Bad Raccoon

There is a raccoon in the pool and it’s not fair.

I’m stuck inside, and nobody is home. So, I’m lonely, first of all, and secondly, I’m really bored. There’s no food left, and I’m not tired, and I finished pulling all of the stuffing out of the throw pillows, so, now what?

All I want to do is go swimming but I can’t open the stupid door. But even if I could, Mae and Pearl won’t let me go in the backyard anymore because of The Body.

Lately all I’ve heard is, “Oh, don’t let Lester sniff the The Body!” or “No, no Lester leave The Body alone!” Like, come on, you can’t bring that kind of thing into the house and expect me not be curious! I have literally nothing else to do except for explore things that smell different, and eat stuff that smells crazy.

So I’m irritated. And the worst part is the raccoon can sense it and is acting super smug about it. At first I barked my ass off, so that we could maybe have a conversation about why the raccoon’s behavior was insensitive to me, but then I realized it was ignoring me on purpose. But when I actually howled at it to be like, dude you’re being a dick, it showed me its butt. I’m gonna keep barking anyway because I have literally nothing else to do.

“Bark bark bark bark bark bark bark bark bark bark.” I said.

If there’s one thing about me, it’s that I’m very focused, so this has been going on for maybe, like, 2 hours? I’m not bored, but I do smear my nose all over the sliding door so I could feel like I’m in some sort of control.

Eventually I bark so hard that I go into a zen-like state, and when I come out of it, I realize that the raccoon is not in the pool anymore, which makes me feel a tiny bit better, but until I know that it is completely gone, I won’t be able to calm down.

I run to the window behind the couch and look out over the part of the yard I can’t see from the door.

Shit.

The raccoon is sniffing The Body. The one that I have never been able to properly sniff! It’s just laying there, wrapped in a quilt, waiting for me sniff it, and there goes this fucking raccoon just walking all over it and sniffing and sniffing and sniffing while I am stuck inside this stupid house!!!

My tail wags so hard that a little pee comes out.

And then it happened. The raccoon looks directly at me. I stop barking for a second so that I can listen properly. Maybe we’ll come to an agreement.

Slowly, very slowly, it stands up on it’s two back legs and balances flawlessly on The Body.

“Come on, come onnnnnnn,” I think, but don’t say, because I need to be patient, “please don’t take all the smells!!!!”

We are making eye contact. The raccoon lifts its left paw. And then: gives me a thumbs up.

It is official. Not only did the raccoon get to swim in the pool, it has now fully experienced the plump aroma of the The Body.  MY plump aroma!

And so I really lose it. I feel absolutely out of control. I run in circles as fast as I can. I eat a shoe. I poop on the shoe. I eat another shoe. I eat the poop. I throw up. I eat the throw up. I tip over Pearl’s in-home dialysis machine.

But nothing makes me feel better. I am a prisoner inside this house, and I just can’t find a way to express this desolation, and bitterness and fear. Today feels like the opposite of Christmas. Not only am I not allowed to open the present, but I am also trapped inside the box.

I want to tear that pompous raccoon limb from limb, but I can’t open the door.

If only, I had thumbs.

twisted homes

Christine investigated her Hamptons living room: the floor length drapes, playing peek-a-boo with the ocean in the backyard; cold beige couches so modern they made you question sitting at all; the prodigious canvas above the mantle and its $900,000 swipe of red paint.

It was all so familiar. And yet she wondered where she was.

“I am in my home,” she told herself. “But how?”

This sense of displacement was not new to her. She experienced it briefly at Sarah Lawrence, thousands of miles from Oklahoma, but managed to stay distracted by the novelty in her life. It wasn’t until her first year out of college, when she was sitting in a roomful of artsy strangers, that she truly felt the first great shift in her life. She studied them- their furious smoking and sporadic laughter- and wondered how she could tie them to home.

Eventually she realized the only way to do that was to adapt. To become the center of her own venn diagram.

But New York City, in all its amplitude, was never home. Not even when she’d eventually created a life with a husband and two children. As for her mansion on the sea: well, Heaven can’t be home. Not even when you pay for it.

Even in this cavernous house, she could hear Robin slam her bedroom door. And with that slam she felt the emptiness inside her get pounded into mud. It was as if she was stuck inside a cave, while a summer storm began to beat the rocky walls in. Oh, let everything crumble.

She had once, many years ago, seen a tornado. She rooted herself, watching as the sky birthed itself, and her grandfather quietly but quickly ushered the horses inside. “They’ll be fine,” he grumbled from their darkened cellar, as the sky screamed with pain.

Afterwards, she stood in the kitchen of her grandparent’s farmhouse, where she and her mother lived at the time, and looked up through a gaping hole in the roof. The sky was blue again. “If we remembered pain, we wouldn’t have second children,” her mother once told her. Though she was an only child.

She used to tell her own children about that tornado. How all the power lines were bent in half, but the horses were okay. How they sat in the damp cellar together for eternity, and when they came out, the weather was back to normal, but it would never be the same again.

Her daughter would climb on her lap and ask her: “Are you Dorothy Gale?” as her son twirled and whistled like a little cyclone, ripping the sheets from the bed.

But Robin was no longer her sweet little girl. She was a force of nature, just like that twister from so long ago, and Christine had spent the better part of the last two years waiting it out in the cellar.

Just a few minutes ago, Robin stormed out of the room, leaving her iPad on the counter.

Christine placed it in the sink, and reminded herself that she was the adult, as she had done so many times over the past 14 years.

She grabbed a stone from her son’s collection, and held it over the sink. She let it drop, hoping for a satisfying crack. But it did no damage.

She would never be a tornado. How had she let her daughter become one?

“How do you stop a tornado?” She wondered. But once it’s formed, it’s formed.

Please RSVP!!

What’s not to like about a picnic?!

Unless you’re allergic to grass, perhaps. Or the flies bother you.

But other than those two things, what can you do other than just fully enjoy the day when you are at a picnic?

I mean, I guess if you have back problems, I suppose, and it’s hard for you to sit on the ground. Or if you’re prone to sunburn – I get that that.

But other than those four things, what’s not to love about lounging in the park on a sunny day with good friends and good cheese?

Unless you’re coming alone and you don’t know anyone to start, and you’re not really great at meeting people, especially in the daylight on a Sunday afternoon when everyone is sober, or only having one glass of wine, and there’s a distinct possibility that everybody will already know each other, and because of this, they will be too busy having fun conversations amongst themselves, and they won’t really want to take the time to make small talk with you, and if you show up late, there won’t be much room left on the blanket so your butt will kind of be halfway on the grass and you’ll get kind of itchy because it’s Brooklyn Grass and so it’s probably contaminated and you’re wearing short shorts so bugs might try to look at your hoo hah and perhaps you might bring the wrong cheese and everybody will say “awwwww thank you,” with a fake smile and then nobody will really eat it because you have generic taste in cheese and then the cheese will start to feel left out too and you will feel bad for it and you will get totally in your head about the cheese and you don’t belong and you never will and you’re too pale for picnics anyway and why did you even wear shorts what if people notice your cellulite what if they stare at it what if they think you’re weak why would you invite a redhead to a picnic at a treeless park anyway and what if someone brings nuts and you eat them and suddenly you become allergic to nuts or what if you don’t become allergic to nuts but at the EXACT MOMENT you find yourself warming up to someone and having a comfortable conversation, you get cocky and then you choke on one instead? And then you die?

Image result for social anxiety memes

So, if those things bother you, I TOTALLY understand if you don’t want to come to my birthday picnic.

But just so you know, if you don’t show up, I WILL overthink it, and I’ll probably send you an email asking you why you hate me, and then you’ll have to live with that for a couple of weeks.

Please RSVP so I know whether to bring GF crackers or not! Thanks!

Uncle Bill’s Will

Dear Katie,

I’m sure you remember the stories about my grandpa’s brother, Bill, who was a known prankster. Actually do you remember the story I told you the day we met? Your bag was caught in the subway door, and I had to pull you away from the train so that you would quit chasing it down the platform.

You made a little wisecrack about a meet-cute, and it reminded me of the time that Bill put raw goat meat in my grandpa’s boots. Do you remember that? Uncle Bill always had goats. Well, almost always.

My grandmother used to say that Uncle Bill got away with a lot because of his “spooky blue eyes” and his “noxious charisma.” He was a tall, crooked man, who lived in an old castle on a hill just outside of town. You never got a chance to meet him, but I’m sure you would have found him charming.

Anyway, that’s not important. I’m just stalling as long as I can to get to the heart of this letter. Hoping perhaps to make it so long, that if my circumstances do change, and I am able to come back to you, then you won’t have finished it yet. At least 350 pages. One page for every year of Bill’s life, since he’s the reason I have to go home. Ha, just kidding. He was only in his 90s, but it seemed like he was 350.

As you know, he disappeared about six months ago, leaving behind a limerick that hinted at a suicide.

“There was an old man from Northbrook,

who lived his whole life as a rook.

Now his body is gone

But his jokes will live on

So don’t even bother to look”

It’s been a strenuous legal battle, and one that so far, I have been lucky to avoid. Mostly, I think, because I live here in New York City with you, and so I’ve been spared from all the confusion and bad vibes back home. Thank you for being my rock. I’m going to miss you so much.

After months of back and forth, it appears that Uncle Bill has been declared legally dead. This wouldn’t really affect me at all (except the nostalgia I would experience at the memory of him, of course), but many years ago, when I was just a kid, Uncle Bill had a new will drafted, as a joke, in which I inherited the laundromat he’d owned and operated for almost 70 years.

He told me he’d take it out, but it looks like he forgot, and now I own a haunted laundromat in Northbrook, Indiana.

Ha, well it’s not really haunted. But I always thought it was when I was a kid, and I was terrified to go there. Once, I found this crazy secret room. The memory is a blur because I was so young, but it was painted completely red and there were all these scary tools. So anyway, he always got a kicked of how much I would cry when I went there, and so on my 16th birthday, he amended the will. We all got a kick out of it, because he said he would change it back.

But, he didn’t. And I’m sure by now you see where this letter is going. I have to go home, Katie, and I don’t think I’ll be coming back to New York City anytime soon. I can’t give you anymore details than that, legally, because the laundromat is under some kind of investigation, and now it’s my problem.

I truly don’t know the best way to end this letter other than to say, I’m so, so sorry. I’ll never forget you.

Forever yours,

Damien

The Silent Air in Here

It was a rhetorical question. Mostly sarcasm, veiled with a lilt.

Mr. Luther knew that every one of these 5th graders had done their homework. Their parents paid $11,000 a year for them to do homework. He knew that these kids managed to squeeze in as much homework as they could between swimming, piano, Chinese and martial arts. They did homework on busses and in cafes with the nanny and at the dinner table and in locker rooms and in the lobby of music academies while waiting for their lessons.

So, asking these kids “Who did their homework?” was like asking a Brooklyn sidewalk if it had ever met a pile of wet dog poop. Of course they did their homework- instinctively, and without hesitation.

He asked this question because if he didn’t keep it light- if he didn’t play the role of the  fun-loving and supportive launch pad into middle school- he would have to find a new job. This was a cushy job. Even if his own humanity was united with boredom, and his own wants and needs seemed to have softly evaporated throughout the years, until he simply became an educational accessory, rather than a teacher. Besides, he was nearly 50. Finding a new job at this point was not an option.

Every morning he tied his tie a little tighter, so that his head stayed on.

It wasn’t that he didn’t like these kids. They were fine. They were butt kissing overachievers, with their sights set on retirement, which made his life easy. They were mostly devoid of personality, but again, that took some of the complication out of the job. They didn’t really understand jokes and they didn’t want to goof around and they were about as lively as a room full of tiny human robots could get, but he never had to deal with any conflict in his job, ever.

Today, however, when he looked up from his papers and saw every hand raised straight up through the fibrous ceiling tiles, he was overcome by a wave of pure rage. It shot through him like a train, leaving him feeling overheated and filled with steam. Before he could register this surprising new sensation, he mumbled softly:

“I’m gonna freak out.”

Every hand stayed lifted in the noiseless classroom, but all 17 baby faces looked back at him in confusion.

He hadn’t said it very loud. But the kids were well behaved, and the room was quiet, and his words were a pin that everyone heard fall to the ground.

They waited in silence for Mr. Luther to move on. But he couldn’t.

“Did you hear that?” He asked.

They nodded.

“Please put your hands down.”

They did. Neatly so.

“Can anybody tell me what I just said?”

All hands shot back up, so he let them suspend. He loosened his tie. He let one minute go by in silence. Nobody put their hand back down. Nobody would, until the question was answered.

Another minute ticked by, and the hands stayed raised towards the heavens. He scanned the room for signs of fatigue, but these were not quitters. There was no fidgeting feet or trembling fingers. No shifting or moving at all. Not even one student switched arms in a moment of weakness. They would wait him out.

“Does anybody know what it means to freak out?” He asked, curiously.

Their hands stayed raised. Their eyes stayed dead.

“Mina, what does it mean to freak out?” He selected a lithe blonde girl in the first row, who looked like she had been ready for middle school for nearly 40 years.

All hands lowered.

“Freaking out is slang, it means to lose control.”

“Very good Mina.”

Mr. Luther continued to loosen his tie.

“Has anybody here, in this room, ever freaked out?”

This time, they lifted their hands slowly. He felt himself grow lighter. Perhaps today was the day they would all get in trouble.

He pointed to a boy in the back, with large front teeth and an unfortunate bowl cut, who had just become a recent media sensation for breaking a 30 year old golf record at a PGA Jr. event.

“Clark? Have you ever freaked out?”

He answered without hesitation. “No, sir.”

“Are you lying, Clark?”

Clark, who was an uncomplicated 10 year old boy who just wanted to do what he loved and be a professional golfer, looked around at his peers for help. They stared back at him with blank expressions. This was not a question he was used to be asked. None of them were. He began to hiccup.

“N-no sir.” Another hiccup.

Mr. Luther realized he was being unfair.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to put you on the spot.”

“It’s ok-ay Mr. L-uther.”

Mr. Luther walked back to Clark’s desk. Heads turned to follow him like wind blowing through tall grass. He felt this. Were they finally interested?

“Clark,” he said gently. “What would you tell me if I was going to freak out?”

This time Clark did not need advice. He managed to swallow his hiccups. He smiled.

“I would tell you to dream big. Always focus on your dreams, and have fun.”

He gave Clark a little pat on the shoulder. Then he walked back to his own desk at the front of the room and sat down. The children watched in anticipation, wondering when he would start today’s lesson.

Mr. Luther undid his tie, pulled it from around his neck, and finally released his head.

It floated up to the ceiling, higher than any hand could reach.

Jukebox Wizard 

By: Tory Flack and Cole Orloff 

“Another. B’tender. P’lease…”

Grogor Fibertgroth the Wise tugged his long, wiry beard out from underneath one of the legs of his barstool. He rolled off the stool onto his peg leg, and steadying himself with the gnarled length of ancient ironwood he used as a cane, wobbled towards the jukebox. 

The Handy Dane was the only bar in Glenn County with a decent music selection, so Grogor came through nearly every night to approve its usage. Tonight, a selection of swinging, upbeat big band numbers from old standbys like Rolph and the Bowbreakers, Craigle McCraille, and the Last Midnights had been entertaining a crowd of rosy-cheeked revelers that spilled over from a wedding party next door. They were swinging and swaying to the tunes without a care in the world. It would not do. Didn’t they know that Grogor was an award winning DJ? 

The dance floor spun around him in a blur as he sidled, stiff but determined, over to the crooning neon machine that purred only to him. He unplugged it. Brutally and quickly. He didn’t want the machine to suffer needlessly. The lights on the machine dimmed. The party paused mid-sway and turned towards where the music had, just a moment ago, been emanating from. One of the more drunken fellows started to gently question what was going on. 

Grogor glared with such ferocity the man’s beer turned to dust in his glass. No one else dared question what was happening. 

Now that he had their attention, he would show them what it really meant to choose a selection from the jukebox. It was a skill that required not only care and consideration, but a keen ability to read a room. To influence the energy. To inspire movement and fluidity. To generate emotion. This could not be done by simply inserting a piece of gold and selecting your favorite hits from the 1160s and 70s. No way. 

With the jukebox plugged back into the wall and the wedding party quietly sipping their nog and grog in the furthest possible corner of the bar away from the machine, Grogor pulled a blackened token from his robe pocket. The little coin-shaped rock was roughly the size and shape of a 25 cent piece. He, with not an insignificant amount of effort, forced it into the coin slot of the jukebox. 

The jukebox flickered and eventually zinged back to life. He felt suddenly restored by a sense of calm. He was a man of many powers. Why, he once brought a Hegloin back to life. From a melted puddle! But DJing, now that was a rare skill that not just any wizard could master. 

Silence penetrated the bar as he flipped through the decades. Until at last:

Jamiroqais.

War Rooms

In 21 minutes, a young couple from New Jersey would officially own the house that our mother had lived in for almost 50 years, and we could not find the cats.

The U-Hauls were packed, the house was spotless, and the couple waited patiently in their Subaru for their new life to begin. Our mother’s decision to move into a senior living facility was abrupt. She sold her house with little warning, leaving us only one week to sort through all the years of her life, which she did not want to be present for. She decided instead, to coach us over the phone, as we sorted through boxes of letters and photos, shelves full of crystals, and printed out news articles- meticulously highlighted, outlined, and lined along the walls as if they were stuck in traffic.

Our mother is a psychic, and a writer, and over the years her house became one giant war room dedicated to conspiracy theories. Although when this thought was presented to her she scoffed at it. “I am not a paranoid schizophrenic,” she would tell us. “There’s a difference.”

But my sister, Hazel, believed that she was. She believed it because if our mother had a real condition, it would all make sense. The peculiarities, and the sporadic blowups.

Hazel moved away at an early age. She met Lawrence when she was 17 and looking for an escape from our aggressively imaginative mother. They moved to Maine and started a lawn care business and never looked back. I only live down the block, but I rarely leave my home. Our mother gave up on me years ago, but she never gave up on Hazel.

Two days after we started the monumental sorting process, our mother reminded us to feed the cats.

“Cats? What cats?” I let Hazel howl into the phone, while I sifted through a box of papers about a French assassin from the 1970s, trying to decide if it was a real person, or the beginnings of another unfinished novel our mother had tried to write.

I did recall my mother mentioning cats here and there throughout the years. But they must have been woven so seamlessly into her stories about presidents and movie stars, that I couldn’t keep it all straight. If she had really cared about her cats, wouldn’t we have heard more about them?

Or maybe a better question is, if we had really cared more about her, wouldn’t we have bothered to come see them?

Our mother begged Hazel to remember the cats, so she agreed.

Sure enough, there were two empty porcelain dishes in the mudroom, and a bag of generic cat food in a hall closet, so we fed them, but the dishes remained full.

“They’re stressed out.” Hazel decided. And we put them to the back of our mind, assuming that they would appear sooner or later. But they never did.

The walk through of our mother’s empty house was to begin at 9:30am, so we split up. Hazel started in the basement, and I went up to the top floor. Hopefully by the time we met in the middle we would have each produced a cat.

“Don’t forget to check the walls,” she instructed. “They’re probably scared.”

The house had always been bright and dusty, but without any ancient piles of junk to block the windows, the morning light was nearly angelic. If I were a cat, I would surely want to bathe in it.

It was now 9:17. I tapped my feet on the wooden floors, and made kissing noises and shook a bag of treats, but nothing seemed to work. A car door slammed. Out the window I could see the woman, leaning against the door of the Subaru, casually snapping photos. The man was talking to the inspector.

So I banged on the walls. At first I slapped them with the palm of my hand. And then I turned my hands into fists, and I pounded a bit harder. Eventually I put my feet into it, and I kicked the walls as well. It felt good. So I slammed around even harder. I began to stomp. I stomped and I kicked and I banged.

Eventually I stopped to catch my breath. And then I heard downstairs, ever so slightly, Hazel was banging too. I listened to Hazel stomp and bang and kick from room to room. She was getting louder and louder, so I started to rattle floors again, so she could hear that I was stomping too.

At 9:27 my sister started to yell. She was banging and yelping and kicking and howling. So I yelled too. I stomped in and out of rooms, and wailed down the hallway, and roared down the stairs to meet Hazel and to see if she had found the cats.

But Hazel did not have any cats. She had a hammer. The walls were full of holes. The floor was covered in plaster.

I had to ask her, for our mother:

“Did you find the cats?”

“There are no cats.”

The door opened and the couple entered. They didn’t have to knock. It was their home now.