by Dan Nielsen
There was nothing in the oven yet. It was still preheating. The bell rang. Paul made a sound. Paul, as always, was under the table. Betty opened the refrigerator, grabbed a Pabst, popped the tab, and took a long swallow. Another swallow and it was empty. She let it settle. If you let an empty settle you get an extra sip. She did this.
Sheâ€™d forgotten something. Then she remembered.
The frozen pizza was already out and unwrapped, waiting on its cardboard circle that would later become a cutting board and serving tray. Betty slipped it off the cardboard and into the oven. Then set the timer for eleven minutes. The package said between ten and twelve minutes. As far as Betty knew, eleven was the only number of minutes between ten and twelve.
Betty thought of an interesting fact. Frozen pizza is one of only two foods that go in the oven with nothing under it. The other is baked potatoes.
Tim trudged up from the cellar with a load of dry clothes. He made a show of stomping his work boots. This was work. This was laundry. Someone had to do it. What was Betty doing? Drinking a beer?
â€œJust put them on the bed, hun,â€ Betty said. â€œIâ€™ll fold later.â€
Tim kept going, carrying the clothes into the TV room. There were towels mixed in with Bettyâ€™s sweaters. Sweaters were supposed to be washed separate and hung on the line. There would be transferred fuzz. Things could be shrunk. Better he handle the folding himself.
Tim switched on the TV. Heâ€™d feel like a fool folding clothes with only the quiet to keep him company. Heâ€™d maybe even kill himself. Tim believed in his heart that television was the leading preventer of suicide, and not just the religious programs either, all programs.
Tim should know because he worked for the cable company. When someoneâ€™s conked out he drove there in a panel truck and fixed it. There was no need for a truck. The truck was empty. What Tim needed easily fit in a gym bag. The letters on the bag were the same as on the truck, only smaller.
A woman named Joan answered the phone at the cable company. Joan said it was like 911 the way people acted when they couldnâ€™t watch TV every single second of their miserable lives. Tim couldnâ€™t agree more. People were crazy.
â€œTim, Iâ€™m getting a beer,â€ Betty hollered. â€œWould you like one?â€
â€œSure,â€ Tim hollered back.
The beers had to wait. Paul wanted out. Betty usually joined him, smoking while he did his business, but it was raining, so she stayed inside and watched through the window. Paul, as always, ran behind the garage. Betty wondered if this was modestly because Paul was a man and she was a woman. She wondered if Paul also ran behind the garage when Tim let him out? Sheâ€™d have to ask.
“Thanks,â€ Tim said taking the beer Betty handed him. I Love Lucy was on. I Love Lucy was hard to find these days unless you had all the cable stations. Tim and Betty had all the cable stations. Tim got them for free.
Betty hated I Love Lucy, so she folded the clothes. She noticed right away the sweaters and towels, but decided to say nothing, though somehow the wrong kind of look must have crept onto her face. Tim glanced over and it was as bad as if she had yelled at him.
Behind the garage, Paul peed on a dead bird. Is wasnâ€™t something that made him proud. It was just something he did.