Four years ago, when I was 11 years old, my folks split up, and my mom parked me with Dee Dee.
"Carl's got some chick down at the plant," she said to Dee Dee. "He says he stops off for a beer with the guys, but I'm sure it's for a quickie."
"How do ya know? Someone tell ya?"
"There are signs with Carl. I've seen them before. This is the end. I told him before I wouldn't put up with it no more. Can you keep Tony for a few days until I come up with a plan. I got to get away, 'cause if I see him and smell that woman's perfume on him one more time, I'm gonna kill him."
"Yeah, sure." Dee Dee had no problem taking me in. She was used to picking up strays. The two dogs and three cats living at her place had been strays.
She was a good friend of Mom's. Vic, Dee Dee's husband was a good friend of Dad's. I was good friends with Bobby, who was my age, and Rich, who was nine. We lived a few blocks from each other, and we all got along just fine. Dee Dee's house was a cluttered mess, but no more so than mine. The difference was that Dee Dee would go on a cleaning blitz every two or three months, getting in all the corners and under the furniture and throwing out stuff. My mom just pushed the stuff further into a corner and gave the place a "lick and a promise," and that she said was good enough for anybody.
That night my dad came by, and he and Vic went out for a beer. Several, it turned out. They walked home from The Cool Duck, and my dad passed out on Dee Dee's couch.
When I asked him about Mom, he said, "I don't know where she is and I don't give a goddam. If you had any sense, neither would you."
Dee Dee didn't know where she was, either. At least that's what she said. "Don't worry," she kept saying. "She just needs a few days by herself to sort things out."
Pretty soon a routine was established. Dee Dee's house was closer to the school, so no one had to drive us. Dee Dee got us all up and out in time. Dad came to Dee Dee's every night, usually in time for supper. Some nights he would tell Dee Dee, "Stow the food in the fridg and lets go out for pizza or Chinese. My treat." It was like a party nearly every night. After we kids were in bed, he and Vic went to The Cool Duck for a beer, and when Vic was too tired, Dee Dee went with him. In the evenings if nobody went out, Dad stayed to watch television. If my Dad had a chick someplace, I sure don't know when he saw her. Many nights he ended up sleeping on Dee Dee's couch in the living room when he was too wasted to drive home.
At the end of the second week, in the evening, my mom called. I could only guess what she said from Dee Dee's end of the conversation. "No, Carl's here most of the time. Yeah. Tony's fine. He's no problem. Does it pay good. Yeah? Well, you still got the figure to wear an outfit like that. They tip you good, huh? I'll bet. Sure." She wrote something down, then handed the phone to me.
"Are you O.K., Tony?"
"Yeah sure. When are ya coming back?"
"I'm in Atlantic City working. I may be here some time. Listen, you be good and don't cause any trouble. I'll call again."
"You wanna talk to Dad? He's right here."
Before I could hand him the phone, she hung up. Dad didn't seem upset that she wouldn't talk to him. He looked relieved. "Who's for a beer?" he said getting up, stretching and yawning, like the idea of talking to Mom was a total bore. "Vic? A beer? Dee Dee?" Vic waved him off, but Dee Dee went.
I realized then that I hadn't missed my mom at all. We weren't a cuddly huggy family. Someone else was always taking care of me. Day care centers when I was real little, then school and after school programs. Sometimes Mom, sometimes Dad would get me dinner, make me do my homework, then send me to bed. It depended on who was working which shift, Dad at the plant and Mom at the diner. When I was with either of them, it was all business and hurry up and eat or do your homework or clean your room or take your bath or go to bed. I figured that when I left here, I would probably miss Dee Dee more than I miss my mom.
Gradually, more and more of my stuff found its way from my house to Dee Dee's. Some of Dad's stuff ended up at Dee Dee's, as well. Neither Vic nor Dee Dee told us to get out and go home. It was taken for granted that we would hang out there while our house remained empty. Dad went over there every few days to get mail, but the grass grew tall and scraggly like some country meadow full of flies and insects buzzing and flying around.
When Dad's shift changed later that spring, he didn't get back to Dee Dee's until 11:00p.m. Vic was dead asleep by then as were Bobby and Rich. I should've been, but I never was much for giving in until midnight. Dee Dee sent me to bed with her boys, but she didn't see what I was reading under the covers with a flashlight. Dee Dee was up, too, watching television or reading. When my dad came in, they had a beer together or she'd fix him a snack. Some nights they went out, closing the door softly behind them. They walked toward The Cool Duck, not coming back until almost 2:30, after the bar closed. I always waited for them on the nights they went out.
One night they took Dad's car and didn't come back until almost 4:00 a.m. I had fallen asleep, but Goofus, one of the mongrel dogs, let out several yaps when they returned. He always yapped when someone came in, but this was louder than usual, like he knew that the time was much later than the other times, like something funny was going on.
The days rolled along, and they were all pretty much the same, with Dad and Dee Dee having a long night out about once a week. When school let out for summer, we boys were chased outside to the playground so that my dad could sleep. Dee Dee also slept, falling asleep in the big chair in the family room while my dad slept on the couch in the living room. Vic knew nothin' about their going out at night, or if he did, he said nothin'. He was a slow kind of guy, slow when he moved, not that he was big and heavy, just that he had an ambling kind of see-saw walk, as if he had all the time in the world. I think he was kinda slow in the head, too.
Now, my dad was just the opposite. Full of motion he was. Always moving. His foot swinging, his hand twirling his lucky silver dollar. His walk was always hurried, like he was going to miss something if he didn't get to wherever he was going.
In August a For Sale sign went up in front of our house. I never asked him why we didn't live in the house together. I liked being at Dee Dee's and didn't want to change. Dee Dee was home all day puttering around with this and that, baking cookies, doing laundry, cooking. "You boys are going to eat us out of house and home," she said, but I think she loved to watch us eat her cooking. Vic was a picky eater, but my dad ate anything and everything. I think Dee Dee cooked more for him than for Vic and me and her own boys.
My dad gave Dee Dee money, usually on his pay day. "Room and board," he said , "and some extra for your trouble." Dee Dee took the money with none of that phony stuff like, "It's nothing," or "No, no. You don't have to do that." I guess she and Vic needed the extra dough. Dad, I'm sure, was making more money than Vic. I mean, he had a better car and was always picking up the check at Mario's or the Jade Palace. Vic never done that. Not once.
"Are you going to tell Linda that you put the house up for sale?" Dee Dee asked. "You can't sell it without her."
We were all at the house. Vic and Dad were going to spruce up the lawn, and Dee Dee, Bobby, Rich and I were going to clear up the clutter.
"I know I can't sell it without her," Dad said. "It's in both our names, but maybe this will make her come back." He didn't sound like he was doing it because he missed her or anything lovey dovey like that, but more like it was a trick just to get her back 'cause he was mad. "And, I already told her. Or rather, I left a message with somebody at that number you gave me."
"You should have talked to her, not just leave a message. That wasn't considerate."
"Why? Why should I be considerate? She walked out, not me. And what consideration has she shown about Tony, calling only twice? Desertion. Isn't that the charge? "
"Are you going to divorce her?"
"Maybe. The court won't look too kindly on her walking out."
I didn't know much, but, if Mom was in the wrong for walking out, then Dad was in the wrong for fooling with some chick before, and now, and I was sure of this, fooling with Dee Dee. Of course, no one asked me what I thought. I shouldn't of been listening, anyways.
"That son-of-a-bitch. He can't sell it without my consent. Maybe I want to keep it. Maybe I want to come back."
We heard my mom shouting just as we got to the door. I hadn't noticed her car at first, which was parked across the street. It was Sunday afternoon. All of us, except for Dee Dee who had gone shopping, had gone to the pool. Mom was there talking to Dee Dee, walking back and forth across the living room in shiny blue shoes with real high heels and pointy toes which I had never seen before. They made her look taller. She was dressed different, too. Skinny white pants and a spangly blue top. Her hair was more blonde. And bigger. There was more of it.
She stopped her walking in front of a basket of clean and folded laundry, my dad's laundry. She picked up a pair of shorts, then threw in back in the basket. "You son-of-a bitch," she said looking at Dad.
"Hello to you, too," he said. "I knew you'd come back for the money. There won't be much left after the mortgage, but you'll get your share. Not that you've done anything to earn it."
"You son-of-a bitch."
"Please, Linda. There are kids here. Haven't you noticed your own son? Don't you want to say hello?"
She didn't look like she did, but we went through a stiff and phony reunion and then I was told to go out with Vic and the boys. "Are you gonna get a divorce?" I wasn't gonna leave the room. "I wanna know what's gonna happen."
I stood looking at both of them. Someone was going to hit someone or throw something or kill someone.
"Yeah, we're going to get a divorce, and I'm taking Tony back with me to Atlantic City."
"Oh, no, you're not, Linda. You deserted him. No court's gonna give you custody."
"You're no saint. You ran around with other women. And I'd say you've gotten pretty cozy here." She kicked the laundry basket with one of those fancy pointy shoes.
"Hold on, Linda. You've got no cause for that. I didn't run around with any women, not the way you said. You made that up to give you an excuse for running out. Sure I had a few beers with the guys from the plant, and there were women along. Nothin' goin' on. Just friendly talk. A few drinks and a few laughs."
"Linda, you don't know for sure Carl ran around with women. How can you prove it?" Dee Dee had been so quiet I was surprised that she was still in the room. She came to stand near me and placed a hand on my shoulder.
"What do you know about it?" My mom screamed at Dee Dee. "How can you take his side? And get away from my son."
She yanked me by the arm and pulled me to her side, but I squirmed out of her grasp "I don't want to go with you," I said. "I want to stay here with Dad and Dee Dee."
That was my mistake. Linking them together like that.
"Dad and Dee Dee!" Mom screamed even louder than before, her face getting red and blotchy. "What's going on here?" She grabbed me again and gave me a shake. Dad pulled me back and shoved me out the door.
"Nothing is going on," he said. "It's only your imagination."
I got a look at Dee Dee before Dad shut the door. Her eyes were wide open and she looked scared. I had never seen a grown up look scared before, but Dee Dee was shaking. Vic suddenly appeared and led me away from the door.
"You don't want to hear them," he said. His voice was low and sad, and I got the feeling that he didn't want to hear them any more than I did. He took Bobby, Rich and me out for burgers and to play miniature golf. When we got back about 9:00 that night Dee Dee was alone in the kitchen drinking coffee.
"Where are they?" Vic asked.
Dee Dee looked at the clock. "About now Linda's on her way back to Atlantic City, and I guess Carl is at The Cool Duck or some other watering hole."
"What happened?" Vic shooed Bobby and Rich to bed, but said nothing to me.
"They called each other a few more names, then Linda gave in. She signed some papers that Carl had concerning the house, and then she went over there to get some things and Carl left for The Cool Duck. She's going to file for a no contest divorce or whatever you file when no one fights it." Dee Dee got up and dumped the coffee in the sink, washed the cup and put it in the cupboard. "Let's go to bed."
"What about my dad?" I asked. "What's going to happen now?"
"Tomorrow you and your dad are going to go back to your own house." Vic was looking at Dee Dee when he spoke. "What happens after that is your dad's business."
In the morning, although it was still vacation, Dee Dee got me up at 6:00, along with my dad. Vic was ready to leave for his job, but he waited for Dad and me to load the car with our stuff.
Two weeks later the house was sold, and we moved to an apartment far out of the neighborhood. I had to enroll in a new school, and I missed not having Bobby and Rich as friends.
we moved Dad threw out lots of stuff, knick-knacks, junk we had picked up from
Coney Island, Disney World, and places like that. He asked me if I wanted anything. I kept a
snow globe. I don't know where Dad or
Mom got it. It was a real crazy snow
globe, a hula dancer and palm trees in snow, but then everything else was
crazy. Why not snow in Hawaii?
BIO: Adelaide B. Shaw lives in a small rural community in New York State. Her stories have been published in several literary journals, including The Toronto Star and The Writer's Journal, both contest winners, American Literary Review, Green's Magazine, Sunscripts, The Villager, Reader's Break, Dogwood Tales, Housewife Writers' Forum, New England Writers' Network, Emrys Journal, The MacGuffin, Griffin, The Country and Abroad and in Loch Raven Review In addition to writing fiction, Adelaide writes haiku and other Japanese poetic forms, such as tanka and haibun. Her collection of haiku, An Unknown Road is available at www.modernenglishtankapress.com