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On a Kitchen Shelf
Mrs. Pierce came out of the laundry room at 2:02 PM. She had just thrown in the pile of “heavy” “colors” for a long wash. The warm stench made from the old, large boiler—it wouldn’t be called ‘putrid’ of ‘evil,’ but just ‘hanging around’—hung around her as it began to fade away. And although she had lived in this house of hers for over fifty years and was indeed a widow (apparently it helps her get to know things better), this smell gave her strange feelings. And at an age of eighty-two she was entitled to a small bit of paranoia for every strange feeling. And since her doctor told her there was a small chance of her getting arthritis, she had developed a mentally defensive strategy of drinking a sixteen fluid-ounce glass of milk.
She strode into the kitchen, which looked nice for the clean white cabinets and porcelain-white plastic handles, the light green-tile floor, and the tiling on the walling above the countertop. She had remodeled shortly after her husband’s death, which was also shortly before that of her boyfriend that she had afterward, or ‘manfriend.’ She had certain liveliness, potential, inside her, that would emerge due to her endurance of any affliction from paranoia or any rare sadness that could possibly come upon her. Her husband’s will left her as much money as she could possibly want—she did not spend much of it, nor any time—and her later boyfriend left her a very brightly colored cane that she put not only to use, but also an end to.
The refrigerator was very competent and needed maintenance only once a few years. No one knew this, but the refrigerator had a very bad relationship with the rest of the kitchen, and they shared a very bad attitude towards one another, as the refrigerator hadn’t come with the rest of the remodeled kitchen (although brand name and style do not necessarily make a mutual relationship between two things) and it really didn’t fit the 50’s style of the atmosphere. This was not its fault, not entirely. But, *sigh*, it did do its best, and a good job at that, and when Mrs. Pierce opened the doors it gave her a spray of conditionally cool air. But as the misty air lifted, Mrs. Pierce found a terrible wrong: the milk: it was gone!
She was seized in a moment of terror and fury, but it subsided and in a few moments more she was undergoing an incredible investigation. “Darling,” she called longingly, for a long time, to her son Thomas upstairs.
We must now introduce Thomas Pierce, a.k.a. “Tom,” “Thomas,” or “Pierce.” Thomas was born to his father and mother in a Long Island Hospital when his mother was 43, which is though to be surprising. At school, little Thomas only wrote stories and poems, played tennis, and passed as exceptional under the smiling faces of peers. In college, he participated in many “extracurricular activities,” becoming an occasionally laid back advocate for human rights and Middle Eastern anarchist (although he never went there.) He also began writing jokes and in his third year left and became a standup comedian, a profession in which one too many parental jokes are made; this sent him sprawling at breakfast and dinner tables for forgiveness from his mother—his father was stubborn and kept at his job as a vice president of a company, which made him nag The President while it was sleeping. At many times he did plan to marry but nothing happened at all and he always lived with his mother. He published two novels, short stories and conglomerations of short stories, and a volume of annoyingly anti-prose poems and wrote and performed jokes. The death of his father presented not much of a blow to their contentedness, though while Mrs. Pierce remodeled the kitchen, Tom had stayed in his room, most of the time.
He was writing a poem up in his room about a vase of flowers and a pillow with a picture of flowers stitched upon it when his mother called him longingly downstairs. “Yes, Mother?” he replied to her “Darling”.
“We need more milk,” This may not sound very interrogative, but it was a good chink she used in her scheme of things.
“Mother, we bought milk yesterday. Two quarts!” Thomas immediately resumed writing and tried to write but also listened:
“I don’t know what happened to the milk!” she yelled, and Thomas furiously and unconsciously scribbled quickly in large letters, “MILK!”
And therefore, thought Thomas Pierce, you must come to ME FIRST! This irritated him greatly, but he settled that it was only natural, mellow consequence as he occupied his mother’s quarters. He loved her very much indeed.
“Okay,” he replied, speaking also to himself. “Are you sure you didn’t drink it?” as he climbed out of bed and slapped shut the hardcover notebook.
“No, not a sip!” She had only finished the gallon-size plastic carton yesterday and had felt little anxiety that day with the feeling that two quarts of milk were settled in their refrigerator.
“Are you sure the cat didn’t drink it?”
“We don’t own a cat.”
“Oh, yeah…” It was only from one of his most recent and favorite poems he’d written that had gone into a magazine; it was about a cat. “I forgot,” he added. “Uh, well…did you check in the garage?” It was nothing but an idea, but it was a diversion for her sake.
“I never went into the garage.” Although she had, just to take out a dusty bottle of Perrier.
“Well maybe the crickets took it.”
“Oh! Why didn’t I think of that?” she burst out. “Oh, those dirty crickets, oh how they make their way, oh they can’t take so far this time. I think I’…” And she walked away, towards the garage, mumbling dreams of absolute triumph to herself.
It might actually be absolutely unnecessary to introduce the crickets, since everyone knows what they are, but these crickets, for a great many one-week generations, have lived in and infested this garage and household during the spring, summer, and autumn. These crickets took their time until they were terrorized by the freewill of some large person. Then they were made to scurry and take their last resorts with them.
Mrs. Pierce almost tore the door to the garage off while she was muttering her dreams to herself. At last she felt at her climax. “All right, dirty crickets! Where’s my blo—oh you took my nail hardener!” and sure enough, on the ground of the garage sat in its own serene world the fine, geometric bottle of transparent pink liquid.
The crickets were frozen in place. But enough was enough. Someone had to speak up. A large cricket among them raised its head and antennas. “I’m sorry Ms uhh…”
“Bengalschwartzer.” Strangely enough, Mrs. Pierce hardly felt any terror or shock from the response and, if be considered, reasoning of the crickets. “It’s Gerrrman.”
“Yes, it’s Gerrrman! Whad do you expect?” She was beginning to sound strange herself.
“I, uh, well we’ve never been to Germany, but yes, we needed the nail harde—”
“Never mind about the nail hardener. Where’s my MILK!?” She had been standing in the doorway in the entire time, and now her hands clung to the frame of the door as if ready to catapult herself or hold onto something from being sucked into a vortex.
But in fact it was the crickets that were confused this entire time! “Milk? We didn’t take your milk.” And he rose up into an indignant stance.
“Oh…I see.” And Mrs. Pierce shut the door.
The crickets now, instead of feeling a great relief, casually resumed their business around the vicinity of the garage.
During the time that this took place, the following went on as well: Thomas, now leaning on the railing of the staircase, decided to take his own measures of interrogation.
The next introduction is that of the Wizard of Clouds, or Alfred. This wizard was an acclaimed author of four books of two unpopular genres, spells & potions and underground biological social studies. Though quite well off due to a few investment mistakes, his name was not known too well, and his landlady and her son called him “Charles.”
Thomas came in as the Wizard was reading a book on Central European history. “Charles,” he said in the longing way of his mother. Thomas felt there would be little to no ‘getting down to business,’ as it was only business that they could ever tolerably discuss and there seemed to be nothing to get down from.
All the same, Wizard grunted, “My name is not Charley! It’s…Aal-frred.” He had said it in a creeping low voice.
“Very well,” Thomas said, “but anyway did you take our milk? … I’ve been making inquiries.”
Tom thought about this. “The one we bought.” Then he added, “Two quarts!”
The Wizard spared a curious look and said casually, “Oh, no. I only took the milk I bought.”
That’s logical, they both thought.
“Well that’s only proper!” Tom cried. A pause, and then, “But where’s our milk?”
“I don’t know,” was the defensive offensive indignation.
“Oh, I see.” Tom stumbled out of the room. For a moment he wanted to look at all the books and bowls on the floor, but his feet drove him away.
The Wizard sighed and lay down on his bed. He sighed again and reopened the book, which had come to be closed during all of this.
“Do you think we could look for it?” Thomas’s voice asked as it flew into the Wizard’s room once more.
“I, well, I, uh…no!” and he buried his face in the pages.
Now Pierce began to feel glum. He did not go back to his room. Right now Mrs. Pierce was nearing the end of her interrogation of crickets, and then there was the terrible chance she might start moving everything around and renovating again just to find those two quarts of milk!
He gazed, and his eyes shifted to the separate shelves that had been bolted to the wall. On one ebony wood shelf was a traditional Russian bronze frame, and in it his father’s picture.
Thomas wished suddenly that his father would move about and it would be he that had stolen the milk, drinking down a tall glassful and caking his moustache with white. Oh, how he began to miss him and feel loss!
Then the wonderful thought sprang into his mind. Sorry, Father, it might have to wait; it might never come, for Thomas Pierce sprang away down the stairs as Mrs. Pierce came out into the hallway from the garage. “They didn’t have the milk,” she said with frankness.
“didn’t have it either.”
“Do you have the milk?” she began on a hopeful trail.
“No.” Now! he thought, but it took a few moments more. “Maybe we didn’t buy milk!” he said triumphantly, as if he had just given birth to enlightenment.
“Oh,” she said, too worn out to argue. “Well, I guess I’ll buy milk tomorrow.” There was a bit of cheeriness in her voice. “Oh well.” In fact, she hardly remembered Thomas’s remark.
Of course, the truth is that they did buy two quarts of milk. You may make an investigation of it, but I give you my word. But it wasn’t the kitchen or refrigerator, the crickets, the Wizard of Clouds Alfred, Alfred, The Wizard, or even Charley, or Mrs. Pierce, or the late Mr. Pierce, or Thomas Pierce, a.k.a. “Tom,” “Thomas,” or “Pierce.” Actually, it was the house that stole the milk. (I do not know how the biology of houses works, but that’s what happened.) Though my only trouble is actually saying that it stole the milk. I mean, that’s what they would say. But I wouldn’t even say that it took the milk. It was the Milk’s entire fault, if you ask me.