Not far from our new house in the country sits another house, a glorified trailer with an overstuffed flower garden. I drive past and wave enthusiastically to the owner, red-faced from his labors, who returns the gesture with equal zeal. Early in the evening, I decide to visit my neighbor. I choose clothing carefully: a flowered blouse, perfume. I’m not sure why. Besides the wave, he isn’t attractive: wispy strands of black hair barely stretch across an oversized head. A droopy stomach over droopy shorts. I find him beside his house, in a shed lit with a single bare light bulb. I’m here for the peonies, I say. We look at each other for a long moment. Up close, his nose is blunt. A fine white scar divides the bottom lip. Peonies, he says slowly, as if I’ve uttered the correct password.
My mother tells her friend on the phone about my father’s latest misdeeds: he’s lost money at the track, meant for my brother’s tenth birthday party, a no-big-deal family thing at a diner, but still. Her voice gets screechy as she talks of the boy he was caught fondling in the bathroom of a bowling alley. The worst part: the dumb schmuck doesn’t even bowl. I don’t need to hear the flat “ah-has” and “hmms” of the listener to know she’s not interested. Mother sits at the dining room table, legs thrust underneath, a filmy nylon nightgown brushing her knees, her calves dry and scratched. I’m stretched out beneath the table watching her feet rub together like another pair of fussing hands.
David’s car is packed with so many stuffed animals it looks like he’s robbed a zoo. At his ex-wife’s house, he opens the car door, wrestles out a full-size tiger, and drags it across the snow-covered lawn. It takes 20 minutes to fill the den with damp toys. Laughter shrill, smiles too wide, his daughters roll atop the plush mountain of new pets. They hope this year’s performance will convince Dad to stay. Last Chanukah was such a failure.
Tina Barry’s short stories and poems have appeared in Drunken Boat, Lost in Thought, Elimae, and other publications. She enjoys good meals almost as much as great writing.