"Things have gone rotten at their house," the woman says pointing to the mangy backyard with the teenage boy twirling fire.
I fill my sack with what's left of the dog food from the ripped Purina bag. "You sure you don't want to keep some of this? He's hungry."
The woman lifts her sandled foot and runs her big toe in between two of the dog's ribs. "He's bred to be like this. Don't you know a god damned racer when you see one?" The skin around her ankle hangs like bunting around a curtain rod. The dog's foaming muzzle runs itself up the woman's calf leaving a shiny streak I think I can feel myself. "That boy. He's not right."
"Neither am I," I say.
The woman scoops the dog up straight underneath its middle and carries him alongside four yards before reaching her own. The dog looks back at me in mid air-he lets me know he's lost interest in everything.
We watch each other-the boy and I. "You're good," I yell. The boy throws the baton to the ground and stomps on both ends at the same time. He is a magician. "Where'd you learn to do that?"
We don't trust each other. I consider telling him we should lie to avoid getting to know each other like we'll certainly do. "You're very good," I work my way up like a tightrope walker balancing myself on the edging of his driveway. "We're living next door to you now. We're the Bellmann's."
"Do you want me to tell you my name?" he asks.
I don't. Names will have us talking every afternoon-working on projects-worrying his parents, my husband, and my son. "Only if you want to."
He is long and tall-he'll do big things to scare big people. He won't live to be very old-people like this never do. You see it all the time. The people who die young are the only ones you would have liked to talk to in the first place. And then they're gone, and you're left talking to yourself.
I'm told the moment you find all you've been looking for you want to lie down and learn everything over again. I picture lying in a singed patch of his yard with the ends of his burning baton floating above me like phosphorescence.
In our driveway, my son, Robert stands like a ranger. "I should go." He's spread his feathers and put me over here to stay. Robert, I fear, will live forever.
"I should go," I say again. I am a newborn rabbit that's been handled and tried to go home. "Robert, this is Millan." I walk past my son with the grocery bags banging on my knees. "Introduce yourself."
"Twisted." Robert tags behind me trying to get at my hand. "I gotta have the keys."
"No." I lift my arms letting the plastic bag handles fall around my wrist. "Nice meeting you Millan," I say waving.
"I need to go to Pete Schmidt's to watch the tapes from last week's game."
"Would you help me out here?"
"Coach Brennan and Coach Johnson said be there by six. Mom, I need-Mom," Robert's placed himself in front of me. Yes, I must remember to have more children. "Why do you get like this? I mean, I have responsibilities."
"Oh, that's right." I put away perishables and leave the rest for later. "Did you feed the dog?"
He's gone. The keys are gone. The car's gone. They're all gone together. "Fine Robert," I say to the magnet of him in his football uniform hanging on the refrigerator. "I'm young, I'll have more. And then you'll no longer need to be the itchy scratchy focus of my life."
I wash vegetables and breathe in the chemicals rising from the rinsed peppers and hope they might be soaking into some part of me. Perhaps a tumor will announce itself in the backwoods of my colon or maybe smack dab in the middle of my esophagus. The esophagus, I like this idea. My tumor will be a too large bunny stuck in the throat of a boa.
At the hospital, my son will volunteer to wet my cracked lips with a wash cloth; after all, I can't swallow anything with the tumor lodged right there. Right there, in between my breasts like the sister without the cheekbones but with the wicked sense of humor.
"You know no one will want to have anything to do with you after I'm gone," I'll say. Everyone will laugh and get weepy, but I'll say, "No, I'm serious Robert." Everyone will laugh even harder, and this, of course, is the story to be told at the funeral. Oh, and Robert will tell this to his eventual fiancée who will be too well educated for him. "Sounds like she was a real live wire," she'll say. If he cries, I'll personally make sure he experiences Stigmata.
I do this all the time-think of ways to remove myself from my life. But death really isn't an option. I have not been to Macchu Picchu, where they make you chew on Coca leaves to compensate for the change in altitude.
The phone rings. "Mom, is my play book in the dining room?"
I find it and hold it up to the phone to show him. "It was."
Someone on Robert's end is shouting "Titties! Titties! Titties!"
"Like I was saying, it was, but I just set it on fire."
"You did not! Mom-what the hell's wrong with you?"
"Robert, you think there's something wrong with me? Hmm. Because I was just thinking maybe there's something wrong with you, with everything else, and I might be in the pink."
"You did not set it on fire! Mom! I can't believe-"
To do list: learn to twirl fire, get pregnant, go to Macchu Picchu.
I am on my back in the backyard. It's so easy. I would make snow angels if I could. I hear Millan's baton dropping. He's like the woman in the parking garage looking for her car that ran away from her after she left it to go to work. Just stop for a minute and it will come back to you. The faster things move the slower they come back.
"Millan," I say quick, as if I am trying to break my own best time. "Millan."
He comes over and rests his chin on the chain link fence separating us. Bobby says the fence is an eyesore, "Who has chain fences anymore? We didn't pay $600K for a metal fence next to us." Actually, we did. With his head sitting pretty on one of the metal points, Millan looks as if he were a victim of Robspierre.
My chin is buried in my chest. There. We aren't so different from one another. "Millan, my name's Gin. I didn't tell you earlier."
"I was going to come see if you were okay." His index fingers point through the fence stirring like antennae.
I am lying in the backyard for no good reason with our television turned up so loud I can hear every word. "Just listening to my husband's newscast. He's Bobby Bellmann, the new anchor on Six." I prop myself on my elbows. "Millan, do you like sunny days?" He shrugs, and I shrug because I can't help myself. The clouds have separated like dying glycerin bathtub bubbles. I wish I could scoop them up. "I don't really care for them, sunny days."
"Is Gin short for the state or the spice?"
"And I'm Bobby Bellmann. Join us here tomorrow. On behalf of everyone here at Channel Six, safe eating and sleeping." Now, Millan's met the whole family.
"Hi Mr. Bellmann." He lifts his head, and I see a purplish x marking the spot of the fence's points. "Does he always say that stuff about eating and sleeping?"
"It changes from night to night."
"It's kind of weird."
"He wants to be your friend. He figures friends say that kind of stuff, 'safe surfing and turfing.'"
"He said sleeping and eating."
"He did? I don't hear it anymore. He uses that one when he's bored."
"If you don't hear him anymore, why do you still listen?"
"I don't know. I always have. If I'm home, I turn it on."
"Why are you laying in the middle of the backyard?"
"No good reason, Millan."
"Do you talk about his show when he gets home?"
"Not usually. We usually talk about Robert, our son. You met him this afternoon."
"We go to school together."
"Yeah? Do you mind telling me what he's like there?"
"Good looking." Millan wove his fingers and put them on his head. "We're not really around each other much. So all I can say is good looking. Girls really like him, and guys do to. He's new, but he's like the 'in' guy. He doesn't seem so bad."
"I'm building some furniture in the basement. Do you want to help me Saturday? Robert's away doing something all day, and Bobby'll be out of town doing something with the Miss. USA pageant. I need some help."
"My dad gets back from Bolivia Saturday." I picture a man dressed in the skins of his capture ripping pieces of crocodile jerky with his teeth, which have been whittled down to look like ivory cones.
"Bolivia," I say.
"Yeah, Chip and I have to pick him up at the airport."
"He's on vacation?"
"No, working. He's gone like this all the time. Next week it's Pago Pago."
"Huh, Bolivia. Chip's your brother?"
"I can help you Sunday."
"Too many Bellmann's hanging around."
"So, you didn't tell me if you're the state or spice."
"Oh, right. The spice." I tell him I have to go ready dinner for Bobby and Robert, and we part like two eleven year olds being called by our mothers-waving a couple of times before I reach the back door. Millan lights his baton and begins to twirl to the theme of Wheel of Fortune. I turn off the TV and find he's not listening at all to my television facing the back window. He's twirling to something entirely different.