The crisp smell of fallen leaves struck me as I opened the door of my beat-up Civic. It was a pleasant aroma that would have been more delightful had those leaves not been shoved into dramatically black trash bags. My aunt Priscilla’s lawn was immaculate — not a stray leaf to be found. The scent clearly arose from her neighbor’s yard, where a charming sprinkle of dried leaves stopped dead at the property line as though by a force field.
I closed the car door and inhaled a deep breath, avoiding any drift that would send one offensive leaf across the barrier. With a small prayer that my morning toke would grant me serenity, I began the long march toward Aunt Priscilla’s obnoxiously red door.
It was time to face the inevitable.
As I neared the house, the lovely autumnal scent was quickly overcome by the stink of cigarettes and dying flowers. I took one last clean breath before I knocked.
Instantly, an onslaught of deranged howls struck my ears. I had angered the hounds.
Aunt Priscilla opened the door with a scowl, standing in a dramatic cloud of smoke. Her hounds stood behind her. They were quite small compared to the noise they were making, although they clearly believed they were larger than I.
“You shouldn’t have knocked,” said Aunt Priscilla. She pursed her lips and glanced me up and down. “Ring the bell.”
“Sorry, Aunt Priscilla, I didn’t see the doorbell,” I said stupidly. To my credit, the doorbell button, now that I saw it, was faded into the wall and partially blocked by a cardboard cutout of an oddly cheery turkey. He was holding a fork and knife and looking alarmingly eager to be consumed.
Aunt Priscilla sneered. “Come in. You’ve kept us all waiting.”
She turned on her heel as the hounds toned down their warning to quivering snarls. I followed her down the hall, kicking off my shoes to scare away the fearsome creatures.
My uncle Richard had his feet up in the recliner, sipping a Coors Light as he watched football. By the looks of the side table, he was already three deep. His socks hung on by their last shreds of dignity.