I’m sure dad didn’t like how comfortable we had been, growing up with all the ice and snow up there. That is why he was so insistent we stay for a while in Louisiana every summer.
He : constantly complaining about scraping the ice off the windshields, about shoveling the sidewalks, about having to smoke outside, his fingers burning in the frigid air – “even in my own god damned house”.
He : back home, snow wet, his angry mustache soaked, metal glasses heavily fogged up, winter stomach starting to accumulate. “ How can people live up here? Cold blooded freaks!”
He : in car , sliding southbound, noticeably happier, more relaxed, less loud, the closer we got to Pinkie’s house. He had even turned on the radio, once we passed the Louisiana Welcome Center. We stopped for some food at a gas station. The air outside the car growing stickier, thicker, hotter.
I : opening a plastic bag, putting the Bugels on my fingers like claws, washing the ship dust down with grape soda
Mom : in the front seat. more distracted looking, tentatively sipping a diet drink, in a waxy paper cup.
Mom: biting her lip, fussing around more, nit picking and criticizing more, more vocal, more easily frustrated the closer we got to Pinkie’s house.
My dad’s family had a thing about allowing married relatives to be in the photos they took. Only blood relatives. Too much a chance that “outsiders” would leave, shaming everyone with divorce. I remember Mom, Ruthy and Steve standing apart from the rest of the family for the Christmas photos, looking at their hands or smoking.
Laying in the back seat of the car, watching the tops of the trees pass by, the leather cushions cool and sticky against my back, like ice. I was listening to some kind of “best of” rock hits cassette on my walkman. It was the first tape I ever owned. It had been given to me for Christmas, probably as a stocking stuffer, to accompany the walkman. I had really not listened to much music on my own before, and was at a loss by all the choices out there – What was cool ? What was good ? What did other kids like? I had no idea, so this was a way to test out bands without having to commit to “liking” anything if pressed by those at school. Even I knew such a wishy-washy tape was not cool, but I needed to know what popular kids listened too. Up until then, I had just played the records my parents had – Grease , Jim Croce, John Denver Muppets Christmas … that kind of thing.
Outside : The moldy air was wet and congealed – hard to breathe. I liked the smell of it. It was always like wading through a sludgy sponge, my shirt drenched in the air. The air heavy with the type of hot that would drive a house cat to pant.
The haphazard road to Pinkies house sprawled in no particular hurry, its gravelly static buzzing. Occasionally there would be a cluck or pop from larger rock fragment hitting the bottom of the car.
At night, no street lights. It was easy to imagine werewolves lurking in the swampy woods. Dark shapes against dark woods.
I was always told that the road was named Cookie Monster road, because of the grumbling rock shards. I don’t think that wasn’t its official name. It might not have even been a road, technically. Pinkies house was squat ; practical, cluttered with thickets, overgrown grass. and slack jawed dogs.
The girl “next door” to Pinkys house was named Kristy, and she was a few years older. We would usually venture out to flimsy sheds, out back. We’d play zombie attack, or pretend we were scientists creating some new monster. I vaguely remember pouring liquids into crusty containers and hiding them in mud, or in the rusty sheds. I remember leaving stacks of cans, discarded beer and tide bottles hidden all over, their contents simmering, stewing, cooking over the years. We knew these tonics would condense into bloodthirsty creatures eventually, given time, given heat. Every year I got there, it seemed more heroic to stumble out back, knowing the remote muddy ground was peppered with these potential monstrosities, these gurgling landmines. One day, one might hatch. I was always hopeful to discover some of the containers ripped open, its glop spilled in tantalizing trails into the woods.
By Paul DeLong
On January 8, 2023
“Given time, given heat,” this story spills into several different directions. The Mom’s nervousness is memorable, and we understand much from the simple aside about family photography. We wonder if the children spill into the woods with their experiments, with fancies around imaginary monsters, to avoid any real stew brewing in the human cauldron inside the house. Great piece.