Posted on: November 19, 2013
The tub smelled like Lysol when Jeremy climbed in. Dana must have been up before sunrise cleaning. He thought of his own tub, back in his studio apartment, the rainbow of mold he was accumulating. First the black kind and now an orange-pink kind around the drain. But he could eat out of Dana’s tub if he wanted. He thunked his skull against the tile wall a few times.
You’re an adult. You’re an adult, too.
He could hear the twins counting in the hall.
“Twenty-seventy, twenty-eight, thirty! Ready-a-not, here we come, Uncle Jeremy!”
“Let’s get him!”
Their bare feet pitter-pattered up and down the hardwood floors of the hallway.
Dana’s twins had never heard of hide and seek. Their eyes stretched wide as he explained the premise, the rush of the hunt already winding them into a frenzy. Dana’s twins hadn’t heard of a lot of things. They had only wooden toys. No plastic. Dana was afraid of hormones and over-stimulation, and said that certain toys just didn’t fit “the aesthetic she was going for.” The twins weren’t allowed to watch television because of something about pixels and ADHD.
All of this, of course, was documented on a list Dana handed off to Jeremy before she left for the weekend.
“No sugar, no caffeine. And no chicken nuggets,” Dana had said.
“Once kids eat nuggets, they won’t eat anything else,” Dana laughed.
“Sure,” Jeremy said.
Kitty wasn’t eating gluten, and Huron should have soy instead of regular milk before bed.
“Got it,” Jeremy said.
Jeremy had spent most of the last decade resenting Dana for making him look bad. He’d heard somewhere that parents’ satisfaction with their grown children depended on a set of factors including the child living in close proximity, being married, achieving a successful career, and producing grandchildren. Jeremy was a sea of negatives. He moved to New York after college, just like everyone else, where he worked intermittently as an underpaid hotel concierge. His girlfriends were also intermittent, mostly manic types who turned out to be more interested in being interesting than spending time with him.
Dana had the career, the husband in finance, the twins.
But while Dana and her husband were in LA for some coworker’s black tie, no-kids-allowed wedding, Jeremy had the twins, trying to curry favor. He needed some brownie points before he dropped the bomb on everyone about his whole legal situation. It had just been a little bit of coke. He’d had enough money to post bail, but his sentencing date was coming up, and he was pretty sure without help from Dana, he wouldn’t be able to afford the kind of lawyer who would get him out of doing 180 days in county jail. It was the baggies and the scale that would do him in—the cop had accused him of dealing because of paraphernalia alone.
The bathroom doorknob rattled.
“Uncle Jeremy! You in here?”
It was Huron. He was caught.
“I found you, I found you!” he said, bursting into the bathroom.
“You got me, Huey.”
“Now we gotta find Kitty!”
“But you and Kitty were both seeking. Where did she go?”
“She’s hiding too. She’s a better hider than you.”
Jeremy darted through the labyrinth that was Dana’s pristine house, checking under beds, in the linen closet.
“Kitty!” Huron called. “Kitty come out!”
“Kitty! Game’s over!” Jeremy rounded a corner into the living room. The sliding glass door was open about six inches. “Huron, come on.”
He yanked his nephew by the wrist and went outside onto the deck. Huron continued to call for Kitty, more chant-like now, repeating her name over and over in between deep gulps of air.
“Stop it, Huey.”
Jeremy slid his hand into the pocket of his jeans and pinched the baggie inside.
Get through this. Later. When Kitty’s found and they’re both asleep. You are an adult.
Dragging Huron, he headed for the street. He considered ringing the neighbor’s bell, but then figured that might get back to Dana. Better not to have any witnesses to his failure at the one responsibility of babysitting—keep track of the kids.
Two responsibilities: keep the kids alive.
“I don’t like hide and seek,” Huron whined.
“Me either, buddy.”
They checked the ditches, the bushes, the park down the street. The guy in the ice cream truck said he hadn’t seen her.
“Ice cream is full of processed sugar,” Huron said.
“Helpful,” Jeremy grunted.
It had been thirty minutes. Sweat crept up Jeremy’s back. An hour. They went back to the house and searched again. Nothing. Huron fell asleep on the couch, and Jeremy moved him to his bed. Jeremy went back to the bathtub and climbed in. He took the baggie of coke from his pocket, licked his finger, and stuck it in the baggie. He swiped the powder on his gums, then knocked his head against the tile a few more times.
Shit. You are a grown-ass man sitting in a bathtub. You are a grown-ass man outsmarted by a four-year-old. Get it together.
“Anybody home? Police!”
Jeremy tripped out of the bathtub and toward the front door.
The cop had Kitty by the hand. She was fine. She was perfectly fine.
“Good thing she knew her address, right? Are you her dad?”
Jeremy’s lips felt a little numb.
“Jeremy’s my uncle!” Kitty said.
Jeremy pulled Kitty to his side, positioning her in front of the pocket where his drugs were stashed.
“Mind if I come in?” the cop asked.
“Okay!” Kitty chirped. “You want a snack?”
The cop laughed. Jeremy managed a grimace.
“Your neighbor over on Iverson found this little lady picking flowers in her yard—didn’t know who she was.”
“Well, thanks, officer. I was…just getting ready to call 911, actually.”
The officer squinted at him. Jeremy knew this drill. Checking for red eyes, for balance, for any disoriented behavior. Any sign he couldn’t be trusted. He pulled Kitty closer.
The officer’s eyes then redirected to Dana’s foyer—the Manet print of the naked woman picnicking, staring straight out, the parquet flooring, the ridiculous chandelier, the rug from India.
“Well, you all have a good one, then,” the cop said. He tipped his hat and left.
Written by: Dot Dannenberg
Photograph by: Emily Blincoe
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
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