Monday, November 28, 2011

Chapter 9: The Repairman

A long time ago, in a city far away, Mr Stoat and his loving wife had a solid and reliable internet connection through their cable company. When they moved to Stoatbridge, they learned, to their ever-lasting sadness, that the cable company that had served them so faithfully for so many years, provided nothing to the area the Stoats were moving to.

So the Stoats were forced to sign up with a regional service that provided high speed internet to remote areas using a system of towers and little satellite dish-style receivers. Mr Stoat grudgingly paid the company's ransom and the couple settled down in their snug little den with their unstable, overpriced internet connection.

The Stoats love their router/modem as best they could. They fed it and stroked it and spoke little comforting words into its little black antennae. There were good and kind and gentle to it. But still the ro-mo wouldn't do what they asked. It was a terribly naughty little black box. It didn't appreciate the bills being paid on time, it didn't appreciate the constant attention it was given, and it didn't appreciate the amount of money spent on iTunes.

Then one morning, after Mr Stoat had gone off to work and Mrs Stoat busied herself with downloading music and podcasts on iTunes, the internet connection died. It didn't say anything, it didn't give them any warning. It just decided it was done and, like the fish Mrs Stoat kept in a broken blender in the top of the closet in her university dorm room, it went belly up. Mrs Stoat knew exactly what to do in a situation such as this: call her husband. He called tech support and they told him there was a service outage. Mr Stoat relayed this information to his wife, explaining to her that their entire area was down and they had someone out looking at it, but there was no estimate as to when it might be back.

Mr Stoat had a Stoatbridge Cigar Club meeting that night, leaving his wife home alone until very nearly bedtime. So Mrs Stoat set to work in the kitchen, preparing something from her Microwave Dinners for One cookbook, when Toby, their enormous dog, started growling at the patio door. Toby loved to growl and bark at the neighborhood kids, animals, vehicles, and anything that moved, so Mrs Stoat ignored him, took her Pizza Pockets out of the microwave, and flipped them over. Toby barked louder. Mrs Stoat walked around the corner to investigate.

Mrs Stoat was startled to find a greying weasel in a black cap and blue overalls standing on her deck, peering in. Toby barked his face off. The weasel continued to stare at her.

"Can I help you?" Mrs Stoat tried to shout over Toby's barking. The weasel cupped one paw around his ear and mouthed the words I can't hear you. Toby kept barking. Mrs Stoat unlocked the door and opened it slightly, holding her bat-shit dog back by his collar.

"I'm here about your internet," the weasel said, his voice deep and slow.

"Um," said Mrs Stoat.


"I'm going to go up on the roof, okay?" said the weasel.

"Okay," said Mrs Stoat, who had suddenly become aware of just how many crime procedural dramas she watched.


"Might want to put him away," said the weasel. He looked around.

"Okay," said Mrs Stoat faintly, as she wondered how long it would take for someone to find her body.

The weasel backed out of the house slowly, keeping his eyes on Mrs Stoat and Toby, who had likely alerted the entire county with his incessant barking.

After fifteen minutes of shuffling around on the roof, the weasel came back down and walked into the Stoats' living room. Mrs Stoat, having obediently put Toby in the bathroom, clutched at her cell phone and held her breath.

"My internet has been out most of the day," Mrs Stoat said, which seemed like a better idea than screaming her face off.

"It's working just fine," the weasel said.

"No," protested Mrs Stoat. "It says I'm not connected to the internet. It's been like that all day."

"Seems your ro-mo's malfunctioning. It's flooding the tower with signals. Brought down the whole area. Office says you need a new ro-mo. They're sixty dollars. I have one in the van. We'll take a cheque." The weasel's gaze felt particularly uncomfortable to Mrs Stoat. He looked dead inside. Like his eyes were made of glass. More importantly, Mrs Stoat was not pleased with the idea of paying $60 for this when her beloved cable company wouldn't have charged her anything.

The weasel looked around.

"Usually when I come out here," he said languidly, as though this were something that happened regularly, "there's a man here. Where is he?"

"Um... on his way home?" Mrs Stoat asked. The weasel nodded and squatted beside the desk.

"Let's just try a reset on this." The weasel fiddled with the little black box with the flashing lights.

"It looks like it's back," Mrs Stoat noted, when the little yellow yield sign that turned into a spinning blue circle disappeared.

The weasel stared at her, his beady little glass eyeballs seemed to be daring her to make some claim that she knew more about the internet than he did.

"How would you know? You haven't even tried it."

"The little-"

"Just try a page, ma'am."

Mrs Stoat sat down obediently and opened up a browser window. She typed the name of the local constabulary into the search field and the monitor displayed the address, phone number, and a useful map as if by magic.

The weasel nodded, satisfied.

"We're going to monitor this connection. If we see you flooding the network again though..." He trailed off.

"I wasn't doing anything! I couldn't even use the internet! The little yellow yield sign told me I had no internet access! I couldn't so much as pull up Facebook!" Mrs Stoat protested.

"No need to get hysterical, ma'am," huffed the weasel. "Just remember: we're watching you."

When Mr Stoat got home that night, his wife launched herself in his arms and recounted the whole story.

"I think you've been watching a little too much Law & Order," he said, patting the top of her head. "I remember that weasel. He lost his ladder and peed in your petunias last spring." Mr Stoat opened the microwave door and noticed the pizza pockets. "Gonna eat these?" he asked.

"I could have been murdered!" shouted Mrs Stoat.

"But you weren't," Mr Stoat pointed out with infuriating calm.

"This time!" she waggled her finger at her husband. "This time!"

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Chapter 8: A Christmas Miracle

When Mrs Stoat was a wee lass, her father had a terrible temper. If a fork scraped across a dinner plate a little too loudly, he would shout. If pajamas weren't folded up and tucked neatly under a pillow, he would stomp his feet. If his children stayed out even a little past curfew, he would wait in the darkness of the living room and rage at them - then he would wake them up early and put them to work to make them pay for their sins.

One year, when Mrs Stoat and her brother were lazy teenagers, lazing around and playing with their Gameboys, their mother asked them to take the decorations off the Christmas tree. However, Mrs Stoat and her brother were lazy teenagers, lazing around and playing with their Gameboys, so neither felt the inclination to jump at their mother's command. Just let me finish this level, they would say. And so, just before they could finish their levels, their father came in.

Mr Marmot said not a word to his children. He calmly walked over to the Christmas tree and stared at it. Mrs Stoat and her brother sensed they were in danger and quickly tried to put their Gameboys away. But it was too late. Their father grabbed the Christmas tree, ripped off some of the decorations - because his wife would have been upset if he had just left them - and dragged the tree outside to the snowbank.

It was an artificial tree, thirteen hundred tips of plastic fir, decorated with six strings of lights, forty eight feet of silver garland, twenty four silver and blue-painted glass balls, thirteen discolored and ancient white satin balls, sixty eight handmade ceramic decorations, a dozen little blue stars the cat loved to steal, a soap carving of a little non-gender-specific child, and on top was the blue and white star, the star that Mr Marmot and his wife bought on their very first Christmas together.

Mrs Stoat and her brother, who were particularly terrified of being struck about the head and neck, scurried to pick up the dropped decorations while their father stood over them and shouted at them for being ungrateful little shitheads. He promised them that never again would a Christmas tree darken their doorstep. That night, Mrs Marmot stood outside in the snow bank with the trash can and the Christmas tree, and took off the decorations that hadn't fallen when the tree was dragged outside. Mrs Stoat and her brother promised each other that Christmas didn't mean anything to them and that they would never again put any effort into the holiday.

When Mrs Stoat was well into adulthood, married to Mr Stoat, and living in a rented burrow in Stoatbridge, her mother shipped several boxes out to her. One of the boxes contained Christmas decorations salvaged from that Christmas so long ago. There were no lights and no garland, but there were eighteen silver and blue-painted glass balls, six discolored and ancient white satin balls, sixty handmade ceramic decorations, three little blue stars the cat loved to steal, a soap carving of a non-gender-specific child that was missing a leg and half an arm, and the blue and white star that her parents bought on their very first Christmas together.

Mr Stoat bought his wife six strings of LED lights, forty eight feet of new silver garland, twenty four new silver and blue-painted glass balls, assorted stars and decorations, and a real Christmas tree on which no one had bothered to count the branch tips. He stood the tree in the green and red stand he bought, and he filled it with water. He found a Christmas tree skirt decorated with dancing snowmen, and wound it around the base of the tree. He hung the new decorations and the old, and on the top, he placed the blue and white star.

Mrs Stoat was so overjoyed that she bought her husband extra beer that night and they celebrated Mrs Stoat's rediscovered love of the holiday by getting drunk and eating gingerbread cookies under their new tree.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Chapter 7: OH MY GOD, SPIDERS!

Mrs Stoat was afraid of almost everything. Mimes, clowns, things that go bump in the night, being late, being early, slipping in the bathtub, not being able to pronounce the dish on the menu, being stopped at the airport, credit cards being declined, that awkward point when the green light changes to amber and you're not sure if you're too close to the intersection to stop or far enough that you won't skid through and cause a scene, and forgetting a colleague's name. And on the very top of that list, Mrs Stoat would be hard pressed to find something that inspired more terror than spiders.

Some time ago, when Mr Stoat shared an obscenely small den with his betrothed (who was then known as Ms Marmot - or Mindy), Mr Stoat's parents kindly offered to store some of the couple's excess boxes of knickknacks, books, blankets, newspaper clippings, and other cherished memories, in a long-forgotten back bedroom of their own large den. Large enough, Mama Stoat reasoned, to fill the gaping hole left by their own brood, who had long since moved off to the city to fulfill their dreams of seeing their names in lights, drinking their body weight in cheap liquor, and passing out face-down in the gutter. Mama Stoat expected that as soon as the two found a bigger den, the kits would come back for their things.

Several seasons later, with Christmas approaching, Mrs Stoat decided that maybe they should put up a Christmas tree. And bake mouse-shaped gingerbread cookies. And invite their extensive families over for the holidays. Mr Stoat, understanding that this meant traipsing around the forest, looking for just the right tree, seemed reasonably content to let his wife do what she wanted - so long as he had first crack at the cookies and she didn't use all of the spearmint leaves covering up the mice to look like Adam and Eve in that terrifying oil painting her grandmother hand hanging over the dining room table.

"Darling," Mrs Stoat called, elbow deep in flour and molasses.

"Yes, my little gumdrop?" Mr Stoat called back, elbow deep in a beautiful glass of a rich, chocolate stout - his reward for finding the most beautiful tree in the entire forest, chopping it down, and breaking half the branches by strapping it awkwardly to the roof of the car.

"Can you please bring the Christmas tree decorations up from the basement?" his wife asked.

With a great sigh, Mr Stoat put down the 5/16" wrench he was picking his teeth with, drained the last of his beer, and wandered himself down to the hole in the floor that his wife called the Basement. He sorted through boxes of knickknacks, books, blankets, newspaper clippings, and other cherished memories. But Mr Stoat did not find the Christmas decorations. He looked under boxes, in closets, in the garage, in the shed, behind the couch where he always found his socks, and under the fridge. But Mr Stoat did not find the Christmas decorations.

"Darling?" asked Mrs Stoat as she accidentally pulled the head off a mouse cookie that had the temerity to stick to the counter. "Do you think that perhaps the decorations are at your parents' den?" Mr Stoat stared at his wife for a moment, but they both knew he was thinking about beer.

So they bundled the dogs into the car and drove off to see Mama and Papa Stoat.

Mr Stoat slowly descended the rickety stairs and ignored their mocking creak-creak call. Mrs Stoat stood at the top, but did not follow her husband.

"Aren't you coming down?" he asked.

"No," she said firmly. "There are spiders."

"Are they the brown, hairy ones?" asked Mama Stoat.

"No, they're small and black," Mr Stoat called up from below.

"That's good. The brown and hairy ones jump. And they make you itchy!" Mama Stoat nodded to herself.

"Spider poison is stoat poison?!" shrieked Mr Stoat, undoubtedly quoting some television show.

"The black ones are black widows," Papa Stoat supplied helpfully. Mrs Stoat felt faint.

"Are you coming down to help me, my sweet?" called Mr Stoat, only somewhat condescendingly.

"No!" shouted his wife. "There are spiders down there!"

"So I have to carry all the boxes myself?"


So Mrs Stoat stood at the door and opened and closed it for her husband, but she refused to get any nearer the boxes, in case she were to get some spider on her. Even a little bit would be traumatic. Mama Stoat stood in the door with her and explained how some snakes hide in trees and drop out when they see some particularly juicy morsel walk by, or how some venom liquifies the victim's innards and drinks them rather the way one would drink a milkshake, but without the cup or the straw or the strawberry flavour. Mrs Stoat stood there and tried not to cry.

"Are you mad?" Mr Stoat wanted to know as he backed the car out of the driveway. Mrs Stoat fixed him with her best death-glare.

"Very mad," she said in a thin voice.

"You sounded funny-mad. You know. Ranty. Like that comedian that rants about everything." Mr Stoat fumbled for the name but came up with nothing. "You're not funny-mad?"

"I am not funny-mad."

Mrs Stoat explained to her husband that while it may be funny to tease her about her irrational fear of tin foil, it was by no means polite to make fun of her deathly spider-terror.

The entire drive home, Mrs Stoat remained silent, except when she thought one of the spiders escaped from a box and was crawling across the back of her neck. She sat sullenly on the couch, with her little feet pulled up underneath her. She watched television programs that had nothing to do with spiders (or her husband) in any fashion. She went to sleep and obstinately refused to dream of spiders.

In the morning, she had quite gotten over her anger. And screamed when the spider crawled out of her shoe.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Chapter 6: Damned If You Do

Mr Stoat was too polite. When someone stole his parking space, he didn't yell or swear or shake his fist at them. When someone criticised him at work, he didn't take it personally and carried on cheerfully. He apologised when someone cut in line ahead of him at the subway station. With Mr Stoat, everything was water off a duck's back.

Mrs Stoat did not have the same casual, relaxed attitude about life. If someone stole her parking space, she would yell and swear and make up new swear words if she had to. Her personal favourite was fuckweasel. If someone criticised her at work, she criticised them right back. "Your margins are sloppy." "Your face is sloppy." When someone cuts ahead of her at the subway station, Mrs Stoat prefers public shaming and using her outside voice. Mrs Stoat, her husband claims, can be a bit sensitive.

On this particular night, Mr and Mrs Stoat were huddled under the blankets in bed. Mrs Stoat was complaining loudly about winter coats.

"There are no nice coats that fit me!" Mrs Stoat moaned. In high school, Mrs Stoat had been fit and trim and ran several miles a day for fun. After high school, Mrs Stoat obtained a very cushy desk job and took up smoking. She also discovered things like butter and cream and put on a few pounds.

"Maybe wait until next winter?" Mr Stoat asked.

"No, I can't wait until next winter," Mrs Stoat moaned. "This coat is so old that it doesn't come clean anymore. I burned a hole in the sleeve last year because I was standing too close to the bonfire in the backyard. No, Mr Stoat, I need a new coat this year."

"Maybe we could order one online?" he asked his darling wife.

"The only coats Sears has that fit me are for old ladies. Old ladies that shuffle through the grocery store with boot laces dragging through the mud. Old ladies that squeeze every grape. Old ladies that want to dicker over prices. Old ladies that count out their pennies. No, Mr Stoat, I will not order that coat online."

"I mean," said Mr Stoat dryly, "that you could search for plus size winter coats."

"Plus size?" demanded Mrs Stoat. "Are you saying I'm fat?"

Mr Stoat's eyes grew wide with terror.

"No! No I'm not!" Mr Stoat protested.

"So you're saying I look just as good as I did the day we first met?" she pressed, even though she was well aware of the weight she had gained.

Mr Stoat stared at his wife, frantically trying to come up with something to say.

"I didn't say you're fat!" he blurted out.

Mrs Stoat fixed her beady eyes on her husband.

"But I am fat. I have fattened up for the winter," she reminded him. "So either I'm fat or you're a liar."

He kissed his wife, flicked off the light, and snuggled in beside her.

"I love you, crazy lady," said Mr Stoat, smiling to himself in the darkness. Mrs Stoat smiled too.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Chapter 5: Dinner

Mrs Stoat was having a very bad day.

The cat sat on the back of the couch and pulled tiny mouthfuls of fur out of a small patch on his back, then evenly distributed the fruits of his labour all over the cushions. Mr Stoat used Mrs Stoat's laptop the night before, but didn't shut it down. He left three PDFs, two browser windows, the calculator, Mah Jongg, a notepad, and a half-watched episode of Dexter opened. When Mrs Stoat opened the lid in the morning, she found three error messages, a mouse that wouldn't work, a keyboard that wouldn't work, a blank background, and a low battery warning. She couldn't restart the computer and pressing the power button just made her finger hurt. The puppy piddled in the kitchen and took a huge crap in the living room, then broke into a cupboard and tore a hole in the bottom of the Puppy Chow bag.

Mrs Stoat found the hot water tap in the bathroom dripping, ear wax on the end of the nail clippers, the toothpaste tube squeezed in the middle, the toothpaste cap in the sink, and whiskers all over the counter. In the kitchen, she found that Mr Stoat had not wiped the counters after breakfast, that he had left an empty burner on low, and four tablespoons of oatmeal remained in the bottom of a bowl. The four cannisters, all different sizes, were out of order, which made Mrs Stoat's left eye twitch. And in the cabinet with the hats and mittens and gloves and scarves, Mrs Stoat found a bag full of plastic containers her husband brought home from work after God alone knew how long.

Mrs Stoat scowled as she vacuumed up the cat hair.

Mrs Stoat grumbled as she pulled the batter out of the laptop.

Mrs Stoat coughed as she dabbed up the puppy piddle.

Mrs Stoat gagged as she scooped up the puppy turds.

The puppy watched Mrs Stoat curiously. The cat scratched on the door to go outside. The dog curled up on his rug in front of the fire and ignored them all.

Mrs Stoat growled as she turned off the hot water tap.

Mrs Stoat screamed as she rinsed the ear wax off the nail clippers.

Mrs Stoat sniffled as she screwed the cap back on the toothpaste that was squeezed in the middle.

Mrs Stoat choked back a sob as she brushed up the whiskers on the counter.

Mrs Stoat wiped away a tear as she wiped the counters with their milk spots and dry oats.

Mrs Stoat cried as she turned off the back right burner.

Mrs Stoat wept as she cleaned out the cold, sticky oatmeal.

Mrs Stoat bawled as she put the cannisters back in order of size.

When the dishes were done, the kitchen was in order, the bathroom was cleaned, the dogs were walked, the cat was brushed, the living room was vacuumed, and the front walk was shovelled, Mrs Stoat lit a cigarette, poured a glass of wine, and sat down in the big armchair in front of the fire.

"Darling?" Mr Stoat called as he stepped through the front door. "I've brought Mr Squirrel with me. What's for dinner?"

Monday, November 14, 2011

Chapter 4: When Winter First Begins To Bite

The summers in Stoatbridge were short and this year, rainy. Mr and Mrs Stoat spent all summer trying to plan a camping trip, only to be thwarted at every turn by the evil weather man or prior commitments made to individuals or groups who did not think "sorry, I'm busy pooping in the woods this weekend" a good enough reason to skip out.

All through the spring and summer and into the autumn, the Stoats continually reminded each other of little winter things they need to remember this season. I like drinking beer and throwing rocks, one would say to the other. Why don't we take up curling this winter? And they would nod at each other in serious agreement. Mrs Stoat would ask her husband if they should put up the icicle Christmas lights this year or if the real icicles would make the eves look too busy. Mr Stoat would grumble as he covered the windows with plastic in an effort to keep their gas bill below their mortgage. And on the coldest, snowiest nights, Mr Stoat would wrap his timid wife in his arms and they would hide under the mountain of blankets and bitch about why anyone would live in this miserable frozen hell-hole.

Not once, however, did the subject of winter tires come up.

It wasn't that they hadn't thought of it at all. In fact, they had spent a great deal of time discussing how wonderful it was having new winter tires the previous November, having finally given up on the old, balding set.

On Saturday morning, Stoatbridge woke up to several inches of heavy, wet snow that clung to trees, wires, dogs, and the fuzzy cuffs of childrens' snowsuits. It was the perfect snow for snowballs, for tobogganing, and for planting your car firmly in a ditch. It was also the perfect snow for Mrs Stoat's start-of-the-season coronary.

"We don't have the winter tires on yet," she reminded her husband over bacon, waffles, and too much maple syrup.

"It's okay, we can get them on Monday," Mr Stoat pointed out. "We have no where we have to be today and nowhere we have to be tomorrow. I will make an appointment for Monday morning."

Mr Stoat rang the tire company immediately to make an appointment for Monday morning.

"Good morning, Tire Company," said Mr Chickadee.

"Good morning, Mr Chickadee. This is Mr Stoat calling. I would like to make an appointment to have my winter tires put on," said Mr Stoat.

"Very well, Mr Stoat. What day would you prefer?"

"Monday, if you please. First thing." Mr Stoat picked up a pen and notepad and prepared to write the time down for his wife, who would be responsible for delivering and picking up the car while he was at work.

Mr Chickadee laughed. He laughed and laughed. He chuckled and chortled and howled and guffawed. Then he gasped for breath, sighed, and laughed some more.

"Are you alright?" asked Mr Stoat, somewhat annoyed.

"Yes, quite," replied Mr Chickadee when he had fully recovered. "Now, Mr Stoat, what day would you prefer? We have one opening on Wednesday and four or five on Thursday. If you'd like to get in before lunch, I would recommend Thursday."

Mr Stoat scowled at the telephone.

"Thursday it is, Mr Chickadee. The earliest you've got. Mrs Stoat would like to pick up a box of Tampax Pearl Plastic tampons, regular absorbency, before she finds herself at high tide." Mrs Stoat could hear the air quotes in her husband's voice.

"Then we shall see Mrs Stoat at nine o'clock on Thursday morning," replied Mr Chickadee, who would have been perfectly content not to know the details of Mrs Stoat's Monthly Visitor.

Mr Stoat settled back into his breakfast, sipping his coffee and enjoying the feel of the bacon grease as it coursed gently through his arteries.

"When was the last time we had the oil changed?" he asked.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Chapter 3: Hoes Before Bros

One particularly rainy Friday morning, Mr Stoat had taken a vacation day to spend time with his beloved Mrs Stoat, prompting his boss, Mr Squirrel, to bemoan the number of vacation days the Common Folk were allowed. It was on this particular rainy Friday morning that Mrs Stoat chose to have what her therapist referred to as "an episode."

Mr Lynx had been chatting with Mr Stoat the day before and decided to take Mr Stoat up on a five month old offer to excavate another room in his newly-purchased den that weekend. Though Mrs Stoat was generally not the type to deny her husband a chance to do something without her, she was displeased with Mr Lynx's timing. After twenty minutes of hiding in the darkness of the bedroom, under a sheet, a blanket, a duvet, and a five dollar throw blanket from Ikea, not moving, not speaking, and trying not to breathe so that she didn't roast her face off with the heat of her own breath, Mrs Stoat decided that she had her husband needed to have a talk.

"I wanted the car this weekend," Mrs Stoat grumbled after repeated proddings in the arm by her husband, who had entirely too long and pointy fingers. Good for playing the piano was something Mr Stoat had never heard anyone say to him. Especially not little old ladies. Soon after, he had learned the true meaning of sarcasm.

"That's fine," Mr Stoat replied. "Why don't you drop me off and I'll call you when I'm ready to come home?"

"I don't want to do that." Mr Stoat could hear his wife scowling beneath the sheet, the blanket, the duvet, and the five dollar throw blanket from Ikea. "Mr Lynx lives a half an hour away. I do not want, Mr Stoat, to drive a half hour to Mr Lynx's den, then drive a half hour home, then later, drive a half hour back to Mr Lynx's den, and a further half hour home, all so you can perform manual labour that you are not even qualified to do! You, Mr Stoat, are a bureaucrat, not a den-digger." Mrs Stoat buried her face under a pillow.

"But I promised Mr Lynx that I would help him if ever he needed it!" protested Mr Stoat. "You are being unreasonable!"

"Then Mr Lynx can very well drive out here and get you!" snapped Mrs Stoat, who did not think she was being the least bit unreasonable. Gas, after all, was very expensive and the roads were slippery.

"I can ask," Mr Stoat promised. "But if you were drive me out, you and Ms House-Finch could drink grape juice and smoke cheap ultra-light cigarettes and watch Mr Lynx and I dig and scrape and move dirt slightly to the left!"

"But I don't want to!" exclaimed Mrs Stoat, who was still upset with events of the previous weekend that led to her dog-sitting the sick and miserable Lily against her will. "I will not drive you! Mr Lynx can come out here and pick you up himself. Then he can return you home a reasonable amount of time before dinner."

When Mr Stoat opened his mouth to defend his oldest friend (for Mr Stoat and Mr Lynx had been friends since they were first learning to rip the heads off field mice for school lunches), Mrs Stoat lunged. Metaphorically speaking, of course.

"I feel that Mr Lynx never invites you over without some ulterior motive," she stated. Mr Stoat gasped.

"That is not true, my dear!"

"No?" she asked. "When you returned from the party with them last weekend, I still had to go get you. Their dog was out here. They could have driven out here, dropped you off, and picked up their dog. I then had to send Facebook messages all of our invited guests to tell them that lunch was off because I would be driving out to Mr Lynx and Ms House-Finch's den to pick up you."

"Baby," soothed Mr Stoat. "You like driving."

"But I do not like Mr Lynx! I do not like that he expects favours and gives none in return! I do not like how he belittles Ms House-Finch in front of us or how he makes fun of you." Mrs Stoat folded her little arms across her little chest and scrunched up her little face.

"It's just who he is," protested Mr Stoat. "He doesn't mean anything by it. Maybe you're too sensitive to these things."

"Maybe you're too oblivious!" snapped Mrs Stoat. "Would he tease Ms Mongoose the way he teases you? No. That is because he respects her. I do not feel that he shows you the appropriate respect. You are no longer the child who routinely gets his pant leg caught in his bike chain and has to push his bike home in his underpants with his pants flopping on the dusty pavement. You are a respectable adult and deserve to be treated as such."

"So you do not like Mr Lynx," stated Mr Stoat.

"I do not," confirmed his wife.

"So what am I supposed to do?" he asked sadly. "Mr Lynx is my best friend."

"I don't know," snapped his wife.

"Neither do I."

They laid in the bed in silence for a little while, until Toby started barking as though possessed by some ancient barking demon. It was Mr Stoat who spoke first, breaking the cool silence, because he did not have the energy to carry a grudge that Mrs Stoat did. It was one of the reasons he loved her: when she did something, she put her whole heart into it.

"I will call Mr Lynx and I will tell him I am not available this weekend. Then you and I will spend the entire weekend together, shopping for cheap wine, dog food, and discount meat. We will build a fire in the fireplace and curl up with a blanket and the TiVo and watch all of those episodes of Criminal Minds that you haven't made time to watch, even if I feel that this is the worst show on all of television - even worse than 16 and Pregnant or Rich Bride, Poor Bride."

Mrs Stoat peeked one beady eye out from under the covers and fixed it on her husband's face.

"And if he wants you to go work on his den with him?"

"Then he can drive out and pick me up himself."

Mrs Stoat threw off the sheet and the blanket and the duvet and the five dollar throw pillow from Ikea and hugged her husband. They hadn't solved all of the problems, but they had at least talked about them without resorting to the throwing of coffee mugs and the smashing of beer bottles.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Chapter 2: The Slide Whistles

For the past two years, Mr Stoat has been building his CV by holding down the vice presidency of the Stoatbridge Symphony Orchestra. Mr Stoat is a talented musician who did a year of a university music program before realising that making eight dollars an hour at Subway and waiting for the third chair mouth harp at the Capital City Philharmonic Orchestra to die would neither make him famous nor get him laid. Mrs Stoat, though not as naturally gifted as her husband, worked hard from the sixth grade to the twelfth to gain and secure a spot as first chair slide whistle, all the while ignoring band camp taunts from the wicked and shameful football players. During their courtship, Mr Stoat promised his future wife that when they settled into married life, he would find an orchestra for the two of them to play in. He promised her sectional practices, neighbourhood practices, and drinks after practices.

Mr Stoat, with his disarming smile, his twitchy whiskers, and his bureaucratic background, immediately settled in and made friends with the other mouth harpists, all of whom seemed stamped out of the same small-business-owner mould. Mrs Stoat, on the other hand, when faced with a new group of musicians who weren't aware of her past musical glories, found herself both apprehensive (in that she was new to the group) and frustrated (in that she felt she was a better whistler). It seemed to her that the slide whistles didn't take the music as seriously as the mouth harps or the kazoos or the penny whistles. But she kept her concerns mostly between herself and her husband so as not to ruffle any feathers.

As time wore on, Mrs Stoat became increasingly disappointed with her section. Mr Owl, the semi-retired, crotchety first chair slide was undoubtedly talented but entirely unwilling to share music - especially the fun parts. He informed Mrs Stoat almost immediately that he would only ever play the melody. Mrs Stoat, having played almost exclusively first chair slide whistle, wanted a chance to prove her abilities to the rest of the Stoatbridge Symphony Orchestra and maybe steal a bit of spotlight for herself. Mrs Lemming, who lacked the ability to count to eight or sixteen, insisted on playing all of the first chair music with Mr Owl. Mr Owl later explained that Mrs Lemming routinely got lost if she didn't play the melody.

So Mrs Stoat found herself relegated to the second row with Mr Goat and Mrs Chipmunk. Mrs Chipmunk, though tremendously entertaining and quite sweet, was not able to keep up with the music. The difficulty of the pieces were slightly too high for her. Mr Goat was renowned for his theoretical and historical knowledge about music, but not, sadly, for his slide whistle abilities. Unfortunately for Conductor Nightingale , Mr Goat felt that his musical knowledge surpassed not only the section, but also the entire orchestra and Mr Nightingale - who had been properly educated in the best music schools.

One night after practice, while on their way home, Mrs Stoat complained loudly to her husband. She ranted that though Mr Goat was keeping perfect time with the tapping of his little cloven hoof, he kept coming in a beat too early or a beat too late and throwing the entire row off, for Mr Goat was also unable to play at any volume other than loud. Mrs Chipmunk, Mrs Stoat cried, was still asking what notes were flat in the third movement of a piece the orchestra had been working on for six months. If I don't know how to play something, Mrs Chipmunk had cheerfully confessed to Mrs Stoat that evening, I simply don't play it! Mrs Stoat in turn confessed to her sweet husband that she very nearly had a coronary, right there in the practice room.

"I don't want to be in the orchestra anymore!" Mrs Stoat wailed as she followed Mr Stoat to the front door of their little home. "I want to quit and stay at home! I want to watch Seinfeld reruns and drink hot chocolate that hasn't been stirred properly, so there's still chunks of powder floating around at the top of my mug!"

"You can't quit!" Mr Stoat exclaimed, in obvious distress. "Playing in the orchestra was something we wanted to do together! If you quit, then I'm going to quit!"

"You can't quit!" wailed Mrs Stoat. "They need you! They like you! You like them! You like going! They're all going to think I'm damaged because I have to sit in the second row with the damaged players!"

"You sit in the second row to help them," protested Mr Stoat. "Nobody but Mr Muskrat thinks you're damaged. Sweetie, there must be some way to resolve this without you quitting! We can just tree-mail Mr Nightingale! I'm sure he would understand."

"No," Mrs Stoat said adamantly.

"Would you like me to tree-mail him?" Mr Stoat offered, since he had to make all of the phone calls and write all of the other tree-mails anyway. Mrs Stoat didn't even like ordering pizza.

"No," Mrs Stoat said adamantly.

"Please don't quit," he begged her. Mrs Stoat said nothing. She just got into bed, pulled on her nightcap, and downed two fingers of scotch, then drifted off to sleep to dream about delivery trucks being blown off bridges and playing chess with Gordon Ramsay.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Chapter 1: The Mistake

Mrs Stoat, having last year consented to her husband's request that any dog they were to purchase should be a big, manly dog, finally got her wish: a small, easy to carry puppy that would fit in her handbag or snooze gently on her lap while she watched House, Glee, Bones, Grey's Anatomy, or NCIS, rather the way her husband wouldn't. The first dog, a strapping young horse-sized fellow, could neither fit into her purse nor onto her lap and cared not one whit for the drama of Meredith Grey's life nor the New Directions' reimagined renditions of formerly mediocre songs (though he did, like almost any other heterosexual man between the ages of eighteen to thirty four, find Olivia Wilde to be beyond hot).

Mr Stoat took his wife into the city and it was there they found the perfect little puppy. As soon as the puppy was is Mrs Stoat's arms, it immediately climbed her bosom and licked her chin excitedly. This, Mrs Stoat told her husband, is exactly what I was looking for. Mr Stoat, being a model husband, smiled at his wife and counted out the payment in crisp, new twenties.

The Stoats brought the puppy home in her little puppy box to meet the other dog, Toby. Despite their obvious size differences, the two immediately became fast friends. Mrs Stoat named her Stella (mostly for the benefit of Mr Stoat, who longed to stand at the front door and shout Stella! into the morning fog), and fastened around her neck a tiny pink collar with three plastic rhinestones. She set out some blankets in the crate to act as a bed and so that Stella's little toes wouldn't get cold on the plastic crate bottom. Mr Stoat taught Stella her name and fed her treats that smelled like old meat and ick. Toby followed Stella all over the house, licking her face and sniffing her ass.

One evening, when Mr Stoat was away on the business of drinking chemical-tasting macro-brewed beer under a bridge with the guys from the plant, Mrs Stoat's friend Ms House-Finch came by. Ms House-Finch and her boyfriend, Mr Lynx, were meeting Mr Stoat and his friends at the bridge to drink some variety of homemade paint-peeling clear alcohol known to occasionally make unwary sailors blind. Ms House-Finch had hoped that Mrs Stoat could watch Lily, Ms House-Finch's elderly dog. Lily was sick and on a special diet to help with her slow descent into renal failure, so Ms House-Finch was hesitant to leave her alone for the night. Being the total push-over she is, Mrs Stoat agreed, even though she was concerned about trying to look after a new puppy, a sick dog, and a monster Toby all at the same time.

Toby, hardly being out of puppyhood himself, wanted to play with Lily. Lily did not want to play with Toby. Lily wanted to sit at the water dish and drink all night and bark and snarl at anyone who tried to ask if maybe she had enough to drink already. Stella wanted to eat Toby's food and swing from his tail. The cats wanted to pack their bags and move to Tennessee.

By half past eleven that night, Mrs Stoat had grown tired of the barking and the growling and the whining. She had grown tired of the fights and the tussles. She wasn't particularly fond of taking the dogs outside in shifts so that they couldn't run off into the cold, dark forest. And she certainly didn't like trying to orchestrate meals so Toby and Stella didn't eat Lily's special renal diet, Stella didn't choke on Toby's Big Dog dog food, and the cats didn't steal Stella's puppy chow. She wanted Lily to go home and she wanted to find Stella's receipt. She wanted Toby to lay down and stop barking his face off at everything that moved.

The next day, when Mr Stoat returned home, Mrs Stoat told him about everything that happened. She cried. She told him she didn't want Stella anymore and that she never wanted to puppy-sit for anyone ever again. Mr Stoat held his wife and kissed her forehead. He asked if maybe the problem was that she didn't really want a puppy that needed to be trained, that maybe what she wanted was an adult dog who didn't pee with excitement. Tearfully, Mrs Stoat nodded her head.

"I have made a terrible mistake," Mrs Stoat said to her husband, dabbing her eye with a crumpled tissue. "I do not want a small dog. I can't take her for walks in the forest because the leaves are bigger than she is. I can't take her for rides in the car because she can become lodged under the pedals. I can't see her when I'm in the kitchen because she fits in nooks and crannies. She has eaten all of the plastic ends off all of my shoe laces."

Mrs Stoat cried for three days and hid in her house. She hardly checked Facebook at all. Mrs Stoat felt like she had failed Stella and that she couldn't provide a good home for a small dog. Mr Stoat, who was the most supportive and caring husband Mrs Stoat knew, helped his wife to write out an ad to put in the classifieds.

"You are not a failure," Mr Stoat told Mrs Stoat. "You recognized that we cannot properly care for a dog so small. Even if she is a good dog that sleeps at your feet and comes when called, we are not the right house for her. We will find her a new home, with a family to love her and cuddle her and cater to her every need. We will do the right thing for Stella and we will all be happy."

Mrs Stoat smiled at her husband and hugged him so tightly that he thought his eyes might pop out of his skull.