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SHE GETS A LOT OF HELP by Kristina Ten

“You have a beautiful home here,” says the man’s boss, taking note of the layered window treatments and the gleaming hardwood floors. Over the mantel hangs an abstract painting of a female nude—tasteful, the boss thinks: wide, flesh-toned brushstrokes, no embarrassing details.

All of this bodes well for the man, who the boss knows is angling for a promotion. That’s why the boss has been invited to dinner at the man’s house, and why he’s told his wife, who was invited as well, though more as a courtesy, that the night probably wouldn’t be of much interest to her.

The man’s house smells of lamb chops. The man’s wife wears an apron, which is neatly pressed and has no stains. She greets the man’s boss warmly as she sweeps into the dining room to place fresh flowers on the table.

Later, when the meal is finished and the man’s wife has left to brew the espresso, the big boss leans over and tells the man:

“I hope you don’t mind me saying so, but your wife is really something. The food, the house…”—he waves his arms generally—“She does this every day?”

“Sure,” the man can’t help but grin, knowing he’s made an impression. “But between you and me, she gets a lot of help.”

“How do you mean?”

The two men roll up the sleeves of their dress shirts to the elbows as the man tells his boss about the mechanism of the Grub ‘n’ Scrub™.

“It’s new on the market,” the man tries not to sound too proud. “It looks like your average dining table, but the interior is lined with wires and water jets.” He lifts up the tablecloth to show there’s no outward difference.

The big boss nods, rapping his knuckles appraisingly against one of the table legs.

“The sensors on the tabletop know when the dishes are empty, the sensors on the chairs know when no one’s sitting on them anymore, and they’re all connected to one another, exchanging information. Then the tabletop just opens up and the dishes slide into the hidden compartment, where they go through a wash cycle. No clearing the table anymore. It’s all automated.”

“Fascinating,” the big boss murmurs, and asks to see the Grub ‘n’ Scrub™ in action.

The man’s face flushes. “Oh, it’s set on a timer. The wife likes for it to run after we’ve gone to bed.”
The man’s wife comes back into the dining room holding a tray with a pitcher of milk and a trio of tiny porcelain cups. They clink against their saucers cheerfully.

“Of course, these gadgets aren’t cheap,” the man adds as a way of closing the conversation. “But you know what they say: happy wife, happy life.” He winks in the direction of his wife, who is busy distributing the cups and doesn’t notice.
“Besides, it’s incredibly quiet. We run it every night and I barely hear a thing.”

—–

The man’s buddy from college is in town for the weekend and the man offers him the guest room. They spend their mornings at the gym, where they both pay for day passes because the man has misplaced his membership card. In truth, the man hasn’t been a member at this gym in a decade, but remembering the effortlessly lean, muscular physique of his youth, he thinks it would be better if his friend thought otherwise.

They spend their mornings at the gym and their afternoons drinking beers on the patio, reminiscing about their college years and comparing their successes since.

Every time the man’s buddy returns to the guest room, even if it’s just to grab a jacket, the pillows are fluffed and the bed is perfectly made.

On his last evening in town, feet against the patio railing and a cold glass in his hand, the man’s buddy comments on the bed linens:

“Looks like you got yourself a good one, huh? I remember your place on campus. There’s no way you’re making that bed all the time.”

The man laughs. “I can’t complain. But between you and me, she gets a lot of help.”

He goes on to describe the Magnificent MagEdge™.

“It’s so simple, when I found out about it, I couldn’t believe nobody had thought of before. The one downside is that you have to get it as a set: frame, sheets, comforter, mattress, everything. So it ends up costing an arm and a leg.”

The man’s buddy looks skeptical.

“It’s just magnets, man. Really strong magnets on all four corners of each piece, so the magnets on the covers lift up and pull down to attach to the magnets on the frame. You get up and it just sorts itself out.”

“But how does it know whether or not someone’s in the bed?”

The man explains the sensors on the frame and the timer function, which his wife controls.

The man’s buddy shakes his head, amazed. “I’d never even heard of it. Guess I moved out of the city and now I’m living under a rock.”

“Don’t beat yourself up too bad,” the man tops off his buddy’s beer. “I gotta admit, I didn’t know about it until the wife mentioned it, and by then she had already had it installed. She has a knack for finding this stuff. You know what they say: Work smarter, not harder.”

The man’s buddy nods and the two make a toast to the world’s ever-advancing technology, and its ability to improve their everyday lives.

—–

It’s a nice day in early autumn, so the man and his wife have their neighbors over for a game of cornhole. While the man’s wife is making the lemonade and putting out the beanbags, the man entertains the neighbors in the pleasant chill of the air-conditioned living room.

Looking out the window at the manicured lawn, the neighbors—a couple about the same age as the man and his wife, but newer to the neighborhood—lament the state of their own backyard.

“The season’s barely started and the leaves are already coming down like crazy. It’s a mess. It’s like we spend the whole day raking and blowing, then we barely get a chance to sit down before the yard is covered again. I don’t know how you keep yours so tidy.”

The man observes his wife bending over to set a basket of beanbags next to one of the raised platforms. They always play blue; the neighbors will play red.

“Honestly, I remember how much of a pain that was every fall. So I can empathize. Now the yard is the wife’s domain.”

The neighbors look mildly surprised.

“Don’t get me wrong,” he says quickly. “She gets a lot of help.”

Curious, they sink further into the plush sofa as the man continues. This is one of his favorite stories, and he delivers it like a sales pitch:

Tired of that annual struggle? Unsightly leaves piling up, and you powerless to stop them? If you think about it, even evergreen trees aren’t really evergreen. If you’ve ever had a Christmas tree, you know that pines shed needles like nobody’s business. Now imagine if every tree could keep its leaves where they belong: up on the branches, up off your yard. Introducing: TrueEvergreen™.

“They’re not real trees, per se,” the man says, “in that they’re not organic. But they sure had me fooled. Same bark, same roots, same leaves. They even give off some sort of scent that attracts all the same kinds of animals. And if it’s good enough for the birds and squirrels, it’s good enough for me. The wife had them planted while I was at work, and if she hadn’t told me about them one day, to this day I wouldn’t know the difference.”

The neighbors exchange jealous glances and the man kicks himself. He has this habit of coming on too strong. He was hoping to be able to talk next about the self-alphabetizing bookshelf or the dust-free flooring—all these innovations that set his home apart.

But the TrueEvergreen™ modification isn’t a good opener; even his mother thinks it’s too extravagant. Carrying on in this vein would be impolite.

As if on cue, the man’s wife taps on the window and waves them out into the yard. The game is ready to start.

—–

The phone rings in the house where the man and his wife live, and where so much gets done. The phone rings once, twice, three times. The man’s wife is sitting on the sofa, waiting, counting. When the phone rings a fifth time, she sighs and lifts herself off the cushion. She returns the throw blanket to its place on the back of the armchair.

“Hello?”

“Hello,” says a soprano voice on the other end. It carries a slight accent. “Is this the man’s wife?”

And the man’s wife says, “Speaking.”

It’s the wife of the big boss who stopped by recently for dinner and came home with fantastical tales of a dishwasher disguised as a dining table. It’s all automated. It’s all programmable. It can be fully customized to meet your needs.

The boss’s wife first apologizes for missing the dinner. She mumbles something about an unreliable sitter. She’s sure the lamb chops were exquisite. “Now, the reason I’m calling…”

The boss is a big boss; money is no object. If there are devices that can make their lives easier, that’s the sort of convenience the big boss would be willing to pay for. They have someone who cleans the house, of course, and she’s a lovely woman.

“But you know what they say: Good help is hard to find.”

Besides, the boss loves new things.

The boss’s birthday is coming up and his wife would like to surprise him with the unusual piece of furniture he hasn’t stopped talking about since he went over for dinner that night. She thought she might find it at the department store, but nobody working there knew what she was talking about.

The boss’s wife is wondering if the man’s wife can remind her what the amazing object is called and, better yet, tell her where she got it. And if it’s not too forward of her to ask—not that it matters, really—could the man’s wife tell her how much it cost?

The man’s wife blinks into the phone. In the silence, she can hear the birds chirping in the trees outside, the squirrels chittering and leaping from branch to branch. Finally, she says in a measured tone:

“I don’t know what it’s called. And I don’t know where to find it. And I don’t know how much it would cost.” She pauses. “But I do remember telling my husband about something like that once. I’ll spare you the specifics, but it was one of those heated conversations that you don’t remember much of and try not to dwell on after it’s done.”

The man’s wife goes on, “I suppose I am the inventor of this piece of furniture, and of a number of others, come to think of it. I’ve always had a wild imagination. I just didn’t think his imagination could be as wild as mine.”

And suddenly it dawns on the boss’s wife, and she turns sheepish and contrite. Her speech speeds up, her accent faltering and her voice picking up gravel.

“Oh, how stupid of me! How stupid of us! How silly for my husband to believe yours. And for your husband to believe you! How could he be so, I hope you’ll forgive me for saying this”— and she searches for the word, not so agitated as to be careless—“so uninformed?”

The man’s wife thinks about this for a while. She thinks about the man and his mother. She thinks about the man’s boss: a cloth napkin left crumpled and covered in marinade on the dining table by the floral centerpiece, petals already curling at the ends.

She thinks about the man’s friend from college, who she knows sleeps diagonally because of the way the covers were kicked off the bed; these intimate details of a stranger.

She thinks about her neighbors and how she sees them out in their yard sometimes when she is out in hers. The two work their yard together, one with the rake and the other with the leaf blower. They switch from time to time, each taking their turn, but they never once look over.

How could he believe her? The man’s wife remembers the boss’s wife on the other end of the line.

“Well,” she replies. “He gets a lot of help.”

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