As a child I was obliged by the rules of adolescence to think my parents weird. Contorted under the fort of blankets and chairs I sat with my friends, and argued over who had it worse. Every Saturday night, a different house, a different spattering of chairs, maybe an odd towel or two, our discussions never varied.
Three of us were at Kyle’s house the last time.
“Come on guys, we gotta keep it down, I think my dad’s in trouble again,” Kyle said.
“Where is he anyways?” Sam asked. “It’s Saturday.”
“I don’t know, but mom’s definitely pissed,” Kyle whispered. He reached under the lounge chair to snatch a cookie.
“That’s easy,” I said, trying to lay as much swagger into my cracking voice as I could, “My mom gets worried when Dad’s late from work. She lets him have it. But of course, they’re weird.”
“It’s Saturday,” Sam repeated. “People don’t work on Saturdays.”
“Like I’ve been telling you, my parents are weird,” Kyle whined. “But Mom’s not worried, she’s mad. I think they had a fight. But you’re right, Dad’s usually home weekends. He left early today though, didn’t even read the paper.”
We heard Kyle’s dad come in through the front door. “Where have you been?” came Kyle’s mom. “I’ve been worried sick!”
“Maybe your parents are weird,” I conceded. I thought I was being clever; as far as I knew that’s the only time any of us ever conceded. But they weren’t paying attention to me. They peeked through a chink in the sheets. “What’s going on?” I whispered.
They kept quiet. I suppose all parents argue. Mine do. After a while you just start tuning them out. And like I guessed, she let him have it. I hit the station again right near the end.
“I’m sorry honey, I know,” Kyle’s dad said. “I forgot.”
“What do you suppose is in the boxes?” Sam asked. I hadn’t noticed them before, there were two: one long, one fat.
“Probably flowers,” Kyle said. “Every day after they fight, Mom has fresh flowers on the mantle.”
“Oh Henry, you didn’t!” Kyle’s mom exclaimed. Kyle was right. Roses.
Kyle’s dad shifted his eyes then grinned. “I found another one.”
“Henry!” She swatted his shoulder.
“I swore I’d make it up to you.” He grinned again. “Let’s put it in the room.” Kyle’s parents went down the hall. Giggling followed the click of the lock.
Sam and I looked at each other, then to Kyle. “What’s in the other box?” I asked.
Kyle sighed and reached for another cookie. “My parents are so weird. Same thing every time.”
“What’re they doing in there?” Sam asked.
Being the oldest I took it upon myself to educate young little Sam. “He said they’re making up. So obviously, they’re having sex.” I smiled proudly. Sam started crawling out through the side wall. “Where are you going?”
“To listen at the door,” Sam said. “Come on!” I followed him.
Kyle tried to stop us, but we were fast sneakers and we made it to the door before he could protest. While Sam pressed his ear up to the door, I tried to act uninterested and leaned against the wall.
“They’re giggling and whispering,” Sam reported. “Your mom’s cooing.”
Kyle renewed his pleading, “Come on guys, we’ll get in trouble.”
I smiled and lied, “Yep Sam, that’s what sex sounds like.” I like being the oldest, they always believe me. “Next she’ll moan like ghost.” Alright, maybe I sneaked a peek at the books on the high shelf. I am a good sneaker, and Mom always says I’m tall for my age.
We didn’t need Sam to report the next sound that came from the room. We all heard it. I can’t describe it, not even with the words from those “when you’re older” books. The word “ghost” however, was still fresh on my lips and their ears, so we darted back to the safety of the fort.
“What was that?” Sam asked, looking at me. Kyle joined his stare. I don’t like being the oldest.
After “ghost” receded to the back of my mind, the only image I had was of a cat being sucked through a car engine. Dad told me he saw it happen once when he was a kid. I suppose if I ever see that happen, I’ll hear this sound. The small hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up.
We jumped when we heard it again. We peeked through the chink in time to see Kyle’s dad rush out of the room toward the kitchen. I’m pretty sure sex requires naked, so him coming out dressed blew my theory to kingdom come. He’s short, so he had to use a little red stool to reach the cupboard above the fridge. He dashed past us again and into the room, bottle of gin in his hand.
My confidence restored somewhat, I tried again. “See, told you it was sex.” They didn’t believe me any more than I did. So I looked to Kyle. “This normal?”
Kyle shrugged. “Sometimes. Told you they’re weird.” Sam started out the side wall again.
“Now where are you going?” I asked.
“Maybe I can see through the key hole,” he said, looking back. “Can I Kyle?”
Kyle shook his head. “I don’t want to look.”
“Oh come on,” Sam said. But Kyle just ate another cookie.
“I looked, once,” he said, crumbs tumbling from his mouth. Then he put his head down and closed his eyes. “I don’t want to look.”
I just stared at Kyle. I had never seen him act like that before. A moment ago he was trying to stop us, now he just sat and ate cookies. Sam left.
When Sam came back a minute later, he joined Kyle’s strange lament.
“Well?” I asked, trying to sound more impatient than curious.
Sam just shook his head, defeated. “Not yet,” he said. “I’m not old enough.”
Kyle nodded and joined him. “Not old enough. We’re not old enough.”
I sat there confused. They weren’t crying. Just sitting there munching away at those chocolate chips. What was their problem? I straightened out my shirt. “What’s the matter with you guys?”
I crawled out of the fort. Maybe I shouldn’t have, I suppose, thinking back on it now. But the door down the hall seemed to beckon me. I was older than them, but I’m still not sure if I was old enough. I stood before the handle and peered through the keyhole.
At first, I couldn’t see anything. Then I saw them. Kyle’s mom was sitting cross legged at the head of the bed. Kyle’s dad was sitting on the far corner. But I wasn’t looking at them. I was looking at the bottle of gin.
Correction: I was looking at what was drinking the bottle of gin.
Before I knew what was happening, the door was open and Kyle’s dad was looking down at me with that same grin. “Now here’s a young man,” he said as he pulled me in.
“Now young sir,” he continued, “What’s the way to a man’s heart?”
I seemed to be aware of the words, and yet not aware. My eyes were glued to the mass of slick fur on the bed.
“What’s the way to a man’s heart?” parroted Kyle’s mom. She giggled a bit, then she pet it!
Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had heard this before. TV? No. Finally, I stammered out an often tuned out line of my mother’s that had apparently stuck: “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
“Good show!” Kyle’s dad said with a clap. “Now then, what do you suppose the way to a woman’s heart is?” The thing made a purring noise as it sucked on the bottle.
I realized they were waiting for me to answer. “I don’t know.”
“You wouldn’t be the first man to say that,” he laughed. “Most men never find out.”
“A girl gets lucky sometimes,” she added, blowing him a kiss. “Finds the guy who knows.” She pet the thing again, a slick residue stringing from her fingers.
“Should I dear?” he asked slyly. “Chances are if I don’t tell him, no one will.” She just nodded and kept petting it.
“Some men say a woman wants flowers.” Kyle’s mom looked me in the eye. “Which is only half right.” A moment of hesitation before he reached into his pocket and handed me a little grey business card. One side had an address that I didn’t recognize.
I left that room confused, and yet not. The card was in my pocket. Sam and Kyle were all curiosity again, and as I found that they hadn’t even seen anything through the keyhole, I kept my mouth shut. The next morning I woke up earlier then them and looked into the room again, but the thing was gone. The roses were in a vase on the mantle…
Roses, right. Oh, Jen’s going to let me have it when I get home. The office was empty hours ago, and yesterday was our anniversary. I leaned back in my chair and held up the grey business card to my desk lamp. I’d been cleaning out my wallet when it fell out. It was frayed on one edge and had the butt curve to it.
“What’s the way to a woman’s heart?” I asked the cubicle wall. Henry told me the answer that night, so long ago, and I’d forgotten until now. I turned off the lamp and grabbed my suitcase. Am I really doing this? Place might not even exist anymore. Might not have existed ever.
Stepping out into the parking lot, I flipped over the card. Flowers and Monsters.