Thursday November 7th 1996
The curtains of the house on Pine Stump Road were drawn against the afternoon sun. A cat paced on the doorstep, meowing plaintively. The trash cans were overfilled with bags stacked around them in an ugly pile, the cans were overfilled, the bags split and torn.
"Oh my God…" Isobel breathed as she parked her car in the driveway of the house she had occupied for the first eighteen years of her life. She walked up to the front door, surveying the damage, collecting the neglected, weather-worn newspapers as she went. A cat purred with excitement at the sight of her and rubbed against her legs. "Hey Princess." Isobel, scratched the underside of the Siamese 's neck. She wondered if she should ring the doorbell or just let herself in.
A jet roared through the sky as Isobel dug the almost forgotten house keys from the bottom of her purse. How long had it been since she'd used them last?
The key in place, she clicked the lock back and entered, the cat brushing between her legs. The parlor was in bad shape. The couch and love seat cushions were dented crushed and out of place. Half-empty beer cans irregularly dotted the carpet floor, the contents of a bag of Cheetos were strewn across the coffee table and the air was cloying with cigarette smoke. A figure lay sprawled on the floor in front of the television, his bleating snore drowning out the tearful confrontation taking place on the soap opera in progress. Isobel watched his mammoth, bare stomach rise and fall with each wheezing breath. It was Collin, one of her brother's no-account friends. She was glad to encounter him in this state, because whenever he was awake she could feel herself being mentally undressed and covered with oils.
A trio of rented video tapes lay atop their boxes, she had only to read the titles to know what kind of tapes they were. She tip-toed into the kitchen and glanced at the list of things to do that Mom and Dad had left on the refrigerator; its dates stretched from Labor Day to the first week of January. None of the things on the list had been checked off; Isobel had to wonder if it had even been noticed.
The cat sniffed for a moment at her empty food dish and scanned the room. Isobel opened the refrigerator and winced at the contents, rancid leftovers and beer cans.
There was a crash and a clatter; she turned to find the cat standing atop the pile of dirty dishes that filled the sink. "Princess!" Isobel scolded.
The cat regarded her for a moment and then went back to licking duck sauce off the plates. Isobel left the kitchen and walked upstairs. The familiar blue clothes hamper was on the landing, it had long since been filled to capacity, piles of socks and dirty underwear lay bunched on and around it.
Her parents’ room was the door on the right, she opened the it and peered inside. Everything was OK, not an object out of place. She took a moment to gather up a head of steam before she threw open the door to her brother’s room, "I can't believe what you did to this place! You're supposed to be taking care of the house while they're away. For God's sake, when was the last time you fed the cat?"
The room contained a small bed and a huge stereo system. The stereo's red power light shone dully, in spite of the fact not a single sound was emanating from it. Her brother Warren stirred from somewhere beneath the amorphous tangle of sheets and blankets that covered his bed, "Hunh?"
Isobel stepped forward, voice poised for a shout and slipped on the mound of compact disks piled in front of the stereo. She fell to the floor with a squawk.
Now fully conscious, Warren blinked and looked at her; he was gentle featured and painfully thin, "What are you doing here? What time is it?"
She struggled to her feet, "It's almost three in the afternoon, and I'm here because I knew something like this would happen if they left you in charge of the house!"
He cried out like a sun-scalded vampire when she pulled the drapes open "What day is it?"
"It's Friday. Normal people have been up for hours, normal people are at work!"
Unemployed was the least of it when it came to Warren. Something had happened to him in high school, something beyond the standard taunting and cruelties a fat kid with nerdy inclinations had to endure. In the matter of a few weeks he had lost four of his friends and not a one of them to circumstances that could be called normal. The worst of the lot had been Tristam Bloom.
Isobel shuddered at the thought of how such a normal looking boy could have turned out to be such a monster.
Was that why Warren had developed anorexia during his senior year? Well that was the theory floated around the Talbot family reunions. After graduation Warren had lost contact with his remaining friends and instead he’d found himself the two mooches that always seemed to be at his heels these days. Were they the reason her brother didn’t seem all that interested in getting a higher education or a job or well anything really?
“Warren…” she tried to take a more diplomatic tone.
A tall naked man shambled into the room, his thick hands clasping a head that was all but shaved. The sight of him made Isobel's stomach go sour. She turned her back, a familiar blush working its way up her neck and face.
"Tim." Isobel was relieved to see her brother was equally uncomfortable, "Go put on some clothes, you've got company."
"Why?" he crossed the room, purposely placing himself back in Isobel's line of sight, "I'm not the one who's all repressed."
Tim's body was all muscles, even his face seemed taut and angular; a tattoo of an American flag filled one bicep, the letters U.S.M.C. beneath it. He crouched down, casually picking through the mound of CD's.
"What are you doing here?" Isobel turned away again, resisting the urge to kick the butt being so proudly displayed before her.
"I'm on leave." Tim said, loading the Doors' Greatest Hits into the stereo.
"Oh." Isobel crossed and uncrossed her arms as Jim Morrison's spooky voice threatened to drown her out, "Where are you staying?"
"Oh really?" Isobel ignored Tim's nudity long enough to give her brother an acid stare.
"Yeah. I'm sleeping in your old room."
"Is that so?"
"It's a good bed. A nice strong mattress." The young marine commented as he left the room, "I guess it must have never seen much action."
"Fuck you too!"
"Have to loose a few pounds there first baby."
All I have to do is go out to my car and get the gun. The gene pool would thank me!
"And as for you-" Isobel rounded on her brother.
"You haven't told me why you're not at work yet."
"Don't change the Goddamn subject on me!" Isobel shouted defensively, "This house is a shambles and I want to know what you're going to do about it."
Warren sat up, his voice surly, "Mom and Dad won't be back for another two months, lighten up."
"What if they come home early?"
"Why would they do that?"
She poked him with her finger, "What if someone tells them how bad the house is?"
His face reddened, "You wouldn't dare."
"All right," Warren stood and scanned the room for his pants, "maybe you would. I'll get around to straightening the house today."
"You and those two knuckleheads will get around to it, now." Isobel noticed his undershorts were on backwards. "And your dear sister will be right here to supervise you."
Warren glared at her, she glared back. "What's got you in such a bitchy mood today? Is Nick up to his old tricks again?"
"I'm pissed off because I've got a brother who's twenty going on twelve!"
He pulled on a pair of crumpled, stained pants, "So, where do you think we should start?"
Isobel shrugged, "When was the last time you fed Princess?"
"I thought they brought Princess with them."
"Please tell me that was a joke."