The first thing I noticed after hugging the kids and wiping the tears away was the mound of plastic garbage bags in the middle of the living room—and the smell.
The two big dogs circled around the garbage pile. I saw my daughter creeping under a coffee table. The dust swirled around her small body and she pulled a little red kitten, mewling as it pawed at her arm, out from under the table. She ran over to me with a big smile on her face and I lifted her up. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my son watching us. There was a haunted expression on his face. There were more than ghosts living here.
I took Cress and the kids out to dinner. The kids had a great time. Jeanette kept jumping in and out of my lap. Donald sat quietly and ate his food. Cress asked me about prison. I didn’t have much to say about it. She kept tossing down beers and shots. Then she got sloppy and started hanging all over me. I remember how bad things were when the shit started and I had to go on the run. I felt like drinking. I didn’t want to because then I didn’t know what would happen next.
Jeanette and Donald ate ice cream. Cress was coming on to me hard. I was horny. It had been a long time. When I was in California I had been sleeping with this junkette that I had been shooting dope with. Another lifetime ago. I knew that there was no love between me and Cress but decided to sleep with her anyway.
Went back to the apartment with her and the kids. It was a first floor apartment in a two family house. The electric and the heat had been shut off for no payment. The water was still running. It was pretty cold still. Early May in New Hampshire.
I asked her how long the heat had been off. She said, “About two months.” I thought about the cold. I thought about the kids. I looked at the pile of garbage in the living room. The dogs were running around the living room and Jeanette was sitting with the little red kitten on her lap. I walked into their bedroom to check it out and stepped in dog shit. There was more than one pile in the room. Some of the piles had small footprints in them. I wanted to cry but prison had made me forget how. I wanted to kill someone. That was probably easier to do than cry.
I cleaned their bedroom. Donald’s sheets were stained with urine and smelled. Between shit and piss and salt wanting to kick out of my eyes I cleaned. When I asked Cress where the clean sheets were she said there weren’t any. I asked if the sheets on her bed were clean. She said they hadn’t been changed in a little while.
I walked around the pile of garbage in the living room, through the kitchen, down a hallway cluttered with debris and into her bedroom. Pulled the sheet off her bed and made one of the beds in the kid’s room. I told them that it was all right to sleep together tonight and that I would take them to the laundry tomorrow and out to eat again. They went to bed.
I took Cress to bed.
We fell asleep afterwards. I woke up in the middle of the night and went out to the living room to sleep. We never slept together again.
The next morning the kids came out. The only food in the house was peanut butter and bread. Cress came out of the bedroom and told Jeanette to make them sandwiches for breakfast. I asked Cress why she didn’t do it.
“Jeanette always does it. They can take care of themselves.”
I told the kids that they were going out for breakfast. I looked for their clothes. There were no clean clothes. I washed the dog shit off Donald’s foot and got them dressed in what was available. I didn’t bother with the clothes for the old lady. I figured she could take care of herself.
“Let’s go out for breakfast,” I said.
Jeanette put down the kitten and smiled at me. Donald took me by the hand and started chattering as we left the house. I looked back and saw Cress standing on the porch as we walked down the blacktop toward the center of town. She was smoking a cigarette and watching us.
Jeanette and I took turns pulling the wagon that I had found under the porch. She was pretty strong for a seven year old. The laundry bags bounced around whenever the wagon hit a bump. Donald was talking about another kid that he sometimes played with. I wondered where I could get them bathed in some warm water.
(To Be Continued)