A Family Discussion

Part IV of IV

Once it was said, Dale couldn’t take it back but at the same time… he ran into his bedroom after Sandra anyway. Leaning on the door frame he said, “I didn’t mean any of that.”

“Oh yes. Yes you did, you shit.” Sandra was smoking, calling Rick and chewing gum at the same time. Rick picked up the phone on the other end. Dale sunk down to the floor and buried his head in his hands.

“Hey, Babe.” Sandra grinned.

Cool as a cucumber she proceeded to tell him that she needed to meet him at their usual spot. It was an emergency and she needed to see him as soon as possible.

She prepared herself and took her black Chanel bag, flung it over the shoulder of her black leather jacket and then threw her gum in the trash underneath the vanity in the bedroom. Dale watched.

“I’ve been wanting to say this for a long time Dale.” She stopped and took a long deep breath. “Thank you, I love you, I hate you but most of all: Fuck you! Fuck you and your coldness. Fuck you and your pretentiousness. Fuck you and your books and your blessed fucking brilliance. Fuck. You.” Then before Dale could figure out what to say she grinned gleefully and dashed out of the house.

He was numb. All this madness that had seemed to come at him made him feel incredibly numb. But not numb in the usual way. It made him feel weak… But still, hadn’t she been waiting to say that? Hadn’t she often looked sad when he kissed her forehead as they parted? She always looked sad, come to think of it.

Was he sad too? The thought made him laugh uncontrollably. It went so far beyond that… Why even bother trying to think tiny, silly little thoughts about it right now.

Sunlight poured in through the windows in the family room. Bold, warm sunlight threw a spotlight on the dancing of dust. The sofa was soft. The walls were a clean, lovely beige. It broke him.

Because everything was just as it should be. Even the sunlight was as it should be.

But… where was he? Was he here in this room? Here in this body he looked down at? Why, just earlier today he’d mused about his aging skin and his weight. In that moment he felt present but right now… where was he? Where was he most of the time? Huh.

Sarah’s day had started out fantastically. It was pure genius.

They held hands. Patrick gave her winks every time she turned around in math class. And when some guy started teasing him about it he threatened him and the guy actually backed-off. And then, as if to spite it all, he drew two big hearts after class with their initials in them on the chalkboard. She was in awe of him. What a wonderful start…

And back in the jungle of the seventh grade Scott was also happy… enough. Having followed his sister’s advice he shunned any social points he could have gained by telling his would-be buddies what was actually the truth. Instead he told them he didn’t want to talk about it. They looked confused and accused him of being a chicken but then when he didn’t flinch they went quiet. Then one of them suggested that he must have actually gotten really drunk and in a lot of trouble. But still, he refused to comment. And oddly, in his cold indifference, they felt almost… snubbed. It was then that Scott, with his great intuition, realized how deeply insecure these guys were. And, he nearly resented them.

Sandra’s hair flew about her pretty face as she drove up to the train depot with her window down. She beamed at Rick. And there he stood, all of him, right there in front of the parking spot by the entrance to the depot. Hands in his pockets he looked both excited and dead-set. Their eyes met magically and as Sandra gracefully exited the car she looked like a mysterious ancient and beautiful creature finding her true mate.

Their words were sparse but they didn’t need many words. He did however ask her, “What made you finally change your mind?”

“I had a talk with Dale this morning and I realized how useless it is to figure certain things out. It’s never been my style anyway… I know I love you too and being with you is the only real fun I’ve had in a long time. I was waiting because I just wanted to be sure… But I’m done waiting to be sure. I’m done waiting to try to… ‘do things the right way.’ She grinned. “I just want to be fucking happy for once in my fucking life.” Her smile grew enormous.

“Well, whatever brought you to your senses is good enough for me.” Rick caressed her softly but certainly and then they got in his Jeep.

After sitting and staring at the door frame for about a half an hour Dale finally rose from his seat on the floor and decided to make a cup of coffee. Finally sipping his coffee he stood in silence and then thought how perfect it would be to read the newspaper? Except it wouldn’t.

Dale sunk slowly, feet slippery on the kitchen tile, to the kitchen floor. He stayed there for an hour…

After that Dale picked up a novel he had been intending to read and brought it to the sofa. But, instead of reading it he just sat and… stared. And stared. And stared

Then the phone rang. It rang in the kitchen. It rang in the bedroom. It rang in a bathroom near the stairs to the basement.

Dale rose from his seat and walked to the phone in the kitchen. It was a green plastic phone and it lit up when it rang.

“Hello.” Dale quietly spoke.

It was a call from the hospital. A woman who they had determined to be his wife was losing her life. She had been in a car accident with a man who appeared to have been intoxicated at the time of the crash. He had died at the scene and she was just barely clinging to life. He needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible.

I wish I could say that all was well. But it wasn’t. When are things ever really… truly well? Maybe not often this side of heaven.

Still, Sarah’s new boyfriend was proving to be a God-send and helping her grieve the death of her mother…  Her father had finally decided to go into counseling and start taking anti-depressants. And Scott… Well Scott was also in counseling.

What Scott said he regretted most was never really liking his mother. She was just so… cool and distant? They were just so different. So very different…

One Saturday, several months later, in a counseling session, Scott wrote his mother a letter.  In the letter he apologized for not liking her enough.  He felt guilty.  He apologized for not being a better son.  He expressed anger that she was so indifferent to him all his childhood.  He said, “goodbye.”  And then, as his counselor recommended, he placed the letter on her grave.

But Sarah was the most devastated.  She was the most distraught.

Patrick could sense her growing despair. He could sense that the fervent and blooming spring in her heart was threatening a revolt.

And one lazy late July day when Sarah refused to answer the phone he decided to go check on her. When he got to her house she had, “gone for a walk” her father told him. So, Patrick tried to track her down.

He figured out that she had probably made her way to the river. It was near the spot where her mother had been found and Sarah was the sort of confrontational soul who needed to stare death in the eyes and ask questions.

It took about an hour before he found her standing, peering down into the river right at the edge. He could sense her deathly trance and grief-stricken state. Patrick rushed to her side.

“Sarah! What are you doing?!” He yelled at her.

She turned around and face broken by many previous tears she calmly explained: “I decided to find my mother.” He knew exactly what she meant.

“What about me though, Sarah? You can’t just leave me here.”

A look of horror crossed her face. Then she looked down at the river by her feet. She noticed the flow and where the water went, and how it danced, taking itself far, far away from her.

His desolate, pleading face genuinely shocked her when she returned to it.

“I’ve just been thinking. I feel like I’m slightly at fault in some weird, roundabout way for my mother’s death.” She pauses. “And I never got a chance to say goodbye.” She starts to cry.

Patrick knows to not touch her just yet…

“I don’t want to leave you. But at the same time I’m such a depressing person to be around.” She smiles and shrugs. “We could easily break-up someday anyway and why waste your time with my nonsense?”

“But don’t you see how selfish and… arrogant that is? It’s my choice whether or not I want to be with you. And I want to be with you.” She shudders suddenly and he continues.

“Playing with the forces of life is futile. God can’t be toyed with.”

She looks down the river again. “My mother is gone. So far away. And what if I never see her again? Or, what if it takes … nearly forever? Even if we meet in Heaven then what? I live out the next seventy years waiting to see her? The next eighty?”

“What choice do you have but to wait? She’s gone, Sarah. Don’t try to follow her.”

He picks up two leaves and throws them in the river. They separate and flow together down the same path but apart from each other. She watches.

Patrick grabs her hand, then tugs her away from the stream. “Besides, I believe in God and if you’re supposed to meet again you will.”

They head back toward the parking lot through the woods and for a moment she feels extremely sad but at peace. Then the sound of footsteps is clearly heard right behind them – breaking twigs feet away.

The laughter of a woman and man cracks the air around them. They both hear it and then turn around to look. There’s nobody there, of course.

As they keep walking onward they hear it again. This time when they turn around Sarah walks backward to investigate. She looks around and sees a wet leaf in the middle of the path. “Hello?!” She screams out into the woods. “Hello?!” But nobody answers. She walks back to her boyfriend and says, “You heard it too right?”

He nods then says without flinching. “I heard it. It was probably your mother.” He makes a wild but sweet expression. “…But… I still wouldn’t chase after her, Sarah. She is dead.”

Sarah is surprised at his words but smiles sincerely. “It’s a little bit of everything isn’t it? Life…”. But then Sarah turns around just quickly enough to utter, “Good bye then, Mom. For now, at least.”

“Just keep saying all of that until you know what you really mean.” Patrick offers.

She nods.

A Family Discussion

Part III of IV

Friday morning Dale Blume woke up, blinked sleepily until his eyes focused on the pieces of furniture across the room from him. Then he threw his feet out of bed and touched the floor with his toes, finally standing and then making his way over to their master bathroom.

The cold marble floor felt nice and refreshing even if it was a jolt. He shivered and put on socks.

Dale looked in the mirror then and noticed a man standing in front of him with wrinkles and a slight gut. He smiled. He wasn’t sure why, but something occurred to him. It was something his mother used to say to him when he was a little boy back in Virginia.

She used to say, “You’re lucky to be alive, be happy.” That was her reproach whenever he showed any signs of sullenness or insecurity.

Thinking of it now made him almost laugh. It was true. He was blessed – blessed to be getting old.

And then there was breakfast. Having a beautiful, big breakfast was one of Dale’s daily delights.

He made perfect scrambled eggs. His toast was often, for lack of a more suitable word, impeccable. His fresh squeezed juices were practically legendary, actually.

Sometimes Dale even added sardines with tomatoes and pieces Danish cheeses on the side of the plate to add a certain “European” or “old-world” je ne sais quoi. Once he made stuffed mushrooms.

But then there was the problem. Nobody was yet awake today and he deplored sitting alone during meals and listening to himself chew. He once told Sandra in a moment of openness that he thought he sounded almost reminiscent of a cow chewing cud, and frankly he didn’t like it.

Standing there, in front of the dining room table, in his plaid boxer shorts, white shirt and socks… holding a lovely plate… he decided to break his own rules. He decided to go in the living room and eat in front of the television.

He brought out a card table and poured himself a coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice to accompany the meal. Perfect.

The television bored him, but he often enjoyed the financial news and the weather report. Today the weather sounded lovely. A warming trend was on the way and it was supposed to be sunny this morning.

The eggs needed pepper. He walked in the kitchen to get it and as he returned he noticed the bad news from the stock market. He invested a little here and there and lately the market had made him nervous. Yesterday he had ignored the news, but this morning he heard about it…

Dale looked around the living room and examined all the valuables in the room. He quickly reassessed in his mind what sort of provider he had truly been and felt foolish. Even though he had done well, he wasn’t up to his own standards, never had been actually… and the little he had recently lost in the market made him feel even worse. Also, the toast he made today was really terrible.

After getting dressed and giving his daughter her breakfast he went outside to water the roses. Dale was an excellent gardener.

It was just as he had finished picking a bit of ear wax out of his right ear, that Dale had the very strong sense that something or someone was staring at him. Mr. Blume turned around and saw a big shiny black truck pulling up his driveway. He squinted and… almost snarled.

In the driver’s seat was a young man. A manly young man… Dale lifted and arched his left eyebrow.

Helplessly he stood holding a watering can, wearing Sandra’s pink slippers, his white shirt, socks and a pair of gray sweat pants. And then out of the truck waltzed the young man towards him. He was such a handsome young man though…

Suddenly, he felt a tinge of jealousy as he oddly reasoned, still perhaps half asleep, that this strapping fellow was there to see Sandra. It quickly occurred to Dale Blume that he seemed too young for Sandra though…

Dale’s rather delicate facial features scrunched together in horrid confusion momentarily. Then, as his mind raced forward to meet reality, his face relaxed and his gentle eyes drifted off to the side and upward toward heaven as it thankfully, blessedly, came to him that this young man could be at his home for his daughter? Dear God…

It was in this precarious and rather unflattering state that Patrick Steele met Dale Blume. “Hello!” Patrick grinned, raised his hand awkwardly and then waved a strange but friendly little wave.

“I’m here to see if Sarah wants a ride to school. But she isn’t expecting me. I just…”. He froze for a second. “I wanted to surprise her.” It must have felt like a bad idea to Patrick as he said it out loud because his face dropped as his finished his sentence.

“I’ll go get her.” Dale didn’t introduce himself. He just turned awkwardly and started for the kitchen where he suspected Sarah was finishing her oatmeal.

It was odd. Dale liked this guy, and if Patrick had been there any other day, or if he had met Patrick in another circumstance he would have been warm to him. Introduced himself… But, today it was too much. Something was wrong. Dale wasn’t sure what yet but it was. He could feel it. Although, he was fairly sure it had nothing to do with… Patrick. At all... At all?

“Oh my gosh!!” Sarah practically fainted when she found out that Patrick was outside. She ran to him.

But Dale didn’t watch beyond the view from the kitchen. Instead, he turned his back and there in the kitchen, out of nowhere, as if it was a lightening strike from heaven he started to cry. And it wasn’t the sort of cry you have when you’re losing your daughter slowly but surely to adulthood and it suddenly occurs to you that you’re almost an old man. It was… everything.

It was as if all the madness was waiting for just the slightest push. All the years of quiet, perfect, polite, haunted living had fallen down from their high perch and crashed around him. And like a sad, scared little boy he cried. He shook.

When Sandra walked into the kitchen in her perpetually lovely state, she was shocked. “Dale?!” She walked quickly up to him and rubbed his arm pleasantly.

“What’s the matter?” She questioned sweetly.

“Sarah’s run off to school this morning with some boy. And next thing you know, she’ll be leaving permanently.” He dried his eyes and then came the crash landing.

“But I think what really got me-.” He stopped and looked Sandra straight in the eyes. “I think what really bothered me was that I thought for a split second, at first, that he was here to see you.” He exhaled somewhat passionately.

Sandra was beyond stunned.

“I can’t go on like this, Sandra.” He laid both of his hands on the kitchen counter and closed his eyes; resting his head on a cupboard door. She shifted uncomfortably in response.

“You know, I never thought you’d…”. She couldn’t finish.

“You’d what!?” His awoken directness startled her. …Had she ever seen him like this?

You don’t care. You don’t care who I see behind your back.” Then she coldly continued, “And as much as you pretend not to know, I think you do.”

“I try to think the best. But, I’ll be honest. What really made me cry is just that.” He leaned back against the refrigerator. “I don’t care.”

Silence.

“No, Sandra. I care about your happiness and health. I care about you… but I stopped truly caring long ago. And I think… if that young man hadn’t been so young and had, indeed, been here for you I would have told you to go on with him.” And just as soon as his words left his mouth she flew out of the kitchen and down the hallway into their bedroom.

“Fine! I’ll be going then!” She bellowed from the bedroom before slamming the door. She grabbed the telephone next to the bed and began calling Rick.

And Scott emerged from the bathroom. He was sad, shocked and slightly pleased to have avoided a punishment. At least for today…

A Family Discussion

Part II of IV

Mrs. Blume exhaled from her cigarette. “Man…”. Her coral lips parted.

The car was parked several miles out of town near the river. Mrs. Blume, Sandra, was a middle-aged, lovely woman. Dark. And she loved sneaking secret cigarettes.

Rick, her boyfriend, hated cigarette smoke but adored Sandra.

Mrs. Blume was Sarah’s mother. Mr. Blume (not Rick) was Sarah’s father. They were married, but not happily so. Not at all.

On Thursdays Sandra met Rick at the coffee shop near the train station at the edge of town and they dashed off in his Jeep to their special spot. When they found a perfect place to park they made-love. And then Sandra had her cigarettes while Rick stepped outside to get fresh air. Rick truly hated smoke.

Long, stick straight hair and a blunt fringe flies about her tanned olive skin and dark hazel eyes. Smoke flows upward and out of the cracked windows in the front seat.

She smiles slyly. Then, Rick opens the door to the passenger’s seat. He sits his slightly rotund frame in the front seat. His faintly balding blond hair is a bit wispy about his fair face. His crystalline blue eyes flow back to Sandra. The color of his camel cashmere coat soothes Sandra with its quiet lack of moodiness.

“So?” He smiles. He beams. Rick is in love with Sandra at the very least. He adores her. She giggles and kicks his seat in response.

Reading his expression she sulks, “You aren’t going to start with that again?” She pleads.

Rick frowns.

He throws himself back against the car door, stretches-out his legs and sighs. Toying with his fingers in disgruntled manliness, he continues.

“See.” He swallows hard. “You are exactly what I’ve been waiting for my entire life.” He fervently strains his neck to glance over at Sandra now. “You and your kids-” his voice trails off.

“Hmph.” Sandra blows her smoky breath into the hairs above her elegantly tweezed eyebrows. Her playfulness masks her profound anxiety in this moment.

“I just want to start over-” Sandra cuts him off. She had heard this all before.

“I know. I know… You want to have another try at a family.” Sandra sits up more distinctly and lightly touches the crisp collar of her white cotton blouse. She examines Rick’s semi-sullen face frankly but lovingly.

“Yes. I’m in love. You know that. But it’s even more than that…”. He rubs his fingers over his lips thoughtfully.

She looks flummoxed and ever so slightly captivated. Maybe he’s about to say something about the accident, she thinks.

It was a terrible crash. His wife and their two daughters were killed in an automobile accident with a semi on an icy bridge ten years ago. He had been struggling desperately ever since.

Five years of intensive therapy combined with years of crying, and restless mourning had left Rick changed. He claimed that in his youth, long before Sandra knew him, he was a devil-may-care, crazy child of a certain reckless world view.

Rick had married Elizabeth, his first wife, only after she was pregnant with their twins and then stayed faithful only because he was still in love with her. Elizabeth, apparently, was his exact opposite.

And, Rick never talked about any of it. Well, only once had he even said anything about it at all.

Actually, his inability to talk about it was one of reasons Sandra hesitated going further with him. He was a fling because she had labeled him emotionally defective after their first meeting at a bar two years ago… In her growing ambivalence after two decades of a dead marriage she was cut-throat like that – no warning. Just a quick judgement made. Usually sadly accurate…

“I crave the sort of intimacy that comes with marriage. The kind of heart-to-heart closeness Elizabeth and I had.” He almost hid himself in the collar of his coat at this. “I… dream of running away with you.” He paused and looked out the backseat window at nothing in particular, fervently. “We’d go some place warm. With beaches and sunshine. And then come back and take your kids and move to Boston.”

“I hate the city. You know that…” she ran her fingers through her hair. “But either way, I just…”

“I know. You want more time.” He laughed mirthfully.

“I do. You know?” She smiled sadly.

“But what about this?” He raised his arms to reference everything about them; the sunny blue sky on this crisp early spring day and the way the river had just started to unthaw and the way the snow was melting in the sunlight, creating dark puddles on the pavement.

“Well.” She responded. He often referenced nature when he was trying to describe the impermanence and vulnerability of all life and beauty.

“I just don’t think we should assume things. What we have is rare. It’s special. And I want to savor it.” He mused in quick retort.

She could only smile in response. Later, after he dropped her off at the train depot and she made her way back to her car she would start her “process” as she called it. She would unravel all the tightly wound, beautiful pieces of emotion that comprised her being after her meetings with him and then she would start to dull and distance herself from it all.

Sometimes in her “process” she would find an objective truth. Other times there was a lie. Either way she chilled. She compartmentalized it all. Beautifully.

Walking in on her daughter reading a Latin textbook in her room, she smiled. Sincerely. What a hard-worker Sarah was. She was an honors student. Sandra had always wanted to be an honors student in school growing up. But, learning things from books was never her thing. No, Sandra was a cheerleader in school… And a good one, actually.

Sandra was also voted, “Most attractive” her senior year. All the boys loved her, including Dale Blume. But Dale Blume was the smartest, funniest and kindest senior of 1975. When Dale Blume decided Sandra was going to be his wife, six years post graduation, she said, “yes.” Of course.

As a lawyer, Dale did well and all was nice and fairly lovely enough until Dale lost himself. Lost himself, you might ask? Why yes.

You see, Dale was actually sort of brilliant but all the heat and intensity that ran almost amok in his fast mind never left it. He was an exceedingly temperate man. But he was a sensitive man, none-the-less, and sometimes a scorching set of feelings might attack what had become a rather icy exterior and leave him nearly exposed. All the musings in his deep recesses threatened to pour out and that… well that… was terrifying to him. How do you reason through it all satisfactorily? You can’t.

Several years ago, when his legal mentor, Mr. Fallcroft, died of a sudden heart-attack one summer night while Dale was in the middle of a conversation with him – the two men had been finishing martinis – and he had to call 911 and comfort a nearly hysteric Marjorie Fallcroft until her kids arrived, Dale was left a bit unhinged. And then, when their dog, Mutsy, was killed three weeks later by a freak accident involving a train, he started cracking. Although, it was nothing truly life-changing until he found out about a casual flirtation that had developed between Sandra and his partner at the firm, Matt.

Sandra had been neglected for years, he reasoned. He was busy with his career and she was bored… She hated the long hours alone at home with only the smattering of noise that came from the two kids’ rooms occasionally.

Matt was younger. He was the youngest partner at the firm. He was… cute, or he must have been? He had two dimples and a sort of Sicilian broad shouldered beauty.

Dale had noticed Sandra and Matt chatting at a dinner party two years earlier but not until the family dog died and he found Sandra crying into the bedroom phone to Matt did he realize his wife had… crossed a certain line. And perhaps, gone a bit too far.

The fling ended shortly thereafter at Dale’s insistence, but the marriage was never the same after that. And while Sandra swore she was faithful, he secretly guessed she wasn’t. Maybe she was? But… he knew better. And sadly, he so craved a sort of peace more than… Sandra… that he didn’t bother finding out about her doings for certain.

Had they ever loved each other? No. If we’re going to be honest the answer is no.

But they thought they did.

And, often, they were so at ease with each other, so beguiled by the mystery of the other, and attracted to the other’s charms that the arrangement worked. It worked well enough to keep them glued together; enough to conceive two children and form some semblance of a perfect American, suburban, late 20th Century family, in fact.

Still, Dale had lost himself that summer while Sandra had escaped into the arms of several seductive, if dead-end romances. Where Dale was exactly, nobody knew… Maybe his heart was locked away in a cabinet somewhere in his office. Maybe his soul was half frozen in the basement refrigerator where he stored his expensive gin.

But Dale had lost it. He was beyond quiet. Beyond sedate. And the tragedy was that he didn’t seem to see it in himself. He didn’t seem to recognize that he was… in fact… a zombie.

Sandra silkily slinked into the basement where she found Dale sitting, reading a book about the Civil War. His usual…

He didn’t move an inch.

When she approached him and caressed his hair and he could smell her musky perfume – something from high school she still wore by Jovan – he didn’t even blink. Sandra slightly groaned, as she always did to show something. He was never sure what she was trying to tell him with her sighs and general noise making…

“Hello!” She coyly and happily bent over him and kissed his cheek. He, of course, mostly ignored her. As always. “I won’t keep bothering you, but I just wanted to touch my man.” She flirted.

“Oh yes. Thank you, dearest.” He roused a bit and just barely caressed her head a little with his left hand. A faint smile formed on his face but dissolved amazingly quickly. His book then absorbed whatever part of him had momentarily surfaced.

Scott, Sarah’s younger brother sat upstairs watching t.v.. A can of just opened beer was in his right hand.

He quickly glanced around the room. Nobody was there. He drank quickly but methodically. Then he stopped and stared at the can, grimacing. A look of pure disgust contorted the features of his handsome, blue, rose and jonquil face. He got up from the over-sized leather easy chair and moved into the kitchen where he dumped out the remainder of the beer in the can. He turned the sink on and tried to wash it all down the drain as fast as possible.

Scott took the offending can and threw it in the recycling bin. Nobody would guess it was his, he thought. Then he opened the liquor cabinet and poured a little rum in a glass. Somewhere he had heard that rum mixed with soda was tasty. He wanted to try that next.

With a can of root beer added to the rum he found the taste palatable. He moved to the floral sofa by the bay window in the living-room and slowly sipped. He felt very “grown-up” indeed. Then Sarah walked in.

Scott’s eyes opened exceedingly wide and a look of half terror spread across his face. Sarah would not approve of her little brother getting tipsy in the living-room.

But Sarah was in another world. She looked dazed. He was almost worried but she didn’t seem unhappy. He tried to quickly chug his drink down before she left her state and noticed him and his offending beverage.

But Sarah had an exceptionally keen sense of smell. She started sniffing the air until she turned to face Scott and noticed him sitting there with a look she had never seen him wear.

“Scott.” She looked scared as she severely but half floated toward him. First she propped open his left eyeball and examined his pupil. Then she pried his mouth apart and stuck her small nose inside. All her senses were like that. Uncanny.

“Oh my gosh. You’ve been drinking.”

Scott was used to his sister. He shrugged.

“Why?!”

He sighed in response. “Umm…” But his usual pretenses weren’t there to protect him. He found himself feeling rather… careless. He chuckled. “I was dared by a couple of guys at school to drink a beer and I told them I would.”

“Why?”

“Because…”. He shrugged. “I dunno. I guess it’s cool?” He thought out loud.

“Oh my gosh! That’s so cliché Scott. Seriously?!”

He looked confused and maybe a little hurt. He got up and moved toward the direction of his bedroom.

“Scott! Come back here!” Sarah ordered.

At times like this Scott knew who his “real mother” was. It bothered him because he knew it wasn’t fair to Sarah, but she always knew things. She always cared.

“Scott! You need to explain to me why you’re doing this. Truly. Because you can’t drink. You just can’t. I can’t let you.” Sarah decided.

“I dunno.” He sat down again. “I guess I really did just think it seemed… fun?”

“Fun how?”

“Fun because it looks fun? And actually, it does feel kind of… fun.” He stared off into space.

“Yeah. Until you get hurt or hurt someone else. Or you do it too often and then die a miserable slow death.” Sarah glared at him now.

He knew he couldn’t argue. He had read about it.

“Are you going to tell Mom and Dad?” Scott finally had to ask.

“Yes. But I’ll argue for leniency if you promise me not to tell those guys at school you drank. I want you to tell them it was a bad idea and leave it at that.” She bit her bottom lip.

He looked puzzled and churned his brow. “What?!”

“Yeah. I know you’re just trying to fit in but the sort of guys who do crap like this aren’t worth it.” She angrily mused.

“Ok. So you want me to be an outcast on principal?”

“Something like that. Yes.” Her face slightly turned to stone.

“Hmm. Interesting idea. Ok. Whatever.” He shrugged.

“Well, ok, so just to clarify: I’m not saying that these guys are worthless people.” She quickly added. “I just think… They’re often troubled. Some might be… cruel. Some might be… just confused, but they’re not worth trying to fit in with.”

He nodded a little but didn’t respond. Then he asked, “Why are you so angry?”

“What?!” She seemed both baffled and impressed by his intuition.

“You just seem… mad?” All the sensitivity of both parents and a sort of mellow sweetness comprised the basic makeup of Scott.

“I am, I guess.” She threw herself back on the sofa.

“Why?” He was still tipsy and waiting for something monumental to happen.

“Greg ripped me apart today. He basically verbally assaulted me as we were walking out to his car after school. He called me a fat toad… And then he told me to go home and weep.”

Both siblings sat silent for a moment; peaceful in each other’s company. Scott scratched his chin and blinked quickly.

“So he’s an asshole after all.” Scott eventually said, quietly.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ve always wondered which side of things he’d be on. You know, like would he be a jerk when he got older or would he be one of the good guys.”

“One of the good guys?” Sarah asked.

“Yeah. Would he be the sort of guy who uses his brilliance for good or evil.”

“I’ve never thought of him that way, but I guess he is brilliant.” Sarah mused.

“That’s because you’re so smart too. We all are. Mom and Dad gave us good good genes that way.” Scott placed his hands behind his head. “At least, I think so.”

“He is brilliant. And now he’s evil I guess…”

Scott nodded his head in agreement. “You know, there are other guys though Sarah.”

“I know. I met one.”

“Who?!”

“His name is Patrick. He drove me home today and we have a math class together.” Sarah wasn’t sure how much to share with her 13 year old brother.

“Are you going to marry him Sarah?” Scott joked suddenly.

“What?!” She smiled.

“I saw you kissing him.” He giggled.

“What?!” Sarah was half horrified and half amazed at how cool he had played it. He might not have even brought it up if she hadn’t… Or would he have brought it up?

“I was waiting across the street at the playground for you to come home because I wanted to see if you’d drink beer with me.” He was embarrassed. “I was scared to do it myself I guess.” He smiled. “But then I saw you and… him.” He moved his eyebrows up and down in a silly way, teasing her.

“Oh my gosh. That’s so gross that you had to see that.” She apologized.

“No. It’s cool. I didn’t watch that much.”

“That was my first kiss today.” Sarah gushed a little.

“I had guessed that.”

They were quiet. Then Sarah said what they both were thinking:

“We need to be careful, Scott. Seriously.”

He breathed deeply, nodded, smiled and together they sat pondering. More sober and somewhat melancholy now they both pondered.

A Family Discussion

Part I of IV

It was late winter, or early spring depending on how you figure such things, when Sarah first decided Greg was actually in love with Samantha. And sure, it made sense. Samantha was a very popular junior at Coldbrook Senior High School. Greg, who used to be decidedly, and most wonderfully nerdy, no longer wished to be anything but fashionable. Of course, not the “preppy” sort of fashionable but the sort that Samantha was. And wasn’t.

Samantha had a token ally in every “cool” crowd of kids. And she attained her golden status through manipulation, hard work, wit, her parent’s money and a touch of pure evil.

Anyway, Samantha was perfect for Greg right now. Or so he seemed to think.

She was the one who he sat with for lunch every day. Unfailingly.

And that put Sarah in a sad spot because Greg was her ride home on Thursdays after track practice (they both had been running since childhood and often used to practice together since they grew up just two blocks apart). And… she had a terrible crush on him.

Sarah had “asked him out” in the fifth grade in front of the entire class at recess once. Of course, Greg was speechless and never truly responded that day or ever. But, it was well known that Sarah adored him and people often had assumed they were together.

——

“I’m not sorry for anything I did at Amber’s party! You and I are not together.” Greg turned to face Sarah with a look of both rage and disappointment.

She had waited for him at his locker at the end of the school day and now was leaving the school with him towards the parking lot. They had been chatting about a party that happened over the last weekend. Sarah had heard rumors about him and Sam… Greg was confirming them.

“I know. I know.” She calmly and reassuringly responded.

“Then why are you always following me?!” He half shrieked, acting as if it was the oddest thing in the world for her to be doing so even right now, despite the unspoken agreement they had always previously adhered to that suggested otherwise. …At least on Thursdays after track practice.

“Because you’ve been giving me rides home on Thursdays after practice for the last three years?” She could tell he just wanted to find a way to get rid of her without having to actually say it, but she felt both hurt and determined to make him admit whatever it was that was finally drawing these moments to a close.

“Yeah, I guess. But, so what?! Maybe I’m busier now than I was before? I don’t know.” He moved towards his old red convertible and reached to open the driver’s door then added, “Or maybe I just realized what a fat toad I had sitting next to me the whole time.” He laughed to himself.

“What!?” This cruelty was not like him.

“Yeah. Listen, it’s no big deal.” He sat down in the driver’s seat and put his key in the ignition. “You clearly just don’t get it. Kinda like how you don’t get so many other things…”. He laughed to himself yet again. “Actually,” he stared out the windshield and grinned impishly, “…the best thing for you to do right now is just go away and then home and cry because… I just don’t like you anymore. At all. Mmkay?” He closed the door and rolled down the window quickly to add, “And I know you’ll just go home and cry after this. Because… I know you. I know you love me and I know you think I love you. But, sweetie, you’re just…”. He paused, “Oh my gosh, how did Samantha put it? It was perfect.” He placed his finger on his lips and closed his eyes to think. “Oh yes!” He opened his eyes again and snapped his fingers and then, “You’re basically an overgrow baby.”

“Yeah… I probably will cry, but I’m not fat and I’m not a baby. And why are you being so mean and emotionally abusive? You’ve been cold off and on since October, but right now you’re being cruel.”

He rolled his eyes and shrugged, then lit up a joint. He puffed a little. Then he decided:

“You know, really, I’m just not who you think I am. I never was. Seriously.” Then he turns to her finally and in total deadpan flatly says, “Just go home and bawl. Mmkay? Truly. It’ll make you feel better.” Then he rolled up his window and drove away.

The cold air around Sarah had a familiarity that made it safe, but also a certain spitefulness. It was as if she was being punished somehow for not seeing this moment coming. If she’d anticipated this moment she’d not be so cold right now…

Then Sarah made a mental note to kill whatever feelings she had for Greg. Whatever feelings she had for him that would die in the duration of a hopefully quick and frigid run home… She wanted to get rid of him in her heart and mind as quickly as possible. No matter how painful.

But first, she had to absorb the shock. She really hadn’t seen this moment coming… They had been friends since childhood.

She had walked as far as the first house, beyond the first stoplight when she heard a loud honk. It succeeds in totally startling Sarah from her despair filled daze.

Behind Sarah was a black shiny pickup truck that had pulled over to the curb. But, “…who in the world did she know who owned a pickup?!” she wondered to herself. Then she saw the driver; Patrick Steele was in her math class. He was a somewhat tall, rather handsome junior and he was certainly intelligent enough to be a nerd, which would have been her crowd, but she didn’t think he even knew she existed. Patrick was much more popular than that. Or so it seemed?

He motioned for her to get closer to the truck. He rolled down the window and she looked in, slightly aghast.

“Hi. Do you need a ride?” He asked so plainly and honestly that it was hard to twist it. Sure, he was a relatively unknown young man. That was a no no – getting a car with a guy who you didn’t know. Bad idea. But, he seemed so… simple. Her usually keen senses didn’t send any signs of alarm. Maybe it was safe? She decided to risk it.

“Thank you for the ride.” She said, half amazing herself as she slid in and felt lifted farther from the ground than she expected. Then she composed herself with as much self control as she could gather. Looking straight ahead she tried to act as “natural” as possible.

“I know you from math class, don’t I?” He questioned politely.

“Yes.” She turned to him and smiled sweetly and innocently; mostly because that’s exactly the sort of girl Sarah was.

“Right.” He looked at her sharply and quickly and he seemed to be forming a half thought-out conjecture. It showed on his face. “So, can you tell me what I just saw in the parking lot? I know that’s nosy of me to ask, but I can’t figure it out and it bothers me.”

“What do you mean?” He had her full attention.

“You looked like you were about ready to burst into tears.”

Sarah was shocked. She felt the slight jiggle of the road and looked about, searching for something familiar to mentally assuage her anxiety. But this whole experience was foreign. And yet she liked him more and more each second.

“Greg Brown has been giving me rides home on Thursdays after track practice for the last three years.” She was further taken off guard to notice that Patrick was fervently listening so she happily continued.

“Anyway… He told me he wanted to learn how to win the votes of all the popular kids. So he befriended Samantha Olson.” Then there was an awkward silence because she couldn’t quite figure out where to take this train of conversation now that she had vulnerably started it and what if Patrick and Sam were friends?

“…So… then he started acting different. But, well… I’ve sort of had a crush on him for years.” She nervously chuckled and blushed. “I bet you know that though. Half the school probably knows that.” And as she said that, Patrick felt that she almost seemed to be half apologizing for it. She was… Privacy was very important to dear, sweet little Sarah…

He looked over at her momentarily, studying her further. Then she continued.

“Well, anyway. I’ve been waiting for this spring to ask him if we can make our relationship official because I thought we might go to the prom together. And then plan our senior year. And he actually had been hinting at that being a possibility for about a year.” She shrugged.

“But, umm… I think him and Samantha are going to go together to the prom now.” She lingered over her words and stared out the passenger window. “Anyway, I don’t think Samantha likes me very much. And I think she wants to hurt me. So, he said some really mean things and basically ended our friendship. And I think Sam was a big reason why.” She finished.

“So, he did that to get the votes he needs to win the class presidency?” Patrick half asked and half insinuated some other intention in the tone of his words. It was almost if he was cutting the wound deeper and Sarah couldn’t figure out why, although she wondered.

“I mean, it’s possible he’s just really into Sam and is trying to make her feel like I’m not a problem?” She offered this thought thinking that’s the answer he might be looking for.

“Or both.” He suggested.

She nodded her head. “Exactly.” She murmured intrigued. Then she looked out the passenger’s window again.

“You can go with me, if you want.” He said. Very suddenly…

She turned and looked at him in shock. Maybe he was just making fun of her. A boy that handsome and popular wouldn’t be interested in her. Right? How cruel? But he said nothing more for the time being.

They pulled up to her house. Nobody was home. Then with an agile quickness he leaned over and breathed a damp, quiet breath in her left ear.

She faced him now in shock. Her eyes were huge.

And Patrick kissed her neck softly by her ear and then leaned back and away from her, against the car door, as if he was waiting for a response. Very patiently waiting…

“I mean.” She tried to quickly and impeccably collect her thoughts and feelings. She had determined that this would not be another painful moment. No! “Umm, well, you’re very good-looking. And if you were at all serious I’d accept your offer, but I’m not in the mood to be teased right now.”

He smiled and nearly chuckled. “Ok… I’m not teasing you.”

“Then, yes?” She surprised herself even.

“Really?” It was his turn to seem a bit taken aback.

“Yes.” She read his “really” with a subtext of being a probe to indicate her remaining feelings or intentions toward Greg. “Well, I mean, I…” She looked over at Patrick’s face momentarily but he still looked quite serious and sincere so she continued.

“I’ve had a crush on you I suppose, but I never thought it would come to anything. It’s been in the back of my mind, maybe. You know? I’m very loyal and I always thought I’d end up with Greg at some point, but you can’t help but notice people sometimes, even if it means nothing more than that you’re noticing them. In that moment, at least. Well… I mean… that sounds awful.” Sarah nervously laughed.

“I think that’s fine.” He smiled and blushed a little, which further amazed her. “I’m not afraid… And I find you attractive too.” Then he leaned over and kissed her softly but passionately for just long enough for it to be ever so slightly disorientating, but also enticing and not at all frightening.

It felt unclear to Sarah how she could ever have been so interested in Greg when someone and something like this was out there. But it was a momentary thought and she reasoned that there must be a catch. Some flaw… So she didn’t let herself get too excited. The beautiful, languid and happy shock passed then, rather quickly.

“Well, it’s a date then?” He attempted to finalize it.

“Yes. Thank you.” She felt a little cheerful.

“Can you give me your number?” He got out his phone and took down her number. “I’ll see you later then,” he finished when they were done. Then he looked at her firmly, seemingly dismissing her.

“Ok. Sounds wonderful.” She smiled half in shock and half inspired. Then she reached around to open the door, but before she could open the door he leaned in again and gave her another quiet, infinitely passionate, but still delightfully tasteful kiss. Then, as if to escape some fire looming on the horizon, she opened the door quickly and smiled quietly.

He smiled back.

She got out, walked away to her front door and found herself perfectly and very unexpectedly content. As he drove away she wondered. Many things…

Wretched (Part III)

The seniors of 1942 were planning a spring soirée that was to be held two weeks from this Saturday at the armory building.  Block ice cream and lemonade would be served prior to an evening of dancing.

I was a member of the planning committee for the soirée so for a half an hour after the end of the day’s classes I sat with two of my friends, Mary and Lorna, and we came up with a few ideas about how to make the event a great one.  Mary thought we should have the theme “I Dream” and Lorna invented a way to make streamers look like big puffy clouds to match the theme.  I knew the Robins brothers and their sister, Glenda, would be perfect to hire as a band.  Glenda had a wonderful singing voice.

Mary and her steady boyfriend, Alan, were going together as a double date to the dance with Lorna and her steady Ronald.  I didn’t have a date.

As Lorna and Mary discussed their plans I sat there watching.  My mind wandered.  It had to.  Finally, I stood up and announced to my friends that I needed to go back to the motel.

“But of course!”  Mary smiled sweetly.  Her bright yellow sweater and single strand of simple pearls matched the light in her face.  Tight curls hung flawlessly at her cheeks and temples.

“Sure thing, kid!” Lorna added as she snapped her chewing gum.  My Aggie once told me that the only acceptable places to chew gum were in the dark of a movie theater or alone in a car.   But, I found Lorna’s bold defiance of this suggestion quite youthful.

Holding my books, I meandered toward home.  I told myself not to be too excited about the night before.   He hadn’t really kissed me and there was somebody else for him anyway.

When I finally reached home I was half relieved to find nobody there.  It gave me time to reflect and collect my thoughts.

I sat down on the sofa in the living room and stared out the window at the rolling hills beyond.  It had been a sunny day and now there were many big, puffy white clouds bouncing along the green slopes in the distance.  I knew I had to go upstairs and do my homework soon, but it was nice to just sit here and watch.   Just for a moment.

A tear fell down my face, but it wasn’t the good sort of crying.  No, it wasn’t due to the beauty I saw before me.  It was because I didn’t really feel a part of any of it.   And I often felt like I was merely observing so much of life as it seemed to pass by me.  It was miserable.

The tears fell harder and suddenly I couldn’t stop them at all.  They just kept falling.

Then the front door opened and in walked my Aggie.  I bit my bottom lip hard to stop crying.  I couldn’t be sad around her.  Not anymore.

When I was little I cried and she would hold me, but now she sometimes seemed burdened and a little bit chilly when I cried.  And yet at other times she would comfort me.  Still, I never knew which reaction I would receive so I kept most moments of sadness silent.

Agatha waltzed into the living room and with a breezy gait she threw her hat on the honey colored wooden table near the window.  She appeared ebullient.   And now I felt silly for feeling so down.  Nobody else around here ever really was down except for me it seemed.

Then there was a knock at the front door.  I was sure it was probably Andrew and his mother.  They were supposed to come over again for supper tonight.  Papa was going to join us too.

“Come in, Bertha.”  Aggie almost crooned, as she welcomed the visitors into the hallway by the front door.  I adjusted the way I was sitting so that I looked more presentable in case they came in the room.  Then I brushed back my hair from my face and opened my eyes wide.

“I just knew we would have nothing but wonderful things to say about this place the minute I got here.”  Bertha said in a very sugary, but still stately and mannered voice.  She often managed to seem both aloof and yet kind and courteous at the same time.  I had yet to figure out what exactly she thought of any of us.

“We’ve had the nicest time staying here, Agatha.”  She now sounded as if she was smiling.  “We really have, dear.”  They were all still standing in the hallway.

“Oh, you’re too kind.”  Agatha said, as she was likely guiding everyone into the kitchen.  I could hear their footsteps on the hardwood floor that led to there.  “We’ve been honored to have you stay with us.”  Agatha’s voice could be heard from the kitchen now.

“And, as much as I absolutely loathe to say it, tonight after dinner, Andrew and I will be leaving to stay with my brother.  He has room for us now, and I think going and staying there is best.”  A silence was created suddenly.  I guessed that Agatha was a little disappointed to hear this and it wasn’t because we would lose their business.

Agatha just loved that they were here.  The Thompson’s were one of the nicest families in the community and having Bertha and Andrew here gave the motel a new sort of glamor or something similar to glamor.  It made us appear frugal and not just like the cheapest motel in the area.  It gave us an air of respectability.

“Oh, I’m very sorry to hear that you’re leaving us so soon.   It’s been just lovely.”  Agatha managed to sound endearing and communicate just a tiny bit of the disappointment she must have been feeling.  I was impressed by her.  She always knew what to say.

“Now you’re being too kind, dear.”  Bertha sounded like she was being genuine with her affection this time.  She must have started to sincerely like either the motel or my Aggie, I surmised.

“Well, I’m positive that we’ll miss both of you.”  Agatha said a little dreamily.  Then it occurred to me that this part of the conversation might have something to do with the romance they had been trying to concoct between Andrew and me.

I quickly, and quite passionately, stoop up from the sofa.  I felt angry.  It was as if they had invented another world in their minds where I was someone quite different from who I actually was.  It was also a world where Andrew was without any attachments to a girl named Susanne.  It was a world where I was someone who Andrew wanted.  And as much as that world sounded maybe a little bit nicer than this one, it wasn’t real.  But I was real and existed here, standing sadly beside the sofa in the living room.

Feeling miles away from everyone else, I walked into the kitchen now through the large sliding wood door we always left open.  Actually, I often wondered why there was a door there at all, but then I found my thoughts distracted from analyzing it further just as they were now.

I sat down at the table and noticed right away that Andrew was completely ignoring me.  Somehow, I knew he would.  This was exactly what I had expected.

Then Bertha looked at me.  It was a look I had never had anyone give me, although I’d seen it before.  Her eyes radiated an enormous amount of compassion.   And I almost wondered if she knew that I had been crying, but I couldn’t figure out how she would have known or guessed.  She had just barely met me.

“You darling girl.”  She said and I knew she understood so much more in that moment than I had ever told almost anyone.    I was terrified by it and yet, I no longer felt nearly as sad as I had before.

I looked at Andrew and he looked away.  Then I guessed that she may have forced him to confess at least some part of our failed romance.   But even so, it wasn’t a look of pity that she gave me and it was about more than just Andrew and me.  I looked at her and felt a new sort of angst.

Agatha did most of the talking during supper.  She seemed to sense the heaviness in the room and insisted on cheering everyone up, especially me.  I felt bad for her.  She must have been taking responsibility for all of it, just as she so often took responsibility for almost, well, everything.

I looked at Andrew and grew a tiny amount of rage.  This dour mood was at least partially his fault, I reasoned, however poorly.   Somehow it was his fault.  Somehow.  But even if it wasn’t really his fault, his current sullen, haughty and distant attitude was as obnoxious as anything.

He just sat there smugly eating his peas.  I couldn’t put my finger on it exactly, but it was just the way he lifted that spoon with such precision maybe.  Or perhaps it was the way he held himself with a kind of superiority there in that chair across the table from me.  Whatever it was, every little thing about him made me angry right now, even his freckles annoyed me.

“I never even thought you were that great, you little stuck up monster.”  I yelled in my head at him.  And I’m sure the look on my face said the words in my head a million times over.  But he just kept sitting there with that same look on his face despite the way I stared at him.  He didn’t even look up at me.

He was ignoring me intentionally I decided.  I looked over at Aggie now as she was telling some long story involving someone’s niece wining a spelling bee two years ago.

I couldn’t recall this story.  I listened for a moment to see if I had heard it before but as the tale continued I realized it was one I hadn’t heard.   Apparently the little girl had chicken pox and was scratching every few minutes to the point where the judges began to wonder if she was cheating and getting secret clues from some member of the audience.  It was only after she became very ill the next day that anyone believed her and she was awarded a prize.

Anyway, I lost interest eventually after the little girl got well, and it I suddenly felt a need to be quite silly.  It was a sort of protest silliness.  It was a protest against this ridiculous gloom.  All of it.  And it was much more nice than just sitting there feeling a mixture of boredom and anger.

I covered my face partially with my hand so my Aggie and Bertha couldn’t see me.  Then I looked at Andrew intensely.  I stuck out my tongue first.  Then I added crossed eyes.  And then I even wiggled my tongue around.

Nope.  He was truly ignoring me or he was completely lost in thought.

But, I felt persistent.  So, I moved my foot across the floor and kicked his leg underneath table.  It wasn’t a hard kick mind you, but I’m sure he could feel it.

He suddenly glanced up, but surprisingly it wasn’t at me.  Instead he looked everywhere else with a lot of confusion.  He even looked under the table.

I paused for a moment to make another plan.  Then I picked up a pea, placed it on my spoon and being careful to avoid anyone’s detection I flung it at him.  But he didn’t notice until I launched the third pea, which flew across the table and hit him in the face.

Then with a look of real anger and some sort of vague fear he exclaimed out loud, “Hey!  What’s with you!?”

“What do you mean?”  I asked.  I looked at him blankly.  Then Bertha and Aggie ceased their conversation and studied us, bewildered.

“You know what I mean.”  He glared at me and then stood up and asked Aggie politely, “May I please be excused for a moment?”  Then he walked toward the front door, “I’m suddenly not feeling so well, I’m sorry.”

My Aggie was shocked, but she turned slightly in her seat to face him and then responded sweetly as ever, “Of course, honey.”

He walked out the door and I felt terrible.  Bertha shook her head and rested it on her chin.  A strange smile crossed her face and then a look of some sadness came over her entirely.  I wondered how my Aggie would respond.

Right on cue Aggie rose from the table and grabbed the coconut cream pie she had made earlier in the day and then announced, “I think it’s as good a time as any to have dessert.  You folks need to go soon anyway, I reckon.”

“I’m going to go check on him, I think.”  I said meekly.  Nobody said anything in response, but I continued out the door and then into the darkness.

I looked around and first thought to check their motel room, but the moment I looked in that direction I could see that nobody was there.  Beside the darkness in the room there was a feeling of emptiness.  I just knew somehow that it was vacant.   Then I decided to take a walk down to the creek and check there.

I walked across the big lawn and when I found myself nearing the creek I finally caught sight of him.  But, he was standing by the side of the road.  He appeared to be hitch hiking.

I was very curious.  And, I could either go back home and mind my own business or go find out what was happening.  I couldn’t resist so I ran quickly toward him.

He had sat down when I got there, so I sat down and joined him.  He pretended not to notice me at first.  The pitch black of the night was only broken up by the dark blue sky near the moon and a porch light on at the neighbor’s house across the street.  It was a bright moon.

“Why did you leave?”  I asked.

He turned to me and I noticed that he had been crying.  He didn’t even try to hide it.

“Why are you crying?”  I questioned him now with a new sort of empathy and wonder.

He glanced to the right and away from me.  Down the street in that direction in the distance there were several houses lined up next to one another on each side.  Trees and lots of lights made that section of town look warm and inviting.  It was a much more happy view than looking almost anywhere else.  Well, unless you were in a romantic sort of mood, and then I suppose the moon would have been much better.

“My mother knows about Susanne now.  My Aunt Mable told her about us.  She has a friend who works in the beauty parlor in the town where Susanne lives and she overheard Susanne telling her friends about me.”  He shrugged.  “I guess I knew it would happen eventually, but gee.  Why did it have to be now?”  He laid back on the grass behind us.

“Where are you trying to go tonight?”  I questioned him further.

“I’m going to see Susanne.”  With tightly clenched teeth, he appeared very sure of this plan.

“Why don’t I just drive you there?”  I volunteered.

He seemed baffled by me now.  “Why would you help me?”  I guessed that he thought I was feeling rejected by him.

“Because I want to, I guess.”  I shrugged.

“That’s silly, but awfully sweet.”  He got up and brushed off his pants.  “If you’re not kidding around I’d like to go now.”

“Why are you going right now?”  I was still confused.

“Because my mother needs to know that she can’t push me around and because I need to tell Susanne to shut up about us, and-“He broke off and the look that was on his face when he was crying returned momentarily.  “I just want to right now, is all.”  He shrugged.

I pushed myself up and off the ground and began walking to the car.  He slowly followed me and we meandered together but separately until we reached the driveway near the fence.

“Just wait here.  I’m going to go tell my Aggie that I’m going with you into town.   Who knows, maybe they’ll be excited that we’re going somewhere alone together.”  I shrugged and he opened the car door and got inside silently.

I felt I was about to be dishonest, but at least it was for a good cause, or so I told myself.  I wanted to be helpful.

Just like he told me that I was a nice girl, I felt that he was also a very nice boy.  For one thing I had never watched a boy my age cry that way.  He seemed to feel so passionately about Susanne.   I thought it was quite touching.  Now it was just a matter of figuring out what to say to the two ladies in the kitchen.

The door opened and I felt a burst of warmth, the smell of our wood floor and Agatha’s cooking.  I walked into the kitchen through the swinging white painted wood door and stood by the sink facing the women who still sat at the table.   Their plates were empty now and only crumbs were left.  Two coffee cups sat cradled in their hands as they softly chatted.

“Mother,”  I said out loud.  I didn’t even realize what I had said but continued talking as if I hadn’t said anything even remotely unusual.  I would only later realize what I had just uttered.  The particular reason it came out of my mouth at that moment would intrigue and puzzle me for years afterwards.

Both of the women stopped talking and turned to look at me with surprise.  Then I continued, “I’m taking our car and driving to Main Street with Andrew.  Is that alright?”

“It is late, but I suppose so.”  Agatha answered tentatively and with a look of some sort of vague shock still registering on her face.

I looked at Bertha and she quickly turned her face away from me and covered her mouth with her hand.  I wondered why.

“You should have Andrew drive the car.”  Aggie suggested.

“Ok.  I will.”  I practically bounced out the door and then walked quickly to the car.

I opened the door and sat down in the driver’s seat.  “Do you want to drive?” I asked Andrew even though I was already sitting in front of the steering wheel.

He moved his head and gave me a look that needed no words attached to it.  I put the key in the ignition and started to drive.

We quietly drove down the twisting paths that were between us and his Susanne.  After learning where exactly we were headed, I focused carefully on the road before me and noticed that Andrew had fallen asleep a few miles into our journey.  I wondered if he had slept well the night before.  I felt bad for him now.

Susanne’s town was called Edenberg.  It was located in a valley and approaching it on this route you first viewed it from a large bluff, so the lights in the houses below looked a little bit like stars.  It was beautiful.

I smiled.  “Now, this is romance.” I whispered to myself.   Then I breathed deeply and opened the window a bit to smell the scent of the alfalfa fields and hear the sound of the crickets.  Andrew moved a bit and partially woke up.  He glanced at me and smiled.  It was the first time I had seen him look so happy.

“We’re almost there aren’t we?”  He noticed the lights below us too now.   I nodded to him in response.

Finally the car descended and we drove past the first indications that we were approaching a town.  Then we drove past a little house near the side of the road with a man walking out of it, and as he sat on the final step near his front door he lit a cigarette in his mouth.

I quickly fixed my gaze back on the road.  This already seemed like such a lovely town.  I was intrigued.

“Say, what’s the population of Edenberg?”  I asked.  It was an unimportant question, but I wanted to know.

“Oh, it’s not a very big town I guess.”  He shrugged.  Then he sat up and a huge grin lit his face.  “There!  Turn there.”  He sounded very excited.

I turned the car down a narrow street and we passed a few houses before we reached the end of the block.  “Now where do I go?”  I asked.

“Turn to the left.”  He said, practically flying in some sort of happiness.

I turned the car to the left and then saw him grab the car door out of the corner of my eye.

I slowed the car for fear that he would jump out.  He did.  He opened the door, quickly shut it behind him and then practically raced up to the house on our right.

It was nice home.  It appeared to be a dark red house with white shutters.  There was a big oak tree in the front near the road and several other trees in the back that towered over the roof.

I watched as he knocked on the door.  He stood there patiently for a second before a man opened it.  I guessed it was likely Susanne’s father.

I couldn’t see her father’s face entirely, but he seemed surprisingly pleasant considering and then he moved away for a moment before a girl stood there instead.  She was a gorgeous girl, from what I could see of her.  It was easily understandable why Andrew was so smitten.  Her frame was smaller than his and only a few breaths were exchanged between them until he held her tightly.

I was enthralled.  They looked so very happy.  I had seen this sort of scene in movies, but never in real life.  It was mesmerizing.

Then I steered to the side of the street and parked.  I got out and stood beside the car watching.

She backed away, grabbed his hand and pulled him inside of their house.  Then the door shut behind them.

It was unclear what exactly I was supposed to do at this point, but I figured that sitting here in this car was a rather boring, lonely and dreary idea.  It made much more sense to explore.

Down the street I walked until I found myself at a park near a schoolyard.  There was a swing set and it seemed like the perfect moment to use it.

I sat down and began flying back and forth.   Then the frame of a young man walking down the street came into view.  He had one hand in his pocket and was smoking a cigarette with the other.  He didn’t seem to notice me at first, but then I saw him glancing in my direction.  He froze.  I wondered why.

I kept swinging until he opened the gate to the park and seemed to be walking toward me.  Who was he and what interest did he have in me?

I slowed the swing completely and watched as he approached.  My hands gripped the sides of the swing as I sat there.

He came into view now and I could see his face.  It was Adam.

“What are you doing here?”  He looked just as amazed as me.

“I don’t know.”  I responded.

“What do you mean, by ‘I don’t know?’  How did you get here?”  He asked, his breathing quickened.

“I mean, I do know.  I do actually.”  I captured my own breath and blinked my eyes in an attempt to find my lost thoughts.

“Good, cause I’d really like to hear it.”  He answered, sitting next to me now on the swing to my left.

“I drove here, I guess.”  I still felt slightly foggy.

“That sounds right.”  He nodded.  “I’m glad you got your car fixed.  But why did you drive here?”

I blinked again many times before I could find it in my head to say, “I had to.  I mean, I wanted to.” I rubbed my forehead and closed my eyes then continued slowly, “A friend of mine has a girl here in town and needed a lift.  I offered to give him one.  Here I am.”  It was a terrible explanation.

“Fine. Fine.”  He pursed his lips and nodded again, then looked ahead of us.  “Well, this town is where I live too.  Imagine that.”  He laughed and smiled to himself.

“Really?”  I asked, sounding much more dumbfounded than I was by that fact.

“Yes.”  He smiled at me now and began looking gently into my eyes.  I felt a little bashful.  Heat rose to my cheeks and I closed my eyes and looked down at my shoes.

“I live right over there.”  He pointed to the right.

“I see.” Then, I bit my lip and looked in that direction.  I felt like smiling and my face kept trying to form a perfect grin, but I wanted to seem composed.

“Well, I’ll be.”  He laughed again.  “Say, you should come meet my family.  I think they’re all still awake.”  He stood up and looked quite pleased.  “That is,”  he grabbed his chin and added, “unless you need to go find your friend and go home.  It is a bit late.”

“No.  I’m sure he’s still busy with her.”  It then occurred to me how tawdry those words potentially sounded, but I hoped Adam would assume the best.  I didn’t want him to think I was keeping fast company, even if he himself was as fast as Aggie had insinuated.

I moved off the swing and he placed his hand at my back for a moment to guide me in the direction of his house.  We walked there slowly and he placed his hands back in his pockets.

The grass beneath us was chilled by a sort of dew.  I could smell a rainy sweetness in the quiet breeze that floated around us.

When we found the front door of his house, which was rather pretty.  I was surprised when he suddenly stopped at the door.  He leaned in closer.

“Hey you.”  He whispered in my ear.  Our eyes met for a moment and then he went on, “I won’t be able to say this once we go inside so I’ll say it now.”  I turned my body to face his. “I would have tried to call on you already, but I didn’t think your mother would approve.  I found out from my aunt that you’re not Catholic.  We are Catholics, you see, and I knew that would likely be a problem for your mother.”  He looked down and shuffled his feet, but then lifted his face and said, “But it doesn’t matter to me one bit.  Do you mind at all?”

“No.  No.”  I smiled and shook my head to confirm a no.  I really didn’t think much of it.

“Well then.”  He grinned and his eyes flickered.  “Just don’t tell my parents enough about yourself for them to figure out where you’re from just yet, if you know what I mean.”  I agreed.  “I’ll do the rest of the talking.  Don’t worry.”  He winked and then moved his head over to mine and reaching his hand around the back of my head he landed his lips on me and kissed me fervently.  It was a supple sort of kiss on the mouth.   Our lips and mouths moved slowly but with a tangible force that seemed nearly separate from our beings and yet very intimately connected to us.  It was breathtaking.  Then he reached over and opened the door, our lips still together.

We stopped only when we heard footsteps approaching and he turned his head to see who it was.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wretched (Part I)

At the end of Western Avenue, near the bridge that seemed to lead to miles of nowhere, a motel named The Swan was perched on top of a hill.   It was an ordinary hill and the motel was just a plain but decent sort of place.  It was on the north end of the town and had running water, clean linens and a hot bath if you wanted one.   But not much else.  There wasn’t even a working soda machine.   Not in 1942 anyway.  We didn’t even have electricity until 1939, if I recall correctly.

My father, Amos Lee Johnson, was the son of two Swedish immigrants.   He had retired from decades of working as an auto mechanic when he bought The Swan for $500.00 in 1937 from a man named Felix Carpenter.  Mr. Carpenter owned the bank in town and he made a little extra from various other properties like The Swan.  

The motel was profitable mainly because it was the first one in town you drove past if you were heading north on Route 51.  But in 1937 Mr. Carpenter retired and decided to sell a few of his rentals along with the motel.

Agatha, my father’s second wife, who he married in 1935, helped manage the motel with my father.  I tried to help them as best I could.  I did a lot of laundry, made the beds and dusted in between going to high school and working as a part time maid for a few of the wealthier families.

Sometimes I heard Agatha whisper under her breath, “Thank God you’re still young and spry.”  She was only fifteen years older than I was, but she was always very maternal.

Matter of fact, when my father met her five years after my own mother died we became close almost right off the bat, and occasionally as I grew older I had to watch myself and not slip and call her mother.   Agatha didn’t like that because she felt it was disrespectful to my real mother, Harriet. And out of a sort of sadness we all kept quiet about almost anything to do with my mother.  I only heard the story of my mother’s death from a concussion she suffered while horseback riding many years after it happened.  When she died I was still a very little girl.

Once I cried on Agatha’s (we called her Aggie) shoulder after Nolan Peterson, a boy two years my senior, hit me at school when I told the teacher he was stealing money from the orphan children’s fund.  He would wait until everyone left the room and steal it.  Aggie told me that she would, “take care of it.”  And the next day he stood in front of the entire class and apologized profusely.

Yes, we were blessed to be at The Swan and the small two story green house nearby where we livedPapa knew it too.

Once Aggie got scared at the beginning, when Papa first bought the motel and she suggested we should move out west, all three of us.  Aggie had a cousin who had recently started working at a Boeing plant and she thought we could make good money if we moved and joined him and his family.  But papa said, “No.  We’ve got it good!  The furthest I’m moving is when they take my body and bury it in the cemetery.”  That was the end of that discussion.

Aggie was always one to plan and dream though.   Occasionally I would find her sitting by the radio in the kitchen listening and she would have a distant, sweet look in her eyes.  One day, it was a Saturday I think, in the spring, and I remember she was sitting there listening to the radio when she suddenly stood up and said, “Clara, you need a proper debut.”  She walked over to the cupboard by the window and pulled out yards of pink chiffon and lace.

“Aggie!  What’s that for?” I asked in awe.

“I’m going to make you a dress.  You need a pretty new dress.”  Then she shuffled to the sewing machine and laid the fabric down gently.

“Aggie!”  I slightly stammered because I just couldn’t believe it.

“Listen, the other day I was walking down the street and out the door of the library came Missy Turner.   I said, ‘Well, hello.  How are you today Missy?’ and we talked a little.  And then she told me that she was going to college in the fall and that her mother and father were so proud and she went on a little bit too much about it, and I thought, ‘This isn’t right.  Our Clara is just as smart as Missy Turner.’  I about cried.”  Agatha then came close to me and took my hands in her hands and with bits of fire escaping from the flames in her intense and large blue eyes she said, “You know your papa and I can’t pay for a college education, but I’ll be damned if I just sit around and let you wither on the vine.”

Three weeks later we had a party.  It was a rainy night.  Mr. Westvold came with their six children.  Mrs.  Westvold was Aggie’s best friend.  They regularly sat, had coffee together and gossiped.  But on that particular night Mrs. Westvold was sick with a cold and Walter Westvold brought his six kids alone.

All the Westvold kids were very well behaved of course, but Aggie was busy anyway fusing over the two youngest because she wanted to help her sick freind, which left most of the hosting up to Papa and me.  Since Papa was a quiet man mostly, I greeted people at the door and went in and out of the living room and kitchen the entire time.   I didn’t get much of chance to talk with our guests.

But, I have to say, I did look glorious in Aggie’s dress.  It was the best looking dress I ever had.   And that is not a lie.  Agatha was a very talented woman and it was really beautiful fabric.

Missy Turner stopped by for a few minutes.  She brought her beau Rex Holland with her.   He gave me a stationary set as a gift and Missy brought some of her mother’s famous berry compote.   Even though Agatha was busy giving a bath to the two youngest Westvolds, Sammy and Martha, she took a moment to watch in pride as Missy admired my dress.

The Stevens family and their Uncle Jake were there too.  The Browns, Bertrands, and Tulefsons made it to the party for a little while.  I think it was kind of a success, except that there weren’t too many boys around my age who showed up.  And of course that was distressing to my Aggie who kept asking Papa, “Where is so and so?”   Or sometimes she would ask mothers why their sons hadn’t decided to accompany them.

I felt bad for Aggie.  She was delighted by how lovely that dress looked, but I knew she felt the night was a big flop.   And so I felt rather sad too actually because she had tried so hard.

After the party was over I asked to take a walk down to the gas station nearby and buy a bottle of pop.  Of course, Aggie and Papa agreed, provided I took a flashlight and was back before 10:30.

I loved taking walks outside in the evening in those days.  When the 40’s started it was like a curtain was opened in the heavens and all the rain that had been stored up for the last decade fell on the earth.  Everything was so green.  The trees grew and grew and the grass was lush like a big blanket covering the ground.

At just the right hour you could hear the meadowlarks and the crickets together.   And when the wind was strong enough the mosquitos and other bugs didn’t bother you at all.  Of course, if we had lived farther out in the country my father would never have let me go for walks so late at night because he would have worried about coyotes or other wild creatures.  But we lived enough in town for him to feel safe letting me.

However, that night, as I approached the gas station I saw a man holding a gun to the attendant’s back.   I was in absolute shock and froze in place in the darkness, still dressed in my pink chiffon.  It occurred to me that I could run home and tell my father but I was just too overwhelmed to move.

Within a few minutes the man got back in his car and drove away, barreling at top speed toward Main Street.  I’m sure he drove past The Swan shortly thereafter.  

“Jimmy!”  I ran to the station and found a shaken Jimmy sitting on the ground by the pump with his head in his hands.  He looked up at me, and while his mouth was permanently ajar and unmoving his eyes registered and communicated the full weight of his horror.

“Jimmy.  Are you alright?!”  I reached down and tried to comfort the teenage Jimmy.  He usually was one of the most cheerful people in town and I had never seen him looking this way.  Actually, people always found out the latest news about their neighbors and relatives from Jimmy.  But at the moment he was beyond terrified.  His hands were literally shaking at the sides of his overalls when he finally stood up.

“He just.”  He gasped for breath after swallowing his words and then continued, “That man came out of nowhere see?  He was friendly at first, just like a regular customer.  But I turned around for a second to put the pump away and said, ‘You gonna want your windows washed too?’ and then he just stuck the gun to my back.   He said, ‘I’m going to drive away and you’re going to pretend you never saw me!  Got it?’  And I said, well, I couldn’t say nothing so I just nodded.   Then he got in his car and was gone.”

I didn’t know what to say.  We stood there speechless.    The crickets and distant setting sun were an eerie backdrop to such a frightening moment.

“Jimmy, can we use the phone?”

“Sure.  Who should we call?”

“How about Sheriff Thompson?”

“Good idea.”

My father was mortified when Sheriff Thompson walked me back home that night.  He wasn’t particularly happy to discover the reason but I knew he was relieved it wasn’t something worse.   Then my Agatha gave the men cookies and milk at the kitchen table.  And there I stood, still wearing my pink dress.  The longer the night went on the more I started to wonder if the dress, despite its beauty was cursed.

“I don’t reckon we’ve ever had a robbery or theft in town for the last ten years.”  Sheriff Thompson shook his head back and forth and the tips of hair on his thick blond and gray mustache caught traces of milk that soon disappeared.  I watched as he meticulously ate the butterscotch cookies and milk.  He was a very well mannered man.  The only conspicuous thing about him was the wild flock of hair above his thin lips.

“What do you think it is then that caused it?”  My father enunciated each and every syllable with a faint Swedish brogue.

“I don’t hava clue, except I seen folks driving through on their way to Minneapolis more often lately.”  He shook his head back and forth and frowned a bit.  “I hate to say it.  I don’t like to assume the worst of people, but at times you kinda have to wonder what this world is coming to.”

“Boy you sure do.  You sure do.”  My papa jerked his head in agreement as his strong chin rested on his chest.  His hands were folded together a few inches down.   A solemn look was etched permanently across his tender but manly face.

Since nobody had acknowledged me for a long while I didn’t see the harm in leaving the room and heading up to bed.  I had reached the middle of the stairs when I heard Aggie interrupt the men and ask, “Did you see our Clara tonight?  Isn’t she something?”  The two men fell extraordinarily silent in response and I could just imagine their faces as they sat there.

“Why, by golly, you betcha.”  Sheriff Thompson quickly recovered and the sounds of more cookies and milk being served could be heard.  I quietly sat down to listen.

“She’s such a nice young lady.  I feel so bad!”  Agatha was about to start on her regularly paraded story about how I was left without a mother at a young age and had been such a miraculous child considering the heartbreak I endured.  Then she went on, among other points of praise, about how lucky she and my father were to have my help at the motel and what a hard worker I was.  I was embarrassed and a little secretly thrilled by her bold and brazen endorsements.

And to be clear, Aggie wasn’t trying to convince Mr. Thompson to court me himself.  Not at all.  But she rightly assumed that what she said at that gingham covered, cozy kitchen table would certainly not stay there.

“Oh.  Well…”  Sheriff Thompson paused for a moment before continuing.  He chuckled a little and then resumed, “I have a favor to ask you come to think of it.  My nephew, Andrew, is coming in town next weekend with his mother, my sister, Bertha.  You remember Bertha, Amos?”

“Why yes.  She almost married my brother.”  My father sounded quite serious.

“By golly!  You’re right.  I had almost forgotten that.”  The two men laughed and you could hear traces of their youth in their voices.

“Oh.  She was the one who married that farmer from Newton?  Right?”  Agatha apparently knew of her too.

“Yes.  She did.  They have three boys.  Andrew is the youngest.”

“Yes!  The two oldest are away in the Army right now.” Agatha added quickly.

“God bless them.”  My father said.

“You betcha!”  Sheriff Thompson concluded.

“Anyway, why, Andrew is going to be visiting with his mother this Tuesday and, why, we just don’t have room for them.   The upstairs rooms are filled with my brother and his family right now.”

“Oh that’s right!  Your Aunt Cornelia just passed away recently didn’t she?”  Agatha sounded as if she had finally sat down at the table.

“She did.  The funeral is on Thursday.”

“I’m sorry.”  I could picture my father shaking his head in sympathy.

“Thank you.”

“She was the best pianist we’ve ever had at St. Mark’s.”  Aggie said sweetly about Mrs. Cornelia Briggs.

“Thank you.  She loved that piano.” Sheriff Thompson recollected fondly.

The room was silent for a moment before the sheriff continued.  “So if you and the Missus don’t mind, it’d be awfully nice if you’d save a spot for my sister and her son at your place here.”

“You bet.”  My father answered matter-of-factly.

I walked up the steps finally and sitting down on my bed I peered out the window at the street below.  The light from the porch was the only light outside for as far as I could see.  I looked at the faint lines of roads in the distance and considered the robber.   I wondered if he would return, although that seemed highly unlikely.  I imagined him driving past our motel as he arrived in town and it frightened me.  As I laid down and stared up at the ceiling, observing the shadows around my room I silently prayed he would never return.


The next day I woke up to hear the sound of Aggie cooking downstairs.  In my room, by the foot of my bed was a vent in the floor to the kitchen covered by carpet.  I could hear almost everything below me.  Aggie and I would have entire conversations between floors there occasionally.

The sun was shining and dust particles danced in the light above the dresser near the window.   I felt the coolness of my pillow for a moment longer before finally forcing myself to get up and find my way into the day.  The wooden floor at my feet felt chilled by the briskness of the morning air.   After making my bed and getting dressed I walked downstairs for breakfast.

At the table was a glass of orange juice, boiled eggs and toasted bread with butter.  Papa sat reading the morning paper and sipping his black coffee.    The steam from his cup softly drifted from the white milk glass cup and saucer.   Fuzzy, our calico cat, crawled around the kitchen and finally found comfort at the foot of the cast iron pipe stove.  He curled up and licked his paws in ease.

Aggie sat in the rocking chair near the pipe stove and rested her eyes for a moment before Papa cleared his throat to announce that he wanted our total attention.   We both glanced at him in anticipation.

“Now young ladies,”  he said as he lowered his paper.  “Tomorrow is when Andrew and his mother are going to be here.  We need to make sure their room is made up special.”

“I think it’s clean already, but I’ll make sure and dust it too.”  I quickly responded before yawning.

“I’ll go get some flowers to put in a vase in the room.”  Agatha added as she tilted her head back like something had suddenly occurred to her. “I bet there are some roses in Tilly Westvold’s garden she’d be willing to part with.”

“Grand.”  Papa said brightly as he lifted the paper back up to finish reading.

They were simple chores really, but for some reason Aggie seemed particularly anxious.  “They need to feel welcome.”  she kept saying.

I was aware that my Agatha was hoping something would come of meeting Sheriff Thompson’s nephew.  She seemed to know the family well and thought highly of them.

“They’re such nice people.”  she repeated several times with coyly raised brows, as if to subtly prod me in their general direction.

By two o’clock when I had returned from my last class of the day I found my way into the front door only to hear Aggie cooking something in the kitchen with a fury.  The loud clicking sound of her whisk beating wildly against the ceramic bowl in her other hand combined with her fretfulness about every little thing that day had set me a bit on edge.  But then I saw her standing there, her entire being shook with the ferocious movement of her wrist.

She was working incredibly hard just so I could give this relatively unknown woman and her son a good impression.  And, I felt very loved by my Aggie.   Guilt crept over me as I scolded myself for feeling anything but entirely and completely grateful.

“Agatha how can I help?”  I questioned her sheepishly.

She paused and turned around for a moment, wiping her forehead with her arm and finally her hands on her worn blue apron.  Then she sighed loudly.

“I know!”  She snapped her fingers and half smiled.  “You should go to Tilly’s garden.  I think she has some roses ready now.”

“Have you already been there today?”  I asked surprised.  We didn’t have a phone in the house and Papa made Aggie keep the phone in the motel for business only.

“Yes. Twice.”  She was nearly breathless.  “Once to ask her for the roses and then I realized I needed to borrow her recipe for crepes.”

“Crepes?” I was puzzled and intrigued.

“Yes.  I’m making this cake for the club meeting tonight and then tomorrow morning I’ll make crepes.”

“Do they like crepes?”  I asked.

“Oh, I’m sure they will.  I had crepes once at a neighbor’s house when I was little.  They were a French family.  Crepes are delicious.”

“Oh gee, that’s wonderful.  Thank you.”  I felt unnerved and excited at the same time.  “Well, I’ll go get the flowers then.”  I turned to leave.

“Make sure to thank her and invite her over for coffee in an hour.”  Then she added almost giddy, “Oh, and tell Tilly I’m making crepes for certain!”  She chuckled with excitement.

“I will!”  I yelled from the living room as I opened the door leading to the yard.  I walked outside then and found my way to the back fence and garage in the back where the car was parked.  Once inside the car I slowly backed out of the driveway and then headed southeast toward Tilly’s.

Their house was located just outside of town on a farm nestled in a grove of trees.  The hip roof red barn in the back was next to the windmill and the chicken coop.   A tire swing danced in the breeze just beyond.  Their garden laid just behind the last weeping willow to the right.

But, before reaching the Westvold farm you had to cross over a bridge and then drive up a steep hill.  And I always hated driving there alone.   Our car often felt like it would tip backwards even though I knew it wouldn’t.  It wasn’t that steep, but it still scared me, especially at night.

Anyhow, on that day I felt the tires roll over something peculiar on the bridge and then right as I was speeding up the hill I started to notice that the car was becoming almost impossible to steer.  I felt the car sink slightly on the right and then there was the sound of two flat tires on gravel.  By that time I had slowed almost entirely so I just turned off the car.  I wasn’t sure what to do next.

It occurred to me that it was unlikely I wouldn’t be seen if another car approached me so it didn’t seem unsafe to stay in the car long enough to really think this through.  After sitting for a moment longer I believed the best idea was to walk down the road to the Westvold farm and ask them for help.

I got out of the car, and sure enough, almost on cue it started raining.  I debated about whether or not to leave my shoes on or walk barefoot and it seemed after further contemplation that going barefoot, despite the very uncomfortable gravel was best.

As the rain poured and the sky grew increasingly dark and foreboding I noticed suddenly how desolate and dark the Westvold farm looked.  No lights were on.  The car wasn’t parked anywhere.   There weren’t any clothes hung on the line.   And I started to wonder: what if they aren’t even home?

I walked a bit further, the rain having almost drenched me entirely by this point.  Then I stood and stared.  They weren’t home.   I was almost positive.

I turned around and looked back at my car.  My muddy toes sunk in deeper as I realized just how far I had already walked.  It seemed very silly to go back to the car now.  So I kept walking.  I figured I could at least use their phone to call someone and wait for help in the warmth of their dry indoors.

Any other time I’m sure the door would have been unlocked, but Mrs. Westvold had heard about the robbery the night before and decided to lock all her doors and windows.  So there I stood locked outdoors in a deluge.

I thought about going and picking the roses out of the garden anyway but given the shape of our car it seemed unlikely to be a wise choice.  I didn’t want them to wilt.

After thinking it through for a few minutes longer I made for the road and attempted to walk back to the car.  I kept walking.  My feet covered in slimy, cold mud.

My hair fell about my shoulders and my dress felt increasingly cold and heavy.  If I had jumped in a lake with my clothes on and swam for five minutes it would have had the same effect.

Right before I could reach my car I saw the lights of another car driving closer.  And it was then that it hit me how beautiful this moment was in a very earthy sort of way.

The air was so burdened and enveloping with the mist and fog overcoming me more each second.  I was in melancholy bliss.  Green and blue danced with each other on all horizons and the headlights of the oncoming car were almost magical.   They were like torches flying gallantly over the ground.

A man sat behind the wheel.  I had never seen him before.  The car was unfamiliar too.

He pulled over to the side of the road next to me.  Our glances met quickly before he opened his door without turning off the car or halting the windshield wipers.  The lights from the car blinded me a little for a moment before I put my hand to my face.  Then he got back in the car and shut his door.  He moved across the front seat, rolled down the passenger seat window and our faces met through the rain.

A look of surprise must have been present for us both.  His handsome gaze quickly became lightened by a warm smile.  

“You’re not a Westvold.” He observed dryly.

“No.  I’m not.   I came here to visit Mrs. Westvold but it doesn’t seem like anybody is home.”

Our eyes locked for a second and I wasn’t sure of almost anything in that moment.  I felt like I was getting lost.  Quickly.  With the “click click” of the wipers and the hum of the motor in the background we observed each other.

Then he broke the moment by turning to face the road ahead.  Placing his hands on the wheel he appeared to be analyzing something.  Then he smiled carefully and declared, “Your car is completely useless.”  His grin grew again and then he paused and partially frowned.  He drew his hand to his chin and  thoughtfully patted his cheek.

“Tell you what.”  He turned his face and focused quietly but intently on mine.  “I’ll give you a ride into town.  That is, if you’ll let me introduce myself first, of course.”

“That would be very nice.  Thank you.”  I leaned over just enough to see further into the car.

“I’m Adam Westvold.  My mother is Tilly’s older sister.  We live two towns over.”  He reached his hand out into the rain from the open front seat passenger window.  I shook his hand in the rain and then when he opened the door slightly, I slid inside.

“How do you do?  I’m Clara Johnson.  I live in town with my parents.”

The light from his eyes reached mine.  I could feel myself becoming quietly amazed and my gaze lingered for a bit longer than was all together acceptable.

“You must be cold.”  He reached into the back seat and grabbed a blanket before adding, “I’m sorry I can’t help you with your car.   Both of the tires on the right side look like they need to be replaced.”  Then he started the car engine and moved it slowly forward down the treacherous path.  “I’ll bring you to the gas station in town or to your home, if you prefer.”

“Why don’t you bring me home.  I’m not sure what my father will want to do with the car.”

“Fine.  I’ll bring you home.”  He pulled the car into the Westvold yard, turning it around.  Drops fell on the windshield, pelting down one after another non-stop.  But the “click click swish” of the wipers kept time with the pace of the rain and we drove onward.

He asked, “So why were you visiting my aunt?”

“Oh,”  I felt rain water falling from my head down to my neck, “I was going to pick a few roses from her garden.  My parent’s own a motel and my mother is good friends with Tilly.  We have guests my mother wants to impress coming tomorrow.”   I felt silly.  “The roses were for the guests, you see.”

He nodded his head and turned and studied my overall appearance for a second.  It was only a moment but I caught him paying particular attention to my hair.  He said, “You must be freezing.  You’re drenched.  It’s been a downpour for the last hour by now.”

“I am cold.”  I couldn’t think of anything else to say.

He reached over and grabbed the edge of the blanket and brought it up over my shoulder closest to him without ever removing his eyes from the road.  

“Well, you’ll be home soon.  Town is just over there.” He pointed. 

I looked at him now, his face cut an honest profile and he finally took his eyes away from driving and met mine.  I felt shy and glanced away quickly but his gaze lingered.

“Thank you for stopping to help.” I said.

“I’m glad I happened to find you.” Then he turned to face the road again.

We fell silent.  There was nothing to be said.  Absolutely nothing.

The car reached the entrance to the motel and he asked where to park.  I motioned that he should park near the fence in the yard, under the cover of the large Elm trees.

The shade provided by the soaked tree limbs and leaves left us in a sort of lovely green and gray dim light.  I turned to him and started to say goodbye and thank him again when I realized that he was being particularly still.  He just kept staring straight ahead at almost nothing at all.  Then he turned to me and I knew there was an unspoken longing between us, as if we had tumbled into place in each other’s hearts in a matter of moments.    Even though we had just met, there was an unusual and soothing sort of peace.

“I’ll have to come visit you sometime.” He finally uttered.  Then he added awkwardly, “No, I’m sorry.  I mean-”

“You should pay us a visit with your aunt.”  I interrupted.  Then I glanced down in a fit of shameful shyness.

“I will.” He looked half embarrassed by the offer even though he had seemingly been the first to suggest it.  Then, just as soon as I felt a chill from his icy response he said, “Let me help you inside.”  He got out of the car and I watched as his flaxen hair blew against the darkened sky like flickers of brightness shimmering.  I became almost scared of this power he seemed to posses over me.  

When he opened the door and I emerged under an opened umbrella.  For most of the walk to the house we walked side by side without a word, but when we were near the door he reached over and placed his hand on my back.  

I could tell that oddly enough, nobody was home here either.  It baffled me but before I could reason through it he leaned over and kissed me.   I had never been kissed before and it startled me.  I backed away.

We stood in silence under the protection of the porch roof.  He looked at me and smiled sheepishly.  “Can I still come visit you sometime?”  He tentatively asked.

“Yes.  I guess.  I drew a deep breath.  “Yes.”  I bit my lip.  “I’m sorry.”

“No.  I am.”

We stared at each other awkwardly for a moment and then he furrowed his brow, “Well,  I’m not really sorry.  I-”

“I understand.”  I quickly stammered.  I walked towards the front door and opened it but before walking inside I turned and decidedly said, with my heart brimming, “I really hope you do visit again.”

And in response he quickly walked over and stood beside me, grabbed me and then kissed me again.   This time it lasted a bit longer, until he moved away and said, “I’d like that.”   With his head down he left, then looked up suddenly before he entered his car and yelled back at me confidently yet with a sort of gentle whimsy, “It really was lovely meeting you.”

“You too!”  I yelled in return.  Then we stared at each other for a while before we waved our goodbyes and he entered his car.  And there I stood wrapped in his blanket, drenched, with muddy shoes on my front porch.

On A Quiet Day

I started writing this short story a while ago now but never finished it.  And, frankly, I think considering how rough the start was that that’s probably not entirely a bad thing…  So, I’m starting “over again.”  Sort of.   It’s basically the same story but with a lot of corrections.

______

I sit here in a chair by the window, staring out at the passing cars and wonder where they are going.  One car in particular passes and catches my attention.  It’s a red sedan with a little rust around the bottom of the doors near the tires.  It goes through the water on the street and makes a splash.  The driver looks very intent on getting somewhere.  I can tell.  I can see it even though I can’t see his face.

He has intention.  It’s something about the way he drives.  He knows exactly what he’s doing.  And perhaps this attitude of purpose could extend beyond into the meanderings of his everyday life.

I’m an old man, and when you get to be my age, especially if you’ve always been a sensitive sort, you know things about people just by watching them for a while…   It’s a nice consolation to aging.

“How has your evening been Mr. Rooney?” A tall nurse with dark, pretty features approaches me, grabs my chair and wheels me off toward my room in the back section of the Mt. Pleasant Nursing Home.

I hate leaving my spot by the window.  It’s the best place to just sit and think.  Nobody bothers you there.  Nobody assumes you’re just a lonely old man with no one to talk to.  They see you staring out the window and mind their own business.  They think you’re trying to be alone…

“It’s been a nice evening, Melanie.  Thank you dear.”

“Well, just to remind you, Mr. Rooney, tomorrow is our picnic in the park.  Volunteers will be here from 9 am to 4 pm with food and games.  I know you like to sit in your spot in the morning but it might not work so well tomorrow.  I’m going to have to bring you your breakfast earlier too.  Just to warn you.”

Despite the fact that I cannot use my legs now and my hands often shake a bit, I’m not without a mind that still works quite well.   Sometimes when some of the nurses here speak to me I wonder if someone will use the same tone of voice with them someday when they are old and if they’ll recognize it as being reminiscent of their own patronizing timbre.  But, to be fair, I know that they partially just use this voice as way to sound “professional” and not to become attached to any of us.  We don’t even “stick around” as long as a common household pet I suppose.

After Melanie pushes me back to my suite I find myself struck by a feeling of sadness.  It hits when I sit down on my bed with the lights off and look around my empty room.

I ask myself, “Why are you so sad?”  I even ask this out loud.  Why not?

Then the answer comes.  It comes in the form of a memory.  Today is Georgette’s birthday.  Or, it was…   She would have been eighty-four years old.  Or is

Nobody but me knows about Georgette now.  I’m the only one.  Well, to be clear, about us.  Georgette and me…

I remember her hair.  It was soft about her shoulders, begging to be touched.  I touched it that day in December, by the Christmas display on Lake Street, when she was just 17 years old.  We walked around and sang carols for hours.  And I touched her hair for the first time that day.   I kissed her for the first time then too…

I touch my face and realize that I’m smiling.  Then I recognize ironically just how much this smile hurts.

She told me she washed her hair in beer and I laughed in response.  “Beer is for drinking,” I said emphatically.  Then I poked her in the ribs and she giggled.  She giggled that enchanting little giggle she had.

“I don’t even like beer, but it makes my hair so soft.  Does my hair smell like beer?” She sounded worried.  I leaned over, and put my nose in her red locks of shiny tresses.  Beautiful.

I was so much stronger and more sound back then.  My body felt light as a feather compared to now.  I could lift myself up by my hands and stand upside down and move backwards and forwards.  I remember.

“No!  It doesn’t smell like beer at all…”  Her hair smelled like her and she was perfect.  Nobody is supposed to be perfect but she was.  Boy was she…

I know I never told her.  I stupidly couldn’t bring myself to say such a thing.  Being vulnerable was never my strength.  I suppose that means that really, after all is said, I was lacking.  Weakened.  Although nobody would ever have called me weak.  They still wouldn’t.  But I lived with the knowledge that I was in that real, deep and truly meaningful sort of way.   Often if I said too much at the wrong moment I would break into tears, especially when I was a little boy.  My mother always half scolded and coddled me saying, “Chin up.  No tears.”

I can still hear Ray, my friend of twenty years saying to me, “Melvin, you’ve got some.”   And he’d say it with a sort of chuckle.  His cigarette and old leather jacket would shake with his laugh.

Ray and I went through a lot together.  There was the death of his first wife, Martha and my own subsequent years as a widower that never abated.

He still had my copy of On the Water Front when he died of liver cancer twelve years ago.  Cheryl, his second wife and then widow, gave it back to me eventually.  She said she didn’t think he’d ever watched it.  “He always meant to,” she said fervently.  I believe it too.

_____________________________________________________________

I kissed Georgette many times after and before this, of course.  But on one night, after a picnic in June, I remember thinking that nothing had ever been that exhilarating or almost supernatural before.  I remember being drunk and kissing her in a way that scared me.  That night I was more honest with her than I had ever been or would ever be again with anyone.  It probably proved to be too much for me.

Marguerite, my wife, once asked me about her.  “Who was she, Melvin?”  She found me laying on a bed alone, just like I am now, holding her photo.  And, I didn’t try to hide the truth about her.  It would have seemed disrespectful and wrong for many reasons.

With a furrowed brow I said, “She was the first woman I ever truly loved.”

“You know I had a first love too.”  My wife snapped her chewing gum and laid her small frame next to mine.  “His name was Robert.  He played on the football team with my brother and I met him when they came to dinner after practice once.”

“Should I be jealous of this Robert?”  I turned towards her and she laughed and smiled pleasantly.

No.  He was very clever but I could never have married him.”

I was silent.

I pull myself up from the bed now and it’s not easy, I find.  I usually have help these days for this.  I’ve forgotten how heavy I feel.   Or maybe I just forgot for a moment…

Finally pulling myself over to the drawer by the bathroom I find one of my favorite pictures of Georgette.  I hold it to my lips and kiss it like a teenager kissing a poster of some heartthrob on their wall and it hits me that I don’t care if I was caught doing this anymore.  Years ago I would have been embarrassed by such a display on my part.  In those days I sent her kisses alone in parked cars, dark rooms, and anywhere where nobody would see me being so sweet.  So sentimental.

“I love you, now, always, always have, and always will.  I love you.”  Then I try to fall asleep, thinking of her.

———————————————————————-

I spent my childhood in northern Minnesota.  My mother was a seamstress and occasionally took in people’s wash and my father was a miner.

Nobody in my family ever forgot my birthday my entire childhood.  Birthdays were special.  Mama would bake an angel food cake with swirls of blue and green food coloring and make ice cream and we’d eat it outside on the front porch.

In the spring the ground would thaw and the smell of wet earth would permeate the air.   After walking home from school I would take my shoes off at the door, so as to not get the hardwood floor dirty.

I remember having a blue tin lunchbox.  And, I always left my lunchbox by my shoes at the door.  Sometimes I’d forget to take out my leftover lunch until late at night.  I was in trouble for that often.

Those are the memories that come to mind the most when I think back to those days.  I’m not sure why.  Those aren’t necessarily the most important moments of my childhood.   But that’s what I remember most.

Georgette wasn’t from my neck of the woods.  I met her by chance one very lucky night in October.  It was during the harvest of 1948 when I had a ride into the city with one of my friends, Tommy Burnside.

Our plan was to go into Minneapolis for the night and see the new Western and stay at the the YMCA.  Then the next day we would attend the harvest dance.

It was too late to see a movie when we got there, but the dance was something else.  Back then they made things special.

Anyway why, that night I felt a little important, if only by association.  Tommy’s dad, Frank, was an important man in our town.  He had the largest farm in the county, you see.  I thought I was carousing around with something close to royalty.

I heard this faint but wholly unique giggle right behind me and I thought, “Who is that laughing?”  And I turned around and saw her.  Just the prettiest.  It was Georgette.

But those days are gone now.

Anyway, because I felt so extraordinary and superior I had an extra amount of confidence to add to the minuscule amount I naturally possessed.  I looked Georgette right in her stunning eyes and introduced myself calmly, but with an unusual graciousness, for me that is.  I even reached out, shook her hand and then with charming insouciance proceeded to guide her to the wall on the side of the dance floor by the small of her back.  Normally, I would have said hello, but been too shy to say much else…

Oh.  Are you a farmer?”  She asked simply when she heard where I was from.

I looked into her eyes and saw a look I was acquainted with from my days working as a stock boy at Leivens’ Drug on main street.  It was a look that some well off customers in town would give me when I bagged their goods for them.

It was half pity, and half respect.  Perhaps the pity was because I was beneath them somehow in their mind and the respect was because I was still young and they hoped I’d do better for myself somehow.  Or maybe it was because my father and mother were such decent people and everyone knew each other’s business where I lived.   Either way, I knew if I wanted to keep her attention I couldn’t be a farmer.  That would not do at all.

“No.  I’m not a farmer.  My parents are missionaries, or they were actually.  They’ve retired now.”   I couldn’t believe the lies coming from my lips, but now that they were out I thought I could either keep going forward with it all or call the whole thing off.   I continued terrified but exhilarated.  “I spent my first seven years living in a jungle.”

“Oh!?”  Her eyes widened.  I had her full attention now and it felt tremendous.

“Why, sure.”  I half convinced myself in that moment that any lies I told in this specific conversation would either work out to be true somehow, or if that was impossible then they wouldn’t count.

“Which one?”  She was genuinely interested.

“Which jungle?”

“Yes.”

I didn’t know too many jungles, but I needed to pick one I knew something about…   Sadly, all those hours I had spent reading National Geographic at the doctor’s office over the years were pointless because it seemed I hadn’t retained a single piece of useful information.  I fumbled with my tie and then lifted my chin high and with as much authority as I could muster, “We don’t like to talk about it.”  I followed that by bowing my head low and trying to appear as solemn as possible without seeming melodramatic.

“Goodness.  Why ever not?!”  She looked alarmed.

“Well, my mother’s sister died of malaria.  For one thing.”

“Oh sakes alive…  My aunt died young too.  In childbirth.  I’m so sorry.”  She looked grieved and sympathetic and I felt a peculiar combination of empathy, guilt and amazement in return.  I even considered reaching out and offering my hand in a gentle touch to her arm but that seemed a little sinister given my deceit.

The music stopped and everyone clapped.  Then the lights all went black and one single spotlight hit the center of the dance floor.   A couple who were clearly professional dancers flew about the floor as we all paused to watch them.  They were very talented.

“I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have asked about your years in the jungle.” She humbly whispered in my left ear at the end of the song, pulling slightly on my sleeve to reach it.  “I can see it’s upset you.  I guess I’m just curious is all.  You seem to have the air of a man who has read a lot, and traveled and seen so many fascinating things…”  Her face looked off into the crowd and then she tilted it slightly and sighed rather loudly.  I swallowed hard and shoved my hands my in pockets.

“You don’t need to apologize.  I was so young.  I barely remember much of it, I suppose.”

“Where did you move after living the jungle?”

“My father became an itinerant preacher.  Here in America.”

“Oh, and where do you live now?”

“I live with my family up in northern Minnesota.” I pointed my finger northward for emphasis.

“And your father is in the clergy there? ”

“Yes.  He has a modest but respectable congregation.”

“Oh how fascinating.  I was raised a Lutheran.  Our pastor and his wife never had any children though.  I can only imagine what that life must be like.”

______________________________________________________________

I can’t remember how I pulled it off.  But I did.  Every other weekend for the next year I would take the train or hitchhike my way down to Minneapolis, stay at the Y and then put on my best suit, shine my shoes and meet Georgette at the front entrance of the Dayton’s store downtown.   We wrote letters too.  Often.  And once and a while I called her on the phone at the drugstore.  But she never even once came to visit me in all that time and thank goodness because that was the best year of my life, I think.

Of course, when I was home I worked at the mine.  But I had other plans too.  I had graduated from high school that June.  June of 1949.  And I hoped to go to college within the next few years once I saved enough.

One winter night though, as it was most certainly fated to do, it all fell to pieces.   I was taking Georgette home from a concert in the winter she grabbed my cold fingers and brought them to her face.  Then she kissed my them with her crimson lips.  Crystals from our breath mixed and after she rubbed the redness away, she began staring at my nails under the street light.

“Why are your nails so dirty sometimes?  I’ve noticed before but I’ve never asked why.”  Her lovely, large and trusting eyes met mine.  My breath quickened producing a denser mistiness around us by the moment.  Then I remembered not cleaning and filing them the way I usually did before making my trek down the day before.

“Oh well, it’s just some work I’ve been doing lately for my mother.”

“What sort of work?”

“I’m helping her stain the pews at the church.”

Now, Georgette was by no means raised in a family that believed in the sort class snobbery you read about in books or see in the movies belonging to people who own mansions.   Her house was a pleasant but simple one.  But, her father had been educated at Cornell just like her grandfather and her great grandfather.  They were scholars.  Two of her four brothers were also scholars and one of them, the eldest, was a professor at the local university where her father also taught in the chemistry department.   To me they were infinitely intimidating.  Of course, it didn’t make me feel any more secure that she was also intelligent.

I looked into her face.  Her eyes were fire filled and brimming.  But, I couldn’t place why.  We had had a wonderful evening.  We always did.  Always

“You’re lying to me.”

My face froze in a suspended state of hopefulness.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to tell her the truth.  I wanted to.  I almost had.  Often.

In June, when we almost made love, I was actually shocked I didn’t confess…  But I just couldn’t bring myself to it.  I wanted to.  I really did.  But I was too weak.

In moments when I fully recognized it, it left me feeling literally sickened.  Yet, to my credit, I was honest about just about everything else.  Still, I just couldn’t….    I just couldn’t.

“You’re just poor aren’t you.  You work in the mines up north.  I know you do.  And so does your father.”  Her face fell and she began to cry gently.

“Yes.”  Then, I grabbed her hands in mine and caught the tears with my finger tips. “Look, I have been lying to you about that.  Sure.  That’s terrible for certain.  I know.   I’m sorry.  But it was just because I didn’t think you would look at me twice if you knew.”  I did my best to sound cheerful.  I didn’t know what else to do and I figured that if it didn’t seem like a serious problem to me it wouldn’t be to her either.  “Someday I’m going to be just as respectable and accomplished and…”   Her distant silence emboldened me to believe that she was being swayed, and I started to convince myself that it would all be fine soon.  We had had arguments before.

“But you lied to me.”  She refused to look at me but just kept staring down at the pavement under our feet.

My arms dropped as I felt her body inch away from me.  I was getting scared now.

Bending over and holding my knees I laughed out loud at the awkwardness of the situation.  But that was a horrible response.  When she finally looked up at me it was with an expression of horror and pain.

“You have so many other suitors just waiting to take my place.  And they’re all from such nice local families.  You’re beautiful.  So very beautiful.  What was I supposed to do?  Hmm?  Should I have told the truth and risked never seeing you again?  Please be fair!”  I recovered myself long enough to spout out these words.

“You think I’m shallow?”  She looked even more hurt.

“You want to know the truth?  I think you’re human.”

Her mouth opened and she looked aghast.  “That’s a terrible thing to say.  But I suppose I am just human and so are you.”  A coldness crept over her features and I felt a distance expanding between us even though our bodies remained in place.

“I sincerely hope you aren’t about to blame me for wanting to see you so badly that I would literally do almost anything.”

“Oh sure.  And what about the other lies I’ll bet you’ve told me too?   For instance, is there another girl?”

“No.  Of course not.”

“But how can I trust you?  You lied to me about something serious.”

“Right.  But, there is no one else.  The only thing I’ve ever been dishonest about is now in the light of day.  There isn’t anything you don’t know now.”

“Maybe that’s true.  But it can’t stay that way forever.  Can it?  There will always be something you’ll be afraid of and then there will be more lies.  If you’re willing to lie about this then what else will you be willing to deceive me about next?”

I was stunned.  I was losing her.  Second by miserable second.

“No.  I’m not for you.”  She backed away and crossed her arms over her chest.

“But you have to be.  I love you.  I love you more than…  the truth itself.  I guess.”

“That’s a misplaced priority if I ever heard one.”  She shook her head back and forth now like she was trying to rid her mind of something painful and annoying.  “You’re in love with some idea in your head.  None of this has been real because you haven’t been honest.   You lied to me.  It’s that simple.”

She turned to walk away now towards her house two blocks away.  The smoke from her chimney was visible over the frozen tree limbs.  I had been inside there, where that warmth was.  I had seen it and now worried I never would again.   I felt cold, ugly and strange.

“You’re making a mistake!”  I yelled as loud as I could.  I had to say something.

Then much to my surprise, she stopped and turned around.  Her face was wet and wretched.  “You’re a liar!”  she yelled back before turning again and breaking into a leaping run.

Her speeding frame disappeared around the corner and past a yellow stucco house and a wooden fence by a maple tree, but I stopped and listened to hear the last traces of her footsteps.  I could and should have gone after her, but I didn’t think there was anything more to say and I didn’t want to face her family.   I was weak.

I also knew I had lied because I honestly believed that she would reject me otherwise.  I wasn’t sure what to think in that moment.  How had she even discovered the truth?

Was she lying?   Would she have accepted me like she claimed?   I tried to close my eyes and picture that moment at the dance again.  It came back to me and I saw her face.  She really did look almost… condescending.  I wasn’t imagining anything…

I wrote her everyday for three months until she told me that I needed to leave her alone.  I saved that letter anyway.  I still have it somewhere.  She told me that she had loved me once but that we should both find new people to love now.

A year later I visited her house and left a bouquet on her birthday at her doorstep.  I never heard anything in response.

Ten years later I did learn that she was married to someone else.  He was from Kentucky, I think.  And, he took her half way across the country to that state because all of his family lived there.  That was the last I knew of her.  All I was left with were photos and letters from that year we spent together.


 

“Listen!”  Mary Winsett, a nurse orderly whispered loudly to another nurse, David.  The night shift was generally the most boring of all the shifts at the home.  Most of the current residents slept well through the night and hours could go by without almost anything happening anywhere.

Typically, Mary ate two small bags of Cheetos and drank two bottles of Diet Coke a night.  Sometimes there were scary emergencies but mostly it was a matter of staying awake.   However, in this moment heavy thuds could be heard coming from down the hall.   “What the hell is that!?”

“I’ll go see what it is.” David volunteered.

He wandered down the hall, and heard two more thuds before locating the exact room where the noise originated.  It sounded like someone was being thrown repeatedly against a wall.

“How’s it going, Mr. Rooney?”  David opened the door and peeked inside carefully.  “Mr.  Rooney?”  David was confused because Melvin Rooney was nowhere to be found in the entire room.

Racing down the hallway David reached the front desk, breathless.  “We may have a runaway.  I’ll check around but I’d definitely call security just to be careful.  This is too weird.”

It took about a half an hour before it was discovered that Melvin Rooney had somehow managed to leave his room during the middle of the night through a broken screen on his window.  Everyone concluded that noise must have been him pushing the screen out as it was found in grass by the wall outside his room.

And there wasn’t anything mysterious about how he got away, really.  The entire nursing home was on the first floor.

The real conundrum was why.  Why had the gentle Mr. Rooney, known for his clever jokes, and the way he could recite literature like he was reading it directly from the page running away from the home?  He had friends here, or so everyone thought.  He loved mashed potato Wednesdays and the garlic toast on the weekends.  It didn’t add up.

On Thursday, a day after the escape there was news from Melvin’s daughter Louise.  He had made it to her home in a taxi and told her that he never wanted to go back.  She said she would have to figure something out.  Perhaps she could talk her father into going back but it seemed unlikely.  And if he couldn’t be persuaded she would send for his things soon.

“That’s so sad.  I’m going to miss him.  He was such a sweet man.”  Said at least two nurses.

______________________________________________________________

On Friday Mrs. Rose of Waterview, Kentucky visited the home with her daughter Elizabeth, often called Bethie.  Mrs. Rose was a stately woman.  She was a tall beauty and still lovely with traces of red in her neatly coiffed chignon.

“Emily.  No, I mean Elizabeth…  Bethie, darling, let’s just walk down this hall a bit further and look in these rooms before I make my decision.”  Georgette Rose stopped for a second to take in the name written on the door of a room that was being cleared out.  It was a familiar name:  Melvin Rooney and the man in the accompanying photo bore a striking resemblance.  “No way!” Georgette said to no one in particular.

“Mother?!”  Bethie walked quickly down the hallway towards her mother.

“I think I knew this man!”  Georgette’s face contorted.  Raising her hands towards a nurse down the hall she slowly made her way forward.  “Excuse me sir, but could you tell me something about the man who used to have that room?”

“Oh Melvin?”  A man holding a mop stood for a moment while he seemed to be contemplating whether or not he should say anything or not.  “Why do you ask?”

“Well, he was an old boyfriend of mine way back in the 40’s.”  Georgette’s face dropped, she swallowed, bracing herself for what followed.  “Did he just die?”

“Yes, ma’am.  He died today.  He was at his daughter’s house and had a heart attack last night.  He actually – totally weird – he escaped from the home just a few days ago through a broken window and today his daughter called us and said he died last night in his sleep.  It’s pretty upsetting to be honest.  He was nice man, although he kept to himself.”

Georgette inhaled deeply and then began to shake as she let out a slow, labored breath.  Walking ever so slowly towards the empty room, Georgette started to cry.  “Mother!” Elizabeth rushed to her side.

“Oh it’s just my Parkinson’s.  It’s nothing.”

“Mom!  That is not true at all.  You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

Rendered speechless, Georgette glanced inside the nearly empty room.  It was empty except for a few pieces of old luggage sitting by the door and an elderly woman standing on top of Melvin Rooney’s old bed.

There she stood.  She was a rather petite woman with a cane.  And it was quite clear she was not meant to be here, but no one had noticed and she seemed harmless enough.

“Hello!”  She greeted the two women standing at the door.  “I’m trying to crack through the surface.”

“What surface is that love?”  Asked Georgette.

“The one between us and God.  The one that divides the living and the dead.”

Then, in the dim lighting of that dreary room with it’s chemical lemon scented ugliness, all three women in a moment of curiosity that overwhelmed them looked up at that taupe tiled ceiling in silence.

“It’s up there! I can hear them at night.  The dead ones.  Crawling around on the roof.  I just want them to be quiet.”  She peered down and stared Georgette straight in the eyes with inspiration.  “But you want them to be loud.  Don’t you?  You like the noise.”

Georgette’s tears fell profusely.  “You think God lives beyond this ceiling?”

“Not in one sense, but in another?  Yes.  There’s a hole here.  I can feel it.”  She sits down on the bed now and looks almost saddened.  “I just want a little peace and quiet.  Is that too much to ask?”

“No.  Of course not.”  Then after considering, and quickly regaining her composure Georgette continues.  “You know, they never say a word to me.  I don’t let them, I bet.  Why don’t I ask them to be quiet for you?”

“That’d be splendid.  Would you please?”

Teetering over to the bed Georgette glanced up at the ceiling and said in a rather stern voice, “Could you please be quiet?”  Then all women exchanged glances.

“You shut them up!  I know it.”  The woman, then sitting peacefully, seemed convinced.

“I’m sure I did.”

“I’m sorry your life is too quiet.”

“Thank you.  That’s very kind.”  Georgette then tried to sit down on the bed too but her hip hurt too much and so she decided to keep standing instead.

“I love you.  There’s no time to waste becoming friends.” The woman suddenly announced.

“What?”

You heard me.”

“I’m sorry?”

“You’re only human you know?”

Then the two older, long life hued women met each other’s view as if they had traversed time and space and back again, holding some secret understanding between them.  Some common grief perhaps.  Or, some other unknown commonalty.

“I was in love with him once.”  Georgette blurted out into the silence.

“I know.  You still are.  I can tell.”  Then nodding her head, “Relax.  Will you?”

“I can’t relax I guess.”

“I know.  And that’s why I love you.  I couldn’t either.”

“Well, I’m sure I love you too.”

“I know.”

Chills ran up Georgette’s spine and before she turned to leave she glanced back at the woman on the bed.  “Thank you, again!  It was nice meeting you.  What was your name?”

“Sylvia.”  She said sweetly.   Then with an earnest sadness, “He loved you.  But you killed him inside a little his whole life.  And now, nobody will shut up.”  She glanced up at the ceiling again and pointed.  “But at least we can smile about it.  We both know you meant well.”

Georgette looked ahead.  “I’m sorry?”

“You’re in trouble aren’t you?  Oh, you’re in big trouble.  Poor thing.”

A chill filled the air and an uneasy feeling made Georgette almost dizzy, throwing her slightly off balance.  She grabbed the door frame to steady herself.

“I should go.  It was lovely talking with you.”

“You’re only wise to a point.  Just a point.  Remember that.  Don’t assume so damn much.”  Then the woman closed her eyes, laid back and seemed to be going to sleep on the bed.

__________________________________________________________

On the way to the parking lot Georgette and Elizabeth, decided that living in the home would be something they’d have to think about a lot more before coming to a final conclusion on the matter.  But in the mean time Georgette was in shock enough to be moving so slowly as to see one of the nurses smoking a cigarette outside the door of the home.

“Bethie, I’m going to stop and chat with this man for just a moment.  Go ahead. I’ll meet you in the car.”

“Ok mom.  I’ll be waiting.”

Approaching the nurse she read the name tag he was wearing to be David.  He seemed intrigued by her too now as she approached him slowly.  He studied her face carefully.

“Hello.  You work here?”

“Yes, actually.  And you look familiar.  I’m not sure why.”  He laid down his newspaper and cup of gas station coffee on the bench by the wheel chair ramp.

“Hmm.”  Georgette shook her head in curiosity.

“Do you mind if I smoke?” He asked.

“No.  Not at all.  I used to smoke myself but I quit years and years ago.”

“You know, you really do look familiar.  Wait!  My god.  It’s you.  My god!” David’s mouth hung open slightly in a frozen state.  His eyes narrowed together and his brow creased.  A look of ironic recognition spread across his face.

“I’m sorry.  I’m confused.”  Georgette rubbed both of her arms, appearing to be a bit chilled.

“You’re Georgette.  You must be.  Why are you here?”

“I am Georgette.  But, I’m afraid I’m still confused.  I’m here because I was considering living in this home actually.”

No way!  You’re kidding.  Right!?”

“I’m not kidding.  I came to tour the facility today with my daughter.  She’s waiting in the car for me right now.”

Ok?”   He looked like he was fighting back a combination of laughter and some sort of existential exasperation.  “Sure.  Why not?”  He said mostly to himself, then more calmly and professionally he continued,  “So what can I do for you?”

“Have I upset you?”

Do you even know who you are!?”

“Apparently not.”

“You’re Melvin Rooney’s long lost love!  I know because I’ve seen photos of you from when you were young.  You look amazingly similar.  It’s uncanny.  But yeah.” David stopped and scratched his head for a second before taking a drag from his cigarette.  “So, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but you just missed him.  And I mean that in an incredibly, cosmically weird and tragic way.  He basically, like literally, just died.  But, yeah, he lived here.  Did you know that?!”  Then before she could respond,  “I mean, I really hope you didn’t come here looking for him because he’s…  umm…   He’s not coming back?”

“You know it’s funny.  I actually didn’t know anything about it at all, but then another one of your employees shared it with me.  It is an odd coincidence.  Isn’t it?  It almost makes you wonder about a lot of things.  At least, that’s how I’m feeling about it right now.”

I don’t blame you.”

“What do you suppose it the point of all of this?”

“What do you mean?”

“You know.  What’s the point of all of it?”

“Well, I suppose that depends on who you ask.”  He took another long drag.

Georgette grabbed her pearl necklace and played with it for a moment.  “Fine.  Fine!  But what do you think?”

David threw back his head and laughed slightly.  Then after holding his chin and contemplating it for at least a good minute or two, he responded.  “Love.”  He turned his head to face her and smiled.  “I think life is mostly about love actually.”

“Have you ever been deeply in love?”

In a sort of amused nod he shifted about.  “Yeah.  Ok.  I’ll answer that.”  He smiled again before answering, “Yes.  Once.”

“And you were happy?”

“Yes.  Very happy.  We loved each other very much.”  Then he looked quickly away.

“That’s really marvelous.”

“What about you!?”

“What about me?”

“Have you ever been in love?”

“Yes, but it never amounted to anything.”

“Unrequited love?”

“No.  He was just beneath me.  That’s all.”  A look of self disgust filled her face.

“Georgette, you’re terrible snob.”

“Maybe.  But more like just terrible I think.”  The sky was turning dark and the barking of a dog and the sound of a motorcycle interrupted the quiet for a moment.

“Do you have regrets Georgette?”

“My whole life is mostly comprised of regrets, I’m afraid.”

I’m sorry.”

“I’ll die soon enough.  Don’t worry.”

“That’s an awful thing to say.  You can always make every moment count, even until the end.”  Then, just to prove that he wasn’t being flippant he glanced with a melancholy expression long enough to gain her attention.

“No, that’s only partially true though.  Sometimes death-”

Holding up his hand in protest, David interrupted, “You’re a lovely woman.  For as long as Melvin was here he couldn’t do anything but talk you to me and at least a few others.  I am fairly sure I can say without too much doubt that you really are a truly lovely person.”

“No, the sad truth is that what I am, is an absolute fool.  I never loved anyone the way I loved Melvin Rooney.  My ex husband and I divorced years ago.  I’ve been a bachelorette all these years.  But, I just kept telling myself back then that I was making the right decision by ignoring him, even though I knew somewhere inside myself that I wasn’t.  I knew I wasn’t.”

“But God loves fools.  I’m certain.  Because, we all are fools in one form or another.”  Nodding his head slowly, solemnly he reached over and patted Georgette on the back.

“I just missed him…  By less than a week.”

“It could have much worse.  You could have never known anything.  Think of that.  You’re fortunate.  Very, very fortunate actually.” And David finally finished his cigarette with that.

“Here.”  He reached in his front pocket and pulled out an aged photo.  “Melvin kept this and others in his front pocket all the time, but the night he “escaped” he left in his pajamas and bathrobe and didn’t take them all.  I think he knew he was going to die soon and was desperate not to let it happen here, which is sensible I guess.  This is the one photo he left behind that we found.”

Thank you.”

It was a photo of Georgette, surely.  And as she sat there holding it, slight creases on the edges, she realized what she had lost her whole damn life.

I shouldn’t keep this.”

“You have to.  It’s the only right thing to do.”  Then pushing her hand away he looked intently and pleadingly into her eyes.  “You have to.

“Oh and I know it.

“You should come to the funeral too.”

“Yes.”

“Next Thursday at 4:00 pm at Trinity Lutheran Church.”

“I’ll be there.  I promise.”

The drive home was a quiet one.  It was a quiet day now and with the rain, it oddly felt even more quiet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Her L’Absolu

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L’ Absolu ( Narcisco Rodriguez 2015) opens with a sharp tuberose and jasmine.  They are assertive and elegant.  Then a sassy musk colors all the notes with a sort of 80’s retro, chic opulence.

L’ Absolu is slightly sweet and into the drydown the amber is warm, luxurious and very bold in a refined, and quiet way.   Yet, all the while, the musk lingers, turning the entire scent into a saucy come hither stare.

Top notes: tuberose and jasmine.  Middle note: musk.  Base notes: amber, sandalwood and patchouli. 

Nose: Aurelien Guichard


The Demise of Mr. Wilson : Part I of IV

*There will be a slight time delay on this first installment.  It will appear later.  My apologies.

 

 

 

Truthful and Giving

Since I missed two posts this last week here are two reviews.  And they came together so it works perfectly…

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Truthful (Philosophy 2015) is sweet, fruity and floral. It has a very contemporary freshness of green grass with a powdery femininity.  It’s gentle but bold.

Giving (Philosophy 2015) is also quite gentle.  And it too has a definite sweetness…  But there’s also a cool, almost blue hue from the supple note of pear.

Truthful Notes: grass, apple and magnolia.

Giving Notes: cashmere wood, heliotrope and pear. 

 

 


Raindrops On My Window: Part IV of IV

The rest of the Summer of 1934 and into the Fall months Tom and I fell further in love and I can’t say that there was ever an unhappy ending…  While our lives were certainly not fraught with dramatic moments beyond the excitement of the beginning they were extremely content.  And we shared them together.

I went back to school in the 50’s and received a PhD in French Literature and Tom was the vice president of a bank in Rhode Island for thirty years before retiring.  After that we spent long hours together in quiet happiness…

Together we had four children.  Three of them became doctors and one spent most of her adult life as a stay-at-home mother of three boys.

Sometimes I have people ask me, “Pat, what’s your secret to being so happy?  How did you and Tom do it?”  Tom died last year of a heart attack.  I tell them, “Well, we didn’t have to try that hard.  There wasn’t a secret.  We were just incredibly lucky.” They never seem to believe me and I certainly don’t blame them.

But it’s true.  I mean, we both did our best to be decent and kind people and certainly there were moments when life was hard, but overall we were just very fortunate.  And there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel thankful for that.  I never cried much, because life didn’t give me much to cry about.  And believe me, I am thankful.  We were just two very happy people.

Signature

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Tender peach, uplifting aldehydes, an engaging dash of nutmeg and a hint of fresh tangerine enshrine tulip in the opening of signature (S. T. Dupont 2000).  Into the dry down fluid floral beauties are buoyed by sturdy, warm base notes.  And a perfect rosewood is accentuated by musk.

Top notes: aldehydes, tulip, nutmeg, violet, peach, bergamot and tangerine.  Middle notes: magnolia, iris, orchid, jasmine, lily-of-the-valley and rose. Base notes: sandalwood, amber, musk, vanilla, vetiver, cedar and brazilian rosewood.

Nose: Bertrand Duchaufour

Raindrops On My Window: Part III of IV

The morning after my first lovely night with Tom I woke up feeling both totally smitten and very anxious.  Something about the perfection…  Was that it?  I don’t know, but it felt too good – too wonderful really.  Yet, the more anxious I felt and the more scared I was by the beauty of it all, the more I craved him.  And when I was around him, only in moments of total quiet when the shadows crept too close for comfort did I ever feel almost anything but happiness.

The evening of the party at his mother’s cottage on the sea was a moonlit one.  And I was very anxious to make a good impression.  Before the night began I spent hours on my dress and overall appearance.  When I arrived, nervous and happy I immediately felt drawn into the crowd before me when he took my hand.  He held my hand for an hour and never let it go.

“Sarah plays the violin.” his mother modestly mentioned as we all sat around the table after dinner, sipping coffee and wine.

“Oh, how wonderful.”  I smiled as Sarah bashfully looked askew, and I felt myself falling in love not only with the man sitting next to me but his entire family.

“Mother is an accomplished singer.”  Tom said this as if he was trying to pull flattering facts about his mother out of hidden places she convened them to so as to keep an even keel and never seem to be anything but the reserved, gentle soul she presented.

“Oh stop lying.” she laughed.  “I was nothing of the sort.  I only sang occasionally.”  She grinned the same toothy smile Tom possessed and manifested at will brilliantly, and with both of them flashing their grins the entire courtyard was filled with an ephemeral sort of lightness.

I sat in bliss just watching what surrounded me.

A dark, languid young man tapped Sarah on her shoulder and then escorted her onto the portion of the courtyard used for dancing.  There they smoothed into a tender embrace before being moved to the sound the melody coming from the guitar and violin.

Tom’s mother pulled out a cigarette and took a puff, resting her elbows on the table before her.  She suddenly looked distant and almost ready to break into tears, but instead she just kept smoking…

Tom asked, “Would you like to dance, Patricia?”  His eyes were smiling and we rose and began dancing upon his request.

I can’t remember much from that moment on, but I do remember feeling shock because nothing up until that hour in time had ever gone so well, so splendidly, in my life.  And just as soon as I was about to dismiss it all as some sort of dream, or a moment that was about to come shattering down and self-destruct I felt the heaviness of life.  I felt the humid, late Summer air and I felt his soul and I knew it was all very real.  He touched the back of my waist and brushed his cheek against mine.

Tom grasped my hand, and I wasn’t sure that I wasn’t drunk, but I hadn’t had one sip the entire time I was there.   Then he tugged at me and we seemed to float away towards some place that only he could be leading to – that only he knew of.  He seemed to possess the admiration of the sun, moon and stars combined and he wanted me, but that wasn’t what thrilled me most.  It was his touch.  His smell.  It was him.

We walked down a very narrow dirt path, under an elm tree, and then landed next to a lilac bush near an old, vine covered red brick wall.  “On the other side of this wall is a garden filled with roses.  It belongs to our next door neighbors but my mother is good friends with the wife and she wouldn’t mind anyway…  I don’t think.”  He chuckled at the last phrase with giddiness, and seemed to regard everything in this moment as though he was embarking on something all together too grand and too magnificent to be true.  Then, half silly, he said, “Let’s go over!”   Vitality lifted his limbs up and onto the top of the wall and upon reaching the summit he stood and examined it all, even gazing into the distance.  He giggled and his eyes were wide open and shining.  Then, he reached down and extended his hand.  “Here!”

I grabbed his hand and he brought me upwards to meet him.  Our limbs joined and he said sweetly, gently, “Now, I’ll jump down on the other side and when I get there I’ll wait, then you jump and I’ll catch you.”

He hopped off, landed perfectly and then reached his arms outward.  I dropped my legs down first and then thew myself towards him entirely.  I fell into him and he did, in fact, catch me, although we had to steady ourselves backward momentarily, but that was only lovely.  And sure enough, there were roses everywhere.  Dozens of roses…

I looked around and beheld the splendor.  “They aren’t half as pretty as you-”  His voice broke and in that moment of self-acknowledged, awkward, trite poetry he seemed to be expressing more sincere emotion than the most original and talented writers could in a thousand years.

We laid among those late July rose beds on Bushnell Lane…

An hour later, wiping the dirt from the back of my dress in the misty moonlight, and smoothing out his gray tie he told me, “I love you.”

And I said, “I love you.”

And we did