I woke with a kick to the head from Rena, who was sleeping one way on the bed, me the other. I forgave her immediately, because of the circumstances that had led up to us being arranged in this position. Something I had never tried before. I was brave, and Rena was a most patient teacher…
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “What time is it?”
“I dunno. The clock is up at the top of the bed. Just look to your left. “
“Shit! 8 a.m.! Time to get our asses moving!” She sat up and peered blearily for the flowery robe I’d bought her , with her help, for her 33rd birthday.No more than 3 inches above the knee, she instructed, because she was having body-image issues, especially about her thighs.
“Your thighs are flawless,” I’d said truthfully.
“Sure, when I am naked, they are. Cuz some of my upper stuff balances it out. It’s a complicated geometrical gestalt. But in a robe, what you see is my legs only, and standing alone, they are irritating to look at, for me,until you get to below the knee.”
“Mmm hm. OK,” I said.
With her robe on she was calmed a bit. She sat on the edge of the bed, rocking back and forth, hugging her arms to her chest. Today was the day we would visit her mother. I had no clue in the world what to expect, so I dreaded it . It didn’t help that Rena had never told me a damn thing about her, except that “she can fuck me up fifteen ways in five and a half minutes, kiddo.”
I hadn’t moved a muscle, and my ass didn’t feel like getting moving. It was a Sunday! I wanted to do the Sunday paper in bed thing with her, her in her robe with her Boston Globe, me with my New York Times. In my black robe. I felt like Ronald Coleman in it. Or James Mason. If I got dressed , in would have to be in boring modern male casual clothes that don’t bring out my essence. What I need is a cape. But guys don’t wear capes anymore. I am a man who would feel quite comfortable in a cape.
Rena suddenly got up and said, “Move it. We got a two hour drive. We gotta hit the road in 30 minutes tops. We gotta hit the shower, and there is no time for privacy , so we gotta double up. “
That got me into motion.
Showered and me presentable in khakis and an xtra large longsleeve deep blue shirt which kinda felt like a cape, unbuttoned over a white t shirt; she in a black skirt and dark gray sweater, no makeup, we hit the road.
She was morose , very uncommunicative. Chewing her lower lip. Concentrating on the road. Occasionally doing that female thing of sticking her fingers in her mouth, as if to bite her nails , which drove me nuts, because I was a terrible nailbiter as a kid, and to see it in someone else bugged me.
I brought Dylan’s new album, Tempest, with me, but didn’t dare stick it in the player. She’d put her foot down about it last night. ‘’Your little cd player? That is where you are gonna listen to that old hillbilly psycho hippy’s music from now on. Got it?”
I turned on the radio. NPR. The drug of choice if you want to calm yourself or someone else down. Bring you up into the life of the mind, with soothing smart kind voices telling you the most terrible things. Also that buffoon Garrison Keillor, with his skits . I despise everything he does, but I gotta say he gets me on an even keel. The thing about NPR is : you feel like you are part of a community of conscientious intelligent adults who, though a bit condescending, can make you feel like more than a peeled ape fighting monkey urges and fears.
Rena said, “Mom has a parrot, just tellin ya.”
“Hm?” I said. I was listening to a smart piece about some jazz musician who died yesterday. He was 92. Apparently he was rather influential in jazz. I’d never heard of him, but now I had, thanks to NPR.
“Oh, that’s sweet, “ I said. I’d taken an extra Klonopin this morning, for the trip, so I was mellow as a bedsheet gently swaying in the wind on a clothesline.
“The parrot is not a good bird. Generally. It is a myth. This parrot, Rudolf, named after Valentino, he is an especially vile bird. I am terrified of him. Just sayin, ok?”
“Ok. Valentino? Ha. “
“Mom likes the movies. The old idols of the cinema. Also just sayin. You know , for your education.”
“Well, me and my mom love watching old movies. She likes the guys with ‘SA’: ‘sex appeal’. Like Omar Shariff. Robert Redford. Oh, shit, and Clark fuckin Gable. She’s got a stable of em.”
“Mm. Last time we went over there, she was talking about the new ‘suave’ weatherman on the Weather Channel. He’s ‘black, but the good kind’. She likes the exotic types, eh?”
“Indeed she does. Her biggest crushes are her heart doctor, a Syrian, and her knee replacement surgeon, a Mexican.”
“Good for Eleanor! Well, I just brought this up cuz the parrot might seem weird. She is very attached to it, mom is. Ever since Dad died. Ever since..” something inaudible.
“Oh, ever since she killed him .”
“Oh. Aha. What method did she use?”
“Incessant emasculatory undermining of his good nature. “
“Hm. Eleanor delves into that, but she aint got the heart to see it through to bloodshed.”
“Yeah, well.. Mom did. But that was a long time ago, when Daddy died. Almost 3 years.”
“That’s not too long”
“I was being facetious.”
“oh. Hey, wanna hear some music, or just stick with NPR?” I asked. I was becoming a bit head-heavy, listening to NPR. I sure jonesed for some Dylan. But I dare not.
“NPR. It soothes me.”
They were talking about the controversial aspects of something that some good people were doing somewhere to make this a better planet. Economic? No, ecological. …
We got to the swanky rest home where Rena’s mom and her parrot Rudolf lived.
Suddenly I was unaccountably nervous. Rena went silent and still, then sighed , and smiled, and kissed me full on the lips. “Thank you thank you for this, James.”
“uh, sure,” I said, and went in with her.