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Authors: Joyce Maynard

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BOOK: Labor Day
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I looked at my father’s face as I told him these things. If he had wanted to pursue it, I might have said more—told him who Barry was, and how my mother and Evelyn spent their time when she came over, the plan they had to maybe get a farm in the country together, where they could homeschool their children and grow their own vegetables. Follow a macrobiotic diet to reactivate Barry’s brain cells, the ones that didn’t work so well at the moment. Run the lights off solar power. Or wind power, or this machine Barry’s mother had seen on
Evening Magazine,
where you stored up energy to run your refrigerator by pedaling for an hour every morning on this bicycle-type contraption. Save money on the electric bill and slim down, all at once. Not that my mother needed that, but Evelyn did.

But my father, hearing my report on my mother’s busy, happy schedule of activities, had looked relieved, the way I knew he would. I knew he didn’t really want me to come live with him and Marjorie, any more than I wanted to go there and live with
him and a woman who referred to her two children (and me, when I was with them) as munchkins. Or kidlets, her other favorite term.

Even though I was his real son, and Richard wasn’t, Richard was more his type. Richard always got on base when he came up to bat at Little League. Where I sat on the bench, until the day when even my father agreed maybe this wasn’t my sport. One thing was for sure: nobody missed me on the Holton Mills Tigers after I quit.

I just asked because I get the impression she’s depressed, my father said. And I wouldn’t want you suffering through some kind of traumatic experience there. I want you to have someone around who can take care of you properly.

My mom takes care of me great, I said. We do fun things all the time. People come over. We have hobbies.

We’re learning Spanish, I told him.

CHAPTER 4

T
HEY WERE LOOKING FOR HIM
all over town of course. Frank. We only got one channel on our TV, but even before the regular news came on at six, they interrupted the program to tell about it. The theory was that, given his injuries, and the fact that the police had roadblocks up within an hour of his escape—and in our town, there was basically only one road in and one out—he could not have gone far.

There was his face on the screen. It was funny, seeing this person on your TV who was also sitting in your living room. Like how that girl Rachel might have felt if she was over at my house, which she never would be, and a rerun of
Gilligan’s Island
came on just at the moment my mother came into the room with a plate of cookies for us, which was also not happening, and she still believed my mother was actually that actress.

“We have a celebrity in our midst,” Marjorie had said the
night she and my dad took me out for a sundae after my performance as Rip Van Winkle. Only this time it would have been real.

Now they were interviewing the head of the Highway Patrol, who said the escaped man had been spotted over at the shopping plaza. They were calling Frank dangerous, possibly armed, though we knew he wasn’t. I’d already asked him if he had a gun. When he told me no, I was disappointed.

If you see this individual, contact the authorities immediately, the anchorwoman said. Then a phone number flashed on the screen. My mother didn’t write it down.

Evidently he’d had his appendix surgery the day before. They said something about how he’d tied up the nurse who was supposed to be watching him and jumped out a window, but we knew that part already, and we also knew he’d let the nurse go before he got out the window. They had her on-screen now, saying how he’d always been thoughtful and considerate with her. A good patient, though it had definitely come as a shock when he tied her up that way. In my mother’s eyes, this probably made him seem more trustworthy, knowing he hadn’t changed his story for us.

The other thing they said on the news was what he was in for. Murder.

Up until then, Frank hadn’t said anything. We were all just watching together, like this was
Evening Magazine
or some other show that came on at that hour. But when they said the part about how he’d killed somebody, you could see this place in his jaw twitch.

They never explain the details, he said. It didn’t happen the way they’re going to say it did.

On the television, they had gone back to regular programming now. A rerun of
Happy Days.

Adele, I need to ask if I can stay with you two for a period of
time, Frank said. They’ll have a search out on all the highways and trains and buses. The one thing nobody expects is me sticking around.

It wasn’t my mother who pointed out this next part. It was me. I didn’t want to mention it, because I liked him, and I didn’t want to make him mad, but it seemed important for someone to bring this up.

Isn’t it against the law to harbor a criminal? I asked him, a fact I’d picked up from watching television. Then I felt bad that I’d used that word. Even though we hardly knew Frank at this point, it seemed mean to call this person who had bought me a puzzle book, and put in new lightbulbs all over the house, a criminal. He had complimented the color my mother had chosen to paint the kitchen—this certain shade of yellow that he said reminded him of buttercups on his grandma’s farm when he was growing up. He had told us we’d never eaten chili like he was going to make for us.

You have a wise son here, Adele, Frank told her. It’s good to know he’s looking out for you. That’s everything a boy should do for his mother.

It would only be a problem if someone found Frank here, my mother said. So long as nobody knows he came by, there’s no harm done.

I knew the other part. My mother didn’t worry about laws. My mother didn’t go to church, but the one who looked after us, she said, was God.

True enough, Frank said. But it’s still not acceptable to place you and your family here in jeopardy.

Our family. He spoke of us as a family.

This is why I’m going to tie you up, he said. Only you, Adele. Henry here knows he doesn’t want anything to happen to his mother. That’s the reason he won’t go to the police or call anyone. I’m correct on this, right, Henry?

My mother, hearing this, did not move from her spot on the couch. Nobody said anything for a minute. We could hear the scraping of the wheel in Joe’s cage as he pawed his way in circles, the click of his little nails against the metal, and the hiss of the water on the stove from our Meal in Minutes dinner.

I need to ask you to take me up to your bedroom, Adele, he said. I’m guessing a woman like you would have a few scarves. Silk is good. Rope or twine can cut into the skin.

The door was four feet away from me, and still partly open from when we’d carried in the bags from our shopping. Across the street was the Jervises’ house, where Mrs. Jervis sometimes called out to me, when I went by on my bike, to comment on the weather. Beyond that, the Farnsworths, and the Edwardses, who had come over one time to ask my mother if she intended to rake our leaves anytime soon, because they’d started blowing onto other people’s lawns in the neighborhood. Every December, Mr. Edwards put up so many lights people from other towns drove by to see, which meant they often went by our house that time of year.

People spend all this money putting up lights, my mother said. Did they ever hear of looking at the stars?

I could burst out the door and run to their houses now. I could grab the phone and dial a number. The police. My father. Not my father: he’d use this as evidence that my mother was crazy, the way he always said.

But I didn’t want to do this. Maybe Frank had a weapon, maybe he didn’t. Evidently he had killed someone. But he didn’t seem like a person who would hurt my mother or me.

I studied my mother’s face. For once, she actually looked fine. There was a pinkness in her cheeks I wasn’t accustomed to, and her eyes were locked on his eyes. Which were blue.

Actually, I have a silk scarf collection, my mother said. They were my mother’s.

It’s about keeping up appearances, Frank said, in a quiet voice. I think you understand what I mean.

I got up and went to the door. Closed it, so nobody could see inside. I sat there in the living room, with my legs folded under me, and watched the two of them climb the steps up to her room: my mother first, Frank following behind. They seemed to walk slower than normal, climbing those stairs, as if every step required thought. As if there was more at the top than just a bunch of old scarves. As if they weren’t even sure what might be up there and they were taking their time now, thinking about it.

 

After a while, they were back. He asked her which chair she found the most comfortable. Nothing near a window was all.

You could tell from the way he winced now and then that he was still hurting from the injury, not to mention the appendix surgery. Still he could do what he needed to.

He had brushed off the seat first. Ran his hand over the wood, as if he was checking for splinters. Not roughly, but with a firm grip, he put his hands on her shoulders and lowered her onto the seat. He stood over her for a minute, like he was thinking. She looked up, as if she was too. If she was afraid, you wouldn’t have known it.

To tie her feet, he’d gotten down on the floor. My mother was wearing the type of shoes she favored, that looked like ballet slippers. He slipped them off her feet—first one, then the other, his hand cradling one arch. He had a surprisingly large hand, or maybe it was just how small her feet were.

I hope you don’t mind my saying this, Adele, he said. But you have beautiful toes.

A lot of dancers ruin their feet, my mother said. I was just lucky.

He took one of the scarves from the table then—a pink one,
with roses, and another that had some kind of geometric design. It seemed to me he placed this against his cheek but maybe I imagined that part. I know that time seemed to be standing still, or moving so slowly at least that I had no idea how many minutes had passed, when he wrapped the first scarf around her ankle and began to tie. He had attached the chair to a piece of metal that ran under the table, where you could put an extension leaf in for times when you had company over and you needed to make room for more people. Not that we’d ever had to do this.

It seemed as if Frank forgot I was even there as he positioned the scarves—one on each ankle, that he attached to the legs of the chair, one around her wrists, tied to each other in her lap, so that she looked as if she was praying, sitting there. Sitting in church, anyway. Not that we ever went.

Then he seemed to remember me again. I don’t want any of this to upset you, son, he said. This is just something a person has to do in these types of situations.

One other thing, he told my mother. I don’t want to embarrass you in any way by saying this. But when you feel a need to use the restroom. Or have any intimate need that might require privacy. Just say the word.

I’ll just sit myself down beside you if that’s all the same with you, he said. Keep an eye on things.

Just for a second, that look came across his face again, where you knew he was hurting.

She asked him about his leg then. My mother wasn’t a big believer in medicine, but she kept rubbing alcohol under the sink. She didn’t want him to get an infection, she said. And maybe they could rig up some kind of splint for his ankle.

We’ll have you back to how you were before you know it, she said.

What if I don’t want to be how I was? he said. What if I want to be different now?

 

H
E FED HER
. M
Y HANDS WERE FREE
, but because hers were tied, he set the plate in front of himself on the table, but close enough for the fork to reach. And he was right about the chili he made us. The best I ever tasted.

How it was, watching him bring the food to her lips, and watching her take it, was nothing like my mother’s friend, Evelyn, when she used to come over with Barry, and she’d give him his meals. Or Marjorie with the baby they called my little sister, spooning the peaches into her mouth while she was talking on the phone or yelling at Richard about something, so at least half of the meal dripped down the front of Chloe’s sleeper suit without Marjorie even noticing. You might think it would be a little humiliating for a person, having to sit there like that, relying on this other person to give them their meal. If they put too much on the spoon, you’d have to take it, or too little, you could sit there with your mouth open, begging. You might think this would leave a person feeling mad or desperate, in which case the only thing they could do about it was to spit the food back out at the person who was giving it to them. Then go hungry.

But there was something about the way Frank fed my mother that made the whole thing almost beautiful, like he was a jeweler or a scientist, or one of those old Japanese men who work all day on a single bonsai.

Every spoonful, he made sure it was the right amount, so she wouldn’t choke on the food, and none of it would drool over the side of her lips onto her chin. You knew he understood she was the type of person who cared about how she looked, even when she was tied up in her own kitchen with nobody but her son and an escaped prisoner there to see her. Maybe how she looked to her son didn’t matter, but the other part did.

Before he lifted the spoon to her mouth, he blew on the chili, to not burn her tongue. Every few spoonfuls, he understood she should have something to drink. This would be water or wine, depending. He alternated those without her having to say which.

Unlike dinners with me, where she was always talking, telling her stories, we ate in near total silence that night. It was as if they didn’t need to speak, these two. Their eyes were locked on each other. Still, many things were coming across: the way she arched her neck toward him, like a bird in the nest, the way his body leaned forward in the chair, like a painter in front of a piece of canvas. Sometimes making a brushstroke. Other times, just studying his work.

BOOK: Labor Day
10.56Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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