The five of us are in the driveway in the early morning.
Dad and Mom are packing the SUV, about to leave for Florida for a week,
while my brother watches. My little sister Jamie is excited about the trip-she
loves the beach-but my younger brother Josh isn't.
"Do I have to go?" Josh asks Dad. Josh is at the point in his
life-thirteen-when he doesn't want anything to do with the family, except
for me, the older brother, who seems cool at twenty-two. He's lanky in
his gray T-shirt and khaki shorts, rubbing his short brown hair, and will
be taller than Dad and me in no time. His acne's growing, too.
"I've already told you," Dad says.
"But Erik gets to stay home."
"Yeah, but I'm much older than you," I say,
my arms folded, "and I have to get that freelance project done."
I wipe the sleep out of my eyes, hoping the sunlight won't prevent me from
getting back to sleep after they shove off.
"I bet the hotel has wireless," Josh says.
He's still trying.
"I bet it doesn't," I say.
"Leave it alone, Josh," my Mom says. "If
Erik doesn't wanna go, he doesn't have to. He can take care of the house.
And Erik, make sure you feed the cats, water the plants on the deck, cut
the grass, and get the mail. That way we won't have to get somebody else
to do it. Josh, when you're old enough to stay home alone, we'll let you."
"But Erik can watch me."
"Sorry, bud," says Dad, "but you're
going. And you're gonna like it."
"Fine," Josh says. He gets in the rear passenger
side of the Lexus and slams the door. He puts in his iPod earbuds and stares
ahead. He was the one who wanted to fly, but Dad wanted to see the sights
on the way to Florida.
Right after, Jamie walks into the garage from the house
and out to the driveway where she hugs my waist.
"Bye," she says. I look down but all I see
is her long brown hair. She has her face dug into my leg, so I release
her grip and kneel to her level. She looks tired.
"I'll see you when you get back, okay?" I
She nods, still in her pink pajamas, carrying a stuffed
pig named Oink.
"Go ahead and get in the car, hon," my Dad
says. "We're ready to go."
Mom walks to me and we hug before she gets in the car.
"Looks like you're the man of the house this week,"
Dad says, walking up to me. "No parties." He looks like an older
version of Josh. I got my Mom's looks-blonde hair, blue eyes, tan. I'm
pudgy, too, despite my workouts.
"Yeah, right," I say, hugging him. "Call
me when you get in tonight. I might be out with friends, though."
"Are you gonna drive the whole way there, or do
you think you'll stop for the night?"
"I'm gonna try to drive the whole day, but I'm
not sure I can convince your Mom to let me do that." Dad pulls a folded
$100 from his pocket and hands it to me. "For food."
"Thanks. See ya later," I say. I wave goodbye
to them as the car pulls out of the driveway and onto the main street of
our subdivision Pleasant Hills. Before they're out of sight, I catch them
all waving back.
I go back inside and upstairs to my bedroom. I'm glad
I have blackout shades-it's much easier to sleep when the room doesn't
feel like an oven. I hear my phone, which is in the headboard, vibrating.
I take off my T-shirt and shorts-everything but my boxers-and get in bed.
The phone says I have a text message.
"This sux," Josh writes.
"Haha," I write back. "Try to have fun
and you will. Goodnight." I set the alarm for noon, shut the phone,
and put it in the headboard. Later, when I hear the vibrating, I flip open
my phone and dismiss the alarm, as usual. I turn over and sleep for a couple
more hours until my phone vibrates again, waking me up. I answer it without
checking to see who it is, which I normally don't do.
"Hello?" I say.
"Hey, Chief. You asleep?" my friend Nathan
"Naw, I'm up."
"I know you were asleep."
"You're right. I was. I don't know why I always
lie about it."
"You feel like getting a few drinks tonight? Celebrate
your family being out of town?" he asks.
"Sure. That sounds good. What time?"
"Ten would rock. Get there early and stay late.
How's about The Front Door?"
"See you there at 10."
"All right, buddy. Go back to sleep."
"Goodnight." I laugh.
By the end of the night, I'm so drunk that me and Nathan
have to get a taxi to take us back to our places. I leave my car in The
Front Door's parking lot.
* * *
The next day, I'm too hung-over to get up earlier than
the afternoon. Usually I keep a bottle of water on my nightstand so I won't
have to get up in the middle of the night to grab one from the fridge in
the garage, where we keep all the bottled and canned drinks. I congratulate
myself for my ingenuity and preventive measures when I wake at 3 p.m.--groggy
and tired but with little trace of a hangover. I flip open my phone and
see that I have a voicemail from Dad. He left it last night, but the bar's
music was so loud that I didn't hear my phone ring. I slap my phone shut
and place it in the headboard without listening to the message. Still in
my boxers, I get out of bed, put on the shirt that's on the floor, and
go to the bathroom.
When I get downstairs, my feet cause the hardwood kitchen
floor to creak, although the floor is supposedly doubly reinforced and
has a "silent system" in place to boot. Yeah, right. I notice
that the back door is open, which I think is weird, but rationalize it
as being a result of my drunkenness. I close the door and lock it, glancing
around the room to make sure the TV, DVD player, surround sound, and other
things robbers would steal are still here. They are. The bottle of Sailor
Jerry's is on the stovetop because I evidently forgot to put it back in
the freezer before I left for The Front Door. There's about a fourth of
it left, which is worth saving for another night in the very near future.
I pick up the bottle and examine it, wondering how much rum I drank.
There's nothing else to do but start the day, so I
pop a frozen chicken dinner in the microwave, and pour a glass of orange
juice-a beverage I drink for the vitamins, not the taste. Reminding myself
that I have to be careful, I carry the glass of juice, the tray, and a
fork to the living room to watch TV while I eat. After setting everything
on the end table, I sit on the couch and grab the TV remote. It has cat
hair on it, so I blow to get some of it off. I expect one of the cats to
emerge due to the noise I'm causing, but none show up.
It's strange with my whole family gone. Typically there's
always somebody around doing something. Either Josh is watching TV in the
living room or up in the game room playing video games on his PS3, Xbox
360, or Wii. Jamie is literally all over the place, with a trail of cats
following the leader. My parents are in the kitchen, living room, or downstairs
office. Their bedroom, too, but only at night.
I shift my thoughts back to what I'm doing, realizing
that I've eaten the whole frozen dinner and left only the watery residue
on the bottom of the black tray's compartments. I turn off the TV, get
up and walk to the kitchen to toss everything disposable in the trash,
and slip the glass and fork in the dishwasher for future cleaning. It's
then, glancing out the dining room window, that I see my oldest cat sleeping
under the wicker loveseat on the front porch.
"Shit," I say. I'm angry with myself for
leaving her outside all night. She opens her big green eyes-sensing motion,
perhaps-and lets out a meow that I can't hear through the glass. She rises
and stretches her back, her legs. I instantly feel bad that I neglected
to let her in, but she seems okay. She meows when I open the front door,
practically sprinting toward her bowl of food while I attempt to smooth
over the situation.
"I'm sorry I left you outside mother kitten,"
I say. I wish she could understand exactly what I'm saying, but I know
she can't. I've heard that pets can only comprehend tone and certain words,
if they're conditioned to respond to them. I watch her eat for a little
bit--chewing the food loudly and swallowing it in big clumps. I'm always
amazed when my pets never choke on their food, because they eat so fast.
Once satisfied, she licks her chops and trots over to the recliner in the
living room. She's the thinnest and most agile of the three, and deftly
jumps to the recliner's arm and circles before lying down to take a nap.
I pet her head, but mostly her ears because they're so soft. She always
seems to like it. She closes her eyes and nudges my fingers when I stop,
encouraging me to continue. I head into the kitchen.
Then I hear a voice behind me, a voice I've never heard
before, a woman's voice. I turn, but see only the sun beaming through the
windows onto the cat. She's staring at me with her big green eyes, her
tail wagging gracefully, yet erratically.
"What was that?" I ask aloud, thinking it
impossible to hear anything but a meow, or a car, a lawnmower, a shout
in the distance. I correct myself to make more sense: "Who said that?"
"I did. Sit down," my cat says to me. "I
have something to tell you."
It's official-something's wrong with me. I do what
she says. I sit on the end of the couch, adjacent to the recliner, and
"Where are the other two?" I ask her, referring
to my other cats-solid black females.
"They've already left."
"Left? How'd they get out?"
"You left the back door open, and they tore through
the screen." I look to my left and see that the screen has a hole
in it big enough for a cat to slip through. When I closed the glass door,
I didn't even notice the hole.
"Where'd they go?"
"We're supposed to leave."
"Where are you going?"
"I don't know."
"Why are you leaving? Who told you to leave?"
"It's instinct. We're leaving. I've got the feeling
that something bad is going to happen soon. I hope you'll be okay."
"Yeah, me too."
I know--after seeing her as I never had-that I'll never
be able to cradle her again. It'd be weird for both of us, but I quickly
snap out of my thoughts, knowing she'll be on her way soon.
"So," I continue, "this is goodbye forever
"Yes, probably. I wanted to stay and let you know
we were leaving, so you wouldn't worry."
"Well thanks. I'll really miss you all."
She meows, jumps to her feet, and leaps through the hole in the screen
door, like someone commanded her to do so. I'm convinced that something
is happening. Or is about to. I wonder how I'll tell my parents and siblings
that the cats are gone. How will I explain what happened to them without
it looking like my fault?