The last time I’d laid eyes on Rena Oblong, she was naked and lanquidly posed in her bed, where we’d made delightful strenuous love til the break of dawn. That was just 12 hours ago. Now she was walking up the driveway to my parents’ house to pick me up for a date.
Mom and Dad had positioned themselves in rocking chairs at opposite ends of the house, with strategic views of the street. Our ancient dog Joseph, a lab-doberman mix, was also in an anticipatory mood, curled at mom’s feet, awake but with eyes shut.
“HERE COMES A CAR! “ Dad screamed.
“George, lower your voice! We are not all deaf like you!” Mom said in a raised voice. She watched as Rena got out of her VW bug and began the walk down into purgatory. Where we dwell. Me, mom, dad, and Joseph. We hardly ever got visitors. This was going to be an event.
I was sitting next to Mom in the “family room”, where Rena would enter. As she made her way to the door, my mother grew visibly alarmed. She stood up, pushing down the wrinkles on her “blue jeans”, adjusting her old-lady short hair. “James! You didn’t tell me she was a lady!”
“Yes i did. I thought I described her as a co-worker at the high school, a psychology teacher,” I said wearily.
“She is a woman!”
“What did you expect?”
“Oh , a ‘little friend’, like the last one you brought home….”
(My college sweetie, 20 yrs ago: an anemic semi-bulimic pale blonde philosophy student. Mom’s comment after she left: “Is that girl ill? She is so pale…”)
“I am a grown man, with grown women lovers, Mother,” I pronounced as I walked to the door to greet her. In the distance, Dad was muttering to himself as he made his way into the family room.
“Hi, Jim,” Rena said brightly. She was in a grey pantsuit, her raven hair pulled back and tied; slight make up, and smelling good indeed. I opened the screen door as my mother panicked in the background. Mom was terrified of Dad embarrassing us all. She is New England blueblood, and Dad is a “dirty goddamn uncouth German”. She had been repeatedly warned back in the 40’s to never marry a German. She was self-martyred to her mistake in judgment, which was from true love. But the love had gone, along with Dad’s mind these past few years.
“Come on in!” I said brightly, back, with an attempt to prepare her: a widening of the eyes, slight rolling, big smile, mouthing the words “you are brave!”
She winked at me and mouthed back: “you owe me!” as she came in and nodded to my mother and said, “Very glad to meet you, Mrs. Emmerling.”
Mom said, “So glad to meet you too, Miss Oblong. Please excuse the mess. I haven’t had the time to clean recently. My knee has been hurting me.” Eleanor stood a respectful distance away, her tiny hands crossed in front of her. Rena, me, and Mom made a triangle.
“It’s a very nice room, Mrs. Emmerling.”
“Oh, thank you, Rena, please. “ Rena went to the sliding glass doors and looked out at Eleanor’s flower garden. “What a nice view.”
“Thank you, “ Mom said in a tight voice, because Dad was almost here. He’d stopped in the kitchen to arrange a plate of candy (his beloved Hershey’s kisses), grapes, and peanuts. He entered, with the offering.
“Hello, Miss Oblong. Good to see you,” he said. He walked up to her and bowed, sort of. “Can I offer you anything, “ he said. Rena looked at the plate and then my Dad, her principal in the school where she taught & I subbed.
“I will take a kiss,” she said.
“Oh ho! A gal with a sweet tooth!” Dad boomed.
“George,” Mom tried to get his attention. “Keep your voice down!” she whispered.
“WHAT, Eleanor? Don’t mumble,” he said.
“Shush, quiet,” she said.
“Alright . I am sorry.” He put on a sad face. He was sundowning. He has mild dementia, which acts up after the sun goes down. After he is full of food and sherry.
Yet he gets up every morning at 85 yrs old, sharp as the razor he uses to scrape his amazing black stubble, and goes to work to run a high school of 2500 souls. To talk to Dad in the morning is my favorite thing in the world . Crisp, efficient, kind, absurdly innocent yet somehow…tough as the nails that crucified Christ. He was a Christlike figure. He often said, at night: “Ah, I am Jesus Christ!” A German version, ach. I don’t know how serious he was. I barely ever do. I have a suspicion that a lot of his dementia is an act. Such as:
“Rena, is there anything else I can offer you? Jim would be happy to get it for you, right , Jim?”
“You betcha!” I said, quietly.
“No, no, Mr. Emmerling, this is just right. A little kiss . I love these. “
“GEORGE!” he boomed, sitting down in his chair, putting his hands in his lap, folded. Trim legs half-crossed. This guy could really cross his legs, back in the day. When he was 150 lbs. He is about 205 now. Not in his legs, though.
“Call me George, please. Yes, those are my favorite. Now….what….why..oh, yes, you and my son have a meeting tonight, to deal with the bad situation in my school. The boy with his head in the toilet. A Japanese boy, yes? I dealt with the Japs in the War. Good little people, awful what they did, though. It was that emperor, Soho, yes?”
I sat on the love seat and offered Rena a seat next to me, and said, “ Yes, Dad. But he’s Chinese-American. We are gonna find a good way to solve it.”
Rena said, “Eleanor, please join us. You must be sick to death of talk about the high school.” Mom smiled and pulled up a chair. The absolute perfect thing to say to Mom.
“Oh, you don’t know. You don’t know. He loves that high school more than he loves me,” Mom said lightly. Dad shook his head vigorously, but did not interrupt.
“I doubt that,” Rena said, legs neatly crossed, hand under chin, leaning into Mom’s space. I sat back and kept eye contact with Dad. We exchanged a sort of “well done!” that men do when appraising each others’ women. I leaned my eyes to Mom, then back to him,widened them, winked , and gave him the SHUSH command. He nodded and looked out at the birds. He loved birds. There were 3 birdfeeders I built from scratch in the garden. His pinkie, down in his lap, began massaging his testicles.
Mom and Rena exchanged female pleasantries that I tuned out, because I trusted Rena to make my Mom love her. And she did, I found out, as I tuned back in from an erotic reverie:
“Oh, thank you so much. I never hear that. Living with these men. I so miss my girlfriends, but all of them are dead,” Mom said.
“Perhaps we could ‘do lunch’, as the suave ladies say, Eleanor?” Rena said.
“Or breakfast!” Mom loved going out for breakfast. But not with Dad.
“Tomorrow morning?” Rena said.
Dad was getting restless and had to say something, so I preempted it with: “Dad, thank you for hiring Miss oblong!”
“AHA! You are welcome, son. She is a good girl. “
““We have to get going . We have reservations at Wendy’s”
Rena snorted. Mom looked confused. Then all hell broke loose, because there was a clap of thunder in the far distance.
Joseph is deathly afraid of thunder, or rain. He has a panic attack. He usually jumps through a window or door and escapes for a wild berserk run. He came zooming in, and jumped through the open screen on the sliding glass door, and disappeared, to the south.
“Shit,” I said.
“James!” Mom yelled.
“Damn dog! Look what he did!” Dad said.
Rena was calm . She asked Mom, “Is that an unusual event?”
“No.. Unfortunately. Joseph has ‘problems’. Like James. Like his father.” Mom said, always pinning down blame.
“Well,” Rena said, “ I say we go find Joseph!”
I stood and said, “I agree!”
Mom sat there miserable, while Dad rose and sort of saluted me. “JA VOHL!”
“Uh, can you drive,” I asked Rena.
We exited on our important mission, Mom and Dad following us to the door.
“What about your reservations?” Dad said.
“I will text Wendy’s. Don’t worry, Dad.”
“I am beside myself, James. This is awful. Poor dog.”
“I know, Dad, “ I said as another rumble of thunder pounded everyone’s anxiety to high alert. “But we will find him.”
“Since you won’t be able to make your reservation, “ Mom said, “I will heat up the meatloaf for when you get back!”
Dad looked stricken. It was gonna be his lunch tomorrow.
We escaped. On an adventure.
It turned out to be the best damn thing that ever happened to me, but that is for later…