A Better Home

Submitted into Contest #148 in response to: Write a story involving a noise complaint. ... view prompt

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Contemporary Fiction

You live in Orange County, California. It's 2019.


You’re discontented with your lot in life. You’re considering dropping out of your master’s program in creative writing. You’re questioning your identity and depend on social security to make ends meet.


Mother Marbles is also unhappy. Her health is ailing and she hasn’t had friends visit much since you decided to move back in with her. 


Your bedroom shares a wall with a neighbor whose rancor you incite whenever you try to strum and sing along to a country tune. 


The neighbor is beating on the wall. 


You consider exiting the flat and confronting Ms. Go-to-bed, but instead stop playing “San Quentin Blues” after singing the lyrics I’d kiss a man in Vegas / Just to hear him sigh.  


Given your current sexual prospects, your sorely deficient musical abilities, and my worsening physical condition, I want to hang my head and cry.


You leave your bedroom, enter the living room, give me a rub behind the ears, and in an effort to be spontaneous and find an alternative to a night of frustrated musical practice, decide to ask Marbles out to a movie.    


It is a rare evening out, and you choose to see Multiverse, a coming-of-age rom-com and science fiction action film featuring actors underrepresented in English-speaking cinema. Although you possess no evidence to support its claim, your hyperactively suspicious mind, which indulges in all sorts of conspiracy theory nonsense, makes you believe the actual directors of the film are not the first timers announced in the adverts, but are the seasoned brother-sister directing duo behind Her Parallax Stage, the blockbuster hit about a heroine who inhabits two universes and must decide between being true to a revolutionary cause in a frightfully oppressive technoscientific world or continue on complacently in the mundane one she can’t remember being born into.


Ten minutes into Multiverse you decide you can’t take any more of the constant chatter coming from the straight, married couple sitting behind you. You assume they’re straight and married, anyway, because they wear gold bands on their ring fingers and loudly kissed each other during the previews. 


You tell Marbles you need to go to the restroom, and in the lobby approach an older gentleman whom you presume is the manager. His name badge reads, William.


You say, “Excuse me, there’s a noisy pair in the theater making it difficult to focus on the film.”


“What seats are they in?” he asks.


You extract your ticket stubs from your rear pants pocket, and take a look. “Mum and I are in row K, seats 8 and 9. They’re sitting behind us.” 


To a female employee with green highlights in her hair and who is wearing a red pair of what appear to be a cross between combat and cowboy boots, William says, “Constance, can you please silence some patrons in row L? They are disturbing this young man and his mother”


Constance looks you up and down, thinking, can’t this spineless twit shush them himself? 


She follows you into the theater half a minute after you take your seat.


She flashes a light at the offending couple, and says “Quiet please, you are disrupting the theater experience for other patrons!”          


You worry whether the man sitting with whom you presume is his fiancé or wife will call you out as the rat.


Your preoccupation is confirmed when you hear him say to his mate in a loud whisper, “There is a snitch amongst us.” You are hit on the ear with a chocolate-covered raisin, but, fortunately, neither you nor your mum are further accosted or antagonized for the remainder of the film. 


The movie’s brilliance confirms your hunch that the it couldn’t have been made by novices to filmmaking.


Sitting in the theater waiting for the lights, you ponder the significance of the spectacle.  


As you stroll home arm in arm with Marbles, you say, “Multiverse was amazing, wasn’t it? I can’t believe Monica Yeh was snubbed at Cannes, and Pete Malibu was given a token Palm d’Or for that chintzy army helicopter film.”


“I didn’t quite understand the main idea or the notion of jumping into alternate universes,” your mum says.


“It made perfect sense to me,” you say.


While watching the film, you had an epiphany. The meaning behind all your obsessive, irrational thoughts was revealed. It occurs to you that if you were to act out all the crazy things your thoughts suggest you do on a daily basis, you’d be able to verse jump and that the fate of afflicted commoners on the planet could be altered.  


“Mum,” you say, “idiosyncratic outbursts are an expression of a universe where randomness has an indispensable place. All random acts have a role in perpetuating the vital spiraling of galaxies, the natural inflation of the universe. For example, I just had a thought to throw my phone onto the road. If I were to actually do that, the phone might get crushed by a passing car, but maybe the act would cause events to swerve in such a way that a drunk driver wouldn’t hit us as we walked home.”


You look at your phone. Your mother looks at you. 


She says, “Now Justin, don’t you dare. We just went through the ordeal of getting your password changed.”


“But, mum, even if it means saving our lives?” 


“All I know, son, is that I found Multiverse difficult to follow. When we get home, I’m feeding Nino and giving you a Xanax. The film’s got you excited and I want you to get a good night’s rest. We can’t risk you having another episode.”   


*


You arrive at the front door, and unlock it after ringing the doorbell, hoping the chime will rouse me from the comfortable bed your mum bought me after you both took me in. Once inside, Marbles affectionately greets me. 


“There’s our Nino. Love you, pretty boy,” she says, in a way that I have grown to both cherish and despise. Despite her enabling of your musical pastimes, which I view with considerable consternation, I’m rather fond of your mother. This fondness is tested whenever she speaks to me as if I were a human infant. Her infantilizing of me can be tender, but most of the time I find it condescending and obnoxious.


Before you go to bed, she says, “Good night, Justin. Don’t let your imagination get carried away by that movie.”


*


During the night, you are stirred from slumber by a vivid nightmare. In the morning you decide to tell your mother. 


“Mum,” you say, “I woke from sleep sobbing.” 


“Did you, dear?”


“I had a dream Nino looked like he had been crossed with a rabid Great Dane. He had open sores on his body and had lost most of the fur around his haunches.”


“Didn’t I tell you during your childhood that you were too impressionable to watch schlock film adaptations of Steven Prince’s horror stories?”


“Mum, I wasn’t finished…”


“Go on.”


"When I asked Nino-that-was-the-undead-Great Dane (or the-undead-Great Dane-that-was-Nino) whether he wanted to be put to sleep, he responded by saying, ‘For God’s Sake.’”


Silence.


“Well, it could have meant two things, luv, either for God’s sake yes, or for God’s sake no.”


You and your mum take breakfast without sharing many more words, but as you clear the table to wash dishes, you say, “I’ll take Nino to the vet today. I trust Isa will have the proper advice.”


“Splendid idea,” Marbles says, “Doctor Farad is such a professional and nice veterinarian.”


*


You take me to the vet, whom you’ve taken a fancy to even though he’s happily married and Muslim. You tell him about the dream and of your mother’s ambiguous interpretation.


Doctor Farad says, “Your mother is a wise woman, Mr. Chase. When our babies (he means pets) are struggling with all the issues they have toward the end of their lives, a parent’s reaction is often ambivalence. It seems Nino has chronic pain. He may spend the entire night suffering without ever being able to express the terrible experience he is going through.” 


Doctor Farad corroborates your suspicion that the cannabis oil you give me to remedy my spasms makes me nauseous. He prescribes doggie pain killers.   


As you leave the consult, he says, “You know, Mr. Chase, it may or may not affect whether you put Nino to rest, but the costs of taking care of a chronically ill older dog can become quite exorbitant.”


*


Why do some humans take movies to be auspicious? For the same reason they believe dreams can express the truth about the human condition in disguised form?  


Master-Servant Justin sat through some nonsense of post-modern cinema and had an epiphany. The movie convinced him irrationality has its reasons. He then had a vision in his sleep, an exemplary manifestation of human distraction, and is now considering sacrificing me to Dogo, supreme deity over all descendants of Lupo, the original canine?


His sister made a castrato of me during my prime reproductive years. Now Justin interprets a dream as meaning he should possibly have me euthanized? A word derived from euthanasia, a composite of the Greek eu for easy and thanatos for death. 


Me, put to an easy death? An eternal rest? 


That would forever deprive me of the pleasures of sniffing the pheromones of other members of my species or of whiffing one of the other thousand odors speaking bipeds can’t detect with their inferior senses of smell. Putting me down would put an end to the pleasure of making humans cower whenever I antagonize their dogs when they are on their morning walks.


*


If you put an end to me, Justin, who will be there to ensure you and your mother go for strolls together? You know I refuse to go beyond the threshold to the apartment until both you and your mum both have readied yourselves to walk me.


There’s no such thing as rest for the weary. At least not that kind of rest, even though I’m quite weary of body.


It troubles me that you contemplate hastening my impending demise. It makes me question whether or not I should keep from growling at you whenever you rub my belly. 


While I’m in its throes, the pain is excruciating, and if I had the ability, I’d put myself to rest as a result of it, but during the moments the symptoms are absent, I’m quite a content pooch.


You look at me and ask, “Which will it be, Nino, for Dog’s sake yes, or for Dog’s sake no?”


You go back to your room and pick your guitar up from its stand. You start playing a Christian hymn in the key of G written at beginning of the 20th century and recorded by many country artists. 


You sing,


I was standin’ at my window / On one cold and cloudy day / When I saw that hearse come rollin’ / Lord, to carry my mother away.


You hear Ms. Go-to-bed deliver a series of knocks to the wall. 


Undeterred, you proceed to the song’s chorus.


Will the circle be unbroken? / By and by, lord, by and by / There’s a better home awaitin’ / In the sky, Lord, in the sky.


The quick knocking on the wall evolves into slow and louder thuds.


You have another epiphany. You stop playing. You decide you will dedicate the song to me and perform it when my final moments arrive.


Oh, for Dog’s sake, no, Servant-Master Justin. Listening to you sing while I am at death’s door? I don’t think I could bear it. 


I’m not ready for a better home. Be it in the dirt or the sky. Not yet. Perhaps not ever. 

June 01, 2022 18:45

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12 comments

Anna Gering
20:28 Jun 09, 2022

Intelligently written, humorous, and thought-provoking. I side with Nino on this one.

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Mike Panasitti
23:48 Jun 09, 2022

Thanks for encouraging comment, and I'm glad Nino has found an ally.

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Piper Ollie
02:04 Jun 05, 2022

What a great story! I wrote my first ever short story under this same prompt, so it's really interesting to get to see how others interpreted it! I love when stories have a unique voice, and you definitely achieved that with this! Great job!

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Mike Panasitti
04:38 Jun 05, 2022

Thanks for the kind words. If you enjoyed this story, you might be interested in the the first two installments, "Nino" and "Cannabis and Kibble." I'm off to read your first contribution to the site.

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Scott Skinner
14:13 Jun 04, 2022

I hadn't read your comment about your series of stories about "Nino" before reading this so it was all a surprise to me. He is a funny narrator and there are some great parts in here. I liked this line the most, "It is a rare evening out, and you choose to see Multiverse, a coming-of-age rom-com and science fiction action film featuring actors underrepresented in English-speaking cinema." A bit after this part you tripped me up when the character deduced the couple behind him making out was married. In my experience, married couples don't f...

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Mike Panasitti
14:21 Jun 04, 2022

Thanks for pointing out the incongruence of marriage and public French kissing! I'll change it to engaged couple, but even that might be a stretch.

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00:14 Jun 03, 2022

Great story! the voice this is written in is hilarious.. "a vision in his sleep, an exemplary manifestation of human distraction, and is.." I love the wordiness of it all, something I was aiming for with my steve storm character but this is 100x better "with a neighbor whose rancor you incite whenever you try to strum.." This expression was great too, laugh out loud funny, I've had a few neighbors pounding on the wall back in the day. The only part where I got slightly tangled up was the paragraph about 'the actual directors of the film a...

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Mike Panasitti
01:19 Jun 03, 2022

Many thanks for the feedback. I apologize for the confusion caused by the one-sentence paragraph about "Parallax." Justin and Marbles are watching "Multiverse." Justin suspects it has been filmed by the directors of "Parallax." This was based on a friend believing that the recent release "Everything, Everywhere, All at Once" was directed by the Wachowski sisters - makers of the "Matrix" franchise. And...I disagree...Nino's voice is not more distinct than Steve Storm's - they're simply different beasts. : )

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03:31 Jun 03, 2022

My bad, "Parallex" and "Multiverse" combined into one while I was reading, you could possibly change one title into something visually a bit different like two words, or a different vibe, etc but its might just be me.

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Michał Przywara
02:24 Jun 02, 2022

A fun read. Justin (that's a great name, by the way, "Justin Chase", "just in case") is at a crossroads in life, and it's made him a little loopy. He actually reminds me a bit of Foley Gaspers. Not full-on, but I could see Foley getting carried away by the interpretations he saw in a movie too, except he probably would have thrown his cell without a second thought. Nino brings up some great observations about pet ownership. We do so much for our pets "for their own good," but who knows what they would really want if they had a choice? ...

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Mike Panasitti
03:21 Jun 02, 2022

I'm grateful for the comments. I had not even considered the thinly veiled pun in Justin's name. Thanks for bringing it to my attention! You're quite right on the similarity between Foley and Justin. I must make a better effort to keep their identities distinct. Your suspicion that Justin fixates on death for lack of better things to do is properly imaginative, but mistaken. Death does lurk, however, in the deeper recesses of his mind as a result of having a senior mother on whom he heavily relies. Thanks as well for catching the ext...

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Mike Panasitti
19:33 Jun 01, 2022

This is the third story in my series about Nino, a rather cynical English Bulldog who is nearing the end of his existence on God's not-so-green earth.

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