“Connecticut Research Association,” Bob muttered, “Add one more letter and you have crap!”
“But I like this show,” Chloe Anne replied, “This is the only show I watch.”
“Yea, what’s that say about you?” he answered, “Guys running around in the dark taking pictures of shadows, recording their farts. I can’t believe you fall for this shit.”
Chloe Anne paced the hallway, ignoring her husband. She’d heard it all before. Bob did not like Spook Watch. Come to think of it, he didn’t like any of her shows. Which was probably why she only had this one left. Saved her from listening to his bitching.
She alternated between peering into her baby’s bedroom and glaring at the television. How come those people got Spook Watch to come to their house? She knew she had to step up her game, make her situation urgent. She’d have to play the baby card.
Only question was what to do.
Classical music floated through the air. Baby Ira slept, fingers in his mouth. She dimmed the night light and crept out of the room. The television was on mute, playing more of the Spook Watch marathon. She flopped on the couch, covering herself with the pile of afghans. She didn’t expect Bob back for a few days. She knew he didn’t work a boat like he claimed. She suspected her husband had another life.
She looked at the lounger, Bob’s impression molded into the pleather. Maybe, she’d throw the recliner on the lawn and set it on fire. She laughed and turned back to the television, turning up the volume. Chloe Anne watched as Svendeman, crack paranormal investigator, explained a bunch of technical terms. She doubted he would leave an impression on her lounger. No, he would snuggle with her on the couch.
She called the Spook Watch headquarters first thing in the morning. The receptionist informed her they had a long line up of cases, not to mention they needed something to back up her claim. Didn’t she know how many kooks called them every day?
She needed solid evidence. She clicked her acrylic nails on her mug. Scratches, the babies always had scratches. The Spook Watch team would recognize human scratches, and they’d blame it on her. A thought bounced off her brain and came back with an idea. Cat’s claws were sharp.
She canvassed the area around her yard. No cats. She couldn’t go far because she’d left her son sleeping in his crib. Stepping on a milk crate, she peeked into his window to check on him. Then, she remembered the dumpsters behind the rented duplexes. She found one cat, gnawing on a pack of sausage. She discovered not all cats were as cute and cuddly as their commercial counterparts. Wet from the rain, she headed back to the house to regroup.
Baby Ira cooed from the corner of his room. His face lit up when he saw his mother. He let go of the changing table and toddled toward her. Chloe Anne was impressed by his advancing skill, but all she could hear inside her head was, How did he get out of his crib? She rushed toward him, his little eyes going from joy to confusion to fear in less than a second. She scooped him up and ran out of the house.
“Baby Ira,” she began, “How on earth did you get out of your crib?”
Then it dawned on her. He could have climbed out.
She carried him into the house, setting him in his high chair. She sat at the table, moving the cereal she’d left out from breakfast. He reached for the box, so she poured a pile of oat rings on his tray. He stuffed a handful into his mouth and then grabbed another. He held out his hand. She thanked him and went to take the cereal, so tickled her little boy liked to share. He shook his head and moved his hand to another spot. She thought he was playing a game. He scrunched his face into a frown and dropped the cereal on the floor. She scolded him, bending down to pick up the oat rings. On the way up, she hit her head. He giggled. Maybe he did have his father in him, after all, she thought.
Chloe Anne tossed the cereal into the garbage can. She noticed Jesse, the neighbor’s cat, sitting in their window. She fed him and scooped his litter on occasion. In fact, she had one of their house keys. Her head exploded. She had been looking in the wrong place. Baby Ira watched her, grinning, and shoved the rest of his cereal on the floor, banging his little fists on his high chair.
The neighbors weren’t home, wouldn’t be until four or five o’clock. Half way out the door, she stopped. She couldn’t go blindly into someone’s home. She would have to case the joint. She went back inside and poured hot water over her stale tea bag.
Chloe Anne grabbed a box of macaroni and cheese and a can of tuna and started dinner. Bob might come home and complain about the house smelling like a two day old whore. She wasn’t sure what that meant, but she lit a vanilla candle to sweeten the air. She added peas to the mixture, covered the dish with foil, and set it in the oven. She unhitched her son and carried him to the living room. They played on the floor until the timer went off, and as she pulled dinner from the oven, she noticed the lights were on next door.
She was watching the next morning as her neighbors left for work. She waited an hour to make sure they were gone. Then, she waited another hour to calm her nerves. She kissed her autographed copy of Svendeman for courage, and then stuck Baby Ira in his high chair, buckling him in and giving him a couple toys. It was about fifty feet from her back door to theirs.
She slipped the key into the lock, knocking just to double check. No answer. As she turned the knob, a noise startled her so much she almost ran back to her house. Jesse had jumped on to the window sill, and he peered through the dusty pane. She opened the door and slipped inside the house. The slender cat hopped to the floor and threaded himself through her legs. She grabbed the treat can from the top of the fridge and took a handful.
“One for now,” she told the cat, “More later.”
He gobbled the prize, his tail lassoing her. She scooped him up and carried him out of the house. Jesse wiggled a little, excited to be outside, but she held on, careful not to loosen her grip. She shuffled across the yard and into her house. Baby Ira leaned over his high chair, straining the belt. Jesse freed himself and bolted under the table. He sniffed around the kitchen before disappearing into the hallway. She lifted her son out of his chair and followed the cat. She found him on the couch, as if he knew her plan.
Chloe Anne hadn’t thought much about scratching her son. She thought maybe the middle of his back would be good because it would tough for him to reach. She hoped it wouldn’t hurt him. She almost couldn’t stand that part, but she had first aid supplies at the ready. Shrugging it off, she had to get back on track, remember her objective. She wanted to get up close and personal with Svendeman. She thought of his strong arms with the swirling tattoos, embracing her, his deep voice comforting her as she buried herself in the nest of dark hair on his chiseled chest. He would rid her house of all its ghosts.
The doorbell rang, wrenching her from her daydream. She ran to the door, the baby a bobble head in her arms. He yanked the lace curtains pulling the rod off the window, as his mother fumbled with the knob. The mail lady stood there, balancing a large box. Chloe Anne thanked her for the mail and closed the door. The box was from someone named Frederick in Hollywood. She had suspicions Bob was gay, always getting boxes from a man.
Jesse sat on the couch, licking himself. Baby Ira clapped his hands, and Chloe Anne set him on the floor. He wobbled over to the cat, who suspended all bathing operations. The little boy patted his friend on the head with some force. She got between them before Jesse altered her plans. She picked him up, reassuring him until his motor kicked on while her son climbed on to the couch.
Things were falling into place. She pulled Bob’s foot stool close to the couch and sat down with Jesse in her lap. She gave the cat another treat and pulled up Baby Ira’s shirt. He shrugged away from her and reached for the cat. A chill ran through her.
She had forgotten to close the window after burning eggs at breakfast. She would shut it later. She turned her son sideways and repositioned Jesse in her lap, giving him another treat. Then, she took his paw and ran it across her baby’s skin.
He giggled. Nothing happened. Jesse pulled his paw out of her hand. She gave him a treat, the last one, and grabbed his foot again, repeating the action. Baby Ira fell sideways with laughter. She had to use some force to hold the cat. Chloe Anne squeezed his paw, and to her disgust, Jesse had been de-clawed.
Baby Ira stood up and pointed to the hallway, shrieking. The cat squirmed, and when she did not get the hint, he dug his back feet, which did have claws, into her bare thigh. She screamed, releasing him. The cat hissed and ran for the open window. She strained her eyes to see where her son pointed, thinking Bob had snuck in the back door. There was a crash, and she jumped up, knocking the stool over. Jesse had pushed through the window screen, knocking over flower pots as he jumped to freedom.
A relentless drizzle fell. Chloe Anne had thrown on her white bathrobe, smearing it with blood as the scratches oozed down her leg. She had left the house in such a hurry that she carried Baby Ira without a jacket, his shirt still hiked halfway up his back. Her leg throbbed and she groaned with each step. He weighed a ton, the lump of his wet diaper chilling her. She called for Jesse, pretending she had more treats. She had to find him, but she didn’t want her son to catch cold. She’d have to search more while the baby napped.
About six months later, she sat riveted to the TV watching yet another episode of Spook Watch. The story was local, her town even. How had she missed that? She recognized her ancient neighbor from up the street, Mrs. Otterman, who said the final straw had been seeing an apparition of a young woman searching for her husband, lost at sea. The poor soul had carried a child and called, Jesse Jesse Jesse. The Spook Watch crew had verified through historical records that a family had been separated in the fog some hundred years before, the husband a ship captain named Jesse. Chloe Anne threw her remote at the TV, shattering the screen just as Svendeman planted a big kiss on Mrs. Otterman.