Flickering light from the fireplace skittered across the mother’s blocky face and her tousled, gray-streaked bob. In her fifties, she had the kind of top-heavy, diamond-shaped figure that just screamed diabetes through a tight-clinging, orchid-hued satin zip-up housecoat. Her admiring gaze fell to her three adult children in their matching denim bib overalls, dancing in a circle banging pots and pans over their heads.
First, to her son Hubert. A gangly pole, at least seven feet, who, every time he tossed his head back in celebration, sent scattered curls of long, wispy flame red hair airborne. His mouth hung open, emitting random squawks through slimy gums adorned with only three yellowed teeth.
Then, to her other son, Humphrey. A genetic antithetical to his brother, not even five feet tall, but weighing well over two-hundred pounds. With obvious lack of anything even remotely resembling motor coordination, he nonetheless likely had the tightest grip in the room, with six stubby digits on his left hand. His right was another story, ever-contained within a fraying oven mitt.
Finally, to her daughter Muriel, slim and busty, the beneficiary of her mother’s figure, thirty-odd years removed. But despite voluminous, moving breasts in constant protest of the swath of denim making every effort to keep them covered, it was her bright blue eyes that held sway. You couldn’t help but notice them. Entrancing, electric. Only intensified by the shock of black hair on her head and the burlap feed bag strapped across her face.
To anyone who just happened to be out in the middle of nowhere that night, who just happened to peek through the only window on that ramshackle pine cabin that wasn’t coated with ice, the whole sight would’ve registered as quite remarkable.
A family enraptured by loving passion for everything they had in this life.
Not the least of which was what sat at the heart of all their rabid stomping about: the crest of a pale, bald head wreathed by a strawberry blond fringe that belonged to a 52-year-old man who, in spite of being the centerpiece of this quite remarkable scene of familial bonding, seemed rather unremarkable in every conceivable way. That man wasn’t big by any means: a little doughy around the middle, sure, but otherwise a slender five-feet eight. That was according to his driver’s license, which in the interest of full disclosure, was expired by two years and failed to specify whether he was wearing his shoe lifts that day or not.
His waxy face had all the hallmarks of being overrun with severe anxiety—wide, piercing eyes, sullen, pursed lips—but to anyone who knew that man, such a look wasn’t at all out of the ordinary. No matter if chasing down a city bus in a downpour, or heaping brown gravy on a plate of fish triangles at Old Country Buffet, his was often a countenance of shell-shocked awe.
He was sitting in a wood chair—not just sitting, but tied to it—stripped down to just his pastiness and underpants, dull white briefs that were tearing away from the elastic waistband courtesy of too many years of fierce tugs up and down after heaping brown gravy on a plate of fish triangles at Old Country Buffet.
That man, Bob Scott, was in trouble.
Yet, oddly enough, he was calm. So calm, in fact, he allowed his lips to morph into a slight smile as he sat and enjoyed what he was hearing. Not the constant, deafening clanks and clatters of the cast iron pots and pans—no, those were enough to shake his fillings clean out.
It was what was under the clanging cookware that he focused in on: a recording of a fiddle and banjo playing a manic ditty as a nasally voice prattled off words lickety-split through a barrage of snaps and pops.
Bob Scott’s knowing ear took in every single sweet syllable.
And a ho,
And a go,
And the allemande left…
The flow of words soothed him. They offered a glint of promise. Order in the face of chaos.
…Swing your partner once around,
Promenade all around the hall.
That was it, perhaps the one reason to appreciate square dancing the most: the sense it imparted on an often senseless world. Whenever you sashayed out onto that gleaming floor, there was really no choice but to leave the humdrum ills of your daily life behind, trading them in for the solace of responsibility, commitment, and duty. Your focus had to be singular; your ears on the commands, your reflexes obeying without question. If you failed, you didn’t just fail yourself, you failed your brothers and sisters of the square, threatening to reduce all that mattered to complete and utter shambles.
But some deep thinker Bob Scott was not, so he’d never made those connections.
For him, square dancing was about one thing, and one thing only: areolas. Or was it areolae? Who the hell knew? Who the hell cared? All that truly mattered was that he was a huge fan of them on women. The bigger too, the better.
And square dancers? Well, they were known to have some of the biggest. Not sure why. You’d probably have to ask a scientist.
Of course, the irony in all of this was that it was square dancing—and to some extent, areolas—that had landed Bob Scott in this most unfortunate of predicaments, tied to a chair, in just his white cotton underpants, inside a little cabin somewhere out in the middle of nowhere. He should’ve just ignored that text message months ago inviting him to the annual Sadie Hawkins square dance. He should’ve known better.
For one, he was engaged to a jealous nineteen year old at the time. But if that wasn’t enough to deter him, the fact that his questionable history with strong, assertive women should have been. His first wife Patricia. His daughter Prairie. The stripper Harmony Balloons. His third wife Ashley (or Ashleigh, or Ashlee—he could never remember the spelling). Things hadn’t turned out well with any of them.
And now Dinnah, here, lording over her three adult children banging cookware over his head, the bumps of her areolas teaming with her nipples to try and poke right through her purple satin housecoat.
The square dance ditty cut off in a screech, halting at once the children’s spastic dancing. The boys’ faces drooped, their gapes drifting to the corner of the room where their mother stood at the antique wind-up phonograph. She nodded, proclaiming, “It’s bath time.”
Her short son, Humphrey, jumped up and down, clapping his hands wildly. “With Mr. Daddy?” he blurted out, his enthusiasm mounting. “With Mr. Daddy?!”
“Humphrey,” Dinnah countered in full motherly discourse mode, “remember the last time you got so excited? What happened in the bath?”
Bob Scott’s slight smile vanished.
“You oopsie-poopsied!” the tall one, Hubert, blurted down at his smaller brother.
“Yes,” Dinnah added, “all over Mr. Daddy.”
And indeed he had, four nights earlier during their first bath together. So thrilled and excited to be sharing the four inches of dingy, lukewarm water with somebody other than just his brother, Humphrey had clouded it an even deeper brown with one sudden, noxious burst of unhinged jubilation, followed by spurts and sputters of glee.
Hubert dropped his pans, covered his mouth with both hands, and let loose a high-pitched giggle. Humphrey elbowed him, agitated. Hubert giggled again, repeating, “Oopsie-poopsie! Oopsie-poopsie!”
A deep cackle arose from Muriel’s feed bag.
“You shuts up,” Humphrey barked at his siblings. To calm himself, he rested his ungloved hand on Bob Scott’s ashen shoulder, stroking it with his five fingers and thumb as one would a cat. “Mr. Daddy,” he murmured.
Dinnah watched her son’s loving gesture, and after catching her breath in admiration, turned to her daughter. “Muriel, untie Mr. Daddy. Tonight we celebrate.”
The corners of Bob Scott’s mouth turned upward, that hint of a smile returning. He knew, after five nights in captivity, freedom was imminent—his elaborate plan of escape already set in motion.