Teaching Manners

by Tom Hunley

Our corgi, Tazsy, used to stand on hind legs, her front paws clawing the sofa, breathing horse meat into our faces, until we shared our spaghetti with her. Now our son, Evan, wants our spaghetti, too. He crawls into our laps, insinuates his way into reaching distance of our plates. When we pull the plates away, he thinks we’re playing. He glides his sticky fingers across our plates. Instead of “please” or “thank you,” he says “shoe” or “yay,” comments which, in context, make no more sense than Tazsy’s yap. He takes what he wants, puts the rest back on our plates or hurls it on the floor, then, smiling, comes back for more. Tazsy used to whimper, truly apologetic, whenever she had an accident in the house. Evan wriggles like a wrestler while we try to change his diapers. He smears his own feces on his hands. He would fling it at us like a funny monkey if we let him. He squirms out of grasp, runs naked into the living room, and is not at all sorry.

The perfect parents at the library’s Peak-a-Book Babies group are always sure to point out that they have a perfect boy who listens to every story with hands perfectly folded and purrs like a kitten. He can say a hundred words — sometimes two in a row, and in the right contexts — and he uses his potty chair the way a cat uses its litter box. He is perfect. He will get all A’s in school, and he won’t let our son copy his answers. He will win the spelling bee. He will be the class president prom king quarterback. He will grow up and marry the woman who will have broken Evan’s heart. He will hire Evan just so he can fire him. We won’t be able to stop any of it. We won’t be able to protect our son from the perfect people who will be perfectly happy to run him over after he pumps gas into their perfect cars. May his first sentences be “That boy is a perfect ass” and “I hate him.” May he, at least, fling a diaper full of feces at the perfect boy, at the perfect parents.

(unpublished, uncollected)

Tom C. Hunley is the husband of Ralaina Ruvalcaba and the father of Evan Joel Ruvalcaba Hunley. He has degrees from Highline Community College (AA), University of Washington (BA), Eastern Washington University (MFA) and Florida State University (Ph.D.), where he was the recipient of a 2002-2003 Kingsbury Fellowship. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Western Kentucky University. Before settling on a career in academia, he worked as a public relations writer, a sportswriter, a technical writer, a warehouseman, a Salvation Army bellringer, an enumerator for the U.S. Census Bureau, a typist, a data entry clerk, a file clerk, a fry cook, a cashier, a dishwasher, night manager of a convenience store, and a canopy construction worker. He is the editor/publisher of Steel Toe Books.