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The Milk Situation– A short story by: Charles Westerman

Here’s another short story I wrote for my fiction class.  It’s loosely (or not so loosely) based on a real-life saga I’ve experienced this year. Although most of the real action and events in the story are from my imagination.  Enjoy, and I’d love to hear your comments, both good and bad.

The Milk Situation 

            Linus Tinsbee had always been a curious character.  One time his mother, hearing what she said sounded like “a drunk mechanic” coming from the bathroom, opened the door to find Linus staring in wonder down at the ugly side of the family diet.

“Linus!” She squealed.  “Where the hell is the toilet?”

Without looking away, he pointed casually to the shower.  Ms. Tinsbee snapped open the curtain to find the porcelain thrown set neatly upright in the center of the tub.

She stared at the back of his unmoving head and thought she could balance a china plate on it without ever seeing it break.  Her own head she shook repeatedly and rubbed her forehead therapeutically with her thumb and index finger.  Then not so therapeutically, she knocked two fingertips methodically against it.  “Why, Linus???” She said with the same fluctuation and tone she always asked the trademark question.  It was a half whisper of amazement, and a half scream of incredulity.

He looked up at her like only a youngest child can, with big dumb puppy eyes, disguising the genius in them perfectly, “I just always wanted to know where it went.”  He explained with an innocent half shrug of the shoulders. Then he stepped back and looked at the hole again crossing his arms.  “I mean, you’ve got to admit, it’s pretty cool.”

Ms. Tinsbee unsuccessfully tried to keep her anger.  “Oh Linus…” she sighed with little chuckle at the end.

Though Linus had a few stories in his file like this one, more often than not his curiosity was of the more beneficial sort. His classmates never had to know the definitions of their vocabulary words because Linus’ curiosity, combined with his passion for language, meant he had read the entire dictionary three times by the time he was thirteen.  His mother never had to come in at three in the morning to check for monsters in his closet, because Linus investigated the situation himself, the kitchen cleaver duck taped to the end of his hockey stick just in case the situation got sticky.

But no situation got stickier for Linus than the milk situation.  Yes, Linus had a milk situation.  Actually, his neighbors had a milk situation, but that made it Linus’ situation too.  See as Linus grew up, and entered his junior year at state school, he was faced with the excitement and challenge of living off campus.  He had moved into one of the many complexes that made up, as the students had come to dub it; “Apartmentland.”  Life in Apartmentland was good.  He had a washer/dryer in his unit, two functional roommates, and even a deck where he could explore one of his finest curiosities: grilled meat.

Actually Linus couldn’t bring himself to call it a deck.  It was more like a walkway that was just big enough to host a grill without being in anyone’s way.  His neighbors often walked to and fro past a grilling Linus, deep in curious focus.  He loved studying the art of the marinade, trying to gage the mystery of what the meat looked like on the inside, then cutting it open to see that perfect soft pink glow in the center.

At least Linus loved grilling before the milk situation came about.  His neighbors, well his neighbors had a way of pricking Linus’ curiosity in a subtly disagreeable way no one ever had.  He couldn’t really figure out why the milk situation got his nose sniffing so much, but it did.  The situation was this: his neighbors, members of the university swim team, were always leaving nearly full gallons of milk out on their deck/hallway, which Linus had to see every time he left his house, went out to smoke a cigarette, or fired up the grill.   The first time it happened, the gallon was nine tenths empty and Linus didn’t think he minded the new mystery even after it had been there a week.  But slowly, steadily, daily it started to annoy him.

After the situation hit the two-week mark, during which they had set out another gallon—this time two-thirds empty– Linus was beside himself.  He and his neighbors had never made it much further in their conversation past ‘hello,’ so he didn’t really know how to approach them on the subject.  Nevertheless, he found himself doing so the next time one of them—the pretty one– walked past as he was having his sunrise cigarette.

“Morning!” Linus said in his curious friendly way. “Nice day isn’t it?”  It wasn’t, particularly.

“Yeah I guess.”  She said with a sour expression, an expression that Linus had come to know as ‘the usual.’  Then Linus tried with great effort to stop the next words out of his mouth, but his curiosity could be contained no longer.

“Are you guys doing some kind of experiment?”

The pretty swimmer looked like she was trying to crap a lemon.  “An experiment?”

“With your little milk situation over there.”

“Milk situation?”

“Yeah.  That leftover gallon of milk you guys have sitting out.”

“Oh… no.”

“Well are you ever gonna throw it away???” Linus said, trying his best to remain casual.

“I don’t know… does it bug you?”

“No!” Linus lied. “I was just… curious.”

“You seem pretty worked up about it.”

“Well I just don’t understand it.  I mean, you walk right by the milk everyday.  Then you walk right by the dumpster on the way to class. Why not just throw the milk away?”

“I don’t know.  We just, don’t.  Couldn’t you just throw it away if it bothers you that much?”

“It doesn’t bother me! I just don’t understand it.”  He couldn’t tell if she was playing some kind of weird joke on him he didn’t understand, or if she honestly was so lazy and indifferent that she simply didn’t realize that real adults throw their trash away. Linus had considered throwing it away himself, but could never bring himself to do it in the name of his belief in personal responsibility.  A few days later, the gallons were gone, and Linus figured his little confrontation had been successful.

Then, fours days later as he came up the steps with a six-pack and the smell of a long day, it was back.  This time, the gallon was almost completely full.  It was like they poured one glass and then just decided to waste the rest.  “What are you seven years old?”  He said to the vacant deck, then he shook his head, and went inside trying to tell himself he wasn’t going to let it bug him anymore.  “Whatever! It’s their deck.  This is America.  It’s none of my business.”  But he didn’t believe that.   It was his business.  He had to look at it and live with it.  And so the episode turned into a series.  The gallons would sit out anywhere from 1-3 weeks.  One time it was a full month.

Linus began talking about it so much that his friends even became acquainted with the saga.  “How’s the milk situation coming Linus?”  Pete asked one day when Linus happened to be particularly irked about it.  “About the same.  I’m about ready to craigslist a dairy cow, park it on their deck and tie a string from its tail to the door so when they open it they’ll get kicked in the face.”

“Or… you could just pour the milk out on there deck.”  Pete said deviously. Linus had had this fantasy many times before.  Imagining the chunks come down on the wood planks like little spoiled gavels of justice.  But he had never indulged his milk-lust because his beliefs about personal responsibility.  However, with everyday the dairy spoiled his mood, this belief lost a little of its power.  He tried to tell himself he was a bigger and better person than his neighbors, and that his restraint proved that.

But one fateful night, after Linus had thrown back a couple gin n’ tonics, and his beautiful neighbor walked past him again with that ever present expression of curdled incredulity, he decided to avenge his curiosity.  He walked casually over to the milk, plucked a knife out of his back pocket, and stabbed the bottom of the gallon with the force of a semester of resentment. It gushed out onto the deck, accompanied by a scent that reminded Linus of the time he removed the toilet in his bathroom to see what was below.

The neighbors never even tried to clean it up. But Linus smiled a bit that next week every time he watched one of them come outside and crinkle their nose in irritation.  The next week, Linus left a bottle of red wine where the gallon of milk usually sat.  And the milk situation, became a situation no longer.

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About ananiasgo

Charles Westerman is a freelance writer, songwriter, school bus driver and murder mystery theater actor living in Portland, Oregon. He grew up on a ranch in Chugwater, Wyoming as the youngest of five kids and graduated from Washington State University with a degree in Journalism and English Lit. in May 2012. In between driving his Jr. High minions back-and-forth from school, he is currently at work writing his debut literary novel, Where Heaven Meets Cheyenne and its sequel. A two-part telling of the story of his ordinary family that came together in an extraordinary way. For the past two and half years he has worked to tell this story with honesty, excellence and honor to the characters who made it possible.

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