Break-In to a Heart Break
Based on the Novel
Do You Have a Marriageable Mother?
“Fated or Mated” – November First 2017
“Break-In to a Heart Break” – December First 2017
“Death By Fork” – December Fifteenth 2017
“Shut Out” – January First 2018
Michelle Hogue stumbled through her daddy’s front door cold, muddy, and shoeless. Miserable night. Briars had claimed chunks of her hide while broad soggy patches in the lawn now owned her shoes. Her mother would scream if she could see the mess Michelle’s daddy, Ryan Hogue, had made out front. The state of the estate sucked.
But Janet, Michelle’s mother, was 48, dead, cremated, and stored beside Michelle’s heart in an urn on the family’s fireplace mantle. Janet wouldn’t offer Michelle an opinion, but Michelle knew her mom spoke with her dad.
Mom, why not with me?
Michelle had grown up in this house, but she felt like a burglar sneaking in while her daddy was out. She was on a mission to find and fix his problems. He’d come home from the funeral six months ago and turned off his life switch. Or so she’d been told. He needed her help even if he didn’t want her interference.
Michelle brought her best friend Teri to be a second set of eyes. The storm and Ryan’s untamed yard had also claimed her shoes. Rough night in Oregon.
Odors ranging from decomposing papers to rotting plants hit them immediately. Michelle stuffed her wet socks in a pocket, as did Teri.
Teri tiptoed around fallen leaves. “Does your daddy own a leaf blower?”
Michelle’s daddy owned a leaf blower, a lawn mower, a vacuum cleaner, a dishwasher, and an easy chair. She knew which he used. “Don’t touch anything. I so don’t want him to know I’ve been snooping.”
He also owned a safety razor and an electric model—equally unemployed.
Michelle’s dad had arrived home with dozens of plants decorated with ribbons identifying Friend, Neighbor, and Mother. The plants had died— adding to the house’s sickness. Three pots with naked stems shared space in her mother’s wheelchair. Her chair remained near her dad’s easy chair, so he and Mom could hold hands or do whatever 50-year-olds did when alone.
Wretched pizza boxes nearly reached the ten-foot ceiling. The left-overs inside were downright rank. Ryan had moved furniture to brace the stack. Magazines formed piles around the living room. Her mom must still receive a magazine daily. Didn’t her daddy know he could cancel subscriptions? “Daddy, what a stinking mess.”
Mom, can you see this houseful of shit?
Michelle’s father must be hiding something. Why should he conceal anything? Probably for the same reasons her mom had helped keep her boyfriends from him. He was not a reasonable man. She and her mom had been tight until Mom tried to fix her up with her friends’ idiot sons. But then Michelle had botched the boyfriend job and wound up with none.
Mom, please forgive. And call.
Michelle’s mom had solved many problems for her despite Michelle resenting her interference. Too late to kiss and make up.
Teri’s mom had also died young. Should they assume their mothers’ roles, or should they get drunk and run and hide?
Michelle waved to the living room. “This dump once hosted an affair for fifty couples.”
Fifty couples? An evening with caterers in white jackets. Valet parking. A night when a teenaged girl could wear a nice dress and high heels and be a mini-hostess with her mom. And Daddy was so handsome in shiny shoes and a tux. Now mom’s dead and Daddy’s a barbarian and our home is a corpse.
“Don’t tell me, tell him.”
“Daddy won’t listen.” All she heard from him was, “I need more time” or “Not now.” Not now, not ever.
Michelle discovered a dust-free spot on the mantle between Christmas cards still on display in May. She stared until enlightenment hit. “Shit. He took Mom.”
“I’m so not freaking out. I know she’s dead.”
Michelle pointed to the shelf. “Daddy keeps Mom’s ashes here.”
“That’s creepy. They’re in the house?”
“In a royal-purple urn.”
“Are any pieces of her at the office?”
“I work there and you’re spooking me.”
Michelle begged for answers. “How screwed up do you think Daddy is? You’re closer. I can’t get around his defenses.”
“I felt sorry for him until I saw this mess.”
“The office is the only place Daddy functions.”
Michelle lifted a flyer for a cruise line, a singles cruise. Good Lord, what was he thinking? She put the ad back in the same position.
Teri picked up the brochure. “Give him a chance. All we’ve seen so far is the front yard and living room.”
“You want to choose which is worse?”
Teri backed around the wheelchair. “Not until I see the kitchen and the bathroom. Watch out for snakes.”
“You’re too funny.” Michelle led Teri into the kitchen, where they encountered a patch of white powder on the floor hear the sink. A large animal’s prints populated the white area. “What beast made those?”
Teri didn’t help. “Hopefully one that likes women. I smell the ocean.”
Michelle found one of her mom’s cookbooks covering a baking dish. She peeked under the book and gagged. The recipe shown was for tuna casserole. Red mold had found sufficient nutrition in the dish for its needs.
A fire extinguisher leaned against the toaster-oven, and its readiness indicator had dropped from green to red. Teri pried on the oven’s door which had melted to the frame. “He’s had a fire. What he was cooking?”
“Keep moving. Pretend he was drying his shorts.”
Empty beer bottles filled the refrigerated cabinet drawers. The kitchen boasted two ovens, one holding a casserole dish whose contents had overrun. The other hid a sleeping bag. Michelle found the silverware drawer empty.
Teri peeked into the walk-in cold storage unit and slammed the door. “Hire a flock of seagulls.”
Michelle bawled tears and hiccups. “Daddy’s n-n-not a household dunce. He did all the yard work and housecleaning and cooking and took care of Mom and kept a happy face in front of me for years.”
Teri hugged her. “Don’t give up. Let’s help the man.”
Michelle’s bare feet snicked as she walked across the kitchen floor. “My daddy’s as dead as the leaves on his houseplants.”
Memories. Our home had life, joy, sometimes glitter. Is he trying to kill every trace so the pain will go away?
The women returned to the living room. Teri blew dust from a windowsill. “You said he hired a housekeeper?”
Michelle hurt her toes bumping a stack of magazines. “What can I do? I’m so getting pissed.”
Teri tripped, and her rear landed on the expired plants in Janet’s wheelchair. The chair tipped back, dumping her in a somersault. Michelle helped her up, and they restored the wheelchair and contents to their original positions.
Teri dusted her jeans. “We have time. I know a guy with a pickup who will do anything to get into my pants.”
“If you’re that hot, why aren’t you getting laid?”
“Because I don’t want to with him or anybody.”
“Slow down, woman. Now you’re the one who’s pissed.”
“Why’re you mad if you aren’t going to help him?”
Michelle stopped to think before speaking. “I’m mad ‘cause Daddy has his world set up to his satisfaction and nothing I do will change him.”
“If I clean up his clutter, Daddy will make more. He’ll stay in the same mental funk.”
Teri bent over a pile of unopened mail. “I am happy Ryan went to counseling tonight.”
“Sitting around a table with a bunch of old widows will help him?”
“I’d say Ryan totally needs a wife.”
AAARRGHH—wrong!! “Over my dead body.”
No, no other woman. Let ME take care of him. Just US, and no more.
Teri held up two forefingers in the sign of the cross. “Whoa, Nelly!”
Michelle wiped sweat off her hands. “Daddy isn’t ready to date, and I won’t allow some gold-digging slut to be my stepmother.”
“You haven’t met the woman that your dad hasn’t met and you’re already mad? Correct my memory, but you and your mother fought like hell.”
“Yes, we fought. I’ve asked for forgiveness.”
Please, Mom. Answer.
A silk scarf hung on the wheelchair handle, and Michelle played it through her fingers. Her daddy needed a housekeeper and a lawn service and a cook. And a therapist. Her daddy needed help but not a wife. No widower-hunting bitch would bag her daddy and be allowed to use her mother’s things in her mother’s house. So there.
Michelle invaded her daddy’s bedroom, and surprise—he’d made the bed. Her mom’s side of the walk-in closet was bare. She missed her mom’s nice clothes. Where had her daddy sent them? Out of town? The thought of seeing them walk down the street was probably worse for her daddy.
Where did his head reside? The house was a disaster, but his bedroom was clean.
Teri caught up with her. “Wow! PAR-TEEEE Ready!”
Michelle didn’t agree. “Not funny.”
“Well, somebody had to make that bed and I’ll bet Ryan Hogue doesn’t know how.”
Please, Teri, don’t make things worse.
Soap had been ground into the master bedroom’s laundry room’s carpet. An open pail of detergent sat in a corner, the label reading, Soil-So-Long. Michelle wouldn’t walk on the floor in her bare feet, so she pointed at the pail and asked, “What’s this?”
“Soil-So-Long’s your daddy’s private laundry soap. He makes it in the factory.”
“I didn’t know Daddy could make laundry soap.”
Teri grasped Michelle’s shoulders. “Ryan Hogue is fucking brilliant. He can make anything he wants.”
Michelle wasn’t heartened. “Except a life.”
Teri left for the bedroom. “Welcome to your daddy’s playpen.”
Michelle joined her. “I said you’re not funny.”
“He should put up a room for rent sign.”
Michelle launched into confused territory. “What do you mean?”
Teri pointed to Janet’s side of the closet. “Look there.”
“Daddy gave Mom’s clothes to charity. So what?”
“Why’s the house a disaster but the bedroom’s clean? This room is screaming for a woman to move in.”
No, no, no! “I’d put Daddy in a rubber room if one did.”
Teri emptied a trash bag on the bed, six pairs of blue jeans falling out. She stuck her fist through the split in one’s seat and the pants slid down her arm to hang from her elbow. “Now I know why he never takes off his nasty old lab coat.”
“He doesn’t want you to see his ass.” Michelle sniffed and recoiled from the bed near the headboard. “Yuck.”
Teri inhaled. “Yow, what died?”
“We now know what happens when a man doesn’t change sheets for six months.”
“Why would he do that?”
“Nobody told him he should.” Michelle probed under the bed and pulled out the barbecue grill’s rotisserie. She replaced the piece and sat on the floor.
Teri stood in the closet. “Know how women mark territory?”
Michelle snaked a hand under the bed and retrieved a hedge trimmer. “What’re you leading to?”
“What’ll happen when you spot women’s-wear in here?”
Michelle slid the trimmer back to its hiding place. “I’ll burn the house down.”
“Tut-tut, dearie. Ryan will be cute enough to cuddle when he shaves.”
Michelle put her head in her hands. “Stop jabbing. Daddy’s 50—too old for sex.” When she’d been a teenager her girlfriends had told her that her daddy was cute. Now they were twenty-something and available. So were some of their mothers. Her daddy wasn’t cute today—he was too hairy, fat, and non-communicative. But those problems might be solved.
Michelle pulled out the top drawer of her mother’s dresser. She set the drawer on the bed, revealing an envelope taped to the backside. Mom, are you paying attention? She exchanged a pink card from her pocket for the one in the envelope and returned the drawer to the dresser. “Mom hid emergency cash here when they were poor.”
“What did you just do?”
“I’m dropping notes to Mom. Making peace.”
“Yay for you.”
Michelle choked up but didn’t cry. “I need forgiveness…”
“You’ll get it.”
“…and help with Daddy…”
“Count on me.”
“… and I miss Mom.”
“I miss mine, too.”
The women hugged.
“I’ll know what to do about Daddy when Mom and I have come to terms. I’ve time.”
Michelle picked through her dad’s dresser, finding threadbare underwear and candy wrappers.
Teri giggled, “Welcome to the sports arena.”
Michelle shoved down a poultry baster. “Not funny.”
Teri started another snigger. “Think. When did you last help your employer’s daughter rifle his underwear?”
Michelle laughed despite the situation. “I’ve never studied my boss’s shorts. I’m not sure he wears any.”
“You, the career woman employed by public radio, speculate about the status of your boss’s underwear?”
“Stow it.” Michelle uncovered five industrial thermometers.
“Well, you’ve found the thermometer graveyard. The company lab has a pack rat.”
“And he’s your boss and there’s not a damned thing you can do.”
Michelle pawed through the drawer. She stepped back and put her hands on her head. “This isn’t right.”
“I see your thermometers, six pocket knives, a chain with Mom’s wedding rings, two shot glasses, a mouse pad, and a flyer from a single’s club.”
“No duct tape? I want my thermometers back.”
Michelle played with her mother’s chained rings. Fears beat at her. The mismanaged house told her something was wrong with her father. His job had always been a high-wire act but he thrived on tension. Taking care of her mother might have killed him in slow motion. “I smell something foul.”
“After the kitchen and that bed, you couldn’t smell a fart in a sauna.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Why are you sure he’s hiding from you?”
“Because I’m the family pro at sliding around the truth. Now our roles are reversed. He’s not lying but he’s avoiding getting cornered.”
“Maybe he’s stashing like your mother. Look on the back of his drawer.”
“But he knows that I know about Mom’s hiding place.”
Teri pointed at the suspected drawer. “Then your dad’s smart enough to use her stash technique because he thinks you won’t go there.”
Michelle pulled out the drawer. It weighed less than the lump in her gut. Her knees weakened but she held on. She turned so Teri could see the drawer’s back. “See anything?”
Please say ‘no.’
Teri sat on the bed. “An envelope.”
I thought Daddy was hiding from me. Why did I have to be right? Why couldn’t I leave his private business alone? Why? Why? I could choose to be a good girl and pretend I didn’t find what I wasn’t supposed to see. I could. But I won’t. Damn it all—I hate this business of being a grown-up.
Michelle placed the drawer on the bed and sat down to read what she’d uncovered—a doctor’s chart notes revealing her daddy could die from heart failure.
No, no, not you, Daddy. Please no. Don’t quit, Daddy. Stop hiding. I love you, Daddy. Let me help. We can beat this.
She blew her nose into one of her wet socks and returned the papers. She pulled her feet up on the bed and hugged her legs and cried onto her knees, quietly at first, then shoulder-racking sobs.
Teri hugged her then pushed her away. “Don’t bawl like a ninny. Talk to me.”
“Daddy’s had a heart attack.”
“Last October, before Mom died—maybe caused by the stress of her care.”
Teri hugged her knees and rocked. “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. The office doesn’t know. How did he keep it dark?”
“He’s smart. He’s slippery. He’s trying to kill himself.”
“Jesus. We’ve got to save him.”
“It’ll take more than us.”
How can you save a man from himself?
Teri wiped her nose on her sleeve. “Can we chain him to a treadmill?”
Michelle ground her fists into her eyes. “Daddy’d find a hacksaw. We need to recruit his office, his friends, and the rest of Abernathy.”
“To do what?”
“Allow him no choice but to get better. He’s smart and tricky but so are we.” Michelle stood. “Listen up, Daddy: I’m going to save your ass.”
At six, Tom Snethen wrote stories about space ships and ray guns and Martian houses—never dreaming he’d get self-flushing toilets someday. Now he’s an Oregonian writing about the saints and scoundrels he met in a career as a manufacturing chemist. His nonfiction ranges from throwing a flaming mattress out a brothel window as a volunteer fireman to borrowing a bank robber with needed skills from the penitentiary. He has written about being a widower at fifty—alone and scared. He lives to incinerate stale stereotypes—whether about industrial chemistry or the pursuit of happiness for men accidentally single.
Tom understands how to write about overwhelming grief.