I Saw Two Good Houses Over There NEXT TO Death
by Don Cheney
A multi-media project by Max Cheney
Chapter 11 read by Jerm
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I threw the days around. Josh and I weren't used to the new house or to these new friends.


We hadn't seen them since that day at the school patio but they were exactly our friends anyway. They talked like they had cotton balls in their mouths and they didn't know how to play properly on the school equipment. But, hey, it's not easy when you're blessed with cluelessness.


For my part, I listened my self silly to all of the horses around the house and I made up Pagan rites that forced me to pray to the stars until they paid attention. One night I was praying and I was visited by a girl who told me that I couldn't whistle and write at the same time. I whistled and I wrote but not at the same time and the stars paid me no mind. But when I was alone on another night there was a pile of bananas that came to me and told me to suicide, that they had the rope and they had the ammunition and they had the pare knife.


Josh and I don't adapt well to new circumstances but Petey is like Marcel Marceau in a box. We hadn't seen him since that day at the school patio but when we did see him he had married a race dog. He treated her like a manatee, like a Labrador treats a boy trespassing on his property, like a mortician treats a corpse.


-Everybody says I was too nervous to change.- Petey had argued to Josh. -But I was calm enough to know it was TIME.-


But I didn't think Petey was calm. He was a Terrier. The only time "calm" comes up is with the clam dip. It had been fifteen days since we had seen him, since the day we had tried to kill all those kids with a softball bat: Ray, Karen Somerset, Jerry Franklin, George Carpenter and some other kids whose names similarly sounded like we had taken a hat of names from WASP, USA and Petey had bitten into every one of them.


But that dog had also barfed my zafu and knew he had better leave for a while.


I had looked for him at various times during those fifteen days. I'd call out "¡PETEY!" and I'd call out "¡You stupid cur!" and I'd look on all the patios of every school in town and then I'd look in the mosques. Then, despite knowing better, I'd jump over to the taxidermist. Josh and I had a dime bet that we would find Petey stuffed with no idea what had hit him.


The streets of DARK FALLS were filled with people who looked like one another. Everyone carried bowling balls drilled out by their mothers. Every tree in Dark Falls was the same size, shape and age.


-Now that I don't believe.- Josh said. -Because if I believed that I'd believe that God did all of that and all at ONCE. What I do believe is that I'll lay back with a drink underneath one of these trees and pray to Descartes that I think therefore I'm a rat.-


-Speaking of rats: ¡There's Petey! ¡The Terrier Bandito!- I exclaimed just as I exclaimed every time we had searched for that little cow. That and I'd say "¿Why are we bothering to look for him? No one cares if he dies like an escaped convict in the Andes."


-I don't know why and I don't know why I want to pour salt on him if we do find him.- Josh said moving his head and limping along like a Tudor under a mango tree. -I just DO.-


-¡Wait a minute!- I said. I was about to blow a major fuse throughout the house. -The idea I just had was that when we find him ¿why don't we talk to him in Pig Latin?-


-¡Perfect!- Josh said trying to separate the trunk from the tree. -Ets-lay aste-pay im-hay oo-tay the ee-tray, anda-may Ah. It's probably time to go home anyway and here we are, stupids that we are and what we're looking for is God. ¡Let's get outta here!-


I could hear him and I was sure it was Josh I just didn't know how red his face was.


-Ut-bay irst-fay ee-way ave-hay oo-tay aint-pay the ouse-hay the olor-cay of the eet-stray.- I ed-sayed.


I treated Josh like the pig dung he is because when I go to school he is always following me around, playing the accordion. We once started fighting when he wouldn't play "Particle Man."


Fortunately, I'm all legs and, also fortunately, Josh is all shins and the bruises last him for weeks. If I had a finger for each time I kicked him I'd have four talons, a few facials and a nose ring.



We passed in front of the school and looked at the gun still lying on the ground where Josh had left it after threatening to kill Petey. ¡God I wished that dog was dead! ¡What do I know about whine and what do I know about animals and what can anyone know when you're legging it around, yelling and screaming in Dark Falls?


I only know what I’m doing when I’m running around the house yelling and screaming and spitting rabbits out of a hat.


Minutes later Josh and I legged it out of there and started calling to Petey to pull his head out of his tiny ass. The front door, however, was closed and we might as well have been yelling out “MAMA!” with animal pelts on our heads and vultures in our red shirts and rodents in our removable jeans. We went out to the piñata on the porch and started hitting it, hitting it like it was Dad.


-¿Where the Han Solo is that useless dog? ¡It’s lunch time in two hours, for Chrissake!-


Josh’s second question was a little tamer:


-¿Is Petey here?-


-¡You hematoma! ¡¿We’re looking for him too?!- I said.


-¿Well, is he here?- Josh prayed to God that I didn’t have a gun.


Mom interrupted our appointment with inanity:


-¿Petey? ¿You can’t find that useless mutt?-


My heart stopped.


Josh knew that when my heart stopped that it was time to grab me and take my body to a Spalding Grey monologue and then plant me six feet under the garden.


-¡Idiot! ¿Can’t you hear my pace-maker?- The trembling in my voice revealed the trembling in my shirt. -¡If I’m with you that means the dog’s escaped!-


-Oh, I see...- Mom said, and motioned that she wanted Josh to raise the dead. -¿And who escaped? -¿Was it anyone with tinnitus on the cornea?-


-You know goddamn well who escaped and you hand us this shit.- Josh said without raising anyone dead. -Your car sucks. A lot of what we know or are likely to know sucks. ¡You’re a miserable mom!-


-You don’t have to be so laid back.- Mom said. -Be a man, Josh, go back and eat your lunch. And later...-


-¡NO! ¡You’re a miserable mom RIGHT NOW!- Josh gritted his teeth.


Dad sallied into the house, got into his car and peeled donuts throwing tiny flecks of white pincher bugs all over the carpet.


-¿What the pasta?- I prayed to gun. -Josh, ¿what the Bob Griese is going on?-


Dad contaminated the living room as if he were just passing the day. He didn't say anything about whether he had gotten a job or whether he had time to help us look for Petey. Mom knew I was offended by this but she'd only do something if she knew we'd buy lunch for her first. I left that to Josh, the poor lisp reader, and he left like a Rasta Shaman husking corn.


There's nothing I like better than a Porsche Carrera unless it's a seagull enchilada. Not even a game of bocce-ball for two played from a tree. Mom screamed at Dad to get the goddamn car into the fucking garage and we all ran out of the house like vultures on fire and started in again looking for Petey and not loving the idea.


But you have to look before you sweep.


I didn't want to share anything with that dog and I especially didn't want to share sinus spray. Josh and I had already been sentenced to a life of sadness, our hearts razed for a row of condos. Mom and Dad talked like the police, complete with the irritating police radio noise. Dad kept repeating that Petey -- &%$*#!! -- knew how to find his ass when pressed and that -- &%$*#!! -- even when he wasn't pressed -- &%$*#!! -- he always came back, if only to pee on our car.


But it wasn't like we had a car anymore.


¿Where was that rat we call our dog?


We went silent. Then we went out into the night that was looming large and horrible like the rest of our lives.


-I love his little rat-ass, that's for sure.- Josh repeated with a lot of grime in his eyes. -I probably shouldn't be playing bocce-ball right now.-


-That dog is an expert dirt inhaler anyway.- Dad said. -Go play bocce-ball, the doggerel come back.-


-¡It's a perfect day for a party!- Mom said.


I couldn't believe my ears. But then I couldn't believe my brain and I couldn't completely believe my spleen. One time, I trusted my ears and I invited a boy of a different species to one of these "parties" and I ended up comatose and screaming "¡La Jolla is for the dead!"


-I'm all for parties too.- Dad said suspiciously.


He was singing two pints a day now. But ¿what the hey? If you're going to be a bull-headed narcissist--¡go for it! It sure beats being an also-ran extraterrestrial.


-¿Doesn't it?- I asked no one.


-I believe that it does, yes.- I answered my self, thinking I was Petey. Petey could hear a tent flap flap at the stroke of midnight if he listened hard enough or if he ran around with his ear to the door.


But nooooo. Time passed, we looked for Petey and lamented and when at last the hour came when we could not look for him any longer, Petey totally did not appear.


Josh and I knew that this creature was a creature of habit. We had set aside our carne asada burritos and our thoughts of Tony Danza and looked for Petey. And if we didn't find him I knew that I could always buy a poodle to make me feel better.


I was in the hallway thinking about going out the door when I heard what I was so sure was the sound of someone getting their teeth ripped from their mouth that I started spitting blood. It wasn't a sound I hadn't heard before. It was a non sequitur morphine sandwich.


Without a cow or car in sight I walked into the house and lit up the moon. The house was especially vacant. Whatever. It wasn't my ass if that dog didn't come home. Petey was a strange and rude dog who knew which side his acorn was buttered on. I looked at the window and saw two collagen-filled eyes (like you see in movie stars).


Later, out the same window, I'd see a magic rope telling stories to my camel.


My camel would be wearing two pairs of jeans, a couple of shirts and a pair of DC shoes. What's more: my unicorn would be wearing an elegant fedora.


"That's weak!" -I thought-. Mom was an ordeal fanatic. If it wasn't an ordeal it wasn't worth its soap on a rope. ¿Why does she always spread cold goo all over Dad and then kick him in the cojones?


I was getting salty and suspicious and I started to remember how I used to kick the soap-on-a-rope all over the bathtub. I remembered that when Mom worked she would make her self a very simple lunch and then proceed not to eat it. Sure, I had my soap-on-a-rope for security and I prayed to Allah every night but I still wanted to kick everyone I met right in the cargo section. Every time I'd intend to talk slowly and more lady-like but then I'd get distracted and start kicking every ass I could see and some that I couldn't.


Half an hour later I was hollering at people and accosting them not from atop my camel but from atop my almost total desperation, looking like a showroom dummy advertising bras. One minute later, ¿or was it an hour?, not it was a minute, I was segueing away from thinking about Petey to thinking about our new friends, to thinking about the vibes resonating in our miserable house, to thinking about that time that I had sent Josh's prone body through the front door, to thinking about my part in my Chia Pet's death, to thinking about a sea breeze.


I could hear pissing and the piss was my mom's.


Then someone sent their scream into the calm. This always happened but at least there wasn't a pie attached to this one.


-¡Amanda! ¡Fuck you!-


I was shocked. I didn't quite recognize the voice but what I did recognize better not’ve been Josh.


-¡Josh! ¿What comes after 3?...¿Give up?-


A small bit of logic will get his cytoplasm popping. Well, at least this diversion kept me from tearing his eyes out.


-¿Pardon name wah?- Josh said. He should stick to Pig Latin. -¿Is that my lint trap? I don't think so...-


-Josh, it's light enough in here for me to find your ass and kick it.- I said, already half charged. Josh tried to block out the sun's rays but he was white and they went right through him.


-Great.- Josh said. -I might as well be a halogen lantern.-


-Good, ¿now what on earth do you want?- I asked, irritated. It was all I could do to see straight. I started using my ears to see but I might as well have been using Aloe vera.



-I know where this Petey is.- Josh was so sure he was shaking. -And I'm going to look there. ¿Do you want to look there too?-


-¿What?- I looked at my tiny watch against the vast night table. -It's half past night, Josh.-


-Yeah, ¿so? I'm not demoralized by nothing.- He responded.


I had been sick and that, the bad lighting and my poopy disposition made it hard to decide if that really was Josh. I tried my vest to imagine it wasn't. I pretended it was just a pair of jeans, a bad toupee, some shoes and a man's XL shirt.


-I didn't mean it, Josh.- I said, my sentence bordering on calm. -I was looking for parts of Petey and not Petey. ¿Where the Christ is he?-


-In the cemetery.- Josh contested. His eyes were as big as Venetian blinds, sad and serious like Mel Blanc's.


-¿Come again?-


-I guess God saw him before we did. ¿What were we thinking, legging it out here to Dark Falls? I knew one of us would end up in a cemetery, I was just hoping it would be somebody from that ungodly school.-


-But, one minute...- I emphasized one.


-Today I was walking past the cemetery and I didn't see Petey. God saw him, Amanda. I'm as sure as a ruse. And so now, when I go to look at the cemetery, God comes with me or he doesn't.-


-¡Clam it up, Josh!- I said, ponying my hands up to slap him. To my surprise my brother was trembling. -¡God doesn't exist because if God existed Petey wouldn't be talking to him in a cemetery!-


-¡God exists!- Josh insisted. -Because for the first time in my life I've found something I was looking for. I'm sure of this. I'm also pretty sure that God drives a Ford Torino. ¿So whaddaya want: a ten or a twenty?-


My brother was about as much of a boy as is possible: he was macho and terse and impulsive and he loved "The Munsters."


-Josh ¿did it ever occur to you that a cemetery wouldn't really have visiting hours this time of night?- I asked.


-No, but you know me: I'm an idiot.- He contested, illuminating my point like a red-shirted Star Trek crew member beaming down to the Ponderosa.


For a second I thought I could see right through Josh but all I could see was his cerebral cortex. I had to say "abracadabra" just to get a glimpse of his teeth.


-So, ¿do you want a ten or a twenty?- Josh was getting repetitious and I was getting impatient.


I wasn't going to decide that one. Nope. But I was going to look into his eyes and pretend that it wasn't Josh but a tall Puerto Rican boy with a star tattoo and he was asking me to go to the cemetery.


-Okay, I'll go.- I said without wiping the grin off my face. -Now get over here and let me see your tattoo.-


-Um...okay.- Josh said. I was so sure that I was going to the cemetery with Juan and not Josh that I packed a picnic lunch with some Absolut. -Actually, I'm not coming over there, Amanda.- Josh continued. -I'll wait over here.-


-Josh, I know we're just going to listen to Ray Charles records and that we're decidedly not going to any cemetery. But maybe later we can grab some rigatoni and run over there. ¿Is that what you meant?-


-Yeah...that's it.- Josh responded. -But if you don't stop staring at me I'm calling up Mom and Dad and calling off the party. I know how your mind races, it's probably sitting somewhere in Mexico waiting for you to catch up to it.-


"Hey, that's not a bad summation, coming from a boy who is totally looney”, I thought while I looked for some rope and some obscurity.


But first it was time for me to pretend to emote.


I knew that Josh was wishy-washying. We used to call him “the dude with the 'tude”. But not now. Now Petey was no “Ishtar” to be found and me and a bunch of Mickey Morandini's were pouring through a cemetery. And not in a sentimental way.


But the meaner I got the more I knew we were more likely to find LEGOS and that this was more likely not a serious venture. If I had kept my wits with me I could've been writing to my friend Kathy instead.


Yeah, and if Josh had a brain instead of a logarithm we would've found Petey and still had time to make mathematics.


So, minutes later, wearing only jeans and a sweater, I'm out of the house and ready to kick Josh's ass. It was that kind of a night -- a night that was pissing me off more than a den of the best lunar pabulum. For the first time in my life I was in the middle of counting and I didn't know what number I was counting to.


Josh had the halogen lantern to light up my soul...


-¿Did I say that out loud?- I asked.


It was a tantalizing question. If I didn't say that shit about Josh and my soul out loud ¿how do I know if I had said my question about it out loud?


I looked out at all the little boys and girls marching a rumba line straight to the schoolyard. ¿Where was God when shit like this went down? And ¿why was I still legging it to the cemetery?


-This is very obscure.- I said in a low voice. The houses also looked obscure in their silences. I wasn't breathing again. I'd start breathing as soon as I knew that I was the only one in the world who made venison stew in a mossy sauce.


-¡Will you SHUT UP!- I said out loud to my self, pushing on my dome so that Josh would leave me the Victor Jara alone. -I DON'T KNOW WHY I'M GRILLING MY SELF, I CAN'T HEAR IF MY GRANDMA'S LIFE DEPENDED ON IT! ¡AND IS ANYONE SO SURE THAT 12 YEAR OLD KIDS SHOULD BE CHA-CHA-ING IT TO THE CEMETERY AT MIDNIGHT!-


I was convinced now that Petey was God.


We were on the street and very close to walking in circles. We were so close that some of us were walking in semicircles. The school was nearby but we were never going to make it there with all of the semicircles we were making when suddenly we heard what sounded like a Rastaman pissing all over us.


We all froze for a second. Josh froze like a banana.


Everyone was listening to the sound. It wasn't just imagining me.


And I had no segue.

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