Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Yes, No, Maybe So--Part IV

When Robbie first started sniffing, I was fairly certain he was admiring my Love’s Baby Soft perfume so I didn’t say anything. I just sat real still letting him like the aroma of me. I pondered whether or not to go upstairs and change into my favorite sundress for my Dancing Queen number. After a couple minutes though, Robbie’s huffing and puffing started to seriously get on my nerves. I squirmed to look him in the eye.
            “Do you have a problem?”
            He cocked his head and took in air yet again. “Do you smell something?” he said. 
            I sniffed. “No,” I said. “Like what?”
            He lifted his chin and squinted. “Not sure.”
            I nodded toward the back of the basement. “Well, in the corner back there, there’s a toilet,” I said. “And the guys miss a lot. Maybe that’s what you smell.”         
            Robbie scrunched his face and shook his head. “Naw, that’s not it.”
            I stood and inhaled deep. “Oh, I know what it is,” I said. “Last winter our cat Ginger had kittens in the cabinet beside the dryer. She made a cave inside Dad’s World War II blankets and I swear, it has smelled like Campbell’s Chicken and Stars soup ever since.”
            I looked down at him. “Is that what you smell?” I said. “Chicken soup and old wool?”
            When he glanced up I noticed his eyes didn’t just have super long lashes, they were a nice color too. Maple leaf green maybe. And he had whiskers also, blonde ones. No guys I knew in the eighth grade going into ninth had facial hair yet. That was kind of cool. But under his stubble, his face had taken on an odd color. Kind of like gravel.
            Jude heaved himself off the couch and onto all fours.  “Hold on,” he said.” We all leaned forward and gawked as he stuck his arm under the couch.
            “I know what it is,” he said.
            The three of us waited for his revelation.
            “Dad’s brother visited last weekend,” he said. He peered up at Robbie. “You know, the schizophrenic one with the big lips I told you about. Dad always hides Ginger’s kitty litter box under here. Hoping it’ll make Uncle Will cut his visits short.”
            Once the container was free of the sleeper sofa’s hem, Jude used his feet to scoot it back under the stairs, in between the furnace and water heater. He came back around and leaned against the fireplace.  
            “Breathe deep,” he said to Robbie. “Better?”
            Robbie took a tentative breath and gagged. He immediately pinched his nose and mouth breathed.
            “You guys really don’t smell that?” he said. “Dang! It’s like something died.”
            I let a breath go in and out through my nose. “Smells normal to me,” I said. “Maybe we’re just used to it.” I turned to Katie. “Do you smell anything?”
            Katie shrugged. “I’ve got a cold,” she said. “I can’t smell a thing.”
            That’s when Jude’s face went all funny. “Oh, no,” he said.
            I tensed. “Oh, no what?”
            Jude stepped between Mom’s extra refrigerator and the TV to get at the shelves against the wall.
            “We forgot all about it,” he said.
            “Forgot about what?” I said.
            He pointed toward the top shelf. I stood so I could check out what he was talking about. Back in the corner was a Cool Whip container, its lid half on, half off.
           Katie and Robbie got up too. Rolled up on their tiptoes to see what they could see.
            “What the heck is it?” Robbie said. He kept his nose pinched and took a step toward the shelves. “Good Lord, Jude. There’s steam coming out of it.”
            “Ham salad,” Jude said, without turning around. “Six month old, unrefrigerated ham salad. We thought it would be cool, my brothers and me, to make our own catfish bait. Supposedly catfish like stinky stuff.”
            Robbie’s face contorted. “Aw, man! That’s nasty.”
            Katie cupped her hand over her mouth and nose. Her eyes were huge.
            “You gotta get that stuff outta here, Jude” I said. “If Dad finds it, I'm not kidding, he will jerk a knot in your tail.”
            When we couldn’t find the stepladder, Jude squatted low. “Get on my shoulders,” he said.
            I shuddered and moved away. “I’m not touching it.”
            Jude turned to Katie. She spoke from inside her hand. “No way.”
            Robbie pretended not to hear.
            “Fine!” Jude said. He grabbed the fireplace poker and headed for the corner. Inch by inch he nudged the Cool Whip container toward the shelf edge. He dropped the poker and reached up. Rolled his fingers on the side of the container, attempting to get a grip. Suddenly Ginger, our cat, came careening down the steps and slammed into the back of Jude’s legs. The Cool Whip container flew out of Jude’s hands, sailed through the air, and landed with a splash. In the cooler of beer. The ham salad, now a gelatinous, blue-furred lump, floated to the top of the iced water. Looked like some sort of  animal pelt. Jude picked up the fireplace shovel and approached the mess.
            We all froze as Dad's steps thundered toward the basement door. “Jude!”
            Jude set down the shovel and walked over to the bottom of the stairs. “Yes, sir?” 
            “Bring up some cold beer, son.”
            Jude grinned and did a mock salute. “Yes, sir!” he said. “Right away, sir!”

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