Flew down to Florida last Friday. My mother picked me up at the Sarasota airport.
It was late in the day, nearly dinner time. “What are we having tonight?” I asked.
“L.O.’s,” my mother said, pulling away from the curb.
My mother’s car had been broken into the two nights before. As we drove down I-4, she launched into an agonizingly detailed rendition of the event.
“I thought you lived in a nice neighborhood?” I asked.
“We do live in a nice neighborhood,” she said. “That’s what the sherriff told us. ‘Criminals don’t rob the bad neighborhoods.’ What’s to rob there?”
My mother works for a visiting nurse service. The thief had stolen a bag out of the backseat of her car. The bag contained hypodermics, a stethoscope, thermometers, things like that.
“I blame your father,” mom said.
I asked her why.
“His routine is, just before dark, he goes outside and puts up the windows in the vehicles then locks them. But that night, he forgot. He was watching something on TV, and he forgot. When we lived on Powell Road, we never locked our doors at night, on the house or the cars. Most of the time we left the car keys right in the ignition. It’s different down here. Bad things happen all the time.”
The three of us ate dinner. We sat in front of the TV, hunched over the coffee table. Then my parents squinted at the TV Guide channel for about 20 minutes and complained that there’s never anything on. “It’s all repeats now,” my mother explained.
“What about Hildalgo?” my father asked. Hildago. 2004. Viggo Mortensen plays a Pony Express courier who travels to Arabia to participate in some kind of marathon desert horse race.
“Fine,” I said. I’d suffered through far worse during my visits. Far, far worse.
We watched Hildago. It wasn’t bad. My dad and I drank beer. When the credits rolled my dad moved the coffee table out of the living room and began to inflate the air bed.
“How firm do you want it?” he asked over the din of the air compressor.
“Pretty firm,” I said.
My parents took turns brushing their teeth. Then they went into their room, shut out the light, and the two of them began snoring almost immediately.
My mother has a wall clock in the living room that plays a variety of instrumental themes on the hour. Somewhere Over The Rainbow began to play. Eleven o’clock.
I got up and went to the kitchen for a glass of water. I checked the sliding glass door, making sure it was locked. I peered through the glass. I could see my mother’s car in the April moonlight. I pictured a man. A stranger. Someone bold enough, or crazy enough, or unbalanced enough to walk onto my parents’ property and open the door to their car.
That mysterious person, were I there a few nights earlier, would have been only 15 or 20 feet away from where I was standing.
My dad talks tough. He acts like nothing could scare him. He eats his hot mustard, brags about his masculinity. But I think this theft scared him. He tried to lay on some of his tough talk over dinner. It wasn’t very convincing.
I’m still peering through the glass. There’s nothing outside, no movement. It’s a still night. No wind.
But I feel the weight on my shoulders. I feel the air going out of my chest. This is exactly what I do not want to see when I visit mom and dad: their frailties, their insecurities, the ways in which the world threatens them. I listen to them snore in the next room. I look through the glass at the night.
I’m pissed. I’m angry. “Come back, you motherless cocksucker, whoever you are,” I whisper. My words are fogging the glass. “Just try to come back here, and I’ll break your goddamn pencil neck, you fuck.”