I've contributed to perhaps the best humor compilation I've ever read. Available now on Amazon!

My second chapbook, "The Second Book of Pearl: The Cats" is now available as either a paper chapbook or as a downloadable item. See below for the Pay Pal link or click on its cover just to the right of the newest blog post to download to your Kindle, iPad, or Nook. Just $3.99 for inspired tales of gin, gambling addiction and inter-feline betrayal.

My first chapbook, I Was Raised to be A Lert is in its third printing and is available both via the PayPal link below and on smashwords! Order one? Download one? It's all for you, baby!

Friday, October 31, 2014

The Philadelphia Story; or The Scariest Story I Have


Philadelphia, PA. Why not go? A couple days, just as a lark, just me and Willie. Eleven years ago it was. We ate a Philly cheesesteak, got drunk one afternoon with a bunch of new friends in a small pub where Willie turned over the “Galaga” machine. We went to the zoo.

And one night, we went out.

We went out for dinner, shared a taxi to a bar with live music with people we met at the restaurant. We went to bed that night a little after 1:30, me chattering away as we lay in the dark.

“Shhh,” Willie said, his fingertips on my eyelids. “Go to sleep.” 





And when I next notice, I am no longer in our room.

I am upright, walking, when I gain consciousness. I stop. There is an elusive, slippery aspect to thought that I’ve not experienced before. I am more confused than I have ever been. I can’t make sense of my surroundings. Scarier yet, I can’t make sense of myself. Why am I walking? Where am I walking? Why am I cold?

And I am abruptly, horrifyingly aware that I am naked.

I have nothing: no clothes, no purse, no keys, no glasses. I stare at my bare feet as the questions throw themselves against the inside of my skull: Where are my clothes? Where have I been? What have I been doing? Where is Willie?
Where is Willie?

The hall is absolutely silent; and, without my glasses, surreal in its lack of focus.

“Home,” my head says. “Go home now.”

I bolt down the hallway in the direction of the elevator.

I press the button, flatten myself against the wall. The world has been reduced to the maze-like, brick-walled halls of the Clarion Hotel.

The elevator doors open. No one comes out. I dash into the elevator, my head swimming, cloudy. Press 8. My eyes are glued to the door, unblinking. I am breathing through my mouth. How did I get here? Why am I here? My heart pounds. Panic, a concept I had only truly known through books, builds in my blood. I can taste it.

Panic tastes like copper.

I swallow hard.

My room is 822.

822 is the farthest room from the elevator at the end of a twisting hallway. I am forcing myself through the elevator door as it opens; and by the time I reach the hotel room door, panic’s war on my grip on reality has firm footholds.

My fists reach the door first.

“Willie!!!”

I rap, long and hard, and then stop, panting. I am in the hallway outside a hotel room in Philadelphia. I am naked. Am I dreaming? My head is swimming, off-balance.

“Willie!” I pound the door. There is no answer. The hallway seems to narrow and then to tilt. I am dizzy, bright spots in front of my eyes.

Where am I? Am I here? Am I real? How did I get out here? Why isn’t Willie answering the door?

Panic seizes my chest. I have to get to Willie. I have to ask him. He’ll know. He’ll know why I’m out here.

I need a phone.

The elevator. They have phones in elevators, don’t they?

The panic swimming in my blood grabs on to the thought of the telephone in the elevator, propels me forward; and I am half-way down the hall when I hear a bell and the sound of the elevator doors opening. I hear two women laughing, talking. At a full run, I spin on my heels, spin away from the elevators and back to 822.

I am pounding on the door seconds later.

“Willie! Willie!” I cry. “I’m outside and I don’t know where I am!” I swallow panicked tears and crouch against the door.

The voices of the women, drunk, laughing, increase in volume as they get closer. I cover my breasts with one arm, my groin with the other and bury my face in the door jamb.

“Willie,” I sob, whispering into the door jamb. “Open the door! I’m afraid.”

Just around the corner, a woman says, “… and then he told me yes, he was still married, but she was in a coma!” They both laugh. Keys jingle. There is a failed attempt and then a successful opening of a door. The door shuts and the laughing women are gone.

I am alone.

I jump up and bolt for the elevator. I am sure there is a phone in the elevator. I am sure of it. I will call Willie. He will tell me why I’m alone.

The green of the carpeted floor seems to leap up. The walls are askew, tilted. My heart is pounding as I reach the elevator.

I press the button only to be terrified, suddenly, that it will open. I press myself against the wall next to the elevator. I have no clear idea of what I will do if the elevator is occupied.

The doors open. No one comes out. I step in, the muscles of my arms jumping, legs trembling.

There is no phone.

My mind stops.

There is no phone. I had been so sure... My mind drifts off, just for a moment, and I am snapped back into reality, if that's what this is, as the doors of the elevator close. The elevator begins to descend.

Floor! What floor?!

From the mirrored walls of the elevator I watch the image of a naked woman frantically pressing “Door Open”, then, stupidly, “8”, followed by “7”. Her frightened face bounces from one mirrored wall to another, a fun house of desperation.

The doors open to no one on the 7th floor.

Relieved, I step out. The doors close, and I begin to walk away.

But where am I going? I stop. There aren’t phones in hotel hallways.

The phones are in the rooms.

Or in the lobby.

New fear grips me as I turn back to the elevator. I cannot go to the lobby, and I cannot roam the hallways looking for help. I have to go back to 822.

I press the button. I wait, heart pounding in my chest, in my ears. Again, it is empty. I step inside: the naked woman in the mirrors works hard to avoid her own reflection.

I step onto the 8th floor without incident and then run, on tiptoes, to the room, the last room around the last corner on the top floor.

I throw myself at the door, knock long and hard. “Willie! Willie! It’s me! Am I dreaming?” Nothing happens. I hammer the door with my fists. I kick the door, hard, twice, and leap back in pain, my toes screaming. I see stars again.

Is this real? How can this be real?

The panic in my blood wins and my imagination leaps off a bridge and takes me with it.

“Willie! Oh my God, Willie! Am I dead?”

I put my hands over my face and fall to the ground.

The door opens.

“Oh my God. Pearl.” Willie’s voice is the sound of utter disbelief, and he pulls me up, pulls me into the room, and holds me tight.

“Where have you been? What are you doing? Where are your clothes? Why were you out there?"

He pushes me out to arm's length and stares at me. "Good God, you are ice cold!”

I look up, sobbing. “I’m naked.”

It is 3:28.





How long had I been wandering before I “came to” – and where was I during that time?

Why did it take so long for Willie to wake up?

Is there surveillance video at the Clarion?

Do I really want the answers to any of these questions?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

We Were One Number Away from Hazelden

This time of year makes me think of this night.  Reposted from last October...



I wake up in the middle of the night to the sound of my father talking. 

“No, no,” he says.  “You’re doing the right thing.”

I rise from bed, pad down the long hallway between the bedrooms and the living room.  On the other end of the trailer, my father is standing in the kitchen.  Back to me, elbows on the counter, the phone is cradled between his ear and shoulder.  He is staring out the window at the front, staring out into the dark, silent street.

I rub my eyes.  

There is a sad overtone to this time of night.  A person could suddenly realize that he is the only person on the planet.

“Absolutely,” he says.  “All of us, man.”  My dad goes into the fridge, pulls out a beer.

He covers the mouthpiece of the phone as he pops the tab on the can.  He takes a drink.

He uncovers the mouthpiece.  “The thing is,” he says, “is that we are never alone.  The help is there.  But yeah, it’s asking, right?  The salvation lies in the asking.”

He takes a long drink, sets the can down quietly.

“I agree 100%,” he says.  “And all I’m asking is that you stop hurting yourself, can you do that?  Just for tonight?” 

There is silence.

“Look,” he says, “Can you do me a favor?  You got somewhere to lie down?  Yeah, take the phone with you.  Just lie down.”  There is silence.  “No, I’m still here.”

I close my eyes, sway softly in the darkness.

“You’re right.  We’re alone.  All of us, alone – until we reach out.  You reached out, and I’m proud of you.”

My father jumps up on the counter.  The phone, after all, won’t reach to a chair.

I press my back to the wall.

“You promise?” he says.  “You just fell off the wagon, that’s all.  You promise to come in in the morning?”

The trailer is absolutely still.

“No, thank you, man.”

There is a pause.

“Yep.  I’m going to stay here until you fall asleep. ”

The cat walks by, winds his way around my ankles.  I bend down, scratch between his war-torn ears.

“Don’t worry,” my dad says.  “Everything’s going to be all right.”


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Dolly Channels Her Energy

 Dolly Gee Squeakers, formerly of the Humane Society Squeakers, having lost her rent money in a regrettable night of pull-tab revelry, has taken up a new hobby.

Crocheting.

She sits on the sofa, a hook clutched in one fuzzy paw, a tangle of yarn in the other.

“Whatcha makin’?”

The cat, a sturdily built Siamese/tabby mixture with a strict regimen of daily yakking, looks up from what is either a very wide scarf or a very small blanket.  She smiles, then shrugs. 

It’s good that she’s keeping busy.  Frankly, I was concerned for her that evening up at the Knight Cap.

Dolly was on a roll.  Five dollars here, ten dollars there.   The modern equivalent of a juke box played, the pull tab box beckoned, and the gin and tonics flowed like wine. 

The kitty was winning.  She had walked in with her paycheck (24 hours a week at a local coffee shop), bought a round of drinks for the cats she came in with, and since then she had nickeled and dimed herself to a pleasant little sum.

A pleasant little sum that she promptly rolled into one last, mad play for the remaining high-buck pull tabs left in the box.

A calculated risk that has left her without her rent money.

“Dolly.”

She looks up, her bright blue and ever-so-slightly-crossed eyes shining.

“I have some cigarettes left from the party last week,” I say.  “You want one?”

The cat shakes her head, choosing not to speak but rather to hold up her paws, hold up the yarn. 

I wasn’t really expecting an answer. It is rare, after all, that she does.  Teased relentlessly as a kitten for her lisp, Dolly Gee Squeakers seldom speaks using sibilant syntax. 

“I see,” I say.

I walk away, into the kitchen, wondering if we still have a can of that albacore tuna she likes so much.

From the pantry, I can hear her:  “Yarn over, pull through two loopth, then yarn over and pull through latht two loopth…”


Good ol’ Dolly.  Maybe I’ll throw in some catnip. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

One of my Many Great Contributions; or, Oh, so THAT'S How the Blog Got Its Name

Until the Great Re-Org of 2009–

May continued employment be with you
And also with you

–I was an Executive Admin. With typing skills that pushed me into hurricane-like velocities, the punctuality of the Amish, and the increasingly rare office skill of knowing when to just shut up and listen, I cut a dashing figure in my Executively Administrating outfits. 

I was acutely aware of the kind of stress that went into being the Vice President of Stuff.  The people I supported were busy people, expected to work 70 hours a week.  They relied on me to keep their best interests in mind.

At one time I had a wonderful boss, a handsome, fabulous man we’ll call George.  At six foot four, George had a bad hip, the cumulative effect of having been an aggressive athlete throughout his life.  We’d discussed this in one of our initial meetings insofar as it would be reflected in any travel plans made, even if it meant taking two flights where one was possible. 

I’d been working for him for less than a month when he found himself in two, back-to-back all-day meetings. Two days of serious nodding, of listening intently and generally trying to stay “engaged” over long periods of time.

Limited breaks, working lunch.

Yuck.

At 10:00 on the first day of this meeting, I take a liberty.

Knocking briskly on the door of the conference room, I walk in. A dozen suits turn to look at me as I stride into the room and hand George a note.

“Please see me immediately in the hall.”

George stands, nods to those at the table as he leaves the room: “Gentlemen.”

Once in the hall he looks at me expectantly.

“I thought you might enjoy a good stretch,” I say, smiling.

George stares at me and then smiles back. “Pearl, why you little…” he mock-threatens.

“Why I oughta…” I counter.

Over the course of the afternoon and the next day, I pop in a couple more times:

“George, will need to reschedule your elbow-bleaching appointment so as to accommodate your appointment with your aroma therapist. Please advise.”

“George, your office chair is on fire. Permission to put it out?”

And every time, George would stand, nod to those at the conference table:  “Gentlemen”.

Then he would leave, walking the halls for 10, 15 minutes, working out the kinks in his knees and hips.

Happy Tuesday, everyone.  Here’s hoping someone passes you a note, excusing you from pain and boredom.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Winter's Peepin'; or Don't Get Too Comfortable

I’m worried about the weather.

Frankly, it’s nice out. And this is why I’m worried. You see, it’s even more than nice – it’s beautiful. Temperatures have been downright agreeable, not a cloud in the sky. All very picturesque. All very friendly.

There’s something peculiar about that.

You can almost hear it, winter lying in wait, lulling you toward complacency while plotting to freeze your car locks open/closed.

Minnesota is the state that promises to hold your seat while you run to the bathroom only to have you find, upon your return, that her friends have taken up residence and they’re now mocking your choice of drink.

What’s your hurry? she whispers, a soft warm breeze in your ear. No need to check on your snowblower! We’re so far beyond that, you and I. Now why don’t you just throw down a blanket, lay in the sunshine for a while…

And then BLAMMO! Two feet of snow fall on you and they find your body in the spring.

Minnesota: Land of 10,000 Lakes. The “Brainpower” State. The State that Thinks You Would Look Better Blue.

Of course, you’ll remind me in February of how unfair I was to autumn, won’t you? After I’ve written my 30th straight post on how the weather is trying to kill me? After I’ve blathered on yet again regarding my astonishment over how I can now keep ice cream frozen quite solidly in the trunk of my car?

Heh, heh, heh. The car as four-wheeled icebox never gets old for me.

Still, I try to enjoy the seasons, but there’s been a change in the light, you see, and I think that’s what I find most troubling. We are mere days away from the shift, from the vivid colors of autumn turning to the brittle, it’s-only-recently-died look of fall.

We are mere days away from the discovery, once again, that winter is not our friend -- which means we are mere days away from another post on the restorative qualities of made-from-scratch gravy.

Hmm.  Maybe it won't be all bad.

Gravy.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I'll Need You to Rebel in an Orderly and Dignified Fashion

From February of 2012, whilst I prepare for the spicy debauchery of Chiloween with Molly and Erin this Saturday.  What's that?  What's 'Chiloween'?  Oh, honey, just the best-decorated chili contest ever!  



I’ve written of my son before: the way he paid the electric bill at the tender and mature age of four, how I saved him from a life of droopy-drawered ridiculosity.

The time I listened in on him and his cousin’s late-night cabin whisperings.

But did I tell you about the time he rebelled?

Honestly, there’s not a lot to rebel against with me. I’m a listener. There weren’t rules so much as there were firmly held suggestions (the toilet seat remains in the “down” position when not in use, Cool Whip is not a condiment, young ladies who treat your mother with disdain are not really dating material).

The Boy bandied the words “liberal” and “hippie” about as if they were bad things. Meanwhile, aside from the aforementioned electric-bill debacle, I cooked from scratch (most of the time), cleaned (quite often) and was open to anything he wanted to talk about (always).

Eventually, of course, he began to get hormonal on me.

In subtle ways, he changed. But it wasn’t until I got into his truck that I realized how much.

A truck! Let us look at this first. A truck. In Minneapolis, a lovely area with mature trees and sidewalks. While the need for a pick-up truck was not clear to me, I played along.

You want a truck? Knock yourself out.

Where were we going the first time I got into it? I toss my purse in first, climb up into the cab of the truck, make a remark about the height of the vehicle. He smiles proudly and we tear off down the street as I am buckling up.

“Hey there, Mario Amphetamine! We’re law-abiding people!”

He takes his foot off the gas momentarily.

“That’s more like it!” I enthuse. With the departure of the G-forces, I peel my spine off the back of the seat. Secretly fearful I will find discarded condoms or evidence of Communism, I am careful about where I look.

One doesn’t want to learn too much too soon.

Dylan clicks around on his stereo, a piece of electronics that outclasses my first three sound systems in the same way that a house is an improvement over seeking shelter in a bush.

“You’ll like this,” he says, smiling. He turns it up to levels The Who would approve of.

But I don’t. It’s a twangy, predictable slice of Country Western music that I have a particular dislike for. Raised on swing and big band, my father was also partial to Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, and, so help me, Conway Twitty.

I know what Country Western music is, and this ain’t it.

I grimace and say nothing.

“Did you see my gun rack?”

I turn around. Sure enough, there it is. This is where the rifles go.

“You got a lot of use for that?” I say.

He shrugs, smiling. “Deer hunting.”

I nod. We’re very much alike, but we’re also quite different.

That’s what you get for procreating.

“I’m thinking of getting a cowboy hat,” he says.

DING!

The scales, as they say, fall from my eyes. I smile at him. “I know what you’re doing,” I say.

He turns, briefly, squints at me: Oh, yeah?

“You’re rebelling!”

“What?!”

“You’re rebelling! You, all rebellious with your two kinds of music – that’s right! Country AND Western! – and the hunting and the gun rack! You’re rebelling against your liberal mother!” I smile at him, secure in my interpretation.

He looks horrified.

I lean over, pinch the available cheek. “Oh, you are just so adorable! Yes, you are! Yes, you are just so adorable!”

He pulls away, shakes me off him, laughingly tells me that I don’t know what I’m talking about.

But we both know that I do.

You know? He never did get that hat.

But he never misses deer season.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Unexpected Company, 1970; or The Man on the Couch

Because there are new readers -- and because, dagnabit, I'm unreasonably busy at the moment -- a post from last year (and the year before), wherein I recount the first of three scary stories...

Scary Story Number One in the countdown to Halloween...


Unexpected Company, 1970; or The Man on the Couch

In the same way that trailers are not known for their excellent plumbing or their ability to stay earthbound in a stiff wind, they are also not known for being soundproof; and I was awakened one night by a shift in the usual nocturnal noises. I was a light sleeper, the result of sharing a bed with my sister, who wet it until she was six. There are few things as distressing as waking in a puddle of someone else’s urine.

I looked at the clock next to the bed: 12:20. Dad was at a gig. Mom should either be in the living room, watching TV, vodka gimlet on the coffee-table, or in the back bedroom, listening to talk radio, vodka gimlet on the nightstand. I could hear neither the TV nor the radio.

I pushed Karen’s leg off me and she snorted in her sleep. “If I tole you once,” she droned, “I tole you a t’ousan…” Her muttering collapsed into a snore.

I got out of bed and opened the door. My mother was dead-set against children creeping around the house at night. We were allowed up only if we had to “p, p, or p” -- pee, poop, or puke. Anything else could wait until the morning. Mother enforced this rule by making waffles, sloppily, the first available weekend and requiring that the offender do the dishes. In our house, this was a good deterrent.

I had just entered my parents’ half-closed bedroom door at the far end of the trailer when I heard the sound of a man’s voice behind me. It was not my father’s.

I turned toward it, then back to my parents’ room. I pushed open the door. The radio on the nightstand was on, the ice in the vodka gimlet was melting, iridescently, but where was my mother? I heard the voice again, coming from the living room.

“Come ‘ere!”

I was suddenly aware of my blood moving through my veins, pudding-thick. I didn’t know this man’s voice. I didn’t like its tone.

I got on my hands and knees and crept down the hall toward the voice. All of the rooms were on my left: the bathroom, mine and Karen’s room, our brother Kevin’s, and then the living room.

I pause, less than a foot from the living room. The drapes are closed. The only light in the room filters in from the streetlights through the sheers behind the couch.

My mother is standing just inside the living room. I can almost touch her, but I don’t. She is staring in the direction of the couch.

The outline of a man’s head is framed against the window. It is dark enough in the room that he is all outline, no details. He is sitting on our couch, smoking a cigarette.

“Come sit by me.”

“No, thank you,” my mother says. There is a tremble in her voice I have never heard before.

“I said, come ‘ere!” the man says, louder. His voice is slurred. I raise my hand to my mouth, afraid I will cry out. I don’t want him to know I am here.

“And I said, no, thank you,” my mother says. She does sit, though, in the chair just to the left of the entry into the living room. I can no longer see her. On my hands and knees, I move in as far as I dare. I can make out her profile. Fear leaches the iron from my blood, and I am wide-eyed and boneless.

“I was in ‘Nam,” he says.

“I see,” my mother says.

The man on the couch leans forward. “I died,” he said. “I DIED. They putta metal plate in my head, man, an’ I don’t know why --” he trails off. There is silence as he lifts a bottle out of the shadow of his lap and takes a long drink. I feel nauseous. The only phone is in the kitchen, and it’s on the other side of the living room. The back door cannot be opened without making noise. The windows are louvered six-inch slats.

The man on the couch suddenly shouts. “I DIED!”

“I’m sorry,” my mother says, quietly.

“She’s sorry,” he slurs, head slumping forward. “I died f’yer sins,” he mutters. He raises the bottle to his lips, tips his head, then the bottle. Framed by the streetlight through the window behind him, he looks as if he’s been cut out of black construction paper.

The absence of sound presses on my eardrums. I fight the urge to swallow, afraid he will hear it.

Finally my mother speaks. “Thank you,” she says.

The man on the couch takes another long drink, belches loudly and drinks again. I finally dare to swallow, imagining that the sound of his own swallowing will drown mine out. The man on the couch tucks his bottle between his legs. He raises his arms.

“We c’n do innythin we wan’ ‘ere,” he slurs. “This MY worl’. I died, goddamit. I died, an’ now –“ He spreads his arms grandly, and his head flops backward. “I am the TIME WIZARD.”

“Oh,” my mother says. Her voice is very soft.

I watch his arms move, their silhouettes against the windows, in what I imagine to be karate moves. Suddenly he stops, his arms raised above his head. He takes a deep breath. Time stops as the world waits for what will come next.

“I’m the TIME WIZARD!” he shouts. “This MY worl’, an’ wha’ we do ‘ere, stays ‘ere, unnerstan’? Y’unnerstan’? We c’n do wevver we wan’. We ca’go f’ard. We ca’ go bakkard.” His hands weave a scrolling tapestry of drunkenness and delusion in the air. He reminds me of footage of Charles Manson.

“Forward and backward?” my mother says. “In time?”

“Wevver. In time, yeah,” he says.

“And what do you have in mind?” my mother says. Her voice sounds calm and patient – and familiar. I’ve heard this tone before. In the deep black of the trailer, my fear steps back. My mother has a plan.

“Innythin’. We ca’…” he trails off, confused.

His head drops forward again, and I watch the lit end of his cigarette as he grinds his fist into his temple.

His head snaps up abruptly. “I diddit fer YOU, man! I died fer YOU. I served my COUNTRY, goddammit!” He is breathing heavily, and my hands begin to shake. I shove them under my knees, sitting on them. I think of my father on the stage of the Crow Bar on the other side of town. I imagine he is half-way through their version of “Born to be Wild”, a leather aviator’s hat on his head, smiling.

The man on the couch raises his bottle and drinks. The hand with the bottle drops into his lap. The hand with the cigarette appears. His pupils and the end of his nose glow as he inhales. “I diddit fer you.”

In the darkness, my mother speaks. “Of course you did.” Her voice is friendly, almost conspiratorial. “You served your country. You’re goddam right. You’re a hero. And believe me, I appreciate everything you’ve done“ – she stops – “ I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your name.”

The man is staring drunkenly in the direction of my mother. “Uh. Mark,” he says. Her request for his name has caught him off-guard. He lifts the bottle to his lips and drinks.

“Mark,” she continues. Her voice is warm and firm, slow and kind, as if speaking to a child. “I appreciate the sacrifices you made. You’ve suffered. I hear it in your voice. You think I don’t know that? Do you think I don’t know that, Mark? You’re a hero, Mark. A hero. But do you get any credit? No. They got ya comin’ and goin’, don’t they, Mark? Comin’ and goin’.”

Mark has been completely still since my mother started talking. He now bobs his head slowly, and I find myself nodding, too. “Comin’ an’ goin’,” he repeats.

“That’s right, Mark. But we know, don’t we? You’re goddam right we do. You soldiers don’t get the respect you deserve.” She pauses. “I’ve learned a lot tonight. But, Mark, I have to tell you: you know, I work in the morning. You didn’t call first…”

Mark nods heavily at this. It’s true. He didn’t call. His silhouette loses its edges as he slumps drunkenly forward.

My mother raises her right arm into the air. “Here’s to calling first next time, huh, Mark?” Mark’s head snaps up. “Come on, Mark!” she says. “Raise yer drink! To the good ol’ USA! I’ll drink to that!”

My mother brings an imaginary drink to her lips and knocks it back. Mark raises his bottle. “Ahl drinka tha’!”, he bawls. He puts the bottle to his lips and drinks deeply.

“Chin up, Mark! Rally the troops!”

“Ahl drinka tha’!” He drinks again. He belches loudly.

“’scuse me,” he says.

My mother stands. “I’m glad we met. You know, we almost didn’t meet, do you know that?” She rises from her chair and walks to the front door. She opens it and looks to the form on the couch.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done. I really do. You’re all right in my book, Mark. Yes, you are. Now you make sure that you drink plenty of water before you go to bed tonight, you’ll do that for me, won’t you?”

I am in awe of my mother.

Mark stands drunkenly, nodding, patting the couch absentmindedly for fallen keys or coins, makes sure he’s leaving with everything he came in with. He stumbles against the coffee table, and she catches him as he crashes into the railing around the dining room. She pushes him toward the door as if they are jostling in line for seconds. She pushes him out the front door and on to the front steps.

In the hall doorway, I stand, rubbing the shag-carpet indentations on my knees. I feel ridiculously relieved. Mark is gone.

“You have a restful night now,” my mother says, shutting the door. “Don’t be a stranger,” she calls.

“Hey,” he yells. My mother opens the door a crack.

“Hey,” he slurs. “Hey, hey. Ah jus’ wanna –“

“You’re welcome,” my mother says. She shuts the door and locks it.

She turns, with an enormous sigh. Seeing me in the hallway, she cocks her head quizzically; and I say what all us kids say when we are caught out of bed after lights out:

“I had to poop.”