Pale red draped Eric’s scrawny frame. In the center rested a faded pink design, something not unlike a fish skeleton. Examining it, he realized it was the least ugly shirt he owned. Sandra would simply have to look at his eyes instead.
Eric blushed, remembering his shirtless discussion with her.
Peeking his head into Derrick’s room, he found a large lump on the ground. After inspecting it from afar for a while, he realized it was Derrick.
Unsure of whether or not he was sleeping, concerned that telling his father that he was going out to be social would serve as a sharp blow to Derrick’s plan to live their lives broken men, Eric abstained from leaving him a note.
He clomped softly past the room, quietly unlocked the eight cacophonous locks to the front door, and was immediately smothered in nauseatingly fresh air.
It was cold, but this coldness was a separate entity from the one his house swam in. This damp outside air felt good on his hand. He forgot what rain felt like. At this, Eric realized that it had only been a week since they had moved in.
If I’ve forgotten sensations like this in only seven days… Eric waited a moment to process the thoughts racing above his clarity. Dad got here before me, 24 days ago. That’s… a month he’s lived here.
How long do I have to wallow in there before I’m as gone as him?
He didn’t want to think about it; he didn’t want to be even mopier when he was with Sandra, so he told himself not to dwell on it at the moment.
Inspecting the neighboring homes, Eric furrowed his eyebrows. Dull, tepid paint jobs lined up to stare at the stone structure. He wondered if their house ever wanted to hide from its neighbors too. Should he make a house for the house?
Eric turned on the hose and sprayed himself, hoping he would be less loopy for his date.
His face was dripping with water outside of his body, a realization which he had tried to ignore. Wiping his face with the crook of his elbow, Eric remembered how wet with mud Sandra’s feet had been. He turned to her yard. Neatly trimmed. Not a speck of dirt called to grab his attention. So why was she so dirty earlier?
The realization arrived that he could stall no further was delivered to him with the town library’s hourly bell. Six. Bravery dragged the fearful young man to Sandra’s house, knocked on her door bell and pinned Eric to the ground.
“Eric! Let me help you up!” Her plump arms picked him up with ease. “Make yourself comfortable. Mind the carpet.”
With that last one, Eric noted that her feet were still muddy. He finally saw why: Her carpet was a sea of mud. Her shoes were lined up on a small white table by the door. At that moment, he needed to gag.
Sandra sent him an embarrassed look. With complete cognizance, Sandra ask him with what the matter was.
Her gall surprised Eric. “Don’t you know your carpet is mud?” He choked on every syllable.
Sandra shook her hair with a sweep of her hand. Thick clumps of dry shampoo fell out of her sandy-brown hair. “Yeah… I mean, I’d be stupid not to notice, right? It’s part of the foundation of the house. I can’t afford a guy to clean it out or cover it up. Plus, it makes my skin silky.”
Eric had to agree on that last point.
She grabbed a filthy hand towel, wiped her legs, feet and hands, then, realizing just how filthy the rag was, threw it outside for a curious raccoon to play with. She dried her hands on the wall.
“How do you feel about french fries?”
She had popped into a pair of long leather boots, concealing her legs where necessary, much to Eric’s relief.
“This place only serves french fries as main dishes,” Sandra explained in unison with the spirit of Futility. “Big ol’ french fries the size of the side you order.” Blank and tired was the face of Eric. “Like, if you order a steak…”
“They’ll give me a big french-fry the size of a steak and small pieces of steak, right? Hope they’re at least fry-cut steaks.”
Nine people were in Down-Fryzing at that moment. One waitress working off loans for med school, a cook trying to mentally compose a novel, a government agent pretending to be a dishwasher, a man trying to break up with his husband and leave his two sons, Eric, and Sandra.
Of these nine people, only Sandra Robbie was laughing. Moments shortly after, two were laughing, when Eric Filles laughed for the first time in… he only had memory to suggest that he had once laughed.
Three people of out nine were laughing when the cook thought of a good joke for her novel, followed by a fourth who realized how much money he could get from child support.
“Sorry, I don’t hear jokes often. I like puns. I’m low-class.”
Eric liked to have considered himself funny. He used to feel light in his chest. He wanted to explain how puns easily break tension, not unlike at this moment, but no, he needed to charm his date.
Before the abyss of pain, his father used to give him dating advice.
“Talk about her more than yourself.” Smart advice, Dad.
“Eye-contact is important. Don’t stare at her boobies all the time.” I’ll need to mentally amend the way he phrased that one in the future.
“Romance, romance, romance. I charmed your mother using candlelight on our first date. And again with a fireplace during our honeymoon. Come to think of it, I lit incense when we conceived you. Heh, I guess there’s nothing your mother likes more than a red-hot raging fire. She just wants to burn, burn, burn!”
When the world reappeared again, Sandra had at some point wrapped herself around him. He felt cold again.
“ERIC! You doing right?” Sandra was too relieved to notice her semi-coherent statement. “You started shivering and then you passed out.”
He wanted to crawl into a hole, roll into a ball, and hibernate. He messed it up.
“I just need to sleep it off. I’m sorry.” The fingers on his red hand had distorted into a position that resembled the limbs of a tree. It was twitching.
Sandra lifted him into her arms. “I hope this doesn’t embarrass you.” She felt embarrassed.
“A little, but I’ll be fine, thank you.” He didn’t feel slightly embarrassed. He found himself happy to be lifted. She gave him something he hadn’t known he lacked.
“Tell me about your past, Sandra.” He was going to continue the date as it was ending, damn the awkward commotion.
“Oh. Well, like I said, my folks are long gone.”
“How?” He knew that was the wrong thing to say.
“I don’t remember. I was pretty little.”
“Uh-huh. So… who raised you?”
“I think I’ve been living in that house my whole life.” She didn’t want to discuss this, but she didn’t talk herself through why that should be.
“By yourself? How could you survive?”
“Oh, look! The town library!” Eric and Sandra stopped for a moment. “This library has a book all about the history of the town. I should take you here tomorrow.”
Eric shot Sandra a look, and, as she had been carrying him, Sandra had to confess.
“The trauma of my parent’s deaths gave me memory problems. I only remember about a month at a time. Please, I don’t want to discuss it.”
There was a sentence that loved to shield Eric after his mother’s passing. Nothing bothered him quite like nosy relatives trying to pity him. Sandra understood Eric more than his own father could. He swallowed bravery.
“I don’t know if it’s too soon, but… can I kiss you?”
The government agent walked a woman in a trench coat into a van disguised as a watch kiosk.
“ERIC! ERIC FILLES, YOU COME HERE!”
Dad? Angry? Maybe he’s brightening up again. In the fists of his heart, Eric knew it couldn’t be.
“LAUNDRY ROOM! NOW!”
Eric was afraid he accidentally bleached one of his father’s shirts.
“What is this about, Derrick?”
“I was looking through my laundry bag in the basement. Why did one of my shirts go from black to gray-black?”
Relief filled Eric for some reason. “I’m so sorry, Derrick. I’ll be cautious in the future.”
“Fine. Just open the laundry room and get my bag of clothes, please.”
Eric’s red hand finally loosened its crazed position. Clench… clench… he prayed for a key to manifest.
“There’s no key in your palm. Eric, why is there no key in your palm? Are you happy or something?”
“I TOLD YOU NOT TO CALL ME THAT! I TOLD YOU, TOLD YOU, ERIC! I TOLD YOU!”
His father scared him, but not as much as his father seemed to be called by a patriarchal title.
“All, ALL I needed was you to be sad enough, just in case I get locked in. But you go gallivanting about with that hippie chick, and now you’re too happy to be of any use!” Derrick clenched his fist, his nails digging into his flesh.
“Da– DERRICK! Your hand!”
Derrick smiled, and even with his constant dour pan, it looked worse than a frown. It made Eric cry to look at.
“It makes no difference. I feel no pain, Eric. It took me a month in this hell house to get it right, but I can have any emotion, joy, misery, lust, anger, envy. I’m always sad, Eric, even when I’m not. And I don’t need anyone to let me out of the laundry room. So I don’t need you.”
Derrick turned a key.
“What do you mean, Derrick? I know the laundry room key trick is neat, but that’s no excuse to drive yourself crazy!”
Derrick shrank into the darkness of the room.
“That dirty barefoot girl, Sandra… I met her on my first day. She might be right for you. Just live with her from now on.”
With that, Derrick lived behind the door.
Eric screamed for Derrick. Pounding his fists on the door did nothing. What happened to his father? Why didn’t the sadness Eric felt at this moment let him manifest a key?
The only thing he could now was leave.
He explained everything to Sandra. She tried not to look so happy to have someone move in, but Eric caught it.
“Stay as long as you want. Though please wipe your shoes before coming in. Once you get grass in the mud, you can’t get it out.”