Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walter the Second

Like most people, Walter Hubbard did not remember his own birth. Neither did his parents. The fourth child of nine, Walter was born to Richard and Athena Hubbard, of the Tucson Hubbards.
“The lovely Mrs. Hubbard!” friends would say. “Adding to the troupe again, we see. How you glow when you are with child, how many is this dear?”
“Old mother Hubbard, more like,” she would respond with not a little exhaustion, her brood of mini-Hubbards dancing around her like demons ready to burn their mother at the stake. “I believe this is number seven.”
“Eight, mother! This is number eight!” Walter would correct her.
“Are you quite sure dear? I was certain we were only on number seven. Let me see, there’s Winston, Warren, Walter, Wallace, Wanda, and Wendy…so yes, this should be number seven.”
“Yes, mother, but there are two of us.”
“Two of who?”
“Two Walters? You must be joking. Why would we have two Walters?”
Indeed, our Walter was born exactly two years to the day after his older brother, Walter. Walter the second was welcomed into the world rather unceremoniously, and a worn out Athena signed the birth certificate with little ado in her groggy post-partum state.
The naming mishap was only the first of hundreds of incidents which would render Walter the second (a man who would be largely forgettable even if he had been given his own name) a perpetual shadow in the memories of those who knew him. Regardless, Walter the second never realized he was constantly being forgotten until well into college. He always had a birthday party (though it was thrown for his brother Walter…he just thought there wasn’t enough room on the cake for two names) and somehow in the mix of nine little devils leaping around the cramped household, Walter always had a bed to sleep in and food to eat.
What Athena Hubbard did not know (aside from the number of children she already had) was that she was pregnant with numbers eight and nine. The birth of the twins Wilbur and Eunice was quite eventful in the Hubbard household. Athena was caught off guard without a name for the little girl. She considered the name Wanda but realized, almost too late, that she already had one of those…so the child was named after the almost blind nurse who caught her as she slid out into the world on the heels of her brother.
“How are we going to house eight children, Richard?”
“Nine, mother. You just had number eight and nine,” interrupted Walter the Second.
“Nine? Impossible, I’ve only been pregnant eight times.”
Ten year old Walter decided to leave that one alone.
“You’re quite right, Athena,” said Richard, ignoring his son, “We have no more room where we are now. We are going to have to find a larger home.”
And so it was decided. The burgeoning Hubbard family, with eight or nine children decided that they were too numerous for Tucson, and moved to Tempe. A stranger might argue that it was fate that brought them there. They might argue that it was an uncharacteristically rainy night in Tucson when the children were in bed that Richard Hubbard and his wife Athena conceived twins, causing the family to have too many children in a small house which prompted them to move to Tempe where there was a larger house perfect for a family their size and where the second child of theirs named Walter would grow up, fall in love, and marry Alice Snogbottom and one day encourage her to have an affair with Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger which would lead to that man's unfortunate death at the bottom of Pickler Ravine which is why, to this day, there is no Tasty Freeze in Flagstaff, and why we can blame almost everything on the weather.

Walter Hubbard loved his wife more than his own life. It was unfortunate for her that he had tried to commit suicide no less than three times, possibly more. And now, as Mr. Hubbard comforted the love of his life while she wept in grief over the lost love of another man, he considered how difficult it would be to bury himself alive. Granted, he might need some help tossing the dirt back onto his bound up body…he could pay someone to do that…but would that count as suicide? He’d be perfectly willing to dig the hole himself, right in his own back yard, if need be. But those nasty laws of the universe (especially the one where you can’t be two places at once) prevented this plan from developing into fruition. Happily, he realized he’d already been digging his own grave for 17 years, it was just a matter of time before someone else took pity and helped throw a little dirt on his face.
“Oh darling, I loved him so much, and now he’s gone, gone forever and he’ll never come back to me, never! Oh, what’ll I do!”
And there it was.
Walter remained as comforting and as loving as possible through the whole ordeal. The ordeal had, in fact, been of his own orchestration…an ordeal he foolishly thought would bring his wife back to him. One that would make her see how much she needed him, how much they needed each other. It took him months to convince her to ask Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger out to dinner.
“You silly man! Why on earth would I do that?” she declared.
“Darling, if it’s a matter of hurting my feelings, have no fear. I want you to experience the sort of freedom we missed out on by marrying so early.”
“Oh, it’s not that, Walter…”
“Then what is it my sweet?”
“Women can’t ask MEN out. It’s against the rules. I would never ask him out first. If this is going to happen, I need to have a plan. I need to lure him in, not corner him. If there’s anything I’ve learned from fifteen years of…marriage, it’s this: men feel threatened when they’re trapped. No offence.”
“None taken.”
“So what I need to do first, is go shopping. I’ll need new shoes and a killer dress if I’m going to get Stan to ask me out. Give me the credit card.”
“Anything, my love.”
Okay, so it hadn’t taken months to convince her. But Walter liked to think that she would have held out longer if Stan hadn’t told her himself that very day that he would be moving to Flagstaff in two months time to open up another Tasty Freeze franchise. And so it began. Walter Hubbard knew that it would not take much for his darling wife to attract the attentions of another man, if she hadn’t already.
She was quite a beautiful woman, by any man’s standards. Her hair was a tall sort of floofy arrangement of peroxide curls sprayed into place by some not insignificant amount of hairspray each morning. When Walter looked at it, he liked to think of it as a slightly yellow cloud sitting upon the bold brown mountains that were her eyebrows. And, he always loved the way she scraped away excess red lipstick in the mornings with her well manicured French nails. Yes, she was quite beautiful. And Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger was just the sort of man Walter knew would treat his wife with the sort of respect a married woman looking to have an open marriage would deserve…and then be out of town by August. He never thought for a second that she would fall in love with him, or that her love would be the beginning of the end for the Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger line.
Walter looked at Alice Hubbard now as she leaned over her knees, one hand covering her face, one digging into the clear plastic covering on their brown velvet sofa that was their first purchase together after their honeymoon. It was quite a good deal at the time, really. The custom plastic covering cost almost as much as the couch itself. In fact it may have cost more. Walter made a mental note to check the receipts that were still tucked safely under his bed.
Walter suddenly realized two things. First, he realized that this was only the second time he remembered his wife sitting on the couch in their living room. And second, he realized how lovely she was as she sat there sobbing over the death of Stan Meierhoffsteinschmidtberger, the owner of the Tasty Freeze, and the most eligible bachelor in town…until recently.


John Breidenthal said...

I see a PBS mini-series with the stark resonant title "Hubbard".

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