Oct 27, 2023, 06:24AM

Invasive Species

The cops retreated.

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They were California hippies, Mason and Barb, who relocated when Barb was offered a UMass job. Then, bolt out of the blue, Mason inherited nearly a half-million dollars from Uncle Jake. Barb promptly quit her job, just a month into it. They bought a few acres on the outskirts of Great Barrington and built their house (one could hardly call it a home), a geodesic dome, an eyesore in confrontation with all the other properties. It was Bicentennial Summer. Mason and Barb were giddy, rich.

As California hippies they'd joined EST, then migrated to Scientology. Their living room had but one bookcase, stuffed with Dianetics tomes and L. Ron Hubbard space operas and books issued by Straight Arrow Press and such. Copies of the Whole Earth Catalog occupied their coffee table. Mason kept Trout Fishing in America on the nightstand. It was his Bible. He'd lost count of how many times he'd read it.

Mason and Barb had three daughters, ages eight, seven and six, named Faith, Hope and Sleez.

Upon birth, the hospital balked at Sleez as a name. So, Mason and Barb went with Sayzee, officially, but forever called her Sleez.

Faith was a blonde and wafer-thin. Hope was a redhead and wafer-thin. Sleez was chubby and swarthy, her hair black as a crow, complete with that seeming oiliness. As a trio they operated with telepathic coordination, roaming their hilly New England neighborhood, searching for a victim, a lone child. When they found a kid playing alone, they'd swoop in, pummeling the tyke with little fists, no mercy granted. Wails were a signal to punch harder. More than one boy received the de-pants treatment, his trousers and underwear shoved down a sewer drain. "Crybaby! Run to your mommy and cry! Boo hoo hoo!"

A few times the police showed up on their geodome doorstep, but the girls denied all, and Barb went ballistic, threatened a lawsuit. The cops retreated.

Barb was an insomniac. At one or two in the morning she'd be up and at 'em, brewing coffee, the house lights blazing, an FM rock station on the Panasonic stereo blaring away so loudly that neighbors woke, their lights turning on. The phone would ring, Barb would pick up and hear, "Will you please turn that music off! It’s two in the morning! Some of us have to work!"

"Shove it! You can't tell me what to do!" She'd slam the phone down, then turn the volume higher, make another pot of coffee. She and the house were lit like the Russian embassy.

Barb used these times to write poetry, composing epics of rhymed couplets about damsels and fairies and dragons and mammoth butterflies and castles in rainbows while she swilled gallons of coffee, gobbling a box of cheap supermarket donuts, smoking Virginia Slims to the bitter end, then lighting a fresh one with the ember of the last. Every so often, deep in the zone, she'd pound a fat fist on the desktop and screech, "Perfect! Fuckin' perfect!" Then dive back into her typing, her stubby fingers getting powdered sugar all over the keys. Her head bobbed as she hissed, "Yes, yes, yes..."

Barb was a member of the Great Barrington Wymyn's Poetry Collective. Annually, in celebration of winter solstice, they published their works in "Cauldron," a buck at local emporiums. She was a poet, a published poet, and fierce, feminist, in your face.

Sunday mornings, Mason loaded the girls into their 1958 Chevy Biscayne and rumbled into town for breakfast at the diner. Motoring happily, Mason lit a cigarette–he smoked four packs a day–and clicked on the radio. The girls, all in the backseat, punched each other in the arm seeing how hard each could be hit without an "Ow!"

As they settled into a booth, a waitress drifted over with menus. Sleez piped up, "Them some ugly ass shoes you got, bitch!" Her pointy chin was raised, challenging the woman to deny the charge. Faith and Hope laughed, Mason lit a cig, flipped his pony tail and stared at a menu, tugged at his droopy mustache. He always concentrated on the menu, but always ordered the same thing: pancakes and bacon and a Coke. The girls all ordered hot dogs and Cokes. The family drank a lot of Coke, the fridge stocked.

Waiting for the check, Mason lit a cigarette and gazed blankly out the window while the girls punched each other, unaware of scowls from diners.

When they left, the tabletop was a mess of napkins and mustard. No tip. Mason didn't tip. So, every Sunday the chef routinely spit into each of Mason's pancakes as they grilled.

Getting back into their car, a mangy mutt approached. "Woof! Woof!"

Faith piped up, "He says has no home! Can he come home with us? Please, Daddy! Please!" Hope and Sleez chorused, "Please! Please!"

He was named Dawg, and after he bit neighbors and the postman several times, Dawg was leashed to a stake in the front yard where he barked incessantly, day and night, night and day, until one night someone tossed him a steak marinated in rat poison. In the morning, before school, the girls were heartbroken to find Dawg's corpse. That afternoon, Mason dug a hole in the backyard and he and the girls held a little funeral. Barb stayed indoors, madly working on a poem titled, "Dog is God Spelled Backwards." Raging, tears streaming down her fat face, she muttered, "Bastards! Bastards!"

Mason placed Dawg's chew toy atop the grave. Then he and the three girls threw their heads back and yowled at the gray sky like rabid hyenas.

Sometimes Mason wondered about Sleez. Faith and Hope resembled him, but Sleez was a dead ringer for Pedro, a Mexican dude in their California EST group. It was at just such a moment that Mason was startled from his thoughts as Barb rapped her knuckles against his door jamb. "We need to talk," she barked. Peering over her shoulder was Pedro. Shocked, Mason thought, "What the hell is Pedro doing here?"


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