The Gathering Brood/3/21-2020

Heading Out

Meet Denise

Unlike the stifling apartment that Emily confined herself to, Denise had plenty of room in her spacious colonial in rural Connecticut.

Unlike the stifling apartment that Emily confined herself to, Denise had plenty of room in her spacious colonial in rural Connecticut. Her front yard was rolling with manicured green grass, thanks to the pricey landscapers her husband hired, while the closest neighbor was out of eye’s view due to a small copse separating the properties, the town proper several miles away. When she and Jeff bought the house, Denise felt she would be able to breathe for the first time, having little idea that the air would eventually be filled with a house full of teenage boys’ toxins.

“Boys!  Please take care of your roller blades!” Denise shouted from the kitchen window into the backyard just as Danny and Elliott dove into the pool, the plunge a sound of blatant disobedience. That was how Denise took it anyway. Jeff would tell her it was just the sound of “boys being boys.” Just then boiling water began spilling out of the pot filled with potatoes onto the stove top. She ran over to lower the flame.

            Josh strolled into the kitchen wearing board shorts and a shirt that made the statement: Faggots should DIE.

            She wiped perspiration from her forehead. “Josh, please, go take that off. That is much too inappropriate…” She stopped, realizing he couldn’t hear a word she was saying with the headphones plugged in his ears. She walked over to him, tapping him on the shoulder.

            “What?” he shouted.

            “I want you to change that shirt.”


            “It’s offensive.”

            “Fags are offensive.”

            Elliott came in through the back door, a towel wrapped haphazardly around his pre-adolescent frame dripping with water. He had two sets of Rollerblades cradled in his arms.

            “Speaking of fags,” Josh said, walking over and shoving Elliott’s shoulder, causing him to drop a Rollerblade on his bare foot. He howled in pain. 

            “Josh!” Denise screamed, her damp face now flushed. “Now pick that up for your brother.”

            “It’s okay, Mom. I got it.”  Elliott scooped up the Rollerblade and limped as he carried it down the stairs to the basement. 

            Josh plugged his ears with the headphones then opened the refrigerator, taking out a two-liter bottle of Coke. He slammed the door and strolled out of the kitchen, heading toward the family room, gulping down the soda.

            Don’t cry…don’t cry…she demanded herself, pulling a kitchen chair out and sitting down, trying to collect herself, only to be interrupted by the ringing phone. She sighed and got up, grabbing the receiver before Josh did. Seems the phone was always for him lately and sometimes it was a girl on the other end. Sometimes Denise wondered if taking his cell phone away as punishment was worth it. “Hello,” she said.

            “You’re not going to believe this,” Natalie said.

            “Don’t tell me you’re not coming,” Denise said.

            “Em didn’t bake the pie.”


            “And, it’s the only request Mom made from her. We have to have apple pie. Are they there yet?”

            “Who?” Denise said.

            “Mom and Dad.”       

            “Not yet,” she replied, glancing at the clock on the wall. “They said they’d be here around elevenish.”

            “So, what are we going to do?” Natalie said.

            “What do you mean? About the pie? Mom’ll survive without it.”

            “That’s cold.”

            “With everything she’s been through, I don’t think a pie will matter, Nat.”

            “I’m just saying, it’s the only request she’s made.”

            “Then why don’t you stop at a bakery and pick one up?”

            “Denny! You know how she feels about bakery pies. That would be an insult.” After a slight pause, Nat added, “Do you think maybe you could whip one up?”

            Whip one up? Denise had to will herself to stay calm. Without knowing why, she muttered, “I’ll see what I can do, okay?”

            “I’m sorry. I mean, it’s unfair that you have to fix what Emily was supposed to do.”

            Elliott came back up from the basement. “The skates are in the closet, Mom.”

            Denise looked over at her son—her saving grace. He and Danny were twins, on the cusp of becoming teenagers, but Elliott didn’t seem as eager to cut the apron strings as Danny did or how Josh had done some time ago. “That’s fine, honey—”

            “Great!” Natalie blurted. “I gotta go, but I’ll be there in a couple of hours.”

            Denny realized that Nat thought she’d agreed to make the pie. She shouted into the receiver, “Nat! Nat! I was talking to Elli—” But her sister had already hung up. Just then, she heard her husband coming down the stairs.

            “Anything wrong?” Jeff strolled into the kitchen, his paunch hanging over his bathing suit.

            “Aren’t you going to put a shirt on?” she said.

            “Not to take a dip into the pool.”

            Denise went over to the stove to check on the potatoes. They were done. She turned off the burner. “You have time to go for a swim?” she asked, hoping her husband would offer to help.

            He shrugged. “Yeah, then I’ll check on the grill.”

            “The grill?” she said, lifting the large pot of potatoes over to the sink and pouring them into a strainer, the steam warming her face. “You haven’t checked the propane, yet?”

            “What’s the big deal, Denny?” he said.

            Her throat was closing up, her eyes filling with tears.

            “Listen, this whole reunion is getting to you. Maybe it’s just too much for you.”

            She stared at him, wanting to tell him that if he helped it wouldn’t be too much for her. Instead she said, “Would you please tell Josh to change that horrid shirt he’s wearing?”

            “Shouldn’t stifle his opinion, Denny,” Jeff said. “If we make him change, it’ll only make him all the more rebellious.”

            “Either that,” she muttered, “or he’ll go to the next level to try and push our buttons.”

            But Jeff was already out the back door; seconds later, the plunge. This time it was of unconcern.