Before I moved out on my own six months ago, I had lived with my parents a little bit longer than I needed to do so. They were fine with me staying with them. I would go to the smoke shop to buy my mother’s cigarettes. She could walk but preferred staying mostly in bed, watching television. My father had worked as a carpenter but his eating habits were bad and he finally got ill and had to retire. When he spent his last year at home, he went everywhere in an electric wheelchair. He could also walk but preferred not exerting himself too much when outside. He would go to the dollar store, ten blocks away, just to get one can of soda. When he returned home, he decided he needed another can so he went back to the store. He would go back and forth at least twice an hour, sometimes looking to the side and bumping people with his wheelchair. A few times, his wheelchair ran out of gas in the middle of the street. An ambulance had to come and bring him and his wheelchair back home. When he did eat real food, he chose frozen dinners, canned raviolis and macaroni and cheese. For a rare treat, he would get a pizza or lasagna. He eventually weighed four hundred pounds.
I would not eat the type of food he ate. My mother cooked meals for her and me. Baked ham, potatoes and cauliflower, loaded with salt and butter. Often, I felt ill after eating her cooking. Occasionally, I noticed the expiration date on some things were long past.
I was not totally aware of the business end of what happened after my father died except I understood the amount I would get and how that would provide me with the incentive to live on my own. To say I was totally independent when I moved into the residential hotel would be avoiding a few details. The hotel was one building away from the apartment complex where my mother lived and she asked me for help doing her grocery shopping. My parents had not taught me much about domestic skills and I had not wanted to be on my own until the smoke from my mother’s cigarettes became too much for me to handle. Even if I wanted to go out and socialize with young single people my age, they did not hang out in Buchanan. They must have gone to Summersville, not a big town by any means but at least it had a movie theater, a few restaurants and a bar. Compared to Buchanan, Summersville was a big city. Buchanan had the one café, where the one attractive woman in town worked, and the rest of it was gas stations, convenience stores and places where everything was a dollar.
Charles, my brother, had been given up for adoption because my parents had not been married yet and did not know whether they wanted to spend their lives together or go their separate ways. The people who adopted him were friends of my parents. What happened was complicated and I forgot many of the details but his adoptive parents died when he was ten years old and lived again with our parents. He kept some emotional distance from them, but they were relieved he would talk to them at all.
Learning some domestic skills when he was a young boy, he was more competent than me. Now, he had a lifestyle that pleased him. He had a girlfriend named Stacy who I met only once and forgot what she looked like but he thought she was great. I had no girlfriend and settled for going into the café where Emma worked so I could be in the same building with someone friendly, professional and pleasant looking. It was not much but it was better than nothing.
Now, standing in the living room with a woman who was like the improved version of Emma was scary and surreal, for certain reasons. Connie’s shirt was tucked in, something Emma never did and, now that I thought about it, Emma was good looking by default. She was not overweight and her clothes were clean but, like most of the women in Buchanan, she put no effort into her appearance. Other than choosing plaid shirts, she put them on over her jeans as if her clothes were an afterthought. Connie looked more put-together and professional, wearing her sleeves rolled up which, oddly enough, looked like something she did to prepare for our handshake. That was the scary thing. Not that we were shaking anymore, because that part had finished, but her hand kept holding mine, like a new guardian. Even stranger was the conversation we were having.
She asked, “What should we get for dinner tonight?”
I said, “I’ll let you pick.”
“There’s a great delicatessen a few blocks away that makes a great turkey meatloaf. We can do that or we can get barbecued beef brisket and garlic noodles at the Burmese restaurant. They deliver.”
“I didn’t know there was a delicatessen up here. This is high up on the hill.”
“I know. It’s strange, isn’t it? But they do good business. We could walk there.”
“What about Teddy and Charles? What will they have?”
“They’re not a part of this. They can order for themselves.”
“What do you mean they’re not a part of this?”
“They’re not attached like we are.”
“You’re forgetting that I don’t live with you. I have my own home.”
“Will your bed hold both of us?”
“I’m not bringing you to my place.”
She smiled. “That’s good. I can call the movers tomorrow and they can deliver your stuff then.”
I was not pulling my hand away now because her group was strong and when I tried to pry myself loose it became crushingly tight. But I also could not merely give up my whole will over to her. I had to present some sort of stance of independence. I walked around the circumference of her living room like we were promenading in a square dance. As I continued walking a little bit faster each round, she gazed fondly at me like we were a typical southern married couple out for a Saturday night stroll before going back home to the farm. I knew that my brother and his friend would come for me eventually so I mimicked having fun as best I could so she would not change her mood again and give my hand another squeeze.
She asked, “Is this one of your hobbies, walking in circles?”
I said, “I’m moving towards a certain direction in our relationship.” Logic was escaping me. I would just say whatever fit at the twisted moment.
She nodded. “Okay, so you understand the sequence.”
“Yes. Up one notch, down two and then stir until smooth.”
“How do you mean?”
“Mix everything in a milkshake and quack like a rubber ducky.”
“Wait a minute!” She stopped walking. So did I. “You’re not making fun of this, are you?”
“What’s fun about it? It’s horror.”
“No it isn’t. Shut up! You don’t know all the rules and regulations. You’re new at this.”
“New at what?”
She sighed. “It’s easy once you understand. I wish you would just get it without me needing to tell you every little thing. I’m not going to waste my time going over it all.”
Was she just crazy now or was she always like that? I was almost too nervous to continue the conversation but, since there was nothing else to do, I ventured forth. “Okay, don’t tell me every little thing but can you tell me something like what you’re referring to?”
“Us. I’m talking about us. I knew it was you. I can’t trust any deceptive signs. Now you get it?”
“I’m afraid the more you tell me the less I know.”
“It’s a completion. You filled everything. We are now complete.”
“Oh! You’re saying we’re married!”
“Yes, except I don’t trust the piece of paper. You could run away from the piece of paper. I made you physically a part of me. We are now one person.”
“I beg to differ. You’re one person entrapping me, another person.”
“You can argue all you want. The mind can cause conflict where conflict should not exist. If it’s not broken, don’t break it.”
“This conversation is freaking me out. Let’s discuss something else.”
“Okay. I’m thinking of getting new covers for the couch. Which would you prefer? I’m leaning toward beige or purple.”
“How about paisley or tartan?”
“That’s an idea.”
“What time is it?”
“I mean, on Earth.”
She sighed. “If you mean what does the big hand and the little hand point to on the useless little contraption that winds us towards its monotony, six o’clock.”
“Thank you. I think it’s time I check in with Charles and Teddy so they know what’s going on.”
“Why would they need to know what’s going on if it doesn’t concern them?”
“I came here with them. They’re probably waiting for me.”
“If it will help you to quit talking about them by going there, fine. But the old ways are just that, the old ways. Your new life doesn’t involve them.”
“Are you the master of my new life?”
“I am your partner in your life now.”
“Are you saying I’ll never be able to see them again after today?”
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t be silly. You’ll have relationships with people just like you always have except the stuff that trapped you and made you stuck has no more value. You’re now free.”
“Free to be stuck with you.”
“Now you get it.”
“Okay. Let’s see what Teddy and Charles have to say.”
She shrugged. “As you wish, but I’m telling you they won’t be saying the kinds of things you expect them to say.”
“Let’s just go!” I walked towards the door. She accompanied me without hesitance. Her expression was amusement is if she thought my getting aggressive was humorous. Well, wait until I received help from her next-door neighbor and my brother. Then, she would understand what was what.
Teddy and Charles were drinking alcohol. They each had a glass filled with ice. Teddy had a bottle of whiskey by his side and Teddy had vodka on his. They both waved when they saw us.
I said, “I thought you told me it wasn’t a good idea for me to drink whiskey.”
Teddy nodded. “I meant that it wasn’t a good idea for you to drink my whiskey. Nobody but me drinks my whiskey.”
“But you gave some to Charles.”
“Charles is drinking vodka. I won’t let him near the whiskey.”
“But it’s still alcohol.”
He laughed. “You can have peppermint schnapps for all I care. Just don’t touch the whiskey.”
Connie said, “Steven is acting up right now. Alcohol wouldn’t be good for him.”
Teddy shrugged. “Great. Charles, have some whiskey.” He handed the bottle to him.
Charles poured some in his glass. “Thanks.”
I could have said something about the contradiction I witnessed but I chose instead to focus on Connie and my concluding our moments together. I asked, “What time are we going back home?”
Charles asked, “Whose home do you mean?”
“Mine. When will you drive me home?”
“I could drive you now.”
“But I’m not driving now. I’m drinking.”
“How do I get home, then?”
I was annoyed. “My home!”
He frowned. “Where would that home be?”
I yelled. “Come on! You’re not that drunk!”
He laughed. “Yes I am but my question still stands. What home do you want to get back to?”
As patiently as possible, I said, “I want to go to my hotel in Buchanan.”
Teddy asked, “Should I explain or you?”
Charles said, “As long as he understands, I don’t care.”
Teddy nodded. “My drink is stronger than yours but I had less of it. I’ll explain. Stephen, you love your mother. Am I correct?”
“Yes.” I figured that if I just answered whatever he asked me, he would eventually tell me something apparently important.
“I take it you trust your mother to do the right thing for you with no problems whatsoever?”
I was going to say I knew everything she did was problematic but I decided to say, “Yes.”
He held up a finger. “Okay, now one more question, maybe two. It depends on how you answer this one but at least one more question. Have you noticed your mother in a happier state of mind these last six months like her mouth has an endless cigarette giving her puffs of happiness?”
I felt less comfortable saying “Yes” to that but I did so anyway.
“Okay, here’s the last question. Do you think about where that happiness was coming from?”
“That is the issue here. You allowed your mother to do what she could to help you and, by doing so, you allowed her to help herself, all with you in mind, I imagine, but in no way to your benefit.”
“Okay. I don’t mean to sound like I want you to just come out and tell me whatever it is you’re going to tell me but please do that.”
Teddy sighed. “You know, I don’t have the heart to tell him. You tell him, Charles.”
I was nervous. “Did she die?”
Charles said, “Worse.”
“How could it be worse?”
He shrugged. “She didn’t die.”
I was irritated. They were giving me a bunch of nonsense. I said, “That’s a strange thing to tell me.”
He nodded. “Not as strange as taking the money she was going to use to pay your rent and use it on more food and cigarettes.”
“What the hell! She had to sign the lease agreement because I didn’t have enough income to qualify on my own behalf. I was there when the papers were signed and she handed the check to the manager.”
“That was the last check she sent him.”
“How do you know this?”
“The manager told me.”
“He told you? Why would he tell you? I’m the one who lives there. Why wouldn’t he tell me?”
“I guess he wanted to talk to someone competent.”
“Thanks a lot!”
“You know what I mean. Legally competent. He asked if I could settle the matter before he had to evict you.”
“What did you do?”
“I’m a bit drunk and can’t remember every single word but mother said she was very happy with her food and cigarettes and if her not paying your rent meant you would move back in with her she would be a happy camper.”
Somehow, I was not all that concerned Connie was still gripping my hand. That seemed more of an anomaly compared to such a big problem. I wanted to ask Charles why the manager waited five months before taking action and if he would give me thirty days notice before I had to leave indefinitely but those details would not change what was already happening. I did not know what else to ask.
Teddy smiled. “Connie will take care of you, right?”
She smiled and nodded.
I said, “Were you aware she’s been holding my hand the whole time?”
Teddy shrugged. “Love is love.”
I yelled, “Insanity is insanity!”
Charles sang, “And bluebirds are bluebirds.”
I asked, “Will you help me escape from her?”
Teddy said, “I’m not getting involved in what happens between two consenting adults.”
“I’m not consenting to it!”
He looked puzzled like he did not understand. He said, “I’m not getting involved.”
Charles said, “I reckon you either want to be homeless or stay with mama. You’ve got a third option.”
Connie asked, “Remember when I told you about the old ways no longer in effect?”
Like it or not, she would be my best option. I said, “Okay.”