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

 

 

FOURTEEN

  

     In the moving van on the way to Rose's house, Lon says, "Fo, you feel okay?"

     Snow is coming down so hard we can barely see the end of the truck's hood.  We creep along.  "Sure.  I'm fine."

     "You were in the bathroom a long time."

     "I called Nick."

     "Your son?"

     "Yeah."

     Lon gives me a funny look, but doesn't say anything else.  

     Jake says, "How old is your little boy?"

     I smile.  "He's not little.  He's older than Lon."

     "Is he married?"

     "No."

     "Where does he live?"

     "He lives in a hospital."

     "Is he sick?"

     "In a way."

     "Is he hooked to tubes and stuff?"

     "No, he just needs somebody to watch him so he doesn't hurt himself."

     "Why don't you watch him?"

     "His mother and I did until he was a teenager.  But his doctors said it'd be better for him to go to the hospital to live."

     "Don't you miss him?"

     "Yeah.  I miss him."

     Jake looks at Lon.  "You wouldn't put me in a hospital, would you?"

     "No."

     "That's good."

     I look at Jake.  

     "I don't miss my real dad."

     Lon turns onto a tree-lined street.  Oaks and maples create the effect of driving through a tunnel, make a canopy of black, bare limbs dusted with snow.  The small houses all have swaying, empty porch swings.  I breath slowly and deeply.  My mouth has dried up.  Thoughts of Nick race from my mind.  Now it's Rose I'm thinking about again. 

     Forty years.  No.  Twenty-five really.  Twenty-five years since the last time she spoke to me.

     I shut my eyes, feel the moving van slowing down.  Then it stops. 

     When I open my eyes, I'm looking at Rose's house.  Its yellow paint is cracked and flaking.  The roof is missing shingles.  The chimney is missing bricks.  The empty porch swing squeaks as it sways in the wind.

     Lon is out of the moving van, talking to Rose's daughter, Rosebud.  Rosebud is standing at the curb next to her Olds 98.  She is stout and has on a black coat and a black hat with a veil.  The strands of hair showing beneath the hat are orange.  Her hair was blonde in the color newspaper picture I saw of her last year when she was elected president of the local chapter of The Daughters of the American Revolution.

     I say to Jake, "I guess we can get out."  I help Jake down from the cab.  I step around a rotting tree stump and approach Lon and Rosebud.

     "Well, ma'am, we'll get done fast as we can," Lon is saying.  He's holding a fat roll of plastic garbage bags.  He nods toward me.  "This is my helper, Fowood Anderson."

     She looks me up and down, gives me a quick little nod.  I wonder whether she heard my name when she was little, my name murmured in longing or cursed.  I look for Rose in Rosebud's face, see a suggestion of Rose in her small chin and the shape of her lips.  Rose doted over her, seemed to love her as much as any mother loves her child.  People were surprised when Rose didn't fight the reverend for custody, but people also said, "Well, but how could she?  After what all . . . ?  Even with a judge on her side."

     Lon is saying, "And this is my step-son, Jake.  Jake will help out a lot."

     She glances at Jake, then looks back at me, squints.  She has Rodney's heavy jowls.

     Rosebud says to Lon, "Everything in the house is trash to be disposed of, except for the furniture, which I want moved to the Methodist church's basement to save for our next rummage sale."

     "Yes, ma'am."

     I look at the house, wonder whether Rose is inside, maybe still packing things.  Or maybe I missed her. 

     "Your mama moving in with you, ma'am?" I ask.

     She looks at me, furrows her brow.  "No.  She--"  Rosebud looks at Lon, turns, and gets into her car.

     The Olds 98 starts up with a tremble, and white smoke plumes from the tail pipe, and then the big car pulls away slowly from the curb like a boat setting off from shore.  I watch it go down the street. 

     I say, "Did I say something wrong?"

     Lon says, "Oh, I should of told you, Fo--the old woman that lived here--this lady's mother--died a couple of days ago."

 

 

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