Reginald brought the soup up to his brother George whose room was on the second floor. As he inched the door open he saw the ghostly white image of his inert brother as he sat there in his chair, the haunting, vacuous look of incoherence plastered on his face like a frozen moment of terror. But Reginald was used to it by now. It was George’s fifth day in the house and Reginald was growing accustomed to the blank, emotionless face of his vegetable brother.
George had overdosed on a mix of drugs and alcohol a few years back leaving him a mindless vegetable. His only movements were the rise and fall of his chest as he breathed and the blinking of his eyelids. Reginald thought he had worked out a routine with his brother where he would blink his eyes once for yes and twice for no. But he was never quite sure if George had heard or if it was simply a reflexive action with no conscious thought. Nonetheless, Reginald talked to and treated his brother as if he were a coherent being, probably not fully aware that he might as well spend his time talking to the coat rack, or the wall, or the oak wood door. Before his “unfortunate accident” George had always been the smart child, but now as he laid an empty shell, Reginald had taken that spot if purely out of being the last one available.
In truth Reginald was somewhat of a deranged boy; some might even go as far as to label him psychotic. Prior to moving back in with his mother, he had spent several years in the sanitarium before the doctors felt it was safe to allow him to be amongst people unsupervised. But his warped tendencies seemed to persist, even to this very day, despite all the therapy he had undergone. He was clearly still mentally ill, but doctors had given him a rubber-stamp rating of “sane” and said that his strange behavior was harmless and of no real danger to others.
That was what they had said.
“Georgie. Georgie,” said Reginald in his low, dullard voice as he trudged awkwardly into the small room. “Mummu says I gotta feed you every six hours, Mummu says. Nice pea soup for Georgie. Reginald made it all by himself. You eat it good, huh?”
The lifeless face looked blankly back at him through glazed and empty eyeballs that reflected the dead nothingness inside George like a mirror.
Reginald pulled over a stool from the corner of the room and sat down upon it. He leaned forward while ladling out a spoonful of pea soup to feed to his brother. Lifting the spoon shakily to George’s mouth, Reginald found his brother unwilling to accept the food. Reginald force fed it to him, pushing the spoon into George’s lips and prying them open. Soup dribbled out from between George’s firm, unmoving lips and dripped down the front of his green sweatshirt. A few of the hot drops fell on Reginald’s hand and burned him slightly.
“Damn it, George!” scoffed Reginald, his caustic temper flaring up like that of a spoiled child. “Look what ya done!” he said as he threw the spoon angrily back into the bowl.
Reginald seethed for a moment, but then regained his composure and set the soup bowl down gingerly on the small lamp table beside George.
“Well, if you won’t eat, then hows about a game of checkers, huh?”
Reginald pulled over the small card table with the checker board all set up on it. He moved it between George and himself and waited patiently for George to make the first move. Then it suddenly came back to him that George couldn’t move, so he made his moves for him, in addition to his own.
“Mummu says you’re gonna be here for a while, George,” said Reginald as he pondered dimly over his move. “Won’t that be fun? You and me can be real brothers. I’d like that. It gets real lonely around here, just Mummu and me. We’re gonna have a good time, huh George.”
Reginald looked up at the blank vapid face across the bed. Nothing. No emotion, no response. Just those glazed eyes and the rhythmic blinking of George’s lids. Whether George was hearing him or not, Reginald did not know. But he seemed content to continue his soliloquy, even if George didn’t know he was there or even existed.
Reginald continued moving both George’s and his own checkers, making George’s moves purposely better than his own. He wanted George to win. He felt something of pity for his brother and seemed to want to give him something he could call his own. He set up his own red checkers in a line of jumps and then made the jumps with George’s black checker. He feigned a small disappointment of his defeat but was really smiling on the inside.
“Well, looks like you win again, George. I dunno…you’re just too good for me.”
Another look at the blank face. No gloating of victory, no happy rejoice. The smile inside Reginald disappeared along with the blank stare of his brother.
Reginald slapped his knees with his fat hands and got up. The fat, dopey boy with the moppy brown hair and the oafish look on his face scrutinized his brother. After a long inspection he shook his head, not knowing quite what to make of it. He picked up the soup bowl and moved toward the door.
“I’d love to play you another game, George,” he said contritely. “But if I don’t finish my chores, Mummu will be mad at me.”
He opened the door and began to leave. Before pulling the door closed he left his head poked in the opening for a moment, “I…I’ll see ya later, huh George?” His face stayed screwed with befuddlement for a second, then he closed the door and his footsteps began falling away down the hall.
George looked into the distance.
He reflected as he washed the dishes. He thought about George and why he was here. It had something to do with money. Mother didn’t really like George. He knew it seeing that she always referred to him as the mannequin. His brother had been living with his Dad for years before his overdose. After that he had stayed mostly in the hospital. His Mom and Dad had gotten a divorce about five years back, now his Dad only came to visit on Saturdays. He didn’t know much more than that, except for the fact that he knew that George was here against his father’s will. Mother had taken him without Dad’s approval, for money… something to do with money. His mother had been stalking around the house for the last week, muttering under her breath, “If they want him back they’re gonna have to pay my price.” There was a word for what Mother had done to get George. Reginald wasn’t quite sure of what it was, but he had heard Dad calling it kidnapping, or something like that. Now Dad had married a tramp or something like that. That was what Mother always called her: the tramp. She said she was a prissy little subservient, just the kind of woman his father would like to dominate. He could never dominate his Mother, though. Mother had a temper, and she was a big woman, too. She weighed in at about three hundred and thirty pounds with a thick, bellowing voice that boomed down at you like a gong. She was a hard fitted, austere woman. Dad was more withdrawn and mousy with his gaunt build and pallid complexion. They were two people at very opposite ends of the poles.
Reginald was just finishing the dishes when he heard the ringing of the phone. It startled him so that he dropped the sudsy dish he was holding in his hand and it cracked into deafening shards on the floor. He wanted to clean it up but the phone kept ringing, nagging at him. He knew he had better answer it first. If it was Mother and he didn’t answer it then she would be even angrier when she got home and found the broken plate.
He ambled quickly to the phone with an odd sort of hobbling in his step. He picked up the receiver that was pulsing in a quick, loud and impatient shrill and lifted it to his ear.
“Hullo,” he said with a naive simplicity in his low, dumb voice.
“REGINALD! What in the name of God took you! Is it too much for you to pick up a simple phone?” asked his mother, violently. Her crass, savage voice scratched over the phone line like sharp claws.
“No, Mummu. I was just doing my chores, like you asked and…”
“Never mind your sorry excuses. I haven’t got time to listen to excuses!”
“Yes, Mummu.” said Reginald with fearful acquiescence. He knew he had best shut his mouth and let her talk. He knew he shouldn’t get her mad, because when she got mad she beat him. No matter what his mother said to do, he did it. Even if inside he knew it was wrong, even if he had to take unscrupulous steps to get it done, he did it. If he didn’t he would have to suffer her wrath which usually constituted an onslaught of beatings. He was deathly afraid of her, unlike any fear he had ever known.
“Now, put on your thinking cap, boy. I have something very important for you to do. Do you think that I can trust you not to screw it up?” she asked with chafing sarcasm, her words burning into his head like hot dripping acid.
“Y-yes, Mummu,” he said simply, offering no further comment. It was best to give Mother quick yes or no answers when she was in a mood. Anything more only seemed to agitate her, and he didn’t want to do that.
“Good. Now listen up. Your father and that priss are probably going to be coming over today. You’ll have to hide the mannequin.”
“You mean George?” he asked, not quite realizing how stupid the question was until it spilled over his lips. He braced himself for the inevitable backlash.
“OF COURSE I MEAN GEORGE. WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK I MEAN, YOU IMBECILE!” she roared.
“I’m sorry, Mummu. I’m sorry,” he quavered. His knees knocked together and he broke into the sweats.
“Never mind!” she said, dismissingly. “You’ll have to hide him so that no one will ever be able to find him. Do you remember the hiding game we used to do with the Easter eggs on Easter?”
“Yes, Mummu. I remember.”
“Do you remember how well you used to hide them?”
“Yes, Mummu. I remember. I was the best darn Yeaster yegg hider in the whoooole fambly!” he said with laughable complacency.
His mother quickly deflated his fragile ego with: “Just about the only thing you could ever do well. But I haven’t got time to talk about that. Do what I have told you. Go hide your brother and hide him well. A lot of money is riding on this, Reginald, and you know what that means, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mummu. It means do a good job.”
“If you don’t I’ll beat you within an inch of your life!”
She slammed the receiver down and Reginald got a sharp crack in the ear from the sound. Still shaking, Reginald slowly replaced the receiver. Biting his nails he looked about perfunctorily, his darting eyes ticking off little glances of nervous insanity. He looked out into the kitchen at the strewn pieces of plate on the floor and decided he had better take care of hiding George first. That was the most important thing right now. That was top priority. If he did this right then his mother may overlook a broken dish, or at least be a little less harsh in her reprimand. But if he messed up hiding George then Mother would be very angry. Mother would be very, very angry.
He mounted the stairs and trudged quickly up them, wheezing and gasping in heavy dry breaths. His heart pounding.
Must hide George, he kept thinking over and over. Must hide George so no one can find him. That thought encompassed his mind, nothing else mattered. But where to hide him? His thoughts pumped feverishly, grappling like mitten-ed hands for an answer. He had to think of something. He had to do this right. And just as fear was seeming to suffuse over his body a thought came to him, how to do it. Yes, that was good. That was very good. Suddenly he knew. Suddenly he had the answer. He was at the top of the steps now, standing outside of George’s door, and a twisted smile endowed his pudgy, rubbery face as he opened the door. Mother was going to be so proud of him.
She thundered into the house with her usual force. She slammed the door and it creaked in its jamb, as if it too feared the impending figure of the large, dreadnought woman who had stormed into the house. She wore a sprigged hat and a florid, roomy dress that hung over her large body like a loose tent. Her face was large, with sunken features. She had narrow, reproving eyes, a pug nose, and drooping jowls. Her mouth was small and puckered, as if she had been sucking on lemons, but it quickly expanded to a wide orifice upon the flaring of her temper.
She tossed her hat and bag onto a chair in the parlor and marched out to the kitchen, her elastic mouth expanding as she called after Reginald.
“Reginald! Where are you, boy?”
Reginald winced with fear as he heard the heavy footsteps of his mother trotting toward him. He was still picking up the last pieces of the broken dish. He felt a rush of tingling pulse through him as he prepared himself for her volatile reaction.
She lumbered into the room, her big shadow falling over him with unquestionable dominance.
“Did you do what I told you? Did you hide him?” she asked, her very tone demanding an immediate answer. She seemed indifferent as to what he was doing on the floor.
He looked up with a pallid infirmity on his feeble, nervous face and said, “Yes, Mummu.”
“Are you sure?” she asked, a dark, skeptical eye lingering toward him from the corner of one of her squinted sockets.
“Yes, Mummu. I hid him good,” he said while trying to hide the fragments of dish shards in the clutch of his hand. They were sharply slicing into his flesh, but he absorbed the pain and kept his hand closed in the hope that she wouldn’t notice his mistake.
“You better have.” she said, tersely before turning away and then suddenly turning back. “What are you doing down there, anyway? What’s that in your hand?”
Reginald realized he was trapped and capitulated to the deed. “I uh… I broke one of the dishes, Mummu,” he said with a pathetic mix of fear and shame. Then he clenched his eyes shut and waited for her explosion. To his surprise, there was none.
“Well clean it up and get ready. They’ll be here soon!” She turned and stalked off. Reginald sat dumbfounded for a moment. Her mind really must have been on something else for her not to have
scolded him as she usually would have. It had been one of her best china dishes.
Her thoughts were definitely concentrated on the business at hand, ever since that little wimp had called her at work today and said he and the tramp were coming over to get George. They could have him for all she cared. It was like having a corpse in the house. Always having to hook up the IV bags to him. She could really care less about him. She wasn’t fond of him when he was normal, and she certainly hated him even more now.
But she had to keep him alive. Because keeping him alive meant keeping her investment alive. Herbert, her runtish husband, was a doctor. He was also the only one who really cared about George. The tramp tried to make believe she cared, too, but she knew the little slut was just putting up a front. She only pretended to give a shit because old honey Herby pulled in six digits a year. She couldn’t afford to let a gravy train like that go, even if he was a scrawny little wimp.
But this was the kind of break she had been waiting for. She never dreamed old good-for-nothing George would come in handy for anything. But Herbert was passionate about George. George was his son and vegetable or no vegetable he was determined to have him. He actually thought he might be able to help him. That was what was so ridiculous it, all he could do was sit and stare, and sometimes blink a little. But she preyed on Herbert’s love for his son. The way she saw it old vegetable George was a check just waiting to be cashed. And she was all set to sign in the amount, yes siree, she thought.
She paced nervously in the parlor, looking out the window from time to time to see if his car was coming. Suddenly she heard an engine die outside. Sure enough Herbert and the tramp were trotting up the front walk with determined looks in their eyes. She got ready. The doorbell rang. It was time to play “the hiding game”, and she had the best hider in the whole family on her side.
She opened the door obligingly to a vision of pathetic souls. Herbert stood five foot two in a drab, brown, tightly pinned suit on his thin, rod-like body. His hair fully receded with only a strand of peach fuzz sticking up in the middle. The tramp stood a little taller, a smirk on her face, her jaw working a piece of gum with cheap bleached blond hair, a frilly short skirt and ample cleavage.
“Well,” she said, sarcastically. “If it isn’t my favorite ex-husband.” She paused, looked contemptuously at the tramp and added: “And company.”
“Let’s cut to the chase, Agatha,” said Herbert in a high, nasally voice. “You know why we’re here. Where is my son? Where is George?”
She feigned an unconvincing obliviousness to the subject and said, “I have no idea on earth what you are talking about, Herbert.”
“Oh, come now, Agatha. What do you take me for, a fool?”
That was exactly what she took him for, “George is not here, I tell you!”
Just then Reginald came into the room to ask if he could watch television.
“Mummu, can I watch…”
His question threw his mother off her guard, giving Herbert the chance to squirm his way past the bulk of Agatha and run upstairs toward the second floor rooms. He began to check the rooms fervently one by one, searching for George, calling his name.
“REGINALD!” cursed the mother through angry gnashed teeth.
The big woman turned back to the tramp who was still standing in the doorway, idly chewing her gum and flicking her bleach blond hair. “Really, Mrs. Grudge,” said the girl whose name was Sarah. “Have you no compassion? How could you kidnap George? You know how much he means to Herby. Don’t you have any heart at all?”
“Don’t you have any self respect? You don’t think I know what you’re up to, leeching onto Herbert for his money the way you do. I’m wise to you, missy!”
It was a statement of pure hypocrisy. After all, wasn’t she herself planning to cash in on George? But somehow that wasn’t the same, because he had claimed him first. George was an invalid. It wasn’t as if he knew anything was happening to him.
“And besides,” she continued with her scolding of the blond bimbo. “He’s MY son. I bore the labor pains, I brought him into this world. If I did take him that’s my business, and none of yours!”
The tramp rolled her big, hazy blue eyes and looked up the stairs as Herbert was coming down with a look of abject despair infused in his eyes.
“He isn’t upstairs,” he said, seeming to talk to no one in particular. “I’ll go check the rest of the house!”
“You’ll never find him,” said the mother in an admonishing voice. “He’s carefully hidden so that no one will ever find him.” She turned and gave Reginald a pleased, albeit grotesque, smile.
Reginald felt euphoric. Mother seemed to be pleased with him.
“Isn’t that right, Reginald?” she said.
“That’s right,” said Reginald, reciprocating with his own warped grin. Shaking his head quickly up and down, his moppy hair fell over his vacant eyes and made him look like a fatuous sheep dog. “I’m the best darn Yeaster yegg hider in the whoooole…”
“OH, SHUT UP!” said his mother, cutting him off.
Reginald hung his head down in disappointment. Mother’s pride in him was very short lived.
“You won’t get away with this, Agatha,” said Herbert, shaking a thin, pointed finger at her. “I’ll sue you!”
“Go ahead,” she said, folding her large, fleshy arms self assuredly over her drooping cantaloupe bosom. “But you know what that will cost. It’ll be a big hassle for you!”
“And you,” he said. “You’ll never win, you don’t have the capital to do it with. You, living in this squalid slum you call a home. You won’t be able to afford to compete with me!” His eyes bulged out of his gaunt face, his jagged teeth began to grind against each other as the road map of veins at the side of his head began to bulge and pulse.
“My dear Herbert,” she said with a small, smug laugh. “I don’t intend to compete with you. If you want to sue me, then be my guest, sue me. You see after you get done with the courts, and those fancy, high priced lawyers of yours in double breasted suits, you will have spent quite a sum of money. Not to mention medical attention for George. Add in expenses for a fancy new suit so that you can impress the judge that you’re the financially stable father figure and that tidies up to even more, doesn’t it? Where as me. I’ll hire some shmuck from Jacoby and Myers. And if I lose they don’t even get paid.” She walked slowly toward him, her smile infuriating him as his jaw palpitated with tightening rage. “I’ll pay for cab fare home and you’ll be left with a hefty tab. My own losses, if I do indeed lose, would be a mere pittance in comparison. So you see you really come out short by suing me. But I do have a proposal that might satisfy us both.”
Herbert was wary of any sort of proposal that Agatha might dredge up out of her diseased mind. She was a self centered, deceitful woman of immense avarice. Any plan she had would be sure to be self-serving. But seeing as though George’s welfare hung in the balance he decided to relent and listen to what she had to say.
“What’s your plan?” he scowled in a begrudgingly meek boom.
A pall of uncertain silence fell over the room.
Sarah’s eyes filled with curious wonder.
Herbert’s did, too.
Reginald’s were glassy and vacant, as usual.
Agatha smiled a sly grin of pleasure.
“You write me a check for the amount of ten thousand dollars right now, and I turn the boy over to you. No strings attached and we cut out the middle man. No muss, no fuss.”
Herbert’s bony jaw fell open. He began to nictitate into a conniption of twitching rage. He seemed to virtually excrete a fury. A tirade so strong it almost filled the air with its pungent odor.
“YOU’RE OUT OF YOUR GODDAMNED MIND! I WON’T DO IT!”
Reginald stood at the sidelines, watching in amazement the way his mother handled the situation with such complete deftness and control. It was a tour-de-force of planning skill. When his Dad hit the ceiling he fully expected her to go into orbit as well. But she did not. To his surprise she remained calm and in control.
Now she turned calmly to Reginald who was standing with a vague stare in his eye, an almost catatonic state not unlike the way George often looked.
“Reginald,” she said coolly. “How long has it been since we replaced George’s IV?”
“A long time, Mummu,” said Reginald uncertain on exactly how long it had been.
She turned back to Herbert whose facial pallor had deepened as his expression turned from anger to that of aghast.
“A long time, huh,” she said with a laughing maliciousness in her voice. “I do hope the boy doesn’t become undernourished.” She paused and looked up. Herbert’s face was still filled with shock and appall, his jaw sinking ever lower. “Would be a shame, wouldn’t it, Herbert?”
Sarah offered a mindless token comment of: “Mrs. Grudge, how could you?” as she chewed her gum. Agatha shot a small, impish smile at Herbert’s second wife, then turned back to Herbert.
Herbert withdrew a hanky from his rear pocket patting away beads of sweat that had begun to condensate on his forehead. She had him over a barrel. God only knew what she may do to George if he didn’t come up with the money. One thing was for sure, she didn’t care what happened to George. The only person Agatha had ever truly cared about was herself.
After a deafeningly long silence Herbert blustered: “ALL RIGHT! I’ll give you the fucking money!”
A hideous looking smile bloomed over Agatha’s face as he screamed those words. It had gone just as she had planned it. The smartest ones always won.
“I knew you’d see it my way, Herbert. It’s really the best thing for both of us. Now you can just make that out to Agatha Grudge. Ten thousand dollars, please.”
“Not so fast!” scathed Herbert. “You produce the boy first, then you get the check.”
“Do you think I was born yesterday? You think I don’t know you’ll put a stopper on the check as soon as you get the kid safely in your mitts? What sort of fool do you take me for anyway? No-no-no, my dear Herbert, money first, George later.”
“When later?” demanded Herbert.
“As soon as the check clears, you can be sure. I have no reason in the world whatsoever to keep him. Why would I want to?”
“You give me your word you’ll send him as soon as it clears?”
“I give you my word,” she said, earnestly. The one thing, if the only thing, she was good for was her word.
“But how do I know he’s okay?” whined Herbert. “You said so yourself he hasn’t had his IV in quite a while. At least let me see him. At least let me see that he’s okay. Do just that much, Agatha-PLEASE!”
She considered the situation for a moment and having won, decided that there was no real harm in letting him see George. It would be kind of like a consolation prize. She looked back at him after careful consideration and said, “My heart goes out to you, Herbert. I will let you see him. You can look, but that’s all. Understand?”
“Yes.” said Herbert, apathetically beaten.
“But first the check,” she insisted putting business before pity.
Herbert reached into the vest pocket of his drab, brown suit and got out a brown leather checkbook and a gold pen. He made the check out to her as she watched assiduously over his shoulder. Then he ripped it out, somewhat reluctantly, and handed it to her. She snatched it out of his hand and looked it over scrutinizing its every aspect.
“Well, everything seems to be in order here,” she said, admiring the check, not only as a great deal of money, but also as a victory on her part.
“All right, all right,” said Herbert, impetuously, his thick brows settling over his eyes in a demanding way. “Now let me see him!”
“Of course,” said Agatha, smiling. “Oh Reginald, go and get your brother now!”
Reginald stepped into the parlor from the sidelines.
“Yes, Mummu. Right away, Mummu.”
“There’s a good boy,” said Agatha, as chipper as she had ever been in her life. She was actually being nice to Reginald, something that rarely, if ever, occurred.
Reginald mounted the stairs with determination. He was so elated that his mother was pleased with him and he was eager to show her just how ingeniously he had accomplished the task.
He was upstairs for nearly ten minutes. There were some odd noises: the sound of rustling and banging, and of things being moved around. An errant thought fleeted through Agatha’s mind. She wondered dimly exactly where Reginald had hid George. It wasn’t really important, just a whimsical thought. It was amusing, for once in his pathetic life, Reginald seemed had done something right.
Herbert and Sarah discoursed briefly with each other. Sarah seemed scornful that he had blown ten thousand dollars senselessly. Herbert maintained that it was necessary to get George back. But all through their flurry of conversation they kept being interrupted by the sounds that emanated from upstairs.
When they looked up again they saw an odd sight, not what they had expected at all. It was Reginald, and he was coming downstairs with handfuls of luggage in both of his hands. He reached the bottom of the stairs and set the suitcases down in front of them as he puffed for air.
“What on earth is this, Reginald?” asked Herbert, demandingly.
“Yeah,” squealed Sarah. “What’s the gag?”
“REGINALD!” bellowed Mother. “What in the hell is this nonsense? Why have you brought this luggage? I specifically told you to get your brother!”
“I know, Mummu.”
Just then Herbert noticed something was leaking from the luggage out onto the rug. It was a reddish liquid seeping from one of the bags. With a horrific vision in his head, Herbert bent over and unzipped the zipper of a small carrying case. He pried it open, looked down and then clamped a horrified hand over his mouth. He darted to the corner and vomited in torrents.
Sarah walked over apprehensively and looked down into the case. Immediately she let out a blood-curdling scream that resounded throughout the belly of the house.
Mother looked down into the bag and saw George’s severed head. Reginald had cut him into pieces and hid him throughout the house. The look on the disembodied head was that of glazed, bloodshot eyes and a drawn mouth ovaled into a silent scream. She could guess what was in the other cases: arms in one suitcase, legs in another, and torso in the big case that stood at the end.
Herbert recovered from his ongoing regurgitation long enough to grab the check from a stunned Agatha’s limp fingers, hook an arm around the still screaming Sarah, and take off out the front door.
Reginald stood inert and confused. What had gone wrong? He had done what his mother had told him to do. He had hid George in a way that no one would find him, but to his surprise it was not what she seemed to have wanted.
His head moved slowly up from the cases and conned over to his mother whose face was puckered and rancid with deadly rage. She stood there, the madness building up in her, distorting her countenance into an unearthly vision and Reginald then knew it to be quite clear. She had lost the hiding game, because she had the best hider in the whole family on her side.
Mother was not at all pleased.
Copyright 2012 by Russell Huneke