My parents are predators. They have fangs, but George doesn’t know about the fangs because I’ve never told him. The real reason I want to go to my parents’ house is to get my bicycle which is red with streamers and a banana seat.
There’s a short gravel road and then we’re there, before the triangle house. A barn house. “Barn house,” I say to George. “They have sheep.”
“They don’t have sheep.”
“They might have sheep.”
George rings the doorbell. My mother in her corduroy jumper, stooping to pet a fat tabby cat, its fur matted and bloody.
“Don’t mind her,” she says. “Just a minor surgery.”
“I’ll bet,” I say. I wink at my father.
“What?” he asks.
“Hi,” George says, offering his hand, which my father shakes very slowly.
“Come on in,” my mother says. “I made a cake and everything.” She gestures toward a round pink thing on a cooling rack. “It’s vegan cake. I didn’t know what a vegan was until I got your letter.”
George chuckles for while, until his chuckling seems rude and my father’s hands tremble.
“It’s a very nice cake,” I say.
“Let’s all sit down for coffee,” my father says. “The table’s ready.”
Once we’re seated and the coffee’s served, I tell my parents how I plan to marry George. “Isn’t he very old,” they wonder. George tries to speak but coffee only drips slowly from his mouth.
“Can I put on some music?” I ask.
I walk into the living room and look through their records. George’s coughing at the kitchen table. The fat gray cat falls on its side and sighs next to the television.
My mother has followed me and as I’m holding her Johnny Cash record she places her hand on my shoulder but I shudder it away. Any movement toward me or away from me is an attempt to control me.
“Want to go for a walk,” George asks. He’s come up next to me. I’m still holding the Johnny Cash record.
“Yeah, let’s get outside for a bit,” my father says.
The land off my parent’s back porch is flat and extends to the horizon.
My mother sits on the porch-swing. “I’ll just wait here.”
My father has headed off into the tall grasses. George and I follow. I try to hold George’s hand but he shakes my hand away. When I try again, George says, “No,” very loudly. My father glances over his shoulder at us.
“Look Dad, I’m going to level with you.”
My father looks over his shoulder again. “I always wanted this grass to get taller.” He gestures at the waist-high grass. “I think there’s a limit to how high it’ll grow. Maybe if I had better fertilizer or if I knew which fertilizer was the better fertilizer so I could buy the better fertilizer at the nursery.”
George is studying his cell-phone a little to the side. There are clouds now and with the darkening sky George’s cell-phone glows.
“That’s not what I’m talking about Dad.”
“It’s just that there’s all this flat land here and something ought to be growing out tall on it.”
“Okay sure fine.”
“We probably have to leave soon,” George says, putting his cell-phone away.
“Don’t tell me when my daughter’s leaving.”
“She’s not exactly your daughter.”
“Well, I am your guardian for a reason.”
“Shut up.” My father has stepped very close to George.
“Now now,” I say. I place my hands on their shoulders, one hand for each shoulder. “Now now.”
As we head back toward the back porch, my mother stands. The fat tabby cat’s lying over her feet. My father’s shoulders are hunched up and his neck’s very stiff. George has opened his cell-phone again. He’s looking carefully at a GPS map of the area. There’s a little animated arrow but I can’t tell where it’s pointing.
As we climb the stairs the cat stands and stretches.
“How was your walk?” my mother asks.
“We have to go soon,” George says.
My father walks through the back door and slams it shut.
“Jesus,” my mother says.
“It’s okay,” I say. “He’s just mad about the grass.”
“It’s not tall enough.”
“I don’t think that’s it.”
“Then what?” I wonder.
George puts his phone in his pocket. “Then what?” he asks. He chuckles a little.
“Oh nothing,” she says. She looks at me, then nods at George.
The cat’s brushing its side along George’s leg. He stoops to pet it.
“Not there,” my mother says. “The surgery.”
Too late—the cat’s biting George’s hand. “Motherfucker.”
“She doesn’t know any better,” my mother says.
Too late—George has scooped the cat up and flung it out into the tall grasses, where eventually it will land, on or off its stitches, mewling or not, beneath the darkening sky, where it will burst apart or hold together like a tightly wound spring.
Ofelia Hunt is the author of My Eventual Bloodless Coup (Bear Parade). Her novel, Today & Tomorrow (Magic Helicopter Press), is due out May 2011.