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Caregivers

After the death of his rat, Morty, Drew began staking straws in the flower garden behind his house. With the captious eye of an artist, he positioned them into the soil two-by-two, making a perfect square in the center of the bed. Gathered from restaurants, school, trash, and the like, Drew’s straws were multicolored blues and greens and reds, the others clear, and some even bended from the top like plastic scythes held in the ground. Crawling on his hands and knees, Drew made the final adjustment to the eight straw and plopped back to his bottom to get a vantage point to view his work. He sat shielding out the world, and buried his face into his gruff and filthy hands, failing to hold in the tears that flowed from his irresolute eyes.

Drew’s mother watched the episode from inside the house as she washed the dishes in the kitchen. After finishing her last pot, shined and clean minus a few interior remnants, she wiped clean the sudsy remains and opened the sliding glass door, standing just in the doorframe and looking guardedly out to the scene.

“Hey, Andrew” she called, “what are you doing?”

Drew sat folded and unperturbed by her call. “Nothing.”

She said “Alright, if you need anything I’m right in the kitchen!”

Drew’s mother stood there for only a few seconds with a pan still in her hand, and closed the door as she returned inside to start preparing dinner. The wilted boy sat outside for longer, trying on different ways to sit and stare at the garden, but never thought once about making an effort to get up and over his spot.

Just before dinner was set and ready, it started to rain. Drew felt the first drop on his head and inch-by-inch his skin began to glaze over with water. It was an unfortunate break in his mournful daze, but it came just in time: his mom had finished making dinner. Drew’s feet tingled and his body told him not to get up, but he mustered up enough drive to move towards the house and into the door where his mother, wearing a spotless checkered apron around her neck, was just placing the steaming, golden-brown turkey on the table. She threw a smile at him as he sat down underneath the radiant light of the dinner table; Drew waited patiently and did not lift his head until his mother sat down ready to dig in.

His father sat to the left in his work attire, donned in a JCrew tie and a Ralph Lauren button up, studded at the sleeves with a pair of attention-warranting diamonds. With his neckwear still tight and his sleeves still reaching his wrists, he almost pounced at the bird on the table, more eager than a starving castaway to carve it and begin the feast.

“Looks delicious dear.”

“You’re too sweet! Don’t wait for me, now, go‘head.”

As the knife punctured into the crisp skin of the turkey, skin brown and perfect as if painted on, a bulb shining warm and brilliantly above popped and blew out, sending a jolt to the people gathered at the table.

“Looks like I have to change the batteries in that bulb!” said Drew’s mother, cocking her head to the side with her hands on hips. She and her husband laughed a bit, while Drew pulled on a feigned smirk.

“How was your day, honey?” said Drew’s mom.

“It wa--”

“Perfect” said Drew’s dad, smiling. “You remember Bill from the office? I gotta tell you, what a trip” he said, “Well, he loves Easter. So today” pausing to laugh, “today, he decorated his entire cubicle with yellow grass and plastic eggs and candy and a whole bunch of other stuff. He’s got to be the weirdest person I know!”

The dinner moved along with their sit-com conversations and one dark spot on the table. Hitting a wall of clear and apparent awkwardness, they directed their attention to Drew.

“How was your day, Andrew?” his father asked him, stuffing a fork-load of meat and potatoes in his mouth.

“It was good,” he said, and returned back looking at his plate.

“You sure spent a lot of time outside today, didn’t you?”

“Oh, well good,” said his father, “that’s much better than playing that Xbox or whatever those games are up in your room.” Drew’s shell lost some integrity as his insides heated and deliquesced.

“How’s that rat of yours going? Martyr, was it?” asked his mom.

“Good” said Drew, nodding and curling in his lips to keep them from quivering and detaching from his face. He made his potatoes a solid brown as he stirred in the viscous gravy.

There was silence as they finished their plates, Drew’s dad winning the “clean plate award,” giving him the privilege to not clean any plates, or clear off anything for that matter, as was the drill everyday, plate clean or not. The three of them spread out to their own sector of the house; Drew’s mother at the sink to clean up the mess, his father on the couch with the game on and very audible, and himself upstairs in his bedroom, the door closed.

“Come on, Ravens, f***ing move the ball!” Drew’s dad wailed out, and with that an airborne drink coaster.

********

Drew spent the last two weeks of summer, amidst picturesque, sunny weather, tending to and keeping flawless his bed of straws in the backyard. He raided his mother’s bathroom closet and pillaged a toothbrush and that mysterious, small plastic watering can he never saw her take out, and began funneling water down into each straw, using only the finest bottled water he could find. While out in the back, Drew’s neighbors watched him and debated calling someone, never anyone in particular, just someone to reassure them that what they saw was indeed strange. Mrs. Johnson to the left, once while hosing down her plants, shouted loud and hoarsely “Boy, are you out yo damn mind?!” But Drew just smiled and waved back like little boys do, and moved on to scrubbing each straw clean with the toothbrush.

The time he spent out by the garden was time where Drew experienced every emotion he had ever known, and some feelings that he didn’t even know how to handle. He thought of the future, more of the past, reminisced about life and all of its absurd paradoxes and complexities. Drew thought about everything that came to his mind, including all of the illustrations in his “ink book” journal that was slid every night right under his bed, weighted with a pebble he took from the garden. The paper was completely saturated with random realizations and stories, emotional outbursts and pangs, spillage from his reeling brain, but mostly of memories of the late Morty. He drew several pictures of funny things he used to do (especially back flipping from off of his wire exerchise wheel) and anecdotes of the times they spent together up just hanging out up in his room. Andrew didn’t like to do this, though -- why ruminate about something so pointless and personal? It was these times when he wished he could bring Morty back that he felt most alone, and alone to the extent of how he actually lived.

It was the last day of summer, and the clouds accumulated overhead, rain waiting to douse the earth. Before noon came on the last day of sleeping in, Drew lay tightly wrapped like the stuffing of a burrito in his bed. Drew’s mother entered his room after her morning yoga, airing herself with a red Spanish fan brought to her from Drew’s dad from a business trip in Madrid. She asked “Andrew, have you seen my neti pot anywhere?”

Drew squirmed in his sheets and groaned a highly confused and very tired sounding “What?”

“Nevermind.”

As she left his room, lightning fulgurated outside his window with a simultaneous explosion of thunder that sparked Drew from his bed.

“Oh my God!” Drew’s mom wailed from outside, striking Drew as a voice signaling something truly horrible.

He flew down the stairs to find his mother in the frame of the sliding glass door, collapsing at the knees as one hand covered her mouth and the other supported her on the frame. He poked and nudged around her to see what was going on. As he found his way through, his eyes reflected what was surely unreal, what was a certainly phantasmagorical fantasy that projected itself out in his backyard and would disappear after he blinked.

But as he kept watching, his spine grew more erect, the flames grew higher, his molten core seeped out through his eyes. He walked closer to the garden and found nothing intact when it began to pour buckets of rain, extinguishing the jurisdiction of the fire. All that was left was smoke. There was no silver lining to the remains, just a grave, uniform char. The flowers were gone. The eight straws were no longer recognizable. Everything was reduced to dust and soot.

Drew’s mom came up from behind and placed her left hand on his shoulder.
“Morty is gone.”




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