The Look You’re Giving Me (from the “Bizarro Ted Kooser” series)

The look you’re giving me right now,
I’ve seen that look many times before.
It’s the look Doc Jenkins has when
he holds up a new baby girl and hands her
to her mother, and the look she has
staring into the eyes of her first child.
It’s the look Mrs. Benson down at
Benson’s Bakery gets when she takes
a perfect tray of freshly-baked muffins
out of the oven. Or down at the hardware
store, it’s the look Ned Seagrove gets
when he’s looking for that obscure part
and keeps telling you "I know it’s here.
I know it’s here…" and manages to
blindly pull it out that elbow joint from
a pile of bric-a-brac at the end of the aisle.

That’s the look you’re giving me as I slowly
walk down the stairs and into our kitchen
zombie-like, my face drenched in streaks
of blood oozing out from center of my forehead
where a nail protrudes out like a third eye
on a stalk. But instead of rushing to my aid,
you give me that look, THAT look as I fall
to my knees, pointing at the 4-inch spike
of heavy iron protruding from my forehead,
and, due to proximity, the unseen two inches
buried in my frontal cortex. You pour a glass
of wine, pull out a chair from the kitchen table
and sit there, calmly giving me that look, the way
the father of that mysterious clan of backwoods
people who just moved in over on Elm St.
looks at his son after his young one’s first successful
gutting and disembowelment of a squirrel
or maybe the way the quiet, gentle, good-natured,
white supremacist seamstress Greta Gauss,
looks holding up a custom-tailored uniform,
complete with a special new White Power insignia
she herself designed and sewed on the sleeve.

This look tells me all I need to know.
You see, I’ve played a little trick on you.
Oh, wife of mine, oh, love of my life.
I did not actually accidentally shoot
myself in the forehead with a nail gun.
I merely pulled one of the oldest tricks
in the book, a trick Nebraska husbands
have been playing on their wives for
decades, whether it’s the "honey
the axe just seemed to slip and now
it has become embedded in my forehead"
trick of the early pioneers or the "Honey,
wouldn’t you know it, I was paring an
apple and the knife slipped and, heck,
well, clumsy me, the knife somehow got
embedded in my stomach, producing this
fatal abdominal wound still gushing
quite unbelievable amounts of blood"
variation popular in the Eisenhower era.

Yes, we’ve been pulling this for years
in order to see what the look will be.
And your look has betrayed you. It’s told me
everything I need to know, confirmed what
I suspected – you’re fucking the hardware man,
Ned Seagrove. Yeah, I’ve know it for a while now.
I’ve known it long before the other night, when
we were getting ready for bed and that 6”x9”
sheet of 60-grit coarse sandpaper fell out of
your bra or that other night when you reached
into the dresser drawer for some lubricant
and instead pulled out a bottle of wood glue.

What I don’t understand is why the look
you gave me was the look it was. The look
you should have given me was the look that
Margie Demspster gets once every two years
when that $2 lottery card she buys once a week
turns up a winner or the look Fred Franzen gets
when he thinks he’s gone through his last bottle
and is rummaging around in the cupboards
and finds a brand new pint bottle of Old Grand Dad
or the look that Gene Price gets when he wakes up
thinking he’s still Nick "Steamboat" Guardano about to
start his day in a six-by-eight-foot prison cell
in upstate New York, serving consecutive life sentences
for armed robbery, racketeering, murder, and using
a slice of spumoni as an deadly weapon, but realizes
that he’s now waking up in Nebraska as Gene Price,
assistant produce manager at Fresh Fields.

But the look you’re giving me, it’s one of
satisfaction, a basking in accomplishment,
a self-congratulatory silent sigh of pride over
a job well-done – not the look of sudden
good fortune.

And as I come to this realization, I see
the look you’re giving me change, flickering
momentarily from confusion to panic then
back to confusion then calm understanding,
all as your eyes track the person who I would
know is now standing behind me even had I
not heard the creaks of the stairs or caught
the faint odor of fresh wood mixed with hints of
brand new rubber. I stand there and as the
nail from the nail gun that Ned Seagrove
is holding penetrates the back of my skull, the look
I’m giving you is the look that Doc Jenkins
gets after he’s crossed state lines to perform
an illegal abortion and has made it safely
back home or Mrs. Benson the bakery gets
when she’s signed a plea agreement on over
2,000 counts of failure to collect sales tax, or the look
Fred Franzen gets when Doc Jenkins tells him
it’s not gall bladder cancer after all, but merely
that he will merely need a liver transplant –

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