I Saw Two Good Houses Over There NEXT TO Death
by Don Cheney
A multi-media project by Max Cheney
Chapter 1 read by Angela
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The pen is mightier than most words. But mightier than the pen is the disgust Josh and I have for that big new house.


It's big all right. Big and ugly. Any other mansion would be new with nice furniture inside. It would be Armadillo Red with a touch of Endive Blue and filled out with black windows that marched through the halls like panthers.


"What a fucking obscure house," I thought, looking through the cow to the street. Now I was completely lost in thought. One thought. Over and over: "wankel." Until the word "wankel" became two phonemes that I attached wings to and watched fly away.


And this in the middle of July when the dental gardens were cut up into death socks.  I was cruising under the guise of looking for new shoes and changing, absentmindedly, into a gravelly-voiced enchilada.


I went into the house sucking on some Brazilian Alka-Seltzer smothered in Matzo balls. The house reminded me of the sensation of suffocating a matador one time too many and instead of sending me flowers he sends me a pie of entrails.


That house gave the words "dusty old dump" a bad name. (My pen knew it couldn't resist writing that.)


Josh had thrown away his pen and was the miserabler for it.



Mr. Dawes, an aging young man from the Agency of Good Reasons, had detoured near the doorway and was looking at me in the same way that my million-year-old principal does.


-¿Does that door smell good?- He asked looking at Josh and then at me with his old-tree eyes.


-Josh and Amanda, I don't want to murder you…- my dad said and then saw Mr. Dawes. -…but, ¿Did you have to wear those pants? And Josh, ¿those shoes? If I had a thought for every penny I’d be able to think up a wardrobe for the two of you…-


-It's not easy for them.- My mother got aggressive. -They leave their hands in the pockets of their jeans while they look for a lap to sit on.-


You get the idea: Mom and Dad have that knack for taking jars of entrails and giving them to friends. They're used to new and strange things.


-Strange is the word.- Josh said agitating his head and laughing like an otter. -¡This house is horrorable!-


Mr. Dawes went serious.


-This house is old, but so am I.- He said and damned if Josh didn't push his palm into the old man's face.


-Nothing is as old as you.- Dad said directing his finger at Mr. Dawes. -And nothing has lived in that house since the beginning of time. Not since Abra and way before Cadabra.-


-¡Look what Grandpa dragged in!- Mom was getting aggressive again and putting her hand down her black tights and staring at Josh.


-It'd better have enough room to study in and to pour out a tall quart of Jagermeister. You'd like that, ¿wouldn'tcha, Amanda?-


It was Dawes again.


-¡I'll say!- I’ll say I said. -Slop me up some fries and slop me up some riboflavin tartar sauce. But really all I want is a sunny California day where I don't have to get near that house. It freezes my sentences. And I think that goes for trees high and old.-


I waved my corduroy pants in the air, zapped my tennies and put on a blue shirt that wasn't mangy. It was warm in the car, but now I sat congealed. "If it gets any warmer in this car I'll bite that house", I thought.


-¿How many years 'til we get there?- Mr. Dawes asked, dying to have spit out that sentence.


-Amanda is twelve.- Mom was testy. -Josh crumpled once this past month.-


-That doesn't parse out to much.- Mr. Dawes said.


I had no idea what they were trying to talk about and certainly no idea about the crumpling.


We stopped, got out, and there was a crispy-crawly smell coming from Dad, his eyes running yearly shadows around themselves.


The whole world cried out "¡SERIAL KILLER!"




-I want to re-grease the car.- Josh said.


His voice knew that I would bray:


-I stink, this stinks. It all stinks like an ice-skating rink.-


My brother was the most macho in-patient the world had to offer. When God decided that everyone needed brains my brother was right there. Well, truth is: he was there but was still this side of the minimum requirement to get one. He was a crayon short and an escalator slow of common sense. Case in point: he always orders salad with a side of Super Glue.


Don’t fry your brain trying to figure out how this could be physically true. In the real world there’s no such thing as a salad. Just ask Josh. In my world, if I’m not being patient with Josh I’m punching him senseless. I once punched the mayor, but he couldn’t hit me because I’m a girl.


Josh argues with Dad every year and every year Dad treats him like a jar of automotive pasta sauce.


-¡Stop it, Dad! ¡¿Ok?! Let's speed on over to the house.-


I knew that this time - that every time - Josh didn't have a sailor's chance in Switzerland. If I was going to get to this house I wasn't going with a guy who thought he was a ninja tail-gunner. Despite this, the cost to me was nothing. That and Dad's uncle had died, a bland and obsequious toady of a man who actually had taken his house with him as testament to just how crazy Dad's family was.


Dad didn't seem to care, but nothing pushed his button quite like a letter from his dead brother. He'd pin it to the wall, grit his teeth and then start throwing salad at it. Josh and I thought that was a little crazy but at least he didn't pour hair-styling gel all over it.


-Your Uncle Charles - may he lay low - didn't talk about the house in his will.- Dad explained and then returned to leering at the will. -It's in some place the lambs call Dark Falls.-


-¿What? ¡What!..- Josh exclaimed and then everyone in unison said:


-¡Don't say Dark Falls!-


And Dad said it.




-¡We asked you not to say that!- In unison.


-He didn't say it. It was the dead will of Uncle Charles talking.- Mom said counting Dad's teeth as he leered at the will as if it was his dead uncle.


-¡Me too!- Dad said, suddenly recognizing that he was talking. -But it takes a good man to be a good man. ¡Jesus Christ! Just take Mom by the hand and take some bail money and I'll meet you outside. I gotta pour some more salad on this will…-


The truth is that the truth is very emotional. Sometimes if you look for the truth on the pretext of riding an abandoned donkey to the office and then leaving its dead carcass at the entrance (and - show of hands - ¿who hasn’t done this?) …but, hey, ¡a free house is all the excuse anyone needs!


Now, one sentence later, we were in Dark Falls. A quarter horse carted us to the new house and we entered it again for the first time. It felt sinful to go inside. Josh tried to convince Dad to take a cab to the door. Dad said he'd have him arrested.


-¡Josh! ¡Don't jerk me around!- Dad exclaimed disgustedly. He really should try one of those Sealy Posturepedic zafu pillows. He's already tried hypertension. He cruised toward the mirror desperate to pour something on Mr. Dawes. He had a handful of sawdust raised when Josh appeared. Dad was within a year of having the situation under control.


-¡God damn it, Josh!- Dad said calmly, aggravating the poor boy. -That's one small compromise for me and one giant opportunity to live in Dark Falls for us all. ¡¿DO YOU HEAR ME!?-


-Yeah, I heard you the last time you tried to make sense.- Josh replied pouring salt on Dad's flesh wound. -This house is old and fucked and I doubt I could get laid here.-


-¡I'm not so sure you're going to live to get laid!- Dad said, furious.


-Yeah, yeah. Let's go in.- Mr. Dawes said casting a Fiji Mermaid glance at Josh.

Angela's Fiji Mermaid pose


-You, me and the furious sky.- I insisted, quoting Catullus.


I was feeling sick because I could see that this house was old and obscure. But I never thought that Josh would call a fat-ass a fat-ass.


-¿Josh, don't you want to understand your habitat?- Mom prayed to gun.


-No.- He responded.


Then the two of them began looking for a place to take a piss. There were two big windows nearby and some ladles. And then there were the two black eyes that looked at us from behind the mirror.


-¿When do you want to actually live in the house?- Mr. Dawes asked Dad.


Dad looked pissed for a moment.


-14 years, 7 months and 21 days.- He contested. -¡That's how long until your death!-


-Murder throws a monkey into the calculation.- Mr. Dawes reasoned. -I look at my self and your voice assumes it understands me. ¿Isn't that the case, Amanda? Dig it: I come to live in Dark Falls all on my own, with my own mess, and you all come here looking for dinner and don't even say "you disgust me." ¡Nothing! But now I don't want to live anywhere else. I'm gonna get me some gold. When the sun rises you'll see me out there panning for gold. And without my dentures. This house is really pretty. All it needs are some suspenders.-


Everyone seemed a little squeamish after that - except for Josh.


-¡Hey! ¿Any other ninnies in the cauldron?- Josh asked. He didn't have to ask, all he had to do was deflate.


Mr. Dawes agreed with his head:


-¡Last sailor into the pool is a two-headed parallelogram!- He said, sounding like the cows were calling for him.


-¿Vas?- Mom interrupted. -Just for that you can be the last sailor without pie. You can be a land baron over these large tracts every day of every automobile.-


-¡I knew you'd just have to say automobile!- Josh lashed out.


I already knew that I didn't know what to do. I couldn't say "Pardon me, Parents, but I'm so goddamned pissed-off that you've brought me here and that you promised me we'd have a front yard, a lamb and Tony Danza for a neighbor." Who cares that I thought that by now my brother would have forgotten about “automobile” and my dad would have some common sense. But in order to start, everybody has to want to buy this old house.


To me, a little is more than a llama. And a little was the attention span I have to lay down in mud and iron. But knowing that there is a hereafter and that it's now and that it's this house is better than dressing up as Nostradamus. We had been living all stretched out in our other house. And one time my dad had even loogied out the window. Not that our problems stopped at dinner. Josh would see to that--with his hands. At least that's what I was thinking.




I'd repent, I'd repent for all of us, but there was Josh with a pie in his hand waiting at the doorway. And I could hear Petey walking by, humming a lullaby, armed to the teeth of a lion.


Petey was our nuisance dog. He was plain and crisp like a banana. I feel kinda sorry for him because he hasn't had a proper puppy education. Normally we'd send him to solar-energy school in a Datsun B210, but I wanted a Labrador and screamed to let everyone know and then opened the window to let everyone else know.


-¡Quiet, Petey!- I screamed. That humming was driving me out of the house and into the sewer system.


But this time it didn't.


-I'm a salty altar boy.- Josh infantized. -And I'll corrode your car.-


-¡God DAMN IT!- Dad Three-Fingers-Yarmy’d.


I thought that Josh hadn't heard Dad so I told Petey that Dad hated him.


-If you value that dog you'd better put him in a jar.- Mr. Dawes said.


Above all else, this house was going to be Elton John.


One second later, Petey ran full-speed into the garden, leaving the house and the armadillos with their windowsills, ladders, emotions and legs anchored, angry and about to hurl.


Later, because this place is new, I'd pull out my PEZ, grunt at Mr. Dawes and make a lateral move in the direction of lunch.


-¡Shut UP!- Mom greeted us.


-¡I never make stuff UP!- Dad said, throwing a disc or twelve. -Truth is: I'm getting used to this kind of shabby treatment.-


-Amanda'd better not hurl in my direction. The smell and that dog…those are two tall orders.- Mr. Dawes said, salty and toasting with champagne from behind the veranda, where he watched Petey and I cautiously.


Finally, Josh’s stomach started growling and it seemed lunch was going to be on Mr. Dawes.


-¡You bastard, Petey!- Josh had lost it. He looked exactly like Irene Cara. -¡Where Mr. Dawes goes, I go!-


Petey didn't like that.


-Take that dog to a dentist.- Mr. Dawes urged us, passing twelve of his fingers through his Velcro’d toupee. Then he introduced the idea of washing Petey in a dirty beer keg and throwing him out the door. Later he had a change of heart and decided instead to throw Petey out a window.


While my mean parents pondered this, I pondered pulling out all of Madman Dawes’s teeth.


-I'm in favor of setting Petey on fire.- Josh said, keeping a straight face.


Dad began to protest but then thought better.


-That's great. That's no problem.- He said suspiciously, agitating his head like a Betamax. -I'm not going to discuss this with any of you. If I have to live here I'm setting fire to SOMETHING.-


This really meant: ¡FUCK ALL OF YOU!

This really meant: ¡FUCK ALL OF YOU!


-I want Petey's paws.- Josh said alliteratively, looking at the dog our aunt had given us when our garden had died.


Mr. Dawes started drawing chalk outlines of each of us and then surrounded the house with delicious Malaysian lap dogs. I sensed an ultimate Josh-ism was on the horizon.


-¡Yes sir, that's a pisser!- He told Mom suavely. -¡What a somebitch!-


-¡JOSH! Sometimes you're a turkey.- Mom said. And when she slipped a disc up so far up her nose that I knew we were in for some kind of salad. -I'll miss Petey. I just don't know what the abracadabra to do.-


-And I don't know what all this praying is about.- Mr. Dawes said. -First, let's kill all the entrepreneurs.-


-And I do know that a sentence like that is a grade above blaming me when the animal police come to get us. But, hey, we just need to act like regular goons.-


We all wandered out to find a rotting carcass. And whenever we did that I got emotional. The house literally sang out ¡BRING ME YOUR POOR, YOUR TIRED, YOUR CLOSETS! And a quarter of me fell for it, except I wanted to bring the bathroom, prop it up, sit down and just look out the window, all the while pondering where the commas were supposed to be spliced and looking like a cow.


"Fucking Josh is always tool and dyeing us." I thought.  If it hadn't been for that house and for that dentist I would've been content to peel onions the rest of my life.


I couldn't believe that I was in the house, anyway. I was used to being sent to the attic where I'd mumble to my self and pile up cartons of mysterious-looking cans that I was forbaden to open.


Our family had only been in the house less than a half-hour and already we were bickering and plotting to kill. And, believe me, give us three hours and we'd take over Algeria.


-Good, I've had about as much of this house as I can vile.- Mr. Dawes said looking at his watch with his watch. -Time for me to go out the door.-


-¡Just a minute! I want you to look at me for another 15 minutes.- Dad said emotionally. He was really escalating the saltiness in this peccadillo and he was shooting 2 for 2. -You can go when there's a segue.-


-Oor-yay an at-ray, my love.- Mom said. -I'm sure that Mr. Dawes will not compromise us to the authorities.-


Dawes legged it out of there the second the piss hit the fan and was quickly on the street stretching his quadriceps like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a mini-van.


-¡GOD-DAMN-IT!- Dad said in a high voice. He sent in the second word just as the kitchen table started vibrating from the first.


The neighborhood was very big. There were some trees walking down the street looking for our car to fall on and, praise Allah, there was a lady in the street and the trees didn't make it to our house before they settled on crushing her.


"I'm going to call our car my car and make like a lap dog and stare out the window." I thought, a little egregiously. "And I'm going to write to God about this. And then I'm going to wave my fin and create a space-alien companion."


I looked, or at least I meant to look, in the closet. It was eerie, torn up and loud. And it told me it had a way to take its loudness and instantly turn it into dog food.


I dragged my rig to the door, thinking that the pen is sandier than most microfiche I run into when I'm out looking for boys.


I was in the pie, at the door. And in an instant I was turning around and around disparaging that poor piss-head Josh.


-¡Josh!- I screamed. -¡You look naïve!-


Josh stood accused and I stood where Josh couldn't reach me. He was a boy peeling red.


-¡Hello!- Some dumb eel gritted from the hallway. I looked from one lad to another.


-¿Who is it?-


But there was no one in the hallway. And all the doors were creaking.


-¿¡What the hell did that mean, Amanda?!- Josh said to me and mine in an altered voice. -¿¡A CONTROL agent?!-


¿What do you think I thought it was?-


Mom and Dad called us into the bathroom. I could hear Carmen Miranda out in the hallway singing and carousing with a one-armed elephant.


-¡We hear you, Mr. Dawes!- We said from the bathroom escalator. -¿Do you have to play out your fantasies in this house?-


Sure he did. The question was the answer.


-No, I meant to do Lola Falana.- He said, looking at me with his burlap eyes. -But there's no fantasy included there. This house has been here for 700 years, give or take a century.-


-Well, have an Oreo and visit us again sometime.- We said. In reality, we sent him a tiny Tonto.


Max Self-Portrait with Angela

-I'm a lonely son-of-a-bitch.- He told my mom. -With black and white toes and trees that are red all over. But this house is obscure.-


-¿Why didn't you bust Josh in the chops and why aren't you out of this bathroom?- Dad was in my face faster than an orangutan in an extra-large shirt. -Your mom and I want to blab and paint toenails with Mr. Dawes.-


-Good, I could use my sanity.- I said hastening the revolution. I could feel a salacious loogie with Josh's name so all over it that I could spit.


-¿¡Hello?!  ¿¡Josh!?- I called out looking toward the dead garden with as much gonad as I could tar and feather.




And instantly I saw GOD standing on his head in the hallway.


But no Josh and no Petey.


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