Not too long ago, that round yellow thing suddenly appeared in the sky, and the temperature went from 40 to 70. I threw open all the windows. I wanted that intoxicating, sun warmed air to waft through our house. I hate air-fresheners. Nothing comes close to the real thing. Shaun and I were getting her ready to travel. We were doing laundry, packing, making lists, checking bill due dates, and itemizing stuff we needed to pick up from a big box store.
With the windows open, the normal Saturday sounds wafted in as well, kids screaming and skateboarding, dogs barking when they met on the street, friends walking together and chatting. Our house is on a corner, there are no sidewalks, and our yard is on the corner as well. We’re in the far back corner of the development, on the way to the lake, and frequently wave at small groups of retired women who power walk the lake route by passing our house. It’s all very friendly. If I’m out grilling ribs, neighbors jokingly invite themselves to dinner, or ask what kind of barbeque sauce we use. (Exquisite chef that I am, I eyeball it and say “Brown?”)
We have a potted Japanese maple, with delicate red leaves: it has to be 20 years old now. Christmas has claimed the tree: leaping up into the pot, then curling around the trunk of the tree to survey his kingdom and his subjects as they walk by.
The kids are off with friends, I’m folding shirts and Shaun is checking items off her packing list. I’d lugged the suitcase in earlier, when Shaun was out picking up supplies. I unzipped it and cleaned out the flotsam from the last trip. Where do the extra buttons and bobby pins come from? Who uses bobby pins anymore? I picture some disgruntled, underpaid, airport security personnel who is sick to death of rifling through everyone’s underwear. She’s probably tossing in a few bobby pins, a sewing kit, and a couple of sticks of gum from time to time.
I forgot our dog has developed a strong dislike of suitcases. He knows it means Shaun is leaving. I stagger back into the bedroom with a pile of laundry fresh out of the dryer. Christmas is curled up in an impossibly tiny ball at the bottom of the suitcase, trying to look invisible. I yell casually to Shaun ( in the office printing out her boarding pass): “Crisis in bedroom #1.” I dump the laundry on the bed. Shaun walks in: “What’s the prob…” She looks down at the black dog fading into the black lining of the black suitcase. “Oh”, she says. “We forgot and got it out too early again?”
“My bad”, I say.
Christmas pretends to be asleep.
Shaun breaks a dog bone in half. Snap. Christmas can’t help it. His head jerks up involuntarily. Cookie? He’s momentarily forgotten he’s upset. He sits up in the suitcase, alert, absolutely still, except for a thump thump from his tail. His eyes never leave the cookie. We’ve taught him he has to work for food: sit, stay, down, come. He’s sitting all right. Perfectly.
Shaun says, “Who’s mommy’s wittow puppy? Who’s a good boy? Are you a good boy? What a good boy you are! Christmas, Come!”
Christmas realizes his error the moment he leaps out of the suitcase. You can see the “Awwww, DANG it” over his head. He grabs the cookie and makes a dash back to the suitcase. I manage a sliding block, and Shaun tackles him. This is not excessive. It’s difficult to pack around a dog that does not want you to leave. For every 2 items you pack, the dog sneaks one out. Thus the sliding block and tackle. Shaun exiles him momentarily from the bedroom, and we hoist the suitcase up onto the bed, where he can’t reach it. Problem solved. Christmas is unexiled. Shaun’s phone rings, I go off searching for something, and Christmas, disappointed, repairs to the Throne Tree. We hear his nails click in and out of the house, and put it down to separation anxiety.
An hour later, the last item is in the suitcase, and Shaun closes it.
We can hear a couple of power walkers talking outside:
“Have you seen Margaret’s new kitchen yet?”, says a voice.
” No I haven’t” says the other voice, “What did she do?”
“Well”, says voice #1, “I really like what she did with the windows? And the…”
There’s a long pause. Then voice #1, which strangely sounds like it is no longer moving, says, “Is that…?” Pause. “Is that a bra in that tree?”
Shaun and I look at each other. She flips the suitcase back open and starts rummaging frantically, making a bra count. She mimes “all there” to me and shrugs her shoulders.
Voice #2 says, slowly, “There is a bra in the tree. Why is there a bra in the tree?”
“How should I know?”, says Voice#1. They giggle. “Maybe they are hang drying it?” says Voice #2.
Shaun and I already know whose house, and whose tree the bra is in. What we don’t know is whose bra.
“What’s that?”, says Voice #1, “Over there by the stairs? Is that…”
Oh God. We have to stop this NOW. I cough loudly and Shaun flicks the sheer. The women jump and power walk away as fast as possible.
Once they turn the corner, we race outside. Christmas is curled around the trunk of the tree. There is a bra hanging about 3 feet above his head. Bra killer that he is, he must have shaken it and flipped it out of his mouth, throwing it up in the branches.
I slip on the stairs. Ice? It’s 70 degrees!
No, not ice. I pick up the offending slippery thing. Turn it over. Gaze out at the carnage of the yard.
It’s not pretty.
Drifts of almost white are piled and banked in mounds and pools.
Dirty underwear. Our yard is blanketed in a weeks worth of sorted underwear: boys, girls, gym socks, T-shirts and…are those my pajama bottoms??
Shaun and I freeze. We hear voices of another power walking group about to turn the corner on the way to the lake. I snatch the bra out of the tree, race into the house for the laundry basket, and Shaun grabs the rake I (thankfully) left leaning against the house, and begins furiously raking up the underwear.
I hear the women call out hello to Shaun. I picture her waving cheerfully back, rake in hand. They resume their conversation as if nothing was wrong.
They didn’t notice she was raking up underwear? There is a God.
After they turn the corner, I hear one woman say “Isn’t this the wrong time of year for leaves?” Footsteps slow down.
I yell out the window: “Hon, are you done raking in the fertilizer? I need you for (mumble mumble).” Footsteps resume speed.
There’s no time for subtlety. I race out the door with the laundry basket and plop it on its side like a dust pan. Shaun steadies it and rakes in the underwear.
I run in for another basket. We trade.
Later, Shaun and I plopped onto the couch, sweaty and tired. I hand her a bottle of water and put my feet on the ottoman. We both stare at the blank TV.
“I know what I want for my birthday this year”, I say, taking a swig of icy water.
“Unlimited Dry Cleaning?”, Shaun responds.
“Too much driving” I say, “I want a safe. With a tumbler lock. With a slot cut in the top for dirty laundry.”
Christmas walks in, does a dog-stretch, yawns, and leaps happily up on the couch to curl up between us.
“Done”, Shaun says.