22 December 2010

My Christmas Monkey

“Do you remember Boys' Life?” he asked Chris.

"The movie with DiCaprio and Dinero?”

“No,” he answered. “That was This Boy’s Life and it was a play before it was a movie. I mean the magazine Boys’ Life, the official Boy Scout magazine.”

“Oh, sure…’The Tracey Twins’…’Mark Trail.’ Get it? Mark Trail? Mark trail?” Chris recalled.

“Right. Those were the comics in the middle of the magazine. Do you remember all the ads for mail-order animals in the back?”

“Mail-order what?”

“Mail-order animals. You could mail-order a raccoon or a box turtle or a half dozen fertilized quail eggs with an incubator like an E-Z-Bake oven.”

“You could?”

"Absolutely. Baby alligators, boa constrictors, chinchillas, skunks, armadillos, and flying squirrels. You could also order a ‘life-size nuclear submarine’ but the rumor was that it was cardboard, a cardboard diagram of a nuclear submarine. Anyway, one Christmas, my best friend in second grade, a kid named Marty Bruno, no lie, Marty Bruno, and he’d saved up for like 10 months to pay the $10 they charged to ship a squirrel monkey to any address in the world and Marty, my best friend, had them ship it to me.”

“They shipped you a monkey?”

“Yeah, a monkey in a toilet-paper tube, you know, the cardboard tube that’s left over when all the toilet paper is gone. Christmas Eve, last day of mail until after Christmas weekend or something and my mom thought it was a good idea to just slip the package under the tree with the rest of the presents and I would open it on Christmas morning with all the rest of my presents and I guess that monkey was just perfectly still and just waiting.”



“Waiting for what”

“Waiting for someone to open the tube.”

“Waiting for you to open the tube.”

“Waiting for me to open the tube. Christmas morning, hot chocolate and banana nut bread, some parade on the TV with the sound turned down and guns and robot astronauts and cowboys and binoculars and who can remember what else until I was pretty much down to it and my mom said, ‘Here, open this’ and handed me this cardboard toilet paper tube with a mailing label stuck around it and I took it and I opened it up and something like nine ounces of insane squirrel monkey from the Amazon River regions of South America just came boiling out the end of that tube screaming this insane monkey scream with these tiny white scary monkey teeth and it started jumping and clambering and climbing with its slick black little monkey hands and the whole time it was screaming but it was also pretty much emaciated and weak from postal starvation and dehydrated from lack of water and my mom was screaming and, let’s face it, I was screaming and my sister was screaming and I guess my dad was probably screaming at us to shut the goddamn hell up while this monkey was looking for a place to perch and have diarrhea and the dry-heaves and glare at us all, the screaming family, and blame us all for everything, for being caught in the Amazon River regions in South America and for being sold to an animal wholesaler and for being advertised in Boys' Life magazine and for Marty Bruno saving up his allowances and most of all for the international postal service in which it had passed nearly a week of close confinement inside what was later confirmed as an actual cardboard toilet paper tube.”

“Merry Fucking Exmas.”

“Merry Fucking Exmas for the monkey.”

“Merry Fucking Exmas for you.”

“Merry Fucking Exmas for everyone. My Christmas monkey story has a sad ending.”

“They usually do.”

“Yeah, I guess. Like, really, any Christmas monkey story, mine has a sad ending involving the father, a paper bag from the Piggly Wiggly, and a garden spade.”


“Merry Fucking Exmas monkey. Living in the Amazon jungle, spend two weeks in a cage at some reeking dockside trading outpost, spend another week in parcel post and travel thousands of miles for the Christmas surprise of being beaten to death with a shovel on the garage floor of a house in the mountains of Colorado where it’s fucking freezing.”

“It’s a fucking Hallmark special, man.”

“So, when school started up again and Marty Bruno asks me if I like my Christmas present, I just say, ‘Which one?’ and when he says, ‘You know, the monkey,’ I just say, ‘What monkey?’ and he’s pretty disappointed thinking I didn’t get the monkey he’d saved up for almost a whole year to buy me for Christmas.”

21 November 2010

Riding the Number Three Bus on a Late Wednesday Afternoon

(Appearing in Ingo Village premier issue, March 2012; http://www.mscottcraig.com/p/ingo-village-review.html)

Xian, Shaanxi Province, The People’s Republic of China, late winter 1986

The kid is a drooler. It looks like he might have something like Downs Syndrome, maybe not so terribly severe but bad enough. He seems to be around 35 or 40 but that doesn’t mean much and the old man who sits next to him, who regularly holds a white cotton handkerchief to his son’s or maybe his grandson’s lips, that old man looks 60 or maybe 90. Again, hard to tell.

They get off the bus at the Bell Tower stop just inside the city’s ancient wall. As the rest of us pull away on the Number Three bus, a flash of white cotton marks their path across the crowded avenue toward what I hope is their home.\

We pass a pack of Rider Fellows, the guys with the hand tractors (like a rotor-tiller with wheels instead of earth shredding blades) attached to wagons piled with cabbages or bricks or Japanese cassette players, and their bandanas and goggles are little protection against the poisonous air of the Number Five Road, but the Rider Fellows are a tough crew. The black and yellow satin jackets they all seem to wear are silk-screened with a distorted photo of Dennis Hopper riding his chopper to flaming death by the side of a Florida road and the words “Rider Fellow” as a rocker beneath the image. I wanted one of those jackets very badly but could never find the hand-tractor driver store that sold them. It was a secret store just for hand-tractor drivers.

It’s easy to spot the country people, the farmers, the peasants, the migratory workers, on the Number Three bus; they stick their tissue paper bus tickets onto their lower lips so the conductress can easily see their destinations and tell them when to get off. They chew raw garlic to kill the city germs and the delicate bus tickets flutter with each slack-jawed grind on each clove they pop.

The ladies next to me are talking about me.

“This one looks crazy,” the one in the blue Mao suit says.

“Is it a boy or a girl? I can’t tell these foreigners apart. It has long hair and earrings, but it has no breasts and all foreign women have enormous breasts,” says the one in brown Mao suit.

“Is he a movie star?” Blue asks.

“I think so,” Brown answers. “He was the bad guy in the movie about explosions.”

“All foreign movies are about explosions,” Blue patiently reminds her companion.

“The one with explosions and kissing,” Brown clarifies.

“Oh, yes!” Blue exclaims. “My husband loves that movie. He watches it every chance he gets.”

“I hope he doesn’t watch it too much,” Blue says and the air of betrayal suddenly hangs in the air of the Number Three bus as it lumbers down the Number Five road.

“Well, not every chance,” Brown amends.

“I should hope not,” Blue answers.

Other passengers have begun to listen. Soon, they join the conversation.

“All those foreigners eat is meat and milk,” a man with long, lucky eyebrows adds.
“It’s true,” says another woman holding a bag of onions. “I saw one of those foreigners once before, and he was drinking milk and he was eating meat.”

“I saw a foreigner last year, and he yelled at my sister-in-law for spitting on his shoes,” Eyebrows contributed.

“He had too much hot blood,” Onions agreed. “Too much thick blood. All that meat makes them hot and the heat makes them angry all the time.”

I’m holding on to the steel pole and rocking as the bus driver hits every pothole on the Number Five Road. We pass a bicycle towing a locked screen box full of little Chinese toddlers. The cyclist is taking them someplace or he is taking them back home after taking them some place. I wonder where they had been and where they were going. I supposed it might be a school bus, a locked screen box school bus.

“What is that thing?” I ask Blue.

Her eyes widened wider then they have probably ever widened since the Great Helmsman died.

“What…What…What did you say?” she stuttered and, believe me, stuttering in Chinese is not easy.

“I was just wondering where that locked screen box of toddlers is going,” I answered.
Everyone became very quiet on the Number Three bus and all we all could hear was the bus engine groaning and the bus body creaking as its cheap steel bent and twisted with each bend and twist of the roadbed.

“Do that again,” Onions told me.

“Do what again?”

“That thing you just did.”

“What thing?”

“Speaking,” Onions explained. “It sounded like you spoke like a person, like a human being.”

“I did,” I told her.

“Do it again.”

“I just did. I’m doing it now.”

“That is so strange,” Eyebrows chimed in. “I wonder how he does it?”

“I just talk, that’s all,” I say.

“It must be like a parrot or a trained monkey,” Blue offered.

“That’s right,” I responded. “You may think of me as you would think of a parrot or a trained monkey. I am a badly trained monkey. Sometimes, I bite people.”

They fell silent again, each deciphering the meaning of my human words and whether I knew the meaning what I was saying or if some clever Chinese person taught me to say the words without me understanding what they meant.

“What. Is. Your. Name. ?” asked Brown.

“My. Name. Is. Keith. Richards.”

“Kee-if Risher Duhs?” she rolled the syllables through her rotten-toothed mouth.

“Exactly. You’ve said it exactly correct. You must by very good at speaking English.”

“English?” Brown exclaims. “I’ve learned to speak English?”

“I think so,” I answer. “We’re speaking English right now.”

“We are? It sounds just like Chinese!”

“Yes, it does,” I confirm. “English sounds exactly like Chinese.”

“Do we all speak English?” ventures Onions.

“Yes,” I answer. “Everyone on this bus speaks English like a professional English speaker. You could all be tour guides and make a lot of money speaking English to foreigners.”

The excitement was fevered in our section of the Number Three bus as it lumbered its way down the Number Five Road. My circle of passengers all contemplated a lucrative career change. I could practically see the TV sets and brand new electric fans and self-winding wristwatches swirling around their heads. I watched the screen box of toddlers disappear behind us in the cloud of bus dust and smoke.

“Perhaps you know where we could find this kind of work?” Blue asked me.

“I recommend you present yourself at the American consulate in the heart of the city and tell them very loudly how well you now speak English.”

I could see them turning such a plan over inside their heads. The advantages of a new kind of job with plenty of foreign capital streaming into their threadbare pockets weighed against the dangers of being seen visiting the local headquarters of an imperialist nation.

“Don’t be afraid,” I told them. “Be brave. Be strong. Show them that the Chinese people can master any task and surmount any problem. Do it for the Motherland.”

They remained silent.

“Remember that risk is its own reward,” I continued and they didn’t understand me at all.

The Number Three bus stopped with a jerk and we were all thrown forward to mash against each other awkwardly. I looked out the filthy window to see what had happened.
We had stopped on the bridge over the Wei He River that ran outside the city. A man hung from the high tension electrical cables strong from tall steel pylons and he emitted sparks. I still now as I did then wonder what it must have looked like to him incandescent, eyeballs ribboned with blue fire and below him spreading all horizons, the city slowly pulsing, hot and dusty for this late in the year, everyone says so.
Who knows, who will ever know what caused the fatal spark, the brilliant arc that clenched him tight, convulsed in one long spasm when everything inside him jammed up with electricity rampant and when he began to smolder. I wondered then as I still do now if he even noticed he was on fire. One of his feet fell slowly tumbling over and over to the riverbed with gray smoke trailing.

The river bridge was jammed both ways, typical post-revolutionary rush hour and a quarter of a million people stopped their bicycles and put one leg on the pavement so they could safely stare up goggle-eyed and open-mouthed at something different, at a man two hundred feet in the air who twitched and blackened and was never coming down.
The wrongness of this all was overwhelming, and still now as I did then I consider what it must have seemed to him there among the wires thrumming harsh, the river silver and thin along the wide sandy bottom, a half a million eyes toward him and just diesel smoke from idle bus and hand tractor engines like mist in a scroll painting one thousand years old, this same river and this same city, now hanging in a temple in the mountains far to the west.

“Look at the man,” I told my companions. “Look at the man on fire up in those wires.”

“It is a terrible thing,” Brown declared. “It is not a good thing to see.”

“But when will I ever see such a thing again?” I asked.

Blue reached her callused hand to touch my arm.

“Never,” she said. “Never in all your life.”

And she was quite right.


After an hour or so, traffic began to move across the bridge again. Below us on the sandy, exposed river bottom was the place where they executed criminals in the springtime and, in a few more weeks, one of my Chinese friends would come to my dormitory and tell me the story of that year’s killings.

“The people run forward to dip their money in the dead person’s blood,” Mr. Zhang told me.

“Why do they do that?” I asked him.

“Because it makes the money lucky,” he explained.

“That sounds very strange,” I said. “Why would a dead criminal’s blood make money lucky?”

Mr. Zhang paused to form his answer.

“It is a tradition,” he finally said.

“It sure doesn’t seem lucky for the criminal,” I replied.

“It is a tradition,” he repeated. “It is an old tradition from feudal times and it is very backward and ignorant.”

There was a lot I could have said to him on that subject, but I remained silent until something else occurred to me.

“Hey,” I said. “Have you ever seen an old guy on a bicycle pulling a big, locked screen box full of little Chinese kids down the Number Five Road?”

“Hmmm,” Mr. Zhang pondered. “Perhaps I have seen that man.”

“Why is he doing that?”

“Hmmm,” he again pondered. “I think maybe he is taking them to a place or bringing them back from a place.”

“That makes sense. I wonder what kind of place.”

“It must be a place for children.”

“Oh, sure,” I said. “That must be it.”

“Yes,” Mr. Zhang said. “That is probably the answer.”

“I once saw a man get electrocuted down there by the river.”

“What a terrible thing to see!” he exclaimed.

“Is it worse than watching people be shot?”

“Of course,” he explained. “What you saw was an awful accident.”

“And what you saw was planned out.”

“Yes. Accidents are much worse than things that are planned.”

And he was quite right.

26 August 2010

Late Afternoon, Late July, Late 1960s

“There’s one of those old wives’ tales we had as kids, one of those things that kids tell each other on a hot day like this when they live way out on a farm and they say a dragonfly is the Devil’s Darning Needle and those dragonflies’ll zip by and stitch up your lips quick as that,” and she did a little juggling with her plastic tumbler of vodka tonic, her partially smoked 100 centimeter menthol cigarette, and her fingers so she could almost snap them when she said the work “that.”

She looked at her fingers as if they were in some way defective, unsnappable for a heretofore unsuspected reason. She sighed a gray cloud of minted smoke. And she made more of the same finger snapping though mostly silent gestures at the children tumbled in the flowers along the driveway in the backyard, children in their bathing suits of striped and dotted elastic fabric and playing with the garden hose, children of whom some were hers, and her fingers made a gesture to simulate the erratic and precise flight of a dragonfly as it flew to sew these children’s mouths quite shut.

“Zzzzzz,” she mimicked the sound of a flying sewing machine. “Good Lord, but do I wish that old wives’ tale was true? I sure do.”

And the ice in her drink didn’t so much rattle or ring but rather clunked it’s way around when it shifted within the thick walls of the faded orange plastic. The cigarette gave an extra puff as smoke as a small pocket of an accelerant added to the tobacco caught fire.

It was like she was just waiting for someone to get hurt. The backyard was a wasteland with a thousand yards of burned and glassy dunes between her and the children clustered around the water tap. She could barely see them across the blasted sands’ glare, shapes first bloated and then minuscule, body parts all out of context and seen merely as “foot” or “sternum” or “vertebrae.” She winced against the sun, took a long drink from her orange plastic tumbler, took a long drag of her long menthol cigarette, and sort of whisper-yelled across the desert toward her own and other people’s kids.

“Be. Careful,” she whisper-yelled. “It’s. All. Fun. Until. Some. One. Gets. Hurt.”

And, then, as she whisper-yelled it, some child did get hurt and headed toward the shape she made in that child’s eyes, and she quickly dropped her orange plastic tumbler and her 100 centimeter long menthol cigarette into the sink to splash and sizzle out and mix there in the bottom of the kitchen sink, and she quickly wiped her hands on her apron, already saying, “Oh, honey, what happened?” before she knew whose child it was, if it was one of her own or another mother’s, before she knew its gender, its name, its stumbling odor. The mewling sound it made could have been one of hers, but it was still too far out in the dunes struggling against the burned sand, its arms akimbo and its breath in short gasps, for her to properly identify it as anything other than a child hurt and shocked by being hurt and she would wait at the edge of this great basin of children’s play and children’s pain until the poor creature could work its way close enough to be comforted.

10 July 2010

Painting the Golden Gate Bridge

I think of him every day,
my father,
and always on my drive to work,
and I think of his,
my father’s,
work painting the Golden Gate Bridge.

It was the only job he,
my father,
ever had;
27 years in the rigging with brush and buckets of
Golden Gate paint
(orange vermilion called "International Orange"),
enough Golden Gate paint
to float an aircraft carrier or
an armada of small sailboats
each with a happy family aboard,
enough Golden Gate paint
to raise a family and buy a house,
to send two kids to college
and another to art school,
enough Golden Gate paint
to start three families
who bought three houses
to fill with grandchildren
and a divorce or two
and dogs barking in the yards
and barbeque grills for Saturday cookouts
with the whole family.

my father,
painted every day, all day,
the endless job of painting the Golden Gate Bridge;
from north to south on the bay side
and then from south to north on the ocean side
and always to begin again,
north to south,
every day in all weather and never finished,
a möbius strip of painting
that kept him,
my father,
smelling of acetone and benzene and Golden Gate paint
until the day the knot slipped,
until the day the link snapped,
and he,
my father,
toppled backward into the sea
accompanied by a smooth, gliding arc of Golden Gate paint,

And so, yes, today, like every other day,
I tie the knot and snap the link,
take my bucket of Golden Gate paint and my brush
and lower myself down to
pick up the job where he,
my father,
left it.

25 June 2010

excerpted from the much longer “Suicide Girlfriends” (2010)

Sunday was the main day for families to get new cars or even just new used cars because, I guess, the dads were rested up enough after a long week at work and the kids were semi-etherized upon the table of tomorrow being Monday and all with classes and stuff. It was a strategic day, the day of the good deal with low money down, no money down, tug it, tow it, lug it, or push it in for fantastic deals Sunday, man, Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. And whole families left in the old and came back in the new or almost new station wagons or sport coupes or god maybe mustangs or cougars and it was days of standing in a short line to enjoy the new car smell, rides around the block with somebody else's Dad at the wheel until he said, “Enough. Go home now.;” it was “power windows” this, and “automatic wiper fluid” that, it was “Danny’s new daddy’s new El Camino can lay a patch in third” until the thrill of a new car was long long left in the road and the old car just heaved itself up into the driveway at night, glad to have made it home, glad to have made it all, and just sat there with the brake lights first on and then off just ticking cooler in the carport.

26 May 2010

Summer Gets Kind of Hot Around Here

‘Is this what it’s like to go crazy?’ he wonders. In the broadest of broad summer sunlight, the asphalt of the road soft beneath his feet, heat shimmers warp his dim visions. The street tar soft enough so his bare, burning feet sink within it. His fingers woven into the nylon mane of a Malibu Barbie with fully pose-able extremities, her soft and evenly tanned vinyl skin brushing his own pale legs, pale legs spattered with suppurating sores, and his painless descent into the smoldering macadam a metaphor for something only dimly visioned.

“This must be what it’s like to go crazy,” he stated with only Malibu Barbie to hear his whispers.

And he was right.

09 February 2010

When the Sun Shines Even Though It’s Raining

It was Saturday morning about 9 o’clock and Pop came in off the porch.

"Any of you kids ever see the ocean?” he asked us. We were still in our pajamas watching some Saturday cartoons on the beat-up old black-and-white with the coat hanger for an antenna. Nobody said a word and, instead, watched the poorly drawn animals beat each other up on the screen.

“I said,” Pop continued, raising his voice to the “someone better answer me” level. “I said, ‘Any of you kids ever see the ocean?’”

“No, sir,” I answered, assuming my role as eldest and spokesman. “I don’t think any of us ever seen the ocean.”

The ocean was actually the Gulf of Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico was about 25 miles south or maybe west of us and where we were living. I’d heard about it and plenty of kids at school had seen it and told about it but I was pretty sure I’d never been there. I was pretty sure that none of us had been more than five miles from that house in our lives and I was 9 at the time and WalMart was, I estimated, about five miles away from our house because it had taken me about two hours to walk back from WalMart last year when Pop said I was acting like an asshole in auto parts and just left me there.

“Then we’re going to see the ocean today,” Pop announced. “Marie! Marie! Where the hell are you, Marie?”

We all just stared at the television knowing full well that Mom was still laid up in bed after the Friday night they’d had. I was trying to imagine what it would feel like to walk back and forth from WalMart five times. I figured it would take me ten or eleven hours and that was how far away the Gulf of Mexico was, ten or eleven hours of walking and it might as well have been Ding Dang Dong in China.

“Goddammit, Marie,” Pop muttered as he went off to look for her as if he had no idea where she was. “We got us a car to pack up.”

It took the family three hours to get ready to go to the ocean. We had to find all the things Pop said we’d need—towels, bug spray, shorts and t-shirts because none of us had a bathing suit, the old Polaroid to take photos to document our trip and paste into an album we didn’t have, peanut butter sandwiches for lunch in the sun, toys so we could play in the sugar sand Pop said the ocean was beached up with. Mom sat at the kitchen table drinking cup after cup of instant coffee and smoking Virginia Slim Menthol 100s one after the other. Pop was in charge of his refreshments and us kids did everything else under his direction. Connie started crying which wasn’t unusual since Connie cried at least once every day and that day she cried twice. The first time was for I don’t know what and the second time was when Pop smacked her face to get her to stop crying the first time.

“Get you a little shovel and a pail for digging in that sugar sand,” he said and off we went looking for such things.

“Can’t find no little shovels or a pail,” one of us told him.

“Goddammit,” he answered and ended up shoving a broken up garden spade and a plastic flowerpot into the trunk of the Ford. “Gotta do every little goddamn thing myself.”

“Get you one of those blow-up rings for swimming,” he told us.

Later, one of us came up and told him the bad news.

“Can’t find no blow-up ring thing for swimming.”

“Goddammit,” he answered and ended up shoving some black plastic garbage bags into the growing tangle of beach gear filling the Ford’s trunk. “Kids got no sense at all. Garbage bag’s like a big balloon anyhow. Blow one up and paddle around all day.”

It took us about three hours to fill up the trunk with all the stuff Pop said we should take to have fun at the ocean and then it took another half an hour to get Mom in travel shape. She got herself dressed, filled up one of those convenience store plastic mugs with about half-a-gallon of instant coffee, and shoved an extra pack of cigarettes into her purse. We all climbed into the Ford, kids in the back and grown-ups in the front with a mug of coffee between her legs and a can of beer between his, and Pop started driving us to the ocean.

By my reckoning, we’d gone about seven and a half miles or about a 90-minute walk when the left rear tire blew out. Everybody stayed real quiet and then Pop got out of the car and slammed the driver’s side door so hard the rearview mirror cracked. It was just one more thing.

About that time and even though the sun was still beating down sort of smoky hot and fierce, it started to rain a bit and the drops that hit him made little dark circles on his t-shirt. Pop just stood there in front of the Ford getting wet and saying “goddammit” over and over again.

“When I was a little girl, you know what we used to say when it would rain like this when the sun was still shining?” Mom finally said.

“No’m,” I answered. Connie was sniffling beside me.

“Us kids used to say that the devil was beating his wife.”

12 January 2010

Laundry Day

It was July and all us kids were home or at least near home when the cleaning started. I was in the back yard playing Hot Wheels with Jeffery and the girls were in the attic snooping through the trunks up there from who ever knew how long ago.

Mom started in the kitchen with all the pots and pans and plates and glasses left over from the night before. We could hear her banging things around and opening and shutting the cabinet drawers.

Next, she started vacuuming and over the next hour or so we could hear her hoovering the carpets and the wood floors from one end of the house to another.

Then the washing machine started and, after a while, the dryer.

“Blam,” Jeffery said when he sent one of his Hot Wheels into mine.

Jeffery was only four so I let him smash into me all the time.

The washer and the dryer were basically going the whole time.

The girls wandered down from the attic; they all were dusty and smudged.

“What’s Mom doing?” they asked.

“Cleaning?” I asked them

“That’s what it looks like,” they answered. “Sort of.”

We could see Mom struggling to get the curtains off the rods in each of the rooms facing the backyard. One at a time, she pulled them down and the washer sounded strained and forced as we supposed she fed them into it.

“She’s cleaning everything,” I proposed.

“Everything,” the girls agreed.

After about three or four or five hours, after about the time it would take to wash every single curtain, sheet, and towel in the house, to dry each item, and to fold them all or hang them all back up, things inside the house quited down. In many ways, it appeared ominous.

The girls made themselves apparent without interfering with the Hot Wheels in the dirt.

“Blam,” Jeffery said. “Blam blam blam.”

Sooner than we expected, Mom was at the back door.

“All you kids get inside right now,” she told us.

We got inside.

“Everybody go to their rooms right now,” she told us.

We went to our rooms.

One by one, she came to each of us.

“Take off your clothes. All of them. Right now,” she said.

It must have been about four o’clock in the afternoon by that time. Our beds were bare, nothing but mattress ticking showing. We had curtains, but they were clean and ironed and smelled like bleach or something.

We shucked our clothes, t-shirts, pants, shorts, socks, underwear, everything, into the big hamper Mom held in her hands and sat on our naked beds naked. We could hear the washing machine and the dryer growling away from the other side of the house.

“For once,” we could hear Mom say, “For once in my life, everything in this house is going to be clean.”

It made a kind of sense and, since it was summer and we weren’t cold or anything, it seemed like a good time to do it.

We sat there in our rooms naked on our naked beds and waited until Mom came back and gave us clean clothes and told us to get dressed or something.

We sat there a long time.

It must have been about five thirty when we heard the front door open and Dad came home from work.

We could hear Mom meet him at the door.

“Take your clothes off,” she told him. “Take them off right now.”

We could hear Dad make some noises, sort of confused and blustering.

“Where are the kids?” he asked.

“Never mind the kids. Forget the kids. I’m serious,” Mom said. “Take all your clothes off right now.”

The noises Dad made changed tone.

“It’s not what you think,” one of the girls yelled from their room.