The Good Life _     _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _    _  Mark and Rebecca Spencer

 

 

EIGHT

 

     Lon comes out of his house with Jake, who's carrying his Ninja Turtle book bag.  When Lon opens the passenger door of the moving van, he says, "Jake wants to come along and help.  I figure he can pick up trash and carry some little things, and he's got some stuff to play with." 

     "Fine.  We can use the help," I say, and I reach down and lift Jake over my lap and set the boy in the middle of the seat.

     Lon is settling himself behind the steering wheel when Chachi steps out of the house onto the porch and motions to him to come to her, yells something none of us can hear.  The wind carries her words up into the sky.  She looks distressed.  Despite the wind and the snow flurries, all she has on is a tee shirt of Lon's.  It's stretched tight over her swollen belly.  She crosses her arms over her breasts, which have gotten big, too, but her thighs are still as skinny as a New York model's.  Her copper hair blows around.  When she turns to go back into the house, the wind lifts the tee shirt and I see her black panties.

     Lon climbs out of the moving van, runs to the house, leaps over the steps onto the wooden porch, and takes Chachi into his arms. 

     "She's been giving him sugar," Jake says. 

     I nod. 

     "He has a sweet tooth."

     "Yeah?"

     "That's what she says."

     "Oh."

     Lon and Chachi disappear into the house.

     "They'll be awhile," Jake says.  "You wanta see my baseball cards?"  He pulls a stack of cards out of his book bag and starts handing them to me one at a time.

     "These are nice.  You save these and when you're my age you can sell them for a lot of money."

     "I know."

     I look at the house.  Lon and Chachi are like teenagers.  But they're more than ten years older than Rose and I were when

things almost happened between us.  For just a second, I let myself wonder about the time we might have had. 

     I squeeze my eyes shut for a moment, then hand the baseball cards back to Jake.  I remember looking into Rose's blue eyes.  I remember wondering what she was seeing in my own.  She said, "What people don't know won't hurt them."

     But people find out.  Somebody always knows.

     I wonder what Rose recalls.  Women usually remember everything.  They have memories as long as God's.  More important, I wonder how she feels about what she remembers.

     I watch Jake sort through his baseball cards.  After he looks at each player's picture, he turns the card over and seems to study the statistics. 

     One day not long ago at Lon's house, Jake showed me some of his school papers.  Drawings, spelling tests, math problems.  And Jake said to me, "You were Lon's teacher?"

     "Yeah.  Almost twenty years ago."

     I was staying with Jake while Lon and Chachi went to her monthly obstetrical check-up.

     "Did he get many gold stars on his papers?"

     I smiled.  "A couple.  Not often."

     "Did you watch him play baseball?"

     "Everybody watched Lon play baseball.  He was like our own Joe Jackson."

     "Who?"

     "Shoeless Joe.  A great baseball player a long time ago."

     "I don't know him."

     "You know Pete Rose?"

     Jake shook his head.  "Why did Lon quit baseball?"

     I shrugged, looked down at a math problem Jake had gotten wrong.  He had put that zero times two equaled two.  "He just . . . .  It got too hard.  He had some bad luck."

     "He said his team cut him.  What's ‘cut'?"

     "His minor-league team, the Raleigh Rebels, they let him go."

     "They didn't want to play with him anymore?"

     "Yeah.  Basically."

     "Some times you can be good," Jake said.  "Then you turn bad, huh?"

     "Yeah, sometimes it works that way." 

     Now, as we're still waiting for Lon to come back out of the house, Jake returns the baseball cards to his book bag and pulls out a pad of paper.  "Wanta see my pictures for Thanksgiving?"

     "Sure.  It'll be Thanksgiving next week, won't it?"

     "Yeah," he says.

     "Before you know it Santa Claus will be coming." 

     Jake says something, but I'm not listening.  I'm thinking

about what I'll do on Thanksgiving Day.  I'll drive my '54 Dodge pickup over to the state home and have some pumpkin pie with Nick.  I'll walk into Nick's room with my arms open, and I'll hug him, and Nick will hug me back hard and say, "Squirrel!"  Or, "Big!" 

     I will say to Nick, "How you been, son?"

     Nick will say, "Dog!"  Or, "Bear!"

     Nick is getting lines in his face and gray hairs at his temples.  His watery brown eyes are always bloodshot.

     Jake shows me a picture of a turkey he drew and colored, then a picture of a pilgrim, then a crowded picture full of people sitting at a long table.  "That's us," Jake says.  "That's Mort and Suzy and Mom and Lon and me and my dad and my stepmom Lucy.  Dad and Lucy won't really eat with us, but my teacher said to put my whole family in the picture." 

     Mort and his girlfriend are drawn as being skinny as stick figures.  They both appear to be eating corn on the cob or have large yellow noses.  Chachi has an oversized head on a long neck and is not quite as skinny as Mort and Suzy.  She has a big grin with big teeth and gigantic green eyes.  The plate in front of her has only a couple of green sticks on it because she's a vegetarian.  Lon has thick arms but a smaller head than Chachi's.  He's wearing a baseball cap and eating a drumstick the size of a baseball bat.  Jake has drawn himself as a tiny creature trying to stuff into his mouth a pumpkin pie bigger than his head.  Jake's father is a black-bearded giant with an entire turkey in front of him.

     "Is that a shirt?" I ask, pointing at the torso of Jake's father.

     "That's hair."

     "He's not wearing a shirt?"

     "No."

     Jake's father has hair sprouting out of his shoulders like weeds.  His wife is big, too, has yellow hair, and is frowning. 

     "Lucy doesn't look happy," I say.

     "She's never happy.  People make her nervous.  Especially kids."

     "Oh."

     "The teacher gave me a gold star on the turkey picture I drew.  See?"

     "It's a good turkey.  You're a real good drawer."

     I give the turkey picture a long look to demonstrate my appreciation of it.  Then I look at the family picture again, notice Jake's arm overlaps Lon's a little.  There's a good half inch between Jake and his father.  From what I've gathered listening to Jake and to Chachi's spare remarks, the boy's  father is a junk dealer and moonshiner around Athens , makes deliveries of "party supplies" to fraternity houses at Ohio University .

     At school, Jake brags about who his stepdad is although none of the other kids have ever heard of Lon.  Jake tells them that Lon used to be famous, that at the high school there is still a picture of him in one of the trophy cases in the lobby.  Lon and I took him to the high school one day, but Lon's picture was gone.  It had been in a silver frame, I told Jake, as we stood in front of the trophy cases, searching for it.  I said, "Lon had on a big grin, and his eyes were squinted, and he looked like he was twelve years old." 

     Lon walked back and forth along the long cases, peering in, his face reflected darkly in the glass.  Finally, he turned toward the lobby doors and said, "Maybe it's been moved or it's getting cleaned or repaired or something." 

     Jake said, "Maybe they put it in a safe 'cause it's worth so much."

     "Could be," I said.

 

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