(A man gets out of prison and comes home to the mother of his children and is blown away by the chaos they live in. He’s taking the kids out for ice cream.)
“Let’s go,” I said to the kids.
“What about mommy?” Donald asked.
“She’s not coming,” I said.
“I don’t want to go either,” said Donald.
“Come on with us,” said Jeannie.
I waited for him to decide. He grabbed his sister’s hand, glared at me for a second, and looked back at his mother.
“Go with daddy,” she said.
We went out for lunch and ice cream. I took them to the lake to play and we ran around and went nuts together. It was the best day I had had in four years.
When we got back to the house there were some other people over there. They were all smoking dope and drinking beer and Jack Daniels. The kid’s mattresses were still out on the lawn to dry.
I dragged them in and made the beds. The dogs were back in the house. One of them had shit in the bedroom. I cleaned it up and tied them back outside. I told Cress that I didn’t want them in the house anymore unless she trained them not to shit on the floor.
“It’s my house and I’ll do what I like,” she said.
“Do you like your children waling through dog shit?” I asked.
The room got quiet for a minute. Nobody looked at anybody else. Even the dope and alcohol didn’t cut through that silence.
“I’ll let you keep them outside for now,” she said.
I put new sheets on the beds and then started washing the dishes. Cress and her friends went out to drink on the porch. Donald and Jeannie sat and watched the kitten push a dust ball around the room. There was something wrong with the plumbing and I couldn’t get the water to run fast, so I carried all the dishes to the bath tub. The bath tub had dog shit in it.
I cleaned the tub and washed the dishes. Swept and mopped the floors. Cress and her friends came in and she made a joke about the new maid. I didn’t say anything but if thoughts could kill I would have been a serial killer.
I took the kids out for supper because there still was nothing to eat in the house. I thought I would shop for some basics in the morning. No refrigerator. That would put some limits on my shopping. At least the dishes were all clean.
After supper I took the kids to play at an apartment building where they knew a bunch of other kids. I got to talk to one of the moms and found that her ex-boyfriend bought reefer off of me before the big bust. She hadn’t seen him in three years. Two of her three kids were his. He didn’t even know about one of them because he had gone before she knew she was pregnant.
Her name was Lisa.
“Can I bathe my kids at your place?” I asked. “No hot water at mine.”
“No hot water at my place either,” she said. “But the electric is on. If you want, we could heat a pot of water and fill the tub with that.”
When the options are limited, you learn to live within the limits. Sometimes.
“Okay,” I said.
We went inside with the kids, mine and hers, and she put a pot of water on the stove. It was a giant pot and would take a while to heat. She popped open a beer and asked if I would like one. I kind of wanted one but remembered what things were like once I started up. I never knew where things would end.
“No, but thanks.”
“Want to smoke a joint with me?” she asked.
I really thought about that one for a minute. One joint. How could that hurt? It had been so long. I struggled to remember why I didn’t want to smoke and things were not as clear as they had seemed to be.
I looked around for the kids and they were playing in the living room, all five of them. I took the joint and lit it.
Three joints later there was steam rising from the water and Lisa and I got all tangled up and there was steam rising from us too. I pulled my pants back up and filled the tub. First I bathed the kids, then took a bath myself. I hadn’t bathed since I got there. Over two days now. I didn’t know when the kids had last bathed. I brushed out Jeannie’s hair with one of Lisa’s brushes.
Later Jeannie fell asleep and I carried her home in my arms. Donald walked quietly beside me holding onto my trousers. Lisa had asked me to come back later but I thought I would just sleep on the couch after I put the kids to bed.
I thought about smoking the joints. Nothing really bad had happened and I didn’t start to drink or think about shooting heroin. It had been all right.
(To Be Continued)