An excerpt from
The World Came to Us
Cabin fever. The dictionary defines it as a type of hysteria that results from spending too much time indoors. Irritability. Feelings of frustration. Boredom. Nowhere in the definitions do you find mentioned enlightenment, introspection, or Henry David Thoreau. I checked at least three different online dictionaries, but nope. Mom and I had certainly lapsed into a rhythm. She did more housework than necessary while I worked on my computer, making social media stars out of my annoying clients. Then, in the afternoons, she napped.
This was her “my time.” Mom coined the phrase for the hours during the day when she lay down on her duvet in the master bedroom to dream of idyllic days in the past with Sam while I bounced from wall to wall in the rest of the house.
At first, being home all day was so refreshing. No pressure from annoying coworkers, horning into my cubicle with YouTube videos on their phones, “so hilarious.” No meager packed lunches. No stupid meetings in which the moderator had never heard of the word agenda. No Spanx under business suits. But that was day one of hermitude. Pretty soon, I had memorized the repeating pattern on the wallpaper in the dining room (four ivy leaves, one berry, four ivy leaves, three berries, a bird, four ivy leaves—you know where this is going), counted the steps on the front and back stairways (twenty and twenty two), noted that there were seven dead flies in between the storm windows and the screens in my bedroom, and ascertained that we have four half-used bottles of Worcestershire sauce in the pantry.
I tried keeping a journal, and that was a bust. The first three entries were:
Monday. Still hot. We have been hermits for a week.
Friday. Hot. It is four days later. I wish I were a poet.
Thursday. Forget this.
So this year was going to be a colossal challenge. As I sat in the sunroom, looking out at the backyard, I wished I could just run out there. It wasn’t off limits, but we only went out there for dog business. Wait. Maybe run out there naked, singing Joy to the World (the bullfrog one, not the Christmas carol) at the top of my lungs. Just as I was picturing that, and almost feeling the breezes rushing against my nudity, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye.
Something bright red.
I turned and looked over at Percy Warner’s garden. There he stood, fat and sassy in a red sweat shirt, toupee riding a little low on his forehead, potbelly bulging, surveying his kingdom. He squinted his piggy eyes, hand over his forehead, gazing through the fence at our yard. Suddenly, he straightened up, seemed to gasp, and then ran as fast as his stubby legs could carry him over to the edge of the iron fence dividing our yards. He pulled a cell phone from his pocket and held it to his ear.
I knew what to expect next. Our landline rang.
It sounded like he had a tracheotomy, he was gasping so loudly. “SHIT. There is dog shit right here! It is on THE PROPERTY LINE. I want this dog shit out of my yard IMMEDIATELY, or I will call the city!” More gasping and rasping.
Rage. It filled my lungs, my heart, and my brain. If I had a gun at that moment, I would have aimed it right through the picture window at the center of that red sweatshirt and pulled the trigger. Instead, I pushed the button and ‘hung up’ on him. I waited for my breathing to slow down. Damn. The lawn service must not be getting all of it. I didn’t blame them; I would try to overlook as much dog poop as possible if I were a gardener. But I would have to do something to calm Percy down. I looked at the receiver in my hand and regretted hanging up like that. Rudeness begets God knows what else. What should I do? Flowers? No. Way too much an admission of guilt. Cookies? A good idea, but we wouldn’t be able to deliver them. I put the receiver down in the cradle and started walking aimlessly.
I paced the perimeter of the downstairs. Sunroom, hall, into the dining room, through the kitchen, then back out into the hall, through the living room, into the sunroom. I picked up speed, hoping to burn off a few calories while walking and brainstorming. Suddenly, I was joined by a concerned Herkie, who must have been worried that someone may have decided to chase me. Herk and I marched on, my thoughts twirling. This guy hates my dog. But lots of people are scared of pits. Their unfair reputation. What can I do to make him realize that you (I leaned
down to grab her snout and kiss it) are a moosh? How can I get through to this guy?
My cell beeped. Caller ID said Suzanne Lampley. Hooray for friends. I pulled it out of the waistband of my leggings.
“Hello, Suze. You can’t imagine how much I want to talk to you this very instant!”
She “ahem-ed” at her end. “Is this a crisis? I am not prepared to deal with a crisis right now. I am calling from my car. I am actually on my way over to spend the weekend with you! Isn’t this a thrill? We can discuss your crisis and solve every single world problem as soon as I get there.”
I did three modified jumping jacks, one-armed, holding my cell to my ear. Herk jumped right along with me. My heart pounded. “This is the best news, ever! The walls are closing in over here, I have an evil pig for a neighbor, and I need to tell you about this kid I met who is a combination gangbanger/philosopher. And so many other things. So many. How soon will you be here?”
“Tommy, deep breaths. I should arrive in about an hour and a half. Change the sheets in the guest room. I refuse to sleep among Oreo crumbs like the last time I was there. Gotta go—the cops ticket you if they see you on a cell phone. Bye!”
I grabbed Herkie’s front paws, and we did a little jig in the hall. Then I raced up the stairs, Herkie nearly tripping me up as she leaped at my legs. “Mom! Mom! Wake up! We can have a PAR-TAY this weekend!”
Herkie and I posted ourselves at the front window, scanning every car that came down the street. I straightened up with every swoosh of tires, but was disappointed. Then suddenly, the sight for sore eyes roared toward us. A lime green VW, vintage, of course, with an orange daisy painted smack dab in the center of the front hood. I let out a cheer, and Herkie wagged, despite not having one canine idea what was going to happen.
I ran to the front door and threw it open as the dazzling car pulled into the driveway. I nearly ran out to hug Suze, but I remembered the rules and pulled my leg back inside the threshold. Suze flung her door open and stood, carroty curls shining in the sun. She slammed the door shut and
held out her arms. Herkie ran into them. “Hi, honey!” She bent down and encircled Herk’s thick neck in a hug, then straightened and shot me a squinty look. “Why are you frozen to the spot? HUGS, Tommy!”
I remained rooted, despite every single nerve in my person telling me to rush out there. “Hermit rules! Come in here this minute!”
Suze put her hands on her hips and rolled her eyes skyward. “Crap! I have to carry all this shit in myself?” She opened the hood of her vintage VW. It was loaded. “I have here an entire cooler full of Jeni’s ice cream, a bag of bull penises for Herkie (!), five board games, including Trivial Pursuit and Jenga, some potpourri and bubble bath for your Mom, a giant-size barrel of pretzels, and of course, clothes. AND BEER. I have to bring this all in myself?”
I looked around for witnesses, and seeing none, I skipped out to Suze’s car. We hugged the breath out of one another’s lungs, Herkie restrained herself from knocking us down with enthusiasm, and we carted Suze’s things inside. It took three trips, my God. I hated shutting the front door. As it clicked closed, the brightness of the sun suddenly diminished, along with the happy thrum of my soul. But as we lugged the cooler of Jeni’s into the kitchen, Suze’s laugh reverberated against the walls, and I cheered right up again. Suze humped into the hall and staggered back into the kitchen with a second cooler. The beer.
Mom heard the hubbub. She burst into the kitchen and enveloped us both with a hug. “Oh, Suzanne! You are just the right thing! This is going to be such a fun-filled weekend!”
I studied the crinkles around Mom’s eyes. I had never heard a person use the term “fun-filled” in actual life. Mom’s cheeks were flushed, her eyes sparkled, and she rubbed us both on our backs. Rubbed and patted. Smiled, rubbed and patted. She dropped her arms and stepped back. “Oh, what’s this?”
Suze opened the first cooler. “Jeni’s! Brown Butter Almond Brittle. Coffee with Cream and Sugar. Of course, Middle West Whiskey and Pecan. Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks. Have I forgotten something?”
I shrieked. “I WANT TO START ON THE PEANUT BUTTER RIGHT NOW!”
Mom grabbed me by the back of my shirt. “Calm down, tiger! We have to have a smorgasbord for dessert tonight. Rob is coming. We can call out for pizza delivery. I have salad makings. But dessert will be the climax. Tommy, we need to make room in the freezer.”
As I shoved bags of peas, Lean Cuisines, and veggie burgers out of the way to make room, Mom and Suze lugged the rest of her stuff upstairs. They murmured and laughed as I shoved the icy treats into the freezer; I could hear their footsteps above me. The sounds of people in the house. I shut the freezer door and leaned against the fridge, reveling in the noise.
Suze thundered down the steps and entered the kitchen with the bag of penises. “I thought at least one of us here might enjoy these.” She giggled and opened the bag, taking out a long, thick stick. She waved it around like a magic wand, before summoning my dog. “Herkie, come! Oh, my
God, no pun intended!” Herkie sniffed the treat, then gently took it in her teeth and carried it out of the kitchen.
“Those are actual bull penises? Come on.”
She held up the bag and read the label. “Made from 100% grass-fed beef pizzle. I asked the guy at the pet food store what pizzle was, and he said ‘beef dicks.’ So yes. These are the real deal, and the guy said they are the very best treats. You can interpret that any way you would like.” Suze pulled out another stick and held it in front of her pelvis suggestively. “We might get some use out of these?” She began to do an Elvis Presley bump.
I grabbed the stick from her, dropped it into the bag, and shoved the bag into the cupboard under the sink. I whirled around and rubbed my greasy fingers on my leggings. “Let me just say that if I ever even consider these as adult entertainment, you can shoot me. Enough about bull dicks. Should we have one of your beers?”
“Of course!” Suze looked around for the other cooler—the one that had the Coors.
Cradling our cool bottles, we sat down on the polished wood floor against the kitchen cupboards, our legs straight out in front of us. I swallowed nearly half of my beer in one pull, the delicious bitterness bubbling down into my stomach. Suze shot me a look.
“You are drinking like a pro, kid. Are you sure this shut-in thing is a good idea?”
I looked down the neck of my bottle and noted the remaining brew. I felt a little prick of alarm, then remembered that the only stuff I had been imbibing lately was caffeinated. “First off, this is the first alcohol I have had since I came home. Honest.” I gave Suze the Girl Scout salute. “Second,
of course this ‘shut-in thing’ is a lousy idea. But it wasn’t my idea, and I cannot leave Mom here to stew alone.”
Suze made a wry face. “She seems fine to me. Normal.”
I twirled the bottle between my palms. I noticed that a corner of the label was beginning to peel, and I picked at it, working as if my life depended on it. “She is normal. A normal, grieving, bleeding-on-the-inside woman. Suzanne, Mom is deceptively chipper. But she is hollow. She doesn’t eat right. You saw how thin she is. She has started biting her nails. She has nightmares. If she were here by herself, I am not sure what would happen. So I have to stay with her. She is all I have.”
Silence surrounded us. I continued to pick at the Coors label. The beer got warm. I took a sip and set the bottle down beside me; I didn’t want the rest. I studied the cuticles on my thumbs.
Suze scrambled to her feet. “Well then. Let’s just have us a rip-roaring weekend of fun.” And with that, she pulled me to my feet into a hug, kicking over my bottle of beer. It made a foamy puddle on the floor. My darling dog padded into the kitchen and lapped it up.
Suze laughed. “Yes, you darling pit bull! You know how to get the party started!”
I hefted the beer cooler onto the counter, Suze opened the fridge door with a flourish, and we deposited the beer onto the shelves, reserving another two bottles for ourselves.
“And Tommy. If you don’t get anchovies on at least half of one of the pizzas, I will put that photo of you with your pants around your ankles on Facebook.”