Chapter 7 read by Gerold Firl
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-Daddy... ¡The plants! -Margaret exclaimed.
The contemplative curmudgeon turned Kentucky Fried Apoplectic. His eyes reddened and his arteries hardened. His starched shirt stiffened and went silent.
-¡They grabbed Charlie! -Margaret said.
-I just wanted my shirt back -Charlie said in a trembling voice.
The siblings looked to their dad - the man who helped bring them into the world - for guidance, for wisdom, for clarity. But all they got was the three-mile stare of a man who’d lost his humanity years ago.
Finally, the old dirtbag spoke:
-¿Are they o...? ¿Are you okay?
-Yes -Charlie said slowly and deliberately.
Again, the two looked to their dad for a timely and logical explanation of shirt-stealing, child-molesting plants with hands living in their bathroom.
Margaret held Charlie’s hand as their four eyes pored into their dad’s, trying to find the light switch.
-I am very... deceitful -The good doctor affirmed their suspicions-. ¿Did I say “deceitful”? I meant “disappointed”.
-But we can get you help, Dad -Margaret mistakenly malapropism’d-. You can go to Arizona and... you know, ¿get a document notarized?
-I am very disappointed -Mr., uh, Dr. Berger said slowly- in you two.
-I’m sorry -Margaret started the round of excuses-. We didn’t know you were growing murderous, humanoid...
-Yeah -Charlie interrupted his sister before she got them fed to the plants-. And... we didn’t smoke any of your plants, I swear.
-Very disappointed -Their father repeated robotically.
-We’re sorry, Daddy.
Dr. Berger held out his pinky ring for the children to kiss.
-I just thank God that your mother is getting documents notarized and wasn’t around to witness this.
Charlie looked up from kissing Dr. Berger’s ring.
-¿Does she ever kiss your pinky ring? -He asked and Margaret quickly kneed him in the thigh.
-No, no, of course not. That would be... gross -Margaret murmured.
But Charlie was on a roll.
-¿Has she ever been in that bathroom?
Again, Margaret kneed him in the thigh.
They followed their father to the kitchen. He took a bag of flour and poured it over the kitchen counter. He fingered the flour until he had drawn a word:
D i E
Dr. Berger watched their looks of terror, and, satisfied, smeared the flour with his hand so that the word disappeared. His robotic stare and his not-so-subtle terrorism had had their effect.
On everyone except Charlie:
-Dad, ¿what’s up with the plants?
-¿What do you want me to say? -The not-so-good doctor asked his young son.
-Say... ¿that it’s weird? -Charlie responded.
-And if I say it’s weird -Dr. Berger said in his robot tone, and then turned more animated-: ¿¡Will you shut the freaking hell up about it?!
-It was all really interesting, Dad -Margaret jumped in, trying to satiate her Dad’s satyr-ical spewings.
“¿Am I trying Dad’s patience with this Anglo-American, passive-aggressive bull crap?” -She asked her self-. “Because as it is, he’s pretty apoplectic”.
She wondered when her earthworm of a Dad was going to grow a pair. Seriously. He’s always passing the buck to his wife, and he’s never direct with anyone. He only makes a decision when he has to, and then he blames any consequences on his wife and/or kids.
¿Why does he act this way? ¿Is he just the insane, silent, emotionally-stunted type?
-Charlie’s feet made him go into the bathroom -Margaret said meekly. She looked up to see if her dad was buying any of this. He was rubbing his chin thoughtfully, so Margaret gently slammed home her capper-: I think that is very clearly the case.
Margaret and Charlie looked at each other. Finally, Margaret said:
-Don’t ever do that again, Charlie. I don’t care what your feet want.
-But, but... ¿Why would my feet make me do that? -Charlie asked.
-Yes, it’s fascinating to contemplate -Margaret answered, rubbing her chin and trying to look thoughtful-. I’m sure that when I become a nuclear-physicist-botanist I will have an answer for you. Until that time, we’ll just have to wait.
-What a day -Her father said, suddenly congenial, but with a Key Lime pie in his hand-. First your mother has to get something notarized. Then I have to take her to the airport -He lifted the pie, as if to strike, but brought it back down-. Now, I have to get to work -He headed for the bathroom-. There’re frozen pizzas in the freezer.
-¿How was Mom... feeling... about getting something notarized? -Margaret asked.
Dr. Berger kept walking away:
-I suppose that’s the question -He said, lifting the pie as emphasis.
-Well, I’m sure Auntie Lenor knows some good... notaries -Margaret charaded.
Dr. Berger just kept walking, literal bats gathering around his head - figurative wolves at the bathroom door.
-Later -He inexplicably said in the vernacular of the teenager. And then they heard the bathroom door open and shut.
-I can’t believe he bought that load of crap we were selling him -Margaret said.
-Nice summation, counselor -Charlie said-. You were selling. I was sweating. ¿Did you see the way he looked at us with those crazy eyes?
-Oh yeah, he’s a big man now that Mom’s gone -Margaret said. She was going to pray to Buddha, but picked on Charlie instead-. ¡Come on, Mangaboy! I have some clues I want to manicure.
-I can’t believe those trees were trying to feel me up -Charlie said pensively, feeling himself himself-. ¿¡Does this mean I’m not a virgin!?
-No, it means that the first pie I see is going straight into your face -She exclaimed a little too gleefully, and then saw the dejected, sour puss of her brother-. Ah, cheer up. I probably won’t find a pie before I forget I was gonna blast ya with one.
-Look -Margaret continued-. I’ve gotta think about this bathroom shit.
“¿Think about this bathroom shit?” Margaret thought. “That doesn’t sound right. But, ¿what does sound right?
They left the house. They had already written-off their mom as either dead or institutionalized or as getting something notarized (hopefully, the papers needed to have their father institutionalized). They had tried to account for the scene in the bathroom with the serpentine lions. And they tried some new kind of mint.
With a tear in her eye, Margaret took out her math book and... prepared to study.
But the words she had borrowed to understand mathematics were gone, and, in their place, someone had put living, breathing Gremlins into her brain.
“All this means is you don’t have to cast about, batting your Daniel Ortega’s”, One of her new Gremlin said in her brain.
“Well”, Another Gremlin chimed in, “it also means that, much like your psychotic father and all-notarizing mother, you are going sack of hammers”.
“It all means”, Yet one more Gremlin spoke up, “that you must promise not to tell anyone about us, or try to explain the nervous ticks we’re going to give you”.
Margaret liked the idea that it all meant not casting about, batting her Daniel Ortegas best.
She thought this until she saw a major segue in the story just ahead, and she knew that she’d have to face tomorrow later than sooner. For the time being, Dr. Berger was “working”, the bathroom was barricaded, and he’d installed his goatee on the door as a lookout.
On Sunday afternoon, Margaret came back to the house, sobered-up, and talked to her mom on the phone from an Arizonan notary public place.
-So, ¿did Aunt Lenor help you find this notary place? -Margaret asked, wrapping the phone cord around her fingers nervously.
-The staff here has kept me very calm, yes -Her mom replied, sounding tired-. ¿Did I say “me”? I meant that the staff here is very calm. ¡Not me! I’m just as nervous and, umm, mom-like as ever. They let me wear a robe with my insignia on it.
-Well, in case you were wondering, there’s nothing psycho happening here -Margaret blurted.
But Mrs. Berger could tell when her eldest child was lying.
-¡Don’t lie to me, slut!
-But Mom... Oh, all right, I was lying, yes -Margaret admitted. She knew what was coming next: the screaming, the blaming, the disappointment...
-So, ¿how’s your father? -Mrs. Berger asked-. I talked to him last night and he was kinda rude to me.
-¡He’s not rude or evil to us! -Margaret spat out, and immediately put her hand over her mouth-. ¿How... are you?
-You’re trying way too hard -Mrs. Berger said. Margaret could hear an intercom paging a doctor in the background: ¡Her mother was calling from an institution!
-Nobody’s been murdered in the bathroom -Margaret said, not wanting to lie to her mother.
-Your father’s bathroom experiments are very important to someone.
-¿More important than his family?
Margaret didn’t want to rat-out her dad. Besides, her mom had enough problems to deal with in the institution.
-Your dad’s been very careful -Mrs. Berger said-. With me and with you and...
-Yes. Charlie. Dr. Berger believes that if he’s not impressing Mr. Martinez and his co-conspirators at the university, then it’s either booze, meth or Jesus.
-¡Noooo! -Margaret screamed.
-I’m afraid “yes”, dear.
-But we won’t have to go to... church, ¿will we? -Margaret lamented.
-Not if he’s on meth. Then we’ll have to watch him waste away to nothing. First his teeth will...
Margaret could hear his mother’s impatience all the way from Arizona.
-Margaret, please try to listen. I will try to be very clear and explicit...
-You have to understand some time. Your dad...
-¿¡Is losing it?! -Margaret said quickly. She wanted to change teams in mid-phone call-. Charlie finally hit the ball at his Little League game.
-No, Mom -Margaret responded-. Dad. Dad hit the ball for the first time at Charlie’s Little League game.
-¿Did he really? -Mrs. Berger was very surprised.
Margaret was very something.
-He said that we were terrible children, and not to fuck with him.
Mrs. Berger was not surprised this time.
-¡Oh, my Christ, no! -She said-. ¡No! ¡You are not terrible children!
-But I still wouldn’t fuck with him...
The line was dead. Margaret hadn’t had a chance to tell her mom about trees with hands, human rights violations, and that Charlie’s hit was a solid single to left.
“Poor Mommy”, Margaret thought, “Her sister helps her husband institutionalize her, and she thinks that Dad’s pinch-hitting on Charlie’s team”.
She sat on the calm, content to listen to it in silence. Charlie was in the house with a friend. That dude left childhood traumas behind like it was his dirty laundry.
“I’m gonna call Diana”, She thought. And that would take picking up the phone, and she just didn’t have the talons. “First I’ll have lunch”, She decided, “and then I’ll yammer at Diana”.
Margaret started hitting her head repeatedly with the phone receiver, telling her self that she would not get high today. Then she impulsively jumped on the down escalator to the bathroom.
Surprisingly, her father was in the kitchen. He was looking into the refrigerator when he spotted her.
He started to talk to her.
“¿What the what?” Margaret thought.
Devoured by curiosity, Margaret hopped up on the space between the escalators, sat back and watched.
Dr. Berger clearly wanted to eat something. With his mighty hands, he started taking random shit out of the refrigerator and putting it on the kitchen counter. Meanwhile, Margaret was watching all of this from a part of the escalator where her dad couldn’t see her. She watched as he scratched his ball sack, burped, and then gazed toward the heavens.
Margaret could see that he was ruinously hungry, squirming, and looking to the gods for assistance.
-¿What’cha gonna eat? -She asked him. Dr. Berger did not reply. He never ate with his children and he didn’t talk to them very often either. He always said that he had no appetite for eating or for talking with children. But now he was at least showing hunger. And hunger was a human attribute. Not exclusively human, but a human quality nonetheless.
Margaret had to keep from laughing, as the good doctor kept piling up tray after tray of pre-masticated meals. When he was done piling, he started sorting. And when he was done sorting, he started Saran-wrapping. And when he was done Saran-wrapping, he started waving his hands in the air like a orchestra conductor.
Margaret stifled a laugh, as Dr. Berger passed her on the way to the bathroom, his arms laden with Saran-wrapped succulents. He burped and breathed, but didn’t see her.
The bathroom door was closed, shut, and locked. Margaret listened as her dad pushed, cursed, screamed, and also cajoled the door open with his hands full.
When she was sure that her father had locked himself in the bathroom, Margaret headed for the kitchen. She got out her Sherlock Holmes Boy Scout compass and tried to figure out exactly what he’d taken from the refrigerator.
She opened the cabinets and searched the trash. She basically looked everywhere except the refrigerator.
She was about to admit defeat when her eyes started running circles around her eye sockets, and it hit her:
Her father wasn’t going to eat. He had made those snackables ¡for the plants!
-- on to chapter 8 or back to the Bathroom --