Maria and Her Pappy

“Pappy, I fixed the toilet!”  Her beaming smile fell. “Pappy?” His eyes met hers so she started over. “Pappy, I fixed the toilet! I found the fix-it box with all the parts in it over the dryer and read all the instructions.”Doug

He said nothing, so she sat close by on the sofa and waited for a commercial to come on the TV. She muted the sound and tugged on his arm. “Pappy, I used Mama’s tools but I put them all right back where they belonged. The old parts were hard to get off so I used the pointy vise grips and got them all off without busting anything. Now it don’t leak or nothing!”

He kept staring at the TV, so she put the sound back on. Her Mama could fix anything. Her Daddy could yell real loud. She wasn’t supposed to know, but her Daddy had shot Mama and then blowed his head off when she was little. She remembered sitting in the courtroom with a lady that kept calling her Poor Thing instead of Maria. She’d hopped away from that lady and run over to Pappy. He’d held his arms out and she’d snuggled on his lap. The judge had said Pappy could take her on home.

He’d been fine back then, a retired high school math teacher. It wasn’t until she got to second grade that he’d begun that staring, and then he’d call her Marlene more and more. She had to do the bills because he forgot them and they wrote scary letters like the water would get turned off and would be $100 to turn back on. She went to the little grocery and Ice Creamgave them checks that she’d forged his name on. He forgot her tenth birthday. He always used to make such a big deal about her birthday and always took her out for ice cream. Not anymore.

He needed help and she knew it in her heart. The idea of going back to the ‘Poor Thing’ lady curdled her stomach. She wished so hard that she could fix him. How? The show ended and she turned the TV off. He had to get professional help. “Pappy, it’s bedtime.”

He got up and headed for the bedroom.

“No, Pappy, go to the bathroom first.”

In the bedroom, she put a fresh folded towel down for accidents and put yesterday’s in the hamper; she’d need to do laundry tonight. He came in and put his own pajamas on.

As he dressed, she stirred up her courage and said, “Pappy, tomorrow I’m calling the doctor for you, so you can get your medicine straight and maybe your mind straight. You might need a different medicine than what we get in the mail.” Would the doctor call the county to take her away?

He snapped the last snap and sat on the edge of the bed. He looked directly at her and blinked a few times. “The toilet isn’t running all the time. I thought it ran all the time.”

He noticed; she almost started crying. “I fixed it. I got the box and the tools and took it apart and made it work right.”

“You have the genius for it, and I’m so proud of you.”

She knew he thought she was his daughter and waited for him to say ‘Marlene’.

He reached for her hand. “Just like your Mama, baby, she fixed all sorts of things, too. blog june 080Maria, I’m so glad you take after her. I am so darned proud of you.”

Her breast pounded and she grinned like a jack-o-lantern. “Thank you Pappy!” She tucked him in and kissed his cheek. “Goodnight, and I’ll say a prayer for you.”
A genius, like Mama. As she loaded the washer, she wondered if she could get him to walk to the Doctor’s office with her, that would be best. If not, she’d take care of it some other way. A genius can do anything, even if it’s hard and her gut doesn’t her want to.


The Christmas Cactus

Shivering, she pulled herself up from the hearth using her cane and put the poker back on its hook. “I shouldn’t ought to have let that burn so low.” She eyed the four logs left, judging whether they’d be enough to get her through the night or not. Nope. Susie wobbled to her overcoat and went out to woodpile on the front porch in the blowing snow and retrieved four more fair-sized ones. She fretted about forgetting to do it in the daylight; she forgot so much anymore.

The fresh logs she’d just loaded in the fireplace still laid there, not wanting to burn. Working the bellows until she got a flame made her sweaty. She thought about taking the darned overcoat off because with two sweaters on it would cut off her circulation but good. Coming down with pneumonia wouldn’t be very smart, though.

Next she knew, she stood at the coatrack with her coat hung. Chilled to the bone, her hand fondled the other coat there, and she wiped the tears from her face. “Stanley, help me out here, will you please?” His camouflaged hunting coat felt so blessedly warm as she buttoned it up. “Yes, Stan, I’ll make us some tea.”

Instead of making the tea, she plopped heavily into the padded kitchen chair by the fire. Staring at the flames, she remembered how Stan would have brought in plenty of wood, and he would have banked it better. He more than once told her she didn’t have a lick of sense and she believed it. That Christmas cactus she’d insisted on getting so many years ago bloomed right on time anyhow, up until he went onward to the pearly gates. Since then, it hadn’t done its duty at all. She angrily remembered the tea and heaved up to put the kettle on the stove. The propane he’d put in heated it up quick and she fixed christmas-cactus-in-handa little pot of chamomile.

On the way back to her warm seat, she glanced over to the miserable cactus. She stopped, her tensed body falling slack. “Oh Stan, would you look at that!” She gently cradled the bright red blossom and smiled in that contained Mona Lisa way he liked. “Thank you, lover, I’m warm nose to toes now.” She sat and sipped her tea, hugging his coat tightly, feeling his embrace as they watched the fire dance. Merry Christmas.


Missing Delphina

Oz reached in and grabbed the cord. He ran his hand down it until he came to the plug. Crawling further under the kitchen sink, he plugged the dispose-all in. He leaned out and back against the island cabinets. The floor needed mopping. He swatted the dispose-all box out of the way to find his coffee cup. That dispose-all had been sitting in plain sight on the shelf at the end of the island for close to two years. Maybe four, he’d bought the hardwire kind instead of the right kind and had to make it pluggable. Not doing that, not putting it in, is that why she’d left him?Copper Chicken

He made his way to his feet, not near as easy to do these days, dumped the cold coffee out and poured a fresh cup. Together for 39 years today. Together? The house was way too quiet, but damned if he would turn that old public radio on and run it all live long day. Car Talk forever reruns irritated the crap out of him; they was wrong the first time and now he got to hear them cough up the same wrong answers over and over again.

His eyes caught the big old clock on the wall. That Scottish music show would be on, so he pressed the button and there was Fiona Ritchey telling about some crazy Spanish bagpipe player. He looked up at the ceiling fan that would not come on any more. The good Lord knew why; he’d have to go flip the breaker off and bring up the ladder if he wanted to find out. Gosh, whoever was playin’ that fiddle sure had the blues.Cabin Checken Array

That job done, he put a cold hotdog on a stale bun and squirted that last of the mustard on it. He remembered Delphina making him say the word ‘listeria’ and made him promise not eat them raw. He stuck it in the microwave and nuked it for 44 seconds. He finished it in four bites. That was the last bun. He could run up to the store and get some kraut to put the last two in, if he felt like it later.

He rammed his shoulders back to make the recliner do right and set his Sprite on the side table. Putting his feet up sure felt good. Seeing a pair of cardinals flitting around in the yard made him miss her more. They used to sit under the poplar tree and make kraut so many years ago. He peeled the cabbages, picked off the worms and cut them in half while Delphina shredded them into a crock. While she poured on a layer of salt, he chopped the nubs she couldn’t shred and they’d do it again until they had two crocks full. They still had the two heavy white plates that fit perfect in the crock to weight it down, and the crocks, somewhere.Get Out of Kitchen

He blinked, awakened by Erica Brady saying she’d just played Bill Monroe. Dang, he’d missed it! The Lost City Ramblers was good, though, and anything with Rhonda Vincent in it. Barren River Breakdown really was a great show, homegrown from WKU. Delphina always was givin’ em money, and he guessed it was worth it. He would not shed a tear no matter how lonesome he got. He sipped his warm Sprite and wondered why, why, oh why? He needed her like a ship needed water and its sail needed wind. He felt aground and slack without her; shipwrecked.

The front door creaked open and he sat up rod-straight.

“Oscar, where are you? I got Irma back home and all. You know nobody else came to see her to visit or anything? That poor woman has got nobody at all when she gets dire sick.”

He got to the kitchen nearly breathless. There the pixie stood, setting her purse by the empty chili can he should have thrown away. “You’re home!”

“I had to get back to celebrate our 40th anniversary, didn’t I?”

“I thought it was the 39th.”

“You may be a wizard with most things, but you ain’t got a head for time. I’ll make that German chocolate cake you like, with plenty of coconut. That box I had to kick out the way must mean you got that garbage disposal put in. Thank you! No tellin’ what else Old Oz has been up to the last couple days.” She spread her arms out wide. “Here you rascal, give your girl a hug!”

Feed Your Heart

“Put your finger right there.”

Janie did, but without any charity in her heart. Esther made up the bow all pretty and just on the lid so’s the box would be real easy to open. “Janie, doin’ this ain’t hurtin’ you. Miss Betty is gonna like that we remembered her birthday.”

“Miss Betty has no clue this is her birthday. She’s so far into La-La Land, she doesn’t even react when you speak to her anymore. I don’t like going there; it gives me the creeps, all those zombies.”

“When you’s finished with yo’ attitude, bring you them cookies for all them to share and let’s get a movement on.”

Janie grabbed the handles of the carryall with the plain, soft oatmeal cookies and went to the car with her mother. “It’s ‘get a move on’, not ‘movement’.” She got in the passenger side and shoved the cookies between her feet. The fake nurses would wolf down all the cookies after they left; why feed them?

The main hall in the nursing home smelled of the plastic sheets and diapers and of sanitizers. Janie put one butter tub of cookies on each of the five break room tables and put the lid beside each one while her mother watched. She was irritated that nobody was up yet, this late in the morning and nobody was here to give her even one bare ‘thank you’.

Toes“Now honey, that weren’t so hard, now was it?” She reached inside the carryall and got out the manicure kit and a pair of side cutters from the toolbox. “Now I got to go do up Miss Nattie’s toenails, they’s in awful shape. You go give that present to Miss Betty and give her a kind word.”

All the rooms were doubles and Janie remembered Miss Constanza loved peppermints. She walked into the room and tossed the box onto the staring person on the right. She turned to the left and felt aroundStarlites in the carryall for her mother’s stash of candy. She held out her palm with a starlight mint. Constanza smiled and opened her mouth. Janie glanced back at the door as she peeled the wrapper. She popped the mint into the toothless mouth and left quickly.

Esther had finished with Nattie’s toes, thank goodness, and now sat between Nattie and Jerrita chatting. “Hi, honey! I was just telling these ladies how you won that piano competition. Maybe one of these days you bring that electric keyboard you got for Christmas and play it for these ladies.”

Janie thought, ‘Not a chance’ but said, “Maybe.” She sat in the worn chair and waited for her mother to wind it up. Perhaps she needed help? “Ma, you need to get ready for work.”

“Oh my, look at the time! Yes indeed, I got to go. You ladies take care now, hear?”

They got near Betty and Constanza’s room and as expected, her mother had to go in. Janie followed reluctantly, eyes on the dull floor tiles.Scarf to Face

Esther exclaimed, “Oh see there! Miss Betty likes it! Miss Connie, look over here at this! Happy Birthday, Miss Betty!”

Janie looked up. The poor old thing had taken the scarf from the box and was holding it to her cheek, even as she stared straight ahead. How could that have happened? Janie looked over to Constanza who opened her gums wide.

Esther automatically got a mint from her pants pocket and pulled the ends to twist it open fast. She popped it into the waiting mouth, and turned to Janie. “We done good here today. Janie, never doubt, you done yo’ part for the good done here today. You feed yo’ heart with that, child.”

Janie thought, ‘Huh. Maybe she’d like some music too.’