portion of the artwork for Erin Fitzgerald's fiction

The Right Thing to Do
Erin Fitzgerald

Wilford Brimley sleeps in a tent in our living room. The tent has yellow, red, and blue panels. It’s about three feet high, and takes up most of the space between the couch and the love seat. At night his legs stick out of the door. They’re pale and hairless, as one would expect. He leaves his socks on when he sleeps. They’re white with knitted gray toes and heels, and they stay upright around his shins until morning. I have to step over his feet when I walk to and from the kitchen.

My cat will get up on her hind legs and meow if I roar at her. I pat her on the head and tell her she is a good kitty. That’s her reward. It took me a little less than a year to train her. “I thought you were hopeless until I saw that,” Wilford says to me sometimes. “Now, I’m not sure.”

Wilford tries to teach us how to play poker. When he sees what I have and thinks I should have gone all in, he leans back in his chair until it creaks, and he exhales hard through his nose. I put the cards away and get out Apples to Apples. I’m positive he’s the one who puts down the Shannen Doherty card for “trustworthy.”

My daughter likes to sleep in the tent in our living room. She was annoyed when Wilford moved in. He tries to make it up to her by reading Harry Potter aloud while she’s playing Skate 3 with the volume turned down on our Xbox. When Wilford reads, Harry sounds like Dumbledore who sounds like Hermione who sounds like the description of the Forbidden Forest who sounds like a seventy-six-year-old widower trying to peer around his glasses because I couldn’t get him an eye appointment before next month. “I’d tell him to stop,” my daughter says, “but I’m only on book three.”

Robert Duvall is Wilford’s best friend ever. I know from reading Wikipedia that Robert got him acting jobs when Wilford had been doing stunt work. “Bob’s a great man,” Wilford tells me while we’re waiting for the guy at the deli counter to slice our ham. “You could do a lot worse than to spend ten minutes every day imagining you’re Bob Duvall.”

Wilford’s at a book club meeting when Robert Duvall calls later that night. “Hey, Mr. Duvall,” I say. “Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, hon,” he says.

“How long did it take for Wilford to get acting jobs on his own?”

I can feel the discomfort drip through the static of my wireless handset.

“Not even the bit parts? Or the infomercials?”

“Don’t tell him, sweetheart.” Robert Duvall says, finally. “It’s hard to explain, but I need that bastard as much as he needs me.”

When they talk on the phone, Robert Duvall and Wilford go at it for hours. On our end, it’s mostly chuckling. When the cordless phone’s battery dies out, Wilford switches to the wall phone in the kitchen, the one with the fifteen-foot cord. He takes the handset over into his tent. When he has to pee, he says, “Bob, I gotta use the john. I’ll be right back.” He goes into the bathroom and leaves the handset in the tent. He’s never right back.

Whenever putting Wilford’s luggage in the driveway seems like a great idea, I look for pictures of him on the Internet instead. I look for pictures from The China Syndrome, in which he played Jack Lemmon’s best friend. Wilford was a little older than I am now. Some of his hair was still sandy blond. I look at those pictures like optical illusions. After a few minutes, I think I can see why Howard Hughes hired him as a bodyguard. I know why chickens fight and horses race to earn his fondness, and I would throw in three of a kind to his full house without much anger at all. And I close the Google Image window before I change my mind.

We test our blood together sometimes. Wilford gives me lancets because I never remember to fill my prescription. I set my lancet device to 1 because my fingers only have one or two visible scars. Wilford sets his to 5 because he has been putting little needles into his fingers for thirty-two years. We load up our devices and cock the mechanisms back and insert the testing strips into our glucometers. He shoots first. I don’t push my button until I hear the springy click, and then his exhale.

Return to Archive

FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 34 | Fall 2011