Part 12: The Funeral (Part 2)

This is an excerpt from my novel Caroline. See the previous chapter here.

When mom looked at me sporting a fashionable bowtie she was delighted and asked me where I learned how to tie a tie. Of course I gave her an evasive smile and jammed myself into the car to embark on a trip to the cemetery. Of course Cupertino is a town that has a high cost-of-living, and apparently also a high cost-of-dying. Even buying a burial plot around there is more expensive than a place more out of the way, such as Gilroy. So we packed together in the car for a long journey which, depending on the traffic, takes more than an hour. But as we headed out for the highway Caroline did not cry; she withheld her tears for three weeks after her parent’s death, so there was no question that she could withhold her tears for the duration of the trip to the funeral.

Throughout the trip I couldn’t help but look at Caroline, especially since she was attired in Emily’s fancy yellow dress, the one with the puffy sleeves and frilly collar and hem. Her bare, delicate lower legs were poised in such a graceful manner, and the fact that she was wearing a thin veil of makeup made her especially beautiful that day. This time I couldn’t even pretend that I wasn’t constantly looking at her, staring at her for half of the ride. My attention towards her was broken only when we passed redwood forests, because I was constantly thinking that I must see the last glimpse of such majestic beauty before the progress of ‘civilization’ irrevocably destroys it. Caroline apparently enjoyed the attention I was giving her, she didn’t mind my blank stares and smiled slyly when my eyes were looking towards her instead of outside the car window. At times I noticed Caroline was glancing at me in her own evasive fashion, as though like me she had reasons to hide her true feelings towards me.

We arrived at the cemetery, indicated by a small sign by the side of the road reading “GATES OF PEACE Funeral Home and Wedding Services.” I thought that it was merely a typo on the sign but as we drove past the we we saw a couple, the man wearing a tuxedo and the woman wearing a white gown, on the lawn sliding rings on each other’s finger in front of a field of headstones.

“They’re having a wedding right on a cemetery,” I said, “isn’t that a little inauspicious?”

“Four weddings and a funeral,” Caroline responded playfully, then smiled sourly but still in a cheerful mood, “you’re not superstitious, are you?”

“Definitely not, my mother once took me and a bunch of my schoolmates to visit a cemetery on a Halloween night. I remembered it to be quite a boring experience, the grass was very well-manicured and the tombstones were nothing more than blocks of rock with names carved on them. I saw no cobwebs, creepy overhanging tree limbs or wandering ghosts of the dead. In fact I was rather disappointed by the mundaneness of visiting the cemetery by night, I might as well have been eating a piece of celery or slaughtering a pig, except it was even quieter.”

“Then why are you complaining about weddings taking place in cemeteries?”

“It’s mostly the symbolic meaning, what message are you sending reciting your vows in a field of corpses? That your relationship with your future spouse is about as dead as those people in the ground?”

Caroline laughed, the sound of which reverberated throughout the car and nearly broke the glass and almost blew out my ear drums.

“Are you okay back there, Caroline?” mom asked, thinking Caroline was screaming because she had cut herself.

“I’m perfectly fine,” Caroline said with a straight face looking at mom.

When mom’s attention switched back onto the road Caroline looked at me again with her playfully mischievous face.

After the car was parked I realized why a cemetery would be such a perfect place for a wedding. There is a chapel situated on the right of the cemetery where any type of religious service, be it wedding or funeral, could be held. The rolling hillside which is owned by the cemetery but is as of yet free of unsightly tombstones is a perfect place for putting on weddings. There were a few taking place that day. I watched the couple, with a rabbi by their side, having a wedding on top of a small hill as I walked towards the chapel.

We all entered the chapel and sat ourselves on the benches in the back; the funeral the proceeded ours hadn’t yet concluded, the body of an unknown stranger was still on the stage, and the organist was still playing a somber tune. Not soon after we had sat down four men in suits walk up to the stage and carried the casket out of the chapel, the entire crowd that seemed to fill the pews began to stand up but it seemed to take forever for everybody to file out of the building. At this point I was beginning to believe that the funeral for Uncle Cecil, and don’t even mention Aunt Dana, will last for eternities, considering the amount of time it took simply for people to enter and exit the chapel.

After everybody left mom walked up to the preacher and talked with him. Even though the chapel was dead silent and the acoustics was good, I couldn’t hear them because they spoke in such soft voices. Mom then asked us to raise our small butts off the benches and move up to the first row. The preacher stood back and yelled, “Crank up the music, Connor, we have another wooden box coming through.” Organ music quickly started to fill the chapel with a somber march, which quickly turned the mood of the entire chapel into one appropriate for a funeral. Six men carried a casket through the front door and onto the stage. The casket fell on the stage with a rather loud thump, the six men began massaging their arms, presumably because the casket was so heavy it strained their muscles.

Part 11: The Funeral (Part 1)

This is an excerpt from my novel Caroline. Read the previous chapter here.

One morning, seemingly without warning, mother asked us to don on our formal wear. I didn’t understand why but Caroline apparently did. She was very perceptive, noticing how mom was dressing all in black and Emily was in a black gown with black shoes, Caroline immediately ascertain that they were going to her parent’s funeral. While the most of us were polishing our shoes and eating a light breakfast (funerals usually don’t elicit hunger in most of us) Caroline locked herself up in her room, refusing to come out.

Her dress was well-starched and well-ironed; we weren’t able to afford any formal wear for her but found a pair of dress shoes our neighbors tossed out onto the curb and polished it with used motor oil (we can’t afford shoe polish) until it’s spick-and-span. We even applied a little makeup on her and darkened her eyebrows, yet she cloistered herself in her room. Mom was concerned she wouldn’t attend the funeral and said, “Ricky dear, could you go to your cousin and convince her to come with us?”

Being the ruling dame of the household I could not disobey my mother, although I hate it whenever mom uses me as a weapon of subterfuge to force another person to do something against their will. I went and knocked on the door of my room, and asked, “Could I come in and get a tie?”

For a while I thought Caroline had decided not to open the door under any circumstances, but my tie excuse apparently deceived her into thinking that I was merely coming to retrieve a silly piece of silk and did not have ulterior motives, so she opened. I wasn’t planning to wear a tie but since it was my pretext to come into her room I’d look like a liar if I didn’t, so I decided to put on a nice, quirky bowtie. As I was struggling to put it on I asked, “We’re burying some dead people today, do you wish to come join us?”

Caroline did not respond, she merely sat on her bed and stared at the floor, almost unaware I was in the room. I ran up to her bed, jumped up and sat on it, sending ripples of vibration across its surface. Caroline responded to the bed’s motion by stretching her neck, but after a few minutes she returned to her lackadaisical self.

“Well, the truth is that we’ll not be responsible for burying them, a backhoe has probably dug the hole which the caskets will be thrown into. The pallbearers will actually carry the caskets and lower it into the grave so all we have to do is sit and watch the somber procession, the boring eulogy given by sappy relatives and the preacher doing the whole ‘dust to dust’ thing. I heard they’ll be serving shrimp cocktails, light hors d’oeuvres and chilled sauvignon blanc as concessions so it might be fun, you can drown your sorrows in ‘Napa lightning’ as I call it.”

Caroline moved her head a bit, I didn’t know what it meant but I was glad she was responding, and what I said didn’t go into thin air. I fiddled with the tie a little while but the ‘bow’ part of the tie keep turning out funny, it was getting frustrating to the point where I said, “Shit! Why can’t you tie behave yourself?” The “s” word got Caroline’s attention, she turned around and showed her sublime face (even at such a young age a meager dab of makeup accented her natural beauty so much that I was a little taken away when I first saw her dolled up), took the tie from my left hand and started tying it for me.

“The tie goes around like this,” she started to explain, tucking the tie underneath my collar, making me feel embarrassed for my previous attempts wrapping it over my collar. For quite a small girl she had strong hands, but she was quite gentle tying the tie, making sure that she wasn’t strangling me as she tightened the bow. The whole time my eyes were paying attention to her face, her faced looked rather indifferent as she focused attention on my neck, she might as well be reading a newspaper or a textbook. Her fingers moved so naturally, as though she was born to tie ties. She was very quick and I was very satisfied with the results, as a matter of fact I even looked at myself vainly in the mirror to inspect my tie and adjust it.

“I never knew you know how to tie a bowtie.” Caroline smiled slyly and said, “My father taught me a thing or two. He used to sit me on his table before work and watch him dress, he laid out his ties which I liked to play with. Noticing this, he taught me the Windsor knot, the half-knot and the bowtie, now I know them all.”

“Is that all your father taught you?”

“Well, let’s see; he helped me out with my math homework. The heck, he virtually taught me math; I was often too sick to attend school and what I learned was mostly through him. He read me everything, from Clifford the Big Red Dog to Time magazine, all those months which I couldn’t leave my bed he was always beside me, wearing his hairnet, surgical mask and gloves. He tried comforting me all the time, often using his sense of humor and never-failing optimism. I had always been afraid of clowns, nonetheless I didn’t mind when my father dressed as a clown for Halloween, with his gentleness he took what were boogymen in heavy makeup and wigs and made them appear to be the most kind and understanding people.”

“You seem to remember many positive experiences of your father,” I remarked rather innocently.

Caroline’s face lit up as though she was experiencing an orgasm (girls of her age don’t have orgasms, at least I thought), she laughed delightfully (although to ears that are not used to her voice this would sound like the blood-culling screech of an eagle), and said, “Daddy was a wonderful man, truly. He was there with me the most of the time when I was sick, we saw each other at least once a day if not more, and he even gave up his job which garnished us with the salary that was necessary for my medical treatment, for years we lived mainly off of welfare.”

“And how about your mother, what were your memories of her?”

She was struck with terror, her face twitched before she broke down into tears, “Mom! Her brains, brains, everywhere, and not a piece of it in her head!”

“I’m sorry, but could you remember anything about her when she was alive?”

Her tears abated and she started reminiscing, “She’s the one I miss the most. I don’t think, with the possible exception of the time I’m enjoying a good banana cream pie, there is a moment that I spend without thinking of my mother. They told me that her death was painless, but I couldn’t believe it with so much blood spilling out from the back of her head.”

I thought she’d be forever mourning her mother in her room, so as I was about to leave I told her, “Mom said you can stay in your room if you want to, she understands you’re too distraught to come to the funeral.”

After sobbing for half a minute she said with her whimpering voice, “No, I’ll go, I want to say goodbye to them for the last time when I still have the chance.” It was rather unexpected that she would come along, I guess my fears of my failure to convince her was just self-flagellation. Perhaps I do have a persuasive personality that is characteristic of all snake oil salesmen and politicians.

Part 10: My Sister’s Clothes

This is an excerpt from my novel, Caroline. Read the previous chapter here.

Caroline continued to keep to herself; she hardly talked to other people, even at the dinner table when we had lively conversations. Most of the conversation in our household was Emily begging mom to buy expensive clothes, usually ending with my mom chastising her for being too spendthrift. Caroline didn’t seem to need any new clothes, she got by on the hand-me-downs from Emily. Mom saved them hoping one day to reuse the clothes on me (though honestly, I don’t look good in a skin-tight red shirt with a midriff and equally tight, low-cut jeans and a strapless bra).

Note to the reader: The protagonist of this novel (the same person narrating the story) is male.

Generally speaking, Emily’s clothes were too big for Caroline, but due to our ultraslow budget such things as comfort and fit had to fall by the wayside. Caroline looked rather strange with oversized clothes, one of Emily’s old T-shirt reached all the way down to her knee, she could tie a belt around her waist and wear that shirt as a dress. But mom wouldn’t allow Caroline to use her clothes in such a fashion. The only piece of clothing that fit Caroline well as a yellow dress that Emily outgrew when she was three years old.

(Emily was a large person from birth, the doctors even told my mother that she needed a Caesarean. But through her iron will and what must have been a very wide vagina she gave birth to Emily the traditional way, with a lot of pain and heavy breathing.) It was the only piece of Emily’s baby clothes to have survived; she threw most of them away long ago when I outgrew them. She used to dress me in clothes Emily had outgrown even though they were rather girly. She once received a complaint from daycare when I showed up in a pink dress with matching pink princess Jasmine socks. Despite this she continued putting me in dresses at home until I outgrew them at the age of 7. To her, the price of me being embarrassed in public wasn’t worth the cost of buying new clothes. Fortunately there are no photographs of me dressed as a girl; mom was too cheap to buy a camera.

I felt sorry Caroline did not get any new clothes. We were poor, but not dirt poor since we were able to afford to buy a house, and I’m sure there was some money left over from paying the down payment to use as a slush fund to do with whatever we wished. The real reason Caroline did not get any new clothes was my mom’s stinginess, which has a legendary status in the annals of humanity. She once ate a sausage that was clearly marked “NOT FIT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION” because it was two cents per pound cheaper than another brand of sausage. Spam was a cut of meat too expensive to be served very often, and Manwich was like filet mignon. For most of my childhood I ate parts of animals that people wouldn’t even feed to their dogs, but I never asked mom what was in our lunch for fear of loosing my appetite.

As for buying clothes, she even considers Goodwill too fancy a store to shop at regularly, opting to pick up clothes, along with clothe-hangers, that neighbors and friends threw out. Our wardrobe consists mostly of clothes that other people have grown out of or gone out of fashion, so there were lots of baby clothes, psychedelic T-shirts and disco suits. Interestingly, I’ve only gotten positive responses when I dressed like John Travolta at school, so my mother’s parsimony was not necessarily bad. In any case I still believe that Caroline would look prettier if mom coughed up the money to buy her new clothes.

Nonetheless Caroline still look graceful in whichever dress available to her, and since she opened up a little I enjoyed looking at her whenever she walked past me. I was a little sneaky, I glanced at her when I thought she was not paying any attention to me, then glanced away when she started looking at me. I knew that she knew I did this, it bothered her a little as I will discover later on, but she at least understands that I was too embarrass to share with her my feelings.

Throughout the next few weeks Caroline started opening up just a little bit, like a young bud preparing to burst open in the heat of the morning sun. It might have been my imagination but when she looked at me she doesn’t appear hostile anymore, she was obviously not elated but at least I know it didn’t look as though she was ready to punch me.

She was starting to talk, just a little, such as during dinner when she opened her mouth and said in a very brazen manner, “Three bean salad?! But this only contains pinto beans!”

“Actually it’s soybeans; I can’t afford pinto beans,” my mother said in the spirit of an unusually good mood.

I would like to believe that I played a role in opening up Caroline. It would have been a great boost to my ego if I had the ability to help a person to overcome her life of tragedy and become a well-adjusted individual. But probably the shock of her parent’s death was wearing off and she was beginning to acclimate to living with a new family, making her less reclusive and more open. One thing was clear though, she talked more friendly in front of me than any other person she was acquainted with. It might be due to the fact we were both ten-years-old and therefore had an intimate understanding of one another’s thought at this stage of psychological development. Perhaps I was the only one besides Caroline who spent most of my days hanging around in the house (during the day mom was at work and Emily spent her time near Oaks Theater with her friends) and was in contact with her for longer periods of time and able to develop a deeper relationship than with anyone else she knows. But I would like to believe that Caroline was attracted to me because of my magnetic personality and god-like attributes.

Part 9: Death on the Highway

This is an excerpt from my novel Caroline. Read the previous chapter here.

As we were eating our ice cream I listened to Caroline’s comments, “You know, it’s a lot cooler out here than inside the house.”

“Yes, out here the wind blows freely and dissipates the heat, inside the house the air’s trapped and thus does not allow the heat to go anywhere.”

“You know Ricky, can I tell you something?” The smile on her face made me suspect she was going to say something important, so I tried in all my might not to interrupt her. “I miss my parents.”

“Yes, and now they’re dead,” I said rather insensitively, then realized I may have made a mistake. I tried keeping thoughts like these to myself but sometimes I slipped and said them aloud.

Surprisingly Caroline was not upset, in fact she was very good humored and laughed. Her laugh was not pleasing to the ear but with familiarity I was slowly finding it to be quite sweet.

“I can’t believe that it has been a month since they’ve died; it seemed like only yesterday that we tumbled off of that hill and dove to our deaths.”

“But obviously you survived.”

“Yes, though life seems so difficult without them I wish I was dead.”

Caroline started to cry, tears flowed from the corner of her eyes as if on command, her face tightened as she was preparing to weep, and her voice became constricted and high-pitched. “After we rolled down the hill we were all still alive. When the car hit a tree, a large majestic redwood, the collision caused the entire left side of the car to crumple, pinning dad inside his seat. I was lucky, I was sitting on the right side and heard my dad saying, ‘Caroline! Caroline!’

“I was elated to hear my father still alive, I said, ‘Daddy! Oh daddy!’

“‘Caroline, my left leg is trapped and I can’t get out of the car, how about you?’

“He turned his neck around and based on the look of agony on his face drenched in large drops of cold sweat, I could see he was suffering from considerable pain. The car door was too warped to be opened; I crawled out of the window to reach him when he saw my face said, ‘Caroline, Caroline!’

“‘What is it now, daddy?’

“‘Go back onto the highway and get help, we’re all depending on you because daddy is too hurt to get out of this car, and be fast because I’m not feeling well…’ At that point daddy passed out and I realized the urgency of the situation, I ran up the hillside, which was difficult because it was steep and my feet slipped under the crumbling dirt a few times. But when I climbed back up on the highway I panicked, I was scared of the cars which were traveling so fast. I didn’t know where to go for help and wandered aimlessly. Cars swerved to avoid me, honking their horns and cursing at me for being such an obstruction to traffic. With nowhere to turn for help I started crying, thinking about how much my father was suffering pinned and helpless inside his own vehicle.

“After half an hour of this a police car saw me and pulled over, two police officers came out and asked me what’s the matter. I told them everything and one of them went down the hillside to take a look at the wreckage while the other took me in inside the police car and called an ambulance, while at the same time attempting to console me. He showed me a picture of his wife and his children, and told me about the first time he tried changing a baby’s diaper he was sprayed with urine. He was quite good at making me lose my worries, and even told me that he was certain that my family will be found alive, that once they use the jaws-of-life on the car that my parents will spring out and give me a big hug. Of course we now know this not to be true, the car already burst into flames killing both of them. Throughout the past weeks I’ve been thinking to myself if I didn’t panic the way I did I might have been cognizant enough to get attention from passing drivers quickly enough to save my parents.”

She continued weeping and hiccuping uncontrollably, and her ice cream was beginning to melt so I did her the favor of taking her cone and eating it. I laid my hand on her shoulder to reassure her and said, “Only your father died in the subsequent fire that consumed the car, your mother died instantly remember? So your failure to procure help quicker only resulted in the death of one person instead of two.”

Apparently such words were of no comfort to Caroline, and she cried even louder than before. Taking a lick of vanilla and another lick of coffee-chocolate got enough sugar into my body to fire all my brain cells in order to think up of a way to lighten up the mood, but then my brain suddenly stumbled upon a paradox which was quite intriguing, and even though I knew better not to further traumatize Caroline I asked, “Wait, how come your father’s body was burnt to a crisp yet your mother’s remained unburnt despite the fact that both of them were inside the same flaming car?”

Caroline’s gasps for air became heavier as more tears spilled out of her large eyes, “Oh my mother, her head split open like a ripe watermelon, pieces of her brain splattered all over my dress!” At that point I was wise enough not to speak to her any further, I only gave her comfort through holding her hand and even conceded my seat right above the storm drain so her salty tears could fall straight in and join the run-off from overwatered lawns and out to the Pacific Ocean.

After fifteen minutes watching my cousin cry, I suddenly realized there was a spare copy of the house key hidden under a pot of petunias on the patio, meaning us being locked out of the house was completely unnecessary. Caroline went crazy after she found this out. Even though I told her it was unintentional, I had merely forgotten that mom keeps a copy of the key hidden outside of the house in case any of us were locked out, it didn’t matter. She heckled me for my absentmindedness, as though I had conscious control over what to forget and what not to forget. Despite knowing it was a lot cooler under the shade of a gingko tree than inside the house, she went back to the house anyway. I guess this is what women are good at, complaining about things which are completely irrelevant and in spite of the fact that they know they are not in the right.

Part 8: Sugar Junkie

This is an excerpt from my novel Caroline. See the previous chapter here.

Caroline and I were alone together in the house (yes, mom was too cheap to pay a babysitter, she figured that if the absence of a babysitter caused one of us to die in a stupid accident, she could always give birth to another child) when I suddenly heard the sound of an ice cream truck passing by. Now, sugar is like heroin to small children, and I was and still am a sugar junkie; to me the sound of an ice cream truck passing by is like the sound of black tar heroin cooking up in a dirty old metal spoon to an addict. As soon as that sweet tune passed by I cannot physically restrain myself from jumping off the couch and running out on the streets.

Caroline walked past and asked me, “Where are you going?”

“Ice cream truck,” I explained.

Caroline appeared puzzled and asked, “What is an ice cream truck?”

All those years she spent in the hospital had caused her to missed some of the best childhood experiences, so I explained, “Some vendors of ice cream use ridiculously slow moving trucks as a platform from which they hawk their products, do you want to come? Make your decisions fast, Gerome will not wait for us.”

Caroline seemed to take an excruciating long amount of time to decide, but it was probably because I was experiencing time differently from her. I’m a sugar junkie; any delay in getting sugar into my veins is pure agony.

“Aunt Sylvia hasn’t gotten us ice cream and the temperature has hit three digits for three days now and is likely to continue into a fourth day, oh, I would love to have that sweet, sweet cold, smooth ice cream slide down my throat.”

“Standing there won’t get you any ice cream, come on! Let’s run!”

Caroline followed me and ran into the streets, it was just in time because Gerome was about to turn a corner and leave the block when we suddenly approached him. He had a great eye and saw us in his rearview mirror and slowed his van at a stop sign. He stuck his hand out the window of his van and said, “You are such a regular customer that I was actually a little worried when I drove past your house and you didn’t come out. I thought you might have tripped and broke a leg as you were running out, but now that you’re here, who’s this girlfriend of yours?”

I glanced over at Caroline, who shirked away in embarrassment, then back at Gerome and said, “She’s not my girlfriend, she’s my cousin.”

“Ah, the forbidden fruit is ever more sweet, isn’t it?” he said with a wink. At that time I didn’t understand what he was saying but apparently Caroline did, because she responded by letting out a shrilled laugh. Quickly I handed two one-dollar bills to him, by then my hands were already trembling from withdrawal.

“You know what I like, two scoops of chocolate-coffee ice cream with sprinkles, and Caroline would vanilla be fine for you?”

“Anything you order I’m sure I’ll like.”

“Yeah, I think coffee would be too strong for her.”

I gave Gerome the money and with lightning speed he went to the back of the van and got us two cones. I nodded to him before he drove away. Quite content holding and licking our ice cream cones we slowly walked back home. Before I even took my first lick of ice cream I asked Caroline, “Do you want to try some of my coffee-chocolate ice cream?”

At first Caroline was reluctant but then eagerly took my right hand and took a big bite out of the top scoop of ice cream. Her face was filled with many interesting expressions as she tasted it, then said, “How are you able to stand eating that stuff?”

“I have to admit that my first reaction to coffee-chocolate was like yours. But after a few licks the flavor becomes less overwhelming and you get to savor the subtle flavors.”

Caroline did not appear convinced and continued eating her vanilla ice cream. We returned the house and all seemed calm, but suddenly as I tried opening the door I found it locked.

“What’s the matter? Are we locked out?” Caroline asked.

“I don’t know,” I responded, still not admitting defeat but continued rattling the doorknob. After a few seconds I said, “okay, we’re locked out, but maybe the back door is open.”

We tried the backdoor, but some schlub (probably me) was very meticulous and locked the backdoor too, and it wouldn’t open no matter what I did. I took ten steps backward and with full force ran at the door and ram it open with brute force. But all that happened as my shoulder collided with the door was a shooting pain up my neck that nearly forced me to drop to the ground.

“Are you okay?” Caroline said, running towards me when she saw raw pain on my face and putting her hand on my left shoulder. “Here, let me hold your ice cream.”

Despite the pain I managed to walk to the nearest windowsill and prop my body up. As I put the weight of my body on my left hand there was a popping sound, and I let out a shrilled scream.

“Are you okay?” Caroline asked with a tone of worry in her voice.

“Yes, I believe my shoulder socket has popped back into place; the pain has improved quite a lot.”

I moved my shoulder around to allow it to settle back into place, there were a series of popping and crackling sound but it wasn’t accompanied by much pain. As I gestured for Caroline to hand back my ice cream cone, she remarked, “I couldn’t understand why you think ramming that door would make it pop open since that door swings out, not in.”

“Well thank you for making me realize what a buffoon I was,” I said, starting off with a tone of exasperation trailing off with a flippant smile looking into Caroline’s eyes.

In good humor Caroline asked, “Got any more ideas, Einstein?”

I good a look of the formidable fortress that is our home and said, “Well, I know this house is made mostly of flimsy drywall and asbestos, if I run fast enough maybe I could break through. Of course, there is the danger of hitting a stud.”

“I forbid you from trying to penetrate the wall by running through it,” Caroline responded, “you already dislocated your shoulder by trying to ram the door, god knows what you’ll dislocate if you put your body up against the entire house.”

“You’re right, and I imagine that mom would be mad if we punch a Ricky-sized hole through one of her precious walls.” Not able to get back into the house, we decided to enjoy our ice cream under the shade of a gingko tree across the street. We sat on the curb under its shade right over a storm drain, so I could enjoy the smell of decaying leaves along with my ice cream.

Part 7: Pet Snail and Pet Maggot

This is an excerpt from my novel, Caroline. See previous chapter here.

I had finished going to the library and plopped on the couch to rest when suddenly Rachael hopped onto my lap and started rubbing her head against my arms. Rachael was our family pet, it had been a shelter animal because mom was too cheap to buy an animal from an experienced breeder. Rachael was technically a mutt, if the term can be applied to cats as well, but we didn’t pick Rachael for her breed as much as for her docility and timidity. Generally it’s not good to name pets after a person in the family; Rachael was named after our grandmother who had, at the time, recently passed away.

Because Rachael was in reality Emily’s cat, she was fed by Emily and hangs around her almost exclusively; in the middle of the night she would only creep into Emily’s room, then jump up on her bed and sleep with her. I had no problems with Emily sleeping with Rachael, although initially when I tell that to some of her friends they’d get confused, especially if they know our grandmother had the same name. That aside, it’s a rare event that Rachael would jump on my lap and let me pet her. I took the liberty of taking my right hand and stroking the cat’s back from the top of its shiny head to the base of its frisky tail. I found it a little strange that the cat should arch its back each time my hand neared the base of its tail; not that I think this is improper animal behavior, but feeling its muscles suddenly tense as it merely felt my touch made the animal seem unnerved by my presence.

As I stroked the cat’s shiny coat, Caroline walked past and briefly glanced at me. I was distracted and Rachael took the opportunity to jump off my lap and onto the hardwood floor, arching its back and raising its tail in a defiant manner as it trotted away. Trying to capture Caroline’s attention, I picked Rachael off the floor, smiled at Caroline and asked, “Here, would you like to hold Rachael?”

For a second she did not respond, then she turned around and stared at me with the same look of hostility as she did when we were riding in the car back home from the YMCA. Cold and piercing were her eyes as she walked towards me; I could not stand to look at her directly when she was within an arm’s length reach. I was about to turn around and run because the expression on Caroline’s face was so intense it could melt steel doors. But as I was starting to shirk away Caroline asked, “Aren’t you giving me Rachael to play with?”

I regained the courage to open my eyes again, but did not stare into Caroline’s face directly. She held out her hands to accept the cat into her arms, but before I handed the cat to her I showed her proper way to cradle a cat before putting it in her hands.

“Is that too heavy for you?” I asked.

“No, I’ve been asked to carry heavier things before,” Caroline responded.

For about half a minute the cat tried to wriggle out from Caroline’s arms, but with a grip firmer than you’d expect from hands as small as hers Caroline held onto Rachael tightly and did not let her go even as Rachael was hissing and scratching Caroline with her claws. A remarkable transformation took place as Caroline looked into Rachael’s face; the expression on Caroline’s face soften and became more gentle. Then something completely unexpected, Caroline started “baby-talking” to Rachael, using an artificially high-pitched voice, exaggerated intonation, simplified grammar and repetition.

“Aren’t you a pretty kitty? Aren’t you a pretty kitty? Yes you are! Yes you are! Oh, where is she going? Where is she going?”

It was fascinating because my sister showed the same behavior towards Rachael as Caroline did, confirming an intuition I had for a while that females have an innate mothering instinct. Despite Rachael acting hostile towards Caroline, she treated the cat as though it welcomed her attention. When Rachael scratched Caroline with its claws so hard that she started bleeding, she was unfazed and said jokingly in a very playful voice, ‘Oh, my little kitty is a little Rrrrrrrrr! Isn’t she?’ (I can vouch that I have correctly spelled exactly what Caroline said, she could trill as well as a singer in a mariachi band.)

Caroline’s legs must have been feeling a little tired and she sat down besides me while holding Rachael in her lap. After a while Rachael wasn’t struggling as much, she appeared quite content on Caroline’s lap and allowed her to stroke it without being restrained. With a cat on her lap Caroline seemed very happy, it was hard to imagine that only moments ago she had a grim look on her face as though she’s been condemned to death row, but now she looked like she was pardon by the governor. Innocently, without being cognizant that I was speaking aloud, I remarked, “I believe that this is the first time I’ve ever seen you smile.”

Caroline was surprised and said, “That’s not true, I’ve smiled many times since I’ve been with you.”

“‘Since I’ve been with you,'” I thought to myself, this time careful to avoid saying my thoughts aloud, “I’ve never been purposefully with you, so far we’ve only encountered one another when we accidentally bump into each other in the house.”

“If you’ve ever smiled in front of me then my eyes must have been shut at the moment, because after scanning every memory of the times I’ve look at you, you appeared grim, like the Angel of Death or a scary kid from a horror film,” I said.

Caroline smiled and jokingly whispered, “I see dead people.”

“Yes, when you take LSD you see a lot of things,” I thought silently to myself.

“Have you ever had a cat before?” I asked.

With a glowing smile Caroline said, “Never, I didn’t even have a gerbil or mouse. I had a goldfish once but it died a few weeks after I got it. Goldfish are no fun, you could never pet a one; they’re so sensitive and swift that they’d swim away before you could touch them, and who wants to touch a slimy goldfish anyway? I can’t understand why some people enjoy keeping cold-blooded animals as pets, especially lizards and other reptiles. I can understand why people keep turtles as pets because baby turtles are cute, but once they grow up they’re nothing but a cold lizard in a shell. I especially can’t understand people who keep snakes as pets, what’s so appealing about a slithering animal who frequently sticks out its forked tongue and swallows animals whole? It sounds more like an extraterrestrial being than an earthly creature. I think mice are cute, especially if they have a fluffy coat and cute, large ears. But I hate albino ‘lab mice,’ I find their bloodshot eyes very disconcerting. The white color of their coat is too intense, it reminds me of the white coats doctors wear, which I’m still trying to rid my memories of. I hate rats, except the ones with multi-colored coats which I do like to some degree.”

I asked Caroline only a simple question but never expected such a complex answer where she enumerates what animals she likes and for what reason. But she wasn’t finished yet, “But since I’ve spent so much time in a hospital I never had a chance to have a real pet, once they got me one of them trendy electronic pets from Japan but it couldn’t replace the warmth and fuzziness of a living, flesh and blood pet.”

“You seem to have a lot of preferences on what types of animals will make good pets for a person who hasn’t have had any real pets in her life.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked, this time her smile turning a little sour and back to a hostile look.

“Well, since you never had an opportunity to try out many different types of pets, you really don’t know which animals make good pets or not. I found many types of animals indeed make good pets, even ones no one thought can be domesticated. I once had a pet snail, I kept it in a large glass jar and enjoyed watching it crawl up the sides of the glass with its undulating belly and probing its environment with its long eyestalks and two tentacles that surrounded its mouth. The problem was that I kept feeding it lettuce, which contains too much water. After a while the snail became bloated, plus the jar was also collecting unsightly snail feces and slime trails. I felt sorry for the snail’s living conditions and appearance so I released it into the garden from where it came.

“I also kept another unusual pet, I once swatted flies and fed them to my goldfish, because I’ve heard that feeding goldfish live food provides them with more nutrition than regular pellets. I once caught a very large fly, it was unlike the small green-bottles that are more numerous in our area; it looked more like a large horsefly. I kept this unusual find in a small glass jar so I could carry it carefully to the fish tank when I suddenly notice tiny, short, white filaments no thicker than a thread wriggling out of its crushed abdomen. They were maggots that have hatched inside the body of the fly. It was planning to lay the maggots on a suitable substrate for feeding until I cut short its plans by crushing it to death. Fascinated by these almost microscopic creatures I tried raising them, first on banana peel and then on pieces of apple and cantaloupe. Despite their otherworldly and some would say disgusting appearance, I took care of them as well as my knowledge of maggot husbandry allowed, even giving them a habitat inside a used makeup container my mother threw away. Even so, out of the half-dozen maggots I collected only one survived to the stage where it was as big as a grain of rice. Unfortunately it then escaped from the makeup box I gave it as its home. I could only hope that mom accidentally threw away the maggot into a pile of trash where it continued its development, then turned into a chrysalis, from which an adult fly emerge and is now blissfully buzzing around in a garbage dump somewhere, enjoying sucking juice from a spoiled peach.”

Caroline looked quite repulsed, and said, “I don’t know whether to compliment you on your ability to describe with such beautiful language something as ugly as maggots, or to be completely disgusted at the fact that you enjoyed having maggots as pets.”

I smiled and said, “Why can’t you do both at the same time? My point is that there are many animals that most people have never even considered that actually make good pets. In fact maggots make excellent pets, they take up very little space, eat very little and don’t seem to excrete much waste (at least that’s my experience). It doesn’t matter if a few of them die because people are less emotionally attached to insects than mammals, they have a very short lifespan and therefore go through their entire life-cycles in a matter of weeks and are plentiful and easy to obtain. Now, many consider flies to be dirty creatures because they spread diseases, but consider the fact that more normal pets such as dogs and cats are also quite dirty themselves, especially dogs because they cannot be trained to use a litter box. Dogs and cats also spread diseases such as rabies, tapeworms, fleas, where would these things be without cats and dogs as intermediates for their transmission? In fact, the household cat is a reservoir of a parasite so dangerous to unborn fetuses that pregnant women are advised not to handle cats. On the contrary, maggots do not carry any diseases that are transmissible to human beings unless you eat them raw, which is unlikely. So there is quite a case to be made that maggots make the perfect pet, despite our instinctive, visceral reaction towards things that look like grains of rice that can wriggle. And besides, when Rachael comes back from the yard carrying the bloody remains of a bird he’s caught outside, that’s quite disgusting also.”

“Ew! Rachael has caught a bird once?” Caroline said with a look of disgust on her face. She released her grip on Rachael and even tried shooing her away from her lap, but Rachael enjoyed lying on Caroline’s lap too much to jump off.

I smiled and said, “I believe Rachael likes you.”

Continue to next chapter.

Part 6: A Few Extra Fingers and Toes

This is an excerpt from my novel Caroline. Read the previous chapter here.

Despite living in the same house and sharing the same room, Caroline and I barely interacted with one another. Even at the dinner table I had never asked her to pass the salt or mustard. It might as well that Caroline and I did not know about each other’s existence, except when it was time for the both of us to go to bed. We slept in the same room since I was sick of being forced to sleep on the couch because Caroline hogged what was supposed to have been my room. Despite the fact I had partially regained control of my room by complaining to mom, I still don’t have my own bed; there were not enough beds around for all of us to sleep in unless one of us sleep in the same bed together. I did not want to sleep with my sister or my mother, and Caroline was out of the question because she had such a small body I’d fear crushing her when I turn over.

I improvised, I pushed two tables together, threw a blanket over it and called it a bed of my own. Of course, it wasn’t as comfortable as sleeping in a real bed, but after spending a few nights on the couch and being constantly awaken in the middle of the night by sounds of sharp screaming of someone next door I was willing to take anything. After spending a few nights with Caroline I discovered she was a very deep sleeper. Once a sauce pan fell off the bookshelf and onto the floor making a tremendous racket, yet Caroline still remained asleep. I also discovered I could sneak up on Caroline and softly sit beside her while she slept, and stare at her tranquil face as her chest slowly moves up and down as she breathed. Thinking about it now, what I did seem creepy, I was like a stalker sizing up his prey. But it was also kind of sweet, a lover admiring his partner as she was still in her tender sleep.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Of course being children we were completely asexual, what we knew about romance were from cheesy Disney cartoons and sex education videos also made by Disney. For all I knew sperm cells have eyes, mouths (though oddly enough no ears) and top hats, and know how to perform synchronized swimming (granted not all sex ed videos I saw were like this, but the ones targeted at people of my age group were). I knew even less about the emotional side of love, especially the vicissitudes of a relationship. One day you could be so in enamored with an individual that you believe any moment without her is like the pain of a million hells; yet another day you are so infuriated by the actions of your beloved, you want to throw her out of your life for all eternity.

Love is a rollercoaster. I recommend those not intrepid enough to ride a rollercoaster to get into a romantic relationship. You’ll experience all the ups and downs without throwing up, except if you get pregnant which is another matter altogether. Fortunately I’ve never gotten anybody pregnant, which is all the better considering the children I will have been raising will have a few extra fingers and toes. It’s not that I’ve planned carefully to always wear a condom each time or use other proper precautions; it was because my partner did the proper homework and kept up with the oral contraceptive regiment that I avoided the fate some other horny teenagers with less prudent partners didn’t.

Of course, I never planned on getting serious with my cousin; it was simply good fortune that everything fell into place at the right time. The stars were all aligned, God was smiling on me, whatever turn of phrase you prefer to describe the events that transpired; I eventually got involved in a meaningful relationship with Caroline.

~~~~~~~~~~~

It had only been two weeks since Caroline was living with us, she had gotten used to the daily routine; breakfast at 8:00AM, lunch at 1:00PM, and dinner at 7:00PM and a few between-meal snacks whenever she felt like it. Yet she seemed merely to go through the motions simply to survive until the next day; she never talked to anyone or showed interest in anything besides television and eating. Even so she ate very little, enough to maintain her metabolism but not enough to gain any weight. She was not that interested in television either, all she watched were informercials.

“For the low, low price of $19.99 you too can own this completely useless combination electric knife, fishing pole and nose hair trimmer. And if you call in now we’ll even send you this anal thermometer that can also be used as a coffee stirrer.”

I don’t know if anyone hawking merchandise during midnight informercials who isn’t running a scam have gotten seriously rich, but if Americans want to buy crap they could always go to garage sales. I’m not trying to disparage the people who are running informercials, I think they are American heroes. Compared with such examples as Donald Trump and Dick Cheney, they represent the most positive image of American capitalism besides Bill Gates, which in itself speaks volumes on how capitalism operates considering how rapacious his business practices were.

Each time I woke up in the middle of the night for a glass of milk, it was sad watching Caroline sitting in the living room, only inches away from the eerie glow of the phosphorescent screen, on the verge of ordering a Ronco rotisserie oven. Sometimes I felt quite sorry for her, I wanted to open up to her but didn’t know how, until an opportunity came on a Saturday afternoon.

Continue to next chapter.