The mall swallowed me. I did not refuse the invitation, putting floor behind me one footfall and drag at a time. I allowed myself regret, not bringing my cane.
That was the point.
I hadn’t considered how I looked to spectators, a grotesque deformity, mocking humanity. The few people stared, not all, most. Whispers shared. I discovered I could walk better – faster if I leaned forward on my left foot, straightening as I swung by right leg around, my hair dancing like under water. Pain, my constant companion, teased and twisted me, wetting my face. Drawing hard on the air, fighting for every breath, my mouth wouldn’t contain my saliva, soaking the front of the sweatshirt and my hair in places.
In my imagination, window shutters slammed.
I understood why Octavia didn’t want to come to the mall.
I was walking, by myself, across the food court, my eyes fixed on the create-your-own teddy bear store.
I was walking, by myself.
My right foot came around, friction failed against wet tile, a careless spill, ignored. I did a split halfway to the floor, screamed through my teeth, caught a table with my right palm, my arm buckling in a torrent of pain, my left foot catching a chair. Gravity did not fail.
My face jerked inches from the floor, somehow someone looped an arm around my waist as if I were an extra suitcase.
I grunted, screaming again.
With no less difficulty than arraigning the morning newspaper, the stranger sat me on a chair and worked my face with a handkerchief. I tried to talk, huffing a few syllables.
“Yeah. Nice catch.”
He shrugged, his eyes green-brown like wet cow dung, drinking me, consuming me. “You need to slow down. You’ll get there.”
I nodded, squinted, putting fingers to his face. “What?”
“Accident when I was a kid.”
A voice intruded. “She needs a wheelchair. They got ‘em for rent over to the office.”
The stranger’s eyes didn’t leave mine. “She needs to slow down.”
He stood, his forefingers in my palms, lifting me like a magic levitation trick. He had a full head and a half and maybe five decades on me.
“You are proof of God. Only God could create a creature as beautiful as you.” Tears welled in his eyes. “Thank you.”
His hands held mine, his eyes watching, not letting go. Civilizations rose and fell. I wanted to ask what he thanked me for.
I knew: for being me.
He stepped back, raising our hands. One more step, a smile, tears in his eyes, his fingers released me. Again, another step. I was reminded of my father teaching me to ride a two-wheeler.
He bowed slightly, turned and walked off, not looking back.
The create-your-own teddy bear store no longer seemed far away. I felt sorry for the gawkers, offended, scared, whatever by me.
Two maintenance girls watched from across the food court, one girl dancing like she was The Mummy, distorting her face. They laughed, something dishonest in their actions.
Not like deep green-brown cow dung eyes speaking truth.
Dark eyes, black like charred wood, smiled behind heavy mascara, black eyeliner and rich ocean-green eye shadow. She gave me the up-down, pouty lips like varnished blood, twisted. “Look at you!” Hair matching her eyes, arched bangs on her forehead, straight over her shoulders, down her back, danced.
Piercings, her eyebrows, nose, lips and ears, hung decoratively as if shrapnel from a letter bomb.
I narrowed my eyes.
“I mean, girlfriend, where you’ve been!”
I pursed my lips. “You?”
“God, no! I wish!”
No, you don’t.
“I want a customized bear –”
“Oh-my-God. You got no idea how many different –”
I matched her twisted lip. “You got nothing like this. I want a school girl bear –”
“Red or green plaid?”
“White button-down.” She nodded.
“Be surprised how many we sell.”
“Underwear white with red hearts?”
“Oh, bad girl!”
I waved my hand across my face. “Coarse stitching, black thread, matching my face.”
Her mouth hung open. “Oh-my-God! I love it!”
She placed abundant brown hair dangling to the bear’s feet, pinned a pink sunhat to its head and painted the eyes green.
A suit and rent-a-cop snatched me up as I left the store. The suit babbled about the mall not being a hangout for truant children, the rent-a-cop painfully carrying me by the back of the belt, pushing me along.
I was deposited in a cinderblock room with bad paint and poor lighting, left to ponder my evil ways while they called my mother at work. I figured Mom would tell them I wasn’t truant, yet maybe surprised I was at the mall.
She called out sick, didn’t answer the home phone, her cell in my pocket. I didn’t have Madison’s phone number.
“Did your mother dump you here for the day as a babysitter?”
“What are you? Ten?”
“I demand my phone call.”
The rent-a-cop snickered. “That’s for arrested people.”
I let a deep sigh escape between my teeth. “I’m fifteen, not ten. I’m on like medical leave from school –”
“Call them if you don’t believe me.” I shrugged.
“You’re still a minor. We can hold you here until a responsible adult comes for you.”
I really, really didn’t want to bother Dad at work. “Let me make a phone call.”
I sobbed a little. “They just dragged me in the office and won’t let me go.”
Kelley laughed. “Don’t give me any crap, Lindsey. You need heads busted, just say so. Whining doesn’t suit you and you can’t pull it off anyway.”
I laughed back. “Sorry.”
Twenty minutes later, Kelley with John, Pete and Mort came through the door, Kelley with her right hand on her holster, left hand to the rent-a-cop like stopping traffic. She nodded. “You OK?”
“We cleared everything up.”
“I could use a ride –”
“John’ll take you.”
In the hall, Pete took me under the arms and put me on Mort’s shoulders.
“You guys didn’t have to storm the place.”
We moved through the mall like an entourage.
“Slow morning.” Pete laughed. “When Kelley said you got in trouble, asking us along, we jumped at the early lunch.”
Janet wasn’t with me when I tried pot for my first and only time. I got dizzy, not a pleasant feeling. The school had zero tolerance. I saw no good reason to have or smoke pot. Janet, on the tail of my confession, admitted smoking pot, agreeing with me.
Then came David. I’d narrowed my eyes, watching Janet carefully. She seemed to enjoy the pot. If she were acting, she was good and I know Janet’s not that good.
I’m not one to take the moral high ground and preach down from the mountain. Janet knew my opinion and reasoning. I didn’t have to repeat myself. Our life, who we are, is defined by the choices we make, after all.
I smiled softly, like an angel watching her protectorate stray. I did say my boyfriend was a cop.
I snuggled into my boyfriend’s shoulder, ignoring his instruction to fasten my seatbelt. “I got faith in your driving.”
“I don’t think I’m going to get in an accident, either. It’s the law.”
I grumbled. “This is like the time a car comes out of nowhere, through a red light and nails us, huh?” Sitting up, I struggled with the belt, getting a click after three grunts. “There. Happy?”
He snickered. “Your sarcasm always surprises me.”
“Ask around. In school, my sarcasm is legendary.”
“Which is why our terrorist taskforce picked you up?”
“Hey! There’s a big difference between hyperbole and actual for-real threats!”
“Make a note. Staple it to your forehead. Most people don’t know that, even if it’s true.”
“I’d rather you just slap me around than be reasonable!” I giggled. “Yeah, I actually knew all the right things to say, they just didn’t come out my mouth.”
“You could have called.”
“You mean for a ride?”
“Yeah. Kelley would’ve cut me loose – for you.”
“I don’t know if you’ll get this.” I bit my lip. “I needed to grab the bus. I needed to walk.” Deep breath. “If I were to list my top ten greatest pleasures ever experienced in my life, wiping my own butt would be toward the top.”
“Other people had to wipe my butt.” I held tears back. “The moment I could reach my hand back there and do the job was magical. I wish I had pictures.”
“There’s that legendary sarcasm.”
“You ever been that helpless?”
“Not since I’ve been cognitive.”
“Then you can’t really understand.”
“Oh, I can understand.”
“Don’t insult us like that.”
“The Dumpster Girls.”
John was in love with me. I knew he meant well. I knew he had a genetic urgency to take care of me, to tend me, to serve me, to protect me and to wipe my butt. I’d let him carry me up the steps for him, not me.
I could drown in that kind of attention.
My earlier magic was perfect, the pansies reaching toward the sky, standing at attention, welcoming me home. I bowed pathetically but bowed just the same to my subjects. “And she did proclaim there will be pansies. Lo and behold! There are pansies!”
“I’ll take your cane with me from now on. I needed to fly on my own. I did.”
“I do understand, mostly.”
“I know. Staying?”
“Can we do the steps?”
He snickered. “Yeah, we can do the steps.”
With John on the walk, me on the bottom step, I dropped my purse, holding the bag from the mall in both hands, facing John.
“I got you something.”
“You didn’t have to –”
“If we only did stuff we had to do, life wouldn’t be any fun.”
I slipped the stuffy free from the bag. “Lindsey Bear!”
John’s eyes went wide. “You are one sick puppy.”
“Don’t you love her!”
“Yes, I love Lindsey Bear.”
He accepted the bear, his hands, one bear-laden, came to my waist. I watched up to his eyes, his eyes watching mine, my wrists resting on his shoulders, my fingertips joined behind his head.
We kissed. If I were an artist, I’d have taken my oils and created a painting that would make angels weep joyful tears.
His lips rolled on mine twice. Minty breath. I wanted to open my mouth, to invite his tongue inside me.
“I’ll call you later.”
My eyes closed, I ran my tongue over my lower lip. “Thank you.”
He snickered. “Silly girl. Who else could I be?” He turned, walking off.
John stepped on light feet, not the heavy feet he dragged around when we first met. Like the pansies, he was my subject, by my hand, my magic, risen. I didn’t care he didn’t understand my thank you.
Regret passed over me, allowing Tommy to kiss me, to penetrate me, to dry hump me. Tommy wanted to kiss, to penetrate, to dry hump.
John wanted to kiss me. Five and three-quarters universes sat between the two.
I was fifteen, John close to thirty. If I weren’t in my sneakers, I’d likely say I was crazy – John was crazy, nothing was right about us and nothing good could ever come of it.
John kissed me on the steps in full view of anyone, unabashed, unashamed, innocent.
The kiss was pure, true and honest.
I violated the sanctity of my parent’s bedroom, carefully excavating the laundry hamper, arranging each stratum in order, counting back the days. Friday and Saturday’s underwear were soft, pliable between my fingers, rich with Mom’s light floral scent and deep musk, the musk similar to mine.
Sunday’s underwear was stiff between the seams, carrying a sweet wet-cotton odor.
I repeat: I’m not one to take a moral high ground and preach down from the mountain, however, safe sex is more than a matter of preventing pregnancy. Body fluids like semen are rich with every virus and disease the squirter might have, as evidenced by my initial diagnosis.
I’d overdone it. Once John drove off, I crawled up the steps, poured myself onto the wicker chair, gnashed my teeth and cried for ten minutes.
I thought about lunch, after I pushed the nausea down.
A stranger, bent, broken, timid, like a boy approaches a bundle of rags, unsure what he’s going to find, made his way up the walk, eyes to his feet, eyes to the sky, eyes glancing me, the pansies.
He took John’s spot, looking up, drinking me as if he’d just come across the desert like Lawrence of Arabia. His eyes, blue like the summer noon sky, glistened, wet, held me, embraced me. With only a handful of years beyond John, he looked older, much older.
“Are you Lindsey?” His voice hollow, his soul damaged.
“Are you the one?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
His head twisted like an owl’s, metaphorically looking behind him. “They said – this is difficult.”
I struggled to me feet, taking vigil at the top of the stairs. I guessed. “Yes. I’m the one.”
“They said terrible things.”
“About your daughter’s last hours?”
He nodded sharply. “The police said –”
“What was in the papers?”
He knelt, his knees resting on my spot, the first step. He folded his hands, fingers weaved, watching over his fists. “Is it true, what they said?”
“They – the mother and daughter –”
“Victim advocates –”
“Wannabe writers climbing up the rungs of our souls, stomping dirty boots on our coattails.”
He swallowed, tears dripping down his cheeks. “They said –”
“You’re Ruth Anne’s father.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What can you stand to know?”
I watched the sky as solar systems came into being, the stranger sobbing, eyes fixed on me.
“Yes, Ruth Anne is my kin, a Dumpster Girl.”
“What they said is not true. She died moments after he took her, her soul far away, off with God, joyful in the light. What was then done to her flesh after that didn’t matter – just meat.” I lied. He didn’t believe me.
“Yes, yes.” Quick nods.
“Now that I told you of her death, tell me of her life.”
Ruth Anne’s father blubbered for over an hour, rising with my pansies. He began with the pregnancy, troubled. He vomited in the delivery room. Ruth Anne was bright, maybe too bright, rebellious, unafraid of the fire.
“That’s what I loved most about her. She wouldn’t listen to anyone, even me, finding her own way.”
“With Ruth Anne.”
Dead man walking.
“Can you tell me where he is?”
“If I could, I wouldn’t. Your soul’s damaged enough.”
He nodded. “I was OK, you know.”
“I know. I’ve not met anyone who can stand in the fire with me.”
“I have another interview this afternoon.” He smiled. “I own a gun.”
I giggled against my pain, determined to keep my feet until he left.
With a good-bye, he walked away on lighter feet. I was going to suggest we get together, hold hands and cry. I knew I’d never see him again.
I fished Mom’s phone from my purse, speed-dialed John and left a message to call me.
I doubled my pain meds.
I nuked a bowl of soup, sat at the kitchen table, pulled myself up and chased John’s cane to the front door at the bell’s inquest.
He sported a dozen file folders. “I talked to all your teachers, to gather the syllabuses and any notes only to discover you already have them.”
“Yeah, my bud Janet’s been at me since before I could sit up in the hospital bed.”
“You could have told me that.”
I shrugged. “Believe it or nuts, I actually had the words, but they wouldn’t come out.”
“Got a little time? I want to go over some things.”
With the radio droning easy listening in the background, I ate soup, Mr. Riggings ran over what I mostly knew, some things I didn’t, what Janet didn’t have access to. He laid out a clearer path of study than what we’d guessed.
With a wink, he presented practice tests for all my classes and a practice exit exam. “Follow the instructions, work in the given time allowed. Call me, I’ll get the tests marked and we can see where you’re weak.”
Mr. Riggings apologized, admitting he wasn’t fully aware of the situation when we first spoke on the phone.
I apologized again for my hyperbole. “If it’s worth anything, well before SWAT showed, I was going to call your office and make an appointment to talk things over.”
“I wish I had more time to sit down like this with all the students.”
Two hours of school-story telling later and too much laughing, the music on the radio was interrupted by a special report: a local murder/suicide. For more details, we were instructed to tune to the radio station’s affiliate TV channel.
“Want to what?”
Mr. Riggins knitted his brow. “Turn the TV on?”
“No. I’m not a rubbernecker.”
Since my sarcasm is legionary, I prepared pork chops, stuffing, green beans in vinegar with bacon and onion and fresh freezer rolls for dinner, setting out three places, on the table at 5 o’clock.
No one was at the table to mind I ate with my fingers.
I tried John a few times, finally calling me back around 6.
“You don’t return your calls now?”
“As much as I’d like it to, the universe doesn’t rotate around you.”
“You’re lucky I love you.” There, I said it. “Wasn’t about me. Guy stopped over, to talk about his daughter. Said he was going to kill those two writers masquerading as victim’s aid people.”
“I didn’t know if he was serious or not. Pain dripped from his face, his daughter dead and all. I thought I’d give you a heads-up anyway.”
“Listen carefully. Don’t tell anyone that, not even Kelley.”
I guess, really, when John didn’t call back right away, I should have tried someone else. Slipped my mind, with Mr. Riggings and all.
Work late? I wanted to ask, giving my mother a chance to lie. I heard the car, positioning myself at the head of the table, teetering on John’s cane.
“You made dinner,” Mom said.
Let’s play state the obvious.
Mom looked like I did when I was supposed to be at the library but went to Tommy’s. The role reversal was creepy.
“I thought a family dinner would be nice.” I dropped her food-laden plate in the trash can. “It was.”
“I can heat that up.”
Dad’s plate followed. “Like you told me so many times: not here for dinner, go hungry.”
She crossed her arms, tapping a foot. “Don’t throw my china away.”
“Lindsey. Don’t. Please, don’t. I’ve got enough –”
I brought John’s cane down on the table – hard. The handle came loose from the knotty oak. “Yeah, Mom, you’ve got enough things to deal with. Dad can run off and play house. You can run off and play house. I need my family.”
“You haven’t needed me in years.”
At least she didn’t try denials.
“Until the day I die, just not maybe as you want me to need you.”
“Were you really hit, like you said?”
I wasn’t sure she heard me.
“Your memory’s coming back?”
“Want to talk about it?”
“We need to have a frank discussion about sex.” Again, creepy.
“You don’t know where Pastor Madison’s been –”
“Last I was to church, it was pastor. Whatever. You don’t know where Reverend Madison’s been sticking his business or what he might be carrying.”
“When you have sex with a man, it’s like being biologically hooked up with every partner he’s had. You really should insist he use a condom.”
I said I don’t like preaching down from the mountain. I didn’t say I couldn’t.
Mom gave me the wide eyes and open mouth. “Well, Lindsey, we didn’t do any such –”
Yet again, creepy. “I checked your underwear.” I bit my lip. “Mom, I’m not making a moral judgment. Shall we review my paperwork from the hospital? You want a series of shots, maybe your liver biopsied to determine the best course of treatment?”
“He’s a reverend –”
“I bet he’s never done anything like this before, that you’re special, in need of special attention and it’s OK as long as you’re sharing God’s love.”
“How’d you –”
I shrugged. “Classic lines. Guys have a gene high on the helix for that. He took advantage of you. The only difference between what he did and rape was you didn’t say no.”
I brushed it aside.
“With your world falling apart, Mom, I bet the affirmation of you as a person and you as a woman was like a hot bath on a snowy winter night. Dad didn’t walk out on you. He walked out on me. You came with the package.”
She sat, ironically, on the chair in the corner, face in her hands, crying. “Oh, what have I done? What have I done?”
Trying to fix it, I pulled the handle from the oak cane, revealing an eight-inch stainless steel blade. “Neat.” With a twist, the handle locked tight.
I thought to pat Mom on the head, offering a there, there.
The bell rang, quickly followed by pounding. I chased the cane, letting Kelley and John in.
“We need to talk.” Kelley stopped in the foyer.
“John says you knew he was going to do it.”
“Well, John’s wrong.”
John cocked an eyebrow. “You said –”
“I said, he was here. I thought he was kidding.”
“Why was he here?”
I rolled my eyes. “Them scavengers –”
John nodded. “The writers.”
“Told him his daughter was a Dumpster Girl –”
Kelley growled. “Son-of-a-bitch.”
“Going on and on what that meant. They suggested he talk to me for more details.”
“Did he? Did you?”
“He came, yeah. I lied. Didn’t tell him anything. I did say them two didn’t work for a victim’s group, but were vultures looking for a story.”
Kelley watched my eyes. John squirmed like he had to pee.
I glanced over my shoulder. Whispering: “He couldn’t handle it. I watched him die inside.”
“Learning what happened to his daughter.”
“He said he had another appointment and he owned a gun. I thought he was joking. He snickered. He wanted to kill him. I guess he settled.”
“But, you called John?”
“Yeah. I really, really didn’t think he’d kill them, really. That’s like so off the leash.”
“Write it up.” Kelley nodded to John.
Mom’s phone vibrated in my pocket. I held a finger to Kelley.
“Where’s your mother?”
“Where’s your mother?”
“You been drinking?”
“Where’s your mother?”
“Crying in the dining room. What’s up?”
He blasted a string of words I wasn’t aware he knew. “Tell her I’m going to need some bail or something. She needs to get down here.”
I rolled my eyes. “OK.”
He gave me the location and slammed the phone.
John furrowed his brow. Kelley narrowed her eyes.
“I need another favor.”
Kelley made a call. “He didn’t do any damage, kill anyone, resist arrest or be belligerent. Clean record.”
“Yes, that’s good. I can make it go away.”
“Don’t, yet. Can we take a ride?”
I was sure mom’d blow over the legal limit.
“Well, I can’t do it over the phone.”
“I want this cleaned up.” I waved a hand over the dining room. “I want you sober and clean. Take two showers. You stink of booze, cigarettes and cod liver oil.”
I was almost relieved I’d never have kids.
“Where you going?”
“None of your concern. And, wash your hair.”
“I just washed –”
“I don’t care.” I hobbled away, turned back, pointing the cane. “Mom, if you don’t like me talking to you like this, get sober. Stay sober. Act like an adult and I’ll treat you like one.”
Kelley held the door. “You might want to consider my job as a career.”
“I don’t want your job, Kelley. I want a career counting or filing something in a dark basement, with as little contact with human beings as possible.”
Kelley laughed, thinking I was kidding.
Synchronicity is the bizarre idea that all things are related, connected by magical means. I used to joke, offering an example, the lower forty-eight United States fit together perfectly.
John offered to carry me.
“In a hurry?”
I knew he was, preoccupied, wishing he were somewhere else. I also knew the day wore on me like thousands of years of glacial erosion carves the landscape, distorting my face, wetting my eyes.
We moved up the steps and through the front lobby at my pace, John and Kelley patient bookends. Behind the lobby, the front desk, a large room crowded with symmetrically aligned desks, mostly unoccupied now second shift, still beat with much activity. Heads turned, many faces nodding to Kelley and John, sets of eyes resting on me, watching like people in the mall.
I’m sure the few civilians wondered what I’d been arrested for.
Double doors opened into a hall lined with closed doors, each displaying a name and rank. We took the elevator down, the doors opening on another lobby.
“This is the jail?”
“The tombs, we call it.” John nodded. “Where we hold people waiting the disposition of their case.”
Another door revealed hall-length cages and the odor of humanity. Kelley offered to bring Dad upstairs. I wanted to see exactly what he’d gotten himself into. In the car, John revisited his lecture on alcohol abuse. I thought Kelley might smack him.
John suggested we not intervene, allowing my father to pull down jail time for his evil deed.
“Yeah. We’d lose the house and I could go live outside Uncle Joe’s with my buds.”
“With his record and first offense, he’d likely get no jail time.”
“With the fines and all, Kelley, I’d still end up homeless.”
I stopped in the hall, breathless. “Mathew?” Then louder: “Mathew.”
He smiled from his caramel face, working painfully up on aged legs. “Lindsey. Sunshine on a cloudy day.”
I blushed. “What are you doing here?”
He came to the bars, his dark, sad eyes drinking down on me. “Ol’ Moses died.”
My chest got tight. “I’m so terribly sorry.” I’d wanted to meet the other man who pulled me from the dumpster, likely saving my life. “But, why are you here?”
“Not so bad, seeing you again. Shoplifting. A suit in the secondhand shop.”
I blinked twice, keeping his eyes. “So’d you look good at the funeral? Show your respect?”
He returned my blinking and spoke as if I should have known. “No funeral for us.”
People like us. I should have known.
I didn’t turn. “Kelley?”
“I’ll call upstairs.” She put her phone to her ear, a finger in her other, walking away.
I waved John off, disappointed he didn’t know – or remember – Mathew from outside Uncle Joe’s or the investigation.
Kelley cursed under her breath. “Steinberg’s set on charges. Had a rash of incidents. Wants to make some examples.”
“He owns many properties and businesses.” John nodded like the information should mean something.
Mathew hung on the bars. “It’s OK.”
I put my hand over his as we drank each other like lost lovers. “No, it’s not.” I twisted to Kelly. “Can you give me a ride to Mr. Steinberg’s?”
Kelley smiled with the glow of an oracle. “He’s upstairs now, filling out the complaint. Would you like me to introduce you?”
“I guess Dad’s not going anywhere.”
Once again, as we entered the squad room, heads turned and business stopped. Instead of walking the aisle, Kelley led across the room. She nodded, swinging a chair in place. “Mr. Steinberg.” Turning, she nodded to the detective taking the complaint.
“Hello, Detective Lewinsky.” The greeting from Mr. Steinberg came as a question.
Hanging on my cane and the desk, I dropped painfully on the chair provided. John passed his handkerchief. I sopped on my face, trying not to sob.
“Lindsey wanted to ask you something.”
Mr. Steinberg was a portly man in his sixties and the best-dressed person in the room. “Lindsey.” He smiled, offering a hand. “It’s nice to meet you. What can I do for you?”
His hand enveloped mine. I did not let go, holding his eyes. “I want you to decline charges.”
“The shoplifting charges.”
He tried to get his hand back. I didn’t release.
“Why should I do that?”
“Because I’m asking you.”
Sweat beaded on his forehead. His eyes danced to the desk, our hands, Kelley, John and back to me. “I’ve been having –” He nodded. “OK. For you. Yes.”
I freed his hand, grunted twice on my way to my feet, pushing on the desk. “It’s been a long day. Thank you, Mr. Steinberg.”
“You’re welcome – Lindsey?”
“Yes, Lindsey.” I pivoted, stepping.
“May I ask?” He came to his feet.
I hobbled behind Kelley and John, looking over my shoulder. “I’m a Dumpster Girl, Mr. Steinberg. Mathew pulled me from the dumpster.”
The arch, gulf and chasm between me and other people, real people, normal people was illustrated so succinctly a blind guy driving by fast could see it.
Dad sat forlorn, dark and miserable alone in a cell. My people, my ilk, my kin were crowded like mice in a forgotten humane trap. I understood why the people outside Uncle Joe’s acted as they did toward me.
He lifted his face from his hands. “Where’s your mother?”
“Don’t start that with me.”
“You don’t understand –”
I showed a palm. “You and Mom have been nothing but a disappointment. Just where do you think Mom might get money for bail?”
He glanced away.
“I’m your daughter. Look at me.”
“Yeah, awful, I know.” I stomped the cane and rolled my eyes. “You really screwed up, Dad.”
“I will not be spoken to like –”
“Kelley tells me you could get six months. Sentencing allows for that.”
He looked at his hands.
“You really screwed up, but I don’t care. I want you to come home. I can make that happen.”
“Yes.” I nodded to Kelley.
Kelley put her phone to her ear.
In front of the police station, John danced with the patience of a young boy having to pee, finally released by Kelley with a short bob of the chin. He pecked me on the cheek, nodded to my thank you and hurried away.
“I sometimes forget people have lives.”
I took Kelley’s hand. “I have a lot of respect for your life.”
She stiffened her jaw, squinting at the unseen. “Driven.”
She shrugged. “No dark history. Just the way I am. I’ve always been obsessed with everything I do. You should see my bottle cap collection.”
Dad thought I’d ride home with him. I preferred Kelley’s company.
Mr. Lauferty stood tall, majestic, his Special Dark Baker’s Chocolate eyes chronically sad, yet passionate.
My first viewing.
I didn’t attend Octavia’s. We weren’t really friends. I wish I’d been a better friend. I wish I went to her viewing. I wish I held her hand, hugged her – listened better.
Mr. Lauferty bowed slightly, ushering us past. When Kelley told me she attended associated funerals looking for him, I jumped at the chance. “Many perps like to gape at their handy work.”
We signed the guestbook.
I looked up at Mr. Lauferty. “I don’t get it.”
“What, my child, don’t you get?”
“No one’s come?”
“He had no family.”
“Or friends, obviously.”
“His death was sudden.”
“Unexpected, you mean.”
“Yes, that’s what I mean.”
“Who made the arraignments?”
“He doesn’t look any more dead than he did the other day.” I made the statement aloud, to myself.
“I remember you said your father had left,” Kelley said.
“Yeah. Couldn’t stand to look at me.”
“I don’t want you to think it’s your fault.”
I didn’t turn to Kelley, watching the body in the coffin. “This guy being dead or my father leaving?”
“This guy. We talked about your father already.”
“There’s lots of coulda-shoulda-wouldas going on. Could I have prevented it? Maybe. I really thought he was kidding, like when I said I was going to blow up the school.”
“Events are much easier to predict after-the-fact.”
“Yeah, true that.”
“It’s sad, the lives he’s taken.”
“I don’t blame him, either.”
“He’s not dead because his daughter’s a Dumpster Girl. He’s not dead because he couldn’t deal with the fire. He’s not dead because of them PIs or that I couldn’t get John on the phone.”
Two dark-suited men with stoic faces appeared, closing the coffin. We stepped away.
“He’s dead because he was alone.”
We waited by the curb. Kelley had to get back. Mr. Lauferty said I could ride with him to the cemetery.
“He’s back home now?”
I liked the way Kelley’s mind worked, conversations jumping around.
“Yeah. He had problems since I got back, pulled from the dumpster. I don’t know for sure. I’m guessing he was so excited I was found alive, he didn’t stop to consider how I came back. When he walked into the hospital room, I doubt he had any idea what he’d find.”
“I came back wrong, this corrupted monster, a cruel joke on his immortality.”
“I can see that.”
“And, I expected an argument, maybe a diatribe with hackneyed feel-good catchphrases.”
Kelley snickered. “I know parents don’t always love their children by default. I’m surprised he didn’t tie you in the attic instead of running off.”
“I suggested that!”
“You may not understand this –”
“Oh, you are going to get so smacked! I hate when people talk down to me!”
“I only say that because most people of any age or background won’t understand this, not because you’re young.”
“Sorry. I officially withdraw my oh-you’re-going-to-get-so-smacked.”
“Human beings, all of us, carry ugliness, things we’ve done, things we think, things we are – all the things we find ugly – all the things we feel others will find ugly, hidden inside.”
“How I smell if I don’t shower for a week?”
“That’s actually a good example.”
“Of course, it is.”
“You, Lind, remind us of what we’re trying to hide.”
“‘Cause my ugliness is on the outside.”
“And when people see me, they might make fun of me? Like make strange faces, dance like The Mummy?”
“And, our fears?”
“Yeah. I guess now I appear to Dad as the realization of his greatest fears – like his mortality.”
“We, particularly men, are taught we shouldn’t fear, that fear’s a weakness.”
“Thus, seen as ugly.” I rolled my eyes. “And, you said this was difficult to understand.”
“For anyone to understand, they must first accept their ugliness.”
“Dad might have slipped his collar for another reason.”
“Seems he’s wanted to bang this woman he works with.”
Kelley chuckled again. “Sex isn’t always about sex.”
“Yeah, getting affirmed, stuff like that.”
Kelley looked at me hard.
I shrugged. “Oh, that’s just obvious. I tell you, I might not feel so good about myself if not for the way John looks at me.”
“Do I need to tell you a good egg-basket parable?”
“It’s not just John. You, too. You stand toe-to-toe with me, look me in the eye. You called me on the whining. You challenge me to stand straight. Mathew, one of the two guys who pulled me from the dumpster. His eyes burn through me, melting me like wax. There was this guy in the mall and at the bus stop, the girl in the bear shop. I sop up such attention like gravy with bread.
“Just because I’m ugly on the outside doesn’t mean all people can’t see my beauty.”
The sun raked down on the rolling green landscape mocking the human ritual.
“How did you know him?”
I nodded to our right. “You did Ruth Anne?”
“His daughter, yes. Tragic.”
“There’ll be markers? It’d be tragic with no markers.”
“They’re ordered. Takes about three months. Ruth Anne’s marker is a piece of fine art. Etched granite, the child’s portrait.”
“I’d like to see it. I’ll come back this summer. Do you know the circumstances of Ruth Anne’s death?”
“She was murdered, I understand.”
“She’s a Dumpster Girl.”
Mr. Lauferty sucked a hard breath. “I had no idea, but now that makes sense.”
“Not public knowledge.”
His voice cracked. “You?”
I held his hand as we watched the coffin lower into the ground, finally covered with soil.
“Do you ever do pro bono work?”
Mom argued tests cost too much. I suggested the free clinic downtown, which didn’t charge for venereal disease screening. She didn’t feel we needed to involve my father.
Mom volunteered to have the talk with Dad. I did – and didn’t – understand her anger.
“Sally’s nothing but a slut, taking advantage of your father!”
I shrugged at the irony. Kelley did say a person had to be willing to see her own ugliness.
I called Kelley, asking her to cut John free for a couple of hours. John was delighted. I asked John to wait in the car.
“I just want to check something.”
Like in the mall, eyes came to me as business paused, me entering the supermarket, working heavily on John’s cane, dragging my right leg like a disobedient puppy. I worked my way to customer service, finding the nametag I wanted.
I placed the dented can on the counter. “I want to return this.”
Sally lifted the can, beeping it with the scanner. “The reason?”
“I don’t like beets.”
“Don’t have one.”
Bright blue eyes like a postcard vista lit up her Germanic face, framed by soft winter wheat cascading over her shoulders. Her lips like the inside of a pink rose pedal migrated from pout to smile. “We normally don’t do this – store credit only without the receipt – but since it’s just one can and I personally hate beets, I’ll refund you with cash.”
She was closer to my age than Dad’s.
I wanted to hate her on par with Reverend Madison.
“Store credit’s fine. I’m likely to need something you sell.”
She looked at me for the first time. She swallowed – hard, her eyes frozen, locked on mine. “My God – are you OK?”
I know I’m scary. I’ve considered a hood shadowing my face. I can only imagine what I look like first blush.
I shrugged. She placed a bill and change on the counter.
“Is there anything else we can do for you today?” Her eyes begged, pleaded, metaphorically bleeding her soul down her cheeks. She wanted to climb over the counter and hold me.
“No, Sally, you’ve done quite enough. Thank you.”
“Thanks for shopping with us! Have a nice day, unless you have other plans!”
Not sure the choice is that simple.
I turned, pulling on the cane and took three strides.
“Lindsey! How are you?”
“Hey, Ed. I’m OK.”
The front-end manager stepped with me. “Get all taken care of?”
“Yeah, Ed. Thanks.”
John waited, leaning on the car, his arms across his chest. Sally caught me ten feet from John.
Turning, I stood as erect as I could, almost her height. “Yeah. What? You want the money back?”
She blushed. “No! Are you Harold’s daughter?”
Her eyes consumed her face as she drank me in. “Oh-my-God!” She closed the distance, her arms coming under mine, wrapping me up, pulling me in, tight. A whisper, her breath licking my ear. “Oh-my-God. I heard what happened, but no telling does it justice. You hurt so much.”
I swam on the current of anisette and sweet rum cake, dizzy, my face buried in her hair. I held her as I’d never held anything.
A sun was born, lived and finally went nova, to begin again.
“Not so tight but please, don’t let go.”
She giggled sobs.
Pulling back, her eyes danced in mine as she brushed my hair with her fingers. She’d eaten peanut butter. “Make my day and tell me I can call you.”
“Why?” I bit my lip. “Why do you want to call me?”
She cupped my face in her palms and kissed my forehead. “We need to talk.”
“I have the number.”
John cleared his throat.
I giggled. “Sally, John Hopkins.”
“I’ve been thinking of changing it.”
I was tired of creepy. I didn’t demand a lab report, doctor’s note or even call to confirm my mother’s appointment.
A workable truce descended on the house, three strangers going through the motions. I was determined to use my blood and suffering as the mortar to hold us together. I raised pansies from the soil and got Dad and Mathew released from jail with a wave of my hand.
Mom had already missed a day of work, which I didn’t mention. I asked Dad to take off Thursday morning.
“I need a ride, no more than four hours. I’d like you along.”
I could have asked John or even Kelley.
Dad still couldn’t look at me, short glances only. “I can switch with Johnson.”
I still couldn’t completely dress myself or brush my hair. I emptied my lungs at God in an inhuman screech, swept the top of my dresser, pulled a drawer out, letting it fall to the floor, following, sitting, crying.
Mom appeared, kneeling, Dad watching from the doorway. “What, Lindsey? What?”
I thrashed at my bra, trying to rip it apart. “I can’t even fucking work the catch!”
First, an arm around my shoulder, a kiss on the top of my head. “Let me help.” She positioned the bra, clasp in front, taking my hands. “Here.” She guided my fingers. “Now, let’s turn it right.”
She helped my arms in the straps. “Going to take some time is all.”
I sobbed, smiling. “Least you don’t have to wipe my butt.”
“Nothing I’ve not done before.”
“Sorry, sometimes, you know.”
Another half-hug, another kiss on the top of my head.
“Can you help me with my dress, maybe brush my hair?’
“Yeah, that’s what I meant. I always mess that up.” The door to my childhood opened, just a crack, reminding me how things used to be.
Mom helped me to my feet, Dad still in the doorway. I realized I was just like Mom and Dad.
I didn’t want them to see me as I was, either.
Dad asked where we were going.
I didn’t explain. He didn’t ask. Dad didn’t care for suits. He owned one, for funerals and weddings. He cleaned up good.
Mom joked I should wear my pumps. Even with my simple black dress, sleeveless, V-neck, flaring at the waist, breaking six inches above my knees, I opted for sneakers and not flats.
“More traction.” Since the mall, I was mindful were my feet hit the ground.
I accepted Dad’s glances without comment, him easing into the water. The car was the perfect venue, traffic requiring Dad’s attention, not so obvious he couldn’t look at me.
“Your mother wanted me to talk to you.”
“I want you to feel you can talk to me about anything, anytime.”
He took a deep breath. “We’re going away this weekend.”
“To the shore?”
“That rental off the beach? With the fireplace?”
“I’m going to run on the beach someday.”
“We need to reconnect.”
Sounds like a TV talk show word.
“I agree. Lot’s happened. We all need to take a breath.”
“Your mother wanted to get you a babysitter.”
“I said I didn’t want to get slapped-happy.”
I giggled, seeing a glimpse of Dad-lost.
“I’ll be fine. Is that Johnson going to cover your shift Saturday?”
“Turns out he’s OK.”
“Sounds like it.” I chewed my lip. “I need a favor.”
“Use a condom?”
“Wha? Oh, I don’t know what you think went on with me and –”
More lip chewing. “It’s not that. Well, maybe. I mean –” I rolled my eyes. “I know it sounds crazy, but what lately doesn’t?”
I wanted to be candid. I knew I couldn’t. Mom promised to have a conversation. I didn’t know what that conversation would disclose.
“I’m not really comfortable having this talk with you.” Dad pursed his lips.
You’re not comfortable in my presence. “I know and it’s sad. We used to be able to talk about anything.”
“We talked about dinosaurs, Republicans and the water cycle, not condoms and sex with your mother!”
I released a measured breath. “Use a condom.” I felt driven to offer the advice and did.
“You’re OK with us going away for the weekend, then?”
“I think it’s a good idea.”
My second viewing.
Mr. Lauferty held my hands at the door, leaning close, speaking quietly. I introduced my father. They exchanged rote pleasantries. Mine was the second signature in the book, Dad declined.
Mathew, hat in hand, towered above the casket. “There’s my sunshine!” He enveloped me, my arms folded around him, filling my head with musk and unwashed humanity.
“It’s good to see you again.”
Mathew knelt, flipping at my hair, watching my eyes, his stale breath raking my face. “You are so beautiful.” He stoked my cheek with the back of his hand. “Let me introduce you.”
We stood. “Ol’ Moses, I’d like you to meet Lindsey. I know, I know, you’ve met already.”
I giggled with tears. “Hi, Ol’ Moses. Nice to meet you. Thanks for pulling me out the dumpster.”
Dad choked from somewhere behind us.
“That was a day – that was a day.” Mathew took my hand. “He saw your small hand, so delicate. We brung you out, held you like a father holds his baby. Ol’ Moses was a medic in ‘Nam, you know. He didn’t think you had a chance. I said if you got breath, you gotta chance.”
Mathew nodded to the casket. “Ol’ Moses had to agree.” His yellow eyes watched down on me. “And, look at you now! All upright and walking on your own!”
“I got a long way to go.”
“Day at a time. Enjoy the trip ‘cause you never know when you’re going to be laid out like Ol’ Moses here.”
My teeth scraped my lower lip. “His family?”
“He come back from that war wrong.”
I nodded, tears filling my eyes. “But, he had you.”
“I’d like you to come home with me. I’ll wash your clothes and make you dinner and you can take a long bath and sleep in a bed –”
“I understand this was your doing?”
I shrugged. “Mr. Lauferty is a wonderful man.”
“He is. We talked a lot.”
I was aware how events played to my father, Mathew and I in the backseat on the ride to the cemetery, Mathew sharing stories of Moses’ life. Dad stayed in the car. I stood between Mr. Lauferty and Mathew, holding their hands as the soil hid Ol’ Moses from life.
We parted at the grave, Mathew holding me again.
“Mr. Lauferty has some work for me.”
“I’ve had some cleaning up and out I’ve been putting off forever.”
“Thanks for all you’ve done.”
Mr. Lauferty held my hands, leaning toward me. “My pleasure.”
I didn’t want to ask. “A marker?”
“We have a nice one ordered.” He nodded to the road.
A sedan with darkened windows sat off and away. I hobbled, pulling on my cane until I was in earshot. “Mr. Steinberg! You could have come over.” I reached him, him buttressed on his car.
“I didn’t wish to intrude.”
“You helped Mr. Lauferty, didn’t you?”
He shrugged. “I spoke to Detective Lewinsky –”
“Not nice to gossip.”
He laughed a full, rich and honest laugh. “Nothing like that, but we did talk about you. There was something in your eyes. Determination. Rare beauty and courage. I knew I’d better meet whatever demands you presented.”
“I didn’t even have to give you the hard sell.”
“Seems we have a friend in common, too.”
“Lindsey? Is everything OK?”
“Oh, hi Dad. Mr. Steinberg, my father.”
“A pleasure, sir.” Mr. Steinberg took Dad’s hand. “I can’t tell you how taken I’ve been with Lindsey.”
“The Mr. Steinberg?”
“Don’t believe half the stories!”
Mr. Steinberg and I laughed.
“John – I mean Detective Hopkins said you were somebody or something. To me, you’re just a nice man I met at a bad time and you made that time better with a nod.”
“That, Lindsey, makes me a somebody.”
Late spring danced in my hair. I wanted to return to Ruth Anne’s grave for a few moments, maybe falling to my knees, grasping handfuls of dirt, screaming at the pale sky. Dad, like he took too many hits to the head, wandered off. Mr. Steinberg shook my hand as an equal. I watched the car dip, weave and bob over the uneven road.
Chasing my cane, I worked toward Dad.
His back to me, he waved his hand, covering his face with the other.
He was crying, sobbing. I took his hand. “It’s OK.”
“They – these strangers love you more than I do.”
“The problem’s not you don’t love me. I thought at first you stopped loving me. I thought your promise to love me no-matter-what crashed and burned. I was wrong.
“You held me so high, Dad. You loved me – love me so much. You put me so high on a pedestal, I could see eternity. I could look God in the eye.”
His hand tightened on mine.
“I want to step back to that time. I know I can’t. Like Icarus, I flew too high, burned by your love.”
“The wax-wing guy?”
“Yeah. Your mother used to read that to you when you were small. You are so smart, know so much. I felt you slip away a long time ago.”
“Not away, Dad. Maybe grown up.”
“If you live long enough, you’ll be walking like me, your body failing, your looks stolen. Should I stop loving you then?”
He fell to his knees, hanging on me like a drape, crying.
“I didn’t mean to DWI.”
You don’t have to explain to me. I watched the houses blur by. “I don’t think anyone does it intentionally.”
“Sally and I had an argument.”
“Doesn’t matter. You wouldn’t understand. Well, maybe. She wanted me to call your mother. Talk to her about things. You know.”
“Why didn’t you? I mean, why wouldn’t you? I can kinda understand duck and covering from me, but why Mom?”
“I needed time.”
My two weeks disappeared and weeks in the hospital wasn’t enough time? “I get that.”
“Johnson said I’m lucky you’re alive and that none of this is my fault.”
“He said I was feeling guilty.”
“Letting this happen.”
“I can understand how’d you feel that way.”
“We were talking. I kinda got drunk, one drink leads to another, you know.”
“Johnson said I could do everything right and bad things can still happen.”
“There was nothing you did.”
“That’s what Johnson said.”
“Did you tell him, ah, I’m a Dumpster Girl?”
“Eh, well, yeah.”
“What about her?”
“Did you tell her?”
“That I’m a Dumpster Girl.”
“Well, yeah. Not like it’s a big secret.”
Deep breath. “Why’d you call me, I mean Mom?”
“When you got busted. Why Mom and not Sally?”
White knuckles held the steering wheel. “Sally said I was on my own.”
Good girl. “I told Mom I’d never abandon you, no matter what. For real.”
“I’m glad you asked me along today.”
“I had no idea.”
“This person.” He bit his lip. “You’ve become.”
“I mean: that was the Mr. Steinberg.”
“Nice guy. I like him.”
“He owns a good hunk of the supermarket.”
“I didn’t know that. People seem uneasy around him. I thought John was going to pee himself like an excited puppy.”
“He’s an important man.”
Another shrug. “Nice guy – that’s what counts with me.”
We had breakfast together Friday morning, Mom making pancakes. The sun washed my pansies as I saw Mom and Dad off to work. I didn’t hurt so much I wanted to cry.
The pansies smiled, happy faces.
I cleaned the kitchen, assembled five number two pencils, my permitted pocket calculator, the digital clock from my bedside table and the tests Mr. Riggins left. I was anxious to get through the tests and see where I stood. I didn’t want to just test out. I wanted to test out with bells and whistles, amazing onlookers and setting records.
I included my clock to see how far under the allotted time I’d come. Though the dining room chair was uncomfortable, I doubted they’d allow me to lay on the floor taking the tests in school. As my pencil split the seal on the first test, the doorbell sang from the foyer.
“Mom’s not home.”
“I came to see you.”
“I’m a little busy. How about another day?”
“Your mother asked me to speak to you.”
“Maybe if you called ahead.”
Scorched cod liver oil insulted my senses.
“This is important –”
I leaned on the wall, my shoulder holding the door between us. Even with the step, I had to look up. I narrowed my eyes. “I got a whole different view on what’s important than anyone else. You don’t have to justify to me –”
“Anything you do.”
“I don’t know what you think you know, child.”
“Go away.” I pushed the door, his foot came to the sill.
“Just give me a few minutes.”
“Reverend Madison, if you’d take advantage of a married woman in her weakest moment, I can’t be sure what you’re capable of.”
“Take advantage of?”
“I’ll tell you what I told her: the only difference between you and a rapist is Mom didn’t say no. You want to talk about it, come back when Mom and Dad are home and we can have a powwow.” I’m sure Dad doing a lot of the pow-ing.
“You have the wrong idea.”
I pushed on the door. He pushed back. Sure I’d lose the tug-of-war, I twisted the cane handle and slid the blade free, unsure I was psychologically capable of doing real harm to another human being, even to defend myself.
“Lind! Lind!” Janet’s voice Dopplering up the walk came as a relief, the weight of the door retreating.
“It’s Reverend, Janet.”
I opened the door, Janet shrugged, not adding the dismissive whatever.
“We’ll talk.” Madison’s threat came as he turned away.
“Thought I’d ditch, we could work on school stuff. I got a light day.” Janet rolled her eyes. “I don’t like him.”
“The good pastor-reverend? Where’s your shadow?”
She blushed. “Since he hit on my mom.”
“He had my mom screaming for God.”
Janet giggled. “David?”
I giggled back.
“David’s in school. We’ve become like Siamese twins.”
“Siamese twins is so pedestrian.”
She nodded, her eyes narrowed. “I should know that. We’ve become like conjoined twins.”
“Is that a good thing?”
“I miss you.”
“Me, too, but I’ll get over it.”
“Yeah, other than that, I guess, it’s good. Like, we’ve had boyfriends, but this is my first, eh –”
“Like conjoined twins?”
“Are you taking care of yourself?” I raised an eyebrow.
“He’s a regular horny-toad. I decided I was going to control events.”
“So you’re doing it?”
“Often and safely.”
We entered the dining room. “What’s this?” Janet waved a hand.
“Mr. Riggins was by.”
“I tried to get my hands on these. So, he did your mom?”
“Yeah. I checked her undies to be sure.”
“You’re fricking kidding me!”
“Man, you gotta get her to get tested. He’s done half the women in the ‘hood, some of the guys and the sheep that can’t outrun him!”
“Me and David are monogamous.”
“I don’t care how generous you are.”
“He is now, anyway,” I offered as a caveat.
“Yeah, that. What do you think of him?”
“Dumb as a bag of light switched.”
She blushed. “I got him reading.”
“I can’t see the sex and the boyish grin keeping you interested for long.”
Janet blinked twice. “I’m not you. Maybe I don’t like running my brain on nitro methane 24-7. Maybe I like to take a break and do mindless stuff once in awhile.”
“I mean: I’m not an elitist like you.”
You were. “Sorry.” I resisted the dismissive whatever. “Want to watch the morning shows?”
She gave me the wide eyes. “Lind!”
I poured coffee. We sat in the kitchen.
“I made a mistake,” Janet confessed.
Janet smacked my arm. “In school, with your boyfriend.”
“I have a boyfriend? I didn’t see the Post-it on the frig.”
I rolled my eyes. “He’s not my boyfriend, never really was. And, if you don’t recall, you already told me you got kicked out for smacking him around.”
“That was the mistake, smacking him around.”
“Yeah, you said.”
“That’s not what I mean. The other kids are riding him like a pony at a kid’s birthday party.”
I blushed. “For saying he did me?”
“A ton of kids are saying they did you, no one believes any of them. For getting smacked around by me. A lot of gay stuff, girl stuff, he should be wearing a dress stuff.”
“Yeah, sometimes a dozen kids’ll chase him down the hall chanting.”
“Not really funny.”
“It should pass. Why aren’t the other kids believed?”
“I didn’t kick the piss out of them, I guess. He asked if he can call you.”
I rolled my eyes. “I gotta deal with him sometime. I don’t want to deal with him now.”
“Maybe I’ll talk to him in school. I want to go soon.”
“Yeah, drop the tests off, pal around. See people, places.”
“With or without the goons?”
I laughed. “I’m going to tell John, Pete and Mort you called them that.”
“And, the guy who dresses up like a girl.”
“Saying that’ll get you smacked around by me. Kelley’s one of the best human beings I know.”
“Word got around you were in the office even before you left.”
I sighed. “How do they see me?”
“Kids in general?”
“As you might think – heroically, mythically. You’re more of story than reality, likely why they’re so hard on Tommy. Making the rounds might do everyone a lot of good.”
I’m not one for gossip. Janet’s gossip was like nectar to a bee, touching the normal world again.
Janet left mid-afternoon, wishing to meet David. Mom and Dad planned to leave before dinner. I called the store. Sally answered.
“It’s Lindsey. You said you’d call.”
“Yeah, got busy. How are you?”
“Hungry. I don’t know if you heard, but they’re leaving town for the weekend.”
“That was my idea. You’re OK with that? I didn’t want you to feel abandoned.”
“Yeah, two days without tip-toeing around will be nice.”
“You or them?”
“Them. Why don’t you come over for dinner?”
“You up for going out?”
“Yeah, as long as there’s not a lot of steps and you aren’t embarrassed being seen with me.”
“Why would I be – oh, never mind.”
Time’s odd, the way it plays with the senses. Dad and Mom came from the house, kissing me on the cheek in turn, me sitting on the top step. I could have been the child from a decade before, cradling the doll with eyes that opened and closed, Mom and Dad together, happy in the moment and in the company.
The event didn’t change Mom and Dad.
The event might have saved Mom and Dad.
I stood as erect as my body permitted, the car backing from the driveway, smiling the best I could, happy for them, happy for Janet and David. Happy for love, waving.
I’d not seen the love Mom and Dad had for each other in a long time.
There it was.
Like my pansies rose.
Fifteen years old, I stood alone, comfortable with my company and the empty house, Mom and Dad loving me, having enough faith in me to drive away.
Mom trusted Dad, then came Sally.
Dad trusted Mom, then came pastor-reverend.
Mom and Dad trusted me, then came Tommy. I violated their trust, going to Armond’s Records, buying condoms. I could have, maybe should have told Mom my plans, my choice to have sex.
But then, Mom didn’t think, obviously, responsible sex applied to her.
I knew better – I should have acted better.
Events are indeed easier to predict after-the-fact.