Us and Them

Us and Them

Mark Weisberg
1995 3M Teaching Fellow

hat the fuck am I doing on the hottest day of the summer stuffing and roasting two chickens at 425 degrees? I should be outside in the yard with Joshua. He’s lucky Melissa isn’t there, so it’s OK for him to go naked. No neighborhood mother telling her five-year-old daughter she can’t play with her naked four-year-old friend. “What do you want to do?” we asked him, when Melissa said he’d have to put on clothes or she couldn’t play. Josh knew what he wanted: he calmly walked into the house, climbed the stairs to his room, and returned five minutes later-wearing his favorite tee shirt.

No Melissa today, so no tee shirt. Just Josh and his mostly naked Mom, sunning herself to leather in the canvas lounge chair. It’s go degrees today and sunny, so she doesn’t need the aluminum mirrors she uses in the winter on the roof of the addition, wrapped to the chin in her sleeping bag.

The chickens won’t be ready for a while, so I think the cotton cloth of the living room sofa might cool me off. I slip off my Birkenstocks and begin walking through the dining room toward the sofa. The polished oak floors are cool, smooth, and suddenly … wet. Pulling back my foot, I look down. There’s a puddle on the floor, small yes, but definitely a puddle. In my dining room. Not near the dining room table. Not near the kitchen. Not near anything. And not where anyone’s been today … except Josh, on his way upstairs to go the bathroom or to collect a toy.

“Joshua, come here for a minute.”

Quick to respond, as always, he stops kicking his Nerf soccer ball and bounds through the back door, up the half flight of stairs, and finds me in the dining room.

“Over here.” My index finger wiggles, showing the way he can clearly see. I point to the puddle. “Did you do this?”

“No, Dad.”

“I’ll ask you again, Joshua. Did you do this?”

“No, Dad.”

I stare at him and try’ again. “You’re the only person who’s been in this room, and you’re not wearing any clothes. Tell me the truth. Did you do this?” “No Dad, I didn’t.”

I’m yelling now, bending to get my face close to his. “Don’t lie to me; did you do this?”

“Yes, Dad, I did.”

“This isn’t OK, Joshua. There are two bathrooms in this house you could have used. Or if you’d had to go so badly, you could have done it on the lawn. And leaving it here is disgusting, unacceptable.”

I’m so mad that I don’t think I’ll make him clean it up. “You’re going to be punished for this. Go outside, and we’ll discuss your punishment later.” He skulks away, head down, chastened.

Have to get some towels to clean this up. It better not have warped the floor. As I step past the puddle, something hits my arm. It feels wet. I hold out my arm to inspect. Hit again. These are drops. They’re not coming from the puddle. I look up. The plasterboard ceiling seems different, swollen really. And just above the puddle is a yellow-brown stain, from which extends what looks like a bubble.