Meeting the Folks
By Barbara Holm
Dennis walked up the stairs to Marcie’s house and stood on the white wooden porch for a second. The paint was peeling and there was an old jack-o-lantern several seasons too late at his feet. He looked at the white, round doorknob and for a fragment of time forgot what he was supposed to do. Then he remembered, felt stupid, and pressed the button. There was a loud sound of a church bell inside, that seemed too large for this tiny little button. Dennis’s thoughts caught in his mind in a swirly tangle and began to settle down on his throat, strangling him with nervousness.
The door opened and Marcie bounced in front of him. She appeared so suddenly that Dennis stumbled back, startled by the jubilant wave of smiles and blonde hair jumping up and down.
“Hey, Dennis!” Marcie exclaimed. He leaned in for a handshake and she jumped into a hug, both of her arms around his neck. He had no choice but to gently hold her around the waist like they were slow dancing. He thought about kissing her neck as she pulled away.
“Hey,” he said.
“I’m almost ready, come on inside for a sec and then we can go out to the movie!” she trilled. Dennis gulped, nodded, and stumbled inside.
The old fashioned carpet reminded him of a calico cat. The couch was patterened in an almost arabic style. Everything was mismatched, retro and covered in dust.
Meeting the parents was the worst part. All he wanted to do was get the little blonde into the back of his car and they could look out the window, leaning in together, while he told her some fabricated bullshit about constellations. He had seen it done in a movie once. Now he had to sit and talk to Marcie’s parents? Would her dad be stern with him? Would her mother inquire as to his intentions? What if they locked him up in a pantry and fed him to mice? What if they made fun of his tie?
“So, are your parents home?” He asked abruptly.
Marcie handed him a glass of water. “No.”
Her smiled and covered his elation by taking a sip. The water tasted stale and dusty.
“They’re long gone,” she said quietly.
Coughing, Dennis looked up, spilling water all down his shirt and made eye contact with her for the first time. She had bright blue eyes that shone with laughter. He froze, watching them dance around her face.
“Come on, silly,” she said. “I’ll give you the tour. Here’s the fish tank. All the fish left so now it’s just poopy water.”
“Where’d they go?” Dennis asked, examining the brown sludgy rectangle.
“I don’t know; I don’t ask them personal private questions,” Marcie said. “I’m not a rude person.”
“Should we get going to see the movie?”
“Just one sec, I’ll introduce you to my grandma.”
Marcie led Dennis through the living room, into the kitchen, calling loudly for her grandmother. She joked in between abrasive yells while he nervously avoided a rat in the corner of the kitchen and piles of dirty laundry.
She led him into the dining room where an old woman sat in a large wooden chair at the table with her back to them. Her white hair was bundled up in a dry, scraggly tuft, with stray hairs poking out. She was layered in several dark sweaters, bundled so tightly that she looked hunched over. A musky thick smell permeated the room and Dennis gasped, clutching his chest at the stink. It smelled like old mustard, dirty socks, meat, perfume, formaldehyde and death.
“There you are,” giggled Marcie, bending down and hugging the old woman’s shoulders. “We were looking for you. Grandma, meet my friend Dennis.”
The woman didn’t stand up, or bother to turn around to acknowledge Dennis. In fact, she didn’t even return Marcie’s affectionate embrace. Remaining rigidly immobile, the figure stared straight ahead. Marcie jumped up and down, smiling at Dennis over her grandmother’s shoulder. Her arms flailed with excitement and she bounced from one foot to another, her young fleshy breasts rising beneath the loose fitting t-shirt she wore, creating a waving current of human body. She beckoned him to come over with a big excited grin. Dennis obediently walked around to the front of the dining room table.
Dennis gasped when he saw the woman’s face. It was withered and slightly green, . Her hands sat neatly in her skirted lap. Her hands had turned a deep purple and the skin folded over her many silver rings. Her eyes, sunken into the skull, stared straight out ahead, open and unblinking. It was clear that the smell was coming from her.
“Grandma, meet Dennis,” Marcie cooed.
“Marcie…” Dennis murmured. “Oh god.”
She lifted her grandmother’s corpse’s hand and placed it inside of Dennis’s. The tiny shrived paw was freezing and felt almost slimy in his hands, like a rotting cucumber that someone had left in the fridge. Marcie kept her warm hands sandwiched around his, clutching the thing. His heart beat quickly and sweat began to pour out of his armpits and palms.
“I-I need to go,” he said.
“Come on, you don’t care if we miss the previews, do you? Stay and get to know grandma.”
Dennis wrenched his hand away and the old woman’s arm stayed propped up in the air mid shake. He let out a startled shout and took a step backwards.
“You’re being very rude,” Marcie said. “Grandma says you can never be rude. Always be polite. Right, grandma?” She looked down lovingly at the decaying body in the chair.
“I don’t feel well,” he whispered to himself. “I need to take a rain check on the date.”
Dennis turned and ran out the front door of the house, falling onto himself as he jogged to his car. He jiggled the keys into the ignition with shaky hands and slammed his foot down on the pedal. The car shot forward, unaccustomed to being forced to go at top speed on such short notice, and growled at its driver. Dennis drove back towards his home as fast as he could. A block from his home he took a corner too sharply and drove hard into the tree in Mrs. Cavanaugh’s lawn.
The tree had been depressed for a while about the declining state of air in the neighborhood. She had been feeling ill, unloved, helpless, and rooted in an endless cycle of abuse, and thus was contemplating suicide. So this hard crash into her base was the final proverbial straw and the tree took the plunge, diving headfirst out of existence, without anyone bothering to shout “Timber!” first.
The tree fell on the hood of the car, caving in the roof and killing Dennis instantly. The car crinkled into itself and sadly sat in the middle of the lawn. Up and down the street, lights in a few front windows flickered on and curtains curled and moved in the darkness. A woman walking her dog stopped under the streetlamp and dialed 911. The dog, sensing something was weird, humped her leg in support while Dennis lay quietly against the pillow-like airbag covered by a blanket of fresh evergreen branches.