Chapter 9

   “We’re going to have to get out of here or I’m going to kill him,” Thelma said. She meant it. She was looking for a knife.

   Steve her newlywed husband didn’t say anything. What could he say? Bobby was his older brother, and they were living in Bobby’s house in Little Italy.

   But Bobby wasn’t just their landlord. He was an annoying obnoxious older brother-in-law. He stuck his dirty disgusting food wrappers into Telly’s make-up bag when she wasn’t looking because he thought it would be funny when she found them. It wasn’t funny. She told Steve there was going to be trouble. They started looking for a house of their own.

   Steve and she prayed together about the kind of house they wanted. They wanted central air, three bedrooms, and a fenced-in backyard. They searched for a long time and finally their prayers were answered when they found a two-story house in West Park. They were one of the first people to see it, put a bid on it, and got it.

   They got everything they wanted, basically. The basement was waterproofed, and the back porch covered, although the backyard wasn’t dog friendly the way they wanted it, not in the least, not at all.

   For the first four years of living in that house they had a backyard of mud. It was because they had up to thirteen dogs at any one time, some theirs, some rescues. When they came into the house a lot of mud would track in with them. Since Telly is a clean freak it freaked her out.

   “It’s a shame we can’t cement in the whole backyard,” she said to Steve.

   “I’ve got a guy for that,” he said.

   Steve’s got a guy for everything. His guy laid down stone stamps in the patio and put in river rocks, large ones around the small patio, and small ones in a big bed next to the garage for the dogs to potty. That made it easy to clean up. They hose down the patio, hose down the river rock bed in the back, and Steve picks up every day. He puts it all in a garbage bag and they throw it in the garbage cans.

   What else are you going to do with it?

   Even though they liked their new home right away, which made their realtor totally happy, it was awful. It was decorated like an old person’s house. The outside of it was painted yellow and brown. Inside the woodwork and walls were painted white. Telly isn’t a white color person, even though she is a white person.

   They painted everything, the outside of the house, and all the inside, too. She had lots of design ideas and lots of ideas about new colors. Steve ripped out the carpets right away. Then they re-did the hardwood floors. Telly swore to herself she would never have the house carpeted again.

   Except after the last two winters in Cleveland happened. It got super cold. The Cuyahoga River froze solid. Lake Erie froze over. It was winter for a long time twice for two straight years. Getting up every morning, touching the cold hardwood floors, finally one morning Telly declared, “We’re not doing this anymore. We’re getting carpeting for the upstairs bedrooms.”

   Steve was against putting in new carpeting. He’s usually against everything, but he never says no. At least, not after they discuss it.

   “All right, all right, do what you want,” he said.

   So, Telly did what she wanted. Of course, now Steve loves the carpet. He drags his big, bare, gross feet through it.

   “Stop rubbing your gross feet in my new carpet,” she tells him to no avail.

   Thelma never thought she would love carpeting over hardwood floors, but in the bedrooms, she loves it.

   The dogs are not allowed upstairs, or even beyond the kitchen. The rules are that they can be in the kitchen or in the basement. A baby gate is set up at the kitchen and dining room doorway. Even so, just after they had the carpets laid down their little silver Lab, Grayson, got through the gate, went right upstairs, and peed on their new carpet.

   “No dogs upstairs. No Grayson. No matter how much we love him,” Thelma said putting her foot down.

   Every once in a while, they let them into the living room. That’s why there are always blankets on their sectional. They let the dogs jump on it so they can sit and snuggle with them. Only Nookie, their barking Husky, is not a snuggle bunny. He’ll cuddle for five minutes and then he’s done with you.

   There is another living room in the basement. There’s a television, bistro table, and another sectional. All the dog food and water bowls are in the basement, too. Baby sleeps on his dog bed, but the others just lay out on the couch like bums. The couch is completely chewed up, completely. They paw it and dig in it when they are settling in. Telly didn’t know what the digging thing was all about, but it’s their couch. They can do what they want, destroy it if they want. Only, when it’s completely gone, it’s gone. They’re not getting another one. She has told them that. It’s up to them to understand.

  The biggest troublemaker is Pebbles. Fat Pebbles is what she is. She’s the one who truly wrecked the sofa. She is Telly’s evil digger. She’s the reason they used to have a whole living room in the basement until it all got chewed up.

   Even though they decided they aren’t getting any more sectionals, no more couches, or anything in the basement, Christmas is ridiculous at their house. Steve and she buy the dogs tons of gifts. Thelma starts buying presents for them for the next year right after Christmas when everything’s discounted. Around the end of August, she starts buying dog treats whenever she sees them on sale. They are not any good if she buys them any earlier than August. Steve finds them and gives them to the dogs early. So, she always starts looking for them later in the year.

   The dogs get stockings full of toys on Christmas Day.  Then the mess starts. The toys are in stockings jacked with stuffing, just like pillow stuffing. The pack takes its stockings outside and tear them apart to get at the squeakers inside. By the end of Christmas week, they had a backyard full of puffs of frozen white stuffing stuck in the ice.

   It looks like a hillbilly highway until they can finally get out there when winter is changing to spring and chip it out of the melting ice. Telly didn’t like that it looked like a pigpen all winter long, but what can you do?

   Thank God we have a privacy fence on all three sides of the backyard, she thought.

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