What Strange Creatures

What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault Read Free Book Online

Book: What Strange Creatures by Emily Arsenault Read Free Book Online
Authors: Emily Arsenault
“candidate” was still included in the statement long after it should have fallen away.
    “What does driving a school bus have to do with this, Mom?”
    “Then he’d just be brokenhearted. Not brokenhearted and unemployed.”
    “He’s still working under the table for Mike’s cabinetry business.”
    As I said this, Wayne hopped onto the couch, over my lap, and up to the windowsill, snuffling anxiously.
    “That’s not a real job, Theresa. That doesn’t even pay his rent.”
    Wayne growled. I wondered if he could hear my mother’s voice and thought it was some sort of game bird.
    “Well, I know. . . .” I sighed.
    “I know you know.”
    I never used to call my mother before she moved to Florida with her fiancé last year. But these days it felt necessary. I halve my worry over Jeff by splitting it with her. And since he never calls her at all, questions about him usually occupy the space of the conversation that used to be about me and my romantic life.
    My father calls only about once a month. Technically he still lives in Thompsonville, but most of the time these days he was off on a cruise ship. A couple of years after he retired from his job driving the P&H Oil truck, he got a job as “gentleman host” on a cruise ship. They pay older men to dance with the widowed ladies who go on the cruises. All those years my mother had dragged him to ballroom-dance lessons in their “let’s try to save this marriage” stage had ended up giving him a pretty sweet deal for his retired bachelorhood. It was quite a good gig for a guy who’d spent most of his prior years griping about what shitty luck he had.
    “I wouldn’t say he’s brokenhearted,” I reassured my mother. “Maybe perplexed.”
    “Perplexed. Wonderful. Either way Jeff needs this drama like he needs a hole in the head.”
    “Like a hole in the head” is my mother’s favorite all-occasion phrase about Jeff. Jeff needs a history degree like a hole in the head. Jeff needs another drink like a hole in the head. Jeff needs a yoga retreat like . . . You get the idea.
    Wayne barked once sharply.
    “Is that the puggle?” my mother demanded.
    “Yeah.”
    “Tell him to shut his kibble hole.”
    Wayne took a deep breath and let out a full sentence of barks.
    “He doesn’t usually do this. I don’t know what’s up.”
    My mother worried for a bit more over Jeff’s weight, Jeff’s viability as a family man, Jeff’s heating bill. By the time she got around to asking me if I was dating anyone, Wayne was barking too loudly for us to continue the conversation.
    After I hung up, I saw my mailman come into the yard. At that point the barking reached a dramatic crescendo: a long, continuous ROWROWROWROW interrupted only when Wayne took an occasional gasping breath.
    I decided to go out and greet the poor mailman—and apologize to him. I slipped out quickly and shut the door behind me, because Wayne was still going apeshit in the living room.
    “Sorry about that,” I said to the mailman as he handed me my Bon Appétit and an electric bill.
    “You have a new dog?” he asked.
    I’d never spoken to this mailman or seen him up close. He had a Tom Selleck mustache and jumpy little eyes.
    “Um. I’m dog-sitting for someone.”
    “He’s done that every day this week.”
    “Oh. Really?”
    “Yeah. A couple of your neighbors have asked me about it.”
    “That’s weird,” I said. “Because he’s relatively quiet when I’m home.”
    “Okay,” the mailman said uncertainly. I tried to determine his age. Probably mid-thirties, like me. It was an odd feeling to realize this. Usually I think of mailmen as being much older than me. Mr. McFeelys and so on.
    “I’m hoping he’ll be back with his owner in the next couple of days,” I said. “I’m sorry.”
    “Okay,” the mailman said, then continued on his way.
    It was true. I was hoping Wayne would soon return to his rightful owner. But I had a feeling that wasn’t likely to happen. In fact,

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