Prompt: “S” Phrase from Phrase and Fable
Word Count: 1000 words (story wordcount: 972)
Deadline: Thursday, May 5th, 2011, 4:30 pm EST
It didn't matter about the fluorescent lights that flickered and buzzed for ten minutes first thing in the morning. The coffee in the communal breakroom that was never to anyone's taste and no one would openly admit to making, but everyone drank anyway. The ridiculous motivational posters and bland, institutional artwork. Abbie overlooked all of these flaws. In fact, she almost relished these aspects to her workweek, things that would drive most office drones to drown their nine-to-five sorrows in happy hour two-for-one's.
It was the weekends and evenings that were absolute hell. There was no happiness at home. Not since her sister lost her job, and her brother-in-law gambled away their money in late-night get-rich-quick pyramid schemes. Caving to familial obligation, against her better judgment, Abbie's two bedroom house was now stretched to capacity. Every day she came home from work to dirty dishes in the sink. Her sister Donna would be lying down, immobilized by some kind of undiagnosed migraine problem or "chronic fatigue" disorder no doctor could identify. Or maybe it was the pills she secreted in her pockets and the half-empty bottles under the unmade bed. Mailorder boxes would sit stacked in the hall, marking Gary's most recent acquisition of some new, expensive and utterly useless gizmo or gadget. He himself would be holed up in the living room, shades drawn, the sound of one tv shopping network or another blaring into the hallway.
Toys were most often scattered around every inch of open space and crayon drawings would mysteriously appear on once pristine walls as the children, all three under the age of ten and not a single one enrolled in school, would look at her through sly, lying eyes and profess their innocence. The youngest, Abbie's nephew Tarin, was still in diapers and used a bottle when most kids that age were getting ready for preschool. He'd reacted to her efforts to introduce "big boy underwear" by taking his diapers off and attending to nature's business whenever - and wherever - he felt the urge. The two girls were defiant and devious. Abbie had to even install an exterior lock on her own bedroom door after some jewelry that had belonged to her great-grandmother ended up in the girls' dress-up box, bent and scuffed from being tossed in with old shoes and broken dolls and other childhood debris.
One day, after a long series of planning meetings for an upcoming marketing campaign for a Very Important Client, and looking forward to a glass of wine and a few quiet minutes to unwind, Abbie discovered that what was a barely tolerable situation could in fact get worse. Opening the front door, she was greeted by a barrage of frantic barking. A large bundle of matted fur blocked entry into her house. Shiloh, the oldest niece, appeared behind the beast, beaming.
“We got a puppy! His name is Oofie!” Each word was overlayed by a loud woof.
Abbie looked dubiously at the scruffy animal in front of her. “I see. Right. A puppy…” she asked “Are you sure it isn’t a Yeti?”
Shiloh was joined by Tarin and Riley, who had apparently been busy letting popsicles melt all over themselves, judging by their sticky Technicolor faces.
“Where’s your mom?” Abbie asked, knowing the answer even before the words left her mouth.
The girls looked at each other and shrugged, and Tarin helpfully warbled “Sweepin’, dummy!” as the dog enthusiastically licked his face in between spastic fits of furious barking. “And your dad? Where’s he?” Another shrug. Tired of being forced to stand out on her own front porch, Abbie pushed her way past children and dog, toward the downstairs bedroom her family was living out of. The television was quiet, and the living room was dark. A split second after she had turned the knob and pushed the door in, it registered with Abbie that this was probably not a very good idea. There was a shout and a flash of naked bodies for a split second before Abbie, stammering apologies, shut the door with such force that the pictures on the walls rattled. Shiloh stared at her accusingly from the top of the stairs, and shook her head as she said “Oh yeah. Mommy and daddy tol’ us they needed grownup time, and to stay out of their room.”
Abbie spent several days going out of her way to avoid her sister and brother-in-law. This took a lot of skillful evasion and planning, considering they very rarely ever left the house. The dog barked a lot. Day and night. Almost endlessly. Gary’s solution was to yell expletives. Then to turn up the volume of whatever infomercial he was glued to. And finally, he threw shoes and anything else within reach. Abbie’s evenings became a symphony of barks punctuated by muted curses and thumps as objects connected with walls and floors. She started working later and later, to delay having to go home.
One evening as she loaded files into her car’s trunk, Bob from IT stopped to chat. As he was about to leave, he turned back and asked “I see how late you’ve been working lately. Is everything okay at home?” Abbie, unable to trust herself not to break down and cry, and confess all of her problems to IT Bob, who she barely knew other than that he liked the Grateful Dead and lived alone (the lucky bastard, she thought), forced a smile and nodded. “Just busy.” Bob nodded in return and waved as he walked away, calling “Aren’t we all? Take care, then!”, probably headed back to somewhere quiet that didn’t smell like Play-doh and unwashed feet. She took a deep breath and shut the trunk. It was Friday night. She had sixty hours until another blessed Monday. She was counting down the minutes.