• On Guard: A Valentine for the Older Set

    One morning, she noticed a Kleenex on the desk in their bedroom. It wasn’t totally out of place since he regularly left paper towels around the flat. She usually found three or four in his office, one in the living room, one in the bathroom and two in the kitchen. Several times she had asked him why these were necessary. If they were used, they should go in the garbage or compost. They had been used to wipe something up, he said, and were still good, and, no, he had not used them for his nose.

    At first, she took every one she found and threw it, as vehemently as you could throw a light object, into the bin. But no matter how many she threw in the bin, they reappeared the next day. A tissue would consume fewer paper resources, she told him, a cloth would be even better.

    After a year, she decided to use the always present paper towels for jobs she might have otherwise avoided, to remove dirt or food from the kitchen floor or to push crumbs from the counter into the sink. She would sometimes wet one slightly and clean a cupboard handle or refrigerator door.

    She noticed the tissue in the bedroom again the next morning and, looking closer, saw a colorless mouth guard lying in the middle of it. They both had mouth guards – his because of a thirty-year old touch football injury, hers because of grinding teeth. She knew this was his. She went about her business and thought no more about it until she saw it there the next day. On the fourth morning that she noticed it, he was in the room. She had been critical of the scattered paper towels, the water on the left side of the kitchen counter in the morning, washing his but not her dishes and others habits too tedious to mention, so she tried to speak in friendly manner, “I guess you don’t have a container for your mouth guard.”

    “I had a soft one but I left it on a trip a year and a half ago,” he said. “So I put it in a tissue where it can dry out without being enclosed and gathering germs.”

    She went into the bathroom and got a soft container out of a drawer.

    “That’s the kind I used to have,” he said, “but I like having it in a tissue where it’s not inside and can dry out. It’s not hurting anyone, is it?”

    “No,” she said, “except when company comes.”

    “How is it hurting anyone in the drawer?”

    She walked over to the desk and pointed. “I’m talking about the mouth guard on the desk.”

    “That’s your mouth guard,” he said.

    She looked at it for a minute. It did look like her mouth guard. She forgot that this one had been there for four days and that she had used hers every one of those four nights. In the millisecond it took to find her mental stability, she remembered. But she wasn’t totally sure –his assertion, so authoritative, took her off balance.

    “My mouth guard’s in the bathroom,” she said, trying to be authoritative. He looked again.

    “Oh,” he said, “that’s my old mouth guard. I took it out to see if I would use it but decided against it.  This morning, I noticed it on the desk and thought, ‘Her mouth guard has an indentation in the same place mine.’”  They laughed.

    That afternoon she went into the bedroom to see if he had put it away. The mouth guard was gone but the tissue was still there.  “I don’t know if this is progress or not,” she thought, but she picked it up and put  in  the wastebasket.


    • I think you should finish the story by finding a tissue on your bed folded into some sort of Japanese origami art shape. Then, decide that the paper folded into an art is progress. Continue finding more paper-foldings with each subsequent day until it’s overwhelming! You can’t throw the tissues away because they are art, and they are cluttering up your apartment!

      • Fastastic idea, Bob. Obvious, too! Why didn’t I think of that?

        • Toni m

        • February 14, 2014 at 7:36 pm
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        You’d think after all those years that the “little things ” would not be so irritating but I got a good laugh out of the ending.

      • Rebecca Louisell

      • February 14, 2014 at 10:13 am
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      This is sweet. I like how they laugh when they realize they both thought it was the other person’s mouth guard.

      • Pat Sakai

      • February 14, 2014 at 10:20 am
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      This made me laugh so hard. So hard. It’s just too darn familiar. And just too funny. I’m still laughing. When my husband asks why, I’ll just point to the crumpled used paper towels to the right of the kitchen sink. Happy Valentine’s day!

    • I love this story. It sounds so familiar and I love that you two could laugh together about it. Anxious to read more of your work. Marty

    • funny and true. Keep up your great work, Mardi

      • Claire Kahane

      • February 14, 2014 at 10:59 am
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      No oragami, please. I like the more subtle question of progress, i.e. not art but life…. I loved this little gem.

    • This is so spot on. I laughed all the way through while feeling the deeper way it touches on existential struggle. Wonderful!

      • Sue Dolian

      • February 14, 2014 at 12:10 pm
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      Hi, Mardi,

      I loved this. It made me think of my mother and her routine with the 3-ply paper napkins.


      • Sandy Handsher

      • February 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm
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      So familiar! It’s nice to know I’m not alone. Nice story, just as it is.

      • Oscar Pelta

      • February 14, 2014 at 2:20 pm
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      Oh the humanity, oh the dentistry, oh the bruxing, amen Mardi, great wry and dry wit in the blessed short form.

      • Elizabeth

      • February 14, 2014 at 9:54 pm
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      Love it. Especially love the off balance moment when she thinks maybe it was hers. And the tissue there in the end. Ah love, so perfectly imperfect.

      • Maya North

      • February 15, 2014 at 12:56 am
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      Love is breathing through the daily irritations of living with another human up close. Yes. That. For the 700th time. But still…yes. <3

      • Kate Forand

      • February 15, 2014 at 6:11 am
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      Mardi–love this piece, especially the ability to laugh together at the end. For me it’s the inability to bend over and pick up toys, coats, books, art projects, dirty socks, etc. It’s as if they are invisible to him. And so each and every day when I watch him step over the countless objects, I think, “Breathe, breathe.”
      I especially like the line, “But she wasn’t totally sure–his assertion, so authoritative, took her off balance.”

      • Connie Milbrath

      • February 15, 2014 at 12:03 pm
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      At the end of the day, mates are untrainable but laughing together makes it bearable. Great piece. Keep ’em coming.

    • Dammit! I got suckered in on the first paragraph! Ha, enjoyed this very much. Look forward to your next entry.

      • Jeanne

      • February 15, 2014 at 6:43 pm
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      Mardi, Thanks for the paper (towel) Valentine! You’re becoming queen of the quotidian (that’s a compliment), with B. providing such rich material. We always recognize ourselves.

    • Perfect word – quotidian. Glad it’s a compliment. What can you do? it’s how we live.

      • Christine Dill

      • February 17, 2014 at 8:28 am
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      Thanks, Mardi, that was fun.

      • Susan Blank

      • February 25, 2014 at 11:44 am
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      In daring to expose what life can be like for the senior set, this story is very cutting edge! Plus of course, very funny.

      • Vernal

      • March 8, 2014 at 5:29 pm
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      the off balence moment..yes

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