Sunday, September 30, 2012
The cab dropped Kerry off at her mothers house. She had all her mothers spare keys. She would need the car for the trips to the hospital and to her new job. She riffled though her purse and remembered she was out of pills. Her thoughts raced and she pulled some crinkled bills out to pay. She looked at the meter, it was nine dollars and twenty five cents. Now she was out of pills and she had seventy five cents to her name. She gathered her things and stepped out into the cool morning at her mothers house. She felt the dread reflex before she remembered that her mother was in the hospital. She glanced at the front door and then turned back to the street to see the cab pulling away. She was at the wrong house. Nothing was making sense. This was the only house on the street. She read the address, turned back to the house and then realized she was in the correct place.
The yard had been raked and it looked as thought the ground had been seeded for grass and watered recently. There was a new porch and roof with a wheel chair ramp. The swing was the only familiar sight she recognized but even that had been rebuilt, painted and it hung from a new chain. Someone had been working on the house and for a moment Kerry felt comfortable there. The green paint on the porch stairs and deck reminded her of when she was little. The house was out in the middle of nowhere then. She knew these woods and the woods across St. Augustine like the back of her hand. They moved there when she was three or four. Her mother would tell her stories about her father and the adventures he went on as a photographer. Her mother told her he'd never had a home and now that they had this house he would come home to see his little girl. She kept a box of gifts from Morocco, Turkey, Spain, France and a million other places he traveled. She'd never seen him but all that would change because they had the house now. He used to send money home, but when she was about five he stopped. The birthday cards stopped coming too and slowly her mother became a shadow of the happy woman she remembered. In every life there is a golden chapter but when they come early and fade, it can break a soul to pieces. It was the one thing Kerry and her mother shared; a tragic love story that ended too soon, leaving a canyon between them and happiness. Kerry found comfort in her children, but her mother only saw the face of a love she lost. Kerry was a constant reminder of all that Gretna couldn't have.
The drunken outbursts started slowly with her yelling that Kerry was just like him. Then the flood of tearful apologies, ice cream, new dresses and a brief period of calm before the pattern repeated. The frequency increased and soon the good times never returned. Kerry left home after high school. Gretna turned her hate inward and started the long retreat into the dark. She worked at the state and measured her days by lunches and cigarette breaks. The lunches, cigarettes and days spun away like a calender in the wind. The beauty Gretna once had was beaten out of her. Still, when Kerry looked at her she could see her mother in there. Her eyes would betray the love she felt for Kerry, when she wasn't being critical. There was a spark in that mean woman's eyes and her majestic bones hung just behind a smoked curtain of skin. She was over weight and usually dressed like a homeless woman, but she had an elegance that could not be erased. She was one of those woman that could not hide her genetic gifts even in the darkest state of sadness and neglect. She was a few bad habits, fifty pounds and a miracle away from being a beautiful woman again. The heartbroken don't want to look pretty, they want to wear the defeat like a cloak. They want to live in the pain so they never forget. They remain in a vigilant state, bathed in their hurt, so no one can make them believe again. One of the things that made Kerry move forward in the face of all her own disasters, was the resolve not to give up and become the vacant facade her mother was. She made the oath when she left this damn house during a screaming hurricane her mother was waging. She walked the length of St. Augustine Road alone, stepping into the clay ditches to avoid cars speeding out of the night. She never came back until Charlie died. She had hoped to find some mercy remaining in her mothers hardened shell. The mercy never came and Kerry stopped looking for it. From that moment on, she managed her mother in doses, like spoonfuls of bitter medicine.
Maybe it was the hope she saw in the new roof, porch and paint. Maybe she needed to justify taking the car. Maybe it was knowing the boys were with Becky and her kids. Whatever the reason it gave Kerry strength to enter the cavern of her mothers house for the first time in years. There was a large pile of mail on the porch. The mail was mostly co-pay bills for the hospital stay and assorted junk mail. Kerry was baffled at the house and who could have done all the work.
She turned the key and crossed the threshold. She let out a breath of resolve and made her way into the wreckage. She walked down the hall to what was once her bedroom. It was preserved like some dusty diorama. Nothing had moved since the day she left. She sat on the bed that was her only hiding place. She had flash memories of her mother and step father screaming and glass breaking suddenly in her sleep. When she was in high school, music was her savior. She would slide her headphones on and try to float away into the textures of her tapes and records. Eventually even that was not enough to keep the monsters at bay. She remembered waking up to the smell of bad breath, whiskey and hands under her covers. She couldn't escape and she couldn't fight. He was the sweet talking devil that would whisper twisted sentences that somehow made all the horrors of his hands, breath and mouth justified. He twisted logic and the love Kerry needed from missing parents, into a sick game of submission. Like all evil it started slowly and escalated into a deranged normalcy she couldn't escape. She wanted to be special and she wanted to hurt her mother. He had a demonic talent for knowing just how far to push her and how often to space his nighttime visits. He acclimated her to their filthy deceit in small doses and then let her recover. Every night she prayed to her father, God and her passed out mother to save her, but people only get saved in movies. In real life you have to save yourself, because everyone is drowning, even those that don't know it. Somewhere under the dust, the comforter, and the flowered sheets, was the dark brown stain that marked the end of her childhood. On a table in the corner, was a box of gifts, cards and letters from a father that never came home. Kerry closed the door.
She walked slowly back to the living room. She ripped open the shades and felt the anger she was avoiding. Streaks of light entered the room and the dust floated in the rays, like miniature planes in a dog fight. She stared out the window and saw her mothers old V.W. It broke down shortly after her mother gave it to her. It was a veiled apology Gretna didn't have strength to make, but one she couldn't avoid. Kerry remembered the night her Mother found him touching her, the lights of the police cars, and the accusing stare of a mother, unprepared for another tragedy. She burned everything he owned and screamed at the fire while Kerry watched from that room. In that moment of destruction, she knew she could never sleep there again.
Someday she was going to get rid of that bus. It had been cleaned, like it was coming back to life. Like it had shaken off the vines. Like it was looking at her for the first time. She would not forgive that metal machine. She hated it because it had room to lay down. She hated it because it could be parked in fields away from town. She hated it because he was gone and it was here.
She would start with dishes and fight her way out. She wanted to smell soap and to feel clean. She hit the play button on her phone. Counting Crows "Anna Begins" rolled out of the speaker. She opened the window and put her hands in the water, to wash away the dust.
Thursday, September 20, 2012
Tuesday, September 11, 2012
She is running through a field and Joey's chasing her. They are in a sheep pasture up above the place he surfed in Santa Barbara. She could see the the little dots of surfers out on the point. It was one of those breezy perfect days you learn to ignore in California. He is taking pictures of her but she's feeling playful and uncooperative. She's running, trying to make him chase her. Just when he thought she was going to pose, she runs again. She's laughing so hard she can't breath and finally leans over to catch up with her heart. The amber grass shares hues of her caramel skin and gold hair. She continues to play and run from him and just when it looked like he might give up and loose his patience, she pulls her hand knitted shirt over her head and throws it away. She looks over her shoulder. He takes her picture and falls for her, in the blink of a shutter. She's been holding that flower all morning, spinning it in her fingers and day dreaming. They were on the beach and decided drive up the hill while the tide switched. He captured her there, and all of who she was that day. She was caught like a firefly in his lens in front of those green Santa Barbara hills that matched the color of her bikini. She falls onto a blanket and watches him walk out of the sun. He takes his camera from his neck and sets it on the edge of the quilt. She stops laughing and looks up at him. She pulls her arms away from her chest, glances down at her bare breasts and then back up at him. It's the fall of 1971. It is the best season of her life. She is nineteen.
"Gretna, wake up honey. The surgery is over, c'mon honey, open your eyes. I have some water for you. Everything is fine, try to open your eyes."
Roscoe had pulled all the wood from the fallen porch and stacked it near the garage. He spent a few days pulling nails and separating the trash from the the good. He was done with the ramp and other than a few nails and screws, was able to finish the entire thing with what he salvaged. When the roof cascaded off of the house into a pile of intertwined lumber, it took with it the steps and an old chain swing. He figured she would need a ramp to get into the house. Those steps were as useless as the porch and he presumed they were both built by the same lazy hands. This whole house seemed ill supported and in need of work. For now she could be wheeled up and that made him feel better. He saw some paint cans, whose drippings matched the porch deck color and tomorrow he'd look to see if it could be stirred and used. For today he was done and he loaded his tools into his old bug and strapped the wooden step ladder to the luggage rack on top. He wiped his hands with a towel and admired his work. He loved to do things right and to help. Today he had done both. He reached into the passenger side and grabbed a bowl and some kibble. As he filled it, the dog came from the woods and wagged his way toward him. He sat it down next the water bowl and smiled.
"See ya tomorrow."
She is watching the boys come down the walk. No matter what was going on in her life, she loved seeing those kids come home from school. She wanted to be like one of those women, at the Timber Lane Hopkins Eatery. They played tennis when the kids were at school and complained about bad caterers over lunch. They had the strained faces of women who didn't dare gain an ounce, for fear of being replaced. Kerry wished she could just be a stay at home Mom. She was starting a new job next week and this was her last few days of freedom before the stress came back. The boys were pulling at each others back packs and laughing. They both had sticks in their hands and a sword fight could break out any second. She caught a reflection of herself smiling in the window. It felt good. Those boys were never a burden. They were the thing she did right. She couldn't wait to hear what happened that day. The rain had finally stopped and the first wisp of fall hung just outside the last grasp of summer. It was a good day.
He loaded his drums into his car after eating lunch. His youngest son was playing a jazz groove on the drums in his room. He marveled at how good he was. His oldest was on his way to his life guard job and looked every bit of the college freshman he had become. He said goodbye in passing and he watched young man drive off. He had done some things well. He did have moments of pride, in between all the anger and regret. It was in the air. All good things happened for him in the fall. When he lived by the coast it marked the start of the surf season. When he came to Tallahassee, it was the return of students and packed gigs. On bikes it was the magic time of cool temps and night rides with his crew. Spring was the first verse, summer was the dark bridge and September marked the first notes of the chorus. He was rehearsing tonight, feeling good for the first time in weeks and he stopped to recognize a rare moment of content. For now that was all he needed, little shot at something good.
Tuesday, September 4, 2012
To read from the start, please scroll down to:
"Well your heart and liver functions are all okay and The blood work looks good as well. Now this is the part you are not going to like."
Dr. Chanter handed him a piece of paper. He new what it was before he took it. It was a lab work prescription. He had already given them blood and urine and other things that came out of him that he would like to repress forever. The sympathetic look on his G.P.'s face was not enough to cause alarm, and it really didn't register at first. After all this doctor had been through it all with him going all the way back to 1993. He was a singer back then and got sore throats, strep, pleurisy and countless other bugs and viruses playing in bars and drinking with the other professional night lifers. Back then the doctor would urge him to take better care of himself and he would listen politely and then ask if he could drink with the current course of antibiotics. He fancied himself a suffering artist, and took pride in singing through countless illnesses. Then his guitar player recorded a band in his living room that got a record deal and sold millions of albums. The band broke up, his brother turned the place they played into an upscale wine and cigar bar. Later, after seeing some guys on mountain bikes cross Park Avenue, he sold some music gear and bought a bicycle. Since then the Doc's and his relationship changed from viruses to bones. Sore joints, broken collar bones, neck, and elbow surgery had become the new center of their relationship. Two years ago he had a stroke and heart surgery due to shitty genetic cards. The Doc was over protective. He was a rare bird in the medical industry. He really cared and explained everything in great detail. He would call him and make sure he was okay. He would make appointments for him when there were no spaces available.
"Now I know you hate the hospital, but I want you to go get an echo test. I don't like this fatigue issue you are having. It's probably nothing but with your history it makes sense to rule everything out."
The Doc turned his head to one side in that sympathetic gesture showing him the Doc didn't buy his tough guy act. He put his hand on his shoulder and leaned in for affect. The Doc knew he would do what he asked because he trusted him, with his life.
"I don't think God wants me to ride bikes any more."
He said with frustration.
"Well maybe he's not happy with how you're treating this body he gave you."
The Doc said as he tapped on his computer tablet.
"Well he could have been little more generous, when he gave me this scrap heap. I have a some harsh words for that guy...."
"Well lets not rush you off to talk with him anytime soon. Lets deal with the things we can control and you can ponder your place in the universe while you get better. Okay, so Jenny made an appointment for you, you can head over now and be out in time for lunch."
"Okay so here is the x-ray, She has a broken left hip, broken right femur, and two fractures in her left ankle. She sprained her wrist and has a small dislocation in her shoulder. There is additional bruising around the left knee which leads me to believe there is some tearing in there, but nothing to worry about now. We are keeping her stable for now until the swelling in her thighs recedes. Then we can repair the broken bones, and set her ankle. It's a lot to take in, I know. I think we can do all the surgeries in one shot, provided we don't come across anything we didn't expect. We are going to wheel her up to sonogram to check out her heart and then she will be cleared for surgery. Do you have any questions?"
"No. Thank you Doctor. "
Kerry turned and looked at her Mother laying in a pain killer sleep. She looked normal enough but even asleep you could see the bitterness on her face. God she was an angry woman. She expressed her worry and love in strange ways, usually by being over critical and by pointing out mistakes. If Kerry did something well, it was met with an accusing look. What she hated most of all was how tough she was on the boys. Kerry felt guilty that some part of her was relieved that her mother was unconscious. At least she couldn't talk and that was a small victory Kerry was happy to celebrate. A nurse came in the room, and spoke to Kerry as she looked down at her mother.
"They'll take her down to cardio in a few minutes. My Name is Rose, if you need anything."
Kerry walked out into the hall to find Roscoe waiting.
"Rose is a pretty name don't you think? A lot of great woman are named after flowers. I wish I was named after a flower. I would have liked that. I would have liked anything other than who I am. My name means nothing. Everybody always says they just want to be themselves, but I think I'd like to be someone else, for a change."
"My wife's name was Lilly, and my daughters name is Jasmine. So I guess I do. They are two of the most wonderful women I have ever known, but I am not sure it was their names that made them that way. Some people just rise above better than others. Some people get a little more than their share of hard times. My father used to say that everybody cries ten gallons of tears in their life. Some a little at a time and others all at once. He used to say the real trick is to figure out when to stop crying."
Roscoe looked out the window and thought about his Lilly. The rain was breaking up and the sun was coming through. The grand beams hit little areas of the town and from the fifth floor he watched the light move in scattered spots and the blue open sky to the west, behind the front.
"Time to blow out the candles I guess."
Roscoe whispered in a sigh, under his breath.
"Candles how did you know it was my birthday?"
Kerry's face crunched up as she looked at Roscoe in awe.
"I am surrounded by fortune tellers. I ran into one at the flea market just the other day. Seriously, how'd you know it was my birthday?"
"It's a lucky coincidence I guess. I was thinking about rain and the power going out and lighting candles. I guess I was thinking out loud. Well Miss Kerry you seem to be okay, I won't bother you anymore. Good luck with....."
Kerry grabbed his arm and startled him a little.
"If you could stay a little....I don't have anyone. It's a hard day for me today. It's my birthday and...."
"I know it IS a hard day. I understand that. Seems to be going around. I'll stay with you a little longer till they get your Mama settled. Oh....They are taking her down the hall. C'mon now, lets go with her. You going to be alright."
Roscoe grabbed her hand and patted it, and then put it in the crick of his elbow like an usher at a wedding. She held on and felt comforted for the first time in years. They rode the elevator down to the third floor and Gretna was snoring. Every so often she stopped abruptly and caused the attendant, Kerry and Roscoe to all look at her suddenly. Then she would breath again for a few seconds and stop again. They would look down at her out of reflex and the cycle continued. Had someone been there to observe them, they would have resembled people watching a tennis match.
"Is that normal?"
Gretna was snoring even louder now and added a slight whistle to the arsenal of sound effects she was making.
"She's like all three Stooges at once."
Roscoe said as he looked at her in amazement.
The orderly began to chuckle, Kerry blurted out laughing and finally Roscoe started in so hard that his chest was moving up and down. Gretna began to stir a little and looked as though she might wake up. Roscoe threw up his hands like a conductor stopping an orchestra. They all held their breath for a second as they looked at Gretna. They waited for her to breath again as the sound of a high pitched, tortured, sound came from under the covers. It went on longer than one would expect and sounded like a thick canvas was being torn apart. They all stopped laughing for a minute till the sound raised in pitch and puncuated. They erupted with laughter again as the elevator doors slid open. A nurse turned and looked sternly at them all from the front desk of the Cardiac floor. The orderly wheeled Gretna out.
"Good Lord, that's awful!"
Roscoe was waving his hat and Kerry made a face as they scrambled off the elevator. Kerry and Roscoe found a seat in the hall, out side the sonogram room. A man was sitting there and he moved to the end chair so Roscoe and Kerry could sit next to each other. Kerry Pulled out her phone and the Pandora station started where she had paused it earlier. The last few bars of "Mr. Jones" came out of the tiny speaker. The song faded and "Josephine" by The Wallflowers started to play.
"Ah, too bad. I love that song. I played it for years"
The man said, sitting Kerry.
"Played it for years?"
"Ya I was in a band in the nineties. We were the house band at The Cab Stand. We played this song every night for years. Those were good times. Did you ever go there?"