turning so soft and the cuticles looking like buffed and glossed pearls, and to find out he put polish on them, drove his wife to a rage. Would a man with the will of Faulkner’s Thomas Sutpen and the hard lines to prove his very existence ever repudiate those lines, or would one of Cormac McCarthy’s cowboys, whose blood boiled with primeval manliness and the wish to fulfill only that part of his destiny which is granted man, would they ever leave their shop and turn so, so womanly? It is impossible to conjecture if what the mold has cast can reshape and form its own mold unless the anvil of consciousness beats out a new schema against the nature of the very brain it took eons to beat into it suited shape. John would return to being John his wife consoled herself. Biological mechanisms always win out in the end.
Three months later she doubted herself. John’s physiognomy had changed, and so had hers. John remained muscular, though more ripped, and his veins bulged in his arms like those gymnasts who do the rings, and his shoulders were comparable to the same metaphor, whereas she had turned flabby. Her underarms, the triceps, shook like sails in the wind when she raised her hands; so much so, she took to wearing only long sleeves, even in the heat of spring. Her face, once crystalline and as smooth as their granite countertops had three ungodly whiskers poking out at the bottom of her chin. “I’m a witch,” she proclaimed to John in disgust one night. No, this had to end. She walked in after a hard day of work and approached John. He sat on the sofa reading from Better Homes and Gardens. “Did you hear, John? Your boy has quit the football team. It’s your fault.” John put the magazine down, dog-earing his page. He stared up at his wife and smiled at her frantic face. “Calm down. The boy will be fine. He has other hobbies.” She put her arm on her hip and tapped one foot to display her utter displeasure. “What? This bird-watching Audubon crap you’ve got him interested in. That isn’t what normal boys his age are supposed to be doing.” John stood up and put a calming hand on his wife’s shoulder. “He’ll be fine. Football just wasn’t for him.” John began to walk past his wife when she turned on him and grabbed him by the shoulder with a firm grip. “It was for him,” she shouted, “until you started staying at home.” John removed her hand without force. “My staying home has nothing to do with the boy’s dislike for football. Maybe he didn’t like wearing the tight uniform or showering with a bunch of other boys. Did you ever think of that? The camaraderie of football is an ass-slapping with a wet towel. That doesn’t sound like fun to me.” She calmed down but still threw his magazine to the floor as she walked through the living room.
Two months later, leaves changing colors, and his wife entered the house to find John sitting on the couch reading from the same magazine, different issue. As he heard the door shut he jumped up to greet her. “You wouldn’t believe what we discussed at our reading group over at Mrs. McMurray’s today,” John could hardly contain himself. “Enough of this bullshit,” his wife screamed and pushed him back down on the couch. “Enough of your reading groups, enough of your yoga, enough of your cooking, enough of your silly behavior, I’ve had enough. Do you understand me?” She stood over him like an enraged Olympian Goddess flushed down Zeus’s toilet, but the heavenly fury still shone in her shit brown eyes. “What’s the big deal?” John asked, not ready for her diatribe. “What’s the big deal? What’s the big deal? The big deal is you have totally taken this not working gig to a whole new level. I don’t even recognize you anymore. You are like a woman. The big deal, John,” and she spoke sharp when she used his name, “is your son is out raking up leaves with a dress and high heels on. The big deal is the whole neighborhood is gathered across the street watching your son skip through the leaves like some transvestite Dorothy, while he puts the leaves in bags. That’s the big deal, John.” John stood up, so as to be face to face with his wife. I’ll call Rowley,” he said without any emotion in his voice. “Maybe he needs an expert mechanic to help him in the shop.” John brushed her shoulder as he walked by her, hitting her just hard enough to make her move. Some spots never come out, she thought to herself, happy he had bumped against her.