My father has a habit of re-asking people's questions. It makes him sound condescending which I guess is ironic because I believe it stems from his insecurity. My father is a freelance writer who works from home while neighbors like Stanley Gorman III are off collecting large salaries.
"Much obliged," says Stan. He sets the keys on the counter and explains that Humphrey and Bogart are to be fed a fifty-fifty mixture of wet/dry cat food precisely at six-thirty and their litter cleaned twice a day otherwise Bogart will drop a deuce in protest on his five-thousand-dollar canopy bed.
"Got it, says my father, who's on his third highball of the afternoon.
Stan Gorman is a plump, rosy-cheeked bald guy who looks like he could burst at any moment. The pleasant look on his balloon face is permanent, as if nothing ever bothers him. He wears pressed slacks and monogrammed button-downs while Dad and I opt for jeans and interchangeable T-shirts with sayings like Rehab is for Quitters and Cereal Killer.
Stan spreads ten crisp twenty-dollar bills on the counter next to the keys. "A little something for your trouble," he says.
This is a rerun. Twice a year Stan and his wife, Barb, head down to their condo in Orlando for three weeks and twice a year Stan comes over and explains his cats' dietary needs and lays two hundred dollars on the counter and says, A little something for your trouble.
The only difference this time is that my stepmother Anna is absent. Three months ago she went out for a can of kidney beans and didn't come back. My father doesn't talk about it much, which is to say, pretty much, ever. Sometimes I'll make a joke that Anna should have that chili done any minute now, and he'll just smile on one side of his mouth as if to humor me.
"So," says Stan. "Haven't seen much of Anna lately."
"Sick mother in Tucson," says my father, even though Anna's mother passed two years prior at her subsidized apartment in Effingham.
"Sorry to hear that," says Stan. "Well, then, give her my best." He turns to leave but stops short when he sees my father's handiwork. Stuck in the wall, blade-first, is a complete set of steak knives. They're buried with authority and surrounded by dozens of white pock marks where the blades previously have been pried loose along with bits of sky-blue paint and drywall.
Stan says, "Looks like someone—"
"Remodeling," my father interrupts. "You should see the goddamn fucking basement." His response is too quick, too aggressive, and this, combined with the steak knives, causes Stan Gorman's pleasant look to falter. He looks from my father to me and back again, no doubt questioning his choice of house sitters.
We stay like this for several awkward moments, looking at one another, until Stan says, "Well, there you go," and then nods, the pleasant look back, as if he suddenly understands. Which, of course, he doesn't.
Heading for the door, he says, "Good luck with the project, gentlemen."
"Enjoy Florida," says my father.
When he's gone my father throws his highball glass against the door where it explodes in a hail of whiskey and glass shards. He follows this with a profane rant against elitists and bankers and Republicans and select other groups.
During a break in the tirade, I hold up the cash and point out that we finally have enough to replace the muffler.
"To hell with that," says my father. "I'm not touching that pig's money. Go buy some weed or something."
The Gormans keep a collection of classic porn in a secret attic space above their closet. There are eleven tapes altogether, and I've watched each one of them at least twenty times right there on the flat screen in their bedroom. One of the productions stars Barb Gorman with a man I don't believe is Stan Gorman although it's hard to tell because you never see his face. The camera focuses mostly on Barb as she orders the man this way and that. Barb Gorman is not what you'd expect based on her husband—fifteen years younger with a fit body and short brown hair. What I like to do is to take a pair of Barb's panties and a bra from the pile in her drawer and position them on the bed just so, and then make love to her undergarments while I watch the porn. In my mind I'm the one on top of Barb Gorman, all fifteen years of me, and she's telling me to fuck her like a jackhammer or whatever and I'm making her scream like a murder victim. After I ejaculate on her panties I hang them over the bathtub and let them dry for a couple days and then fold them neatly and put them back in the pile in her drawer. I always keep an eye on Barb when she gets home from Florida , imagining my dried sperm re-activating between her moist thighs, but I have yet to see her stomach bulge with my offspring.
Dad used to be the city editor at a newspaper but got fired for punching his boss in the larynx and now writes articles on commission for fifty bucks a pop, a hundred if he's lucky. Presently he's doing a profile on a one-armed wrestler but I can tell he's going to miss his deadline again, the way he's inhaling whiskey and staring at the steak knives. Before long he closes his laptop and retrieves the knives and begins flinging them at the wall, one after the other, very robotic like. I sit at the table smoking herb and wondering what the knives mean, why the knives.
The phone rings. My father answers and listens for a few moments and then says, "You want to come by the house, Butch? Sure you can come by the house."
After a bit he hangs up and looks at me. His eyes are bloodshot and he hasn't shaved in days. His hands are trembling. I'm pretty sure the old man is having some sort of breakdown.
"The police are on the way," he says, and nods at the doob. "You better put that shit away."
The two cops show up an hour later in their black uniforms, big hearty Caucasians with crew cuts. They say Anna's brother has filed a missing persons report. They say he's called her cell phone numerous times and even come by the house only to be accosted by my father.
"Rick's an asshole," says my father.
"That may be so," one of cops says, "but I need to know something. I need to know if you had anything to do with her disappearance."
"This is hard," says my father. "Hey, you fellas want a drink?" My father knows the cops from his time at the newspaper.
The cops ignore the question and continue to stand with their fat paws on their gun butts.
"Hell, lighten up, will ya?" My father takes a long pull from his highball, then wipes liquid from his chin. "Listen, you lose your job and your wife leaves you and then the frickin' cops come to your house? Can you imagine that?"
"Sir, can you answer the question?"
"Yes I can answer the question, and then you can vacate my property, how about that? Did I see my wife leave? No. Do I give a rat's ass where she's at? No. Now get the hell out of here."
I can see why my father digs Anna so much. She really is a beautiful girl—and I say girl because she's only seven years older than me, barely into her twenties. I've seen Anna full-out naked twice, and neither time did she attempt to cover herself. I think about that now as I hold myself and watch our house through the Gormans' bedroom window, the cats bawling behind me for their dinner. I have a pair of Barb Gorman's panties wrapped around my head so I can breathe her scent but still see through the thigh hole. I imagine myself coming home from school and encountering both Barb Gorman and Anna sprawled on the floor together and I really get going just as the cops pull into our driveway, this time three patrol cars instead of one. They get out, more big bastards with crew cuts, carrying sledgehammers and a pickax. I watch my father answering the door, the head cop handing him a piece of paper and then the whole group filing into the house with their long-handled tools. This is a difficult image to overcome but nonetheless I walk to the Gormans' five-thousand-dollar canopy bed and crawl underneath and go fetal and finish myself off, murmuring as I do so. "A little something for your trouble," I whisper, as my sperm seeps into the carpet. Just a little something.
Andy Henion lives in Okemos, MI and cheers for the Detroit Tigers.
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