By Margaret Gardner
Harold cupped his white shapeless paws, soft like a woman’s, but massive, around the end of a cigarette. Once it lit, he eased back and let out a sigh. It had been a long day at Hank’s Installation. He had managed to slaughter three enormous dragons on his own, earning himself the undying gratitude of a man, an old man, and one extremely attractive young lady. She was the Queen of Sheba, but she went by the alias of “Ms. Hartel”.
Actually, Harold had only installed three washing machines. He liked to pretend he was doing something altogether more useful, like slaying dragons, because it passed the time, and made it easier to deal with grouchy customers. After all, anybody would be grouchy if he had a dragon roosting in his laundry room.
Still, it had been a rough day. Harold really felt he deserved a good long smoke before going back home to Mother. Not that there was anything wrong with Mother – she was a great woman, both in size and personality, and Harold respected her deeply. He had no qualms about living with her, as other thirty-something year old men might. She made life interesting, that much was certain. He never quite knew what to expect from her. Sometimes he would come home and find her meditating on top of a pyramid of chairs, the apartment reeking of lavender incense. Yes, Harold definitely needed a little nicotine under his belt before he could face such a prospect.
He was sitting on a picnic-like table right outside Hank’s. Normally, he liked to go to Central Park to enjoy a cigarette, but tonight, low on stamina as he was, he feared the ninjas might pick him off before he could get there. The ninjas were a group of preteen boys on skateboards who routinely harassed Harold with water balloons whenever he crossed the railroad tracks on his way to the park. He called them “the ninjas” because they moved so much faster than he could; he had not as of yet managed to devise a method of defeating them. “One day,” he muttered, “one day.”
Flinging aside his cigarette butt, Harold made to rise from the bench. It was no small effort, and it elicited from him several groans, but in a moment he was able to stand and stretch his battle-weary limbs. “God, what a day,” he said, and zipped up his black athletic jacket. He liked that particular jacket because it made him feel sporty, and as he set off, it seemed to him he might, just might, break into a jog at any moment. Of course, no onlooker would have expected, not in a million years, to see such a man run – but Harold delighted in shocking others by defying their expectations. It was the one thing, apart from his physique, which he had definitely inherited from Mother. The onlookers were quite correct in their expectations of this particular instance, however, because Harold had not yet learned to defy the Laws of Nature. He contented himself with a brisk walk.
On his way home, Harold made a brief sojourn to Jukie’s Surplus Foods to pick up supplies for his next Dungeons and Dragons session. The necessities included, but were not limited to, cheese puffs, pizza pockets, Little Debbie bars, and Marshmallow Pinwheels (the Pinwheels were for Mother). As he was checking out, the clerk made a few comments about Harold’s choice of snacks, which he evidently considered clever. Harold quickly retaliated by swiping two pennies from the “take a penny, leave a penny” jar when the clerk wasn’t looking, and congratulated himself silently for avenging his honor as he left the store.
A short while later Harold arrived at his apartment, and after a few moments of shuffling along with a precarious knee-balancing act with the groceries, he managed to extract his key from his jacket pocket and open the door. The scent of lavender wafted out into the hallway. Harold braced himself mentally before stepping into an entirely dark room. The term “odd” floated through Harold’s mind, but it was more in reference to his mother’s habits than the current situation. Sure enough, there was Mother, sitting with her eyes closed, on top of two stacked chairs, under a canopy of blanket held up with a broom, balancing a small teapot on her head. “Harold!” she said, opening one eye. “Supper’s on the table. Have a nice day?” Her eye immediately shut as she resumed her meditative state.
“Can’t complain,” Harold said as he sat down to a big steaming pot of Easy Mac embellished with chunks of chicken, a childhood favorite of his. When he had eaten his fill, Harold left the Pinwheels on the table so as not to disturb Mother, and tip-toed to his room as quietly as the creaky floors would allow.
Harold’s room was small, clean, and bright. The only decoration was a faded Star Wars poster, given to him years earlier by his father. Harold put on his red flannel pajamas and fiddled with his Spiderman action figure until exhaustion overtook him. He crept into bed and flipped the light switch with a backscratcher duct-taped to a ruler. Oblivion wasn’t far off when a jarring crash and yelp of shock broke the silence.
“Mother!” Harold gasped, sitting bolt upright; however, shouts of “Don’t mind me,” and “the floor broke my fall,” soon eased his alarm. He lay back down and turned on his side, chuckling to himself.
“She sure does keep things interesting.”
Margaret is a recent graduate of Thomas Aquinas College in California.