Suburban Fortress
Tom Snethen


From 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
“Crisis Counseling” – February First 2018
“Chocolate Killer” – March First 2018
“Day of the Maggots” – March Fifteenth 2018
“Suburban Fortress” – April First 2018

Coming Soon: “On-Spec Lingerie” – May First 2018

I intended the water blaster over my front door to be my new life support program—LEAVE ME ALONE! I didn’t want sympathy. I didn’t want to sell my house. I didn’t want a private interview with Jesus. I didn’t want a personal trainer. I didn’t want a subscription to Farting Bulldogs Monthly. I didn’t want a date with your sister or mother or ex-wife.
“Do you know how stupid this looks?” A question from Janet, my wife’s ghost. She’d been my ombudsman, the woman who knew everyone’s birthdays and their kids’ names. Our neighborhood loved her. Janet was not in favor of soaking people who rang my chimes.
Stupid, she asked? Yeah, I knew stupid. I owned a mirror. I saw him daily.
My name is Ryan Hogue. I’m 50 and a widower six-months into the impossible journey. I’m also a disgusted resident of Abernathy, Oregon. My so-called friends now wanted something personal from me under the guise of helping. Charity be damned.
Give me time. Give me time to figure out my new world. Give me time away from the well-meaning do-gooders who feel their answers to my problems will solve their problems. Give me distance from self-serving nimrods trying to enroll me in a program for immediate happiness. Give me time away from self-help gurus, group grief-counselors, nosey business associates, and old friends who knew I was hurting. Give me time away from intrusion most of all.
“You won’t create mental freedom by soaking bell-ringers, balloon-butt.” Janet, the dietician.
I can try.
I held the ladder while the plumber adjusted the showerhead. He’d made the task look easy—a few feet of flexible poly pipe, a solenoid valve, a motion sensor, a receiver for a remote control, and an hour’s labor. An outlet by the porch light provided electricity. People never saw the obvious, so we hid the plumbing in plain sight. He climbed down, and we carried his tools to his truck.
The plumber will finish this job and go home. Most likely to his family. I saw a wedding ring. He probably doesn’t even think about his situation. Wallow in your life, fellow. Tags like husband and daddy are fleeting in the grand scheme. Be thankful, fella, be thankful.
“Stop whining. You had your moment, but time moved on.” Janet, attitude adjuster.
I was installing a few mostly passive defensive deterrents against the doorbell-ringing dingdongs arrayed to annoy me. To me, passive meant not hurting the interloper very much. I’d expected resistance from the plumbing company over fear they’d get sued by wet victims, but they’d done work down at my factory and wanted to receive more of the same. Or so I’d surmised.
The plumber drew a piping outline in the air with his forefinger—an artform common to industrial types. “I’ve got a booster pump on order. I’ve called the electrician I met at your plant. He’ll increase the power from one-ten to two-twenty. You’ll get enough water pressure to knock a dozen people on their butts.”
Gawd Bless America. Step two in the grand plan will be to add an injection line with a little soap and vinegar. A free wash.
“Are you listening, scrub-a-dub butt? You’re going to lose what friends you still have.” Janet, flying her warning flags.
But I don’t WANT any friends.
“So you say now. You’ll change your mind.”
I’d perfected the art of mumbling with a closed mouth, so others wouldn’t hear me conversing with a ghost—ventriloquism for the addled-minded. Most people talked to themselves when no one else would listen.
The plumber pointed to the rosebush surrounded by three-feet of bark-dust and sprinkled with red envelopes. “Are you fertilizing with diet plans?”
“Hee-hee-hee.” A snort from the heavens.
You can’t hide in a small town. Or fool anyone for long. My daughter Michelle had saturated our home place with red envelopes containing diets for me. Intrusive. Invasive. Unwanted. I couldn’t put my head around the proper word. Violating?
Fertilizer? Yeah, that’s what those envelopes are, fertilizer. Let me go, people, so I can catch the Cardiac Express and join Janet. Death by knife and fork will work. I know so. But I need more time. Let me check out MY way. Michelle will only extend my misery if she succeeds.
I poked at the bark-dust with my toe. The surface sank an inch with no resistance. I smelled a trace of what lurked out of sight but I detected no more odor than would be expected in a real rose garden. “You’re looking at the first chapter of an unwritten book, The Widower Strikes Back. The bark-dust’s floating on a thousand gallons of soggy manure.”
The blow-back starts here. Whoever’s been prowling in my yard is in line to be hellaciously surprised.
“Amen.” Janet.
“And the envelopes are bait?” The plumber grinned. He was buying into the spirit of my suburban stronghold.
“I didn’t have a sacrificial goat.”
He climbed into his rig. “I’d like a manure pit to trap the jerk who’s walking his dog in my yard after dark—maybe throw in his dog’s poop.”
“I know just the lady who’ll dig one for you. And quietly.” I did know.
“I’ll call you if my midnight prowler doesn’t move on.” He hesitated.
I sensed a problem. “Is there something else?”
“Yeah, I have a chore that falls in the category of how badly do I want to stay happily married.”
I knew what was coming and let him play out the line. He was on my side.
“My wife—he pointed a thumb over his shoulder—told me—a thumb into his chest—to tell you—a five-finger at me—that she knows the ideal woman for you when you’re ready.” He spoke with a rhythm similar to his air diagram.
“And if I’m not ready?” I didn’t plan to be ready in this century. Or before the arrival of the Cardiac Express, whichever arrived first.
“She may bring her by anyway.”
“You might warn her about the welcome shower.”
He started the motor. “You know, I think I might forget to tell her.”
He drove away, leaving me alone with my thoughts. Why was I driving people away when I enjoyed conversation? I know why. I’m on a treadmill, chasing the Carrot of Solitude. I can’t catch the rascal, and I can’t dismount. The static race goes on day and night.
“I don’t know why, either, sweetie. You worry me.” Janet, ever supportive.
A small, but increasing list of my associates was aware I talked with Janet and she answered. Let ‘em wonder.
My neighbor Addie crossed the street after the plumber drove away. Addie was a widow, 80+. She volunteered on our street as part of the neighborhood watch. While on midnight patrol she packed a twelve-gauge pump-action shotgun, a Taser that penetrated Kevlar, and a flashlight to unearth scoundrels. She’d asked me to find a funny way to rid our street of religious recruiters and politicians. I was a man alone who didn’t have a living spouse to tell me I was nuts and don’t do it.
“Don’t do it. You’re nuts.” Janet—my dead spouse handled the duty just fine.
I handed Addie the shower’s remote. She smelled like warm peanut butter cookies.
She inspected my handiwork. “I watched the plumbing go up. I don’t see any obvious giveaways as to your trap. Is it ready?”
I answered with the pride of a man doing an old woman a favor. “Absolutely.”
Two young men in dark suits, white shirts, and crew cuts walked up. I’d seen them or their clones many times. “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your friend and savior?”
Why should I? What could these two morons do for me that a fifth of single-malt couldn’t? Who or what I accepted was none of their damned business. Now I had to figure out how to position them under the shower.
Addie jerked a thumb my way. “I won’t, but he will if you come back in an hour.”
If I lived to be a hundred, I’d never meet anyone more gullible. Addie was a pro.
Addie smiled, her arms wide. “Bring your deacon. Bring your friends. Now mind your manners and run along. We’re busy.”
The young men bought into Addie’s deportment and left.
The devil thrives in many forms.
Janet giggled from behind the mote in my eye. “God will get you for what Addie has in mind.” Janet had arrived to keep my path on the straight and narrow. I gathered death had liberated some of her inhibitions.
Addie and I walked to my porch where two heavy chairs waited, laminated wood—waterproof. She rocked one. “These are new.”
I had a plan, of sorts. “I placed them to direct people to stand where I want.”
“Under the shower?”
Under the shower. Passive direction. People won’t do what I tell them. LEAVE ME ALONE. So, let them think they’re in control. Stand right there, people. Let me wash away your sins. They won’t tattle on me because they’ll want others to suffer the same. Thank Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn. And you’ll be contributing to my wellbeing because I’ll feel better.
“Are you sure about feeling better?” Janet, challenging another assumption.
Ignore Janet and talk to Addie. “You’ve got the idea. Pay attention to the two settings on the remote. Automatic mode will soak the ding-a-ling who rings my doorbell.”
“You should know by now not to ignore me.” A miffed ghost.
Addie held the remote as if she was shooting from the hip. In her head she might be the Midnight Marauder. Or the Daylight Darling. “And the manual setting?”
Shoot from the hip, Addie. Don’t lose your edge. I worship you. “Manual means the showers will fire off only when you press the red button. Are you with me?”
Addie lifted the device and smiled. “I am.” Her teeth were too perfect to be her own. Chin wattles and wrinkles said, “Take me as I am.”
I felt a mild edge of discomfort. This project could go South on me if she was careless. I addressed Addie. “Promise to deploy the shower only on the despicable.”
“About time you woke up, sweetums.” Janet with a late alarm clock.
Addie bared her teeth. “Define despicable.” The woman meant business. I guess dedication was a privilege of the senior elite.
“Remember mercy, sweetie. We’ll keep living here, and people have long memories.”
“I heard you didn’t care what our neighbors thought.” Janet, always correct.
Tell me what day it is, and I’ll tell you if I care. I change at sundown but mostly I’m slogging after that carrot.
Addie heaved a deep sigh. “My days are all the same. This new plaything will break the monotony.”
Oh, joy—Addie took the conversation to one of my forbidden corners. “Is monotony what I have to look forward to?” My biggest reason for wanting to catch the Cardiac Express—I didn’t want to spend my years watching TV or go mind-numb chasing a golf ball.
“Ryan, honey, you are way too close to the wind to feel the storm.”
What’s she talking about now? “I failed metaphysics, Addie.”
Addie put the remote in her apron pocket. “I meant you haven’t figured out that men and women are different.”
Now what else don’t I know?
“Listen and learn, loved one.” Janet, advisor at large.
Easy for her to say. She might have been gifted recently with all the answers. She might.
“Dad gave me that lecture a long time ago.” Like hell he did. I interrupted and told him what I’d learned in school. I thought he learned a few things from me. Thinking about the conversation later I realized we were both full of crap.
“Well, I have new material.”
New material at long last—what a relief. Maybe I could have a father-daughter chat with Michelle.
“You’re kidding, right?” My ephemeral companion.
I stayed on track. “What don’t I know?”
Addie ran a hand along the feeder line to the shower. “A widower who has been happily married will be married again. But he has no tools to sort women out. He trusts they’ll all be like his late wife.”
If they aren’t like Janet, why bother? As for tools, what’s she talking about. I have the same equipment as the last time. “They won’t?”
“Boy, I hope not.” Janet should take time off to allow for private conversations. Gawd, I love that woman.
Addie was passionate on the subject. “An older single woman will be cautious with men.”
“Why only older women?”
Addie breezed right past my question. “She’ll be either not trusting in men or wish to prove she can live without a man.”
Addie stopped talking and looked around the neighborhood. I felt her take a trip back through the years. “I fell into the had-something-to-prove category. My husband died, and I’d never balanced a checkbook. I decided I’d never be dependent again.”
Addie, your complaint works for men, too. I had no idea what Janet did for me. Now I can’t go back and do my share. “Is that why you say all your days are the same?”
“Mostly. Don’t allow my life to happen to you. Take your time, but don’t dawdle. Trust no woman, but find one to trust.”
A white van turned the corner onto Mission and parked a half-dozen houses away. Six people departed, three men and three women—all of them in dark slacks or skirts and white tops. Immaculate. Now I was distracted. I had to reach to recall what Addie had said.
Her conversation came back—Trust no woman, but find one anyway? Or something like that.
What the hell did she mean? Were all women nuts?
“No more so than the men.” Janet, clarifying.
“Thanks for the advice, but I’ll need a while to figure out how to take my time but not dawdle.”
“When you find the right woman, court her, dammit. Don’t flop around while she figures out she doesn’t want you.”
“I will as soon as I find one.” Will I? Really?
The visitors split six ways and marched precision-like to six homes. They knocked, and nobody answered. Either they had the wrong time of day or our street was a tough sale. They reassembled and marched my way.
“I have something else you should think about cuz you didn’t hear me.”
I refocused on Addie, who was was patronizing me. I hated that. “I listened. I did. You told me to find the right woman and court her. I heard you.”
“Courtship’s only part of the message.”
“And the rest?”
“The woman you need to find is independent. Doesn’t want a man. Doesn’t want to be found. When you meet such a woman, TURN HER HEAD.”
Hoo-boy, she’s advising a guy who failed middle-school courtship rituals. I should crawl under the rug. “You simplified my task. Find a woman avoiding discovery and bestow attention not wanted.”
“Stop whining. You’ve got money and brains and a lifetime of bullshit you’re holding back for her.” Janet, with my marching orders.
Maybe she’s right. I do.
The approaching cavalcade of suits turned up my front walk.
I had obtained what I’d been lacking—direction. I took her hands. “Addie, until this minute I had no idea what I wanted. Thank you.”
“Finally!” Janet.
Addie wasn’t done. “Put your heart into the fray. The woman you haven’t met yet is counting on you.” Addie started for her house. “You’re back in the game now. And thanks for the toy. This plaything beats the hell out of bingo.”
I went inside. Addie waved my visitors toward my front door with her grandest smile.