AVEE CHAUDHURI / PLEASURE-DOME
So I could defecate in secrecy, I sent the children to a gymnastics lesson. It was mid-July. They were out of school and eager to spend time with their father. But I was becoming sluggish and irritable. I had to address the situation alone, in an empty house.
That summer we ate a lot of meat: tenderloin of beef, grass-fed lamb, and on the Fourth of July a whole albino boar which had been roasted after being stuffed with dried anchovies and aged Gorgonzola. It was a Sicilian dish of such refined extravagance that it brought the whole human animal back to greasy stillborn inertia. Very difficult on the bowels, this meal, like enriched flour or scalloped potatoes. When they mastered gymnastics, I sent the children to learn swimming.
I want you to be able to tread water for two hours in the middle of Lake Michigan, I told them. Never mind the circumstances. Just be prepared for winter.
As they swam at the local YMCA, I sat down for an afternoon of solitary exertion. What I read on the toilet is a strictly personal matter, I should think. Although I will freely admit that when I was too constipated to read, I would watch pornography on my smartphone, mostly handjob videos involving step-siblings. A bit of light opera, if you will.
In the rare instance that I finished early, a sense of guilt pervaded me. I wandered naked through our empty home, weeping for the children I had sent away with such ambiguity or confused malice. The only sensible recourse was single-malt scotch, which admittedly interferes with intestinal peristalsis. We are all the authors of our own doom.
The crisis was resolved with new medical research around the time the children entered middle school. So I then had time to keep other things hidden from them. The world was full of possibility. On Mondays I sent them to learn Mandarin while I practiced my clarinet. Tuesday evenings I would build a Victorian brothel out of Legos and enact slow moving, empathetic dramas about the women working there. Wednesdays I rested. Thursdays the wife and I invited the Widow Sorensen over to instruct us in ballroom dancing. Then we hosted her in a ménage à trois that was neither elegant nor outright tasteless humping. Fridays I wrestled with the concept of God. This involved more whiskey and very tortured and theatrical pacing across the floorboards and every fourth or fifth Friday, only when the children were out of course, I mended the floorboards. All the while my children learned Mandarin, mountaineering, truffle hunting and the basics of deep sea exploration.
Saturdays were a splendid orgy of discretion. My children were social beings and had birthday parties to attend or invitations to the skating rink or water park. They were out the entire day and this afforded me ample time with which to build a unicursal hedge maze on some property I owned at the edge of town. People of all affiliations, even Southern Baptists, would go there to make love under the stars and the retrograde planets. When my children began dating and staying out longer, I allowed the maze to succumb to the annual weevil infestation. Imagine the fall of Xanadu from pooling, unchanneled effluent.
Despite all my careful planning, the children knew there had been subterfuge. The Widow Sorensen’s perfume would always hang heavy in the air during the humid months. But, by God, you try criticizing a war widow. The children found my Legos and I claimed they were for an architectural study. But then they pointed to the rash of figurines, the bottomless women, stripped of their garments with a mild solution of water and turpentine. They ruined the Legos for me. I poured a Chivas and retreated to the garage to listen to Slayer (on headphones) and plot my vengeance against Amy and Christopher.
The next day I announced to the children at their breakfast that they would be attending boarding school in Norway. My wife was initially livid, but she came to understand. As they grew older and more observant, the children would learn about us, including those parts of our lives we wished to conceal, my diseased bowels, for instance, or lesbian affairs with Freja Sorensen in a beautiful hedge maze.
With the children exiled, I taught myself to paint, and I became a good painter and a celebrity in the Wilsonville art world. “Sorensen’s Widow and the Artist’s Wife Under Moonlight” sold for a hundred thousand dollars at auction. I lectured at the local community college and taught classes at the federal prison. As it happens I am a born nurturer of men. On the eve of a retrospective of my work the children arrived home early for Christmas their senior year. So I did not attend the retrospective. Instead we went bowling and made eggnog and I turned on the Chiefs-Raiders game and drank, cursing the fact that the Raiders were moving to Las Vegas. “Not that you give a damn!” I bellowed to the children in an assault on their new European sensibilities. I had hoped the outburst would mask my rich interior life, but for Christmas they coyly gave me a set of acrylics. I feigned ignorance and demonstrated goodwill. When they came home late from screwing their contemporaries, I would ask “How was mini-golf?”
On one hand, yes, I am a misanthrope who wants to be left alone. On the other, I believe I did well by my charges. I made sure they are well rounded. They can vault and swim and climb mountains and can bargain for truffles with unscrupulous Frenchmen. They can speak Mandarin and German and Hindi for Christ’s sake. I have given them all the languages with which to find the True Cross. What’s more, they are skeptical. First of their own father, then surely of the lawgivers. This knowledge will help them in the real world when they depart the family home for university and careers, and graciously leave me be except for holidays by the fireside. Incidentally, vacations have never been an issue because regardless of hotel or rented pied-à-terre I have always insisted on different rooms and facilities, separated by a long, winding, poorly lit corridor.
Avee Chaudhuri is from Wichita, Kansas. He holds several doctorates from the North Korean School of Telemetry.