CHAPTER FIVE: OH, BARON, WHERE ART THOU?
I smoked inside while I was at my mom’s because it stayed friggin’ freezing outside. My harmful habit was an old one already, no big secret. My mother worried about my lungs, but she wasn’t a hypocrite. She and Dick smoked and in the 70’s everyone smoked inside, outside, pretty much wherever. Besides, I wasn’t smoking anything else that caused concern.
My bags were packed. I could not reveal my pain to my mother. I started pacing, trying to brace myself. I stepped outside and sat on the front steps. I lit a cigarette. I noticed there was no frost on my breath. Only then did I realize the weather had changed. The sun was shining brightly in the blue sky.
Great. The day I have to leave, the sun comes out. I sat there in my parka, my jeans soaking up the melted snow. I broke into a sweat, but it wasn’t from the sun. I was trembling. I took off my coat and sat on it. Dad should be pulling up at any time, with Christian Mathew in tow…I hoped. I stared down the long parking lot, killing time…just as it was killing me.
I was happy for Baron. He joined me on the steps and sunned himself. He tilted his head towards the sky with closed eyes and a pleasant smile. I didn’t want to feel envy, but I did.
Thank God, almighty! As I watched dad’s car pulling through the parking lot, I saw another head in the passenger’s seat. I would be riding in the back seat with Baron on the way back to Raton.
After piling into the car, luggage in the trunk, the rehearsed false exchange repeated itself.
“Love you Mom, love you Dick.”
Kiss, Kiss…bye, bye.
I looked down at Baron. His grin pissed me off. He had not taken my anxiety seriously. Then he shook his head, inpatient with my uncertainty.
“Gawd, would you stop worrying Susan? All he cares about is the money! You’ll be safe in back seat with me for the whooole trip!”
I disregarded the curious looks from both Matthew and my dad. I was laughing too hard at my genius little soul mate.
About two hours later, I was jostled out of sleep by Baron’s movement. He had crawled out of my jacket, walked over my face and steadied his back feet on my forehead. He made no effort in disturbing my sleep. It came to him naturally.
I peeked open one eye only to see his one-eyed wonder right above my eyebrows.
“Gross! Gawd, Baron! Do you have no respect at all?”
“Uh, Susan, look! I think it’s a FOOD place! Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah!”
“Geez, Baron! Would you quit digging your toenails into my eyeballs? How am I supposed to look at anything?”
He lost his grip and slid down my chest until we were face to face. “Uh, sorry bout that…but FOOD! Oh yeah! Oh yeah, oh yeah!”
He jumped into the front seat and started loving up my dad. As they were having their lick fest, I stole a glance out the window at a sea of snow as far as my eyes could tolerate. I squinted against the glare.
Dad had pulled into a gas station/minimart. We were in Elk City, about ninety miles west of Oklahoma City. I slunk back down, burying myself under the blankets. I wished I were still asleep and I pretended to snore. Dad didn’t buy it at all.
“Come on, get up! Time for the old piss break! Gotta fill the tank… Matt, you got some bills right?”
My Dad’s “Captain of the Ship” bravado unnerved Matthew. He winced at his harsh voice. He had probably never heard anything like it, poor thing. I struggled to feel some empathy for him.
“Yeah, yeah sure Don, uh…let me look here. You kind of startled me there…uh… just give me a second.”
Boy, he was a skinny little thing, I thought, as I watched him step out of the car and dig through trousers that were way too big. They would’ve fallen off if it weren’t for the belt cinched tight enough to have cut off his breathing.
But that’s what my Dad told me, Christians like to suffer. He did look very uncomfortable. Which was good….right? I felt like giving him a slap on the back, but thought better of it. It might have been a little too much good suffering all at once.
Now my head was thick.
“Yeah, here you go, Don, is ten dollars enough?”
My dad shrugged. “Yeah that should do for now. We’ll stop again in Amarillo.”
“Hey Susie, get out and get us some lunch. You know, get some deviled ham, some sausage wieners, umm, some soda crackers and cheese, yeah get cheese, cheddar, sharp, and see if they have any hot mustard. And let’s see, get some Jimmy sticks, you know, the mild ones…and get some with cheese mixed in for Baron. Get some more Coors and Pabst Blue Ribbon too.
Boy, oh boy. I was a waitress, but I just woke up and I didn’t have a pen.
“Sure dad, no problem, you’ll watch Baron while I go inside then?”
He was already filling the tank, looking at the money ticking by on the gas panel.
“Of course, now get going. Go to the bathroom now, if you need to.”
“Yeah, Dad, yeah…whatever you say Dad…” The snow muffled my disdain.
Halfway to the entrance of the mini-mart, my head began clearing just enough to remember Vienna sausages. I went on autopilot as I wound down three small aisles, picking up the usual. It didn’t take a full-fledged brain to grocery shop in a mini-mart. I just picked up the same old tasty crap.
I did, however pick up dill pickles. Hah! He hadn’t mentioned dill pickles, but he would be pissed if I’d forgotten them.
Matthew was looking for a bagel and had to settle for a loaf of bread. That was good, right?
If he had found a bagel, he would have been happy. I wasn’t sure that happiness was what he wanted…with all that suffering and stuff.
Then I saw a bag on the bottom shelf. Yep, six brown, ugly, tasteless bagels. They’d probably been on that shelf for weeks. I figured they’d be more suffering than the bread, so I called Matt over.
“Is this what you’re looking for, Matthew?”
He was elated. It was the happiest I had ever seen him. I knew I had committed a grave sin.
I walked up to the counter with all of the collected supplies, just as Dad came in to pay for everything. Good. I headed for the bathroom.
I was still in such a fog, I couldn’t wait to get back in the car and go back to sleep. Even the bag of Cheetos he let me buy didn’t keep my head from bobbing.
With the tank filled, bladders emptied, we were out the door and on the road, back into a sea of white. Thank God, it wasn’t snowing anymore but the isolated road was packed with a foot of snow.
I watched Mathew take inventory of his dried fruit, pistachios and his precious, evil bagels. He bought milk. I could not believe it. Milk? What the hell? If I didn’t fall asleep soon, I was going to dig into the cooler and get me a cold one.
My body was rocking back and forth. I was stretched out on the back seat. Sleep came quickly to me. I wasn’t sure how long it was before I realized something was wrong. There was something missing. I was still half-asleep, in a state of unsettled consciousness. I then became more aware. More aware of what was not there.
I bolted up and looked around the back seat. Nope, he was not there. Now I was terrified, and I was enraged. “Dad, where’s Baron!?”
He had never heard my tone like that, in fact no one had.
“What do you mean, where’s Baron? What are you drunk? He’s back there with…you…?”
“DAD! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO WATCH HIM! WHERE THE HELL IS HE?”
I couldn’t believe this. My dad was slamming on the breaks on a sheet of frozen snow. We slid sideways one way, and then slid sideways the other way. We finally careened to a stop.
My dad looked back at me with genuine bewilderment and fear on his face. He was looking into a mirror.
“DAD! YOU DIDN’T! YOU LEFT HIM BACK THERE?” GODDAMMIT, DAD! HOW COULD YOU?”
He looked like he was going to start crying. He loved Baron more than anything in the entire Universe. He went into a panic. His voice became pitchy and squeaky.
“Nu-uhh! I did not! He’s under the blankets!”
We all scrambled out of the car only to be assured that YES, Dad had abandoned Baron at the gas station in Elk City.
All three of us, Matt included, started screaming like terrified little women. Dad whipped the car around so fast it almost went into the opposite ditch. How in the hell were we going to get Baron back? It was freezing outside. We had at least an hours drive back, if we went 90 miles an hour on a snow packed road.
That did not matter. I was so mad I was cussing my dad fiercely. He was so scared; he just wilted under my barrage of defamations. Matt stayed busy praying to the Lord and sang every familiar hymn he remembered, with a lot of “praising jesuses” mixed in.
I gritted my teeth and leaned forward. I growled into my dad’s ear. “If we don’t get Baron back, I will kill myself. But I’ll send a letter first, telling everything.”
He did not argue with me. I already had the “look.” Now I had the “voice.”
It was all too much. I broke into uncontrollable sobs, wailing; screaming that I wanted to die. I lost track of time. I was in hell and there was no clock there. I’d seen the ‘Exorcist’ and I was turning into Blair.
I found the tire iron on the floor, I was getting ready to smack him as hard as I could, I should have. I wouldn’t have regretted it one bit. At that point, I just didn’t care anymore. I didn’t want to live anymore, I lost my fear.
All the sudden my dad said “Sue!” Sue! Look, Sue, it’s him, I swear!”
Then I saw Matthew’s arm outstretched pointing toward the front window.
“Jesus Lord! It is a MIRACLE! There he is!”
I was envisioning killing Matthew, giving him all the happiness he ever desired.
Now, both Dad and Matthew were pointing at a little black dot on the side of the road, next to the gas station exit.
From the back seat, I peaked through my fingers as I watched the gas station become nearer in sight. On the side of the road, there really was a little black dot.
NO WAY…NO WAY… NO WAY. GOD COULD NOT BE THIS GOOD TO ME!
Dad sped up and started yelling, “THERE HE IS! THERE HE IS! THERE HE IS!”
I kept scowling and growling. Yet I kept my eyes on that little black dot.
Soon enough, we pulled up to that little black dot and I must say he was thoroughly pissed. I swear he had his arms crossed, impatiently tapping his foot.
When we finally got to him, he raised is right middle finger. I didn’t know dogs could do that! I was highly amazed and proud! People always told me that dog only have toes, as they only have feet. Baron put that myth to rest.
“Where have you stupid motherfuckers been? I’m fucking freezing out here, Assholes!”
“Me, are accusing me? I can’t live without you, Baron!” He gave a wink meant only for me, and told me to hush.
Dad pulled the car around, I opened the passenger door, grabbed him up and we were out of hell and on our way to Hades.