ally saw Sarah’s blue house around the corner as they coasted down Northstar Court. They used to live close enough for Wally to ride his bike to their house, but moved at the start of the school year. Mr. Evans made Wally memorize their new address: 135 Northstar Court, Boulder, Colorado. He told Wally if anything ever happened to his dad, he should tell somebody to take him to their house.
Mountains of snow piled by plows covered the left side of the street. A large branch had fallen from a tree into the road ahead. Mr. Norris, Sarah’s neighbor, was wrapping yellow caution tape around it when they pulled up. He wore knee-high white socks and cargo shorts. His long beard and white hair made him look like Santa, but Mr. Evans told them he was too grumpy to be Santa.
Mr. Norris stepped in front of the car and put his hand up as they approached. Mr. Evans pressed the brakes, which caused the car to slide to a stop on the snow-packed road. “What the hell are you doing?” he whispered to himself.
Mr. Norris walked around their car to the driver’s side door and motioned for Mr. Evans to roll the window down.
As the glass lowered, letting cold air into the car, Mr. Norris bounced his finger up and down with it pointed at the ground. “How are you, Mr. Norris?” Mr. Evans asked.
A rainbow-colored wreath hung on Sarah’s front door. The sun was setting and holiday decorations down the street switched on, one after another. Mr. Norris’s house was across the street from Sarah’s and his lawn was covered with illuminated plastic mannequins. Wally’s favorite was the reindeer pulling Santa’s sleigh. One of the reindeer had climbed on top of its friend’s back, which Wally thought was strange.
“See what happened to my reindeer over there?” Mr. Norris asked, pointing at the reindeer laying on each other.
“The neighborhood kids messing with you again?”
Mr. Norris bent over and rested his hands on the bottom frame of the open window, “Do you know anything about it?”
“I’ll keep an eye out, but I haven’t seen anything.”
“Mmhmm. We’ll see,” Mr. Norris replied. “Back when I first moved here many years ago, everyone on the entire street went all out decorating. Now the neighborhood’s filled with so many Buddhists and Muslims and Hindus that it doesn’t even feel like Christmas. Now I’m not saying anything’s wrong with their beliefs, just that old Saint Nick should still be allowed his day to shine if they’re gonna move here.”
Sarah leaned over and whispered to Wally, “My mom and dad told me they hate Mr. Norris.”
“Why?” Wally asked.
“My mom says he’s really mean and we don’t have to be nice to him because he’s not nice to us.”
“Maybe you can take it to the HOA,” Mr. Evans replied to Mr. Norris.
“Don’t think I haven’t. You’ll hear about it at the next board meeting. That and all the lazy people who can’t even pick up after their dog. It’s pathetic.”
“Alright, looking forward to it,” Mr. Evans said. He started rolling up the window, but Mr. Norris stuck his hand through the opening to stop him.
“Whoa there, one more thing. I’m going to leave some extra decorations on your driveway. I noticed you don’t have many, so I thought I’d lend you some of mine. Maybe together we can make this section of the street look especially cheerful?”
“I’ll try to find some time for it,” Mr. Evans said. “I’m actually running late right now though.” The car started moving slowly toward the Evanses’ house.
Mr. Norris shuffled along with the car, “OK, I won’t keep ya. If you get a moment to help me with this branch and contribute to the neighborhood, I’ll be out here for the next hour or so.”
“Sounds good, have a nice night, Mr. Norris.”
Mr. Evans rolled up the window. “Freaking psycho,” he complained as he pulled into the driveway.
Sarah’s house was less decorated than Mr. Norris’s, but they did have a single strand of red lights wrapped around the trunk of the big tree in their front yard. Snow in the driveway crunched and moaned as the car rolled to a stop. Wally exited the car as the garage door rose. A dozen bins of lights that hadn’t been put up yet covered the space where Mr. Evans normally parked his car.
“Can we decorate?” Sarah pleaded.
“Daddy has his DnD stream, remember? I promise we can do it tomorrow,” Mr. Evans said. He unbuckled Eileen from her seat and set her on the ground.
Sarah sulked as she hopped out of the car, “But that’s what you said yesterday.”
Mr. Evans glanced at his phone, then slid it back into his pocket. “Well, today you got ice cream.”
Mr. Evans held Eileens hand as they shuffled past the bins. “I’m hungry!” Eileen shouted.
Mr. Evans opened the door to the house. “We just had ice cream.”
“I want cereal.”
“We’re out of milk,” Mr. Evans replied. He pulled his phone out again, then slid it back into his pocket. Bee Bee trotted inside and sat in front of her bowls, looking back at them over her shoulder.
Sarah and Wally followed Mr. Evans through the doorway, then Sarah dropped her backpack on top of a pile of shoes inside. “I want bagel bites,” she said.
Wally set his backpack next to hers, removed his jacket and shoes, and placed them neatly where Sarah always put hers.
Mr. Evans surged into the kitchen, Sarah and Eileen following closely.
“I’m hungry!” Eileen complained.
“OK, fine, I’m making bagel bites,” Mr. Evans said. He bent over and yanked the freezer drawer open, rummaging through the bags and boxes to find bagel bites.
“I don’t want bagel bites,” Eileen declared.
“Uhh, Eileen, you’re killing me. What do you want?”
“We don’t have any milk… How about ribs?” Mr. Evans pulled a cardboard box from the freezer with a giant picture of a bagel-shaped pizza on it. The corners of the box were covered in ice.
Eileen thought about it for a moment, then nodded her head.
“Wally, are you hungry?” Mr. Evans asked.
Wally nodded his head, too. “I’ll have bagel bites.”
Mr. Evans dumped the entire box of bagel bites onto a white plate and shoved them into the microwave. Some of the frozen mini pizzas were upside down, but he didn’t fix them.
Mr. Evans jogged to the refrigerator, pulled a Styrofoam box from the top shelf, then transferred three large rib bones covered in red meat to a plate. He opened the running microwave, slid Eileen’s plate of ribs inside next to the plate of bagel bites, then pressed “Start” again. The plates collided with the walls, causing the tray to slide underneath.
“Dad, you have to make them up,” Sarah complained.
“Sarah, I really don’t have time for this.” Mr. Evans checked his phone again, then jogged across the room and up the stairs. “I’ll be right back!” he shouted.
Sarah’s house was big. There was a large island in the kitchen, which opened out into the foyer and dining room on the left-hand side, and living room on the right-hand side. There weren’t many walls in their house compared to Wally’s, and they had TVs everywhere. There was a giant TV in their living room above the brick fireplace that Wally had never seen turned on. Sarah always wanted to watch TV in her room. Bee Bee whined from the mud room, but Wally couldn’t see her.
“How are we going to figure it out?” Sarah asked Wally.
Wally smiled. Sarah was good at solving mysteries and he knew finding the meaning of life would be one of the most challenging mysteries he’d ever tried to crack. “You want to know?” he asked.
“If it helps your dad.”
Wally wasn’t hungry anymore, he wanted to start collecting clues. “Your dad said only Bee Bee knows.”
“He said all dogs know,” Sarah clarified.
“But dogs can’t talk.”
“What do you think it looks like?”
Wally shrugged his shoulders, “I don’t know.”
“I don’t understand what my dad wants, either,” Sarah said.
“What does he want?”
“He wants to take my mom to Peru so she can get drunk.”
Wally didn’t know where Peru was, but he knew his dad wouldn’t want to go there. He didn’t like to go places.
Beep… Beep… Beeeeeep—the microwave timer went off. Mr. Evans ran down the stairs with a wooden staff in his hand, a brown cape running down his back, and a tall, pointy wizard hat atop his head.
“You shall not pass!” Eileen shouted at him.
“That’s right, Sweetie, good job.” Mr. Evans jogged toward the microwave, patting Eileen on the top of her head as he passed, then pulled the plates out and set them on the counter. Steam rose from the bagel bites emitting a familiar scent of herbs and bread that reminded Wally of being at the Evanses’ house. Eileen’s ribs sizzled and cracked on the plate even after they came out. Mr. Evans flicked them into a plastic bowl covered with the smiling faces of princesses. As he leaned over to set both dishes down on the kitchen table, one of the bagel bites slid off the plate onto the ground.
“Damn,” Mr. Evans whispered. He dropped the plate and bowl on the table, then scurried over to the paper towel holder next to the kitchen sink, but only the cardboard core was left.
“Alexa,” he shouted toward the black device on the kitchen island, “order more paper towels.” Mr Evans bent down to pick up the fallen bagel bite with his hand, but Bee Bee swooped in and snatched it. She swallowed once, then looked up at him, panting and wagging her tail. “Uhhh,” he grunted, “that will be fun later.”
“What will?” Sarah asked.
Alexa spoke up. “I found an order from three weeks ago, ‘Quick-size paper towels, 12 rolls.’ Would you like me to reorder this?”
“Yes,” Mr. Evans replied.
“What will be fun later, Daddy?” Sarah repeated.
Alexa interrupted Sarah again, “OK, your item should arrive on December 28th. Would you like to order anything else?”
“Jesus Christ,” Mr. Evans exclaimed, looking down at his phone. “Sarah, make sure Eileen doesn’t burn herself.” He bent over Eileen, “Daddy has to do his stream. You eat up here with Sarah, then come down and see me when you’re done, OK?”
Eileen nodded her head. Mr. Evans turned around and jogged in the other direction, this time descending down the stairs into the basement. Sarah pulled a chair out at the table for Eileen, who climbed onto it using both arms, then grabbed a rib with both hands and began ripping at the meat with her teeth. Sarah and Wally sat in chairs next to each other on the opposite side of the table with their bagel bites.
“I just had an idea…” Sarah said to Wally. “My dad says Alexa knows everything, too.”
Wally turned around and eyed the device suspiciously. Meanwhile, Eileen’s jaw was cranked wide open with her lips pressed against a meaty rib. Her mouth made sucking noises as she pulled down, ripping off flesh and exposing bright-white bone.
“Eileen, that’s gross, Mommy says you can’t make noises when you eat,” Sarah told her sister.
Eileen held the bone in her mouth and stood up in her chair, hovering over the bowl of ribs. Bee Bee whined again from the mud room.
“Alexa, what’s the meaning of life?” Sarah asked.
“According to Wikipedia, the meaning of life, or the answer to the question: ‘What is the meaning of life?’ pertains to the significance of living or existence in general. Many other related questions include: ‘Why are we here?’; ‘What is life all about?’; or ‘What is the purpose of existence?’ Does this answer your question?” Alexa replied in a monotone voice.
Sarah glanced at Wally. He didn’t think it answered their question, but he was confused. He decided to ask if she could help them find it, even if they didn’t know what it was. “Alexa, where is the meaning of life?” Wally asked.
“According to Wikipedia, the meaning of life, as we perceive it, is derived from philosophical and religious contemplation of, and scientific inquiries about existence, social ties, consciousness, and happiness. Does this answer your question?”
“Alexa, order the meaning of life,” Sarah commanded.
One of the rib bones was now completely clean of meat and Eileen was sucking on the end of it like it was the teat of her sippy cup. Bee Bee let out a low-pitched whine and barked, “Ruff!”
“I don’t see that item in your purchase history, but I found some results that might be what you’re looking for. Amazon’s top choice is ‘The Meaning of Life’ by John Ritcher, fourteen dollars and ninety-nine cents. To order this item, just say, ‘Buy it now.’”
“Buy it now,” Sarah said.
“Ruff!” Bee Bee barked again.
“Your shipment will arrive after Christmas. You can upgrade to faster shipping for fifteen dollars and ninety-nine cents and receive your package by December twenty-fourth. Would you like to upgrade your shipping?”
“Yes,” Sarah said.
“Your order has been placed. You can expect ‘The Meaning of Life’ to arrive by December twenty-fourth.”
“What day is it,” Sarah asked Wally.
“The twentieth,” he replied.
There was a crash in the mud room, then Bee Bee trotted into the kitchen with a ragged dragon toy in her mouth. Strands of frayed thread and clumps of brown stuffing hung from various holes on the red dragon. Eileen set the clean rib bone down on the table and picked up a second one, this time sucking even louder as she ripped the meat off. Her hands and face were covered in barbecue sauce.
“Do you think she’ll send it to us?” Wally asked.
Sarah shrugged her shoulders again, “My dad uses it all the time and it works.”
Alexa chimed in, “Are you done shopping?”
Bee Bee dropped the dragon toy at Eileens feet and lifted her nose toward the rib in Eileen’s hand, sniffing furiously. Eileen stuck her elbow out and nudged Bee Bee in the face, but she persisted.
“Ehhh!” Eileen complained through her mouth full of meat.
“Bee Bee, bad!” Sarah shouted.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get that. Can you say it again?” Alexa responded.
Bee Bee climbed her front paws up onto the chair and reached her open mouth toward Eileen’s face, then gently bit into the rib and pulled. “Ahh!” Eileen cried.
“Bee Bee, bad!” Sarah shouted again. “Bring the dragon!”
Bee Bee pulled the rib from Eileen’s mouth and began licking it on the ground.
“Leave it, Bee Bee! Bad. Bring the dragon!” Sarah commanded.
Alexa spoke up, “I found an order from last week, ‘Bad Dragon Haiku dildo, large.’ Would you like me to reorder this item?”
Sarah jumped down from her chair and grabbed Bee Bee’s head in an armlock, “Wally, take it from her!”
“OK,” Wally shouted. He slid off his chair and approached Bee Bee’s giant head.
“I’ve reordered ‘Bad Dragon Haiku dildo, large’ for you. It will arrive with your other items on December 24th. You can ask me to check the shipping status,” Alexa said.
Bee Bee whipped her head back and forth, avoiding Sarah’s attempts to grab the rib. “Grab it!” Sarah called to Wally.
He extended his arm toward Bee Bee’s face. Drool flung from her mouth onto Wally’s hand and shirt as she squirmed to avoid his hand. Wally didn’t have a dog and didn’t know how to tell when one is going to bite you, so he grabbed onto the bone gently with just his pointer finger and thumb.
Sarah clenched Bee Bee’s bottom jaw with her hand and attempted to pry her mouth open.“Take it from her!” she shouted.
“Is there anything else I can help you with,” Alexa asked.
“No!” Eileen screamed, pointing at the rib in Bee Bee’s mouth.
Wally pulled more forcefully at the rib, but Bee Bee didn’t let go. The giant dog watched him from the corners of her eyes as drool oozed down both sides of her mouth. The rib was warm and slippery in Wally’s fingers.
“OK, I’ll be here if you need me,” Alexa said.
Wally kept his grip on the rib bone, and turned his head toward the basement doorway when he heard the pounding of footsteps coming up the stairs. “What’s going on up here!” Mr. Evans exclaimed. When Mr. Evans’s head crested the edge of the staircase and he saw what was happening, he increased his pace and yelled, “Bee Bee, drop it!”
Bee Bee obeyed Mr. Evans and let go of the bone. The half-eaten rib rotated in Wally’s fingers until it hung down, dripping with drool.
“My rib!” Eileen whined. She faced her belly to the edge of the chair and slid down to the ground, then ran over to Wally and yanked the rib out of his hand.
“Eileen, Sweetie, don’t!” Mr. Evans tried to say, but it was too late.
Eileen stuck half the bone in her mouth and ripped most of the remaining meat off by yanking her head backwards. Mashing and breathing noises emanated from her mouth into an otherwise silent room as she chomped on the rib meat with her mouth hanging open.
Sarah turned toward Wally, “I think I want to be a vegetarian.”
Eileen froze with her mouth full and looked at Mr. Evans. “I have to potty,” she said.
“Then go to the bathroom,” he replied, ushering Eileen forward with his hand on her back.
Eileen ran in the direction of the bathroom. “Bombs away!” she shouted.