Anguish threw her vile smell around the house like a cat who sprays the coffee pot. Strings of tension gave rise to erect hair follicles like they always did when something horrible was about to happen. Mom and my little sister Rosa were nowhere to be found.
Dad’s car was parked in the back of the house, and he was passed out in his bedroom. The only other possibility was a house Mom told us she cleaned for extra money. I had briefly met Mr. and Mrs. Barnes, who lived four houses down from us, but I had never been there. I knew I had to investigate as I worried about my little sister Rosa.
The Barnes’ house was open. As I walked through the door, I called for Rosa and Mom, but it was quiet. I felt something crawling up my legs and was mortified to see fleas. I watched them leap from the grimy carpet onto my tanned skin. They were biting me as they moved like a shadow up my legs to the bottom of my shorts.
Next, I wandered on into the kitchen. I noticed the dishes were piled all over the dining table, countertops, and the two sinks full of pots and pans—the odor had company. There were ants, roaches, and old food stuck to them. Flies were everywhere, and the fleas were still biting me.
My father, having retired from the military, would have never stepped foot in a house in this kind of condition. I immediately wondered what Mom had been doing there as she obviously had not been cleaning. The Barnes had quite a standing and respect in the community, so the condition of their house was shocking.
Calling for Mom, I moved cautiously to the only other open door, the primary bedroom. Inside were obscene magazines about sadomasochism, and all around the unmade bed were objects I had never seen before: masks, whips, hooks, and disgusting attire. I was naïve, but I felt dirty just walking into this room. Even though I never heard a sound, I knew the only place left where they could be was the basement.
Mom and Dad had been drunk all week, so things had been nuts. I had a critical pharmaceutical exam on which I had to do well, and I needed the rest of the day to study. When they had been drunk for days, I had to watch for lit cigarettes after they finally went to sleep to avoid a fire. I also spent a lot of time with Rosa, trying to keep her out of the house. I was exhausted.
Their floor plan was like ours. When I opened the garage door, it was dark, and I couldn’t see a thing. I called for Rosa but heard no response. I managed to find the light switch next to the staircase, and when I did, something jumped, and I couldn’t believe my eyes! A bobcat was in a wire cage, growling and hissing at me. I almost fell off the staircase I was so startled. Then I felt sorry for the cat because he was in a tiny cage with no food or water. I also don’t know how the pen was placed right by the second stair.
I noticed a large white tent on the basement floor with a door tied by fabric strings. I heard a whimper and knew Rosa was inside. I untied the ropes and saw Mom holding my ten-year-old sister like a baby. The scene before me was grotesque.
Being so respectful to my parents all these years, regardless of their alcoholism, they thought they could get away with anything.
“Mom, you had better let go of Rosa now, and I mean it. What have you been doing in this house, and why did you bring Rosa into such a hostile environment?” She had her in the back corner and did not move. “Mom, you have one more chance to hand her to me!”
When she didn’t move, and I could see Rosa was covered in flea bites and shaking, I walked into the tent and shoved Mom down on the concrete floor. The look on her face was one of ultimate shock. Rosa looked so grateful.
“Listen, you two go home and be quiet; don’t wake your dad. Things are going to get a lot worse tonight. I have about 150 dollars in my purse at the house. It is in the living room by the couch. Use the money to find someplace to spend the whole day and night. There is no telling what else will happen today.” Mom then sat back down, and I took Rosa by the hand, and we left.
As I had no sense of direction, I called a dear friend from nursing school and asked her if she would go to a large amusement park for the entire day. I told her it wouldn’t cost her a penny and we would have a great lunch too. I told her what had happened, and she immediately said she would be ready in fifteen minutes.
Rosa had a great time, and I knew I would have to study for my exam all night long. After dropping off my good friend, I assumed we would head home to two passed-out parents. Instead, there were two police cars outside the house with their lights flashing but no sirens. First, I felt exhaustion, and then I felt utter relief.
A handsome policeman came up to the car, Rosa was asleep in the back seat, and when he shined his light on her, it woke her up.
“I am sorry, officer, but we are both exhausted. Did they finally do it?” He was looking at me so oddly. I politely asked him again, “Well, did they finally do it? If they did, don’t worry, we can take it.”
“Did they finally kill each other? I knew it was just a matter of time before they did.” The policeman gave me the saddest look I had seen in a long time, and I could tell he felt sorry for us.
“Look, we got a call from a woman who said she lived at this address and that her husband was shooting up the house with his shotgun. We immediately dispatched two cars to this address. By the time we arrived, your dad was asleep, and there was no sign of a gun. There are however lots of signs of where he shot up the bedroom ceiling. We can’t arrest a man in his own house while sleeping. On the other hand, your mom is drunk and acting crazy. Do you want to try and talk to her?”
“Sure, I can come in and give it a try.”
When I reached the stoop at the front of the house, Mom came out and grabbed my long hair and started trying to pull it out. I kept thinking about my test. We had to maintain a high B average. Anything lower meant probation and one more C, and you were out of the program.
The officer pulled her off me.
“Look, tell me exactly what you would like me to do, and I will do it. Would you like me to call for a paddy wagon and have your mom arrested? She could get out the next day, but it might give her a chance to think about her behavior. I am so sorry.”
“You know what, officer, I am exhausted, this has been going on for a week, and I have an exam I must study for, so I would love that. Can I keep my little sister in the car, and we will both wait there until my mom is gone?”
Everyone was gone in another half hour, and the policemen could not have been nicer to me. I didn’t ace the exam, but I did get an A- and when I got home from school, I had to get my mom out of jail.
Just another weekend at the zoo, I thought.
Joni’s blog is Rum and Robots, where she has published poetry, photography, and short stories. Take a look at Joni’s work in Spillwords Press NYC, Vita Brevis Press, The Finest Example, The Tiny Seed Literary Journal, I Write Her – The Short of it, and MasticadoresUSA. Joni’s work was included in the following anthologies: The Sound of Brilliance (The Short of It Publishing, Volume 1 2020), Inner Eye (Poets Choice, 2021), and It’s Not Easy (Poets Choice 2021). Her blog is an effort to give back – she is a surviving Adult Child of Alcoholics. Joni is a retired nurse and paralegal.
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