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  • Safe Harbors 6

     riva pomerantz updated 6 months ago 4Members · 4 Posts
  • Jane Whittier

    Member
    July 12, 2020 at 6:55 pm

    Chapter 6

    Intensive Care

     

    Grandma told them to come to the waiting room of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. They found her slumped in a chair, looking very old.  “They put him on a monitor and gave him clot-busting drugs. When he regained consciousness, he seemed very uneasy, so they sedated him. The cardiologist will be along in a while to discuss treatment options.”

    “Mom, I’m going to get you a bottle of water,” said Uncle Jerome. “You look exhausted.”

    “Thank you, Jerome, please do that. It’s the adrenalin wearing off. Eddie, come sit next to me.”

    “Can’t this talk wait, Grandma?” Eddie asked, as Jerome went off to look for a vending machine. “You look awful.”

    “Right now I am only going to talk about the next two or three days. Can you stay wherever you usually stay and do whatever you usually do for that long?”

    “Yeah, I guess.  I usually spend the morning hours in the treehouse, and it is a little dangerous with the railing down. Starting in the middle of the afternoon, I have work.”

    “I’ll have Jerome replace the railing. I need Bob to speak to the cardiologist, and once Bob knows that Grandpa is sick, your mother has to be told.” Uncle Bob was a medical doctor and a professor in a medical school in Atlanta. “They will both want to come, but right in the middle of the semester, I doubt they can stay long.” Jerome showed up with the bottle of water for his mother, and handed the bag of food and a Coke to Eddie. Grandma took a long drink of the water and said, “Thank you, Jerome.”

    “You need to get some rest, Mom,” said Jerome. “This has taken a lot out of you.”

    “Right.  After we speak to the cardiologist, if your father’s condition is stable, I will go home for a nap and you can take over here.  Right now, Eddie is going back into the woodwork until things calm down. I want you to take Eddie back and arrange some way to communicate with him.  Also, put the railing back on the treehouse.”

    “It will be harder to put back than it was to knock down, but I’ll try.  Come on, Buddy.”

    As the exited from the elevator, Eddie cleared his throat. “Uh, Uncle Jerome, I need some help.”

    “If I can, I’ll do it.”

    “Well, when I left New York, I took some money from my mother’s purse, even though I had promised I wouldn’t.  I had to use some of it for travel, and for clothes.  I found out that nobody will hire a boy who looks too scruffy. So I keep trying to make it up so that I can send it back, but things kept coming up.  I needed a tent, and a sleeping bag, and a poncho.”

    “How much do you have?”

    “Three hundred and sixty.”

    “Okay, you keep the sixty for emergencies.  I will add two hundred and send the whole sum back.  Then you can pay off the two hundred, twenty dollars at a time.  I might even have work for you, stripping down used cars I buy.”

    “I think I’m probably going to be moving on, to Georgia or Florida or something.  It’s beginning to get cold at night.  I was trying to hold on till Thanksgiving, to see Alice and Danvir at least from the edge of the woods.”

    “Your call.  There is a post office on the next block which also sells envelopes.  Give me the three hundred and I will mail the whole thing now.”

    Eddie pulled out from his sweatshirt his small fake leather change purse, hung by the metal keyring on a cord around his neck. He unsnapped the compartment that held his bills and pulled out the three crisp bills that his mother had gotten from an ATM machine the day before he left.  “Here,” he said, handing it over.

    “The postage will be on me.  You should put in a note. Take a piece of paper from the bottom of Dad’s pad. Here’s a pen.”

    Eddie scribbled, “Don’t look for me. Eddie.”

    “Is that the best you can do?  Dad did better when he was in the middle of having a heart attack.” Jerome pointed to Grandpa’s farewell message on the top of the pad. Eddie dutifully squeezed in a “Love,” in front of his name. Jerome walked into the post office, and Eddie sat watching him, wondering what his parents would say when they got the letter.

    When they got back to Grandma’s, Eddie brought tools and held up boards while Jerome banged the railing to the treehouse back in.  They stopped at a cellphone store and Jerome bought Eddie a prepaid cell phone with charger.  “On Grandma.”

    “Not many sockets in the woods,” Eddie pointed out.

    “Yes, but there is one on the back porch. Also, one of your employers might let you recharge there.”

    “True,” agreed Eddie. He took the phone and put it in his pocket.

    He had Jerome let him off a couple of blocks from his first job.  His mother used to talk about the importance of keeping work and family separate. Of course, she meant not letting problems at work interfere with family life.  Nor was she all that good at sticking to it.

    Eddie scuffed his way through the dead leaves piled up on the walkway, bent to pick up the packages on the front stoop, and rang the bell. The sound echoed through the big house.  Pug and Princess, the two Pekinese, started yipping loudly, eager to be released from captivity. The spy hole darkened and the ritual of opening all the different locks began, as Eddie shifted from foot to foot impatiently. The door swung open, releasing a puff of dusty air laden with the smell of mothballs, coming from the long skirt of his employer. Coming in from the afternoon sun, it was hard for his eyes to adjust to the dim light of the entryway, but he couldn’t open his mouth until he was sure which of the two Watson sisters had unlocked the door. “Afternoon, Miss Selma.”  Miss Watson, the older sister, was always grumpy if he called her sister Miss Watson. Once she even docked his pay.

    Pug and Princess danced around his legs and he scratched them both behind their ears.   He carried in the Meals on Wheels and set them on the kitchen table, taking the two leashes from their hook near the back door. “Anything to do outside?” he asked.

    “Rake up some of the leaves and take them out to the street,” said Miss Selma.

    “I’ll need the key to the gate,” said Eddie, “and a couple of large garbage bags.”

    “Oh, dear,” muttered Miss Selma.

    “In the second drawer from the left, with the tin foil.  Remember, I bought you some the first time you wanted me to rake leaves.”

    Miss Selma shook her head.  Probably didn’t remember. She opened the second drawer from the right, which contained silverware. Pug and Princess were standing next to the back door, yapping in anticipation.  Eddie snapped on the two leashes and wound the ends around his left hand, anxious to get out of the musty kitchen.  When Miss Selma turned back to him with a look of perplexity, he pointed to the correct drawer and she got him the bags.  He took the key to the gate from a nail near the back door.

    The shadow of the tall old house covered much of the yard already. Eddie took a few deep breaths, to get the dust of the house out of his lungs. The bark-stripped stakes of the high fence were pointed at the top like a frontier palisade and as densely packed together.  Eddie walked the two lapdogs around the perimeter twice until they had both done their business.  He unfastened the confining leashes and let the dogs run free as he got the rake out of the shed and began raking the brittle leaves toward the gate.  When the red, orange and gold pile was nearly knee height, Eddie put down the rake and went to get the bags from the porch. A noise alerted him and he whirled around to see Pug racing across the yard, the white tip of his tail waving like a plume. Pug jumped into the middle of the pile, turning over on his back, wiggling every which direction, the flying leaves snapping and crackling. Princess came trotting along and jumped on top of Pug.

    “Pug! Princess! All my work!” Eddie shouted in frustration.

    The Pekinese burrowed under the leaves, tails drooping, and lay still, their brown and gold fur was camouflaged by the brown and gold of the leaves. Eddie stomped over with a deliberately heavy tread, and examined the pile through narrowed eyes for a tell-tale bit of white tail-tip. When he found one, he continued searching until he found a bit of brown fur and then a bright brown eye. He swooped down and snatched up Pug, holding him high in the air.  “Gotcha!” Then he hugged him tight and laid his cheek on the top of Pug’s head, the way Dad used to do to him until Eddie got too old for hugs. Pug, realizing that he was no longer in disgrace, twisted his head around and gave Eddie a sloppy lick on the cheek. Princess crawled out from under the pile and stood on her hind legs, supporting herself by clawing his jeans. “Hey, that hurts, girl.” Eddie set Pug down and picked up Princess to give her the hug she was begging for, getting another sloppy cheek-lick for his pains.

    The part he hated was stuffing the leaves, some of them damp and muddy, into the bags.  The dogs were no more help here than with the raking.  In fact, Pug tried to pounce on one of the bags and ripped a slit in it.  Finally, Eddie got the leashes and fastened Pug and Princess to the porch railing, while he unlocked the gate and took the leaves out to the curb, where he dumped them out into a pile for the town’s suction machine to slurp up. Pug and Princess whined pitifully, but Eddie was without mercy. He refilled the bags and added to the pile in front, relocked the gate and tried his best to clean the mud off his hands, arms and feet.  He got the grooming brush he had bought and brushed the leaves out of the lapdogs’ fur and tail. Finally, he untied the leashes, wiped his sneakers on the mat at the back door, and brought the dogs inside.

    Miss Selma had already been over the meals, picking out what she and her sister might like and putting it in the refrigerator for supper.  They generally ate the salad and cake, leaving the meat and starch for Eddie and the dogs.  When they got back inside, the food was warming in the stove.  The Meals-On-Wheels actually came in microwave safe compartmentalized containers.  But microwaves were too advanced for Miss Watson and Miss Selma, so they wrapped everything in tinfoil and heated it in the oven..

    Eddie had two more dog walking stints before dark, and then he went on to his main job, restocking shelves at the WaWa market in the next community over.

    By the time Eddie got back to Grandma’s house, he saw that lights were blazing on the upper floor hall, with two of the guest bedrooms lit. He went down to his campsite, took his bedroll out from under the concealing leaves, and headed for the tree house.  It was not usually a good place to sleep because of the wind, but tonight he would put up with it. He was, as usual, glad that Bob had put the ladder on the side of the tree away from the house.  Bob had probably also wished to come and go unseen. Eddie was just dropping off to sleep when the back door opened.  Being taken down and put back up had made some small tears in the blanket which screened the interior of the tree house from the back porch and now he put his eye to one of them.  His mother came out, looked up at the sky, and stretched.  Uncle Bob joined her a moment later, flicking on the porch light.

    “Have you figured out exactly what happened when Dad collapsed?  The story Mom tells is not very coherent.”

    “I presume she was in a panic,” said Bob, “To come out and see him lying on the ground must have been a shock.”

    His mother walked out into the yard.  “I see the tire marks of the ambulance, and the wheel marks of the stretcher.”  They were both under the tree now, and Eddie could not see them. “The wheel marks start here, so he must have been lying right under the tree house. I’m surprised Mom didn’t get dirtier.  She must have been kneeling on this damp ground for twenty minutes, before he took over, the way Jerome tells it.”

    Just drop it, Mom! thought Eddie fiercely.  What difference does it make?

    “He must have realized that he was in danger, or he wouldn’t have written that farewell message.”

    “I know,” said his mother.  “I get teary-eyed every time I think of it. LOVE YOU ALL. I wonder if he meant to include Lennie.”

    “I imagine that he meant to include Eddie, too.”

    His mother made no answer to that remark.  She continued to move restlessly around, and then said, “What is this?”

    “What is what?”

    “This piece of paper.” She walked back to the bright circle of light from the porch lamp. “‘Help! Treehouse. Prescott.’ Another message from Dad, but who in the world did he think would read this note and would not see him sprawling on the ground? And if he had all this time to write notes, why not call the house number on his cellphone?”

    “Because the cellphone was in his computer case. Mom told us that. And Jerome said something about the computer and the hydrangea.”

    “But Mom said she got hold Jerome using Dad’s cellphone. How could she go get the computer case from the hydrangea while doing CPR? And why would Dad leave the computer at the hydrangea?”

    Just drop it, Mom!

    Uncle Bob was also losing his temper.  “You have been a mathematician too long, Karen.  You expect to tie everything up neatly, with no loose ends.  Medicine is full of loose ends, and little mysteries to which we will never know that answer.  You aren’t really accusing your mother and brother of doing something improper, are you? They reacted promptly and skillfully to save your father’s life. All this probing of how and why sounds ungrateful, as if you don’t trust them to have done their best.  I’m sure your father did his best too.  You don’t realize how helpless a person is while having a heart attack.”

    “I’m sorry, you’re right, Bob.  I won’t ask them any more questions.” She followed him back into the house, dropping the little slip of paper on the table on the porch.  Eddie almost fainted with relief. Mom was just too smart for everyone else’s good. Here Grandma and Jerome were tying themselves into pretzels to protect him and Mom almost ruined it with her questions. Eddie slid into his bedroll, threw the poncho over the top, and drifted off. As he was fell asleep, he wondered if, indeed, Grandpa had meant him too when he wrote LOVE YOU ALL.

     

    Karen woke up with a feeling of disorientation.  Why was she in a four poster bed? Then she recognized the pineapple carved at the top of each poster.  It was the bed she had slept in as a girl, though it had looked different then.  The bed itself had been in the family for a hundred years, but she had wanted a canopy, the sort they show on the beds of queens.  She and her mother had sewn a white canopy with a scalloped pink border and her father had built a frame to hold it.

    Her father! Her father was in the hospital! Karen sat up abruptly and tried to shake off the last traces of sleep. The cardiologist was doing a balloon angioplasty this morning, and if all went well, he would put in a stent to keep the artery open where it had narrowed. They were taking Dad off the sedative to prepare him for the operation and if she and Bob got there in time, maybe they could speak to him!  Karen grabbed some clothes from her overnight bag and ran for the bathroom to get dressed.

    The four of them, Mom, Bob, she and Jerome, were waiting outside the cardiac ICU by eight in the morning.  The staff would take her father down to be prepped for the operation at nine, so if the family were to see him, it would be one by one over the next hour.  She sat, not speaking, listening to the click of the nurses’ heels on the polished floor, breathing in the smell of antiseptic.

    A nurse at the desk said, “One member of the Prescott family can go in for no more than five minutes.”

    Karen looked at her mother, who shook her head.  “I would rather be last.  You go, Karen.” Karen walked to her father’s room and placed the visitor’s chair at his bedside.  He looked so weak, so unlike her determined, decisive father. His eyes were closed but his eyelids fluttered as she sat down. “It’s me, Dad, Karen.  I flew in from Chicago for the procedure this morning.”

    Her father’s eye opened, but he was looking at the ceiling. Karen took his limp hand between two of hers and squeezed it gently. He wet his lips and cleared his throat. “Where is Eddie?” he asked.

    Oh, no! He’s confused about time.  He doesn’t remember. Usually Karen just ignored mentions of her lost son, but this was her father.  She couldn’t snub him. “Eddie is gone, Dad.  He ran away.” Dad’s eyes closed again and he did not try to say anything else.

    The nurse appeared in the door way to tell Karen that her time was up, with Jerome right behind her.  As she passed her brother, Jerome asked, “How is he?”

    “Tired.  Maybe confused. Don’t expect much.”

    The minutes in the waiting room passed slowly.  Mom had brought her knitting.  Karen did not understand why Mom continued to knit when her children and grandchildren all thought that her sweaters were scratchy. At least it kept her hands busy.  Karen had not tried to bring any of her own work; she had not thought she would concentrate.  Now she was sorry.  She would at least plan the class she had to give tomorrow afternoon.

    But she couldn’t concentrate on anything but the operation. As soon as Mom had called Chicago with the doctor’s recommendation and Bob’s agreement, she had read up on the procedure they were doing now.  She kept picturing the little collapsed balloon inside its sleeve of wire mesh being inserted  through the aorta, threaded through the maze of branching arteries until it came to the constriction which caused the heart attack.  There it would be inflated to compress the fatty lining of the artery and open the stent to the size of the artery.  Then, deflated again, the balloon would be pulled out and the stent would keep the artery open. It was considered a minimally invasive procedure, when compared to open heart surgeries. The whole idea made Karen shudder. That was her father in there.

    The surgeon came out to talk to them after two hours.  “It was entirely routine.  Because of the heart attack, we will keep him connected to a monitor in the ICU for two more days.  Then I highly recommend at least a week of recuperation in a nursing home. You can contact your insurance provider to discuss what they are willing to cover.”

    “I will speak to them,” said Bob.

    “Thank you very much, doctor,” Mom said.  “We were calmer because you were so highly recommended.”

    “Yes, thank you,” chorused Karen and Jerome.

    “You are welcome,” said the doctor, and returned to the operating room area.

    “I don’t care what the insurance people say,” said Mom fiercely to Bob, “I want him to have that week in a nursing home.  As soon as he gets home, he will want to start doing too much. He is not sick very often, but when he is, he is not a good patient.”

    “I agree,” said Bob, “but we don’t have to tell the insurance people that we are willing to pay privately. Let them think that they may be killing him if they don’t cover the cost of the nursing home.”

    “Now, what are your plans?” said Mom, looking at Bob and Karen.

    “I teach tomorrow afternoon.  I had better fly back tonight,” said Karen.

    “I’ll stay one more night,” said Bob.  “I want to talk to the cardiologist and the anesthesiologist tomorrow morning after they have had him under observation all night. I’ll take my bag along to the hospital and get a limousine to the airport from one of the hotels.”

    “One more thing,” said Mom.  “We are not going to have a big family Thanksgiving this year the way we usually do.  Your father will be just home from the nursing home, and he doesn’t need to be pestered by a lot of rambunctious children.”

    “Alice and Danvir are not rambunctious,” protested Karen.  “They read or do school work or play quietly in the yard. They’ve both been looking forward to Thanksgiving.” And they have had a very hard time this fall.

    “I plead guilty for my three.  They are rambunctious,” said Jerome.

    “Mom will be very busy with Dad,” said Bob curtly.  “There is no way that she needs a lot of houseguests.”

    “I hear,” said Karen, with a curt nod of her own.

    Karen did manage to prepare her class on the plane.  When Lennie picked her up at the airport, she asked if he had done any shopping during the two days she had been gone.

    “No, are we missing something?”

    “Just a few small things.  Eggs, milk yogurt, bananas.  Would you be willing to wait in the parking lot while I run into the supermarket?”

    “Sure, just make it snappy.”

    Karen realized that the bananas had been a mistake when she ran into Mrs. Windham in the fruit and vegetable section.  She had seen her there in the past; her neighbor spent a lot of time with the fruits and vegetables, sticking her thumbnail into the apple skins to see how firm they were, massaging the fruits to see is they were ripe, making little dents in the avocadoes.

    “They are still out there every day, muttering their heathenish chants,” said Mrs. Windham. “I see that you sent the punky one away.  Good riddance.”

    Karen clamped her lips together and grabbed the closest bunch of bananas.  At the check-out counter, she saw that the bananas were so green that it would be a week before they ripened, but she would rather put up with that than return to within striking distance of Mrs. Windham’s fangs.  She did not care what the kids were doing in the back yard, meditation or yoga or language lessons or whatever, but the fewer words she said to Mrs. Windham, the less she was exposed to her poison.

    When she and Lennie walked in the door, the kids were jumping up and down with excitement.  Maybe they were just the least little bit rambunctious.  “Mom, Dad, you got a fancy letter.  The UPS man came to the house to deliver it.” Alice handed it to Karen, while Lennie set down her bag at the foot of the stair. It was made out to “Prof. Leonard Takahashi, Prof. Karen Prescott.” There was no return address.

    “Must be an invitation to some dinner honoring someone for something,” said Lennie.

    “By UPS?”

    “Maybe they are expecting us to donate money to some worthy cause, and wanted to make an impression.  They picked the wrong year to invite us. I think you can open it in front of Alice and Danvir.  We don’t have that many secrets from them.”

    Karen yanked on the pull tab to open the envelope, expecting to find a large invitation embossed with gold. At first glance the envelope seemed to be empty.  No one sends an empty envelope by UPS. She turned it upside down and held the top open, shaking it slightly.  Hundred dollar bills drifted down and landed on the carpet. The kids gathered them up and counted them.  “Five hundred dollars,” Alice announced.

    “Five hundred dollars?” asked Karen in shock. They did have some secrets from the children.  They had never told Alice and Danvir that Eddie had stolen five hundred dollars when he ran away.

    Lennie took the envelope and felt around in the bottom. He should have left that for her; her fingers were slimmer. He managed to get hold of something between his second and third fingers and slowly extracted it. “ ‘Don’t look for me.  Love, Eddie’.”

    The children were dancing around in a clockwise circle, clasped right hands high, singing “He’s alive, he’s alive, he’s alive.” Then they switched hands and started dancing around counter-clockwise. Okay, so when provoked they could be more than a little rambunctious.  Lennie, grinning broadly, gave Karen a hug. Karen was the only one not openly rejoicing.  Was she not happy that Eddie was alive?  Well, yes, of course she was.  Alive and not trapped in some horrible form of debt slavery.  Only now, unrestrained by any fear that he was miserable or dead, her anger at Eddie boiled up until it seemed that it would be difficult to restrain herself from slamming a door or breaking something. “Kids, have you eaten? I woke up at six, Eastern Standard Time, and I’m not sure I can deal with making supper.”

    “Yes, we had frozen pizza that I warmed up in the microwave.  Dad said he would eat with you because he wanted to hear about Grandpa’s operation.”

    “Right.  Grandpa’s operation.  The surgeon said it went well, but Grandpa needs nine days to recuperate.  Grandma is canceling Thanksgiving.”

    “Can she do that?” asked Danvir.  “Doesn’t Congress decide on holidays?”

    “She’s not cancelling Thanksgiving for the entire United States, silly, just for our family,” said Alice. “We are not going to Philadelphia.”

    “But Karen,” said Lennie, “look at this shipping label.  There is no return address, but the package was shipped from downtown Philadelphia.”

    When Dad asked, “Where is Eddie?” did he know something?

     

    Grandma, Uncle Jerome and Eddie were having their big meeting over a late lunch in Grandma’s kitchen.   Mom was back in Chicago and Bob was already at the airport, waiting for his flight to Atlanta. “So,” said Grandma, “Your Uncle Jerome and I agree not to ask you why you left your family and not to try to convince you to go to Chicago.  That said, we would like you to try to be straight with us, in order not to waste a lot of everyone’s time.”

    “Okay,” said Eddie.

    “Jerome says that you are planning to move on soon, south to Florida or Atlanta, because winter is coming.”

    “Right,” said Eddie. That’s why he had been willing to send that package with the Philadelphia postmark.

    “To me it seems that if Philadelphia is the place you came to, and you are already set up here with work, then Philadelphia is a good place for you to stay, if you can solve the shelter problem.”

    “I don’t earn that much.  I can’t afford to pay for a room.”

    “We thought of three possibilities:  You could stay here in this house, you could stay in a room Jerome would fix up for you at his business, or Jerome and I could rent a room for you.”

    None of those were options Eddie had ever considered.  “Can I have some time to think about it?”

    “Sure,” said Grandma.  “Take a week.  In the meantime you are welcome to stay here.”

    Eddie thought about that.  It was getting cold at night.  Last night, which he had spent in the treehouse instead of in his tent in the hollow in the woods, had been particularly hard. “I’ll try it tonight and see. I work until ten and get back about ten-thirty. How would I get in?”

    “I’ll leave the back door open.  You can have the small room that used to be Jerome’s.  The bed there is made up. You can read the books, eat food from the fridge, take a bath is you like.”

    Eat food from the fridge. “Uh, Grandma.  I have to apologize.  Every so often, I’ve been taking fruit from your bin.  What I get to eat is mostly starch and protein. A few times those fruits looked so yummy that I couldn’t resist. I’ll replace them.  I think I know what I took.”

    Grandma put her hand on Eddie’s.  “I’m glad you got some vitamins.  You don’t have to replace them.”

    “I want to,” said Eddie, stubbornly.

    “Alice and Danvir,” said Jerome. “That has to be decided now.”

    “Ah, right. Jerome said that you had been hoping to see Alice and Danvir from afar at Thanksgiving. I’ve called off the family Thanksgiving dinner, but I could invite just Alice and Danvir.  Your mother claims that they are very quiet, and if not, they could sleep at Uncle Jerome’s.”

    Alice and Danvir very quiet?  Well, maybe if he himself wasn’t around, they were quiet. Poor kids. After two and a half months of making his own way in the world, Eddie felt much older than even Alice, who actually had three years on him. “Yeah, I’d like that.  If it wouldn’t be too much for Grandpa.” He also felt rather protective of his grandfather at the moment.  He remembered how weak and old Grandpa had seemed, sprawled on the boards of the tree house.

    “I’m going to set him up in a hospital bed in his study so that he won’t have to go up and down stairs,” said Grandma. “If all goes well with his recuperation, he will come to Thanksgiving dinner.  I think he would like to have them there.”

    “Probably,” said Eddie. Grandparents aren’t really supposed to play favorites, but everyone knew that Grandpa loved Alice and Danvir best, because they were so good in school.

    “Okay, one more thing before we end this meeting.” Jerome pulled a leather-bound book out of a bag he had at his side.  On the front it said, ‘My Journal’.  “When I was about your age, my Aunt Sally gave me this.  She was trying to get me to be more literate.  I never wrote a word in it.  It sat all these years in a box of my school things, which Mom asked me to take from her basement not long ago. I thought maybe you would like to record your adventures, while you still remember them.”

    Jerome loosened the black elastic band that held it closed. He offered the book to Eddie, who took is and opened it.  The front page, under ‘My Journal’, had a place for his name and a line for dates.  The remaining pages were lined, about the size of a piece of typing paper. There were exactly a two hundred pages, all numbered at the top.  Eddie hefted it to see how heavy it was.  Weight would be a consideration if he were travelling on south.  “I’ll think about it and tell you.” Would he really forget what had happened?

    When Eddie got back late at night and opened the back door slowly so that it wouldn’t creak, the first thing he noticed was a puff of warm air.  It had been drizzling outside, so he hung his poncho on a hook and left his muddy sneakers on the porch. Tiptoeing quietly up the main staircase, he found the covers turned back in the little room that had been turned over to him.  On the bedspread was a little pile:  a bath towel, a washcloth, a pair of pajamas, a bar of soap and a toothbrush.  Pajamas! Who used pajamas? Since the beginning of his trek, Eddie always went to sleep in whatever he wore all day, and if he decided that it wouldn’t do for another day, he changed in the morning. Right now, though, the bottoms of his pants were damp and he wouldn’t mind changing into something dry. He picked up the whole pile and carried it into the bathroom.

    Eddie had two associations with showers.  One was his mother trying to force him to take one.  The other was his mother telling him to get out and leave some hot water for other people.  What did that mean? Did he like taking showers or didn’t he? As an experiment, he tried turning on the water and adjusted it until it was just the temperature he liked.  That would change quickly if someone turned on the faucet in kitchen downstairs, but right now there was no one downstairs rinsing vegetables or washing plates.

    Fifteen minutes later, already dressed in pajamas and toweling his hair dry, Eddie decided that he did like showers, as long as no one was nudging him to get out. This was the right time of day for it, too. If Grandma want to take a bath in the morning, there would be plenty of hot water again by then. Thinking of Grandma taking a bath in this room made him notice that he had messed it up, so he bundled his clothes in the towel, put the soap in the soap dish recessed into the tiles, and hung the washcloth on the ceramic bar over the soap dish, which he now realized for the first time must have been created for just that purpose. As a last little touch, he brushed his teeth and put the toothbrush in the holder. The sheets were soft, the blankets were warm and it took Eddie all of five minutes to fall asleep.

    In the morning, Eddie lay in bed, watching the streak of sunlight in which dust motes were dancing, and tried to remember where he was. There were clanking sounds somewhere and the aroma of blueberry pancakes wafting upstairs. Right.  He was at Grandma’s house.  He couldn’t stay here long.  Today Grandma and Jerome were moving Grandpa to a nursing home, and in another week, Grandpa would be home. Maybe he should go back to the woods already tonight.  Before he got soft.

    Eddie dressing in yesterday’s clothes.  The pant-legs had dried out overnight. He pulled on the sweatshirt and ran down the stairs in his stocking feet.

    “Pancakes with maple syrup coming up,” sang out Grandma.  Then she looked up and said, “Bet you a nickel that you didn’t look in a mirror this morning.”

    He certainly hadn’t, but he never did. He raised his hand to his thatch of black hair.  It did feel different. He ran back upstairs to the bathroom. Whoops!  His hair was a tangled mop, with twig-like points sticking out in different directions.  That’s what he got for sleeping on it wet. He opened the large medicine cabinet.  On a shelf marked “For guests” was a comb sealed in a cellophane package.  Noticing his toothbrush, he brushed his teeth and then went back to Grandma get permission to take the comb. As he began running the comb through his hair, there was a crackling sound and the ends puffed out from static electricity. He started to look like a mushroom. Eddie wet his hair and began plastering it to his scalp.  Let it dry that way.

    Grandma and Eddie ate the blueberry pancakes in companionable silence. “Jerome is picking me up in a few minutes to take me to the hospital.  There is no point in trying to park two cars down there in University City. If you have any laundry you want to do, you are welcome to use the washer and dryer.”

    Eddie usually washed his clothes, without soap, in the creek and dried them on a bush.  “I don’t think I know how to use the machine.”

    “A new day, a new skill.  I have time to show you before Jerome gets here.  It’s not very complicated.”

    After Grandma left, Eddie faced his usual problem of filling the hours until his jobs started.  The cabinet had kept his bedroll and books dry during yesterday’s drizzle, so he spread out the sleeping bag, made a pillow for his head with the blanket, and picked up the science fiction book he was in the middle of reading. It was a windy day, and after an hour he began to feel cold and cramped.  If he put the blanket over his legs and supported his head with his coat, his arms would get cold.  That’s when he remembered Grandma’s offer of the use of the washing machine.  He would move around to get his stuff, spend a couple of hours in the warm house, and feel much better. Eddie packed everything back into the cabinet, put the book in his coat pocket, and backed down the ladder.

    As Eddie approached the hollow in which he hid his tent and clothes, he felt the usual worry.  Suppose someone had stolen them? Suppose he came and found everything missing?  On an ordinary night it was more than worry, it was close to panic, as he wondered how he would survive in the cold without his tent and his bedroll.  He always set up his tent in a hollow protected from the wind on three sides, but hid his gear in a different hollow, in case someone had seen his tent at night, and came looking for it in the daytime. The moment when he burrowed down under the fallen leaves and hit his stuff was always a great relief.

    Grandma had a shed with a lock.  Maybe he could leave his things there until Thanksgiving? With only sixty dollars left, it would be hard to replace them.  When he found everything safe, he put on the backpack and put the folded tent over his shoulder with its strap.  He left the coat, the tent and the poncho in the treehouse, and wore the backpack down to the basement. His clothes were mostly knits in dull colors.  Eddie loaded them into the machine one-by-one, added the soap, and started the machine.

    Rats! He had been planning to finish reading his book lying on a soft bed with a pillow, but he left it in pocket of the coat, and he wasn’t in the mood to climb up into the tree house again.  Maybe he would reread that old book of Bob’s about how the son of Lord Greystoke, a.k.a. Tarzan, survived in a tree house for a year.  It would probably read differently now. On the way through the dining room, he picked up the journal Jerome had given him.  Jerome’s old room didn’t have a desk,  but Bob’s did, and if he decided to write down his adventures, that is where he would work. Eddie laid the journal on the desk, took the Tarzan book, and went to lie down on his bed.

     

  • Fayge Y.

    Member
    July 13, 2020 at 2:05 pm

    Gotta get back to business so I was only opening posts from the last x hours. But I saw no one commented. Don’t let that think that we didn’t read and enjoy. And are waiting for #7.

    And if  you want a beta reader at any point, I’d be happy to do it.

  • A Willing Pen

    Member
    July 13, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    I love it! I anxiously wait for each installment. It’s so out of my box, that the story is an eye-opener, plus, the writing is amazing.

  • riva pomerantz

    Administrator
    July 15, 2020 at 11:19 am

    This is a great chapter, @Jane. It flows so naturally and is such an engrossing read. Wow!

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