By Susie Paul
Dr. Susie Paul has taught secondary English, composition, literature, and creative writing for more than 45 years. Her poems have appeared in The Georgia Review, Kalliope, Negative Capability, Earth's Daughters, and many other journals. Her chapbook, The Whited Air: Mary Paul in Winter, was published in 2021 by Finishing Line Press. House Sitting originated with the comedy show Cheaper Than Therapy, organized by Renea Dearing Shibab with the help of the late Melissa Kent Simms.
House sitting meant just that, sitting in my friend Barbara’s house, on the screened-in side porch, drinking the chilled white wine she always left for me in her ancient refrigerator. Sitting in her house. While the dog was rarely my responsibility, a very old cat and an array of chickens were, as well as the lush landscaping she’d achieved plant by plant, with her own bucks, her own labors. The job did not include the driveway, either, to be explained later, or underneath her bedroom lamp, also to be explained. These spaces and responsibilities fell outside the purview of the two words, house and sitting.
I may have approached my tasks a bit too casually, then. I was paid a little bit, but that was for sitting in the house, as I saw it. The other stuff was just a gift, from me to my friend Barbara, who was out camping in the Rockies while I was sweating through my socks and descending daily into the blue funk extreme heat and humidity bring on in me in Montgomery, AL, in the summer. I figure Barbara should have been paying me just to be stuck here while she cavorted in crystalline streams and pulled her cardigan on every night to ward off the chill.
I hated her every summer. I did. So maybe there were subliminal elements to the various disasters that occurred every time I sat in her house. As MPD once asked me the 3rd or 4th time they’d been called: “Say, are you doing all this stuff?” Yes, the gold watch she intended to pass down to her daughter was stolen. I didn’t notice the missing pane in the dining room window and the thieves politely closed the window on their way out, leaving me oblivious. Less easy to explain was the morning I walked up the driveway into the house to sit awhile not noticing that the vintage Camaro parked there the day before, many months before, actually, well, always, was missing. It was after this theft that the police began to regard me with suspicion.
I can’t precisely recall the order of the various crises, though they range in seriousness, beginning with some dried up salvia and newly planted something-or-other that were supposed to be drought proof. Drought and proof. Does this not mean they can survive, WITHOUT WATERING, severe heat and the absence of rain? In fact, according to Barbara, she buys her plants at a nursery that specializes in flora either indigenous or engineered to endure drought. Why I was I standing around with a hose, with no nozzle, I might add, watering what purportedly needs no water? Why couldn’t I use a sprinkler, move it around, meanwhile SITTING in the HOUSE, as per her request? And if a few salvia or whatever fizzled, wasn’t that just survival of the fittest, or couldn’t she return the remains to the nursery and insist, “I asked for drought-proof; these clearly are not!” Right? No police were called for the death of plants. Can you imagine? “Yes, 911, I need MPD out her right away. The salvia died.” I had committed no crime.
So the dog, Angel 1 (the next one, identical, was Angel 2, and still lives) died on my watch. This traumatized the young woman hired to take care of her, as I could not be trusted with the dog after the salvia died. But Barbara, knowing Angel 1 was aging, had already dug the dog’s grave. I told Susan, “Just toss her in there and cover her up.” Put that rock Barbara left for a headstone on top of the mound and get over it.
But Barbara failed to dig a grave for the ailing ancient, one-eyed, constantly disappearing kitty, named Kitty. I found her strangely still in the front yard one morning on my way to sit in the house. Given the earlier outrage generated when I dragged one of Barbara’s dead chickens out from under the chain link fence where some critter had been unable finish his business, bagged it in a Dirk’s wine sack, and tossed it in the trash, I dared not do the same with the kitty Kitty. Dig a grave in the Alabama earth blighted by heat and no rain and mostly clay anyway? Couldn’t be done. So I did what I’d read they did with corpses in novels about wintery New England, etc., I wrapped her in a plastic bag and put her in the freezer until she could be buried. I was a little creeped out by this, poking her gingerly the next morning to make sure she was rock solid frozen, which she was. Barbara could dig the damned grave when she got home from the Himalayas or the Galapagos or wherever she happened to be traveling before she flew home to drift through the Great American West in her serial killer white panel van. The kitty Kitty would be waiting for her.