"Hypno-Regression Therapy Led to that Cat Piss and Your Father's Visit."*
Your mother2 taught that cat3 of hers to piss on my sheets4. We haven't slept in the same bed5 together in three years6. I should have told you sooner7. I'm moving out before I kill your mom8. I would hate to do that to you. I'm going to Singapore to find my true love9, if she's still alive10. My flight leaves this afternoon11. I wish you the best of luck12. This may be the last time you hear from me13.
Sandy balled up the note, threw it in the grass, and walked back toward the house.
*The narrator would like to inform the reader of his position: Literally, physically, the narrator is parked in his car several hundred yards from the home of Sandy Floss. She has just walked away from her mailbox after sifting through a gaggle of flyers and credit card notices, and upon finding a letter from her father, she read it, balled it up and discarded it on her lawn. Your narrator has retrieved said letter of which he will illuminate certain elements.
In his other position, the narrator is a former professor of anthropology upon whom bad luck was heaped several years ago. The narrator then expatriated to Russia and, because one does not plan on becoming an arsenic dealer, became an arsenic dealer. When the narrator received an order for a single tablet from Reed Floss, with whom he went to elementary school, the narrator took it as a sign, despite years of guilt-free death-dealing, that he should intervene. The chances of Reed Floss ordering arsenic from the narrator who expatriated to Russia seemed unlikely and noteworthy.
Initially, the narrator was concerned for Reed Floss’ well-being and wondered why a man, especially a man that he knew across thousands of miles from decades ago, would need arsenic. However, as the narrator got deeper into Reed’s story, the narrator felt more and more awkward at the prospect of approaching Reed about his arsenic purchase and even more so at potentially having to explain his actions, his life, and his concern. “Concern,” now being “infatuation,” and itself now a cause of concern. The narrator is aware of this, and that is what he will say to Sandy when and if he works up the gumption.
1 Sandy Floss grew up in a loving home in the Midwest and moved to Atlanta straight out of high school because of a boy she’d met when she was doing an internship in DC the summer before her senior year. His name was Suffolk Cowling and he was from a well-to-do family in the Northeast. Suffolk went to prep school but always longed for—as only the babes of the privileged can—something more. He was an artist, of course, and that’s what attracted Sandy to him. He became very popular in the Atlanta art scene and was commissioned to do a series of murals all over the city promoting change, equality and, oddly enough (though he did it tastefully), public transportation. After receiving much acclaim for his work, Suffolk developed a bit of a cocaine habit, a taste for Middle Eastern women, a “certain air about him,” and he, “that bastard,” subsequently dumped Sandy. Sandy broke out in hives and stopped eating. The doctors insisted that she would literally kill herself if she didn’t shape up. She eventually recovered. In Suffolk’s defense, he really wasn’t a bad guy and Sandy will—as speculation warrants—eventually stop calling him “that bastard” as soon as she reconnects with her father and grasps the concept that is her mother.
2 Doris Reynolds Floss was leaving the grocery store—one of those twenty-four-hour places—at 3 a.m. on a Tuesday morning. She was trying to pry open a plastic container of miniature brownies when a car screeched around the corner and hit her at fifteen miles per hour. Doris rolled up and over the entire length of the car, which drove away. It was an incredibly slow night and she wasn’t found for another two hours, when the daytime manager was coming in to work. She was covered in brownies, iceberg lettuce, strawberry-flavored condoms, and a Buick hood ornament was lodged in her thigh. She had several contusions on her head and a broken wrist. Her husband, Reed, could not understand why his wife had purchased condoms. They hadn’t been intimate in over a year.
3 Pebbles the cat belonged to Doris and was, to her mind, a replacement for the family dog, Mountain, who had been murdered by the Floss’ German neighbors, the Himmelreichs, twenty years ago. The Flosses had gone on vacation and asked the Himmelreichs, who often complained about Mountain’s incessant barking and burrowing, to feed the dog while they were away. When the Flosses returned, they found Mountain dead in their backyard with his chain wrapped around his neck. A note from the Himmelreichs was under the Flosses door:
“We had to make an emergency trip to the motherland. We left the dog some extra food.
Mountain's bowl was empty.
Doris started a flyer campaign around the neighborhood, stapling “Remember Mountain” posters to every light pole in suburbia. She even went so far as to paint an homage to the dog on the side of their house that faced the Himmelreich’s den window depicting an angelic Mountain happily romping through a meadow. This had been twenty years ago and Pebbles, of course, was no real replacement for Mountain.
4 Doris Floss described her husband’s Egyptian cotton sheets as “a goddamn eyesore.” They were, for lack of a better term, baby-puke yellow (as if the kid had eaten pureed bananas and then drank just a skosh of grape juice), and dappled with orange, red, and purple flowers. Not even good flowers either. They were those flowers that were supposed to be tulips but looked like a cracked half of an eggshell. They really were repulsive. But the sheets reminded Reed of the bed he slept in when he stayed at his grandmother’s house as a child. Because Reed was an “impotent, insufferable tool” according to Doris, she trained Pebbles the cat to take a leak on Reed’s bed and on Reed’s bed alone. Pebbles didn’t even have a litter box. This sort of activity—this extreme passive-aggression and neuroticism—had been going on since the car hit Doris. When Reed approached his wife and said, “That cat of yours pissed on my sheets,” Doris replied, “Do you think that’s an accident?”
5 Reed and Doris slept in separate twin beds.
6 After Doris was hit by the car, she developed what she called “a supreme distaste for the male genitalia,” and for strawberries. Her therapist, Dr. Nelson Piecemeala, explained that this—as well as her loss of certain memories—was the result of post-traumatic stress. When Reed would ask his wife, “So you really have no idea why you bought those strawberry-flavored condoms?” Doris would truthfully, to her knowledge, explain that she really had no idea. This was the source of a great deal of tension in the relationship. That tension, coupled with Doris’ “supreme distaste,” prompted the couple to scrap their king-size and purchase two twins. Their friends jokingly referred to them as Ward and June. The love for their easily-shakable only daughter, Sandy, is what kept the beds in the same bedroom. They kept the door closed when she came home to visit.
aPrior to her accident, Doris had been having a year-long affair with Dr. Piecemeal, and her early-morning trip to the grocery store had been for supplies to facilitate the furtherance of that affair. Dr. Piecemeal remained Doris’ therapist after the head trauma had wiped her mind clean of their affair, which he was, even now, attempting to rekindle. Pebbles the cat was a gift from Dr. Piecemeal that he left in a nondescript box outside of Doris’ office with a note attached, which read, “From a Secret Admirer.” In his hypno-regression practices, Dr. Piecemeal had been suggesting to Doris’ subconscious that she train the cat to piss on her husband’s sheets.
7 Reed had a history of keeping things from his daughter in order to spare her feelings, when really he just wasn’t strong enough to tell her the truth. When Mountain was murdered (see note 3), Reed kept the news from the seven-year-old Sandy for several weeks by telling her, “Mountain is on vacation, Sweetie.” “Dogs don’t go on vacation, Daddy,” she said. “Yes…yes they do,” he replied as he trotted off weeping. Eventually, when his wife painted the mural on the side of the house, the jig was up and Sandy was crushed. A similar thing occurred when Sandy’s mother was hit by a car, and now this business about the beds.
8 He had seriously considered this and, in fact, had been in the process of ordering arsenic tablets from a Russian-based website while he was at work when his boss walked in. He quickly redirected the webpage to an online travel agency. Reed told his boss that he wouldn’t be coming in on Wednesday as he booked his ticket to Singapore. This is what Reed would have called “Plan B,” had he actually spoken to anyone about it, although he ordered the arsenic as well from his home computer.
9 Reed had lived in Singapore for a semester as part of a sociological study for his doctoral thesis. He fell desperately in love with a girl named Shan Deng, the daughter of a rich businessman who was, unfortunately, betrothed to the son of a rich businessman. Shan Deng was very much in love with Reed as well and she swore that, even when she was married, she would never fall out of love with him. Her father had Reed booted from the country, but Reed promised that he would come back to her. He grieved the loss for several years until one day he received an obviously hastily-written letter from Shan Deng in which she claimed she was going to end her life. Reed fell into an inconsolable depression of which he did not come out until he met Doris one rainy afternoon. He’d forgotten his umbrella, so she offered him hers, and under it they expressed to one another their deeply-rooted fears and tedious short-comings. Reed never mentioned Shan Deng, and he still felt that she was alive. Both Reed and Doris found each other to be pitiable and tender.
10 Shana Teng (formerly "Shan Deng")
2417 Bentota Rd.
11 Delta Flight 8073 from Nebraska-Lincoln Airport to Singapore Changi International Airport. Layovers in Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Seoul.
12 Sandy was in the process of starting a jewelry company using discarded electronics as materials. A little orange transistor for the dangly part of an earring, a necklace with a name spelled out in keyboard letters, and the like. This, she thought, was what her father meant for her to have luck in, but he just meant luck in general. He knew that Sandy was too much like him and, therefore, terribly subject to her own heady whims and highly prone to romanticizing the most superficially romanticizable situations. He knew too, but had for a long time ignored the fact that Sandy was lonely, creeping toward thirty, and sad.
13 It was not.
14 Although Reed typed this letter because of his shaky, nervous hands, the parenthetical “heart” was not due to the keyboard’s lack of a heart key, but a family joke from before Sandy’s birth. On their first anniversary, Reed made Doris a conscientiously childish letter from construction paper and macaroni noodles and covered it, or attempted to cover it, with glitter-glue hearts. He was completely inept in doing so (they turned out looking like apples), but he gave Doris the card anyway. Doris tried and tried to teach Reed to draw a decent looking heart but he could never get it right. Sandy inherited the flaw. The subject of her first free-write in her first poetry class when she got to college was on the irony of her being both an art student and an incredibly loving person who was never able to render that one symbol successfully. The Floss family replaced all hearts with this parenthetical (Heart) stand-in. Valentine’s Day was always fun.
15 Reed Floss is currently staying with his daughter, using her shower. On his layover in Atlanta he got very emotional when he saw a father hand his daughter one of those big soft pretzels. The girl dropped the pretzel almost immediately, and, before she even knew what happened, the father picked her up and popped his own pretzel into her mouth. The girl had no idea that she was about to start crying. “Look at that,” whispered Reed Floss, who missed his connecting flight to Los Angeles.
Russell Hehn is a teacher, woodworker, and writer in Birmingham, Alabama. His work can be seen at McSweeney's, Pindeldyboz, Fringe Magazine, and his children's book Gull is available on Amazon for super cheap; sometimes it's even free.