I don’t ever recall going back and deleting a previous entry. I thought about yanking the last one since it sounded whiney, and not a little too self absorbed.
But that ain’t the way we do it around here. We yelp and hoot and let the chips fall where they may. Given enough time to consider we might say nothing at all. But once said it stands.
I say “we”, since of course I’m referring to Ally and myself. The A Team. She came home from work a few nights ago, sliding the big car in just after I had dismounted the work van.
“You know, I really don’t feel like cooking. Let’s go, I‘m buyin‘” she said. And there was no argument from me. Wife who likes to buy you dinner and all, who am I to complain?
In terms of pure escapism it was lovely, to sit at the bar section of a local eatery and take knife in hand to saw at a steak, watching the news on the TV overhead and smile at each other a lot. The food was good, the bartender wasn’t busy and we were able to lighten each others mood just by being in the same space together. The way it always seems to work. The solidarity of an A Team with a lot of years in the rear view, a bunch of highs and lows.
“Brunch last Sunday was good, wasn’t it?” she said over a forkful of pasta. “Ought to do that again every month. You like to cook. Get the kids together and let ‘em get their feed on.” It was true. Brunch had been pretty casual.
I called it as a summit meeting, with eggs.
Beth came, the eldest with her good job and new apartment, and Maggie the Middlest with her plump bellyful of grandson. Ben needed no urging, since he lived just down the hallway from the dining room, and wafted in on the aroma of a pack and a half of bacon in the skillet.
Your average Sunday brunch with Outfoxed is an embarrassment of food. I pile it on, and maybe it’s meant as a distraction, something to overwhelm, because I knew they were wondering why.
Why they’d been summoned. Maggie gave me the raised eyebrow and the “What’s up?” about halfway through but I waved her off, in the middle of a small skirmish with the hash browns. It could wait. Even as the ancient Labrador was waiting, stretched long at my feet under the table and waiting for an errant crumb to fall.
And then yesterday, when the green came back to Swampville all at once. When you look out at a 6 am lawn with a fresh coating of rain and realize, as you do every year, that you do indeed live very low on the land. The azaleas, the dogwoods. The grass runs thick and the green gets mixed with the yellow pollen falling from trees and the rain starts making the whole mix into a jungle like affair. You see a version of that when you watch the Masters on TV, and see that Augusta has a bit of the swamp in it too, maybe just edged and trimmed a bit better.
But I had to go to work on Saturday and leave all that greenery. Sometimes putting in the hours for the Man means doing that, driving away from the trees that drop a quarter inch of yellow pollen on the van and streak the windshield with a glaze. So I worked the City for 5 hours, made my appearance so to speak. By noon the van was ready to leave, I’d done as much damage as could be expected and a cold one was in order.
Somehow the van wound up at the Watering Hole. I don’t know, the Hole and I haven’t been on the best of terms these last few weeks. I don’t have the time for it, the old time bar crew is changing over to a different breed, it doesn’t have the feeling that it once did. Ally cheers this in an offhand way. Getting me out of there and into a quiet world, wresting the lure of assholia and pin pricking the belly that stores beer like a two legged camel.
But Saturday noontime is a good time at the Hole, when the old boys wander in and the kids know to stay away. The sun was shining, the front door chocked with a barstool, and the lads were already in grumbling form and celebrating old times that never were times at all.
And they were very loving to see me, and called me “Shithead!” and “Fuckstick!” and wondered “Where the hell ya been?” as a longneck slid neatly into place for me. The Hole can be a fine thing when the talk is flowing and the bottles are exchanged with the regularity of pistons tapping on a scarred oak engine, and a bemused bartender with kids of her own listens to her charges grow melancholy over green lawns and golf clubs.
My phone was jingling before I even sipped at the second beer and I saw Ally’s name on the screen. Strange, that. Ally rarely calls during the day, we agree that we are grown and able to fend for ourselves, and know of a time when there were no cell phones to intrude and bother. But I surely answered.
“What’s up, baby?”
She was a bit labored, a bit strained. “I’m thinking I need to get to a doctor,” she whispered. “I think it’s in my kidneys . . .”
I could hear the pain, and the bar fell away from me. “When honey, how bad?”
“Since this morning, and I called the insurance and they said . . .Oh I need to go. I’m getting my keys.”
“You’re not. I’m coming now, just stay put for five minutes.”
She could hear the crew in the background and knew where I was. “You don’t have to leave, it’s fine. I can drive . . .” and just kinda let it linger there.
“Stay. I’m out, right now.”
And I left a ten to soak under half a beer and had a word with the oldest of the crew, and he nodded with wide eyes, because he knows Ally well and loves her, and shooed me to the door with a murmured “Go, go now!”
The clouds in Swampville do strange things sometimes, and quickly. They pass over land that becomes progressively lower as they glide to the east and the sea, they seem to clump and gather as if bumping into an unseen border and when enough of them gather at the edge of the ocean they turn dark with rain. It is a regular thing when the weather turns warm here.
Ally was busy filling out forms on a brisk looking hospital clipboard as I sat next to her, half watching the scratching of a pen and half absorbing a paperback snatched from the house. From time to time her eyes would close, the pen stopped in mid-word, and she would stretch with a moan as if to pull a pain from somewhere deep and cast it out. The waiting room was mechanically cheerful, the admitting nurse a motionless study in the blandness of formica and oversized computer printers.
I have no idea how long this went on, a hundred pages of a paperback isn’t much of a measure of time for me. Not when my wife is stiffening every twenty pages or so. But the call came, and we rose to enter the single door to the work area.
“Why don’t you wait outside,” Ally offered. “I’ll be along directly.” She knows me and my loathing of places such as this. “You can sit in the car and smoke and read your book in peace.”
Maybe it was selfish of me, but I was all for the idea.
There was a wind blowing across the hospital parking lot, a wind I know well from years around here, that warmish sort of breeze that blows the rain from the clouds for an hour or so. It started not long after I popped the car door and settled in to make smoke curl around the window and doze against the tall seat, occasionally turning pages without seeing any words.
I dreamed, I suppose, in a warm breezy way. I watched the rain splotch the yellow pollen dust on the hood and wash off the side, a fertile river making the parking lot into a swamp all its own, a yellow and green scum lapping at a hundred tires. I dreamed of the body of my wife and how it had been cut upon, tinkered with like some errant machine over the years. Spinal discs to be hacked at, an appendix taken away, breasts sliced for cancerous sludge, three children passing through. A leg and forehead scarred by an encounter with an eighteen wheeler. Infections and severe migraines. I heard the words of one doctor, not long ago, when he commented that “She’s one tough Georgia mule, Outfoxed. I don’t see many women with the variety of problems she’s gone through. One tough lady, there.” And he was being kind and I could not help but agree.
I dreamed of her mother, who might have 6 weeks of life left on this earth, the cancer eroding a spirit and body with relentless efficiency.
I dreamed of brunch with the kids last week, and how we told them of their grandmother, and how they might want to visit as often as possible, that there was no tomorrow, here.
How Ally was working less, taking large chunks of the day to sit with her mother and listen to a lifetime in story as the two of them watched spring come to Swampville from a second story window, that it would be the last spring for her mom. That they had a tearful laugh that this year, at least, there would be no complaints of the humidity of summer they had always shared, for summer was a far away thing, and spring would have to do.
I slept with eyes half opened and thought of a grandson in July, and Maggie growing large with him by the day, and the sweetness of her face when told of her grandmother, that moments with her would matter, and a dying hand would caress a smock stretched taut with life and know, that this might be as close as was possible to seeing the life within.
I thought long on my wife inside the dull building nearby.
And a year or more went by before she tapped on my window and startled me awake, and I yanked the lock to the passenger door so she could get in. I should have helped her. She was too quick for me, and left me babbling.
“So? Did they find something? Are you okay?”
She reclined the seat as far as practical and grimaced. “Gave me a pill to take, and a prescription. Said I probably ought to be in a hospital bed, bad kidney infection. Bed rest and pills.” She looked a little disgusted. “I knew that part going in, I get to pay them for the obvious? And there‘s stuff to do, and Mom . . .”
“Did they say what caused it?” I’m ignorant medically, and like to know causes, and put into terms that would appeal to a carpenter. Wet studs and mouldy drywall, structural problems. That sort of thing.
She gave me a wan smile. “Plumbing, honey. It’s a plumbing problem, okay?”
I don’t know plumbing. Plumbing is all a mystery.
“Ah. Okay. Need anything?”
“Food. I need food to go with this pill,” and she waved a lone lozenge with the same enthusiasm one might see when handling a used bus ticket. “No Chinese, no fish.”
“Burgers then,” I said, looking at her in the way we solve things pressing like this. “A burger and some fries, yes?”
“Righto,” she sighed.
And the rain had stopped and a hint of sun was peeking again. I splashed the car through a half dozen sizable yellow ponds of pollen water, turned right at the light and flipped sunglasses on, so that the blue Oakleys would shield me from anything bright and harmful.
Ally looked through a spotted window and watched for azaleas. They bloom wonderfully in April, around here. They run wild with life and color before the heat takes them, and leave you waiting, and wanting more.
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