I looked too hard for things that aren’t there

Yin Cai Shakya

Yin Ts’ao Shakya

‘Avalokiteshvara

while practicing deeply with

the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,

suddenly discovered that

all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,

and with this realization

he overcame all ill-being.’

‘Listen Sariputra,

this Body itself is Emptiness

and Emptiness itself is this Body.

This Body is not other than Emptiness

and Emptiness is not other than this Body.

The same is true of Feelings,

Perceptions, Mental Formations,

and Consciousness.’

-The Heart Sutra Thich Nhat Hanh

The greatest thing the late Ming Zhen Shakya taught me was the importance of living in a productive, fulfilling way in daily life. This teaching helped me overcome my tendency to cling to metaphysical thinking. Eventually it became the vehicle for my ongoing awakening. I owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude for it!

Like so many others, I “looked too hard for things that aren’t there” not only in my spiritual practice, but also in life. And after finding nothing, I abandoned the superfluous “looking” altogether. Allow me to illustrate with several antidotes from my daily life.

At Work

 

I had a challenging day at work. It was one of those days where there were several things on my To-Do list. While working diligently to complete every last item on the list, in a timely and efficient manner, my boss, without warning, calls and tells me to drop everything immediately.

The Executive VP needs something done and he needs it to be done now!

You know what I mean, an urgent request with an alarming deadline followed by the inevitable question, ‘can you make this happen before the end of the day?’ My answer? Well, my answer is always yes, maybe a bit quixotic but still a yes. It comes from my desire to do my best and to do it on time.

And heaven, by god I soldiered through it and delivered the goods with enough time left over to for my boss to review the work. Before he handed it off to the executives he made sure that human beings would actually be able to decipher it.

Voila! It was on time and it worked. Yahoo!

At Home

 

By the end of the day when good-old Miller Time came around, I went outside, sat down in one of our big, plastic Adirondack chairs on the porch, cracked-open a cold one, and watched my dog frolic in the yard.

Sure, it was a challenging day, with unreasonable deadlines, but I got the job done and enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment. As I sat outside in my chair, watching my dog chase the squirrels that are forever zigzagging and whizzing by her, I thought, I worked hard today. We can pay the rent, and am enjoying a rest in my backyard where I imagined my twins to come will play. I felt good. 

When Miller Time was over, I went back inside to cook gumbo for me and my wife, and our two babies who are growing inside her tummy. That took me from feeling good, to feeling great (it always does).

On Facebook®

 

After dinner my wife and I retired to the living room sofa, to relax and catch-up on what we’d missed on Facebook® while we were both at work.

That’s when I went from feeling great to feeling like I wanted to choke people.

A friend of mine had posted a link to an article on Vice.com, entitled “Millennials On Spirit Quests Are Ruining Everything About Ayahuasca” and it caught my eye as I scrolled-through my newsfeed. I should’ve just chuckled and continued scrolling, but I didn’t. Nope. Like a jackass, I clicked on it and started reading. I won’t go too deeply into the details of the article here, I’ll just give the premise and leave it at that-

 Apparently, upwardly-mobile young adults who feel unfulfilled in their lives are traveling to South America to hang out with Native Peoples and drink the hallucinogenic brew Ayahuasca, with the hopes of having spiritual visions. This, in-turn, has brought a lot of unwanted attention to the afore-mentioned Native Peoples, and such attention is becoming a threat to their culture.

 Like Cain, the anger rose up, and from that anger I formulated a comment which I left on my friend’s post. It read something like this-

“What’s this vision quest bullshit? Really? These people need a vision quest? What sheer stupidity! Let me tell you something. There is nothing, nothing more to life than working hard, raising your family right, exercising, and fly fishing (or whatever task you prefer to master). If you’re looking for anything more out of life than that you’re a rube, because it doesn’t exist. Period. Full-stop.”

Ugh! I know, the less a man makes declarative statements the less likely he is to look foolish in retrospect. But as no one fully understands the workings of karma I was blessed with an experience while washing the dishes not long after I’d posted the comment.

In the Kitchen Holy Place

 

It’s no accident that I enjoy spending time in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning. I suppose I could be described as “Old School” in the sense that yes, I believe the old adage that “a man’s home is his castle,” but I take it to include my wife and my forthcoming twins. I do my very best to make it our castle. But there’s one stipulation: The kitchen is where my best Dharma work is done.  This translates into the kitchen is my holy place.

It’s where everything is cooked up, eaten, washed, dried and put into place. It’s a place of refuge where my consciousness is cooked, chewed, washed, dried and put straight. It’s a mortar and pestle where cause and effect, karma, and the whole universe are ground down and changed in the ordinariness of cooking, eating, and cleaning.

Everything is fine, there.

Those words came to me, after I finished doing the dishes, while I stood there looking at the clean countertops and the empty sink, which all seemed to glow in absolute perfection in the evening sunlight which beamed through my kitchen window. I knew the sink wasn’t perfect because I washed all the dishes that were in there, and the countertop wasn’t perfect because I wiped it clean.

I saw they were perfect because washing the dishes washed me off, and wiping-off the countertop wiped me clean.

I stood there, giddy…giggling as the experience occurred.

My consciousness, indeed, me, arises just the same as dirty dishes arise from cooking and serving dinner. And for some ineffable reason, this realization makes me suffer less, and gives me a deeply-abiding peace and joyfulness unlike anything I’ve ever felt.

Zen, lovely in its inherent simplicity, gives everything in the here-and-now to experience this joy. The beloved Heart Sutra is a lens to contemplate and follow the Eight-Fold Path in a life in-which to practice.

What more is needed?

Nothing.

Equanimity comes from the experience of keenly discerning that without dirty dishes and dirty countertops, a clean kitchen cannot exist, and if your kitchen is clean, sooner or later the need to eat, along with literally everything else, contributes to the arising of a dirty kitchen.

It’s life… and it’s all fine… this not looking for things that aren’t there.

The Landlord

Yin Cai Shakya
Yin Ts’ao Shakya

If you like “The Landlord”, check for more stories in AlphabetGumbo.com

 

“GOD DAMN IT, ROBBIE DOMINGUE,” she shouted, “deposit the god damn rent check already! It’s the eighteenth for crying out loud!”

He heard her over the din blasting from his headphones. Not her exact words per-se, but the sounds she was making. He removed the cans at once.

“What’s that, babe? Everything okay?”

“NO!”

She stormed from the kitchen into his office, smartphone in-hand, on-line banking app open, account balance at-the-ready. Reaching him she thrust her hand forward, forking-over the latest evidence of their Landlord’s ineptitude for him to examine.

He took it, and after adjusting his glasses, he peered at the cool, luminescent screen.

“Oh wow, there’s almost twenty-five hundred dollars in our checking account!”

“Yeah, because once-again that lazy-ass Robbie Domingue has yet to deposit our rent check!”

He chuckled to himself and shook his head.

“It must be nice y’know, to have so much money that you could just ignore a check for twelve-hundred dollars.”

“Repeatedly.”

“Yeah.”

She was pissed.

He pushed himself and his office chair backward, then reached for her and pulled her onto his lap. She couldn’t not giggle, and her little nose crinkled when she did. He adored it when she giggled like that. Her petite body resting on his lap felt good. She nuzzled his neck with her face, and that felt good to him too.

“Babe, what are we gonna do?” She asked him.

The next track on the playlist roared from his headphones, and she stopped.

“My Lord that’s loud! What’s that ‘song’ you’re listening to?” She used her fingers to put air-quotes around the word “song” when she said it.

“That’s ‘Cashing In.’”

(Ha-ha-ha-ha, ho-ho-ho. How do you do, I don’t think that we’ve met. My name is Ian, and I’m from Minor Threat!)

She giggled again, and declared “It sounds terrible.”

He growled, then pulled-up her shirt and gave her a vigorous raspberry, right in the middle of her tummy. Her giggling turned to laughter and her nose crinkled again.

They lived in a three bedroom, two bathroom house which they referred to as The Love Nest. They rented it from one Mr. Robbie Domingue, an affable but terribly absent-minded and lazy Landlord who had never, in their entire history at that address, deposited any of their rent checks in a timely manner.

“But seriously, though! It’s like he doesn’t even want our money!”

“Who on Earth doesn’t want money?”

“Yeah. Even Ian from Minor Threat likes money!”

(I’m takin’ a walk on the yellow-brick road. I only walk where the bricks are made of gold. My mind and body are the only things that I’ve sold. I need a little money, ‘cuz I’m gettin’ old…)

She was laughing again.

It wasn’t just the fact that their Landlord was forever making a liar of their checking account, though. It was so much more than that and sadly, a lot of it had to do with The Love Nest itself, and the fact that Robbie Domingue materialized to fix the various problems they’d had with that house with roughly the same frequency as he’d materialize at the bank the first of every month to deposit their rent checks.

She’d settled into the tub one evening to enjoy a steaming-hot bubble bath after work. The tub was filling up, and he was in the kitchen, pouring a glass of wine for her, when the silence was broken by an abrupt shout- “Oh my God I broke the hot water!”

He set the wine bottle on the counter and rushed into the bathroom. There she was, up to her neck in bubbles, while the hot water ran with reckless abandon. She was holding the knob in her hand.  “It just popped right off!”

“No problem babe, hold on just a sec!”

He dashed to the hall closet and rifled through the shoeboxes full of pictures, the shopping bags full of Christmas ornaments, and all the other sundry stuff looking for anything that resembled a useful tool.

He returned with vice grips, and torqued their toothy mouth parts down hard onto the little screw part protruding from the wall. Once secured, he gave it a few good turns, shutting off the water.

Later that evening, she’d texted Robbie Domingue about it. Not long after he answered her, apologizing. He mentioned that the previous tenants had problems with the hot water knob too, and that he’d “swing-by to fix it ASAP.”

Several months passed, and the vice grips remained the primary apparatus for turning the hot water on and off in the shower. Robbie had texted another apology a few weeks after it happened:

Hey! really sorry I haven’t been by to fix the faucet been traveling for work I’ll come by this week and fix it ASAP!!!!

But that had been it. Robbie never got around to actually coming over and fixing it. And they had never heard from Robbie about it again after that.

The twenty-fifth rolled around, and according to her on-line banking statement, the rent check had finally been deposited. The drier gave a loud buzz, alerting her to the fact that dry, toasty-warm bedsheets that smelled fantastic awaited her behind its flip-down door. She put down her cellphone, and went to unload the drier.

Moments later she walked into their room to put the fresh sheets on the bed. Entering the room she flipped the switch on the wall by the dresser. The ceiling fan began to turn, but the lights mounted to it did not spring to life. She reached for the chain suspended below and gave it a tug. The ceiling fan, the entire thing lights and all, came crashing down onto the bed, followed by a cascade of plaster dust, and little bits of pink insulation from the attic.

“Fuuuuuck!” she shouted.

He was on his way home from fly fishing when he got her text:

You won’t believe this. The ceiling fan in our bedroom fell out of the god damn ceiling a minute ago.

While stopped at a red light, he texted-back:

Oh for fuck’s sake.

And she text-replied-back with:

Yeah. Texting Domingue.

Later that evening, while he was cooking dinner, he heard her phone ding-ding twice from the table. It was a text from Robbie Domingue. He picked up her phone and walked down the hall to the bathroom with it. He gave a soft knock at the bathroom door.

“Yeah?”

“Hey baby, it’s me.”

“Yeah? Me who?”

“Me. Your husband. Do you recognize my voice?”

Giggling- “What?”

“Are you peeing?”

She giggled again, and then added “Not that it’s any of your business, but yes.”

“Well, Robbie Domingue texted you back, finally.”

“Yeah, what did he say? Will he be here to fix the ceiling fan in the bedroom ‘A-S-A-P’?”

“Winner winner, chicken dinner,” he deadpanned.

She cackled. He smiled and went back to cooking dinner.

Several weeks and a smattering of text messages from Robbie Domingue begging them to forgive him for his tardiness in getting-around to fixing their ceiling fan later, an electrician friend of theirs came by the house and fixed it for them, asking for nothing more in return than an invitation to stay for dinner. They happily obliged.

Not long after, on a Friday, he was returning home from an absolutely shit day at the ponds. His Boss had given him the day off. He’d wanted to go catch fish, but hadn’t felt like driving out to Lake Martin, or to the bar pits in Henderson. He’d opted instead to visit the small, two-acre drainage ponds he was fond of, in a nearby neighborhood. Hardly anybody fished there, and most of the time he could catch blue gill all the livelong day and not be bothered. It hadn’t been one of those days though. Nothing was biting.

His sour mood lifted when he returned home and saw her ‘vette in the driveway. He knew she’d gone to veiller with her mother and aunt earlier that afternoon and figured she’d still be there.

He parked, unbuckled his seatbelt, made sure to turn the volume on the stereo down from a 42 to a 6 lest she get punched in the ears by his music the next time they got in there to drive somewhere together, killed the engine and exited the Jeep.

He came in through the back door, to the kitchen. And there she was.

On entering he announced, “There’s my baby!” with a happy exuberance in his voice.

She didn’t respond. She just stood there, looking up at the ceiling.

“What’s going on, babe?” he asked.

Her eyes remained fixed on the ceiling and she raised her index finger, pointing in the direction she was looking just as a large water droplet fell, landing on his head with a soft, wet thump.

“What the Hell?”

He looked up. The ceiling was soggy from the edge of the fluorescent light fixture up there, all the way to the back door.

“Something’s leaking up there!”

“Uh-huh.”

“Fuck, could it be the roof?”

“No, I don’t think it’s the roof. It hasn’t rained in a couple of weeks.”

The Love Nest’s attic was accessible by way of a panel in the ceiling of the spare bedroom. He gave the cord affixed to it a tug. It opened, and out came the fold-up wooden steps. And what piss-poor shape they were in, too. The bottom segment barely held on to the frame of the segment above it, and several of the steps on both segments were broken. It looked like nobody had ascended them to the attic in years, which made perfect sense to them because Lord knew, it’d probably take another several years for Robbie Domingue to show up and take care of which ever tenant’s request it was -probably the first, probably fifteen fucking years ago- to come and fix them.

“You’re way too heavy to get up those steps safely, babe. I’ll have to go.”

“You’re probably right. But I don’t want you on those steps, either. Look at them!”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, No problem. Here’s what we do. I’m going to lift you up, and you’re going to grab that top step up there. It looks solid. Then, I’ll boost you up by your feet, and you can pull yourself the rest of the way in. Sound good?”

“Mmmhm.”

He took his petite wife by the waist and hoisted her up overhead. She took hold of the top step and it did indeed feel solid. Next he stooped, took her by the feet, and boosted her the rest of the way in while she pulled herself up.

“Alright babe, make your way in the direction of the kitchen and see if you can find the source of the leak.”

Moments later she hollered-back to him, “Found it! It’s a little clear plastic tube. It’s all wet, and I can hear it hissing.”

“I bet that’s the line that runs water to the fridge!”

“Huh?”

“The water and the ice maker in the fridge;” he hollered more loudly, then adding, “I bet that’s where it gets the water from.”

“Oh yeah, definitely! It looks like it’s coming from where the pantry is, I think.”

The water heater occupied a small alcove just off the pantry. He wasn’t a plumber, but it still made sense in a plumbing sort of way that the line which fed water to the fridge would terminate in that alcove somewhere. It also made sense in a Robbie Domingue sort of way that it would pick today to start leaking.

“Alright, stay up there and keep your eye on it. I’m gonna go see if I can find where it ends. Stand-by.”

“It’s absolutely soaking-wet up here!”

A second or two later he was in the pantry, opening the makeshift door which hid the alcove in which the water heater stood. Four clear plastic tubes like the one she’d described snaked up the wall.

“Babe?”

“Yeah?”

“There’s a couple-few down here. I’m gonna pull on each one. Shout if you see it move.”

“Okay!”

He took hold of the first and gave it a yank.

“Anything?”

“Nope.”

He tried the second. Nothing.

Then he gave the third a yank, and she shouted, “It moved!”

“Okay! Stay there and keep watching. I’m gonna see if I can find a shut-off knob or something down here.”

He began to trace the tube, down the wall, part-way across the floor where it coiled several times over, and then into the wall the alcove shared with the kitchen, by way of a large, raggedy hole. He remembered seeing similar coils of tubing under the sink.

“Hang tight, baby!”

He dashed into the kitchen, opened the cabinet below the sink, and peered in. Sure enough, way in the back, were two more of those tubes. One in particular had a little metal valve on it.

“I think I’ve got it. Holler if the hissing stops!”

He flipped the valve into what he figured would be the “off” position.

“It stopped!” she shouted.

After helping her down from the attic, he sent a text message to Robbie Domingue:

There was a leak in the attic ceiling in kitchen soaked. Shut-off fridge water to stop leak. Ceiling will need to be repaired.

Several minutes later Robbie returned the volley, with:

Really sorry!!!!! In Shreveport for work till next fri

And:

will handle that for ya’ ASAP when I get back!!!!!!

And the dingy-looking brown stain on the kitchen ceiling, and the bubbled, peeling sheetrock the stain clung to, had henceforth remained un-handled, even until the day they found the dead body.

He didn’t want her climbing into, or around in, that attic ever again. If the condition of the rafters up there was anything like the shape those steps were in, he surmised, it was better that he should fall through the ceiling than her.

They had been cleaning-up the other spare bedroom, the one they called The Calamity Room. It was where they’d put old clothes, all the things they didn’t use like that old bicycle, and boxes of Christmas ornaments, stuff like that.

For want of storage space anywhere else in the house, he set about moving the bike, the bins full of old clothes, the boxes of computer parts and old CD’s, and so forth, into the attic. He climbed the decrepit steps as gingerly as he could, and was relieved when he reached the attic safely.

From below, she hoisted the boxes and bins up to him. The bicycle was trickier, but they managed.

Once finished, he stopped to have a look around. Aside from their things, there wasn’t much else up there, save for a large cardboard box or two in corner, along with an old rocking horse and a large steamer trunk. The dust and the cobwebs on them were thick, like they’d been left there the day after the house was built and were forgotten about.

“Babe,” she called up to him, “are you about done? I don’t like you being up there so long.”

“Yeah baby, I just want to check out this stuff I found over here in the corner.”

“What, that old hobby horse?”

“Yeah.”

“That fucking thing’s evil-looking.”

And it was. What he could see of it’s painted-on expression through the dust, anyway. And the scaffolding of cobwebs that arose from the beams up to it’s nose enhanced the effect. He gave it’s nose a tap and it rocked, and stirred up some dust which looked like smoke in the beam of his flashlight.

Next he turned his attention to the old steamer trunk. A large thing, it reminded him of the kind of trunk you’d see floating around in the icy water near the Titanic while it sank. There was no lock, its lid was sealed only by a film of dust, and a buckle affixed to a leather strap.

“There’s a big-ass trunk up here! I’m going to have a look inside, maybe there’s something valuable in there.”

“Okay.”

“Antiques Roadshow here we come!”

He heard her giggling. “I’m not holding my breath!”

He unfastened the buckle and removed the leather strip from it. He raised the lid, and a gentle creek emerged from the hinges. What greeted him next was the musty scent of dry rot with notes, oddly enough, of old beef jerky. It wasn’t so much a stench but rather, what remained left-behind after whatever had caused a stench had run its course.

He shined his flashlight into the trunk.

His heart stopped mid-beat and his lungs stopped mid-breath at the sight of what greeted him from inside the steamer trunk.

There before him lie what was left of the body of what appeared to be a smallish woman -definitely a smallish old woman- curled up in the fetal position, with a multicolored mumu clinging to her desiccated frame. Her head was turned sharply to the left, several degrees farther than a human head is supposed to turn. The vista of her skull, replete with empty eye sockets and patches of preserved tissue still clinging to it, looking up at him and grinning wildly, gave his mind the impetus it needed to command his brain to flood the rest of his system with adrenaline, freeing him from the suspended animation the fright had gripped him with.

With no regard for safety he bolted across the attic, negotiating each beam with wild, clumsy, ambling strides in the direction of the light which shone through the open trapdoor.

She dove out of the way of his feet and watched from the floor as the rest of his body followed, assholes-and-elbows, in a cloud of dust and cobwebs. A split second later he, too, was on the floor, and he launched his body toward the corner opposite them in a frantic lunge. Once there he stood, and pressing the palms of his hands against the walls as hard as he could, in an effort to center himself, he tried to get his breathing under control.

“Fuck. fuck. fuck. fuck,” he whispered, on every quick exhalation.

She dashed to him.

“Baby, baby what is it? What happened?” she asked, with the tone of a calm-but-urgent concern for her husband in her voice.

“Fuck. fuck. fuck. fuck.”

“Baby? Baby? What is it?” she asked again, with a voice still concerned, but more soothing this time, while she rubbed his chest firmly with the palm of her hand.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck! Fuck!”

“What is it my baby?”

“Body. Fuck. Dead body in the trunk. Dead body in the fucking trunk!”

She thought of the trunk of her car first, but that wasn’t rational. Obviously he was being irrational. So she rubbed his chest harder, and squeezed his upper-arm with her other hand.

“Baby, what body? What trunk?”

He gasped and then his knees buckled. His ass hit the floor hard. He looked up at her, and after a deep breath, offered, “That trunk in the attic. There’s a dead body in it, so help me God a dead body in the fucking trunk.”

He joked around with her all the time. It was one of the things she loved about him. But his demeanor was not indicative of any light-hearted bullshitting and playful skullduggery. He was telling the truth. And where the truth had rendered him scared shitless when first he glanced at it, it had now rendered him completely horrified after validating its existence up there in the attic, by speaking it out-loud.

Her eyes, which always reminded him of Princess Jasmine’s from that Disney movie, immediately became red at the edges, and welled-up with tears. Seeing this, he felt the sutures she’d fastened the fissures in his heart back together with begin to burn, and he snapped-out the horror-induced fugue. He was on his feet with a jolt, in time to catch her as she collapsed in a fit of tears against his body.

He held her for a long time. Then she held him.

Robbie Domingue set his tallboy of Budweiser down on the deck next to the folding chair he was sitting in, and dug after the vibrating cellphone in his pocket. There hadn’t been so much as a nibble on any of his lines all evening. The boat bobbed up and down gently in the water. He removed the cell from his pocket, inspected the screen, and answered forthwith- “Hey there! How’s it going at the house?”

“Robbie *crackle* fucked, Robbie *crackle* completely *crackle* fucked!”

“What’s that? I’m sorry, I’m having trouble hearing you, I’m out here on the boat and the signal is terrible.”

“This is important *crackle* important God damn it *crackle crackle* big problem!”

“A problem? Hello?”

“Hello? *crackle* Big fucking *crackle* ass here right fucking now!”

“Aw gee I’m sorry. I’m out here at my camp for the next two weeks.”

“*crackle* the fuck you are!”

“I’m really sorry about this. But listen, you or your wife just text me. Whatever it is, text me a reminder in the next week or so, and when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP!”

“You *crackle* be fucking kidding *crackle*!”

“Alright got that? Just text me a reminder! Thanks!” *boop*

*sound of dead air*

The impact against the tile floor exploded his cellphone into a million shiny pieces. It made her jump.

“Baby!”

He stretched-out his arms, extended the index fingers on both of his hands upward, and then lowered his head, and took-in an inhalation through his nose so gargantuan as to inflate his belly so much that it made him look fat. He held the air inside him, and stood motionless. Then, with a huge heave he exhaled and slowly lowered his arms, placing his hands on her shoulders gently.

“I’m really, really sorry about that, my baby.”

“What did he say?”

“Well, you’ll be relieved to know that while we’re tidying-up around the house and discovering bodies in the attic, our erstwhile Landlord is relaxing, and taking-in a beautiful evening on his boat.”

“What?”

“Yeah.”

“Where?”

“I have no idea, his signal kept cutting-out. He could be all the way out in Gulf Shores for all I know. He could be anywhere!”

“Did he say anything else? And please don’t tell me what I think he told you.”

“I caught ‘reminder in the next week’ and ‘when I get back I’ll be out there to fix it ASAP’.”

“Oh my God this is such fucking bullshit!”

Level-headed, rational individuals sometimes make not-level-headed, irrational decisions when pushed beyond their collective wit’s end and by-and-large, they oughtn’t be faulted for it. They discussed calling the Police as they sat at the table, poring-over the day’s events and what to do about them. Neither of them were thinking clearly but then, who would be? They hadn’t had much luck with the cops when trouble arose in times past, and the whole story- the house, the problems with the house, their absentee landlord, all culminating in the grizzly discovery of a desiccated corpse upstairs seemed too ridiculous to believe.

“It’s insane!” she exclaimed.

“Yeah, and there’s no way they’ll buy it. Getting the cops involved will probably just make it all worse.”

“Mmmhm.”

“Probably best to not report it. Just let sleeping dogs lie, y’know?”

“Yeah. But what do we do about-”

“About the body?”

“Yeah?”

“Well it goes without saying she can’t stay here!”

“I can’t believe we’ve been sleeping under the same roof as a corpse. Oh my God, I’m gonna throw up…”

He loaded the steamer trunk into the back of his Jeep. It was 1:30 AM, and the humidity still hung heavy in the air.

He opened the door for her and helped her up into her seat, then he piled-in. He turned the key, the engine roared to life, and after grabbing the volume knob on the stereo and turning it the rest of the way to zero -neither were in any mood at all for music- he flipped-on the headlights, and they took off.

She gripped his hand tight and stared straight ahead, as he drove.

Finally, she spoke-up. “Do we have anything that even vaguely resembles a plan?”

“Well, I’ve never gotten rid of a dead body before.”

“I should hope not…”

He laughed uncomfortably, then offered “That said, I was thinking we could just dump her over the swamp bridge. Hopefully what’s left of her will sink, and it’ll be like she’s been down there under the water for years if anybody finds her, and that’ll be that. So, I move that we dump her over the bridge into the Basin. What do you think about that?”

“Sounds faster than digging a hole somewhere and it gets her the fuck out of our house. I second that motion.”

“Motion seconded. All in favor, say ‘aye.’”

They said “aye” in unison.

“All opposed?”

Silence.

Several minutes later they were heading East on I-10 toward the Atchafalaya Basin Bridge. There they’d have twenty-six miles-worth of water to decide where to dispose of the corpse.

It didn’t take long for them to reach the bridge, and that was a relief. Once on it, they began to discuss where, exactly, to drop off their passenger.

“I’m thinking the Whiskey Bay Pilot Channel would be a good place,” she said.

“Sounds like a good bet, to me.”

She looked to him and they nodded slowly together, sealing their agreement.

He checked the rear-view, nobody was behind them. He brought the car to a halt cautiously, on the shoulder. He killed the headlights. A few moments passed before several eighteen-wheelers passed-by, opposite them. Things settled down not long after that, and soon there were no headlights approaching from either direction, signaling in-bound company.

Before leaving The Love Nest, after bringing the trunk down from the attic, he’d wiped it clean of dust and fingerprints. He had also grabbed a fresh pair of those yellow, rubber dishwashing gloves from the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink. He withdrew them from his back pocket and put them on.

“Stay here, baby. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”

“Please let me help you.”

“I don’t want you to have to see her. Plus, I only brought one pair of gloves and I don’t want your fingerprints on anything.”

He got down, and after he closed the door, she hopped over into the driver’s seat and took the wheel. “It’ll be way faster for us to get the Hell out of here,” she thought to herself as she buckled-up.

He removed the steamer trunk from the back of the Jeep. It was heavy, but easy enough for him to manage. He set it down on top of the concrete guardrail, and flipped the lid open. He didn’t care to see her himself, either, not again. No way.

He tipped the trunk over, and felt the weight of the contents take leave of it. Hearing a series of soft splashes below, he let go of the trunk, and another, slightly louder splash assured him that they had once again successfully handled a problem that Robbie Domingue should have taken care of, “ASAP.”

He didn’t have to look at the Jeep to discern what she’d been thinking moments earlier. He had just to turn, open the passenger’s side door, and jump in. And just as soon as his ass was in the seat, her foot was on the pedal.

[…]

They awoke the following morning to an incessant pounding coming from the living room. He was still clutching her to him, just as he had been earlier that night when they were finally able to retire after the previous day’s ordeal. She was still clinging-fast to his arms. Neither had moved.

*bang* *bang* *bang*

They rose and made themselves relatively presentable- she in her robe and he, in his pajama pants. They went to the front door. He opened it.

They were greeted by a young couple, each twenty-something, and behind them was a large moving truck.

“Oh what’s this happy horse shit?” she inquired of their morning visitors, with more than just a dash of irritation peppering her voice.

“Hi,” the husband said, “we’re really sorry to bother you-”

His wife interjected, with “Yes! Really, really sorry, but-”

The husband continued, “I’m Robbie Domingue’s nephew, Ted. Two months ago he said we could rent this house.”

“Yes,” Ted’s wife affirmed, “Ted is Robbie Domingue’s nephew. Robbie said we could rent the house.”

“Yeah, uh, we saw your Jeep out there, and your Corvette in the driveway, and wait,” Ted peered inside, “is that your living room couch in there?”

“Has Robbie talked to y’all about this?”

“Uncle Robbie told us month before last that your lease was about to end, and that he’d tell you he’d decided to rent the house to us, ‘ASAP,’ so you’d have plenty of time to move-out and stuff. Gave us today as our move-in date, and everything.”

Staring slack-jawed at the couple, in silence, was the only response they could muster. Neither of them could believe it, but at the same time, it totally made sense. All of it.

Ted and his wife just stood there, looking at the two of them.

Answering Ted, after several more moments of gobsmacked silence, he said “No problem, just give my wife and me until noon to be out of your way.”

Ted and his wife were nodding in perplexed agreement as the front door closed on them.

He put his arms around the small of her back and held her close. She felt good pressed against him, and he gave a huge sigh. She placed the palm of her hand on his chest, and began to laugh. And after a moment, he was laughing right along with her.

Death among the peaceful

Yin Cai Shakya
Yin Ts’ao Shakya

If you like “Death among the peaceful”, check for more stories in AlphabetGumbo.com

 

HE’D LIVED BACK EAST IN PITTSBURGH FOR FIVE YEARS before moving South to Louisiana. He stood on the patio by the back door, watching the pup as he vacillated from prancing to ambling about the yard gaily. As he watched he thought about how, in the entire time he’d lived in Pittsburgh, he’d never seen a Sunday afternoon so beautiful. He’d lived in Louisiana for one month and aside from a passing thunderstorm that welled-up to welcome him home the day after he’d arrived, there had been no slow, incessant drizzle, no soul-crushing, gray skies; just day after day of glorious sunshine. He marveled at it. A smile broke as he watched the pup chasing after a butterfly at the precise moment that the thought “And I’ll never have to shovel snow ever again” occurred to him.

“Okay! I’m just about ready to go!” her voice arose from inside, in the kitchen.

His smile widened when he heard her. He always either smiled, or smiled wider, when the silence was broken by her voice.

“Alright, babe. Let me get our little gargoyle back inside…”

He called for the pup, who’d taken to answering to his name damn-near right away when they’d gotten him, and he came quickly, assholes-and-elbows as all fat-and-happy pups do when their master calls for them, offering treats. A minute later, as she was putting the grocery list they’d been writing-up into her purse, the pup was fast asleep in his little dog bed by the sofa, snoring and giving soft barks.

She giggled at the audible wuffs and snarls and said “I love that. That never gets old.”

“He’s probably dreaming about chasing those butterflies.”

They were off and he was driving. Errands helped him learn how to find his way around, and though “shopping for groceries” probably seems like the most mundane of all the things you could be doing together on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, he was enjoying himself. She was singing along to Eva Cassidy and her hand rested on his thigh. He took her hand, and sighed. It didn’t matter much to him what they were doing, his elation that they were doing it together, finally, was all.

“Oh babe! Quick, turn Right, here-” she said as they approached the side-street that would take them the other way across town and eventually spit them out on the Interstate.

“Here? But isn’t the store the other way?”

“Yes, but we need honey and we’ll get that from the farm first.”

“Honey from the farm? Sounds like a hot ticket to me” he said, making a hard right and hammering the accelerator. Had it not been for the seatbelt she was wearing, she’d have ended up in his lap. She giggled loudly.

“Yeah, it’ll be fun, you’ll enjoy the drive out there and back.”

The sky that stretched-out above the interstate was expansive and the horizon looked to be a thousand miles away. The long stretch of flat, straight road pleaded with him to let it all unwind, go Wide-Fucking-Open, and make all those cylinders work for a living. The windows were down and the fresh air that buffeted them, and the sound of the road, and the music, had the effect of a dose of morphine administered straight to the soul, everything melted into a feeling of deep wellbeing.

Four exits whizzed-by before he rolled the windows up half-way, so he could ask where, exactly, they were going.

“You’ll be taking the next exit, and making a Left,” she told him.

“Next exit, then Left. Got it!”

Two and a quarter miles and a Left at the exit later, they were cruising down a back country road that cut through the sugarcane fields and crawfish ponds. Occasionally colorful little shotgun houses or larger Acadian-style homes would appear. Some were built-up, the result, she said, of the insurance companies demanding that they be raised after flooding had damaged them. Spanish moss and resurrection fern draped the ancient oak trees that lined the road and that stood immovable in the yards of the people who lived there. Some of them were gargantuan.

“Alright babe, what’s this place look like, what am I looking for?”

“I always get mixed-up down here, have we passed the little cattle farm yet? It’s about a mile or two down the road from there.”

“I don’t think so, all I’ve seen is cane fields and houses, and crawfish ponds.”

“Those crawfish ponds will be re-purposed into rice paddies soon as crawfish season is over.”

“Really?”

“Mmmmhm.”

“Crawfish season? That’s a thing?”

“Yep, sure is.”

“When’s it end?”

“In another month or two.”

“Well shit. We need to go eat crawfish again before that happens. Probably three or four more times at-least.”

She laughed.

“Oh! I see cows!”

She leaned forward to have a look.

“That’s the one, we’re almost there, but–”

As they approached he slowed the car. There were indeed cattle in the pasture that faced the road. From farther away, when he’d first taken notice of them, they looked as if they were lying in the field, lazing in the warm afternoon sun. But as the picture slowly came into focus the closer they got, an altogether different reality emerged.

The cows weren’t lying down relaxing. They were dead. Fifteen head of cattle in that small pasture lie there, swollen and bloated in the sun.

“That’s… That’s… “ she stammered.

He brought the car to a halt in the middle of the road. He hadn’t seen another motorist since they’d made that Left.

He answered her, with- “That’s not normal, that’s what that is.”

A small farmhouse stood at the end of a long driveway which was flanked on both sides by pasture. Pasture littered with dead cattle that looked like large red and white boulders. The front door stood open, and a Sheriff’s car was parked nearby next to a large pickup truck.

“No. Not normal at all…”

He checked the rear-view. Still not a car in-sight. They could rubberneck all the livelong day it they wanted to, it seemed, and that seemed not normal to him, too. No, not normal at all, and neither of them wanted to rubberneck.

She spoke up- “At least the cops are here.”

“They’ll figure it out, whatever it is.”

He eased-off the brake and once again they were moving down the road toward their destination. The feeling in the car however, was different. The air inside felt thick. The feeling in his stomach had changed, too. Where there was once jubilance and the warmth of calm wellbeing, there was now heaviness. Thinking she might be feeling the same, he reached for her hand and took it.

He wanted to tell her that everything was probably okay, that the cops would adjudicate and follow-through with a resolution where needed, and that there was absolutely no reason to let that macabre spectacle set the tone for the rest of the day. But something in his head told him that it would be stupid to say those things. Not because they would come out sounding trite or placating, but because in all actuality everything was probably not okay, the cop was wholly unprepared for whatever it was that greeted him when he’d arrived and could not in any way, shape, or form adjudicate and resolve anything, and that things, by-and-large, would be getting a whole Hell of a lot worse, today. He opted to adjust the volume knob on the car stereo instead, bringing Otis Redding up from a 4 to an 18. He took notice of her settling into her seat. Her hand felt soft as he took it. They didn’t speak, just breathed together.

Not long after, she spoke-up- “Alright, it’s going to be coming-up on the Right. Look for the yellow mailbox. It’s coming up, it has a sign underneath it with a cute bumblebee on it.”

He took notice of it just ahead, flipped the blinker, and checked the rear-view. There was still nobody behind them.

The mailbox was a bright canary yellow, and there was indeed a sign under it.

“FRESH, LOCAL HONEY!” proclaimed the speech bubble that emerged from the smiling, chubby bumblebee with the cartoony eyes.

He steered the car into the driveway, and at her direction, drove past the farmhouse.

The house was very old, little paint remained clinging to the exterior, most of which having given-up and fallen off in ragged chunks years earlier. There was a tractor which sat in a state of extreme disrepair nearby. He kept driving.

Directly ahead of them was a large shipping container, a small wooden shack, and to the right there was a barn and several wooden boxes set side-by-side which presumably held hives.

“That shack is where they keep the honey. You can go in, fill-up as many jars as you’d like, and leave four dollars for each jar. It’s on the ‘Honor System’” she said.

He stopped the car by the shack, while she rummaged in her purse for her wallet. He looked around as she dug. It all looked relatively normal except for one thing- the faint cloud that seemed to undulate over everything.

He adjusted his glasses, thinking he wasn’t seeing things properly, and asked- “Uh, baby? Are those bees?”

She looked up from her purse, fixing her eyes on the small wooden shack.

“Yes. Yes they are, look at them all!”

He directed her attention toward the hives that sat on the ground by the barn. The cloud was thicker there.

“It looks like they’re swarming” he told her.

“Yeah, it sure does. You okay?”

“Oh yeah, I’m fine. I’m just a little confused, aren’t they supposed to be in their hive, or something?”

“It’s probably no problem babe, just wait right here and I’ll go get the honey. It’ll only take a minute.”

She reached for the latch on her door and he stopped her. “Wait!”

“What?”

He pointed at the shack. There were bees all over the two small windows, and on the door as well.

“I don’t like this. This doesn’t seem right.”

“It’s okay, babe. I’ve been here lots of times. There’s always bees around.”

“Look closer though. I mean, they’re crawling all over that shack. Hundreds of them. It’s like the God damn patients are running the asylum!”

She looked closer. But what captivated her attention was not the bees he’d tried to call her attention to, but an arm. On the ground, by the far corner of the shack, a human arm.

“Oh my God” she exclaimed before clasping her hands tight over her mouth and nose.

He saw it too, and gently urged the car forward, bringing it to rest adjacent to the body. It was an elderly man, wearing a pair of overalls and a white t-shirt. A green mesh trucker’s hat lie in the dirt next to his head. His other arm was bent, and his hand clutched his chest.

He urged the car forward again more quickly this time, and turned sharply, to get a better look. The elderly man was dead from what looked like thousands of bee stings. Every square inch of his exposed flesh was pocked, and his eyes were swollen shut. The legs of his overalls changed color from dark blue to brown and appeared to be alive. So did the back wall of the shack. Each was crawling with bees.

He heard her gasp through her hands.

He slammed the shifter into reverse, and nailed the accelerator while cutting the wheel hard. He was about to shift into drive and launch them back down the driveway after an abrupt stop, when she screamed.

There were three more bodies. A woman and a dog lying in the backyard, and a man on the back porch by the door. They’d been ravaged. Blood and red welts covered their skin.

The next scream came from him. It escaped his throat without him realizing it, when a teenage boy ran from the direction of the barn to the driveway and collapsed, enveloped in a violent black cloud. The boy’s arms were flailing and he whipped his head back and forth so fast and hard it looked like his neck could break. The cloud intensified in fury, and the boy’s screams, which rang out while his body heaved up and down, were audible over Otis Redding. The screams were audible over everything.

Inside the car grew an incipient dark, as if thunderheads were blotting-out the sun. Bees. They’d begun to coat the driver’s side windows, and the rear windshield. The eyes of his love, which peered out above her still-clasped hands, showed a primal terror that he was certain must be totally new to her human experience. He caught his reflection in the rear-view mirror and beheld in his own reflection that same inexorable terror.

He let off the brake and brought his foot down on the accelerator. The car shot backwards. He nailed the brake again, sending both his, and her head forward, into the wheel and the dashboard. The impact brought them both to their senses immediately.

“FUCKING GO!” she shouted.

He shifted into drive and punched it. The engine roared as the car rocketed forward. It was blind, frantic acceleration and the still-darkening windows. That was it. No thought. No breathing. He swerved to avoid hitting the young man who was now lying perfectly still in the driveway, and nearly sent them careening across the front lawn into the ditch by the road. With his attention divided between the growing dark on the windows and keeping them on the driveway, he managed to right the car and finish traversing the driveway, and made a hard Left by the canary yellow mailbox with the cute bumblebee sign which hung beneath it.

Back on the road, with his foot and the pedal beneath it jammed firmly into the floorboard, he watched as the vibrating mass of bees coating the windows began to break-up. He hadn’t drawn a breath since the driveway, neither of them had, but neither of them had noticed. The adrenaline kept them from passing-out until the bees were gone, at which time the breaths came back in loud, deep heaves.

“We have to call 9-1-1!” she shouted.

“What about the cop at the cattle farm? Maybe he’s still there!”

The speedometer read 120 miles per-hour, and the farm wasn’t much farther. If the cop was still there he’d stop, and they would explain everything.

He saw the pastures just ahead, and let-off the accelerator almost completely. He moved his foot to the brake, and slowed to negotiate the turn.

The Sheriff’s cruiser was still in the driveway. And the front door of the house remained open.

It still felt not normal, to him.

He stopped the car two-thirds of the way up the driveway and shifted into park. After killing the ignition they both exited the car and began a slow walk toward the house, shouting as they went.

Nobody emerged, not a soul.

Someone was sitting in the cruiser, he stopped her and directed her attention to it. They approached the car silently, their minds collectively urging them to turn back more loudly with every step. They pressed-on, cautiously. It was a Deputy they found when they reached the car. His hands were clasped around the wheel, and his cheek rested against it. His eyes and mouth were wide-open, frozen in a loud utterance of pain and horror. Around the Deputy’s mouth and neck were stings. So many stings. He wanted to throw up but he couldn’t- his belly had tied itself into some kind of knot that would allow no spasm at all, it just squeezed and squeezed.

And then there was a soft thump. Something hit the driver’s side window of the cruiser from the inside. It startled them both.

Then another, and two more-

Thump.

Thump, thump!

Bees.

They’d flown out from somewhere deep-down inside the Deputy’s esophagus, or worse- “Maybe his stomach” he thought to himself without actually thinking it.

Thump!

They both jumped, and then watched in horror as a waterfall of bees poured-forth from the Deputy’s gaping mouth, before taking flight and thumping against the window.

More bees emerged from underneath the cruiser.

He took her hand and bolted with her back to the car. He felt two sharp stings on his cheek and another on his neck. She swatted at her wrist hard where a tiny assailant landed, and she felt two more sting her ankles. She turned her head and beheld the cloud forming around the cruiser. It was organizing rapidly, and soon she feared, it would be on them both.

They reached the car and the swarm pursued them. The doors were unlocked -thankfully- and they wasted no time in sealing themselves inside. The engine roared loyally to life when he turned the key, the very moment when a living, malevolent quilt began to spread its self over the hood and windshield. He traversed the driveway in reverse, while she frantically inspected the both of them, as well as the interior, for bees. None had found an ingress. Reaching the road he cut the wheel, shifted into drive, and once again hammered the accelerator. The swarm which had blanked the car began to dissipate, and he kept accelerating until it was running Wide-Fucking-Open, as he was fond of saying. The bees had lifted completely, and were left as an ominous thunderhead undulating low to the ground, visible in the rear-view mirror.

Once safely on the Interstate, she called 9-1-1 from her cellular telephone…

[…]

In the days that followed they were interviewed by the local and state police, as well as by several shadowy Government people who asked a lot of questions but never said too much. They were advised not to speak about what they’d seen that day and save for talking about it with each other, they didn’t mention any of it to family members or close friends.

Several days later, as they sat at the table eating their dinner, he turned-on the television. Wheel of Fortune would be on soon. He didn’t care much about what they watched, because -again- he was happy, elated by the simple fact that they were watching it together -and that was doubly-so in the wake of certain events they’d witnessed recently, events which the shadowy Government people and the police had advised them not to talk to anybody about. The evening news was wrapping-up, and the Anchorwoman, a chubby-but-still-kind-of-pretty Latina gave a brief report of so-called Africanized honeybees swarming in nearby counties. They both dropped their forks at the exact same time. She was still chewing. He’d been in the middle of swallowing a mouthful of chicken and the sudden reminder of the bees crawling up from deep within the Deputy’s throat made him gag hard.

As he took his love’s hand, “Government scientists,” the Latina Anchorwoman said, “are working to contain the swarms.”

© 2016 Kenneth Atkins

 

http://alphabetgumbo.com/2016/03/03/the-beekeepers-2/

The Party

Yin Cai Shakya
Yin Ts’ao Shakya

If you like “The Party”, check for more stories in AlphabetGumbo.com

 

 Part 1

“I REALLY CAN’T THANK YOU ENOUGH for agreeing to this,” Ginny said as she took Jonathan’s hand and led him down the flagstone walkway which traversed the soon-to-be wedded Travis and Gretchen’s well-manicured front lawn. “I know these get-togethers aren’t your cup of tea. Thank you for taking one for the team tonight, Teddy Bear. I promise I’ll make it up to you later on.”

Jonathan, clearing his throat and detecting a hint that sex could be in his immediate future – not the kind of sex he and Ginny had before they moved-in together, of course, but SEX none the less – nodded and replied, “It’s no problem, Gin. It’s fine. I just, you know, it’s nothing personal against your friends. They’re great and all… I just, you know, feel like I need a few Jell-O shots and a Xanax just to be around them sometimes.”

(That wasn’t actually true. It waspersonal, and it had everything to do with the fact that to Jonathan, none of Ginny’s friends were “great” at all. And that went double for Gretchen and her fiancé, Mr. What’s-His-Name. And he needed a whole lot more chemical assistance than a few Jell-O shots and a Xanax to handle being around them without wanting to blow out the pilot light, turn up the gas, and put his head in the oven.)

“I know, Teddy Bear,” Ginny replied, giving Jonathan her cute pouty face. To her Jonathan looked like a teddy bear. Well, a skinny, well-worn teddy bear.

“Especially Gretchen, fuck…” (Gretchen taught Second grade elementary school and tended to speak to everyone in that same slow, condescending, “talking down” manner that she used when she spoke to her students. She also listened to National Public Radio.)

“I know, Jonny. She can be a little uptight, a little condescending, but I’ve known her since Junior High and…”

“I know Gin, and I said it’s okay. Just, you know, point me toward the alcohol as soon as we’re through the front door and I’ll be fine.”

“Uh, there’s no drinking tonight, Jon. Travis, remember…”

(Jonathan did not, in point of fact, remember Travis, or What Travis Had Done, beyond a vague concept of “some guy who’s, uh, engaged to Gretchen, I think,” which he’d picked up from half-listening to Ginny when she spoke, ad-nauseum, about her friends while he smoked pot and playedDiablo III on the computer.)

“Uh, Travis?”

“Gretchen’s fiancee, Jon! For Christ’s sake get it together! Fuck!”

“What’s wrong with…. uh, Travis?”

“Gretchen made him quit drinking… REEEMEMBER!? He was drunk at the recital and felt-up the mother of one of her students. She smacked Jonathan on his forehead, Ring a bell!?

(That was actually the edited-for-content version of the story that Gretchen told her friends and family. It garnered her the sympathy she wanted from the unfortunate people who had to listen, and spared her the embarrassment of telling them the Gospel Truth, which was that Travis had taken the afternoon off work, had gotten obliterated at the bar before meeting Gretchen at the recital, and upon being introduced to the leggy blonde-with-the-Yoga-ass mother of one of Gretchen’s students after the show, he didn’t just “feel her up.” No, he had boomed, “Pleased to meet you, baby!” at her as he reached for her, grabbed her ass, kissed her, and while grinning wildly, rubbed his crotch up and down against her hip with the smirk of a randy schnauzer humping a pillow into a pile of tattered cloth and feathers.)

“Oh, yeah. Yeah! Travis…” Jonathan cleared his throat, “He’s uh, yeah, he’s in that Twelve Step Thing now, what was it?”

“A.A.”

“Uh…?”

Alcoholics Anonymous! Jesus Jonathan!”

“Yeah…”

(Ginny was losing her patience. She hated it when Jonathan wasn’t as present as she wished, and knew that he could be, if he wanted. But in her heart, she understood.)

It occurred to Jonathan that saying as little as possible from that point on was the best course of action to take considering the circumstances and what was at stake for later on, so he apologized and kissed Ginny on the cheek. Ginny smiled and thanked him once again, for coming along.

 

Part 2

The house that Gretchen and Travis had mortgaged themselves out the ass for three months ago was sterile on the inside. To guests it looked as if happy, well-adjusted people lived there, at least at first glance. But upon closer inspection, Jonathan’s subconscious would discover evidence that the whole thing was painstakingly manufactured, down to the most minute detail.  Feelings of extreme uneasiness would manifest themselves along with vague, but insistent inclinations that something just wasn’t right, here.”

Jonathan picked up on it almost immediately. He wasn’t attending a bad party with a rabble of people he’d rather not talk to anymore, oh no. It was so much bigger than that, now. It was as if he was a contestant in some kind of fucked-up television game show. “Gretchen smiles exactly the same way in every single picture I see her in,” he said. Indeed, in all fifteen of them on the mantle alone, Gretchen’s expression was identical – a big, toothy, brilliant-white smile like a shark who’d been seeing a Hollywood Dentist, the kind of Hollywood Dentist who only works on A-List celebrities. She was wearing different clothes in each photo, and she was surrounded by different scenery, but her face, and that smile, were identical in each one. “And ‘Mr. What’s-His-Fuck The Pervert Alcoholic’ looks terrified in every one of the photos he’s in. What the fuck is that about?”

Ding-ding-diiiing! Jonathan has just won round two, Ladies and Gentlemen, with another correct observation! Yes, Travis did look terrified. He was smiling in all the pictures, too, and that’s what made it so unseemly. Unlike Gretchen’s smile, which was a pantomime that had been expertly rehearsed over the years to express jubilation under even the most dire of circumstances, Travis’ smile came-off as forced and gave the impression that it was masking sheer terror. It was the way you smile in the pictures they take of you at the amusement park when you’re riding the roller coasters and you’re terrified of them. That’s how Travis looked in the engagement photos, all elegantly framed and prominently displayed on the credenza.

Time for round three! Will our contestant notice it? Is he gonna pick up on it, folks?

Jonathan meandered into the kitchen. “Christ, you could perform brain surgery in here,” he thought to himself.

A few of the guests had congregated by a large punch bowl on the center island. They took notice of him and acknowledged him with half-smiles. He returned the smiles in equally half-assed measure.

He stared at that kitchen for a long time.  Then it came to him. “Nobody fucking cooks in here!” he blurted out, surprising the punch bowl crowd.

“This kitchen hasn’t been cooked in since it was fucking remodeled! I can still smell the paint!”

DING DING DIIIIING! We have a winner, Ladies and Gentlemen! Tell him what he’s won, Jimmy!

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Jonathan Weissman has just won a bowling ball made of depleted uranium! And he’ll be carrying that big fucker around with him in his stomach for the duration of the evening, feeling nauseated and uncomfortable! HA-HA! Back to you, Craig!”

That’s fantastic!

It was then that Jonathan realized he was badly in need of a drink. Probably even many drinks. This wasn’t something that could be resolved by walking back out to the car, getting inside, smoking a joint and listening to Portishead on the stereo. Not by a longshot.

 

Part 3

Jonathan peeked around the corner, into the Game Room. Ginny was standing by the big-ass TV, belting-out Livin’ On A Prayer into a plastic microphone, as the lyrics whizzed by on the screen, over an undulating tie-dyed background. She was accompanied by the always polo-shirted-and-khaki’d Sylvester, a guy Jonathan recalled meeting at a barbecue several months ago. Or was it the outing at Kennywood?
Jonathan was terrible at remembering exactly where and when he met uninteresting people. Jonathan sucked at all things having to do with uninteresting people.

He was keen, however, at determining whether or not Ginny was having a pleasant enough time at a social function to miss him if he vanished for a half an hour or so. And Ginny seemed to be having a blast at the karaoke jam which, Jonathan assumed, would only allow songs from a pre-approved and agonized-over playlist, decided-upon ahead of time by – you guessed it – Gretchen, herself.

Jonathan shuddered. He always hated Bon Jovi.  He made his exit.

Though he hardly ever came to this neighborhood, he navigated the twists and turns and alleyways on the drive to the liquor store as if he knew the way by heart. Jonathan, who over-thought everything,paused to consider the idea that perhaps he knew, on some subconscious level, that he would be attending a dry party all along and with the
use of his most basic, primal mental faculties, was on the lookout for nearby liquor stores the entire way there that night; and he’d been mapping-out points of stealthy egress, and plotting the quickest routes, from the moment he and Ginny arrived. All without being cognizant of it until the moment he stood at the cashier’s station, paying for the two bottles of Bacardi 151 he’d selected.

“Jesus. Had I planned this all along?” he thought to himself.  He dismissed the thought with a simple “Fuck it.” He paid, and left.

Jonathan didn’t approve of drinking and driving. At least, not most of the time. But it wasn’t difficult for him to rationalize breaking the seal on one of his bottles of high-octane rum, and gulping down three or four jiggers before buckling his seatbelt.

He grimaced and coughed hard after the mouthfuls of jet fuel hit his throat and then went tear-assing their way down his esophagus toward his stomach where they crashed, and subsequently exploded, into a fireball he could physically feel, way down there inside of him near his intestines.

He dismissed his reservations forthwith. “I don’t have too far to go, and I was sober when I got in the car. Fuck it.”

He swilled down two more mouthfuls.

Cough.

Fireball.

His testicles clenched up a little bit.

Burp!

“Whoo-wee! Fuck.”

Whistle.

Jonathan turned the key and his VW’s motor whirred to life. He paused again, considering, “Man, this must be what it’s like for alcoholics every single day, when they have to go to work, or funerals, or church picnics…”

It had never gotten downright unmanageable for Jonathan, not enough for him to consider asking himself The Tough Questions, at least not yet. That time was still ahead of him. But he had to chuckle to himself at the irony of his thought, as he shifted into reverse, looked over his shoulder, and backed out of the parking space. And with a flick of the shifter and a brief squeal of the tires, he was on his way back toward the party, one sheet to the wind, the other two on their way up the mast.

Part 4

Jonathan arrived safely back at Gretchen and Travis’s McMansion, but to his chagrin, the empty space he’d left by the curb in front of the house not more than twenty minutes earlier, was taken.

Humming along to Modest Mouse, he drove a little farther down the block, looking for a suitable place to park.

And it should be noted here that Jonathan had consumed two-thirds of his first bottle of Bacardi 151 on the drive back which, interestingly enough, allowed him to broaden his mind quite a lot when considering just what constituted a “suitable parking space.”

He brought his VW, affectionately nicknamed “Dubbs” by Ginny, to rest by a tall oak tree which resided on the front lawn of a house down the street – the middle of the front lawn. Jonathan thought nothing of it at all; the house remained dark. The homeowners either didn’t care or hadn’t heard all the noise. And he’d ceased thinking about it in the time it took to unbuckle the seatbelt, open the door, and step out onto the grass.

With his bottles of 151 in the pockets of his overcoat, he made his way back toward the party, whistling to himself as he walked.

Part 5

After arriving, via slipping-in through the side-door that lead first into the mud room, which was spotless, and from there into the kitchen which was – you guessed it – still sterile and smelling of new paint, he made his way past a new group of punch bowl revelers, carefully and cautiously, so as not to appear drunk, and headed for the Game Room, to determine whether or not Ginny had noticed he’d been missing.

She had not.

He stepped in, and leaned against the wall (his legs had started feeling like spaghetti) and observed Ginny, sitting on the large couch next to Gretchen. She smiled at Jonathan and waved her hand a little at him.

He smiled back, shifted his weight away from the wall, pointed at her, grinned, and blew her a kiss.

Ginny peered back at him, quizzically, but before the physical symptoms of Jonathan’s intoxication could register, somebody handed Gretchen the microphone, and she stood up and interrupted the exchange saying, “Everybody, gather around! Travis and I are going to sing a duet. MMMHM, this is our favorite song, and ooh! OOOH! Somebody make a video of this so we can post it on our Facebook page!!”

The booze had somehow extinguished the little warning light in Jonathan’s head that would glow bright red any time he was about to say something stupid, so without thinking he blurted out, “You made your fiancé make a lame joint-Facebook page with you!” while pointing at Gretchen and laughing.

“OH Ha, Ha, Jonathan! All couples do that! Don’t they, TRAVIS?” Gretchen responded.

And she continued, “This is mine and Travis’s song, and we’re going to dance to it at our wedding, aren’t we, TRAVIS?”

Travis just stood there, by the TV, looking both embarrassed and defeated. Gretchen joined him, and he smiled that same, terror-masking smile, and put his arm around her.

The duet began. It was Truly, Madly, Deeply, by Savage Garden.

Jonathan winced, then laughed, and then laughed even harder, so hard he felt tears in his eyes, and in the thick of the laughter blurted out “OHHHH, MAAAAN! That song fucking SUCKS!”

Sylvester laughed. A few others chuckled, and Ginny leaped up from the couch and rushed at Jonathan like an defensive lineman and, catching him completely off guard, she maneuvered him into the kitchen while Gretchen, with her bone white shark smile, continued singing, never missing a beat.

Part 6

“WHAT THE FUCK, JONATHAN! WHAT… THE… FUCK?”

“Uh… Heh…”  Cough. “Whatthefuck?”  Ginny wanted to know what the fuck was. “What the fuck what, baby?” Jonathan said, grinning and steadying himself on the center island.

“You just haaad to get drunk! Didn’t you? And how did you get drunk, Jonathan? You were sober when we got here and there’s no booze in this fucking one-point-five million dollar retarded house so what the fuck, Jonathan! How’d you get drunk?”

Jonathan pulled the almost empty bottle of 151 from his pocket, held it up, and said “Liquor store…”

Ginny snatched it from his hand, opened it, whacked-down the dregs, wiped her arm across her mouth, and said “You are soooo not getting laid tonight for this, Jonathan!”

Jonathan snickered, and then quietly moaned to himself, “Noooo…”

“Gretchen will never forgive me for this!” Ginny said, and then punched Jonathan in the arm. “You’re such an asshole sometimes!” And with that she stormed out of the kitchen.

Jonathan looked in no direction in particular and asked aloud, “I’M an asshole?”

Nobody answered. And moments later he was outside on the back deck, smoking a cigarette and replaying the events that had occurred moments earlier, trying to determine the precise moment in time at which he became “Such An Asshole.”

“Yeah, I probably am an asshole,” he muttered. “That was kind of a dick thing to say…”

“Yeah, man. That was a total dick thing to say,” a voice responded from out of  nowhere. Somebody Jonathan barely recognized through the drunken haze had come out, just as he was talking to himself. The voice surprised him.

“Yeah, I guess it was…” Cough. “An I feel reeeal bad about it, man,” Jonathan said as he reached into his coat pocket for the other bottle of 151.

He opened it, took a gulp, and said “I, uh, I apologize you had to see me acting like an asshole, man. Here, lemme buy you a drink.” And he handed the bottle over to his new friend.

Without thinking the man took the bottle from Jonathan’s hand, and then paused, staring at it. He licked his lips and then winced- “Oh, shit! I, I really can’t, man, I have a sponsor.”

“AWWW SHIT MAN, sure you can! We’re all adults here.  Drink up, Buddy. C’mon!”

“I need to call my sponsor right now!”

Hearing this, Jonathan began mincing around on the deck, flailing his arms, and mimicked him with a little girl’s voice, saying- “Waaaah! I neeeeed to caaaaall mah sponsooor, I neeeeed to caaaaall mah sponsoooooooor waaaaah!”

“Aww, Fuck it,” the man said and took two huge swigs. “Thanks, man. I fucking needed that.”

“No problem, chief,” Jonathan said and then staggered, asking, “What’d you say your name was, again?”

“Uh, it’s me, asshole, Travis. You know, the guy with the joint-Facebook page with his fiancée…”

Jonathan stood there, head cocked to one side, looking bewildered as Travis walked past him carrying his 151.

Jonathan really ought to get better about remembering who all the uninteresting people are, specifically, shouldn’t he?

“Oops…” Was the first thing Jonathan said. The second thing he said as the adrenaline hit him and immediately began to cause the rum fog to lift, was, “OHSHITFUCK!”

He stumbled toward the patio door, intent on finding Ginny and escaping with her before the shitshow (the one that he would no-doubt be held responsible for) began.

Part 7

Once inside, Jonathan searched for Ginny frantically. She wasn’t in the Game Room, where Penny and Howie Marsh were warbling Friends In Low Places together. And she wasn’t among the partygoers in the kitchen, either. Travis, on the other hand, was in the kitchen, chatting-up Sylvester’s girlfriend Kaye, and she did not appear to be
amused. He had the bottle in his hand and half of it’s contents were already gone. Travis’s face was bright read, and his smile didn’t look forced at all. It looked maniacal, honest, and heavily shored-up by alcohol.

Jonathan tilted his head, watched, and gave the image time enough to let the gravitas of it sink in. “God, he looks really happy,” he thought as he watched Travis, his face
split in half by a the kind of grin you normally only see on Jack-O-Lanters, reach to Kaye and grab her breast through her shirt. Kaye gasped but Travis didn’t balk.

Jonathan’s mouth gaped. “Oh my God, oh my fucking GOD!” he thought as Kaye threw her drink at Travis and gave his face a slap that was hard enough to replace his grin with a look of astonished bewilderment at what he could have possibly done wrong.

“What’s the matter Kaye? You’ve got some great after-market tits!” Travis shouted after her as she fled the kitchen. “They’re great, aren’t they?” he asked to the guests hovering around the center island. They hadn’t seen what happened. Not many people paid much
attention to Travis, some because they had trained themselves not to.

Jonathan tried the living room next, but Ginny wasn’t in there, either.

He headed upstairs, damn-near toppling two female guests who were on their way up to use the bathroom (the downstairs bathroom was occupied). He reached the landing and heard Ginny laughing. She was in the master bedroom with what sounded like Gretchen and two others, admiring the new bedroom furniture that Gretchen’s father had recently given to them. Jonathan burst into the bedroom and Ginny regarded him with surprise.  He was pale and sweating.  He didn’t look drunk anymore at all. He looked like he’d just seen his dog get hit by a car. He grabbed Ginny by the arm and pulled her out of the master bedroom.  In tow, she protested, “But Teddy Bear!”

“Gin there’s no time to explain right now we just have to getthefuckout! We have to leave right now!”

They were half-way down the stairs, and Ginny was still pleading “But Jonathan, Gretchen was going to show us the walk-in closet!”

“We gotta go right now Ginny, shit is totally FUCKED!”

“WHAT’S FUCKED, JONATHAN? WHAT’RE YOU JABBERING ABOUT?”

“Travis is getting hammered, and he just grabbed that chick who Brown Khakis is fucking’s tits, and it’s my fucking fault and we have to go RIGHT NOW!”

“GOD DAMN IT JONATHAN. YOU REALLY ARE AN IDIOT! YOU KNOW THAT?”

“I know I know I’m SORRY Ginny. C’mon!”

Part 8

 

Gretchen and her two friends had followed Jonathan and Ginny after their abrupt exit. Gretchen was frantic on the inside but she did not betray her cool, almost stoic exterior, even as the series of horrible things that could be occurring downstairs looped through her mind like a Domestic Disaster Highlight Reel From Hell. Had someone spilled punch on her new carpet?

Had the downstairs bathroom flooded?

Did she remember to close her internet browser on the computer downstairs and clear the history, and if not, were ten or elven of her closest friends having a laugh at the lesbian fem-dom bondage porn she had been looking at?

Did Snickers, their labradoodle, piss all over the couch?

Was Travis behaving inappropriately toward some of the party guests?

“Whatever was going on, Jonathan had to be responsible for it,” Gretchen decided during the five seconds it took her to descend the stairs after them.

Her two bewildered friends followed her because it was 9:45 on a Saturday night and they were still sober.

Once downstairs, Gretchen observed an angered Ginny telling Jonathan that he was an idiot while he appeared to be rifling through the coat closet. She moved in their direction in long, deliberate strides, smiling only enough to make her words slow and marginalizing. “Jonathan, I want you to tell me what’s going on, right now, please.”
Only that’s not really what she was saying at all. Oh sure, that’s what the words sounded like when Jonathan heard them, but he knew that what Gretchen was reallysaying probably sounded a lot more like – “Jonathan you drunk little fuck-weasel, I know you’ve donesomething and I’m going to cut off your balls and stuff them up your ass for it! Now tell me what you did, you little shit!”

Jonathan, now pouring sweat, was in the middle of stammering “I, I, I’m so sorry, Gretchen, I fucked up!” when a crescendo of groans and mortified EWWW’s emerged from the kitchen and stopped Gretchen in her tracks.

The groans and grasps were followed by “Oh God! Travis, for heaven’s sake!” And then, “Travis what the hell are you doing! Are youdrunk?”

That was enough to turn Gretchen’s attention and anger away from Jonathan and direct them toward the kitchen. And in those same long, deliberate strides, she hurried there, determined to get to the bottom of just what, exactly, had happened, and whether or not Jonathan the Drunk-Little-Fuck-Weasel was responsible.

And what greeted Gretchen, when she arrived in the kitchen, was a scene almost impossible to relate second-hand in stories told around office water-coolers or in coffee shops among friends, and do it any justice. There, before her, was Travis, standing proudly on top of the center island, his pants and his boxers bunched around his ankles,
gulping down rum straight out of the bottle while pissing merrily into the punch bowl, as their friends gawked at him the way people normally gawk at a train wreck or a collision on the highway.

Gretchen folded her arms, regarded Travis with a curt “MmHM,” and then said, in her elementary school voice,”Travis, the punch bowl is notfor peeing in. Now pull up your pants, put you winkie away, and follow me into the den, please.”

The word “winkie” in reference to a grown man’s flaccid member made Sylvester snicker, though he tried his hardest to muffle it.

Jonathan, who along with Ginny had made his way to the kitchen in time to view the damage he’d caused, once again heard what Gretchen was really saying, “Travis, you piece of shit! Get your ass into the den rightfuckingnow. I am going to fucking KILL YOU.”

He braced himself against the wall with his hand and laughed.

Ginny took him by the arm and pulled him back, in the direction of the front door. She forced an awkward smile and quipped, “We’ve had a great evening, but we have to get going,” and then she dashed with Jonathan out of Gretchen and Travis’s McMansion, acknowledging to herself that her idiot domestic partner may have just ended any shot
she ever had about having a normal social life with her friends and colleagues. “You are such an asshole, Jonathan,” she growled at him as they dashed across the front yard. “and where’s the fucking car?”

Jonathan stopped short, waved an out-stretched hand in the general direction of where he’d left Dubbs. Then he doubled-over and threw up on Gretchen and Travis’s front lawn.
“Hey Gin, at least I didn’t throw up on their new carpet…”

Ginny shook her head and gave a small but none-the-less audible giggle.

 

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