Mice at Play
The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. — Bertrand Russell
The stars were bright in Chula Vista — not desert-brilliant but dazzling enough when compared to the muddy gray sky above neon-lit Hillcrest. With the water in the giant Jacuzzi just a smidge over body temperature, David and I frolicked in womblike comfort as we floated around bare-assed. It wasn’t salacious, our being naked. It was practical. We don’t own swimsuits. And it wasn’t about exhibitionism — we even waited until the sun had set so that my mother’s neighbors were less likely to spot our moon-white flesh over the fence, should they be peering.
The silence at Mom’s house was weird — as the family’s hive, I’m accustomed to its incessant buzz. Until July 4th, the last time I’d had independent access to the house had been over ten years ago.
After David and I stepped through the front door and I punched in the code Mom had provided for her alarm system, I flipped on the light switch in the living room and surveyed the clutter — evidence of three women and four children scrambling to prepare for a cross-country trip. My mother and two older sisters had left a trail that included a pile of shopping tags, pedicure paraphernalia such as polish and cotton balls, and what seemed to be the papery contents of purses turned inside out to make room for new receipts and change. David retrieved two glasses from a kitchen cupboard and walked toward the backyard with the towels and chilled rosé we’d brought from home. I took one more look around, peeking into the room in which I used to sleep, now brimming with grandchildren toys, and then joined my man in the backyard.
Mom had not only said it was okay for us to take advantage of her place while she was visiting family in New York, she’d insisted on it. My mother, who grew up in a crowded home, has a communal outlook: more is always merrier. Each weekend she urges my sisters and their offspring to occupy the four bedrooms her daughters left empty when we moved out, to swim in the pool so that its existence is not wasted, to fill the air with commotion that defines her comfort zone.
My outlook is more along the lines of “I’m sorry, but was your name on the list?” I would feel uncomfortable with anyone in my house while David and I weren’t there, and even when I am home, I am specific and particular about my company. So, despite Mom’s overt welcome, and the fact that I used to call the house home, something felt illicit about my being there, and it wasn’t our nakedness.
“This kind of reminds me of when my parents would go away for one of Jenny’s soccer tournaments,” I said. David, the bottom half of his head submerged, exhaled under the water. I took his bubbles as an indication for me to continue. “Heather and Jane had already moved out, so when Mom, Dad, and Jenny went away, I had the place to myself and my hundred closest friends. Just kidding, I don’t think I ever had a hundred people over here, though there was that one party I made flyers for.”
I doggy-paddled toward David and wrapped my arms around his neck, pretending that I was as light as air and he was carrying me. “Thing was, as good as I cleaned up, my parents would always find out about my parties,” I said.
“How’d they find out?” David asked.
“Oh, one time I left a cardboard box — you know, the case for beer — in the backyard. Another time, I think my dad found that flyer. He was also the one to discover some ceramic piece broken off the back of the toilet…I never would have noticed that. You know, little stuff.” I was blasé in the telling, deliberately leaving out the part my mother would have focused on — that my inability to conceal my delinquency was the laughingstock of the family.
I never really got in trouble for my exploits because my parents were too busy smirking at my lack of slyness to dole out a punishment. After returning home and unpacking her things one Sunday afternoon many years ago, my mother had sat me down and said, “Barb, I can’t tell if you’re doing this on purpose because you hoped I would find out or if you’re really that stupid. Or maybe you just think I’m stupid.” In response to my blank stare, she clarified, “Did you really not think I’d notice the 500 beer cans in the trash? I mean, you didn’t even bring the bin around to the front. It’s still in the backyard.” When she chuckled, I knew I was off the hook, and yet I was far from relieved.
Only twice did my parents get angry: the time Jenny’s CDs got stolen during one of my bashes and the time Dad found an empty box of condoms that were not mine…the box I’d overlooked while disposing of all party evidence…the box that rested right in the middle of an otherwise spotless, white kitchen counter. Again, my mother suspected I had some desire to be caught, perhaps to prove myself rebellious.
David snapped me from my reverie by holding up his hands in the glow of the Jacuzzi light. “I’m pruning,” he said.
“Yeah, me too. But it’s so nice out here, with the stars and everything,” I said.
Despite my reluctance, I followed David out of the water and quickly wrapped a towel around my hair and another around my body before grabbing my clothes and running inside to get dressed. David collected our wine glasses and the other items I’d left outside — two hair clips and my eyeglasses. We cleaned and returned the glasses to the cupboard, and I scanned the room to make sure we’d gotten everything — towels, my purse, our phones. I was intent on leaving no trace; even though my mother had invited us to visit in her absence, I didn’t want her to know we’d been there, or perhaps the teenager in me wanted to prove that I wasn’t too stupid to be stealthy.
I reset the alarm and locked the door. While driving home, I was feeling fairly sly until a nagging thought popped into my head. “Um, beh-beh?” David gave me his attention. “I think we might have left the empty wine bottle in the backyard.”