My hip is miserable today. The humidity makes for some downright mournful mornings and mournful nights too. The clouds ‘been building for days. It’s a blessed relief that the rain started a-spatterin’. Tomorrow, the world’ll be washed spick-and-span and my old bones should be set to rights. Harvey put on the tin roof, oh…gotta be thirty years gone now. Our Peter and I would lie on the thick Chinese carpet and listen to the rat-ta-ta-tat. He said it sounded like the tools in his daddy’s shop. Peter dreamed about becoming a mechanic, like his daddy.
Puddles is startin’ to form in the back yard. They must be ankle deep already. I can’ even see crost the street to the old Bannigan house. What’s the name of them ones livin’ there now? The Johnsons? Jacksons? No how to keep up on people ‘n’ their names these days. ‘Course, my neighbour, him I know—Allan Murphy. Now there’s a mean, nasty man. He’s like a snake, he is. Even when he’s simpering and smilin’ at me, his eyes is cold. And that poor little girl. She ain’t nothin’ but skin ‘n’ bone now. Ain’t never had a decent bath in weeks, neither. I blame the mother, I do. Our Peter was half in love the first time he laid eyes on that woman. He was always sayin’ how beautiful and nice she was. Thank god she was already married when she first moved in. What was the husband’s name? I ferget. He weren’t around too long.
The rain’s like a tap dancing troupe, just a-practicing away up there. Reminds me of the last time Peter was on leave, before…before…He said, “Mom, you got to come and watch this dancing. You gonna love it.” He had it on his computer lap thing and said it was on You-Hoo. That was before my cataract started and I could still see like a hawk. Well, there was these tap dancers like I never seen before. Irish dancers they was. The musicians played Lord of the Dance, and gosh darn it, but it was good. Sometimes now, I go into Peter’s room, put on his work jacket and sit on his bed. His computer is on the dresser, just where he left it. I polish it with Pledge every Friday. When I touch the black shiny surface, I can still hear all of them shoes keeping time.
The creak on the back porch is almost the same as the one in my hip. I put out what I can for the girl. Sneaks it behind the trash, I do. I put it in the Tupperware, so the mice can’t get at it. My pension cheque ain’t much, so I don’ have much to give by the end of the month. Today, I put crackers, peanut butter and a half an apple. Peter said he had the money all figured out before he left. All them years that his daddy Harvey worked at the shop, well Peter said that pension is mine, even though Harvey’s been gone eleven years. Peter said he made sure the money went straight into my bank account. No waiting for the postman. Problem is, I don’ know which bank. Marge down at the First Union, she said she don’ know nothing about di-rect deposit. It’s too bad Harvey’s spirit don’ know nothing ’bout it either, like he knew about the girl. He told me about her in my dream. “Sybil”, he said, “you gots to do something about that child. She’s wasting away in front of your eyes. And look at them bruises.”
Peter was twenty-five when that woman moved in next door with her first shifty lookin’ husband. Truth be told, she was a pretty little thing. More outgoing then. Always asking about how to plant carrots, or if sweet peas should be next to the glads. Now, she never looks at me, which is even worse than her snake-eyed man. She just scurries by, starin’ at the ground. I sit in my rocker every afternoon watchin’ the world go by, ‘n’ most days that fat, orange-fingered friend of Al’s waves at me from the window. He’s even creepier than Al.
I used to be a cleaner, down at the Mulrooney offices. I worked there for years and years. My kids, Peter and Dahlia, would come by after school and wait in the foyer. Old Cyril kept an eye on them, made sure they done their homework. Then when I was finished, we’d walk home, Dahlia goin’ on about science stuff until I was dizzy, Peter just holdin’ my hand and quiet like. They both helped me with the groceries.
Dahlia’s gone to NASA, working with astronauts now, an engineer. Who woulda thought such a thing? Her bein’ a small-town girl turnin’ into a big shot. No cleaning offices for my girl. No sirree. She came home for the funeral, but not since. It’s not that Dahlia don’ love me, I know she does. It’s on account of her havin’ a special kinda brain. Numbers and such keep her interest and not much else. I was good with numbers too, could figure up inventory in my head, lickety split. Didn’t need no calculator neither. But her kinda numbers, they ain’t real, they’re ‘maginary numbers she says. They needs them to get into space. It makes no kinda sense to me.
One night, I saw Allan Murphy throw that woman outta the house. She stood on the rickety front porch, just starin’ at the door and shiverin’ in her nightgown. He turn’ all the lights out and left her standin’. Serves her right, I thinks. But, I couldn’t do it. That woman cried for a long time that night. She was gone before I woke up. I had to go into Peter’s room to look over at her house to see if she was sittin’ on the porch. Weren’t no sign of her and the house was shuttered up tight, ‘xpect she had to work.
Even with my cataract, I can see my windows need a good cleanin’. I keep the bucket and the sponge on a stick in Peter’s room. Have for years. He used to say, “Mom, you scare me doin’ the windows. It won’t take me no time at all.” And it never did neither. I only do a window a day now. Spring cleaning takes me weeks instead of days. Good thing it’s only once a year. When I pushed Peter’s jackets outta the way so’s I could pick up the bucket, a little black bag fell onto the floor. It had one of them small jewelry boxes for rings inside. But there was no ring. So’s I put on Peter’s work jacket and sat on his bed for a long, long time, starin’ into that empty box.
Photo from Flickr – creative commons
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