The smoke from our neighbours’ barbeque floated up and in through our bedroom window. Hamburgers. If I pressed my face into the screen I could push it out enough to see my neighbours below us. Perry, the father, was at the barbeque with a flipper, his wife, Neves, was at the patio table talking to a pair of adults.
Clearly our neighbours had company and they seemed to be enjoying themselves, relishing the last of the summer sun. I wished I was out there, too, playing on our side of the fence instead of stuck inside in my bedroom, sequestered with my sister until we cleaned up our room.
It was a common theme in my family: punishment by bedroom containment; not allowed out until it was clean. In the bedroom next to ours I could hear the thumps of my brothers wrestling or fighting or maybe even cleaning up their room like they were supposed to. We had been locked up since 2:00, so judging by the dinner preparations of my neighbours below that must have been about three hours ago.
My sister, Erin, was also not cleaning. She was lying on her back on her unmade bed holding two Barbies above her head and making them talk.
“I didn’t steal your bracelet!”
“You know you did, Amber! Give it back now!”
Three hours was more than enough time to get our room clean, but we were nowhere near complete. In fact, it looked worse than when we started.
Creating the pile in the middle of the room had been my idea.
“Let’s just put all the clothes and books and toys in one pile, then, we can work from the pile to put it away. It’ll be easier that way!”
Making the pile turned out to be fun, but once the mountain had been created, we lost interest and gradually stopped picking at it. Now there was this monstrous pile of ‘stuff’ taking up half our room that was actually more intimidating to deal with than the original messy room.
I pushed the side of my face into the screen again, this time further out, as far as I thought the screen would stretch. Perry was putting the buns on the grill to toast them and Neves was bringing ketchup and mustard to the patio table. Plates of sliced tomatoes and pickles were already on the table. She laid out napkins and started putting down cutlery. Their company was still chatting away, and while I was absorbed in trying to overhear their conversation, I did not hear my father’s steps on the stairs.
“What the hell is this?!” he shouted, standing in the doorway of our bedroom.
I jumped back from the screen, guilty at having been caught not cleaning.
“You’ve been up here for three hours and THIS is all you’ve managed to accomplish?!”
I could tell by the volume of his voice and the wideness of his eyes that he was livid. My sister hid the Barbies behind her back and looked away from Dad.
He took a step into the room and gestured at the pile.
“This looks like a pile of garbage!” he shouted. He was too loud; I was worried about the neighbours overhearing. I wondered if I could close the glass without causing my father to explode but before I got the chance to edge backward toward the window he was across the room in two strides and reaching for the screen behind me. In one motion he popped the screen from the frame and threw it out, down to the lawn below.
He then reached over to our mess mountain and began grabbing handfuls of our belongings and throwing them out the open window.
Shirts, socks, books, papers. All sailed across our backyard and over the fence to where Perry and Neves were having their barbeque supper. A pair of pajama pants got caught on a tree near the fence and flapped stupidly over the party.
I was horrified to see a pair of my underwear lying atop Neves’ bleeding heart shrubbery.
My sister was standing open-mouthed behind my father as he kept reaching into the pile. He turned toward us and appeared as if he was about to say something, then just shook his head and stamped down the stairs, calling back to us “clean it up!”.
Erin and I looked at each other, and at the greatly diminished pile. We went to the window where I could now stick my head out freely to survey the scene. Parry and Neves were looking upward to determine where the raining items came from, while their guests were chattering excitedly in another language. I could see that one of my sister’s favourite socks, the ones with the purple stars, had landed in the potato salad.
“C’mon Erin,” I said, stepping back from the window and heading for the stairs. “We better finish cleaning up”.
Alexa Farley writes poetry and short stories in the Georgian Bay area of southern Ontario. Her inspiration is drawn as much from the beauty that surrounds her as it is from her own ridiculous fallibility.
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