… she's not coming down 'til it all makes sense again…

My life with fleas


Chapter One

 It all started in 1969.  I was 5 years old, living with my parents and a brand new baby brother, in a run-down little upstairs apartment in a run-down little house in a junky little town on the outskirts of an even junkier Warren Ohio. Ah yes, I remember it fondly… Dad was working two jobs, full-time at General Motors, and part-time at Ward’s Auto Parts. I remember Dad telling me to listen at the upstairs window in that apartment, for the call of the Bob-White, which is a bird with a two-word vocabulary, “Bob,” and “Whiieete.”

 One day my dad left for one of his two jobs, and he forgot to tell me good-bye or that he loved me or something, so I stood crying at that window, until my mom called him AT WORK and he came all the way back. And told me he loved me or hugged me or something. Maybe I was a tiny bit needy… because of that brand new baby brother and all… just guessin’.

 This apartment was actually the upstairs of Marky McPher**son’s house. (That’s pronounced “mic-FEAR-sun”)  Marky was 5 too, living with his parents and his little sister, Kimmy, in a run-down little house in a run-down little town… The one memory I have of Marky McPher**son, besides his fiery red hair, his beady, flint-cold eyes, and the uni-brow, is of him pushing little, Kimmy face down into the floor, and then jumping up and down on her little tiny baby back, while Kimmy screamed in pain. Maybe Marky McPher**son was a bit needy too…

 Maybe my parents thought, oh this will be great, we’ll live in this upstairs apartment for a year or so, while our new house is being built a couple miles away… and DawnieLane will have a little playmate right downstairs, oh my, it’ll be awesome!! I’ll bet they thought that, and you can’t really blame them. Maybe they never even met Marky McPher**son, until they had already signed the lease, maybe Marky’s mom just casually mentioned that she had a son. Maybe she trotted out the adorable blonde Kimmy, as evidence of her ability to produce socially acceptable progeny.. I don’t know, you know, these are questions that plague me, years later…

 Marky was the kinda kid who was always coming up with plans like, “Let’s throw rocks at my dad’s garage windows and then run like hell!,” or, “Let’s see how many of these bugs we can get Kimmy to eat!”, or,  “Let’s dig up your dead pet salmonella-infested turtle 4 days after he died and see how far along his skeleton is coming.” Or maybe that last one was mine… I was pretty into forensics, even at five…

 I don’t much remember Marky’s mom or his dad or their dogs, what they looked like how they sounded..  They had little dogs, I guess, several of them, or at least two. It was definitely plural. But Mom tells me that the dogs were absolutely crawling with fleas, just completely overrun… And the McPher**son’s part of the house must’ve been overrun also, because Mrs. McPher**son had given up. Mom says she just sat in her recliner (Mom said “chair,” but I can’t imagine it being anything less than a shabby old recliner), with her feet up, and with her fluffy, flea-ridden dogs on her lap… She sat, all day, day after day, picking fleas off those dogs… And trapping each flea between her thumbnail and her fingernail, she pinched, until she cracked the little flea carapace and squished the little flea innards out. And then she dropped the dead little flea carcass down beside her chair, on the floor. In a pile. A pile that grew large enough  to become visible to the human eye from across the room. Now you probably know how tiny fleas are. And so you can by extrapolation estimate that it would take a whooooole lotta fleas to make a pile.

 And now that I know how many diseases fleas carry, well actually, I don’t know the exact number of diseases fleas carry, I don’t know if anyone does, to be fair… But when I think of Mrs.McPher**son cracking all those fleas in her fingers… and then maybe going out in the kitchen and making a peanut butter sandwich for Marky… I begin to realize how many layers there are to a person… even Marky McPher**son…has layers… And also, the tragic Kimmy, I’ll bet she ate sandwiches too..

 I guess the upstairs apartment was connected to the McPher**son’s by a staircase, like most houses are… I don’t think we had a private entry, I think we had to traipse through the McPher**son’s communal living space, to get to our apartment. Which explains how Mom knew so much about the whole flea picking/cracking/squishing scene… And  Mrs McPher**son’s dogs had a bad little habit of rushing the stairs and trying to get into our apartment. Probably because there were no fleas there. Probably it was like some sort of nirvana for them…the promise-land, after their suffering on this earth… 

 Eventually and predictably, the dogs made it a few times into our apartment.

 One day my mom rolled my tiny newborn brother over as he stirred from his nap in his pristine white lace bassinet… She leaned in to lift him and smell his fuzzy little heaven-scented baby head… and to her horror, watched as a tiny brown fleck traveled, quite deliberately, across his fuzzy little forehead…

 We moved out of the top of the McPher**son’s house shortly after that.

 Later when I attended school, Marky McPher**son was a grade behind me. We pretended not to know each other for the next eleven years. Not because of the fleas, just in general…


7 thoughts on “My life with fleas

  1. So glad to see you back! YAY!

  2. I wonder what ever happened to poor Kimmy!

  3. Kathy, Marky probably buried her so he could dig her up again… or was that Dawn?

  4. Oh, this is priceless. Really great writing. I might have to share this with my students as we are about to write memoirs of our own. This is the perfect amount of description . . .will make for great setting discussion, too. Lovely!

And what about Naomi?

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