Life In Hell
I love the smell of a campfire, I thought to myself as the beautiful aroma filled my lungs. I made my way from home, the old Victorian on the corner. My childhood home was probably a real site to see in the town’s Hay Day. Sometimes I envisioned Mark Twain puffing away on a pipe while sitting on the park bench, in view from my bedroom window. But just like any one of America’s greatest authors, the spirit of this once thriving place was now dead.
I think that’s why I hate this place so much. I walk down the street making sure that the disintegrating chunks of sidewalk didn’t get caught in the wheels of my walker. The air of the spring night was wet and cold, with an oppressive thickness that only a New Yorker could understand. I have no desire to get on the cold wet ground and pick tiny man-made pebbles from inside the mechanisms that make the walker’s wheels turn.
Every intern or college student knows the struggle of staying up until 3 a.m. working on your latest masterpiece about Shakespeare and possible underlying Nature of the sociopath, Lady Macbeth. Well I decided to take a stroll at this time to the local 7-Eleven. My first sight was Mrs. O’Leary, well I guess I smelled her first. She wore this dirt-cheap old lady perfume, the stuff that smells like lilacs mixed with chemicals and a little bit of patchouli.
I quietly crept in the freezer section hoping that the town gossip wouldn’t see me, but the clank of metal on the shelf full of Little Debbie cakes gave me away. I muttered some cuss words under my breath. Sometimes I wonder why God is punishing me what these stupid little conversations that always seem bad for my health.
Mrs. O’Leary bent down and picked up a box of oatmeal cream pies, as her hair which can only be described as an enormous orange cotton ball, brushed up against my bare shoulder.
“Let me help you, dear. What do you need?” She asked.
“I need to get Mountain Dew out of the big refrigerator. I like the blue kind as well as a bottle of Coke”. I reached in vain for a package of banana split flavored donuts, which were on the shelf above my head. She snatched those up too, adding them to her now overflowing basket. As she was struggling with the goodies, I made a beeline over to the counter.
“Can I get a pack of Camels, please? And that blue-green lighter?” I inquired trying my best to muster some late-night kindness. I smiled briefly to the clerk behind the counter, his blonde hair in a messy tuft, looking like he was too tired to care.
Just then, the lady with the bright orange hair returned, standing behind me, “Tobacco. and junk food?!” she asked, sounding angry.
I bit my lip, resisting the overwhelming urge to ask her why her hair is the color of candy corn, but instead took a deep breath, trying not to cough as I swallowed an unusual scent of lilacs and nuclear waste.
“I’m trying to get a sugar rush in order to finish up some homework,” I said, doing my best to fake a smile. She gave me a look that was both angry and hoping for pity. I know she was going to tell me about her husband who had heart surgery last summer. How he was fine now, but the doctor told him he needed to stay away from all of his vices, and yet for some odd reason she still finds it appropriate to spoil him with Little Debbie’s. I was in no mood. I put my bottles of soda on the counter and asked if I could have a French vanilla latte instead.
“Might be warmer, it’s a little chilly out there?” the clerk said, trying to ease the discomfort, which was now filling the room.
I got the large cup, and he only charged me for a small. I tried to lose Mrs. O’Leary but in vain, she followed close to my heels.
“Can you hold my coffee? I can’t hold this at the same time as my sodas. That’s why I always get cold drinks when I have to walk home. I’d rather spill something sticky on me and be able to shower it off, but when I buy things that are piping-hot and they spill onto my bare skin, I will for sure wind up getting treated for a nasty, oozing burn like I did last year.” I gave her a dirty look.
She smiled at me looking genuine, “Sweetie…” she sighed in a way that conveyed the utmost discomfort. “I’m only here because I wanted to keep you safe. You know that news story that was reported last week, about the breaking and entering? Well if it wasn’t for Sadie, I’m pretty sure I would have been a victim of an attack last night. There was a man crawling around outside in my bushes.”
“Oh, my goodness!” I said, almost losing the chunk of donut that I had stuffed into my mouth. She may have been lying, but I never knew her to be a liar. Mrs. O’Leary and her husband, Henry, have been our neighbors since we’ve moved into the house back when I was in Kindergarten. I grew up with her grandson, Gabriel, as we went to Elementary school together. We were in the school plays together when we were small. I kept thinking back to that time. Her grandson and I were in the school play in Third grade, when she told us we did wonderfully and we were going to be on Broadway someday. The truth of the matter is we did a horrible job.
However, as I stood there with the cool Northeastern air biting at my bare flesh, I knew she was telling the truth. The orange fluff ball on her head was bobbing up and down as she followed me into the house carrying my hot coffee in her hand. She set it down on the table and kissed me on the forehead, feeling the discomfort of being there alone.
“Good night,” I said, trying to find the trepidation I felt at the idea of being home alone.
“Remember Macy, if you need me, I’ll be just a few houses away. My phone number is still the same, I’ll be around. Your parents and sister will be back on Sunday, right?”
“Of course,” I said, scraping off my black nail polish and watching it come off in tiny sheets, “I know they’re not going to miss church, well good night.”
And with that, she was gone. I locked the door behind her. In a weird way, I was grateful for my eccentric neighbor with the equally unusual hair. I turned off the lights in the dining room and headed upstairs. I was pleasantly surprised to find my black cat named Oreo curled up in the center of my bed. I was grateful for the company.
My nails began tapping on the keyboard with an intensity that one only knows when they’re working on a term paper early Saturday morning when it’s due at 9 a.m. on Monday. There was a numbness in my fingertips that made me stop dead in my tracks. I laid down right beside Oreo and fell asleep.
I woke up to Oreo meowing as I stumbled down the dark hallway into the kitchen. I noticed her food bowl was empty. My stomach was growling too. “Oreo, you don’t need two cans of food in one day!” I said slightly frustrated, as she was following at my heels.
When I got to the kitchen, I realized that I had been asleep almost 18 hours. I filled the cat’s bowl, “Salmon surprise, and freshwater. For you feline”, I smiled and grabbed my bright yellow windbreaker, my new lighter and my pack of cigarettes, as I slipped into my dirty purple Converse. I made my way to the side yard. It made me smile to see Oreo’s sweet little face peeking out at me through the window.
I took a puff of my cigarette. The world seemed so quiet and still around me, but the serenity was shattered when I heard someone cough. It was an odd sound coming from the side yard, the area where my dad works on his projects full of scraps of wood and the beer cans. I flew inside, quickly slipped my cat onto her harness and drug her behind me. I grabbed a steak knife from the drawer, along with my cell phone. I made my way to Mrs. O’Leary’s house.
I could hear footsteps close behind us. I was kicking myself for buying that bright yellow windbreaker. Being seen when you live in the suburbs can be a good thing or bad thing. I didn’t want cars to hit me, but now it seems the one thing that I bought to save my life could potentially end my life. I collapsed on Mrs. O’Leary’s porch from exhaustion, handing her Oreo, “He was in my yard! I went outside to have a cigarette and holy crap, he was in my yard!” I was trying to hold back tears.
I soon called my dad because I knew my mom would be driving. When I told my dad of the night’s events, all he said was, “You slept all day? You’re smoking? Well, when I was a kid in the eighties this wouldn’t have happened. It was Heaven on Earth!”
My only response was, “This is life in Hell!” and I hung up the phone.
With the prompting from Mrs. O’Leary and a police detail, I was able to return home. Later that night, I was watching some classic episodes of The Simpsons when I got a call from Mrs. O’Leary asking me to turn on the news. I obliged, and to my horror, Gabriel’s mugshot was staring back at me. Those same stunning blue eyes that I grew up knowing seemed to be void of emotion now. He seemed in that moment to be the husk of who we once were.
The worst was yet to come. According to the news, he was being charged with multiple counts of rape and drug possession. He was blaming his time in the army and his mental decline. That night, I put on a clean pair of jeans, t-shirt, a pair of underwear and gathered the $800 I had scraped together from my summer job at the bar, as I put a very tired and grumpy Oreo into her cat carrier.
I left a note on the kitchen table, it said:
“Mom, Dad & Elizabeth,
We are now headed to Arizona, I found a job. This is the end of our life in hell.
We Love You,
Maci and Oreo”