Friday, December 21, 2012

Chapter 14 / Blizzard

“The babe,” says Andrew with a shrug, continuing his report. “I got lucky—the next song was a slow one, and I threw myself into Annie’s arms. Really. I wanted to see what it felt like. It felt—” Good. “Normal. And I am not blowing this, the first night, for some guy’s wife.” He laughs briefly, at himself. “See how well I’m taking the meds.” 

“Beautifully,” says Warren. 

“OK. Annie forgave me for sounding patronizing, and we stayed for the second set. They did some great covers—‘Respect,’ that kind of thing. And the lead singer—Viki—would say something like, OK, now Tommy’s gonna help us on this number, and some contractor in a T-shirt who’d been dancing his ass off would stand with her at the microphone and belt it out, pitch perfect. And I thought, that’s what I want to do. 

“At the break we went back out for air. And discovered that the little roadhouse, with its tiny, steamed-up windows, was in the middle of a blizzard. You couldn’t see the other side of the road. 

“Shit, said Annie. We’d better go, she said, apologetic, as if I were going to argue. She drives a Honda hatchback the size of rickshaw. It’s good in snow, she said of the car. And she’s a good driver, she uses the shift, the mirrors. I manned the towel on the windshield. We hadn’t gone more than a few miles—we were starting back over the mountain—when we came upon a dead deer stretched across our lane. I expected her to duck into the other lane, around it, but if we skidded, we were dead, so she stopped. An SUV chugged by us, spraying snow, half burying the deer. 

“We should move it, said Annie, sounding apologetic again.

“Stay in the car, I said, as if I knew what I was doing.

“Be careful she said, and just as I got out there, in my loafers, a big pickup stopped behind us. A young guy got out—need some help, he said. Sure do, I said, feeling right in the middle of Prairie Home Companion. We each grabbed a back leg of the deer and dragged it off the road. Ten-point buck, he said, dusting off the head. You want it?

“Was he crazy? It must have weighed as much as her car. 

“You guys OK? called Annie.

“He wants to know if you want the deer, I said into the car window. 

“No, she said, as if it were a normal question. He can take it. You might help him put it in the truck. 

“He had a tarp for the truck bed, which was covered with snow anyway, and we slung the deer onto it. There was hardly any blood—the thing died of a broken back—but I did have a flash, just a second, even in the snow and with my neck soaking wet, of piling the bodies into Carlos’s pickup as fast as we could, of trying to get away with our dead and wounded so they wouldn’t get their balls cut off—but I took a deep breath and looked at the kid in front of me, no beard, a contractor in training, took care of his truck, and I said thanks, thanks for stopping, and he said no problem, and we headed for our vehicles. 

“Annie leaned out her window and called to the kid, we’re going to need a push. He waved OK, and when our tires spun, he came up behind us and, very gently, pushed us. Where the deer had been, the snow wasn’t so deep, so she got some traction and we roared up the hill in first gear, the kid behind us, ready to push.

“After what felt like five minutes, we got to the top and started down, and she gave a huge sigh, like expelling a balloon full of tension. 

“You all right? I said. 

“She nodded, her eyes on the road. She was thinking, hard, and then I remembered. Her house was about 15 minutes from here, on a dry day. My hotel was 15 minutes past that, same dry day. Tonight, we were looking at an hour to the hotel and then a half-hour for her to get back home. Alone. It was one o’clock, and snowing. 

“Listen, I said, I’ll sleep in the car. I’ll sleep on the porch. I’ll sleep in the doghouse. We can’t go back to Schuyler. 

“It might not be so bad there, she said, closer to the river. Lower elevation. But we have to decide before the parkway. I’m afraid I won’t be able to get up my hill, but if we take the parkway, then we can come at the house from the other direction, down the hill. 

“I vote parkway, I said. 

“Me too, she said.  Miserably. She didn’t want me at her house. She wanted to be by herself, she didn’t want to worry about some mental case in the attic. And I would spend the whole night thinking about not jumping her. But we couldn’t go back to Schuyler.

On the parkway, we came up behind a plow and followed it. Fifteen miles an hour, for five miles, but our path was clear, we could relax a little, until her road, which hadn’t been plowed. Someone had been through, a bigger car, but she had traction on one side so we inched down the hill, slithered into the driveway.  

“Her house is small and painted in the colors of Mexico. The dog is weird . . . like having a small fox in the house. Chloe. Apparently Chloe had never expected to see Annie alive again. Chloe sat down, pointed her nose at the ceiling, and howled. I thought, maybe I will sleep in the car. 

“Do you want a cup of tea, Annie asked. In the kitchen light her eyes looked burned out, with dark circles under them, and what I wanted was to sit her on my lap, but also I wanted her to stop doing things for me, so I said I would make her a cup of tea. 

“She took the dog out into the yard. There was a red teakettle on the stove, so I put some water in it and turned on the gas. It looked safe enough, so I went outside with them. Annie was shoveling a little path in the yard, toward a bird feeder, so Chloe could get out there and squat. Then she came back onto the deck and stood with me under the roofed part by the door. Everything—bird feeder, fence, trees—was larger than life, rounded up with snow, which was still falling, with a kind of hissing, breathing sound. 

“Again, except for the snow, the place felt as remote as a house on the outskirts of a Cuscutlano mountain village. Facing west, we couldn’t see any other houses. There was no sound except for the snow, and the only light came from the house. We stood farther apart than we’d been all night. She was as skittish as the dog, which was now hopping through the snow, looking for mice, I guess. I had a cigarette and we watched the snow change the planet. 

“Back inside, the dog was still wired. I was pouring water over a tea bag and Annie was moving something in the living room. OK, Chloe! she said, and the dog started running. Annie’s bedroom is in back of the living room, and the dog ran in from the bed, through the living room, through an orange plastic Hula Hoop Annie was holding, then around a rocking chair and back toward the bedroom. I had been going to ask her why she kept a Hula Hoop next to the fireplace tongs. She was smiling at the dog and saying, good dog, Chloe, good girl!

“Chloe did it again. Bed-door-hoop-rocker, 40 miles an hour, with this completely demented look on her face. 

“Do you want your tea? I said. 

“Come in for a minute and stand over there, she said. 

“So I stood near the alcove where Annie has her desk. And Chloe did it again, Annie raising the hoop a little and cheering her on, as if the dog had done something wonderful. At first Chloe wouldn’t go near me. She reached the end of her run, panted a little, looked at me. Get Andy! said Annie, and Chloe ran away from us entirely, back to the bedroom, where she turned around on the bed three times in about three seconds, a fox dervish, then charged back out to the living room. This time she tapped my foot with her paw before she ran away. 

“So I became part of the course. Chloe did this four more times, Annie cheering her on, raising the hoop, me not saying anything, not wanting my voice to throw the dog off, Chloe jumping through the hoop, tapping my foot, circling around Annie to race back into the bedroom, turn circles on the bed, and so on. It was two o’clock in the morning. Finally Chloe stopped, panting, her sides heaving, then drank about a quart of water.” 

“What were you thinking while the dog ran around?” asks Warren, sounding genuinely curious. 

“—Not much. Well . . . I was glad when Annie told me to stand near the desk. Made me part of the game. The dog was funny, and Annie was smiling, not looking so worn out. Out of the snowstorm, in a tiny house with two skittish females . . . I guess I was happy.”

Copyright © Debby Mayer

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chapter 13 / Dancing

“When she said yes, we could meet for lunch Saturday in Schuyler, I was  . . . pleased. It was a date! I got my hair cut. 

“After lunch, when I asked her if she’d show me around the city and she said sure, I felt lucky. 

“But when I asked her, what do you do here at night? and she said, do you like to dance? I turned to milk. I was hers.”

Andrew is telling Warren, his psychiatrist, about his visit with Annie. He often talks to Warren in stories. They both know he’s distancing himself from his life that way, but the fact that he talks at all about his feelings is a breakthrough, and so they made a deal: he can tell stories as long as each word is absolutely true. 

“After that,” says Andrew, “we lived a whole life in 24 hours. Everything but sex,” he adds quickly, looking Warren in the eye, for they sit facing each other in two slightly, but not completely, comfortable chairs, and he wants Warren to know that he has found a person, not a new receptacle. 

“She dropped me off at the other hotel in town, the one that isn’t a welfare hotel, and went back to her house to take care of the dog. I got a room and then I walked around, bought a toothbrush, a razor.” 

“You had your meds?” Warren’s voice is just audible, more an afterthought in the narrative than a question.  

“I had my meds,” says Andrew. “I took each pill the second I was supposed to.” He pauses. “I had figured to keep things spontaneous by not bringing a toothbrush, but I was not going to have to go home because of those fucking pills. 

“Anyway, then I sat in a little park across the street from the hotel and had a cigarette. It was cold, but I figured I could last long enough for a butt. 

“During that time—the length of one cigarette—a black Isuzu Trooper, with Bronx plates, coupla dudes in the front seats, passed me twice, and another guy, in a gray hooded sweatshirt, found reason to walk through the park twice. No one made eye contact. We just knew we were there, me sitting, like someone who might be waiting for something, them casing me, trying to figure out if I were undercover, or, better, maybe needed something. 

“A small rat popped out of his hole and ran across the street, and I thought, this place is OK. No way can you think you’re in East Hampton, or northwestern Connecticut. In fact, even though the light was wrong, and the temperature about 40 degrees too low, there was something about the place that reminded me of towns in Cuscutlan. I could have been sitting in the plaza in San Pedro, or Maria-Teza. The level of traffic, the guys who wanted to sell me something, even the hotel, which was nice enough but two years late in replacing its carpets. 

“For dinner we drove east out of the city, then north to a roadhouse that had revamped its menu so I could get a steak while she got fish. She knew people there—an older guy, a doctor, and his wife stopped by our table, and later a couple of guys. She introduced me.” 

“Everybody’s checking you out,” she said. Sly smile was like a wink.

“Who are they?” I asked. 

“The Bennetts are part of our Amistad group; Tom and Bruce I know from church.” 

“Church, I said. 

"She nodded. I go to church. The Episcopal church, in Schuyler.

“I said, can we talk about church another time, and again she said sure, as if . . . it was easy.” 

He pauses, decides he doesn’t need to tell Warren every single detail, like the sweet way her top lip draws over her teeth when she smiles.

“To go dancing," he says, "we drove south again and then east, over a mountain lit up for night skiing, to our second roadhouse of the evening. She said leave your jacket in the car, and we trotted up to the little red door through a snow shower.” He pauses again, watching them in his mind’s eye. 

“Inside, the place was packed. There were tables along one wall, but they were filled, and everyone else was just milling, while the band set up. I got her a beer and me a ginger ale, but that was just a courtesy—the bartender would have never known we were there. 

“Again she knew people, nodding, saying hi. 

“Who are these people? I asked her. 

“The guy over there is on the town board of a town I cover for the paper, she said. He’s a contractor. Probably most of the guys here are contractors. That woman—she nodded toward a babe in a tank top—used to be a friend. She’ll hit on you before the end of the first set. 

“Did she hit on Ed? I asked and she started a little smile, like a wink, but at that second there was motion at the door, and everyone turned. The singer was there, she was going enter from the front door. She waited until everybody quieted down, and then she sang—"

For this part Andrew gets up—since he can’t smoke during the sessions, he is allowed to move around—

“O-per-a-tor”—he stands up straight and extends his arms, palms out. He has a good baritone, and he gives the word everything the singer did, figuring no one is in the waiting room yet. “She holds that for about a minute Warren, honest, then—

“Give me, in-for-ma-tion

“and then the band starts up—she’s got this amazing blind piano player—and the two backup chicks start their thing behind her, and they all wiggle up to the stand, everybody making room for them. And there we are, in the middle of nowhere. Dancing our butts off, to music that rocks. To gospel words.

“Think white soul, Warren. She’s one of these little bullet-shaped women with a nose like a pug who can really belt it out.” 

He sits again. Warren waits, quiet, as dark as Andrew is blond. In more than 200 sessions, Andrew has never told a story like this.  

“Annie’s a good dancer, and I brought back my Cuscutlano dancing, but kept it clean. The babe did come over—peck on Annie’s cheek, then, to me, May I have this dance. Where’s Tony? says Annie, and the babe says, home with the kid. We never go out together.” 

She tugged me so she could whisper in my ear. Don’t forget who’s takin’ you home. 

Take me home, and I’ll never forget it. 

At the break we went outside so I could have a cigarette. It was snowing a little, but it didn’t look dangerous. People were lighting up and laughing and talking. I said to her, so is this what people do when they’re happy. 

“She’d understood everything I had said until then. But now she looked at me with her eyes narrowed and said, What do you mean?

“I mean, I wouldn’t know unless you told me. I mean, this is the best thing that’s happened to me in five years. That’s all I mean.” 

“What have you told her,” asks Warren, emphasizing the have

“She knows about the meds. I told her Sunday. Whether she understands the total bionic nature of my new emotional state, I don’t know. But she may. And she read my book, Warren, remember? When. It. Came. Out. I should fall in love with her for that alone. But anyway, she knows that stuff, like what a dork I can be. 

“So. Subjects still to be covered—” he looks Warren in the eye—“Molly. Jail. Hospital. Girls.”

Girls? Warren’s eyebrows go up microscopically. Andrew resists, unblinking, as firmly as if they were arm wrestling. “I’ll say prostitute when I tell her,” he says. 

Warren nods slightly.

“I have to tell her everything?”

Warren is startled, gives a slight shrug. 

“OK,” says Andrew. They have worked together long enough for him to expect an answer that’s a question. What do you want? It depends on what you want.  

“You haven’t heard about the blizzard and the dead deer,” says Andrew.

“Or what happened to the babe in the tank top,” says Warren.

Copyright © Debby Mayer