author bio

imageS.D. Lavender

The Burglary

When the family returned from vacation they discovered that their house had been broken into. Pornographic magazines were strewn about the living room, and though Father yelled at Mother, Son, and Daughter to stay outside while he scrambled to gather them up, Mother had already seen them and didn’t subscribe to his theory that the burglar or burglars must have left them.
       “I guess it could have been worse,” said Father. “I’ve heard they sometimes defecate on people’s dining room tables.”
        Mother ran around crying “Oh No!” as she checked all the rooms.
       “Don’t touch anything,” Father told her. “I’ll call the police.”    
       After Father had collected all the magazines and returned them to what he thought had been his secret hiding place, he came to Mother’s side and put his hands on her shoulders to comfort her, but she pulled away and ran out to her children.
       A quick inventory revealed that only one item had been stolen: Roger Mcgillicutty, Son’s ventriloquist dummy.  The detective thought this strange and pointed his pen at the brand-new forty-two-inch HDTV set.  He wanted to know if Father had any weapons. Father said no and from the disappointed look on the detective’s face, got the impression that nothing much could be done.
       While eating dinner at KFC, the family tried to imagine what the burglar or burglars looked like.  Father envisioned two black males in their late twenties—bearded, tattooed, mean-eyed, and mocking.  Because she had found a single glass in the sink, Mother reasoned that there had been only one intruder, and the fact that he chose a jelly jar to drink from out all the other glasses on the shelf showed that he loved his mother. She saw a young Harrison Ford.  Daughter pictured a boy and a girl, lovers on the run, forced to travel at night, the boy possibly a vampire. She wondered if they had pulled the shoebox out from under her bed and found her diary.  Son only hoped that whoever had stolen Roger Mcgillicutty, was not abusing him.
       That night, as Father and Mother prepared for bed, Mother asked, “Why do you look at those magazines?  Don’t you find me attractive any more?”
       “Of course I do.”
       “Then why?”
        “All men do it.”
       “My father didn’t.”
       “How do you know?”
       “Because we lived in a very small house. There’s nowhere he could have hidden them.”
       “You’d be surprised.”
        “I want them out of here, and never again bring that filth into my house.”
       “All right.”
       “I mean it.”
       “I said all right.”
        “And I think you need to see someone.”
        “See someone?”
       “Yes. You have a problem.”
        “I don’t have a problem.”
       “Ha!  I’ll make an appointment for you.”
       “If you don’t see someone, I’m going to have Daddy talk to you.”
       “All right. Make the damned appointment. But I’m not taking any time off work for it.”  Father worked for Macnamara Risk Management as a claims adjustor.
        Mother went into the bathroom, slamming the door.  Father punched his pillow into submission and lay down and listened to his wife brushing her teeth.  Yes, he thought, she is a human being just like me.  After a while she let out a yelp and came out, foam on her mouth.  “I think I know who did it!”
       “That strange looking man who drives a green truck with one of those trailers.  He mows lawns around here.  You’ve seen him.  He’s tall and skinny and has long hair and no front teeth.”
       “Why do you think it was him?”
       “He came to the door and asked if he could trim our bushes. I think I told him that we were going on vacation.”
       “Why would you do that?”
       “I wanted to get rid of him; he was giving me the creeps, so I told him you planned on doing all the yard-work after we got back from vacation.”
       “Unbelievable!” said Father. “On second thought.  Don’t make that appointment. And I’m not talking to your father either.”
       “These are two separate issues.”
       “No. Both have to do with choices.  I chose to buy those magazines, which in retrospect, appears to have been a mistake, and you chose to divulge highly personal information to a total stranger who then used that information to rob us.”
       Having no good reply, Mother went back into the bathroom.

Later, Father rolled over in the dark and tried to enter Mother without foreplay, and when she protested and pushed him away, he lay there like a corpse, fearing they would never be able to make love in that house again.
       “You’re lucky,” a co-worker told Father.  “You could have walked in on him, and he could have had a gun.”  Father imagined himself attempting to close the distance between himself and the intruder, but not making it, a shot ringing out, a family member falling.
       In her diary, Daughter wrote to the burglars.   I hope you had fun reading this. You probably thought I was just saying stuff a million other girls say.  You must have laughed your asses off.  I hate both of you.
       Son studied his ventriloquist’s dummy catalog, but the new Roger McGillicutties looked different.  There was a sadness about the eyes.  Besides, after all the pillow talk he and Roger had shared, no other dummy would do.  Son threw the catalog in the trash and vowed to contact the two blond young men from the Mormon Church who had come to the door and smiled at him and given him a pamphlet. 
       On his way home from work, Father saw the green truck with the landscaping trailer parked in front of a house.  He pulled to the curb, got out, and heard the drone of a lawnmower coming from the backyard.  He crept over to the truck and looked in the driver’s side window and saw the following items: a big plastic soda bottle half full of yellowish liquid, a grease-stained brown paper sack, a crumpled pack of cigarettes, and a dog-eared booklet titled Mastering the Art of Ventriloquism.  Father hurried back to his car and called Mother on his cell phone.  She was basting a chicken. 
       “You were right,” said Father.  “He’s the one.”
       “What are you going to do? 
       “I’m going to have a little talk with him.”
       “Oh, Father. Be careful.  You don’t know what he’s capable of.”
       “Don’t worry.  I know what I’m doing.  If I’m not home in ten minutes, call the police.”
       After he hung up, he saw the hillbilly coming across the lawn on a John Deere X300.  Father got out and walked over. The man glanced over, but showed no interest. He shut down the mower, eased off it, and stood tall.
       “Hi there,” said Father, forcing a grin. “I live down the street there, and somebody broke into our house while we were on vacation.”  He watched for a response from the hillbilly but the man’s eyes were half hidden by long, sweat-soaked hair, and the mouth was a mere crease on a face nearly erased by the sun.  “I’m asking everybody whether they noticed anything suspicious—you know, any strangers hanging around, or anything.”
       The hillbilly shrugged and said, “I ain’t seen nothing.”  Father noted the missing front teeth, the thick tongue slipping through the gap, the hint of a leer.  He remembered the magazines the burglar had put on display, and he fought to hide his shame.  He looked towards the cab of the truck, intending to ask about the ventriloquist book, but the hillbilly had already grabbed a weed whacker from the trailer and started yanking on the cord until it sputtered and whined. 
       “You did it, you son of a bitch,” Father said under his breath as he headed back to his car.
       At the police station, after Father had told him his story, the detective rocked back and forth on his heels and stared out the window of his office at the barely visible outline of the mountains and sighed, “Yes, I know him. He’s had a few run-in’s with us, DUI’s mostly, but he’s no thief.  He’s had a hard life.  His forefathers—mine too, for that matter—got off the boat from Scotland, but they didn’t stay put long.  No. They were restless.  They had to keep moving.”
       “That’s very interesting,” said Father, “but couldn’t you—“
       “ They probably would have moved all the way to California but then they saw these hills and it reminded them of home, only better, because now they were free.  So they stayed and raised families.  They fought Indians and wild animals.  They were a proud and fierce people.”
       “I’m sure they were, but couldn’t you at least question him?  I mean, don’t you think it’s too much of a coincidence that he’s driving around with a book on ventriloquism in the very same neighborhood where a boy had his ventriloquist dummy stolen?” 
       The Detective nodded. “In real life—yes.”
       “Well then?”
       “I’ll look into it.”
       Father didn’t believe him.
       Father announced to his family, “There are going to be some major changes in this house.  From now on everybody is going to know what everyone else is doing.”  Later, he went to his daughter’s bedroom door and tried to knock in an authoritative yet loving manner.  It wasn’t easy.   
       “Yes?” his daughter snarked from the other side. 
       “What are you doing?”
       “It is impossible to do nothing. Once again, what are you doing?”
       “Writing what?”
       “I’m serious. What are you writing?  You say you write, but none of us have ever seen your writing. When are you going to share it with the rest of the family?”
       “I see.”
       The door opened slowly and her moon face appeared in the crack. “I am writing in my diary, and the whole point of writing in a diary is so people can say whatever they want and no one will ever know.”
       “There is nothing you can say or do that would make me love you any less.”
       He could see that she didn’t believe him. 

Father followed the hillbilly from a distance for a good half hour, up through the hills and into the mountains, through the downtown section of a little town with an old- time general store, past the courthouse, until eventually the truck turned down a narrow dirt driveway at the end of which a grimy little shack hid behind overgrown bushes.  Now Father knew where the man lived, but he didn’t know what to do about it. When he told Mother, she said, “I don’t want you risking your life.  It’s not worth it. Things can be replaced. You can’t.
       Father bought two joints from the gay kid who worked in the mailroom. He planned to conceal them in the hillbilly’s truck and then phone the police with an   anonymous tip, but as the day wore on he began to see the futility and the absurdity of it all, so he drove to the state park and smoked both joints himself.  When he awoke he looked through his windshield at the stars twinkling in a universe that had seemingly conspired against him from birth, and he realized that he was just going to have to let go and accept one more slap in the face from a fickle God.  He drove home, and when he arrived he found that his wife had been crying
       “I was just about to call the police,” she said. “I thought you were—.”      
       He clasped his hand gently over her mouth and whispered, “It’s over.”  They made love that night and for the first time in their marriage, Mother achieved multiple orgasms.
       Years later, when the kids were away at college and Mother was at her ceramics class, Father fixed a microwave dinner and sat in front of the forty-two inch and watched a comedy special. The host announced the next act, and suddenly filling the screen were two heads, one small and one large.  Father leaned forward and squinted.  There was something familiar about both heads.  Then he knew.  Yes! The smaller looked like the hillbilly!  The long hair, the toothless mouth.  Father moved closer and what he saw amazed him.  The larger head belonged to the hillbilly himself, but now he had bright new teeth and close-cropped, graying hair.  Yes!  It was definitely him!  Father laughed. The act was funny, the dummy cracking wise, the way they always do, and the former hillbilly was extremely skilled; he didn’t move his lips at all and even did the glass of water routine!  A tear rolled down Father’s cheek, and to this day he can’t tell you why, but seeing that hillbilly ventriloquist on TV was one of the happiest moments of his life.

Author Bio

photoS.D. Lavender lives in Swainsboro, Georgia, and teaches Creative Writing at East Georgia College.  His stories have been published in Sanskrit, Word Riot, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.

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