Without Merit(7)

By: Colleen Hoover

He wakes at approximately 6:20 a.m. every day, showers at 6:30 a.m., makes two green smoothies, one for him and one for Honor at 6:55 every morning. (If she doesn’t have them made, first.) By 7:10 he’s dressed and headed to the marquee to update the daily message. At approximately 7:30 every morning, he gives our little brother an annoying pep talk and then he leaves for school, or, if it’s a weekend, he heads to the gym to work out where he walks for forty-five minutes at a level five on the treadmill, followed by one-hundred push-ups and two-hundred sit-ups.

Utah doesn’t like spontaneity. Despite the common phrase, Utah does not expect the unexpected. He expects only the expected. He does not like the unexpected.

He didn’t like it when our parents divorced several years ago. He didn’t like it when our father remarried. And he especially didn’t like it when we were told our new stepmother was pregnant.

But he does, in fact, like our half brother that came as a result of said pregnancy. Moby Voss is hard not to like. Not because of his personality, per se, but because he’s four. Four-year-old children are fairly liked across the board.

Today the message on the marquee reads “You can’t hum while holding your nose closed.”

It’s true. I tried it when I read it this morning and I even try it again as I walk toward the double cedar front doors of our house.

I can say with certainty that we live in the most unusual house in this whole town. I say house because it is certainly not a home. And inside this house are seven of the most unusual occupants. No one would be able to determine from the outside of our house that our family of seven includes an atheist, a home wrecker, an ex-wife suffering from a severe case of agoraphobia, and a teenage girl whose weird obsession borders on necrophilia.

No one would be able to determine any of that from inside our house, either. We’re good at keeping secrets in this family.

Our house is located just off an oil top county road in a microscopic Northeast Texas town. The building we live in was once the highest attended church in our tiny town, but it’s been our house since my father, Barnaby Voss, purchased the fledgling church and closed its doors to the patrons indefinitely. Which explains why we have a marquee in our front yard.

My father is an atheist, although that isn’t at all why he chose to purchase the foreclosed house of worship and rip it from the hands of the people. No, God had no say in that matter.

He bought the church and closed the doors simply because he absolutely, vehemently, without doubt, hated Pastor Brian’s dog, and subsequently, Pastor Brian.

Wolfgang was a massive black Lab who was impressive in size and bark, but lacked a great deal of common sense. If dogs were classified into high school cliques, Wolfgang would most definitely be head of the jocks. A loud, obnoxious dog that spent at least seven of the eight precious hours of sleep my father needed each night barking incessantly.

Years ago, we had the unfortunate distinction of being Wolfgang’s neighbor when we lived in the house behind the church. My parent’s bedroom window overlooked the back property of the church, which also doubled as Wolfgang’s stomping grounds, in which he stomped quite regularly, mostly during the hours my father would rather Wolfgang have been sleeping. But Wolfgang didn’t like to be told what to do or when to sleep. In fact, he did the exact opposite of what anyone wanted him to do.

Pastor Brian had purchased Wolfgang when he was just a pup, not a week after a group of local teens broke into his church and stole the week’s tithe. Pastor Brian felt that a dog on the premises would deter future robberies. However, Pastor Brian knew very little in the way of training a dog, much less a dog with the intellect of a high school football jock. So for the first year of Wolfgang’s existence, the dog had very little interaction with humans outside of his master. Being that Wolfgang got the short end of the stick when it came to intellect and interaction, all of his boundless energy and curiosity were placed solely on the unsuspecting, and possibly undeserving, victim who occupied the property directly behind the church. My father, Barnaby Voss.

My father had not been a fan of Wolfgang’s since the moment they became acquainted. He prohibited me and my siblings from interacting with the dog, and it was not uncommon for us to overhear my father threatening to murder Wolfgang under his breath. And at the top of his lungs.

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