And Flights of Skuhwiggle
by Charles Lee McDaniel
“Hello, children. Quiet down and give me your attention. We have a super-duper treat for you this morning.”
Geez, Nurse Janina was laying it on thick. Jimmy’s hand tightened around the tall stool he held, and his stomach shrank to the size of a raisin.
Why are you worried? the familiar voice inside his head asked.
Because I’ve never done this before, Jimmy thought back.
Excuse me? The gooey green alien perched on Jimmy’s shoulder puffed out its rubbery chest and it squinted its almost-human eyes at him. Have you forgotten how we wowed the crowd at the school talent show? It was only a couple of weeks ago. I know you humans can’t compete with Astrofarians when it comes to memory, but even so…
It’s not that. Jimmy peeked past the curtain hiding him and Skuhwiggle from the rest of the ward. Twenty or so kids looked up at Nurse Janina, drinking in her tale of how Jimmy had supposedly met his alien friend.
The nurse and Jimmy had gone over the details earlier, though he told her several fibs. Nurse Janina thought Skuhwiggle was Jimmy’s hand puppet. What she didn’t know, what no one could know was that Skuhwiggle was an actual alien from a distant planet. He mind-linked with Jimmy, then Jimmy threw his own voice so Skuhwiggle could “talk.” And boy, the little sucker could babble! Jimmy’s mouth and vocal cords might make the sounds, but the words gushed straight out of Skuhwiggle’s quirky mind.
The kids twitched and oohed with excitement. They were much younger than Jimmy, lower elementary school, maybe. Most of them sat on short stools, and some had rolling IV stands next to them. A couple were in wheelchairs, like the small girl in front.
At least, Jimmy assumed she was a girl. Her thin frame and lack of hair made it hard to guess. Her pink, frilly dress, though, seemed to make a statement: she wanted to be seen for what she was, no matter how sick her body had become.
A lump lodged in Jimmy’s throat. What if he failed that little girl and the rest of the kids? What if the performance fell flat?
What’s bugging you? Skuhwiggle’s pudgy lips puckered with concern.
When we did the talent show, we’d practiced our act a bunch of times. We had it down cold. Here I’m supposed to ad lib, interact with the patients, work them into the routine. And they have cancer, every one of them. What if I screw up and say the wrong thing, something insulting?
You won’t. Skuhwiggle’s eyes softened. How many battles have you won playing CombatCraft online?
Almost a thousand. And have you ever had to rethink your attack, adjust your battle plan to save your soldiers?
You know I have. You’ve seen me do it.
So do the same here. Adapt, change things on the fly, only this time with words instead of squadrons. Or would you rather slink home and disappoint all these kids?
Jimmy squared his jaw. That’s not gonna happen.
Skuhwiggle grinned. I never thought it would.
Out on the ward, Nurse Janina’s voice rose to a crescendo. “And so, it gives me great pleasure to present Jimmy Cole and his special friend, Skuhwiggle, the Wonder Alien!”
Showtime! Skuhwiggle flowed down Jimmy’s arm and assumed his puppet position surrounding Jimmy’s hand. The sassy extraterrestrial was ready to go.
Jimmy still had doubts. Displaying more confidence than he felt, he strode across the room, planted his stool in front of the kids, and sat on it.
“Hi, guys. Like Nurse Janina said, my name’s Jimmy Cole. I’m a student at McAdams Middle School, and I’ve got a big problem. Or rather, I have a little green problem. It’s stuck on my hand and I can’t seem to shake it loose.”
He held the alien up for the kids to see. “Say hello to the audience, Skuhwiggle.”
“Hey, folks. I was gonna say it’s great to be here, but we all know better. None of you want to be here. Am I right?”
Jimmy sucked in a breath. Skuhwiggle was being too honest, he thought. But the kids chuckled and one in the back called out, “Anyplace but here!”
“I get where you’re coming from,” the alien declared. “Now, you gotta give Nurse Janina and the staff credit. They’ve done a great job with the bright colors and the toys and your artwork on the walls. But it’s still not home, is it?”
“No, it’s not!” the audience chanted, almost as one.
“I’m away from home, too. And you know what I miss most?”
The kids shouted out their suggestions. “Real food!” “Your own bed!” “The swing set in the backyard!”
Jimmy held up his free hand in protest. “Don’t encourage him. His favorite food is giant cockroaches and he sleeps in a tree with needle-sharp thorns.”
“Oooooow!” the kids cried.
“Hey, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it,” Skuhwiggle replied. “Remember, I’m mostly made of jelly, so the thorns don’t hurt me at all. Plus they keep me from slipping off the tree limb while I sleep. Not that the fall would hurt me. I bounce, but still, getting woke up like that is worse than having your mom pour cold water over your head. And if you doubt me, ask Jimmy here.” Skuhwiggle’s voice sank to a whisper. “She does it to him all the time.”
The audience cackled, and after that, the jokes flowed. Kids would yell out things they missed, like the view from their bedroom or their mom’s fried chicken. Then Jimmy and Skuhwiggle would riff on the ideas, arguing the merits of houses versus trees and Earth food versus Astrofarian insect dishes.
They kept the children laughing for twenty minutes until Nurse Janina gave them the cut-it-short signal. They couldn’t perform too long. It would tire the kids out.
But their audience didn’t want the show to end. “Pleeeeeease!” they begged. “One more joke! Just one.”
“All right, all right!” Skuhwiggle waggled his eyebrows at the girl in pink. “Tell me, you in the front. What’s the difference between a bald girl and a slick-headed alien?”
She snickered. “The bald girl has more brains!”
The kids roared and Skuhwiggle put on a hurt look. “OK. It’s gang-up-on-the-alien time. Not a problem.” He gave the girl a devilish smile. “The difference is the wickedly handsome alien is from another planet while the cute little bald girl is out-of-this-world!”
The children burst into applause. Jimmy and Skuhwiggle bowed several times, then retreated back behind the curtain so Nurse Janina and her co-workers could return the young patients to their rooms.
See? Skuhwiggle’s voice was back in Jimmy’s head. It went great.
What’s the matter? Why so glum?
Jimmy peered past the curtain. There were only a few kids left, including the girl in the wheelchair.
It’s not fair. We go back to our lives, but what do they go back to?
Their own lives. Skuhwiggle’s mouth straightened into a thin line. We can’t change what’s happening. All we can do is make them feel better for a while. That has to be enough.
The curtain shifted to the side and Nurse Janina stuck her head in. “Great job! The kids loved it.” She paused a moment. “There’s one more thing. Someone special wants to meet you and Skuhwiggle. Her name is Rosie. Do you have a minute you could spare?”
“The girl on the front row?” Jimmy asked. “She’s really sick, isn’t she? Will it be long before…?”
Nurse Janina shook her head and swallowed. “Not long at all. So if you could lift her spirits, even a little—”
“Say no more!” Skuhwiggle declared. “We’ll be happy to speak with Rosie.”
“Bless you both.” Nurse Janina held the curtain aside. “Come let me introduce you.”
Rosie squirmed in her chair as they approached. “You guys were awesome!” Her voice was shaky, her words slurred. “Thank you so much!”
“It was no big deal,” Jimmy mumbled.
“You’re wrong. It was special.”
“You treated us like people. Not sick kids, just ordinary people. You didn’t try to talk around what’s happening to us either. You made jokes about it. And the jokes were funny!” She sank back in her chair. “I wish my parents could’ve heard you.”
“Why is that?” Skuhwiggle asked. “To be honest, with the mouth I’ve got, sometimes parents throw things. Lucky for me my outside is bouncy.”
Rosie giggled. “That’s what I mean. You talk straight, but my parents can’t. I bring up the cancer, they change the subject.”
“Maybe they’re scared,” Jimmy suggested. “Maybe it hurts too much for them to think about you… being gone.”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell them. That it’s okay, that I’m okay, inside. But they won’t listen. I even looked up quotes on the Internet to make them feel better, but they only cry more.”
“What kind of quotes?”
“Quotes about death and how it’s not so bad. Wanna hear my favorite?”
“It goes like this. ‘And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.’ Isn’t it beautiful? That’s how I hope it’ll be. I want to hear the angels sing. I’m ready to hear them, but my mom and dad won’t listen.”
“Because you’re going about it the wrong way.” Skuhwiggle leaned in close to the girl. “What you need is a surefire joke, a rib-tickler your parents cannot ignore. And we got just the one.”
Rosie’s arms waggled up and down. “Tell me! Tell me what it is!” Nurse Janina gazed at Jimmy and Skuhwiggle as well.
The silence stretched on.
Tell them the joke, Jimmy prodded.
Hold yer horse laugh. I’m thinking.
You mean, you promised a joke you didn’t have?!
She seemed really sad. I didn’t know what else to do.
Jimmy didn’t either, until he looked into Rosie’s eyes, wide and brimming with hope.
“This isn’t a joke, though it starts like one,” he warned her. “It’s more like an icebreaker, a way to make your parents open up.”
“All right. How is having cancer better than winning the lottery?”
“I don’t know. How is having cancer better than winning the lottery?”
Jimmy mentally passed the answer to Skuhwiggle. The alien nodded to the girl.
“Winning the lottery makes you rich but it also makes you a target,” Skuhwiggle said. “You can’t tell who cares for you and who just wants your money. Having cancer is the opposite. It makes you rich inside. When you have cancer, you know who loves you the most.”
For a moment, Rosie didn’t move. Tiny tears formed in her eyes. “It’s perfect,” she whispered. Then she threw her arms around Skuhwiggle and gave him a weak hug.
When the skin of Rosie’s hand touched the alien’s back, a new mind link flared and Jimmy’s stomach turned inside out. It had happened before, Jimmy picking up another person’s thoughts and feelings through Skuhwiggle.
But never someone in this much pain.
The nausea was overwhelming, not to mention the penetrating pangs ricocheting through his body. Jimmy felt like he needed to lie down, but he widened his stance and steadied himself.
Rosie had a different reaction. Her eyes blinked over and over and her mouth circled into a round little “O.”
“Wow!” she said, her voice slightly less slurred. “Hugging an alien makes you feel good.” She patted Skuhwiggle’s back and let go, not a moment too soon.
Jimmy sagged like a wet towel. What just happened? he thought. The link. It’s been intense before, but this was beyond.
My bad. Rosie caught me by surprise. I made a deep connect and it siphoned her pain into you. Don’t worry. I won’t let it happen again.
Jimmy was only half paying attention. Rosie’s twitching forehead told him the pain had flooded back into her, but she pushed her lips into a smile anyway, like she was used to it.
Tell me something, Jimmy thought to Skuhwiggle. If she touches you, you can do it again, right?
Yeah, but you don’t want that. You felt what it’s like.
And she didn’t. You took away her pain.
No, I transferred it, to you. I can’t keep it inside me, since I don’t have nerves and the feeling has to go somewhere.
If you do it again, will it hurt me? Like, for real?
Probably not, but I can’t be sure. You’re the only human I’ve ever linked with for more than a moment or two. It could suppress your immune system, and you might catch something really nasty. I’d advise against it.
You saw her face. I’m not walking away from this. I can’t.
Did you hear me? You could get sick yourself.
Do it anyway.
Skuhwiggle tilted his chin up, and his eyes bored into Jimmy’s. You’re the bravest being I’ve ever known. Have I ever told you that?
Good. I’ll save it for later.
Skuhwiggle winked at Rosie. “Sorry. The human and me gotta get moving. But before we go, I could use another hug. And I wouldn’t say no to a goodbye kiss, either, if you don’t mind.”
“You got it.” Rosie embraced the alien and planted a big kiss on his forehead. The pain rushed back into Jimmy, more intense than before, but this time he was ready and kept his face calm.
“Thanks for having us,” he told Nurse Janina.
“No, thank you.” She undid the brakes on Rosie’s wheelchair and gripped the back handles. “You and Skuhwiggle have done a world of good here today. You have no idea how much.”
“You’d be surprised,” Skuhwiggle quipped.
Nurse Janina wheeled the girl toward the hallway. “I love you guys!” Rosie called out, blowing them a kiss as she disappeared through the electric doors.
You okay? Skuhwiggle’s thought voice quivered, uncertain.
Let’s get to the car, Jimmy thought back. Leaving wasn’t easy, though. He could barely put one foot in front of the other.
Jimmy’s mom was out front, waiting to pick them up.
“How’d it go?” she asked.
“Fantabuloso!” Skuhwiggle said. “The kids ate it up. They even demanded an encore.”
“Did they?” She waited for Jimmy to reply. Her eyes narrowed when he didn’t. “What’s wrong? You look pale.”
“My stomach’s not feeling so good.”
“Then put the puppet in your backpack and buckle up. We’ll get you home pronto.”
The ride seemed to last forever, though it only took a few minutes. Jimmy’s mom did most of the talking while he struggled to keep from throwing up.
After they parked in front of their apartment, Jimmy’s mom hustled him into his room and tucked him in. Though he was way too old for that kind of treatment, Jimmy didn’t object, he was feeling that bad.
While his mom left for the kitchen to prepare her get-well chicken soup, Jimmy laid on his back, staring at the ceiling.
He’d been feeling sick for less than an hour, and he already wanted to give up. But Rosie, she’d been coping for what? Months? A year or more? How did she do it?
Skuhwiggle intruded into his thoughts. You remember the crack I made? About you being brave?
I was wrong. You’re more than brave. You’re also kind, which is much harder than being brave. And to put ’em together, that’s rare indeed.
Thanks. I’ll write that in my diary when I’m not trying to toss my cookies.
You don’t have a diary and I don’t remember them giving you cookies. And even if they did, why would you want to fling them around?
I was making a joke.
That’s supposed to be a joke? It’s not very funny.
Whatever. Jimmy clutched his belly. Talk to me. Occupy my mind.
What do you want to talk about?
An idea popped into Jimmy’s head. Tell me about how you die, he thought. On your planet, I mean. Is it like here?
No. We don’t feel pain. But we feel loss. And fear.
How does it happen?
Jimmy rubbed his temples with his fingertips. That’s it?
Yeah. The bio-connections holding us together give way and we melt into a puddle, a puddle we can’t reform from.
Do you have funerals?
There’s a ceremony at the Aquataritum.
An enormous underground sea. It’s also where we’re spawned. Kinda like going back to the beginning. You float on the surface, say your goodbyes, then return to the ooze, so parts of you can join with the parts of others to make new life. Like it happens here, dust to dust. We all get recycled in the end.
Jimmy’s mom rapped on the door, preventing further questions. “You have to eat something,” she insisted. “And leave the puppet here. I want you concentrating on your food.”
Jimmy laid Skuhwiggle next to his pillow, lurched to the kitchen and choked down a bowl of soup, though it tasted like soap. When he was done, his mom forced him back to bed and took his temperature — normal. The sickness was all in his mind, it seemed, but that didn’t make it any less revolting.
Once they were alone again, Skuhwiggle edged closer to Jimmy. I know it’s bad, the alien thought. But you’re doing great.
I don’t suppose I can take a short break.
Nope. We’re so far away, if I cut the connection, we’ll never get it back.
Can’t fault a guy for trying. Jimmy stretched out on the bed. When night comes, will I sleep?
Possible. Especially if she goes to sleep. But you’ll still feel ill.
Even in my dreams?
For the next several hours and into the night, Jimmy grappled with the sick feeling. He couldn’t get out of bed because he was too dizzy to stand or even sit up straight.
Eventually his eyelids drooped and he drifted into a bizarre dream filled with weird images and sensations.
First, Skuhwiggle stood in front of a microphone and sang a classic rock song about breaking through to the other side. Jimmy’s mom listened to that song when she needed motivation, but why would Skuhwiggle sing it in Jimmy’s dream?
Next, Rosie’s face appeared, her smile broader than he’d ever seen it. Her teeth parted and her laugh echoed loud and long. She whispered something Jimmy couldn’t make out, and her face and her voice faded slowly away. A wave of peace wrapped Jimmy in a gentle embrace and he fell into deep slumber.
Sometime later, he didn’t know how long, Jimmy drifted back into consciousness. He lay there with his eyes closed, relaxed, feeling surprisingly good.
His stomach rumbled. He was hungry, not nauseous at all! Jimmy opened his eyes and tried to sit up, but something on his chest weighed him down.
There sat Skuhwiggle, his mouth drooping at the corners.
As the truth dawned, Jimmy’s tummy went sour again, this time with grief. He didn’t feel sick anymore because the connection with Rosie had ended. She was gone.
When did it happen? Jimmy asked.
A few hours ago. I tried not to wake you. You needed the rest.
Thanks. Tears trickled down Jimmy’s cheeks. Was she okay, at the end?
I think so. The connection wasn’t strong, like what I have with you. I could only pick up snatches.
Did you sense anything? I mean, when she…?
Before Skuhwiggle could answer, the doorbell rang.
Voices in the distance, his mom’s and another woman’s. After a few moments, a rap on his bedroom door. “You awake?” his mom called.
She opened the door a crack. “How are you feeling?”
“Much better. I think it was a 24-hour bug or something.”
“Good. Um, you have a visitor. I was going to tell her you haven’t been well, but she really needs to talk to you, and if you’re feeling better…”
Jimmy threw the covers aside and hopped out of bed. “Let me get some clothes on. I’ll be right out.”
“She wants you to bring Skuhwiggle, too.”
“Not a problem.”
His mom went to see to their guest while Jimmy yanked on his jeans.
Who do you think it is? Skuhwiggle thought.
You know who it is. Jimmy pulled a t-shirt over his head.
What do you think she wants?
No idea. But if we can give it to her, we will. She’s been through enough.
A woman sat with Jimmy’s mom at their kitchen table. Black splotches darkened the skin under her eyes, and her cheeks sank in, like she hadn’t been eating enough.
“Jimmy,” his mom began, “this is Ms. Gardner. Her daughter was one of the children you performed for yesterday.”
The woman’s fingers trembled as she shook Jimmy’s hand. “I’m Rosie’s mom. My daughter loved your show and the things you said. And she wanted to let you know… wanted me to tell you when she…” Ms. Gardner had to force the words out. “When she passed away.”
“I’m so sorry,” Jimmy said. “I liked her. She had spirit.”
“She did, especially yesterday. Your comedy routine put her in a fantastic mood, like she used to be before she got sick. Laughing, singing, full of energy. It was a little miracle. Her last day was her best one in months.”
Ms Gardner dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “Would you… could you, if it’s not too much trouble, introduce me to Skuhwiggle? Rosie really wanted me to meet him.”
“Say no more, say no more,” Skuhwiggle chimed as Jimmy raised his arm. “I’m here and happy to make your acquaintance. And let me offer my condolences, too. Rosie was amazing. She had more than spirit. The girl had spunk.”
“You’re absolutely right.” Ms. Gardner chuckled, and for the first time Jimmy could see how much she resembled Rosie. Both their mouths crinkled up in the same way when they smiled.
“So you’re the famous puppet,” Ms. Gardner said.
Skuhwiggle thrust out his chin. “Sorry to burst your bubble, Ms. G, but I ain’t no puppet. I’m an alien heartbreaker. And if you doubt it, just ask the babes in the Delta quadrant. They all keep 3-D photos of me under their pillows. Of course, they all use rocks for pillows. I wonder if they’re trying to tell me something?”
Ms. Gardner laughed out loud. “Rosie was right. You two are extremely funny.”
“Please, ma’am, no more,” Jimmy pleaded. “Too much praise makes his head swell, and if it pops, we’ll have green goo all over the place. You wouldn’t believe how bad it stains.”
The woman put her hand to her chest and tried to catch her breath. “No wonder Rosie couldn’t stop talking about you both. It was Jimmy-this and Skuhwiggle-that, right up till the end.”
Ms. Gardner winced, then bit her lower lip.
“You need to know this. Right before she… went, Rosie closed her eyes and drifted off for a moment. Then she laughed and said, ‘It’s not angels singing, Mama. It’s Skuhwiggle!’ She giggled again, told me and her daddy she loved us so much, and… she left us. She was still smiling.” Ms. Gardner reached over and clasped Jimmy’s hand. “You gave her such a great gift.”
“Wish we could’ve done more,” Jimmy murmured.
“You couldn’t have.” She dabbed at her eyes again, then reached for her purse and pulled out a medallion on a chain. “Here. My daughter wanted you to have this.”
“What is it?”
“A St. Christopher’s medal. He looks after travelers and that’s how Rosie saw her illness, as a journey. We talked all about it yesterday, thanks to the ‘joke’ you and Skuhwiggle gave her. And that’s when she told us she wanted you to have it.”
“I-I c-can’t…” Jimmy stammered.
“It’s what she wanted. She said she wouldn’t need it where she was going and it would make her happy, knowing you and Skuhwiggle were protected.”
She pressed the medal into Jimmy’s hand and he reluctantly draped the chain around his neck.
“It’s too much,” he whispered. “More than I deserve.”
“Rosie didn’t see it that way. And there is one last thing you can do for her, but only if it’s all right with your mother and you really want to. Please don’t feel pressured.”
“Rosie wondered if you and Skuhwiggle would speak at her memorial service. And she wanted… she hoped you could make it funny.”
“Funny?” Jimmy pulled at the collar of his t-shirt. “That doesn’t seem right.”
“You met Rosie. She said she didn’t care, that she wanted all the people there to be happy like she was, to laugh with her one last time.”
“Mom?” Jimmy croaked. “Could we? Please?”
Jimmy’s mom cleared her throat and her voice wobbled when she spoke. “Of course you can. And I’d be happy to take you.”
“Ms. Gardner,” Skuhwiggle intoned, his expression more solemn than Jimmy had ever seen it. “Jimmy and I would be honored.”
Ms. Gardner’s tears flowed freely. “Thank you so much. I… I’ll have to let you know the details later. Her father’s at the funeral parlor making the arrangements. I couldn’t bring myself to… I thought… I thought it’d be better if I came here and spoke to you.”
“Let me give you my phone number.” Jimmy’s mom grabbed a notepad and a pen out of one of the kitchen drawers. The women exchanged contact information, and Ms. Gardner gave Jimmy’s shoulder a goodbye squeeze before she left to join her husband.
When Jimmy’s mom returned from showing their visitor out, she threw her arms open wide. “Come here, you.” Jimmy rushed to her and they wrapped each other in a great big bear hug. “I have never been prouder,” she whispered in his ear. “Never ever.”
Jimmy didn’t answer her with words. Instead, his stomach emitted a huge growl.
“James Cole,” his mom mock scolded. “You need to eat something and you need to eat it now. And since you are quite the hero, you get to choose. What’s your pleasure?”
“Could we get breakfast tacos from Sugar Brown’s? The ones with bits of brisket inside?”
“Great choice. Sugar Brown’s it is.” Mother grabbed her purse and slung it over her shoulder. “You want to come?”
“If it’s okay with you, I’ll stay here. I have a speech to write.”
His mom’s chin began to quiver. She pulled Jimmy in for another hug and kissed him on the forehead. “I’ll be right back.”
Once the back door closed behind her, Jimmy turned to Skuhwiggle.
Last night, the rock song. It wasn’t just a dream, was it? You were really singing to her.
She was waiting for the angels to sing. I didn’t want to disappoint her.
She could tell you weren’t an angel, believe me.
I thought I sounded pretty good.
You thought wrong. And why did you pick that song?
I only had your memory to work with. The selection was limited.
Jimmy made a face at the alien, then froze. Why did you think Rosie might be disappointed? he asked.
I don’t know. And I mean that literally. I don’t know what happened when she crossed over, whether the angels sang or not.
None. One second she was there. The next, only silence. I sang because I didn’t want to chance it.
Jimmy rubbed his chin. I guess you have to be there to know, to experience it on your own.
They sat a moment, not looking at each other, not moving. Then Jimmy pulled the notepad over in front of him.
One thing I do know, he thought. That memorial speech won’t write itself. How should we start?
We should open with some zingers about how bald is beautiful. Extremely beautiful. Whatda ya think?
I think she’d like that. Jimmy clicked the pen and poised it over the notepad. I think she’d like that a lot.
About the Author
Charles Lee McDaniel is a teacher/actor/author living in Berlin, Germany. Born and raised in the Great State of Texas, he moved abroad in 1991 and has never looked back. As an overseas educator, he’s taught a wide range of subjects, including Theater, Psychology, History, Government, English, Philosophy, Journalism, and Film.
Charles’ writings include an indie urban fantasy series for adults, The Caleb Ride Chronicles, and the play “Voices through the Wall,” which was featured in a segment of the BBC Radio program The Strand. He also co-starred in the 2017 film “Weather House.”
About the Narrator
Scott Campbell searches for battles that will increase his skills for the battles to come. The slush pile underneath PseudoPod Towers is a worthy opponent. He also writes, directs, and performs for the queer (in every sense of the word) cabaret The Mickee Faust Club. He also write far too infrequently at the official online home of the Sleep Deprivation Institute (and pop culture website) Needcoffee.com. He lives in Florida with absolutely no pets.