home sweet home
I was depressed in high school. Senior year was the worst. I’m told graduation went well. I didn’t attend. There’s a recollection of my mother and sister fluttering around my bedroom that special evening trying to get me ready. One snapshot has me in my best Sears suit, barefooted on the bed, staring blankly at a pair of socks mother is holding out. So near yet so far.
I remember my father, the ex-marine, taking a stab at pulling me out of it. He used a barrage of very explicit phrases and shoulder shakes before stomping out with a house-shuddering door slam. Several hours later the family returned, my mother aglow as to how nice the ceremony went. Stacey, my sister, had accepted my diploma owing, of course, to my sudden illness. And the entire staff and student body at Brattleboro, Vermont High wished me a speedy recovery; it certainly was late in the flu season, but things like that certainly can happen. Their celebratory meal at The Fireside in Keene had been delightful as well. I would have especially liked the king cut prime rib special with creamed spinach as one of the side dishes; something my mother wished she could make half as well.
For the next few weeks there was no change from my inert, stay in my room state. No real cause for family alarm though. There had been many episodes like this before, and I had gradually, after a few months, always come out of them. By mid-July I was venturing downstairs for breakfast now and then and in August made a grocery shopping trip with my mother, so things were looking up from her perspective.
At dinner late in August, my father detoured from pontificating on the liberal takeover of America to clear up the little matter of my graduation present. Originally they had gotten me a genuine Swiss Army watch and pocket knife set. It had been returned. The watch was pricey, over two hundred and a waste for someone who never went anywhere. Mother also had concerns about the knife or any sharp objects in my possession. In its stead and since I did deserve at least something for graduating, there was a grand flourish and my sister entered the kitchen with an envelope and a small gift box. The package held a Casio 900 series watch subtitled The Illuminator. It was her gift to me. I knew it was twenty bucks on sale at Wal-mart, and I sincerely appreciated it. The envelope was a graduation card signed by my grandparents, Uncle Roy and Aunt Bee and other extended family members. It also contained what looked like a charge card.
“It’s the Go-America pass,” my father broadcast, beaming proudly as if he had spent hours in his basement workshop making it from all natural elements.
It was red, white and blue plastic featuring a sun-struck Greyhound bus passing through a prototypical national park having left city skyscrapers in its wake.
“They divided the country up into three parts: red, white and blue. You just show them the pass in Brattleboro, hop on and you can go anywhere you want as long as it’s in blue—Boston, New York, Florida--anywhere on the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi. We were going to get you the plan for all three zones, but some of the relatives “cheaped” out on us so we could only afford blue and white. You can’t ever go west to Texas.”
I stared at the pass and heard my mother sniffling. My father got up, came over and shook my hand. “We’re proud of you, son. I know I can be hard on you at times, but it’s just that we want the best for you. Al Levine was talking the other day down at the plant about his Dave getting into Green Mountain Community College and making a sideways crack about what you might be doing. I put him in his place by telling him how many times you made the Honor Roll and weren’t even in school half the time. That shut him up right quick.”
I nodded my appreciation, thanked them all with special emphasis to Stacey’s gift which I had noticed had a glow in the dark, Tru-Vue compass next to the world time zone feature.
“The pass is good for three months from the first time you use it. Footloose and fancy free you are. God, I wish I were eighteen again,” he said looking as if he was about to embark down memory lane.
My mother thwarted the reverie. “One of the places we thought you might like to go is New Orleans. I spoke to your brother Wesley last month. He and Georgia wouldn’t mind you visiting them for a few days. Aside from a few meals on the road it wouldn’t cost you much at all. Wesley is in the shrimp business now, and we thought the change of scenery from around here and some nice sea air might, you know, clear your head of things.”
I had no actual recollection of Wesley. He was fifteen years my senior. He’d left home for the army when I was three, thus endearing him to my father, but he’d never been back to Vermont. Scattered reports contained in Christmas and birthday cards had him doing well in every venture he tried. Shrimp was new to me. The last I heard he’d bought into a franchise that was pushing the entrepreneurial envelope regarding pretzels with an array of intriguing toppings which were sold from pushcarts at strip malls. Stacey and I often speculated on Wesley’s birth and why fifteen and seventeen years later we two had come along. His red hair in the many pictures on the mantel was also an enigma given the dark haired, swarthy skin of most relatives we knew.
But, as I sat there amid the largesse that evening, my mind was a whirl-wind of activity. I had been hit by a family thunderstorm of affection, and my instinctive reaction was to run for the safe confines of my room and bed. Yet I was proud of myself. I held my ground. I gazed at the bus pass. I’d disappointed my parents in so many ways. It would take so little to make them happy. Despite the rising tide of my personal anxiety, what was the big deal in sitting on a bus? I always enjoyed sitting and this might be a rather scenic type. I got up, complimented my mother for her creamed spinach attempt, nodded appreciation to my father and holding the pass aloft said, “I think I might need a ride to the Greyhound station tomorrow.”
I stunned them that evening. They never expected me to take up the challenge. I couldn’t leave until a week later. It made no difference to me, but there were any number of details they hadn’t worked out. The trip was free but where would I sleep? Another laminated card appeared which entitled me to stay in any Budget Inn on the face of the earth. Other relatives kicked in gift certificates to the nationwide fast food chains. I received phone calls offering advice on everything from handling gays who haunt bus depots to what cities were “musts” on the my odyssey. Uncle Cody extolled the virtues of Depends diapers for adults. He and Aunt Rita used them when they went to the Grand Canyon two years ago and became addicted. The sense of empowerment on a long bus trip knowing I’d not be dependent upon rest stops would be something I’d cherish forever.
On the eve of my departure, father came up to my room for a heart to heart chat. It began with “I know we’ve never been that close. It’s the marine in me, I guess. Get too close to someone and it’s that much harder when they’re body bagged and sent to Dover, Delaware. No offense to you, I’m that way with everybody. When you get done with seeing the good ole US of A though, maybe you’ll think military. I was kind of lost myself until Uncle Sam straightened me out.”
He shook my hand forcefully, and then pressed a small plastic bag into it. It held three hundred dollars plus several condoms. “I want you to find the best whorehouse in New Orleans and get your ashes hauled.”
The “ashes” metaphor was lost on me although I slowly got the gist of what he was saying. “This is between us men. Sometimes getting laid is the best medicine for what ails you. I don’t know if I could have survived what I went through in Viet Nam if it hadn’t been for pussy. I think that might be part of your troubles too. When you get back we’ll sit down, break open a few cans, and I’ll tell you about the R & R I had in Japan. Now there is a species of women who know how to take care of a man.”
His fatherly talk continued, at times bordering on the scene in Hamlet where Polonius gives advice to his son when he goes off to college. Always use a rubber no matter what, forget about kissing and never go down on a girl even if she begs for it. Piss as many times as you can after humping and never let them know how much money you have. It’s not like there’s a set price on a quick jump and a BJ. Start off low but not low enough to insult them. And don’t be afraid to walk. There’s plenty of cooze in the sea. (Another reference lost on me.)
An hour after he left mother came in with advice on eating fiber and being wary of using public toilets. Her gift was a secret money belt she had ordered from a catalog and in it was close to five hundred dollars. It was her Corian countertop money which she had been saving for several years but knew Dad would never agree to when he and Uncle Rudy could install top of the line laminate for a fraction of the cost. So I might as well have her mad money, maybe treat Wes, Georgia and the grandkids she’d never seen to a night out.
The donation was followed by her concern for my mental health and, if I felt myself beginning to, well, you know, have those cloudy thoughts, I should check into the emergency room right away. She and dad could take the cap off the truck and drive to wherever, pick me up and bring me back to Vermont lickety-split. On the bright side, she felt the trip was a new beginning for me. I was always her favorite. I had the most potential. Did she ever tell me about my third grade teacher, Mrs. Zona, who had praised my intellect to the sky? Yes, she had, several times, but one more telling wouldn’t hurt me and by ten thirty she was just finishing up my junior high accomplishments when I feigned sleepiness, and we bid each other a tearful adieu.
With all my difficulties I never was sent to a treatment facility. I had heard and read what they were like and, when something close to their ilk was suggested to help my situation, it was always enough of a cattle prod to force me into semi-normal activity until the dust cleared a bit. With all due respect to the Greyhound Company, my observation, after a five hour Boston to New York City ride, was that long distance bus travel was a mobile day treatment ward if ever there was one.
My first seat mate spent three hundred miles converting me to her personal brand of Christianity. She knitted as she preached. She was working on a Guinness Record book scarf that was approaching one hundred feet and contained the Lord’s Prayer, the names of the apostles, prophets and most Biblical animal life.
Pulling out of New York’s Port Authority her place was taken by a man who kept records on every aspect of his life. He was in his late twenties, reeked of public washroom soap and informed me that, although we were seven minutes behind schedule, there was a stretch on 95 between Delaware and the outskirts of Baltimore where we might make it up.
On 81 between Washington, D. C and Knoxville I fended off two gropings, one by each gender, was shown how to shoot up between my fingers to avoid detection and listened intently to a man who had married a woman from the planet Venus but couldn’t stand her bizarre sexual ways and was running from her family’s wrath. The Reynolds wrap foil he wore over his head prevented them from reading his thoughts.
After Tennessee we picked up 59 direct to Louisiana. I survived on vending machine candy and an occasional rest stop cheeseburger every two hundred miles or so. When we pulled into Union Terminal in New Orleans I hadn’t shaved, showered or laid down flat for close to four days. I splurged on a taxi and checked into a Budget Inn on the outskirts of town where I spent the rest of the day taking showers and lying flat on my back working out the kinks. I wanted to be as close to my usual six feet as I could when I met my long lost brother.
There are some cities where the old section means period architecture, quaint street lighting and bistros. The address I gave the cab driver was in one of the poorer areas. LaBarre Road was studded with shotgun style row houses. Overturned grocery carriages dotted the sidewalks and plywood covered windows on every other building. Then there was a break in the bleak landscape as we neared the intersection with West Napoleon Ave. The driver pulled to a stop in front of a ramshackle house which had a fresh coat of paint on part of the upper front, a symbolic eye in the hurricane of poverty.
I had called the night before. I’d spoken to Georgia, Wesley’s wife. I introduced myself and offered her an escape clause if I’d be too much trouble. Her laconic reply was that “t’weren’t no bother; what was another body around the place.”
I said I’d be there late morning and don’t bother about lunch because I would have eaten a huge continental breakfast. “I never bother about anything,” was her closing quip before I was treated to an overloud dial tone.
Georgia’s faded orange tank top had long ago lost its support capabilities. Each of her abundant breasts rested lazily in their own hammock. The impression was bovine rather than sexual. She was small, barely five feet, and despite her ample cleavage, petite. Still a novice in such matters I gave thought to her having implants some years ago, perhaps with thought to improving her chances of becoming a headliner at a local strip club. She was a bleached blonde with grey roots, and it would be a kindness to think she was under forty.
She led me down the darkened hall and pointed to a small couch in a room to the right. “You’ll sleep there, crapper’s off the kitchen. Door doesn’t latch. Jiggle the handle. I gotta go out for a bit so you’re in charge of the kids. They’re in the back bedroom watching TV. If they get too much there’s Freeze pops. They don’t like grape but that’s what was on sale.”
With that she was gone, the sound of the screen door hissing closed in her wake. In the distance a Warner Brothers cartoon was beginning.
I found the kids’ room. There were three of them overloaded on the double bed, a TV on top of a chest of drawers at its foot. Each of them seemed to be a different race. The oldest was a girl about seven with cinnamon skin and mulato features. There was a dark-haired, black boy of five and another boy just out of diapers. He had fair skin ravaged by patches of a pinkish rash. They ignored me, even more so when I proclaimed that I was their uncle from all the way up in New England. The room was so small there was no place to sit so I stood in the doorway shifting my feet pretending to be interested in the exploits of Bugs Bunny as he outwitted a game warden played by Elmer Fudd. Fifteen minutes of this was enough. I went back to take stock of my new home away from home.
There were four long, narrow rooms downstairs—a kitchen, living room and two bedrooms. Steps led to a second floor, but a child’s gate was across them, and I could see that some were missing tread boards. I considered broad stepping up but thought better of it. My modest weight could send me crashing through to the first floor. I went back to the living room and discovered that the small couch did not pull out into a bed. I took my meager belongings out of the backpack, sat down on the floor and considered a mad dash back to Budget Inn. The TV opposite me caught my attention. I clicked it on several times, but no matter what I tried I couldn’t get anything but snow followed by a high pitch whine and a blank screen. I sat back in defeat and let my mind wander, pausing every other minute to wipe the sweat from my face before dozing off in the stultifying humidity.
I woke up at six and went to check on the kids inquiring when their mommy was coming back. I repeated myself twice and finally was given a courtesy shrug by the seven year old. I asked if they were hungry and the girl, seemingly thankful that I’d reminded her, opened up the drawers beneath the TV and doled out Slim Jim’s to her siblings. She repositioned herself on the bed and, as an afterthought, motioned towards the drawer for me to help myself—the perfect hostess.
At ten I checked on the kids again and found them half asleep, flopped over each other like a litter of puppies every which way on the bed. I reached over to turn the set off and was groggily warned off by the girl. I bid her good night, closed the door, went back to the living room, scrunched myself into a not too uncomfortable position and promptly fell asleep.
The living room had little natural light. Boxes were piled high in front of one window, a barricade as if they were expecting the FBI to storm the building. A bureau overlapped part of the other window. Dark blankets were nailed up as droopy blackout curtains but at dawn a mild brightness leaked through and arced its way across the ceiling. When I opened my eyes it took me a few minutes to remember where I was, and even longer to check the damage I’d done to my spine by falling dead asleep in such an awkward place. I was chastising myself for not changing positions before coming to the conclusion that there were no other viable ways to handle sleep on a love seat when I was aware that I was being watched. I thought it might be one of the kids who had escaped the hypnotic rays of the TV and come to explore the outside world.
“Oncet to home my pap put Eddie-Lee’s hand in a pan of warm water when he was asleep, and he peed hisself like a spigot.”
She stepped out of the shadowy hallway and into the room. I thought it was Georgia and breathed a sigh of relief that my babysitting responsibility was at an end. She inched her way to me and stood over the settee.
“I’m Missy. Us Collier girls all got named after states. I’m the baby except for Eddie-Lee who don’t count. Georgia the oldest and then comes Flo which is named for Florida. Pap says that my momma run off cause of she didn’t want no kin named Arkansas or Alabama. Anyways she’s dead. You’re not some stray Georgia took in for the money, are you?”
I sat up and began a quick search for my shoes. “I’m Wesley’s brother from Vermont. I came by bus down to see him, but he’s out of town or something. Do you know where Georgia is? Those kids watch TV all day.”
“I bet you’re afraid to stand up because you got a hellacious morning hardon. You don’t hafta to worry. I seen at lot of stuff; practically raised my little brother.”
“I’m a bit worried about the kids. Shouldn’t the oldest one be in school?
She plopped down much too close beside me, slumped back and stared at the ceiling. “My sister’s had a tough run the past year, especially the last two weeks. Wesley run off on her again and there’s no money. He took off with my sister Flo who came over from Tallahassee to help Georgia when the kids all had the croup last month. God knows how long they were doing it behind her back before she came home one day and found them going at it like a fiddler’s tune. They both cleared out after that. That’s when I got the call. I was assistant shift manager at Wal-Mart, but I said what the hell and came up here. Blood is family. I’m not dumping on Georgia, but I’d know how to keep my man; there’s tricks to it. You can go pee if you want; leave the door open for all I care.”
I got up and stumbled down the darkened hallway. I flipped on the bathroom light and was nearly blinded by the two naked bulbs. I left the door slightly ajar feeling that was a decent compromise to our budding relationship. I finished, flushed and turned around to find her standing a few feet behind me.
“Jiggle the handle or it will run forever. I’ll make you breakfast.”
While Missy opened a box of generic cereal, I checked on the kids. It was after ten. The morning chat shows were going off, and the children’s programming was gearing up. When I got back to the kitchen she was sitting in front of a bowl and motioned me to sit across from her.
“The milk smells off so we’ll eat it raw; I like it better that way anyways, closer to nature.”
I nodded and plunged in, wondering why I was using a spoon or even a bowl for that matter, a fistful of the stuff out of the box would save on the ever growing mound of dirty dishes on the counter top.
“I usually take my top off to eat but since we’re kin and all I won’t.”
I didn’t know what puzzled me more, her eating breakfast topless or her idea that we were somehow related.
“Georgia’s out doing calls. She made up her own business. She is a nurse’s aide to old people, men mostly. She’s got a dozen vets she helps out. I can’t ever go along now that Wesley’s gone. But with you here to watch the kids, I can be her partner and in no time we’ll make a shit load of money and move someplace bigger. If I get my own room I can bring guys home; Georgia says it’s none of her never mind what I do.”
“Where do you sleep here?”
She got up, searched the fridge for juice but settled for tap water, grabbing me a glass while she was at it. “Right where you did. In fact I came in this morning after a night of partying and said ‘Holy crap, there’s a man in my bed!’ You know, like in the Three Bears story. I crashed on the other side of the room by the TV for a few hours. I guess you could say that we slept together. God, when Georgia comes home let’s tell her that and watch her shit a brick, want to?”
“The little I know about Georgia I don’t think she has the greatest sense of humor so I’d like it if you didn’t bring the subject up, especially since my brother and, by logical extension, me aren’t too high on her list right now.”
“You know Wesley came on to me once. I never told Georgia. It was probably five years ago when I was fifteen. He was checking me out pretty good one night. I knew he wanted me, but I’m not like Flo. I don’t wreck homes. How old are you?
“I graduated from high school in June.”
“I saw a TV show on older women and younger men. Course I’m about three years up on you so I know a lot more sex things. I’d teach you, but then you might betray me. A lady doctor who wrote a book says it’s biological.”
“I’m kind of on vacation. I have a free bus pass so I can go most anywhere. I get depressed a lot, and my parents felt a change of scenery would cure me.”
She reached out as if to comfort me. “I get depressed too; you don’t know what it’s been like around here what with Georgia gone half the time, bills to pay and me hardly able to move around this dump or have a man because I’m so wrapped up in her shit. Do you take pills?”
“I sit. I just have to be patient and it passes, although sometimes it takes a few months.”
“How are you going to live down here; where’s the money come from? You’re rich I bet. I’ve heard Vermont is one of those rich places.”
“I’m not rich. I have a bus pass for three months and food coupons and a Budget Inn card. My dad gave me some money to get a prostitute which he thinks will take my mind off being depressed.”
She sat for a while giving me the strangest look, not saying anything then grabbed her half eaten bowl. “You’re welcome for me fixing you breakfast!”
“Did I say something wrong?”
“If you don’t know, I’m not going to say. It’s getting near ten so the kids need checking.”
“Missy, if I did anything to offend I apologize. The cereal was very good, and I enjoyed eating with you. It might be best if I left now. If you know Wesley’s address, I might try to track him down for my mother’s sake.”
She turned around facing me and let fly. “Why would you want to do it with some dirty old whore? What’s wrong with me? Your Yankee blood thinks it’s too good for a dumb, high school drop out?”
“I thought you said we were related?”
It was if I stuck a knife into her; she stepped back and held onto the counter top for support. “God, that’s right; I forgot.” There was a pause as the wheels turned. Then her face brightened. “But what if we really loved one another?”
My silence was enough incentive for her to keep rummaging through her imagination.
“Or . . . or what if it was for medical reasons like they do with marijuana for cancer? I know a boy back home who had bad skin and stuttered but, when he started doing it with girls, everything cleared right up. We could go to the Budget Inn; it would be romantic. There’s one out on Read Boulevard. You could take me out to a restaurant. I’m not a big eater.”
She was like a young child begging to go out for ice cream. Part of me said run for the bus station as fast as I could, but another, more prurient part of me was hell bent for sexual adventure. “What about the kids? Maybe we should do it in the living room in case someone falls off the bed.”
“Right, that’s real special! Maybe we should kick them off their bed and grope and finger each other in front of them. No, if I’m going to do it with you, it has to be a hotel and room service. We’ll go up separately. I’ll wear a scarf and dark glasses like in a Julia Roberts movie I once saw. We could have a secret knock. I wonder if there’s a tub; I’ve always wanted to do it in a tub with candles.”
“Should we leave a note for Georgia?”
“And what would I tell her—‘gone fucking, be back tomorrow’. She doesn’t care anyway. After we do it a few times, I’ll tell you about some of the stuff she does. It’ll make your short hairs tingle.” And with that good promise I grabbed my backpack, and we were out the door and into the mid-September heat and humidity of the Crescent City.
We caught a bus and began the long ride out to the motel. Every few stops Missy pointed out the sights and history of the city. Tomorrow we would get up, come over to the French Quarter and drink ourselves silly on Bourbon Street. Then I had to see Anne Rice’s house in the Garden district. I interrupted her long enough to make the point that my experience the day before indicated that Budget Inn didn’t have room service or a restaurant so, if we wanted a meal, we needed to get off before we hit the area. There was mild disappointment, but she spied something up ahead that looked decent, and we bolted off the bus.
At Manny’s Cajun Grotto she ordered the local fish special. I had the fried oysters as she kept up a firestorm of conversation. I couldn’t tell what part of her stories were fact, fiction or a mixture of both. In her inventive scenario we could be two runaways whose parents had sworn to kill us if we got married so we had to keep moving from city to city to avoid the private detectives hired to bring us back. We should keep a diary and which ever one of us survived would write it into a book which might make a good TV movie. She dreamed up the scheme that we should bus over to Miami, Florida, build a raft and float to Cuba. We would be the only ones who’d ever done that so the world would see how much in love we were, and we’d be on Oprah and Larry King. We’d be so famous that no one in the American government could hurt us, and, besides, Cuba was a very cheap place to live.
I let her ramble. I was beginning one of my spells, heavy black storm clouds off to the west drifting slowly my way. When she saw that my mind had begun to go blank, she wheeled out the heavy artillery regarding Georgia to pique my interest. It seemed that Georgia’s business centered around elderly retired men who enjoyed sexual gratification. Her stock and trade as a pseudo home care aide was a sponge bath and hand job for which there was no set fee except that Missy, rocking back on her chair, in hushed tones and bug-eyed, let me know that a twenty dollar bill once changed hands.
She witnessed some of the acts once when she tagged along, even taking part to the degree that flashing or taking off her top all together added spice to the gentlemen’s afternoons. Georgia sometimes made two hundred a week, more when social security checks came in at month’s end. Though Missy’s tone was judgmental she did see a positive side. It was really kind of nice for the old duffers. Sometimes they cried real tears. It was a service she and Georgia were involved in like what she was going to do with me to help my depression. But I didn’t have to pay her! We’d use the money to enjoy Miami before the big push on to Cuba and our idyllic life together on that island. With that final comment she titled her head down like a blushing bride until I suggested dessert.
We checked into the Budget Inn. I was running on empty. I nodded every so often to be polite, blaming my mood on eating fried food so quickly. I pleased her no end when I told the clerk Mr. and Mrs. There was a debate about whether my pass was good for one person or one room, but it was finally decided, after two assistant managers were consulted, that we need pay nothing save a small tax of some sort.
I entered the room and sat in the swivel chair by the window. Missy was alternately a young kid, bouncing on the bed and exploring the wonders of a lower range motel with oohs and ahs. Then she was a grown woman, dismayed there was no tub, just a small shower not really big enough for two. She had tossed very few things into a small travel bag. One was an “I Love New Orleans” glittering red night shirt along with a change of underwear and extra jeans.
She decided that we needed showers before the act. I went first. As the water poured over me I knew what I was in for. It had happened many times before. I was becoming devoid of any desire or thought. I don’t know how long I stood there under the nozzle before she came in a yelled at me. She shut the water off and tossed a towel over my head and led me back to the bed like someone might lead a horse out of a barn fire. Then she went in for a quick rinse. I had enough will to get up and set the air conditioning on high before crawling back onto bed eyes tightly closed. I heard her finish in the bathroom and come back to the bed, the heavily florid smell of hotel soap floating about the room. She asked if I wanted to watch the porn channel, poked me a few times and muttered “asshole” before giving up, grabbing most of the sheets and drifting off to sleep.
I was semi-conscious through the most of the night. When I did doze off it was to dream of being home in my room where I had ridden out so many episodes. I had nothing like that comfort and security here. Would sex with Missy at sunrise snap me out of it? The odds were that it might, but my interest in anything at this point was near zero. The prescription was within arms reach, but it was as if centrifugal force had gripped my body and I couldn’t move. My life was a movie and I, a stupefied audience of one, was in a strange theater watching it play out.
When dawn came Missy was by my side of the bed. She was naked. She dragged me to a sitting position, feet on the floor. She stood before me plying her feminine wiles. She grabbed my hands and placed them on her. She grew frustrated and descriptively went down memory lane as to how many men she’d had. Finally she gave up and pushed me back onto the bed before disappearing into the bathroom.
The next time she stood in front of me she was dressed and carrying her tote bag. She announced she was leaving and opened the door several times, like one would trick a stubborn child, hoping fear of being left alone would incite action. When that failed she came back, dressed me, and pulled me tag along behind her out of the hotel and into the street. She flagged a cab back to LaBarre Road, dragging me up the front steps and plunking me on the settee before angrily spilling out her disappointing experience to Georgia who had broken a record of sorts by being home.
I don’t know how many days I stayed on that couch. Sometimes, when I crawled to the surface of my despair, there was a bowl of Lucky Charms next to me. Every now and then Missy came in the room and did a little striptease to see if I were interested. Georgia made cameo appearances to inquire about my condition, and there were men who may have been Wesley, Missy’s paramours de jour or retirees seeking sexual release. The TV was on, more of a nightlight as any picture it received was short-lived at best.
Then one afternoon a small hand reached out and took mine. It was the seven year old. She tugged me to my feet and led me down the hall to her bedroom. I was boosted onto the bed and in a few minutes had carved out a spot which didn’t intrude on the space of other toddlers that much. I settled in. There was a madcap episode of I Love Lucy playing. A grape flavored Freeze pop crossed my palm, the plastic tip already torn off. I put it to my mouth and let the cold, sweet taste rolI over my tongue. Home at last.