It’s day 11 of Operation Round Orange. I fear I’m driving Father mad, but I must not allow sentimentality to sway me. The stakes are too high.
Today our battle of wills brings us to the kitchen. Father sits on a chair in front of me, and I sit on my white plastic training potty with my big-boy pants around my ankles. The Elmo clones on my undergarments stare at me with their dead, accusing eyes.
“Come on, Joey, just go,” says Father.
“No,” I say.
“Don’t you have to go?”
“Dada, I’m Dada.”
“Mama,” I say.
I smile as I see Father’s temples start to throb. He rises and turns the kitchen faucet on to a trickle.
“How about now, Joey?” asks Father. “Have to go?”
The sound of water spattering in the sink brings my bladder to near bursting, but I refuse to be betrayed by my own body.
“No, Mama. Orange?”
Father glances at a pile of oranges and bananas sitting in a fruit bowl. “Sure buddy. I’ll peel you an orange as soon as you go potty.”
I shake my head and point to a high kitchen cabinet, well out of reach. “Round orange.”
Father offers a nervous laugh. “You know that’s not where we keep the oranges, buddy.”
We lock stares. Beads of sweat threaten to erupt from my skin, but it is Father who breaks first.
“Fine, Joey. We’ll try again later.”
“Okay, Mama.” I stand, pulling up my undergarments.
Father reaches for the phone, and I stroll from the kitchen with as much dignity as my swollen bladder will allow. Out of sight, I charge down the hall.
The cat occupies her litter box but has long since finished her business, and we both know it.
“Move, kitty!” I say.
The cat stares at me, then looks away without moving.
I know her game, but we have an agreement, and I’m in no mood to renegotiate.
“Move, kitty!” I repeat. I drop my big-boy pants and the cat steps from the box just as my stream hits the floral-scented sand. Relief washes through me. When I’m finished, the cat offers me a sulky glare then moves to cover the evidence.
I pad back to the kitchen where I hear Father speaking on the phone.
“It’s been like two weeks, dude,” he says to the person on the other end. “No pee or poo at all. I’m freaking out!” He pauses, then blanches and shakes his head. “She’ll kill me if I have to take Joey to the ER.” He pauses again. “Yeah, she’s due back from the conference tomorrow.”
“Orange,” I say, pointing to the cabinet.
“What?” Father looks at me, bewildered, then hands me an orange from the bowl. “Just my kid asking for some fruit,” he says. “No, he seems fine.”
Sighing, I drop the fruit to the floor and pad to the living room. A pang in my bowels alerts me that my bladder was not the only part of my body in need of relief.
My baby sister and the dog are waiting on the couch. On the television an insipid purple dinosaur sings of love.
Seeing me, my sister flashes her fingers in a series of signs.
Slower, I sign back. I can’t understand you.
She flashes more signs, frustration evident on her face.
Yes, I know you hate the dinosaur, I say, but one thing at a time. Be patient.
She waggles her fingers too quickly for me to follow.
Slower, you idiot! I told you you’re going too fast!
My sister put special emphasis on the next set of signs.
Oh, real nice, I say. You kiss your mother with that mouth?
She extends her middle finger.
The growing pressure in my bowels reminds me of my more immediate concerns.
I know you can count to one, I sign to my sister. Can you make it to 10, like we discussed?
“Dog,” I say — the animal’s ears perk. “Go.”
The dog scurries from the room, barking.
Following the animal to the kitchen, I find the dog pawing at the sliding glass window leading to the backyard. Father, still on the phone, slides the door open and the dog scrambles outside. An instant later my sister begins to squall in the living room.
“Crap, gotta go, dude,” says Father, replacing the phone in the cradle. He sprints from the kitchen, leaving the sliding door ajar.
I rush outside, joining the dog in a blissful squat. I smile as the sun bathes my face with warmth and the grass tickles my bare bottom. There’s something very primal about taking a dump with one’s best friend. I cherish these moments, but alas, all good things must come to an end.
Turning, I wave at my two neighbors sitting on lawn chairs in the adjacent yard. They stare at me and the dog.
The gray-haired man says to the gray-haired woman, “See, I told you he lets his kid shit in the yard.”
The gray-haired woman returns my wave.
It’s day 12 of Operation Round Orange and time is growing short. I find myself again on my plastic potty, and Father in his familiar chair.
“Round orange, Mama,” I say, pointing to the high cabinet.
Father sighs. “Just as soon as you do your business, buddy, I’ll get you that orange.”
“No.” I point again at the cabinet.
“Look, Joey, I don’t know what —” Father’s stops mid-sentence at the sound of the front door opening.
The dog barks happily in the living room. My sister gives an excited squeal.
“Oh, my baby, I missed you so much,” comes Mother’s voice.
Father’s shoulders slump in resignation. He rises to meet Mother, but I stay where I am. Now is the time for the pièce de résistance.
When Father and Mother return to the kitchen, my sister in Mother’s arms, I stand smiling next to my training potty.
“Look, Mama.” I point to the toilet. “Dada showed me.”
Mother peers down and beams. “Number one and number two,” she says. “I’m so proud of my big boy!”
Father stares at me, his mouth agape.
“Orange,” I say.
“Of course, Joey,” says Mother. “You deserve a prize.” She reaches for an orange in the fruit bowl and winks at Father. “Dad will get his prize later.”
Father grins, his face flushed. When Mother turns away, Father and I lock eyes.
“Round orange,” I say to him, pointing to the high cabinet.
Father stares at me one moment more, then nods.
It’s day one of Operation Fighting Robots.
Father, the cat, the dog, and my sister and I sit in the living room. A jumbo-sized canister of cheeseballs once hidden in the kitchen cabinet lies open on the floor, half empty. The cat’s whiskers and dog’s muzzle are coated in neon orange.
The purple dinosaur is on the television again. My sister looks at me expectantly and makes a single sign. With orange-dusted fingers, I respond in the affirmative.
Pointing to the television, I say, “Robots, Dada.”
Wiping neon powder from his face, Father nods. “Way ahead of you, buddy.” He reaches for the remote.