There are no monsters in this story. Okay, maybe one. But we’re a perfect family. There is a Mommy and a Daddy and two children, no three children. One is called Dick, the father, the mother Jane, and the children have names as well. Dick Jr., Jane Jr., Dick III. We only hit them when they deserve it, and even then only when we’re about to unravel.
We live outside a big city; one you probably know. We don’t have to describe it. 45 minutes they say, the perfect commute. I believe it’s called a suburb. There are rows of identical dwellings that you must remember by number. In the suburb there is a school, a mall, and a large area of uninhabited land they call a Nature Reserve.
Yes, and we live on a street. No, on a court. Main Court. No, Pine Court. Yes. That sounds right. And yes there must be a house. Two levels. Is it called a ranch? And there is a dog. His name is Rex. He is gold and stupid. He won’t appear after this. And maybe a fish. There is nothing wrong with this picture. There are polaroids on the refrigerator in the kitchen where there is always too much food. We starve ourselves to maintain our forms. In the pictures, there’s Dick and Jane and Dick Jane and Jane Dick all in different assortments and arrangements.
In one we’re wearing white and our teeth aren’t jagged, no not at all. Our lawn is angles of green and our pool is built into the ground so it’s harder to puncture. We slosh in it occasionally. There is a swing set and a slide but nobody uses them. The ordinance is unspoken but firm.
We have always lived here of course. Not in this house, but here. Okay, not always, but long enough, longer than them. Let’s say we were high school sweethearts in the next town over. Married at 25. Then a dog. Then a child. Then another. You get the picture.
We don’t think it’s a good fit for them. The family that moves in next door. They’re from an island we have not heard of and don’t wish to visit. The car has a red, white, and black flag on it and not the red, white, and blue that we have all adopted. Maybe we should discuss this with them. The variance makes us uncomfortable.
At night we hear a sound coming from their house, the neighbors. Dick III is taking the garbage out. The lights are off. He relays the information back to us. It’s our duty to know its origin, as the keepers of the sounds. Dick grabs Gun and goes back outside with a flashlight. It’s a sound like chains dragging across dirt. Chrttunk, Clang, Kshhh. Dick tramps over and rings the doorbell. The sound stops. There is a long silence, and then a thudding inside. A man answers the door.
“I live next door. Heard a noise.”
“Oh, the white house, right? The name’s Winston. Everything’s good.”
“I’m sure you know about community quiet hours?”
“Yes, we were informed.”
“Great. We look forward to having you join our community.”
“Let me make it up to you, come over for dinner this Sunday, I insist!”
We pause at the unexpected shift in the expected conversational pattern.
“We would love that.”
This exchange is the first of many mistakes that we make.
When we arrive for dinner, we try foods we cannot remember the names of. The house smells foreign. There is no fish tank. No dog. Not even a cat. A bird. A fucking bird with too many colors. There is a thing like a pita that they serve with some kind of stew. We won’t eat it. Dick Jr. tries it and then turns red and starts to sweat. Jane eats a piece of the pita and says she is full. Jane Jr. tries a forkful. We look at her and she puts her fork down. Dick Three, the fool, eats the food. Our shoulders tense.
“Delicious,” He says. We smile and agree. The son, Carvins, takes the plates. The son!
“My husband is the cook these days, I work too late.”
The wife, Kerrina.
“He doesn’t work?” We ask.
“I do metal welding, woodworking, and sculptures.”
There is pride in Winston’s voice. we’re sure he wants us to inquire further. Jane’s lips snarl. We hold in our remarks. We don’t stay for dessert.
That summer Jane runs and runs and runrunruns and doesn’t go anywhere. We don’t understand why she won’t melt into the right shape. She lives her life on a treadmill, then a Stairmaster, then a Peloton. They all fail her. We aren’t disappointed that she isn’t beautiful and anemic. No, of course not. She drinks water with apple cider vinegar, lemon and cayenne and doesn’t eat and it’s okay because this is a cleanse. Jane measures her waist in yellow tape, ticks marking how much to run, how much to eat, how much she has failed us. When she purges after her meals the acid burns her throat but it’s a cleanse and cleanses are supposed to make you feel vacant.
On the 4th of July we have a big party with Bud Light and volleyball. We ride our RedMax mower up and down the circumference of the property, laying out straight lines on the lawn. We throw sacks at wooden slats with holes and yell when they go in. All the rest of the cul-de-sac is here. People with names like Aldous and Katelynn. Jane Jr. helps Jane put out trays of warm food like ziti and meatballs that we’ve convinced ourselves are flavorful. We invite them over hoping they won’t come. But they do. They play the games and drink the drinks and don’t once compliment the outdoor patio furniture or the pool. Not even the barbecued chicken which isn’t at all dry or flavorless. We are cordial. We show this by patting Winston on the back and offering him an entry even though it is undeserved.
”Come, drink this.” we’re holding a bottle of Jack Daniels.
“No thank you, I don’t drink.” Winston declines the offer, and his status is locked in. Winston and Kerrina leave early before the sun sets.
Dick Jr. takes the son upstairs. We don’t need to describe his room; you can imagine it. Dick Jr’s blonde hair shines gold like the trophies on his desk and the Bud Light that he passes to Dick Three.
He punctures a hole in the bottom of the can with his keys, the Audi insignia flashing. Dick Three guzzles the liquid down as much as he can until he chokes. Dick Jr. continues letting the beer pour down the collar of Dick Three’s shirt and laughs. Dick Three does not laugh and neither does Carvins.
“I fucking hate that guy sometimes.” Dick Three admits as Carvins walks him back to his room.
“He’s just drunk.”
“No, he’s always like that.”
. Flash Bang. Bright in the sky, now night. Fireworks. One veers off into a car, glass smashes and alarms blare. The car doesn’t catch fire, only the red, white, and black flag. Glass litters the tar driveway. we’re terribly sorry, we say, terribly sorry. No police come because they’re drinking and watching pornography in their own respective vehicles.
We think Dick III is too quiet. His head is oblong, and there is something wrong with it. His teachers don’t hold him in high esteem like his brother. We don’t like to call him a runt but sometimes we must for him to understand that this version of himself isn’t sufficient, that he must be better. In the morning he takes a shower and closes the drain. Only cold cold water. Dick III lies down face first in the tub, pellets of water gnawing at his back. We pull his head up as the water starts to clog his lungs and clap his chest until he sputters. He lives out of guilt more than anything. We take the locks off the handles of the rooms inside the house. We only watch the cameras in their rooms when we’re lonely. The medication that Dick 3 is prescribed brings him back to us, makes the ridges in his brain smooth.
When they play music loudly on Labor Day, we don’t recognize it. It’s English but it isn’t ours. Once the sun goes down, we call the authorities to ask them to have it turned down. There are sirens and red, white, and blue lights streaking up their driveway. The music stops. We think they know it was us who complained. Jane says she is scared. We go to the basement and grab Gun just in case. We sit in chair rocking, rocking, whiskey in hand, humming ourselves to sleep, the sounds of chains rattling off in the distance.
We don’t see them at the homecoming football game. Dick Jr. is starting quarterback this year. He is good because he must be. We paint our bodies in school colors, feathers in our hair, grease streaked across cheeks. When the opposing team spills onto the field, we must hold ourselves back from devouring them. When he throws the first touchdown it’s 40 yards down the field and the other players hoist him up. The papers memorialize his youthful splendor and we’re proud to have produced a spawn that holds up to the universal standard.
It’s 6:45 pm and Jane Jr. isn’t home. Jane Jr. is next door eating dinner. Jane Jr. is sitting on the couch unsupervised with that boy, Carvins. He is showing her pictures he has taken. We watch through the window.
“This is a wood thrush.” The bird has a burnt brown coat of feathers. Its underbelly is speckles of black over white. It’s perched on the branch of a tree Jane recognizes is on the walking path of the nature preserve. The lake in the background is out of focus, just visible, with reeds and tall grass stroking through the air as if painted. She watches his eyes as he describes the different kinds of birds that are native to the area, how they dart from side to side, how they seem to be veering off into some other place, somewhere she recognizes she has never been.
“Wow, you really love this stuff, huh?”
“What about you, what do you care about?”
Jane Jr. is disarmed.
“In my family we care about–”
“No, I mean, like you yourself?”
Jane Jr. shifts uncomfortably from her position, pointing her knees towards the other teen.
“I think I like nature and stuff too.”
Jane Jr. leans in for a kiss because it’s easier to do this than confront the fact that she does not know what she likes, that nobody has ever asked.
“No, I’m… not like that.”
“You don’t like me?”
“No, I mean…”
“Oh, so you’re gay? I think my brother’s like that.”
“No, it’s just… I don’t like anyone I guess.”
Jane Jr. has never been rejected before, and she never will be again, but this time it’s comfortable. She rests her head on the arm of the couch. Reflexively Carvins points his camera in her direction, focuses, and clicks. She sits there watching the branches rustle against the window.
We march over. We smile with our teeth only. Jane Jr. comes without being called. We walk in silence.
“Is it that boy?”
Jane Jr. does not respond, even after the slap that erupts robotically from our wrist onto her face. Jane does the dishes in the kitchen and pretends the water drowns out the sounds. Jane scrubs and scrubs. The plate shatters in her hands. Blood drips from her palms into the sink. Jane washes everything with dish soap, suds filling the tub and spilling over onto the tile floor. White tainted with burgundy. It does not hurt at all when she pours peroxide over her palms and onto Jane Jr’s face. The clanging sound from next door rings loudly that night.
It’s snowing and we’re shoveling the driveway. A cat sits on the sidewalk, watching. Black cat, white paws. It flops over, belly up. Dick Jr. moves to pet it. It purrs as he rubs its stomach. We scoot the cat away with our boot. Instead of bolting, the cat stands there, not hissing, not fighting, but staring. We move to kick the thing, but it dodges us. It rubs up against our legs before running through, slinking down the sidewalk.
“Nothing from the D-I schools?”
Dick Jr., face red, shovels snow. Jabs shovel hard, scrapes concrete. Muscles bulge, snow flies, falls by his side. Pile grows.
“No, I heard back.”
That night, when Dick Jr. realizes he is not great, only good, he drinks our whiskey and howls. We find him swinging slowly, head tilting to the left, hanging from the banister at the entrance, legs dangling. We cannot destroy the tape after watching it, watching him slink side to side ripping at his clothes, pulling out hair, tying the rope. We bury the body in the yard and tell everyone he died in a car accident during a snowstorm.
“The thing about whiskey is the barrel.”
Winston nods his head but we can tell he doesn’t understand. We’re not sure if he is being kind by coming over or fulfilling an obligation.
“A good whiskey you can taste the kind of wood. This one is charred oak. Not everyone can get their hands on a barrel like this. You sure you don’t want a sip?”
Winston takes the glass, sniffs it, then sips, sips again.
“Now you’re getting it.”
Then we drink. Slowly, in drips. Bark bites at tongue. We savor. We don’t share more than this. We can see the man has had a taste.
“Do you want to stay, watch the game?”
“No it’s getting late, I better get going.”
When he leaves he glides, we’re sure of it, and we drink and glide ourselves, through the night and into days that start and end with bottles.
Jane Jr. used to run like her mother. On sidewalks and on the road and on the track at the school and through forests and mountains named after woodland creatures and in fields and around lakes and in ovals and in lines and in squiggling shapes that she tracks on her phone. Now she takes pictures. She takes pictures of flowers at first. A lilac bush next to our house. A hydrangea by the school tennis courts. Corn poppies next to the white wooden benches outside of the deli. She thinks that pretty things are what you take pictures of. She takes so many pictures of the sky. Sunsets. Sunrises. Clouds. Clear. Raining. Twilight. We find prints of these pictures and we call them what they are: soulless trash. So she starts taking pictures of trash. A half-empty Starbucks cup on the side of the road. A ketchup-smeared McDonald’s wrapper with a too-white bit of onion. An empty can of Heineken under an overpass. A brown t-shirt hanging from barbed wire. She prints them out before her last run and leaves them on the dining room table. This run is a run in one direction, no return, out west with some guy in a band. When we find out we throw the things that remain into the empty pool and set them on fire.
Jane Jr. thinks she has escaped but she hasn’t. She joins a colony of people like us, plastic people who inject smiles into their mouths and their cheeks. She takes pictures in flitting white linens and wide-brimmed hats and posts them to social media. Her partner does not hit her with his fist, or hit her at all, she says on the phone to Jane, while she applies the powder extra-thick below her eye. At first, she studies art. Then, she takes a break, working part-time at a supermarket so that he can pursue music, making crafts that she one day hopes to sell. When people ask, we shelter them from disappointment by saying she’s still “figuring it out.” One day she sells her camera. She does not take pictures anymore.
Dick III is a junior now and still not good at anything. For a while, he plays tennis, then lacrosse, then hockey. Now, he wrestles, but he will surely quit soon. He has no bite, no grit. He maneuvers his body but cannot pin his opponents. And he is dumb. Not behind grade level, but not excelling. We ask the Carvins boy to tutor him. We pay him less than we should because we know that he will be offended but not brave enough to question us. He comes on Thursdays after wrestling.
“I didn’t want to ask, but what is that sound?” Dick III asks Carvins as they fumble through pages of looseleaf.
“Can you hear it from your house?”
“At night sometimes, yeah. It sounds like dragging, like chains or something.”
“Just my Dad likes to work at night. His studio’s in the garage.”
The two continue to work on math, fractals and functions. Dick III hasn’t taken meds in 6 months and he feels it. He is bored, always bored, mind always racing. He looks around the room but nothing registers. Images drip in and leak out and he is ashamed that his brain doesn’t work. Now he feels he must move because the symbols are jumping around in his skull and causing havoc.
“Can I run to the bathroom real quick?”
Dick III walks through the house different from our own. He walks towards the bathroom, fingers tapping on the walls. He looks past the bathroom, where a door is ajar. His fingers itch as he walks past the bathroom. He pushes the door open. It’s a garage. The light clicks on. All around are assortments of wood and metal. A sculpture of smooth oak in the shape of the moon hangs from one of the walls. A tire lies on its side, but inside the creases of the rubber is metal melted to fill the track lines, gaps turned nickel and silver. In the back corner is a black coffin, its hexagonal body long on the cement floor.
“I bet you could fit in there,” Carvins whispers from behind, hand on shoulder, and Dick Three shudders.
“What’s it for?”
“An art show, I think. Some sort of performance thing.”
The garage door opens, and a large shaggy black dog with white paws comes strolling into the garage. It freezes when it sees the two boys.
“I didn’t know you guys had a dog.”
Carvins looks at the dog, then back at Dick Three.
“Yea, we just got him.”
“Smart pup, opening garage doors.”
“It has a sensor so it opens automatically unless it’s locked.” Dick Three nods but something does not ring true.
“I should probably get going.”
Kerrina is over showing Jane how to cook one of their foods. She is chopping onions and garlic and the THUD THUD THUD of the knife against the cutting board echoes into the living room where we’re watching the Pats game, drunk.
“How long have you been here now?”
“Just about two years.”
Kerrina throws the onions, garlic, green peppers, lime juice, scotch bonnet peppers, vinegar, and other ingredients into the blender and turns it on.
“Living here, it changes you, doesn’t it?” Jane whispers.
“Haven’t noticed yet.”
“Trust me, you will.”
The whirring of the blender blades stops. The ingredients have assimilated into one sauce. Jane thinks we don’t notice this chat but we have heard everything. When Kerrina leaves we sit in bed and watch the camera from our laptops. Dick Three is masturbating under the duvet slowly. He thinks he is covered. Jane comes in and we close our laptop. We lie in silence. As she turns the light off we ask,
“Why do you want to get out so bad?”
We stare at the wall and not each other.
“I don’t, I like it here.” Jane tells us, tells herself. We don’t hit her, don’t touch her at all. The space between us in the King-sized bed that we bought when we got married grows as she inches towards the edge in her sleep. Jane leaves a month later with Dick Three. Neither of them look back at us or at the white house at the end of the cul-de-sac.
We’re drunk for a while after this. We’re drunk and melting into the couch. Drunk and garbage is piling up, spilling onto the floors of the kitchen. we’re drunk and wailing. We’re drunk and watching. We’re drunk and trapped. We’re drunk and wandering down the sidewalk, Gun in one hand, Johnny Walker in the other, looking for Dick Jr., for Jane Jr., for Jane and Dick III. The rain hitting the leaves of the trees sounds like static washing out the world. Underneath we hear something else. We hear the sound of something metallic dragging through the street. We follow the sound. We see a figure, gray and wavering. We don’t know if it’s a man. Chains are clunking along the sidewalk, coming from its waist. It’s floating through the air. Something like a head dangling, except it’s large, something heavy, like a box. It’s floating towards their house. In the streetlight, we can make out a coffin, as the garage door cranks open. We clutch Gun, running after it towards the garage. We slide underneath the closing doors, into darkness. We fumble for a light, feeling for something. We find something cold, a box. We test the hinges and it swings open. Warm cloth covers the exterior wood and how good it feels to lie here in the dark for a while longer.
When the lights turn on finally, we push open the hinges.
We point Gun and aim, fist shaking, at Kerrina, whose hands are up in the air.
Kerrina is slow, calculated, talks to us like we’re children.
“I know it’s been hard for you.”
“Where is it, we saw it come in here.”
We’re red and wobbling, Kerrina’s body is swirling, unstable in our eyes.
“You ruined everything.”
She approaches us in slow steps. We stumble backward to keep our distance.
“Why don’t you just go home and sleep it off?”
“We don’t need your sympathy.”
“Dick, who’s we?”
“We — I — we, were doing just fine until you people got here.”
A rat runs past Kerrina’s legs into the garage and scurries towards Dick. Dick shoots at the rat but misses. Kerrina screams. Dick drops — no we, still we — drop Gun, hands shaking, biting bottom lip. The rat lunges. Except it isn’t a rat, it’s something larger, much larger. A blow connects with the side of our head. Everything is dark like we’re in the box again.
Winston looks at Kerrina, and breathes a sigh of relief when Kerrina signals that Dick isn’t dead.
“Should we call the cops?” Kerrina asks.
“No, I think he’s a good guy. Just going through something.”
Winston takes the bottle of whiskey which had fallen to the floor.
“I didn’t realize you’d started drinking again.”
Winston removes the top and drinks in long gulps, letting the whiskey burn his chest and throat.
“We should get him home.”
We hoist Dick off the floor and toss him into the coffin with ease. We lift the coffin onto our shoulders. We haul it down the street, letting the chains attached to our waists drag across the concrete of the suburban sidewalk, streetlights flickering pale yellow. We open the hull of the casket and let the man topple to the ground. We grab the bottle of whiskey and take it with us. Dick comes to slumped on his front porch. He goes back inside the home that he will live in forever. His home yes this is his home. We sit in our brown one across the street and drink his whiskey.