Pimp My Lent/Day 40
From Scott Latham, the photo above…
He heard it. First, the noise and then the sound of feet, five-year-old girl feet, running tip-toe across the wooden floor. Ty felt the mattress move, heard Ivy’s excited breathing, felt it tickle his ear.
“Daddy!” She whispered.
“It’s okay, it’s just- ”
“Go to bed, Ivy. It’s just Tibbets.”
“No, it’s not!” Ivy whispered. “It is not Tibbets.” She slipped out of bed and hurried to the dresser for the big blue Maglite. She turned it on and swung it around the room, to the corner and the red upholstered chair where Tibbets the tomcat slept curled like a nautilus, his broad old face turned up to the ceiling.
The sound was coming from downstairs.
Scrape, scrape, scrape –
The sound of the dog’s plastic food bowl being nosed across the tile floor. No big deal, except they didn’t have a dog, not anymore. Not since two days ago when Chess, their insane spaniel, had engaged in a final fatalistic act of running out to chase whatever vehicle dared make its way down the dirt road in front of their house. Spaniel versus pre-dawn milk truck: never turns out good for the spaniel.
Damn Dog. Becky always said that they should rename him Damn Dog, since they called him that more than they called him by his name. For years, the effort to train the untrainable Chess had driven Becky to distraction, but had also provided her with plenty of stories for family and friends. The “crazy damn dog exploits” were legend, a staple of any gathering. I swear to you, I’ve done everything, she always started out, Everything but nail the dog’s feet to the ground!
And she had tried everything. When Chess the puppy climbed the chain-link fence, they’d put in a 6-foot wooden fence. And when he grew up and was able to scale that, they added on a two-foot extension. He then he dug under the fence, so they’d strung a hot wire along the bottom. Chess just pushed past the pain and went on his way. They had then resorted then to tying him out, strapping him into a harness at the end of a long rope. He had wriggled out of it within minutes, stretching the line taut and then jerking backward, like some canine Houdini working his way out of a straightjacket. Finally, they had kept the dog inside, escorting him out to do his business on a leash. And still, Chess managed to make his escapes, once jumping through the upstairs window screen in Ivy’s bedroom, leaping four feet down onto the side porch roof, then down onto the cab of Ty’s pickup, and then he was on the ground running and gone.
Unfortunately, Becky would always conclude, he always comes back.
The day she was diagnosed, Ty said he couldn’t keep up with running her to the doctor and keeping the dog in line, they’d have to give Chess away, but Becky said no, Ivy will need him when I’m gone. Ty said she needed to get over feeling sorry for herself, right then, and start fighting, focusing on getting through this, stop thinking about the damn dog, and start thinking about how much Ivy needed her. Becky laid back on the exam table and put her arm over her eyes.
Anal cancer? How is this fair? Becky said. Ty heard a snort and realized that she was crying, and laughing. I have ass cancer, Ty. How am I supposed to tell people that and keep a straight face?
It all unraveled quickly, faster than anyone but Becky had expected. People said it was God’s mercy that she did not linger as the cancer broke into her bones, bringing pain that even morphine could not ease. Ty didn’t see any mercy in any of it. At the funeral, he would not stand with the family to greet the mourners, would not leave his seat on the front-row pew. He heard Becky’s sister asking if she might take Ivy on ahead, and he let her go. Ivy’s lips flickered against his, and she was gone, headed for the cemetery, for the burial that Becky had not wanted. He’d snapped at her about that too, got right up in Becky’s face when she said she wanted to be cremated and have her ashes spread out across their hay fields. He told her, “Tough. You want to be cremated, suck it up and fight, and outlive me.”
He’d been cruel and angry, so angry, and for the first time ever, she would not come back at him, only closed her eyes and sighed. This was all Ty could think about as he stared at the casket, at the spray of yellow roses and Dutch iris and white daises that Ivy had picked out. It was time to go to the cemetery, but he would not go. Ty’s two brothers had to work hard to pry his hands off the front-row pew, and then carry him out the side door of the chapel where he wrenched away from them and took off running across the field.
Chess never once ran away after Becky was diagnosed, damn dog wouldn’t leave her side, even laid at the foot of the bed as she died. And then afterward, as Ty and Ivy stood at the screen door watching the ambulance move slowly down the gravel drive, the dog came and sat by Ivy, tucked himself against her, nudging his head in under her small hand like he was following orders.
“What changed your mind, you damn dog?” Ty said to the darkness, and only realized he’d said it aloud when Ivy whispered back, “Do you think it’s Chess, Daddy?”
“You think it’s his ghost?”
“No.” Ty said, rolling over onto his back. “I don’t.”
Ivy sat up, thin arms around her bent knees, intent, listening. Here, safe in the semi-darkness, he could regard her, the full, small mouth, button nose and wide, dark eyes, so much Becky’s child.
“It’s him.” Ivy said, certain now. “It’s his ghost.”
“There’s no such thing as ghosts.”
“You don’t know that.” Ivy said. “You don’t know.”
Maybe it was a rat, after the dog food? They lived in the country. Rats were given.
Goddamn rats. Had to be. Why hadn’t he just thrown out the food bowl? He’d meant to do it the day the dog died, and then yesterday, every time Ty passed it, he –
It was empty, he realized. The bowl. He remembered seeing Chess, as usual, plowing through his food like a steam shovel and then pausing to belch over the empty bowl. The food bowl was empty. Something was down there shoving the bowl around the kitchen floor. Just like Chess used to do.
Scrape, scrape, scrape, scrape.
Ty pointed at Ivy. “Stay here.” He whispered, and she nodded. But she was her mother’s daughter, so Ty stopped and pointed at her. He said. “I mean it. Stay. Here.”
Ty swung his legs over the bed. He picked up the flashlight and made his way into the hall and down the stairs, slowly and quietly. The floor was cold, the house was cold, it stayed cold in here. It was Becky’s house, not his. She’d bought it before they met, spent her life redoing it, basement to attic. It was a great house, but Ty would never love it like she did. He sometimes wanted to live anywhere but here, surrounded by all he’d lost. But, as long as Ivy needed to be here, here is where they’d be. That was a promise that he could make to Becky, the only one that he’d made.
Oh, if I only had another six months, I’d have you and that damn dog whipped into shape, Becky had teased him. Ty slid carefully into bed beside her and she laid her hand on his, drumming her fingers across his knuckles. You took too long, she told him. You should have asked me to marry you in sixth grade when I had a crush on you.
They’d been raised up in the same cramped farming community outside Shawnee, and reunited twenty years after high school graduation, by chance, when Ty was in Tulsa for a teacher’s conference and glanced up from his morning paper to see the Shoney’s waitress smiling down at him as she poured coffee. Hi. Remember me? I let you kiss me once in the science and nature section of the Bookmobile. He missed the rest of the conference.
Becky had a first, brief marriage that ended in the death of her husband in a farm accident. Ty’s 18-year marriage had ended with the death of his first wife’s patience with his infidelities. Ty told Becky everything and blamed it on getting married too young. He’d left home, moved to the City, got a teaching job, married the first pretty girl he found who didn’t have an Oklahoma accent, and then proceeded to sleep with all the pretty girls who did.
Becky and Ty walked around downtown Oklahoma City, talking, for a whole day, then made a date for that night, and then a date for the next day. Ty woke up with Becky’s long dark hair splashed across his chest, and realized that he was, for the first time in his life, in love. He fell like he’d been pushed off a cliff. It took a good while longer for Becky to come around to the same conclusion. When Ty begged her to be his wife, she said, One slip from you, Tyrone McAfee, one, and I’m gone. I don’t share. You understand me? It took a minute for him to realize that Becky had just said yes.
“Dad!” Ivy was right there. She’d somehow passed him and was standing below him, on the landing. Ty nearly peed his shorts, he was so startled. He snapped his fingers and pointed at Ivy and pointed upstairs. Ivy pointed toward the kitchen.
A small opossum pushed the dog bowl around the kitchen floor with its pointed pink nose.
“It’s so cuuuuuuute. I love her!” Ivy sang, dancing on her toes. “Her name is Pinkwater.”
But Ivy was gone, sliding towards the kitchen in her socks and t-shirt, talking to the possum, singing to it in her little girl tones, welcoming it to the family. The possum, not a baby but not an adult, blinked its round, crossed eyes, grimaced, and began to move slowly towards the cat door.
“Wait, Pinkwater. ” Ivy said, calling “Pinky, wait!”
“Ivy! Get back!” Ty said. “Possums carry diseases.”
“Salmonella. Tapeworm. Rabies. Everything.” Ty said. “Get back to bed. Right now.”
“NOW.” Ty went to the front closet and dug around until he found the rifle. Becky used it to shoot snakes that came into the yard. She’d say Outside the fence they’re fine,if they’re inside they’re trespassing and threatening my baby and they’re dead. He found the bullets – but how to load it? Ty didn’t have a clue. He’d never shot a gun, hadn’t ever wanted to. Even if he could figure out how to load it, could he shoot? Should he even shoot in the house? What about-
“Here, Pinky, Pinky, Pinky…”
“Goddamnit Ivy, come on!” He hurried to put the rifle back into the closet, then turned to see her tip-toeing across the floor from the pantry. Did this girl ever walk on her feet, he wondered, why hadn’t he ever noticed before? Had Becky ever said anything about this? Was this something else he’d somehow missed knowing about this child?
Ivy held out a handful of dog kibble, and the possum stopped and sniffed, crazy whiskers dancing as its nose twitched.
“Get your hand back!” Ty said. “We are not feeding that thing in this house!”
Ivy opened the back door. “I’ll take her on the porch.”
“Ivy. You may not feed that possum with your hand!”
“Okay.” She dropped the kibble into the bowl. She grinned at him. God, but she was her mother’s child!
“Fine.” Ty said. “Just… Don’t touch it, okay?”
“Okay.” Ivy said. She shook the bowl and held it out where the possum could sniff it, and began to lure the thing outside. “Possums have fifty teeth, and bad eyesight.” She said, backing out the door, not looking at him. “You know, Mama had one when she was little, and Grandad and Grandmother let it sleep in a box by her bed.”
“Not gonna happen, Ivy.”
“She’ll get lonely out on the porch, Dad.”
“Not gonna happen, Ivy.”
By the time the eastern sky began tuning up, the little possum was asleep on the screened-in porch, in a cardboard bed lined with soft, worn towels, and the girl was stretched out across the old metal glider covered with a quilt, open-mouthed, snoring quietly, head rested against her father’s leg as he studied her, winding her dark hair around his fingers, around and around and around.
For Ethan and Caleb
Coco and Margot