THE SHOVEL WIFE
TAKE HEED, great men of the mind. Take heed elders, idlers, carousers, filchers, flatterers, scholars, wankers, and bed-swervers. Take heed ye of spleen and ye of bile. Denude yourselves of all depraved affections. For I have erected a domestic sphere of which I am master, and these are the learnings I bear to antiquity.
Yes, I am now a man of leisure, but my homely rearing would make a stable-boy quake in his livery. I fumbled in shadows many years before I gave suck the golden dug, and once clutched, my lips do not loosen. I shed the lusty husk of the body to hunt the plains of philosophy, and soon the fecundity of my wiles will be revealed! Few men witness the daily exertions of a living genius. While my person appears idle in its wingback chair, inside my skull a horde of pseudopodia grasps at the farthest reaches of knowledge. One day, this silent study will yield a manuscript that rivals the princes of literature: Cervantes, Sterne, Rabelais, and the like. Until then, I rest my eyes and convene with flaxen muses, answering earthly interruptions with sudden and brute violence.
But I could not do it alone, oh no! Behind all great minds is a stable of wives, and I am a sure patron of feminine efficiency. You can tell by my carriage that I was bred a gentleman, dozing in my robe of reindeer skins from Lapland, my feet sheathed in silk. I suffer no household trivia in this chamber of deepest meditation. Thus, my wives scurry about the room in cheery silence. It amazes me, when I make a habit to observe them, that they achieve such precision in their mute duties, as if their lives depended on it.
The tub wife fills.
The pork wife cures.
The quill wife writes.
The soap wife scrubs.
The needle wife knits.
The lard wife spreads.
The door wife knocks.
The candle wife burns.
The clock wife chimes.
The broom wife sweeps.
The womb wife conceives.
The stamp wife licks herself.
A man of merit requires a happy home where he may pursue his art without interference. And I have secured just that.
Of course, wives are not without their maintenance. Even the most simplistic functions are subject to the strains of time. One forgets, when selecting a wife, the regular servicing that threatens one’s intellectual privacy; the tuning, oiling, sharpening, stretching, shaving, trimming, mending, straightening, and replacing they require. One finds oneself procuring more wives to soften the stress of ownership. After dinner, the spoon wife brims with milk of magnesia. The cigar wife smokes. Then comes the brandy wife, the morphine wife, the opium wife—
For these reasons I fancy disposing with the lot of them. Their combined costs would build me an aviary, a grotto, a shooting-range. But who would shave my neck?
I say, the best wife for your money is the shovel wife, who performs her task with uncommon industry. All day and all night she takes office in the garden, heaving her blunt blade into the mire. I haven’t the heart to tell her to stop, she enjoys it so. She isn’t the handsomest wife, but what she lacks in beauty, she exercises in fortitude. She has one job: dig a ditch, but that isn’t enough for her. By now she’s dug a trench wide enough to bury half the men in town. Indeed, many gentlemen have paused on the edge of the cavity to observe her labor, calling out in admiring tones. But the shovel wife does not accept praise. I would not allow it. If she thinks she will gain my good graces with her exertions, she will dig to the Orient. Plow the garden! It hardly concerns me. I’ll be the last man to contemplate her little puzzle. But I’ll say this for her: she doesn’t give up. I won’t do her the disservice of imagining she has designs of her own.
Originally published in DREGINALD.