To Pick

“And they say that family died, on a summer afternoon just like this one in that house… that house right… THERE,” Phil cries, jabbing a finger at the tile roof peeking over my back yard fence. With a chuckle he grabs the tongs hanging from the grill and begins poking at the burgers.

“And that family was yours,” I sigh. He tells this story every time we have a BBQ. Even when we try to keep it small, like at grandpa’s birthday, and don’t invite him. He always clatters over and tells the same story about how him, and Belinda, and little Stevie and Susie died. And it’s always the same and it’s always just the worst.

“Yep,” he grins. He always grins. Like an idiot. A big fleshless idiot who can’t keep his lawn on his side of the bushes.

The most unnatural thing about them isn’t that they are creatures of bone and, presumably, some sort of magic or radiation or something like that it. It’s that they are just so fucking happy. About everything. Happy and smiling and backing into my recycling bins. That’s the Pendren family.

Once, as we sat out by our above ground pool, Phil told me that “Life is suffering, but once you get past that bit it’s not bad!” He then poured half a bottle of beer down his non-existent throat and through the void of his torso. I watched it foam and drip down through my deck chair and felt nothing. Neither hope nor despair could stand up to Phil and his constant cheery babbling. You could only let it wash over you, cleanse you, numb you.

Phil pokes at the burgers. He’s a terrible grillmaster. Probably because he has no nose or eyes. Just mechanically mashing the patties until he declares them “just about perfect”. He won’t let me do it, because he’s “a guest, not a freeloader.”

Our kids play by the fence, Susie or Stevie (I can’t really tell child skeletons apart unless one of them is wearing a dress, and yes I know this makes me a bad person) is wrestling with the dog. The dog consistently wins, burying part of the child for later, treating them as nothing more than a walking nylabone vending machine. The other kids laugh and dig up their playmates missing piece and put it back where it belongs. “Belongs”.

I am jealous of my dog.

“Just about perfect,” Phil cheers as he nudges the burnt nuggets of beef and onion. A big swig of beer trickles down his spine, dripping onto the concrete, pooling between his garish novelty flip flops.

“They look great, Phil,” I sigh.