I guess this is where I should own up and come clean.
I laid there on my bed, head pressed up against the wall, listening to the The Shining on the TV. My bedroom shared the wall where my bed was with the front room, and when Mom sent me away and stayed up late watching scary movies on HBO, I would listen to them through it. It was a little like listening to the radio, but the wall gave it a certain ears underwater quality, where the sounds felt like they were already pressed right up against my eardrums and even the slightest vibration was enormous.
Mom loved her scary movies and would watch them at every opportunity. Personally, I thought life, what with the snoopy dog, Bedbugs, and worse, was far scarier, but that’s just me. Mom couldn’t wait to see Halloween when it came out and she left me home with Haley while she and Dad drove to the movies. She never told me if it gave her nightmares, but what little I’d later gleaned from prolonged screams and an imposing soundtrack was enough.
So when I told Dad I didn’t watch scary movies, it was only technically true.
I listened intently until my eyes grew heavy and I was already warm from being under the covers. I’d since put the snoopy dog behind a stack of books on the shelf. The knot it left on my forehead wasn’t pretty, but it only lasted a couple of days. It stayed where I put it, but I had yet to do what Mrs Greer asked of me, and fear of the snoopy dog was quickly taking a back seat to my fear of disappointing her.
The things I did over boners.
The inside of the garage was hot and muggy and my shirt stuck to me like spiderwebs. It was empty aside from the six tiny balls of fur mewing on the floor around me. I looked all over, but the mama cat was nowhere to be found and I picked up the one closest to me, pinched face quivering, as I shuffled it quickly over to the box. I ran for the next one, legs splayed like an animal skin rug, and scooped it up, racing back and placing it next to the first.
Number six was at the garage door, claws scratching concrete, squeaking pitifully. When I got to it, I saw it couldn't move its back legs and I knew I had seconds before it was too late.
I was tired, sweating through my clothes, my butthole itched. When I looked to the other end of the garage I swore it was a mile away, but I moved my legs back and forth and ran like only a kid my age could; beyond pain, beyond exhaustion. I could hear them scratching and bouncing and bitching little cries that were a dentist's scalar over my teeth and I was panting when I put the last and smallest of them all in the donut hole between its brothers and sisters. They nuzzled and squirmed and purred their little hearts out, all twisted up like spaghetti.
They were alive.
I saved them.
I shouted at the top of my lungs and bounded out the back, racing up the steps and to the door. It was open, as I knew it would be, and I entered the kitchen without bothering to shut it behind me.
"I DID IT. I SAVED THEM."
I charged through the short hallway toward the front room where I could hear them watching TV. Shane's father was a stern man, but had a gentleness and civility I'd seen only on TV between presidents and generals. His mother was soft and lovely, like the cover of a women's magazine. I could hear a commercial for TaB cola and jumped the last two strides into the room, arms raised, throat raw.
"I SAVED THEM. I--"
Shane's parents were slumped against the back of the couch, eyes rolled back, mouths gaping. All their teeth were missing, replaced with black, pitted gums and wiry splinters like some evil knight's tower portcullis. His sister was under the coffee table, just her arms, legs and trunk exposed, the limbs fixed at angles they were never meant to create.
"...and you won't drink TaB because you have to, you'll drink TaB because you want to."
Shane was in the recliner which was titled all the way back. He was completely crushed and looked like a rubber Halloween costume. The orange Dixie Challenger bulged from what remained of his left eye socket and I turned my head just in time to lose my stomach all over the floor.
Everything smelled like sick.
From under the table I heard a girl's voice, clotted and wheezing.
"You didn't chew your potatoes."
It was on my bed, my pillow and in my hair.
And she was right. I hadn't.
Mom tore the blankets, sheets and pillow case from the bed, wadding them up and rushing them to the washing machine before she spent the next half hour scrubbing and disinfecting the mattress. I sat in the front room watching the Munsters in just my jammy bottoms, head tilted back with a cool, damp washcloth on my forehead. We didn’t have ginger ale, so she poured a glass of orange juice and tried to get me to eat some hot cereal but both stomachs were queasy so she settled for plain toast. I only nibbled one corner and the grittiness made my tongue feel like sandpaper so I set it aside hoping Mom wouldn’t notice. My head hurt and I felt weak, and I tried to concentrate on how pretty Lilly Munster was but even that part of my brain wasn’t having it. I could hear mom cussing to herself because me being sick meant she had to clean the whole house again. Germs were sneaky and persistent.
She made noodle soup for lunch, but I was still feeling blah and only ate a couple of spoonfuls.
“You need to eat.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You can’t just sit there on an empty stomach.”
“And you have to keep drinking liquids.”
“But I don’t feel good.”
“If you want to feel better, you need to eat and drink.”
The fever finally broke mid afternoon and my appetite somewhat returned. I ate half a grilled cheese sandwich and the rest of the soup leftover from earlier. It felt good to finally have something in me and second stomach was surprisingly appeased. I slid off the couch, heading to my room to put a shirt on when there was a knock on the front door. I shrugged into my Spider Man Underoos top as Mom answered it.
“Kathryn, it’s good to see you.”
“Uhh, and you, Mrs Greer.”
“Call me Lydia.”
“I heard Whisker was sick today and I was concerned. I’m sorry I didn’t call first, but I was already in the area and wanted to see how he’s doing.”
“Oh, well he’s doing better. I finally got him to eat something.”
“Good. Is he-- here?”
“In his room.”
“Do you mind?”
“No, umm, not at all.”
I was petrified. I grabbed a flannel from the back of my chair and threw it on, tousling my hair from where it was plastered to my forehead with sweat. The back was still damp, but there was nothing I could do about that now. I was on the third button when she arrived, knocking twice on my open door.
I was buttoning frantically and not at all well.
“May I come in?”
Into my room? Alone?
She strode in with confidence, wearing a full length skirt and a turtleneck, rich earth tones, heels clacking on the hardwood. She had a leather briefcase she placed on the floor next to my bed.
“Do you mind if I sit?”
“Wherever you like.”
I moved so she could sit in my chair and I finished with the last button. Then I checked to see if the mattress was still damp and, finding it reasonably dry, took a seat on the bed facing Mrs Greer. She smiled at me, but I could tell there was something on her mind. I picked at the tail of my flannel, waiting for her to say something.
“How are you feeling?”
“Umm, okay I guess.”
“Your mom said you weren’t well when she called this morning.”
“I, umm, got sick. On my bed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. And you feel better now?”
“Not like I’m going to be sick again.”
“Well that’s good to know.”
“Would you like to know why I’m here?”
“I’ve been concerned about you since our talk the other day. Do you remember what we talked about?”
“Do you remember when I asked you to bring the snoopy dog with you so I could hold onto it for a while?”
“And do you remember saying you would do it?”
“Okay, good. It’s not a problem, is it?”
“I don’t think so.”
“I’m having a little trouble understanding why, then, you didn’t bring it to school these past few days.”
She put her hand on my knee which sent a shiver through my leg and up my back, culminating in a flower of pleasure that put me at ease.
“Is that really what happened?”
“I was-- scared.”
“Are you scared now?”
“Not as much.”
“That makes me feel better. I know this is scary, but I want to help.”
“I brought something for you.”
She picked up her briefcase and opened it, slipping her hand inside and pulling out what I thought looked like a piece of yarn. She put the case back on the floor and took my hand, turning it over and placing hers over mine. A lingering moment of contact, I held my breath until she moved her hand away and I looked at my palm. She was smiling.
“What is it?”
“But what is it?”
“Hehe. It’s a bracelet. My niece makes them and I thought you might like one.”
I looked closer and saw there were different shades of blue and green and even white braided into a narrow cord. I could see the hopeful look in her eyes.
“It’s nice. Thank you.”
“You’re very welcome. Would you like to see my tits?”
“I asked if you would like to see how it fits.”
“Oh, uhh, sure.”
“Let me get that.”
She used her long, delicate fingers to expertly tie the bracelet around my left wrist and I watched her breathlessly. When she was finished, I offered her a smile.
“Excellent. Now, do you know what this bracelet means?”
“Umm, I’m not sure.”
We’re boyfriend and girlfriend?
“--we’re friends and we can tell each other anything.”
“And we trust each other and will help each other.”
“Can you do that?”
“I knew you could.”
I admired my wrist for several moments before Mrs Greer, Lydia, trusted friend and secret girlfriend, shifted in her seat and cleared he throat.
“Can you do something for me, Whisker?”
“I want to see it.”
That was fast.
“If you don’t mind.”
“N-no. But what about my mom?”
“Do you want her here too?”
“Okay. Then I’d like to see it.”
“It’s someplace else?”
“No-- it’s here.”
Who was the adult here?
“It’s, umm, in my p--”
“Is that it? On the shelf there?”
“Oh, umm, what?”
“The snoopy dog. Is it behind those books there?”
“Would you like me to get it?”
“I think-- I would.”
She stood, leaning over to reach the shelf that was behind me. She was close, closer that she was when we were alone in the office. I could smell her perfume, her skin underneath it, the fabric softener she used, the hint of coffee and something else, something sweet, on her breath. My pulse quickened, but I sat stock still, and when her shoulder rubbed my forehead, my lips so close to those womanly curves, I involuntarily gasped. She pulled back, a reflex, and the moment was lost.
“Did I bump you? Are you--”
“I’m good. It’s-- I’m good.”
“I didn’t realize I was so close. I-- almost-- got it.”
She pushed the last of the books aside and took it from the rear of the shelf, stepping back, away from me, and in those precious seconds, she felt completely lost to me, drifting beyond my touch, beyond my breath, drowning. She held it in both hands, the head emerging from between her fingers, and she inhaled sharply like when the flesh of my palms touched her bare skin the way she asked me to.
The snoopy dog was smiling.
It was always smiling.
“So this is it.”
It sounded like a farewell.
Mrs Greer left with the snoopy dog in her briefcase, hugging me and speaking briefly with Mom before she got in her car and drove away. It felt like the last time I’d ever see her. Then Mom came in my room and checked my forehead, satisfied the fever was well and truly gone.
“Maybe I was wrong about her.”
“I think she’s nice.”
“You two had quite the little chat.”
“What did you talk about?”
“You should lay down.”
“Your sheets still aren’t dry, so I’ll just give you a blanket, okay?”
Mom brought the blanket and I rolled over on my side with my back to her so she thought I was going to sleep, but I was far from tired, despite my condition, and it was still light out. When she left the room, shutting the door behind her, I waited until I knew she was sitting in front of the TV before I slipped out of bed and got a notebook and pencil from my backpack. Then I crawled back into bed and laid there, notebook open, and began to write.
Dear Dead Kittens,
I’m sorry I hurt you so bad you couldn't stand to live anymore. I was mad at Shane for lying about keeping my toy car. I was bad for hurting you and I want to say I’m sorry.
I love you and hope you are in heaven or some place where you are safe and not in pain. I had a dream where I saved you but your family died instead.
Please don't cry.
I put the notebook under my pillow and the pencil on the shelf. Then I laid on my back and moved so my ear was up against the wall and could tell Mom was watching something scary because the music sounded like nails on a chalkboard. Then I heard screams.
For once, they weren’t my own.