"Mr. Jones. I'm really very sorry. Let me pass on my condolences on behalf of all the staff here at Benevolent Fields Nursing Center. You can rest assured that your father felt no pain whatsoever. He died very peacefully as he slept. Do you have any specific requests as to the arrangements now for the body?"
It didn't seem possible. Now, after twenty-five years, and fifteen in the nursing home, Dad was gone. I couldn't come to the home from now on and visit with him on Saturdays and push him about the halls and out on the patio when it was warm and sunny. I would probably not even return to the home again. I'll just have his belongings donated to some charity or distributed among the surviving members of the "Benevolent Fields Thursday Men's Group."
"Mr. Jones, do you have any specific requests?"
"No, not really. I believe all his requests are spelled out in his chart."
"Yes sir. Did your father have any other family?"
I giggled then. Did he have any other family? What a loaded question.
"Not any that would give a damn" as I thought about how Dad got here.
"What do ya mean 'things are gonna be different around here from now on'?"
"Jus' wha' I said. Things are gonna be different around here. It can't be the same, dummy."
"Jeremy, jus' trus' me, things are gonna be different."
"What do ya mean different?"
"I mean better, dummy."
I didn't really understand why Benjamin was so sure that there would be such an improvement, but was older and in middle school, so he was smarter than I was; I was only in third grade at that time.
Things sure did seem different though those two months; Mama was smiling, dancing about the house, even doing the dishes in heels and a mini-skirt. She said she was going shopping at the grocery store last night. Funny how she wasn't carrying bags when she got back, and she was gone to the store for at least six hours; and there was those hickey marks on her neck. There was new TV's, stereos, videos games, clothes, CD's, everything. All Benji and I had to do was ask.
Mama suddenly never cooked; we ate out every meal. We ate at IHOP for breakfast, McDonald's for lunch, and pizza or Chinese for dinner, every night. Mama never seemed more pleased with herself. I never realized just what a looker Mama was either. She wore make-up on her lips and cheeks, and she always seems to be wearing perfume. She certainly had more boyfriends and money than ever. She was happier; I guess her new boy friends were a good thing.
Then, there were the gifts. Mama would come in with bag after bag of things, and lock herself in the bedroom. When the door came open later, there would be tons of Christmas presents on the bed, wrapped in real fancy Christmas paper and those stick-on bows on top. Every one had either my name or Benji's on it.
I guess it was maybe two months later that I realized that Benji might not be right after all. Mama suddenly wasn't as happy after all. She got a phone call while she was decorating the Christmas tree. She didn't used to decorate the house for Christmas. She always said she didn't feel very merry. This year was different though; Mama was decorating everything, until that phone call came in. She just stopped and started crying, and then she went in her bedroom, and started cussing real loud.
When she came out, she wasn't dressed as nice as when she went in. She hadn't worn her old robe in the house for weeks; it was in the back of the closet. Suddenly though, she took her robe back out of the closet and put it back in it's old place on the hook on the bathroom door. She kept pacing across the living room, stopping to look out the window at every pass. I couldn't understand it all, but Mama was not in the talking mood. She just waved her hand at me and grunted something like "shut up."
"Benji, what's happened to Mama?"
Benji always took care of me, whenever things got hairy; I knew that Benji would stand up for me and keep me safe.
"Don't worry 'bout it, dummy. Mama's was just actin' a little crazy, but she'll settle down, you'll see."
"Are you sure? Mama ain't acted this way since Daddy was here."
"Sure I'm sure. I know somethin' you don't, and I don't wanna tell. I wan' it ta be a surprise. Jus' you watch."
After another two hours or so, I found out why Mama was worried. Daddy was home. He'd been gone for a couple of months. He'd disappeared for two or three days before, maybe a week, but never this long. I noticed for the first time that I didn't miss him. He wasn't always very nice, especially when he was drinking.
Mama was wringing her hands and pacing even faster than ever. Daddy was at the door, and a couple of men were with him. Daddy didn't say a word; something very not normal for him, because he could out holler a train whistle. Daddy always had something to say to Mama and most times, it wasn't something nice. He looked shorter than I remember too. I kept the door open just a crack, just enough to see through the slice or light left at the doorknob. The strange two men walked in with Daddy, and spoke to Mama in soft tones; just low enough that no one else could hear them. Daddy still stayed silent. When they started to leave, I saw the names on the back of their jackets- "Midtown Ambulance Service." Mama turned around toward me, and I shut the door. I'd probably get whipped if Daddy and her knew I was spying on them. Mama wasn't staying quiet though.
"So, you've come home? For two months, you've been gone. You know what, I've haven't missed ya! I've made a few changes around here since you've been gone."
Daddy didn't say a word. I couldn't believe it. Daddy was sittin' there quiet, not yelling back when Mama was standing there chewin' him out. I couldn't believe it.
"You've not been here to drink up all the money and leave them boys and me with no food and no clothes. You've not been here to slap me around just 'cause you were fuckin' drunk. The boys are happy, and so am I. I've got so many new men in my life, I haven't had time to worry 'bout your sorry ass."
Daddy was still silent, not a blessed word. Benji was giggling, trying to hold in the sounds with his hand.
"Well guess what you low-life son-of-a-bitch. I don't want you any more. If I had my way, you wouldn't be here now! So screw you!"
I had to sneak out. I had to see how this could be. Benji was on my tail, following close. He knew something the whole time all right. We didn't have to be quiet long though, because Mama caught us sneaking out.
"Come on down boys. Your Daddy's home and we've got something to say. Don't we have something to say honey?"
She spit out that "honey" like it left a bad taste in her mouth. When I could finally see, I couldn't believe it at first. Daddy was sitting quiet, drooling a little out of the corner of his mouth, with a blank stare in his eyes. Mama stepped forward and turned Daddy around to face us. I noticed for the first time that he was in a wheelchair. Benji snickered.
"Told ya things were gonna be different."
"Yep, that's right. We're gonna set some resolutions for the New Year. From now on, when you go to school, you wear decent clothes to go in. Now, I don't have to hide the bruises on my face and eyes. I can look beautiful. I'm gonna do everything I can to see to it that you boys don't wind up like your drunk-ass father. He goes and picks up some whore, gets drunk and goes out on the road, runs off in the ditch and gets a salad for a brain. He can't do nothing no more, 'cept sit in that chair and rot. Well, he ain't so scary no more, is he? Serves him right though."
She went to the cabinet, and got a can of green pea soup, opened it, and poured it Daddy's head.
He still just sat there, staring off into space while green pea goop ran down and up in his nose. She made sure to rub it hard into his shirt and smear it across his eyes and his moustache.
"I'm going out, you boys go upstairs and every hour or so, look in on your daddy and don't laugh, least, not too much."
With that, Mama swept back her hair, and trotted out the door. Benji laughed out loud and pointed at the pitiful creature in the chair. I laughed too.