“Mom. I have a girlfriend now.” Ken was shaking. He knew his mom was about to freak.
“That’s nice, honey. Now help your brother—you… you what?” At first she seemed more interested in putting the milk away, but when she realized what Ken was saying, she froze in time.
Ken was home later than his 8 P.M. curfew on Saturday nights. He had been with Serena pushing shopping carts into the ravine behind the Grocery Outlet all evening. Sure, it’s all fun and games watching shopping carts crash into a marsh. However, it’s also a great way to fall in love with a woman.
Ken had been spending a lot of time with Serena, who looked like a beautiful wood nymph. She was short and had a cute pixie face and haircut. Her brain was smart. They bonded over their mutual love of jumping into strangers’ pools at night, and carving dicks out of stray sticks with a pocketknife.
Eventually, it got harder and harder to lie to Ken’s mother, who would surely be intensely jealous of any woman who could potentially “replace” her. Which is kind of funny because wouldn’t you want to replace your mom more if she was acting so nuts? I’d want to replace my mom. I know that much.
Maybe Ken was looking for security. Maybe he saw Serena as his meal ticket to get out of a wealthy but dysfunctional household. He dreamed of what we all dream of, creating our own wealthy but dysfunctional household.
“Ken, you know you’re not allowed to have a girlfriend until you’re 21,” his mother said, looking him dead in the eyes.
Ken mustered some temporary confidence. “Mom, I’m not going to do what you say. I’m in love with Serena Brown and we’re going to get married and have a baby.”
“Haha! You’re not going to do anything. Now go brush your teeth and I’ll tuck you in.” She muttered under her breath, “Ridiculous.” Or something that sounded like ridiculous. So many things rhyme with that word.
Ken started up the stairs defeated. But just before he walked up the freshly waxed stairs, his mother had one last word. “This girl isn’t allowed over to the house, ever. You know you’re not allowed to have boys over unless I’ve spoken to their parents and never, never girls. And just to make sure you don’t disobey me, I’m hiring you a nanny.”
“Mom, I’m 17 years old,” Ken reminded her.
“Go upstairs before I call a family meeting.” She finally got back to putting away her milk but Ken could tell she was obsessing about the new information.
Ken knew he had to do some kind of action. He was going to use his phone to call Serena, but he knew his mother would find out that he had called her when she looked at the phone bill and would inevitably ask him who he was calling at 9pm on a Saturday.
He looked around his room for clues. Ken knew he didn’t have much time before his mother came into the room to tuck him in. It was at that point he felt a cold draft and walked up to the window to close it.
“Wait a minute,” he said quietly to himself and his stuffed animals. It was at that point he dashed to the bed and quickly yanked the covers back. He ran to the closet dragging out his secret weapon: a dummy he found.
Ken dumped the dummy onto the bed, making sure to position its limbs right and cocked its head to the side. After moving around the dummy, he put a pillow over its face.
That’s when he carefully and as quietly as possible turned off the bedroom light and snuck out of the window, onto the roof.
“Ken?” A voice said.
In his panic, he slipped off the roof and landed in a bunch of open trash cans on the side of the house.
As he got up, the trash cans rattled together. He had to shake a banana peel off his head and a whole fish bone. Before he got out though, he felt nails on the back of his neck.
It was trash cat!
Trash Cat was the cat that lived in the trash.
As he Ken was getting his hair all screwed up and scratches all over his body and face, he remembered the whole fish bone and threw it down the driveway toward the garage. His instincts paid off and Trash Cat ran after the bone.
Almost forgetting his plan, Ken ran as quickly as possible through the neighbors’ yards and climbed their fences, various home alarm systems going off along the way.
After he ran down to the bottom of the driveway, he took his car keys out of his jeans pocket and hurriedly opened the car and jumped in. He started up the car and “click, click, click.” The car wouldn’t start. Looking into the house, he could see his mother’s silhouette coming down the stairs from inside the house. Surely she would open the window curtains and see him in the car, stuck.
But just as he was ready to walk back inside and accept whatever horrible punishment would be waiting for him, the car started and Ken spun the tires out and took off to an unknown location.
Ok, it was Serena’s house.
Creeping around the corner of the house, Ken hid underneath some bushes. He reached for a rock like in the movies and threw it at Serena’s window.
A big woman with curlers in her hair, wearing a muumuu opened the window abruptly.
“Hey asshole who just threw the rock at my window!” she shouted down to the ground, scanning for someone. “She’s the house to the left, idiot.”
Carefully, Ken snuck around to the next house over to the left. Certain he had found the right window, Ken again looked for a good rock. He tossed the rock to the window.
A giant hole had broken through the window.
A lamp turned on. The silhouette of a woman with a baseball bat could be seen.
It was definitely Serena.
Serena opened the window, looking outside. “Ken?” she asked into the darkness.
“Yeah it’s me. Can you let me in? Maybe a gutter I can climb?”
“Or I can just unlock the front door and you can come in through there. I’m housesitting.”
“Sounds good.” Ken casually strolled over to the front door, where he waited. Serena turned on all the lights in the house and opened the door. “Come on in,” she said and motioned for him to come inside.
They walked to the kitchen and Ken took a seat on the kitchen counter while Serena stood in front of him, holding his hands.
“What is going on?” Serena asked, concerned.
“Well I ran away from home and I want to take you with me.”
“No,” she replied.
“Let me explain,” Ken begged. Serena was listening. “You know how some people are oppressed?”
“Uh, yeah…” Serena said, confused.
“You know how some people get Stockholm syndrome?”
“Uh… yeah, Ken.”
“Well that’s what a family is.”
“Ken, its midnight. Get to the point, please. I’m begging you, Ken. PLEASE, Ken. Please get to the point.”
“Look, you know me, Serena. I’ve never defied my parents in my life. I’m a good student. I’m a square. But a man can only take it for so long… And we don’t have to obey our parents, we can take their power away by just not doing what they say is our punishment. Like, if they ground you, what’s to stop you from just walking out the front door? They need your compliance to punish you. Anyway, Serena, will you marry me?”
“Are you crazy?!” Serena seemed like she might say no but let’s wait to find out.
“Is that a yes, as in, ‘you are so crazy and I love you and yes I want to get married and have a baby?’”
“No. It’s a definite no.” Serena stood with her arms crossed.
“I’m trying to pour my heart out over here.” Ken was starting to feel low.
Serena tried to talk some sense in him. “You want both of us to drop out of school, when we have half the school year left, you want us to get married at 17 and 18 and have a baby right out of high school? What about college? What about finding a job?” Serena was asking so many questions. I really wish she would just be cool sometimes.
“Exactly,” Ken nodded. “I don’t know how we’re going to make it work. Just, let’s figure it out in the car on the way.”
“Where are you going, Ken?” she seemed concerned.
“Outer spaaaaace!” Ken laughed. Serena laughed a little too but she was mostly worried about Ken’s mental health, I mean, it seemed like a pretty big stretch that they were going to outer space.
Ken dragged her by the hand to the front door and they ran over the wet grass and to the car, giggling along the way.
Serena and Ken got in his Honda, which they had made love in the backseat of four times.
Ken started up the car without a problem. He started driving, it was near 2am by now and Serena was yawning but Ken felt an adrenaline rush and wasn’t tired at all. “So where are we going at 2am?” Serena asked. “We’re going to stay with a buddy of mine that I met at a gas station.”
“What friend, Ken? This doesn’t sound promising.” Serena was getting used to the drill even though they had just started dating only 3 months ago.
“Well, I was going in to the gas station store for a bad hot dog and he was going in for a pack of smokes and one of those aphrodisiac pills they sell. We were both in line at the same time, when in an instant, a skinny, young guy in a beanie and a gray hoodie comes into the store with a rifle and demands all the cash the cashier has.
‘OK, ok, I’m getting it for you, already!’ the cashier said, as if this happened every night. ‘Give me the rest of it, this is $100!’ The robber was getting angry. ‘That’s all I have, this is a gas station. We don’t carry that much cash,’ the cashier explained.
Then the sound of sirens came. The robber ran out the door with the $100.
Then “the boys” showed up.
Two cops push open the glass convenience store doors and enter the crime scene. They start assessing the scene. One of the cops turns to me, ‘Were you here when the burglary happened?’
‘You mean literally 2 minutes ago? How did you even get here that fast?’
‘We were already coming here for a bad hot dog,’ the cop was pretty casual for a cop. ‘Anyway, I’m going to need you to stick around for an eyewitness account.’ He motioned to pack-of-smokes-and-aphrodisiac guy. ‘And you too, buddy.’
That’s when I let one of the cops know, ‘ look I gotta go home. My mom’s gonna kill me if I’m out of the house longer than 10 minutes.’
‘Wow, son,’ he said back, ‘someone needs to get their balls.’
‘What?’ I replied, perplexed.
‘You know,’ the cop said uncomfortably, ‘it’s a saying.’
‘Um, yeah. It’s by uh… Richard Scarry.’
I wasn’t quite sure what he was talking about, but I believed him. After all, he was the law.
That’s when an angel spoke to me. It was smokes guy.
‘Let the kid go home to his mother. I can give an account.’ He took a lighter off the rack by the cash box and lit a cigarette. He inhaled the smoke deeply and let it out. ‘I’ve seen too much petty crime in this town, officer.’
The cop uncrossed his arms and softened up. ‘I couldn’t agree with you more, Dave. Now what did you see? Tell us.’ Dave. That was his name. Yeah, that’s the guy’s name.
‘What did I see?’ Dave took a long drag. ‘I see a young, sexually frustrated boy, unable to regulate his own angst.’
‘Uh huh,’ the cop said, not really listening but filling out a Sudoku page, ‘And then what happened?’
‘Well Rick, I saw a young kid throwing away his life for $100. Look, it’s Mike’s kid. I don’t know his name though. I always forget kids’ names.’
‘Ah, I see,’ the officer stroked his chin. ‘I guess we go talk to his dad then and get him to spank his son until he comes back to the convenience store and gives this poor cashier his $100. Poor little guy.’
The cashier was still underneath the register, cowering.
‘Hey buddy, you can come out now. The kid’s gone. The cops are here.’ The cop sighed. ‘I said you can come out. The cops are here, you’re fine and everybody’s safe and everything’s perfect.’
‘Kid, are you ok?’ Smokes guy asked.
‘Me?’ I said, looking around behind me.
‘Yeah, you seem shaken up. It’s fine. It was just the intrusion that was scary.’
‘Actually, it was the gun,’ I responded.
‘Haha!’ Dave laughed a hearty laugh. ‘You’re alright kid. Really funny. You know, you should really learn to relax. It was just armed robbery. Do you smoke weed?’
‘No,’ I said to him but I was lying. I did it once at Kristina Anderson’s birthday party. She had really neglectful parents so we smoked weed once.
‘Can I go officer?’ I begged.
‘Ah, what the hell. You just witnessed your first robbery, son. Go on home! Smoke some weed. Your work is done here.’ The officer closed his Sudoku book. He shook Smokes guy’s hand, “Nice to see you again, Dave. Next time we meet up it should be for something normal like watch football or play poker or stuff a scarecrow.’
‘You got it, Mike,’ Smokes guy laughed. ‘See you later, bud.’
I walked outside and stood on the sidewalk for a minute before putting the key in the car door.
I noticed Smokes guy getting into his car but his trunk was open and as he spins out and speeds off, 2 lbs. of weed fall out of the back of his car and buds scatter all over the gas station parking lot.”
A long silence went by back in the car with Serena.
“Are you telling me we’re going to the house of a guy you met at a gas station during an armed robbery?”
“Yes,” Ken said simply.
“Ok first of all, no. Second of all, how did you even get in contact with Dave again?”
“Oh right,” Ken began, “on the back of his weed bags was written in sharpie, ‘Property of Dave’ and then his address and phone number, so I returned his weed bags to him.”
“Makes sense,” Serena said back.
They drove up to a run down manufactured home with a tin roof covered in rush and holes in the patio wood, which was stained gray and faded.
“This is a haunted house.” Serena seemed pretty serious.
“It’s ok, it’s a safe place to stay until we get on our feet.”
“And how do you plan to get us on our feet, Ken?” Serena was not having it. I don’t get why. All Ken wanted was for her to stay at a stranger’s haunted house.
“We’ll figure it out when we get in the house,” Ken replied.
That’s when Smokes guy Dave stepped out onto his porch and waved excitedly at Ken and Serena.
“Hey guys! I wasn’t expecting you but I always enjoy company. Come on in!” Dave smiled, happy to see them. It was about 3am by now.
Serena tiptoed around the traffic cones that were scattered and some of which were upturned at various puddles and large sinkholes in the driveway. Around the path were a variety of weeds and dead flowers, probably some spiders. Ken stepped with vigor as he felt what he thought of as his first taste of the adult life: sleeping on your friend’s couch.
They all entered the house into the living room. As Ken took off his shoes, Serena looked around the room horrified.
Throughout the room were taxidermy possums and only possums.
Dave let out a jolly laugh. “I can see you’re a little surprised. This is my collection of possums,” he said proudly.
Serena slowly turned her head toward Ken with a look on her face that said something along the lines of, “Let’s get the hell out of here, why did you invite me to your crazy possum stuffing friend’s house?” That was look on her face.
“Each room has a different theme but, I like to pick up roadkill and what I don’t eat, I stuff.”
“Ok,” Serena said, careful not to touch anything.
“I’d love to give you a tour. This is the possum room but there’s the raccoon room and the rat room too.”
“That’s ok!” Serena said quickly.
“Come on, let’s go into the kitchen. I’m sure you’re thirsty. You look thirsty.” Dave showed his southern hospitality to them.