George follows me everywhere, so I tell him to stay and keep an eye on Mom while I scout our new neighborhood. Since the night we snuck out of Daryl’s house, she can’t finish a sentence. She stands in the kitchen, unpacking and repacking boxes, staring out the window, flinching at every horn or revved engine.
George came to live with us after we moved in with Daryl, appearing the night Daryl put his fist through a wall. Only I can see him. I like keeping George to myself.
I stop in front of a one-story house ringed by a concrete slab and chain link fence. The yard is bare except for a lone tree, its full head of leaves swaying in the light morning breeze. A giant brown dog with a slobbery mouth rushes up to the fence. Standing on hind legs, he snarls, his pink tongue dotted with black spots.
I stand still, like George taught me, and the dog gets more excited, his bark rising to a sharp, panicked pitch until the front door opens and a burly man comes out, yelling “Zeus! Come here now! Zeus!” The dog whines and drops to the ground, trotting up the front porch, tail between his legs. The man stares at me staring at him.
“Go on now,” he calls. “Get moving, girl.” He stays on the porch until I amble down the block. George will want to know about Zeus.
I pass a small house set back from the street, front garden ablaze with pink and purple flowers. Mom’s favorite colors. I look around. No one on the street. Doesn’t look like anyone’s at home, so I reach in through the fence and pluck a long-stemmed purple flower.
“Good choice,” a gravelly voice calls. I spin around, spot an old man watching from his front porch across the street.
I pivot toward his house, flower in hand.
“Don’t worry,” the old man bellows. “Darla won’t mind. Says she plants things for the neighbors. You new here? Ain’t seen you before.”
I step on the sidewalk leading to his house. “Just moved in yesterday.”
“You in the house on the corner?”
“You know, that’s a holy house.”
The old man’s voice softens. I like his grizzled beard, his big nose.
“Yep, there was some kind of religious cult there. Called themselves the Divine House of Meditation. Everyone wore purple and lived on vegetables. Before that it was a bunch of Catholic priests who handed out food to hungry school kids.”
I can’t wait to tell George about this old man.
“Your house is God’s House. Welcome to the neighborhood.”
“Thanks, Mister.” I wave before heading toward our house. “Nice talking with you.”
“Put that flower in water, your house will smell divine.”
I run up the front steps and open the door, headed for the bathroom. Looking for soap, I open the cupboard above the sink and find a small statue tucked back on the bottom shelf. A sitting man smiles at me, his round belly the size of a good laugh. His bald head makes me giggle, and I slip the statue in my pocket before going back to the kitchen.
“Look what I brought you,” I say, holding the flower like a beacon. Mom sits at the kitchen table, coffee mug in hand. George stands between us, index finger to his lips.
Mom gets up, walking straight through George. “Where’d you get that?”
“From a neighbor. Is there something I can put it in?” I look around the kitchen, counters crowded with pans and bowls, boxes stacked on top of each other.
She nods at the kitchen sink. I fill a glass, placing it beside her. The flower droops, sprinkling pollen on the table.
I slide a hand into my pocket, fingers exploring the smooth surface of the statue. I hear the old man’s voice and see thin men and women in purple standing around Mom. I watch men in black making sandwiches at the counter and putting them in boxes. Later, I’ll tell George all about Zeus and the old man on the porch. When Mom goes to the store, I’ll show him the smiling man. Together we’ll find the perfect place to keep him safe.
Phebe Jewell’s recent flash appears or is forthcoming in New Flash Fiction Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Brilliant Flash Fiction, XRAY, and Crack the Spine. Read more of her work at phebejewellwrites.com.
Image via Unsplash.