Arbutus got better pretty fast. Somebody told her what happened to “Bill”, and she wouldn’t talk to me for a week. I didn’t ask her what it was that bothered her so much, I figured she’d tell me or just get over it.
And I guess she did. I was sitting with her one day just after lunch, she said---like I said, this was the first thing she’d said to me in a week---she said, “You’re a piece a’ work.”
“Me? How’s that?”
“Don’t play innocent with me. I know you’re just as guilty as sin.”
“Never said I wasn’t.”
“And there you sit, just as if your soul wasn’t as black as coal.”
“I never said--“
“I don’t wanna hear it! I know just exactly what you are.”
Ok. No point in saying anything, so I waited. Sat. Listened to the little red birds singing outside the window.
I wasn’t sure what she was aiming at, I was half waiting for her to tell me to shove off, and never come back…….
And she said, “Come ‘ere, you.”
I stood up and moved closer. She held out her hand and I took it. Moved even closer when she tugged. She let go my hand and reached for my neck, clasped the back of it and pulled me close enough for her to kiss my cheek.
“You’re a terrible boy,” she said. She patted my cheek. “Terrible.”
“Yeah? I thought I was sweet like candy.”
Her pat turned into a caress. She sighed. “Dammit, you are; what am I going to do with you?”
I tried not to smile, but not very hard.
She snorted. “Besides that.” She shook her head. “I’m an old fool. I’m not sure what I said or did while I was doped up, I remember bits and pieces and it seems to me I might have……” She didn’t finish her sentence. Frowned. Peered at me sideways.
I stuck my hands in my pockets. “Yeah?”
I’ve kinda gotten used to women staring at me, trying to figure out what’s going on in my head by studying my face. They could just ask me, but they don’t. So I stood still while Arbutus did that. Don’t know what she saw, but I guess it satisfied her. She relaxed against her pillows, and shook her head. “I guess it’s not important.”
“You ready for a game of gin?”
“How’m I supposed to play gin with a broken arm?”
“I thought you said you could beat me with one hand tied behind your back.”
“That’s not the same thing as a cast.”
“It’s exactly the same thing.”
“You’re a terrible boy. Well, deal the cards. Wanna play for money this time?”
We found Lois’s stupid little dog a few days later, cowering in the park. He had sticks and leaves tangled up in his curls, and he was hiding behind a giant ball of string the 4-H kids were building in one of the shelters. Pam saw him as she was tying a hank of string to the loose end, and she called it in.
We figured he musta sneaked outta the house while Albert was going in or out. He wasn’t there when I went in. You woulda thought if Lois cared about him at all, she woulda figured out somewhere to take him before she offed herself….but I guess not.
I woulda picked him up and put him in the car, but he snapped at me and snarled like he thought I was gonna cook him and eat him.
“Don’t scare him!” Pam said. “Poor little puppy-dog.”
“Scare him? He’s the most ungrateful pooch I’ve ever seen. I saved his sorry little ass, and all he does is growl at me.”
“He’s not mean and nasty, he’s just afraid. Everything is changing, and he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next. So he growls, trying to keep the bad things away.”
I guessed I could understand that. “Well, tell him he doesn’t need to growl at me.”
“Ok,” Pam said, and she scooped him up and scratched him under the chin. He didn’t growl at her. “Poor wittle poochie-woochie, wittle Wory’s gonna be ok, the big bad policeman’s not gonna hurt the wittle boy…”
Jeez. I forgot women did that with dogs.
That was when I decided against getting a dog for the kids, for Lynn. I didn’t think I could stand to listen to that on a daily basis.
“Take him home with you, why don’t ya?” I said.
Doesn’t take much to make some people happy. Wish it was that easy all the time.
And Lynn’s secret? That piece of information she’d kill to keep to herself?
I probably coulda found out what it was. I coulda made her tell me. You know? If it was important enough to me. Or I coulda started with her call to LA, found out who Wanda was, leaned on her……I think I coulda found out what it was without asking Lynn anything. Coulda kept it a secret of my own……if I wanted to.
But think about it. If there was something Lynn would kill to keep me from finding out…..maybe it was something I’d be sorry I knew. I figured it was something that she thought would take away the things that were important to her. Her backyard barbecues, her PTA meetings, the picket fence that always needed painting. Me, maybe.
So I let it be. Could be that was a mistake, God knows I made enough a’ them. Possibly it was cowardice. Or maybe I was just trying to postpone the inevitable. Could be it, whatever ‘it’ was, would come back and bite me in the ass when I least expected it. Secrets are timebombs, ticking away, just waiting to go off…….and if it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen, nothing you can do about it.
But maybe…..it would stay a secret forever, and Lynn and me and our kids would live happily ever after.
I was counting on that, planning for it, betting my future on it. I didn’t think it was too much to hope for. What do you think?