“They have to be back there somewhere, but I guess I’ll have to just go look for them myself,” Love-Weasel says and sighs.
She searches my face with those beautiful eyes of hers and her shoulders slump as if all the weight of the world has been placed upon them. Her lower lip pooches out a bit and she sighs again.
The sound pierces my heart because the woman hypnotized and mesmerized me the very first moment I laid eyes on her. Her power over me has not waned one little bit in the past 40 years.
“No, no,” I tell her. “I’ll do it. Just, just let me think about it a little while, OK? But I’ll do it. I promise.”
“OK!” she chirps, no longer burdened, before almost skipping from the room.
Curses! Love-Weasel wins again.
I walk to the back room and stand in the open doorway. Other Boy hangs out here when he’s around, and there is a television and a sofa and a desk with a computer on it. Miranda, Queen of the Cats, is stretched out on the window seat to my left, bathed in a pool of sunshine. Languidly, she lays one eye upon me, determines I have no food and then ignores me as only a cat can.
Along the wall to my right is a pair of closed, louvered bi-fold doors. I shift my eyes in their direction and an icy cold spot begins to form at the base of my spine and then slowly crawls up to ooze into my brain.
I’m not sure, but I think I moan. Suddenly, Miranda leaps from the window seat, arches her back, hisses at the bi-fold doors and then flees from the room. The temperature drops 15 degrees. A lone wolf howls plaintively in the distance, innocent birds plummet, dead, from the sky.
And this time — this time — I do moan.
The shadows cast by the louvered slats are one shade darker than the gloom of a cloudy, moonless midnight, and the faux brass handles gleam malevolently like the glint in a demon’s eye. I realize I’m not breathing. Is that a slither I hear behind those doors, or the faint clicking of needle-sharp talons? Is that a low, guttural chuckle and the smacking of dry, scabby lips?
Yes, yes it is.
I stare at the door for what seems to be an eternity and then close my eyes and breathe deeply, gathering courage. A voice in my head commands me to be a man, to just do the damned job and get it over with.
“Open the door!” the voice barks. “Open it!”
Compelled into action, I reach out just as another voice stops my hand inches away from the handle.
“Let’s think about this,” the very reasonable voice oozes. “Why not get the boy to do it?
“Hmmm? He’s young and would recover much quicker than you. Or consider this: If Love-Weasel really loves you, she’d do it herself, if she really, really loves you, that is.”
Yes, I think, as I lower my hand and back away, this voice makes sense. We have two sons, a spare, so to speak. I decide I’ll just wait and send Other Boy in the next time he shows up for a visit.
The first voice snorts in disgust. “That’s what I thought! You wimp!”
Disgraced by my own fears, I reach out and yank the doors open. The opened doors form a hideous, sideways grin, and the front-load washer squats like some evil and all-knowing cubed Cyclops. The dryer, after 25 years of service, lists tiredly to the left. The water heater is crammed into the remaining space, adorned with mysterious copper pipes and wires and knobs, a twisted nightmare of hardware and incomprehensible electrical things.
Between these appliances, in those shadowed nooks and crannies, hide the horrors, the horrors we all ignore during those twice-a-week wash days.
Behind the façade of manicured lawns and tiled entryways and matched drapes of suburbia, denial thrives. Inside those homes lurk the grotesqueries everyone knows about but few speak of. We divert our eyes as we walk past, pretending as though the shameful things aren’t there, pretending that one day, yes, one day, we will face the proof of the thorough house-cleaning neglect that lies behind or beneath our appliances. But, one day never comes. This bliss of ignorance can go on for years sometimes. But then, then the questions arise.
Where’s my Led Zeppelin T-shirt?
Didn’t I use to have a pair of Homer Simpson boxer shorts?
Where’d the hamster go?
I squat down a few feet away and flick on a flashlight. The dark, narrow alleyway between the washer and dryer is strewn with debris: sad, dejected socks with no partners, gigantic, deformed dust bunnies, crumpled dryer sheets, lint-covered coins, the stub of a No. 2 pencil, a pair of rose-colored panties and other unspeakable things.
Are those bones? Is that my Gore 2000 T-shirt? What the hell is that?!
Nowhere, though, is there a sign of Love-Weasel’s Old Navy fleece pajama bottoms I’ve been sent to recover.
I hear the slither again from behind the dryer and that low, guttural chuckle. A shadow darts to the left of the water heater. Terrified, I back away, already formulating excuses and preparing myself to face the shame of failure.
There is movement between the appliances.
Further back, against the wall, the beam of the flashlight rests upon a dusty, old athletic sock, one of my own, I think.
“Help, help me,” the sock coughs feebly. “For the love of God, please, please help me.”
That’s it. I’m going in. If I’m not back in two days, call 911.