Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Death on Fire: Or, Why I Should Have Had Dinner with Jennifer Last Night

My car wouldn't start yesterday at 5:15 pm.

I know what you're thinking: "What else is new, Laura? I thought your car was a piece of [fill in the blank with descriptive and non-flattering adjective]. Are you telling me you were actually surprised?"

No. I was not surprised. Because I know my car. And I know going to CVS for a prescription and then getting gas was a Bad Idea. I should have gone, gotten gas, then left my car parked at the pump while I walked to CVS, got the prescription (with my Fancy New Health Insurance) and then gone back to the gas station and driven away.

But I thought that would be rude. Maybe someone else would want to use the pump, and maybe the attendant would think there was something wrong with me, leaving my car at the pump like it was in some kind of parking place. And paying for someone to tow my car would involve me pouring more money into my car than it is actually worth, which I don't want to do unless it involves keeping said car moving from work to home, home to work.

I should have known that turning my car on and off several times would lead to it getting too tired and not wanting to turn on again. But I am a hopeless optimist (stop laughing) and I thought it would start, because it loves me in a way that only inanimate objects can.

When you have a car like mine, it really has to start the first time.

It's funny, really. See, if I drove Mom's car, and it didn't start, no one would look twice at me. Or--and here's the big shocker--they might come up and offer to help me get it to start.

But in my car...well. Most of you know what it looks like, and those of you who don't can picture the nondescript gray thing with its deer-hoof prints on the hood, tape keeping rain off of the driver's seat (never did get around to taking that off) and decorative patches of rust.

If someone sees me in my car, and it not starting, they figure I know what I'm doing. Or at least what I've gotten myself in to.

They look at me, turning my key as my car struggles to force the engine to life, and they think, "Huh. Well, guess it figures." Because if they had to pick one car in the parking lot that wouldn't start, it would be mine.

They smile, shake their heads, get back into their Hummers or beat-up work trucks, and go on with their lives.

So I call Dad. It seems, magically, when I call him, the car starts. I know. It's freaky.

And I called him yesterday, too. He picked up and told me a charming story, which I will now relate to you.

Dad had, weeks ago, gone to Walmart and bought fly traps.

These were intended to capture and kill the flies that swarm toward the garage without fail, each summer. They are attracted by the cool, as well as the damp, because the people who built the house didn't put a drain in the garage floor or angle it downward so that water flowed out of the garage door. Instead, water pools near the door to the house. Nice, huh?

So Mom never uses the hose attachment in the garage to water her flowers. But Paul and Dad are not always that smart, so we invariably have some water on the garage floor at some point or other, the Indiana humidity sucks it up, and the world gets just a little hotter. It feels like the jungle at our house anyway, but whatever.

I gave up a long time ago.

Back to fly traps.

Mom hates them. She thinks they're disgusting, especially when things start to go in them and die, and they only seem to attract things to kill, not just kill the things that are there. Plus, the birds which eat the flies go into the garage to get the flies, leading to Mom, Paul, and (you guessed it) me trying to chase said birds out of the garage with whatever tools we can muster.

So Dad got rid of the fly trap, putting it into a garbage bag that he "sealed" then into a garbage can. The one in the garage.

Needless to say, the following happened.

The fly trap poured its contents into the garbage bag.

The garbage bag leaked into the garbage can.

The garbage can leaked onto the garage floor.

I know. But it gets worse.

The fly trap bait smells like what flies like the most: death.

Yes, we had a puddle of liquid dead-thing on the garage floor.

"I have to go," Dad said. "They're telling me I smell like rotting flesh. I have to get cleaned up."

He told me to call Paul. But the car started, so I called Jen.

She invited me to dinner. I said no, because I knew Mom had cooked, and besides, it sounded like fun at home.

I had no idea how fun.

Mom will kill me for telling you this, but it just adds to the fun.

Darcy smelled the dead thing and did what any self-respecting dog would do. She rolled in it.

Mom washed Darcy, then decided to get clean herself, running a bath with all kinds of nice-smelling things in the water to erase the memory of putrefaction.

As she was bathing, she heard a knock on the bathroom door. "Laura?" she called.

"No," replied the woman. "It's Patti!"

Now, Patti and her family once lived in a neat house in the middle of the woods, just down the road from us (although too far to bike ride). I grew up playing with her kids, and going on secret motorcycle rides Mom never did find out about with Robin, Patti's husband when he wasn't telling me how to cure evil things like nettles.

Patti is famous for coming into our house when Mom was ill and washing our dishes. She also would take Paul and I and feed us, or just drive us around with her while she did errands so that we weren't lonely when Mom was getting better from her surgery. I think I was just in first grade back then...I don't really remember.

Patti moved back to Michigan (upper peninsula) and took her unique dialect with her, like the word "yous" which I have never heard spoken by anyone but her. I like that word. "Why don't yous come and see us?" is an example of its use in a sentence. Sounds like it would be possessive, but it isn't.

Anyway, we hardly ever see her anymore, but yesterday, she came for a visit with her daughter. She came just as the stench of death was permeating our home and settling over our yard in a heavy cloud.

Because Dad had done something Smart. One of many things that he did that day that was Smart. He took the trap, leaky as it was, dripping death-stench as he went, and burned it in the little cement fire pit thing Mom wants to get rid of so badly. A-hunk a-hunk a burning death. So he made the death-scent airborne, a cloud of death, making our house smell like rotting flesh, like some kind of death camp, perhaps, where foolish pastors come to die.

It rolled down the river, spreading stench as it went (that is what happens to all smoke, it goes down to the river and travels along it. Something to do with air pressure). And I pulled up in my car and thought: "Thanks, Dad."

And, hot from my car ride, I went inside and saw that Patti was there, and Darcy was newly washed.

"How does it smell out there?" Mom asked.

"It smells like Death on Fire," I said.

She didn't appreciate the humor of the situation. She was to busy being horrified.

We chatted, Dad came out and sounded Hoosier, and we all had a nice visit.

And, I noticed, Darcy still smelled like death, wet dog, and a hint of the skunk scent that becomes evident only when she is drenched with water, that we can't get off her no matter what.

Groomer? Maybe? Just a suggestion, Mom.

Patti left with her daughter, and Mom hurled the dinner she had so lovingly made onto the table with dramatic sighs.

"Patti only comes when this place is a wreck," she insisted. "The world falls apart, and Patti comes. This place looks nice sometimes, you know. I'm washing my hair, and what do you know? Patti's knocking on the door!" She shot Paul a look that I'm sure meant it was his fault that Patti gained entrance into the house and access to the bathroom door.

After we ate, Dad started to list off the things Mom would now have to do to get rid of the wonderful smell he discovered. "Put bleach into the one garbage can," he said. "And make sure to put some into it too, just to be safe. Also you should bleach the garage floor. And the soles of my shoes, which need it. But make sure not to get any on the leather, because that would be bad and it would ruin the shoes."

Because the stench of death hadn't already done that.

And, here's just a big idea of mine that anyone can disregard: Why didn't Dad flippin' do it himself? He discovered the stench and made it mobile. Why didn't he get rid of it?

Because apparently, cleaning up the mess was Mom's job.

"My clothes will need washed too," he said as I slammed the open door into the garage, which let the death-stench into our kitchen, mere steps from our dining room table and the chair closest to it (mine). I gave up eating.

"Where are you're clothes," Mom asked, then repeated several times, loudly, until Dad realized that "downstairs" wasn't a real answer. "I don't remember what clothes you were wearing!" She insisted, looking more and more harried.

"On the pile," Dad answered.

Yes, ladies and gentleman. My dad, in his glorious knowledge and wisdom, had removed his clothes and placed each death-soaked article on top of all the other clothes that he and Mom and Paul had put downstairs to be washed, clothes that did not smell like death. Clothes that now did, very much, have the stench of death upon them.

You could see the wind sucked out of Mom's metaphorical sails. She just slumped, defeated, as I looked on in horror, thinking of the amount of work Mom would now do to clean up the death-stench all by herself, as Dad and Paul did their Man thing and let her. Jerks.

Then it clicked with Dad, partly, that Mom didn't know what clothes were what, and he went down to show her. Still having no idea why she would be more upset at this development than all the others.

I took a big gulp of pop, then the hilarity of the situation struck me, and I shot it out of my nose and sucked it into my lungs in the same instant as I laughed, nearly killing myself for the second time that day.

And I knew, that although it was fun, I should have stayed with Jen that night and had something to eat that, though dead, would smell nothing like it.

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