Your boy had the speech thing, which came and went. You hoped he would outgrow it, but at ten years old, Brian was still calling his sister thi-thee because it was much easier than saying Susanna. When your Reno cop husband started calling Brian thi-thee, Brian decided it was better to just stop talking.
Your best friends continued to ask about him, long after you wished they wouldn’t. One time you said Brian was different and they thought that meant different different, and when your husband got wind of it, he came home with the bench press, the weights, the cartons of eggs, and he took away Brian’s bed. His toys. His bike. His dog. Every trace that the dog had even existed.
Your daughter blamed you. She said you didn’t do anything to help, but you did. It started with the Snoopy sleeping bag and pillow. You snuck them to Brian and he finally stopped crying. He didn’t go to school for a while, so the two of you spent your time in stores. You bought him anything he wanted, and he only wanted Snoopy. You bought him the Snoopy figurines, the trapeze toy, the pencil case, the metal lunchbox, the plush toys, and the hunt grew and metastasized, until you found yourself haunting garage sales, scouring flea markets, vacationing at Vegas toy shows (your daughter ran away from home during one of those trips), buying collectors’ magazines, mailing your Snoopy Collector card to every mom-and-pop thrift shop in Nevada, outbidding everyone on some item in Tokyo because the only thing that made your kid smile was Snoopy. He couldn’t even pronounce the dog’s name.
You found yourself getting particular because Brian was particular, and you owe your success to that. He only wanted Snoopy, none of the Peanuts Gang stuff, not even Woodstock. Brian used to tell you which Snoopy he wanted, and you’d buy it because it kept him talking to you, it kept you busy, and now you have a rare collection—Strictly Snoopy—and you’re famous for it. Your picture has been in the Reno Gazette more times than your husband’s, even after he made detective—a famously incompetent detective in recent months.
You never understood why he converted the back sunporch into a Snoopy wing, complete with glassed-in shelves, display cases for the special collections, and colored track lighting, if all he did was insult you for it. Why did he spend that one weekend suspending the WWI Flying Ace battle from the ceiling, with the Red Baron and Snoopy’s Sopwith Camel posed at exhilarating angles, the two enemies hanging from a giant motorized lazy Susan that spun endlessly in a chase that would never end? Why? So he could take it away from you someday. So he could come home from yet another bad day on the Mangler case and tell you, with a newspaper in front of his face, that his mother is going to move into the Snoopy wing. And, “You have one week to get rid of all that shit.”
John used to tell people he added on a wing, yet you’ve always insisted that it’s really just a room, just a great big room. Of course, it’s more than a room. It’s more than a wing. One writer for the Los Angeles Times described it as “a Snoopy wonderland that defies its own dimensions.”
You tell visitors that all you wanted was to create a happy place for Snoopy, but really you were always thinking of your boy. There’s the ceiling battle, which is the first thing a visitor notices. Then there’s the World Famous Author scene – a black-sheathed table with Snoopy’s doghouse on top, a blue typewriter, a stack of paper, a waste bin full of drafts. You have a cassette player, which plays an endless loop of the sound effects you’ve recorded: Snoopy typing, end-of-line dings, paper crumpling, thunder, more typing. Then there are the Anri music boxes. They’re displayed on three separate towers that look like Christmas trees, each tower composed of six round glass surfaces that start off wide at the bottom and taper at the top. John built them so you could flip a switch and the towers would rotate. They’re illuminated from below. You lead the visitors over to the stuffed animal displays, where collectibles are not simply shelved, but rather situated into scenes like Tropical Island and Ice Palace. For the 1958 Hungerford rubber dolls, you have simple pine shelving and soft, warm lighting. You have a box of duplicates, mostly new dolls of no value, so visitors can feel the rubber dolls. Go on, squeeze one, you say; feel Snoopy’s fullness, his roundness, his malleability and durability; smell the scent of plastic coming from the pinhole on the bottom. You tell them that Snoopy is a favorite among the blind.
Then there are the stacks. Thousands of items along the walls, shelved alphabetically, dusted weekly. Adhesive strips, alarm clocks, albums, all the way to your only “z”, Snoopy driving his Zamboni, which technically belongs with figurines.
Your only criterion seems to be Snoopy—that is, anything Snoopy will do. But you’ve had to set limits. You’ve developed preferences, rules, and by now your collection is defined by the things you’ve excluded. You never went for animation cels or original comic strips. No movies, books, or furniture. No Camp Snoopy, no Joe Cool, no Spike, and no Snoopy relatives. Absolutely no reproductions. Of course, the Peanuts collectors know all this. They expect the United Feature Syndicate stamp and sometimes Schulz’s official signature. But the beginning collectors, the Scout troops, the moms’ groups, the seniors, the neighbors with relatives in town, and other local people just stare at it all and say, “Wow.” Wow, wow, wow; how many times have you heard that?
At night, you sit in the Snoopy wing, reading fan mail from strangers all over the world, and you think about Brian. You touch the Peanuts Christmas card Susanna sent you from Maryland last year, the raised pictures of Snoopy, Charlie Brown, the whole gang together in a Nativity scene. You study her signature, the simple “Love, Susanna” she writes, and nothing else. You try to remember the last time you spoke to your children. You think about how all these years you believed Snoopy would save Brian, and when he was saved you would have more time for the girl. You believed Snoopy would also save you, that Snoopy would keep you young and lighthearted despite everything. But now you’re exhausted and defeated. You’re done. You’re tired of being called Snoopy Lady in the grocery store, you’re tired of being regarded as a crazy person even though you know you’ve got both oars in the water. You’re tired of responding to other collectors who do not have both oars in the water. You’re tired of John calling your priceless Snoopy Collection “shit.” You’re tired of living at his mercy. And now that he’s finally ending it for you, you wonder if you’ve even lived. You’re tired of people wondering why you do this. And do what instead, you ask. Be like you? Talk like you? Think about the things you think about?
Let’s say you sell it to a collector in Japan for $400,000, the whole collection, and it’s probably worth more than that, because at 5,200 pieces, it’s the largest strictly Snoopy collection in the world, to which you would think any honest person in the privacy of her own home would say, who the hell cares? But it turns out a lot of people care. People all over the world care. Your best friends care.
They’re knocking on your door right now. You’ve known them for twenty years, since Brian was a boy and you formed the Snoopy Club. You needed members, so you called some other police officers’ wives. Back then they felt sorry for you. Now look at them. They’ve come with their Peanuts Collectors Club – Washoe County Chapter tote bags. They’ve got their binders. Their collectibles guide, the one you co-wrote. They’ve come with lists of Snoopy items they wish to acquire. They’ve brought their checkbooks. You can feel their excitement even before you open the door. Vultures. They’ve come because you summoned them for a final meeting, a first dibs rummage sale of sorts. They’ve always wanted Snoopy.
There’s Debra (Lucy collector). She works at Mervyns, dyes her hair black, and goes to rock concerts. There’s your best friend Eden (Woodstock). She’s from California. You have no idea what she does all day. Then there’s Jane (Schroeder). She’s a music teacher at the high school. Prim, quiet, with orange hair that’s shaped like a bell. The three of them barge in on a cloud of Debra’s cigarettes and Tea Rose perfume. They barge in with their tin of butter cookies, their hugs, their concern. They ask you the same questions they ask before every meeting.
“How’s John?” (The same, but worse.)
“How’s your mother?” (She has Alzheimer’s; she thinks she’s fine.)
“How’s John’s mother?” (Not fine. She’s moving into the Snoopy wing next week.)
Debra turns on the outrage. “How can he just up and do that? How can you let him do that?”
You shrug. How can you stop him?
They act like they feel sorry for you, but they don’t. “Are you sure you want to do this, hon’? Are you sure you want to sell your collection?”
Yes, yes, and yes! Before John gets in there with garbage bags.
And finally, “How’s Brian? How is Brian?”
They always ask about Brian. Never your daughter. Brian, your silent little boy, used to attend all your meetings. The president of the Snoopy Club, as he was called back then, just sat there listening to you and your friends go on about Peanuts characters and Schulz and your children. He never said a word. Eventually he stopped coming, but the meetings continued, with you as interim president, always hoping for his return.
“Is he all right?” Debra persists.
You usually say, “Brian? I don’t know what happened to Brian.” You try saying it, but the words come out wrong. You’re terribly tongue-tied. Sweaty. You know Debra wants the Christmas stuff. Eden wants your 1976 vintage Snoopy/Woodstock rotary phone (the only Woodstock in the room, not part of your collection because you use it). Jane wants yourmusic boxes, the towers too. Something falls from your hand. You’re being ushered to the couch. And when you come to, these three gals are staring at you, afraid of you, as if you just confessed to having done something terrible. Debra is sitting in John’s recliner with her arms crossed, one black eyebrow raised, looking like she has an egg stuck in her throat. Jane, boring Jane, looks concerned and wrinkled, but really, you know she’s thinking about your music boxes, especially the rare one that plays Beethoven’s Ninth. Eden is sitting beside you on the couch. She’s stroking your forearm, her annoying charms are cold and jingly, and she’s asking about your daughter. You wish Eden would just move back to L.A., go back to wherever she came from.
You have no idea what you just told them. But you do know that you’ve told them too much, and it’s only a matter of time before they tell their husbands, and their husbands will tell your husband. You flap your hand in front of your face as if you’re about to faint.
“I don’t know what’s come over me,” you say. “What was I saying? I think I’m getting the Alzheimer’s!”
Jane initiates the exit. “We should let you get some rest.”
Debra picks up her tote, but she remains seated. “You can’t completely blame yourself,” she says.
“You know kids,” Eden says. “There are mistakes, they live. Look at all the people in a baseball stadium.”
“What are you trying to say?” Debra snaps.
You understand Eden perfectly, even when she’s not making sense, but you pull your hand away from her.
Eden adds, “I’m sure it’s not Brian.”
None of them will look you in the eye. You tell them all to please forget what you just said, none of it was true, but you can tell they won’t. Next, you’re pretty sure you tell them to get the hell out of your living room.
After sundown, John comes home for dinner and you try not to look at him. You’re not sure if he’s heard about your outburst today. John sits at the table and waits for his food. You’re making him spaghetti because spaghetti is all he’ll eat. You think about how he used to make Susanna sit at the dinner table until she ate all her food. Some nights she would sit there until midnight. One night she slumped off the chair and fell asleep under the table. The water starts to boil. You break the noodles in thirds and drop them into the five-quart pot. You stand there and wonder what he knows. He’s the kind of person who would pretend to know something when he doesn’t. He’s also the kind of person who would pretend he doesn’t know something when he does. He’s very quiet tonight, been quiet all week. Last night you woke up and found him standing over you, staring at you while you slept, not scary staring, just sad, and you took pity on him. You held his hand. He kneeled down and rested his head on your chest.
Now he picks up the newspaper, which you have already read. He studies the front page. There’s a picture from yesterday’s press conference where Chief Osley announced a major break in the Mangler case. The reporter makes Detective John Pardee, your John, lead investigator on the case, sound like an idiot. Last Sunday, a little girl found a man in her kitchen, gripping the neck of her pet canary. The reporter wrote: “I’ve always said, a five-year-old could have caught this guy by now. And it looks like she has.”
Osley says that a forensic sketch is due sometime tomorrow. You wonder if John is even reading, because if he were really reading, he would be slamming the paper down by now. Your husband just sits and stares at the words.
You strain the spaghetti, squirt ketchup on it because that’s how he likes it, and you slide it under the newspaper, which he lifts.
“Anything new?” you say. It comes flying out of your mouth like a fledgling—weak-winged, awkward, crashing.
His thick fingers grip the sides of the paper. He adjusts his position on the chair. He doesn’t answer.
So you go to your Snoopy wing and try to breathe, but you can’t. The silence presses in on you, along with the darkness and the thousands of lifeless dog faces staring at nothing. You start flipping switches. You turn the track lights on to light the stuffed animals. You turn on the Flying Ace battle, and both airplanes slowly start to move. You illuminate the music boxes, the red lights, blue lights, green lights, glints of holiday color reflecting off the glass tables, the tiny brass dials. You start winding them up, all forty-eight of them, but no matter how fast you move, one song ends before another begins. You focus on the box that plays “Impossible Dream,” trying to block out the war songs, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” and “Pack Up Your Troubles.” You realize you can never get all your music boxes to play at the same time. One of them will always be sitting there waiting for you to wind it up again. You finally quit. You stop this pointless pursuit. You sit at your desk and hold the Christmas card from your daughter, the first real contact from her in years, but all you can think about is your boy.
You know Brian’s home. He always has the same work schedule as his father because his father makes it that way. You always assumed he did this to punish him, but now you’re not sure. You think about Brian’s job, and it occurs to you that “license and registration” is an awfully complicated thing to have to say all day, and you wonder how he gets by, how he can convey a sense of authority when his tongue turns into a giant boulder and every part of his face strains to get the words out.
You pick up the Snoopy/Woodstock phone and dial Brian’s apartment, knowing he won’t answer. You dial again and again. You wish the phone came with actual buttons, and redial. You wish you had a real phone.
You dial Eden’s house, and her husband answers. Frank sounds strange. He says, “She went out,” and that’s all.
You dial Brian again and again until he answers.
“Wh… Wh… Fucking wh…” he says. F-words were never a problem for him.
You try to whisper but you have to clear your throat first. “Honey?”
You can hear him breathing.
“Honey.” You picture him as a baby, one-year-old, soft honey-colored curls behind his ears.
He sits there.
“Please stop” is all you say.
There was something about the animals—the way the reporter described the incidents—that gave you a sinking feeling. This feeling has grown over the last few months, devoured your stomach and now your mind.
There once was a problem with animals, you know.
After John got rid of Brian’s beloved Miss Sally—a collie—you eventually got another dog, a Pekinese-Dachshund mix that snarled and growled and hid whenever Brian entered the room. Something was going on between them, so you started bringing the dog to work with you, bringing her to the store, trying to never leave her at home alone, but then you felt it was best if you just got rid of the dog.
Every neighborhood has its missing pet signs, and you used to find yourself ripping the signs down. You did find something one day while he was at school. You had gone to work and played sick so you could come home and check his room. You found it under his bed. You could tell where your boy had squeezed the neck. You covered it with an old towel, stuffed it into a garbage bag, and drove to the dump. You never told a soul, but when Brian came home from school that day, he knew. You dove deeper into Snoopy; you slept in the Snoopy wing with the door locked. You were afraid of your own son and he finally stopped speaking to you.
You realize John is standing behind you. He usually wears his boots around the house, but tonight he’s standing there in his white socks.
“You scared me,” you say. “What do you want?”
He looks around. “All this shit’s still here.”
“Yes, it’s still here. You said I have a week.”
“Get rid of it.” He walks away.
“I’m not going to just ‘get rid of it’!” you say, but he’s gone.
“It’s not shit!” you say, as your Snoopy/Woodstock phone rings. “You’re shit!” The phone sounds like an apartment house doorbell. You wait to catch your breath. You stare at it for too long, planning what you’ll say to your boy if it’s him.
“Hey, Karl.” John has already picked up in the kitchen. John is silent for a long time. He ends the call with “yep” and he’s putting his work boots back on, grabbing his keys off the hook, opening the front door and slamming it behind him.
You dial Brian’s apartment. You keep dialing. You’ve known the moment would come when he and his father would finally stand face to face with their guns drawn. You keep dialing because in the history of their conversations, John always got the last word. By declining Brian’s speech therapy all those years, by calling him names, by intervening when you scheduled appointments in secret because his boy would learn to talk right without anybody’s help—John made sure he would always get the last word.
You search the room for Snoopy, his exuberance, that untouchable feeling, and all you see are thousands of little white faces with dull black eyes, plastic grins, and hollow insides.
Shortly after John leaves, you lock up the Snoopy wing and go to the front of the house. You stand in the kitchen and watch the dark street. Headlights shine from somewhere, then everything’s dark again. You hear someone tapping on the door. In the window at the top, you see wisps of Eden’s yellow hair. You’ve been thinking about Eden, wishing you hadn’t told her off. You open the door.
She’s tiny, barely five feet tall, fine-boned. Her face looks like it was sculpted with a toothpick. She leans forward and whispers something.
You whisper back. “He’s out, thank God. Come on in.”
Eden leans back and looks down the street as if she’s keeping watch. She’s shaking from the cold. Her breath is one big cloud that expands and disappears. She’s talking to you. She’s your closest friend and she’s telling you all kinds of things. You step outside the door because she tells you to, and you look at the orange and white moving truck parked a few doors down.
She turns her back to you and she flits down the sidewalk, back to the truck. As she fires it up and backs it into your driveway, you panic. She hops out of the truck and slides the back door open. She tells you to unload all these empty boxes and tape and foam sheets, mounds of foam, everything you could possibly need. She’s way ahead of you.
You have to think about it. But then, you don’t. You’re outside your house grabbing empty boxes from the truck, and then you’re inside, and then the two of you hit a stride. You’re wrapping, packing, stuffing, closing, taping, hauling, afraid, listening for the sound of a police cruiser, with Eden fixing the tape gun, adjusting the dolly, always there but never in your way. You’re wrapping, packing, stuffing, closing, taping, hauling, until well past midnight when the Snoopy wing is finally empty, and then you decide to pack anything personal and important and realize you don’t have anything personal and important. You stuff some clothes and toiletries in a bag. You put Susanna’s Christmas card in your purse. You make sure to keep it in the envelope, with the address on it. You realize it’s the only important thing you own.
After you drop Eden off at her house, you feel the emptiness of the seat beside you. It seems to go on forever. Outside the car, there are headlights, streetlights, cars, and buildings, but really, there’s nothing out there. Just cold, hard desert, walled off from the sea by mountains. You think about how you hardly know your daughter anymore. You imagine when she opens her door and it’s you. You can picture the look on her face when she discovers you’ve brought a truck full of Snoopy crap. You never could just be with her, only her. You try to remember things about your daughter, but you come up empty. It’s never been like that with your boy. With Brian, you remember everything. As a baby he used to chuckle when you sniffed his neck. He used to chuckle when you kissed the backs of his knees. He would stop playing and crawl over and rest his head on your lap. Up until his teen years, he would smile and come to you whenever you entered the room. He was sweet and kind and loving. He was your boy. Your boy. As you drive east, you can’t handle the thought of putting any kind of distance between yourself and him. You will never muster the courage to say goodbye, but you understand that your little boy is no more. There’s a stranger back there with your boy’s name, but that’s not him. You tell yourself, you’ve done all you could, you’ve done your very best. Still, you wonder what could have happened had you done things differently. What would have happened if you had done this with two wide-eyed young children beside you a long time ago?