Keepsakes

KEEPSAKES

For Kathleen Crowther

The man stared at me, checking me over.

He looked like he’d been made by a poorly coordinated kid who got bored easy and had no sense of design. He was carrying about thirty pounds more than he should, stood around six foot in shoes, and his general demeanor was a complex mixture of hard and soft, aggression and compassion, warmth and coolness. His disarming and yet authoritative air probably made people forgive him almost anything. Almost.

The face itself was straight from Sesame Street, shaped over time by fist, blackjack, occasional knives and razors, and other assorted objects. It was a thick wedge of tan skin-colored modeling clay with two bushy, almost-Neanderthal brows—a bullet had burned a gap in the right one—and large green-brown eyes, bordered by lines and underscored with overnight bags. Right now, the eyes were narrowed tightly, appraising me. This was a cautious man.

Above the eyes was a thick tuft of sagebrush hair, cut unfashionably short and so black it was almost purple. On one cheek was a small dark circle that looked like stubble missed by the morning razor. It was actually a healed-over bullet hole. Below it, and to the side, his lips looked like they were welded together so they’d never smile. But that was just a pose, and one of many. Perfectly on cue, he allowed a small smile. This was not a man to do what was expected of him.

He wore a brown Polo shirt beneath a light green tweed sport coat, beige canvas pants, and a pair of lace-up sensible brogue shoes, thick-soled and bearing the soft look that shoe leather can only get over years of painstaking cleaning and polishing. He lifted one leg so that the sock became exposed. It was bright yellow with green vertical flashes. This man was not a slave to fashion.

We’d known each other a long time, him and me. I was used to him, familiar with his ways and always comfortable with his decisions. I bent down and hoisted up my travel bag. He did the same. He also copied me when I checked my side pocket for my car keys, my inside pocket for my wallet, and my holster for my .38. What else does any man need?

I checked behind me in the room to see if I’d left anything. I hadn’t. I turned back in time to see him turning back from checking his room. It looked a lot like mine. He looked a lot like me. I had one advantage, though: when I looked at him, I saw only what I wanted to see. When he looked at me, he saw the truth.

But we did have one very important thing in common. Our mom loved us. And we loved our mom.

It was only three weeks since Easter, but already the threat of New York summer hung heavy in the air; its muggy ninety-degree days sending out an advance guard of thin wispy tendrils of heat, snaking along the sidewalks by the delis and the art shops, and in the park beside the bushes and around the band shell.

I felt a mixture of excitement and apprehension. The excitement came from leaving the city for a few days, the apprehension from spending those few days with my mom. When I looked at him, I saw that the guy in the mirror showed only the apprehension, carved deep in a long line across his forehead. As I watched, he relaxed. Gave me a smile that said, It’ll be okay. Maybe it would. I took a final look around the apartment and walked out, slamming the door. Hard.

Out in the street, my Toyota waited breathless, ready to move. I threw in my bag and my jacket, unclipped my holster and tossed it onto the passenger seat, climbed in behind the wheel. We set off, man and machine—both sluggish at first—heading for Broadway and parts beyond.

It was one of those days when I wished I had a convertible, but I made the Toyota into the next best thing and rolled down all the windows. The finishing touch was a cassette of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons…all I needed now was Alan Alda sitting beside me, and we’d be fine.

Broadway parallels the Hudson River and, if you ever want to go north out of New York, it’s the best route of escape…straight, colorful, and interesting. I crossed the Harlem into the Bronx, drove past Cortland Park into Yonkers and the start of Westchester County. Somewhere over left of me, fortunes were being made and lost, and reputations manipulated, along the lush tees of St. Andrews. Golf had never been a game I could come to terms with, but it ranked second against big business. Maybe the two of them deserved each other.

Along the way, Broadway changed its name a few times—Albany Post Road and U.S. 9 being the most common—but it was always Broadway to me. The Toyota had got its wind now, and it gulped both the oncoming countrified air and the endless blacktop with impressive ease. I leaned my arm out of the window and enjoyed the flattening landscape and the lush compositions of Vivaldi as we moved through small towns whose names ended with ‘on-Hudson,’ then Hastings, Ardsley, and Croton, and over the Tappan Zee Bridge and into whimsical Tarrytown, onetime home of Washington Irving.

From there into Ossining where, glancing across at the ghost town of Sing Sing, I turned down the sound to see if I could hear the spectral echoes of metal mugs on steel bars that so characterized the old prison-break movies. But there was only wind and the smells of defeat, failure, and incarceration.

Before long, following State 9D, we drifted through Garrison, Boscobel and Cold Sprint. For old times’ sakes, I stopped the car in Cold Sprint and, amid the heady perfume of roses—maybe more imagined than real—I thought of Mom and Dad and, more recently, of Philippa Tamidge and Rodney Millerchap. I made a mental note to bring Ella Thornley out here sometime. When I got back to the car, I had butterflies in my stomach.

Back on the road, we rejoined U.S. 9 into Rhinebeck before branching off onto State 9G, less traffic, nearer the river and air redolent with the smell of apples. I stopped at a little road stand and bought a bag from a towheaded kid, dressed in faded denims and sporting the biggest booger of dried snot on his top lip that I’d ever seen. “You ought to see about getting that amputated,” I said. Who needed Alan Alda?

“Huh?” he said.

“Doesn’t matter,” I told him, taking the apples. I held out a five-dollar bill and he snatched it, keeping his eyes on me all the time. Those same eyes looked set to fall right out of his head when I waved away his offer of change. Koko Tate, Big Spender.

Munching my McIntosh, I drove on through Hudson itself, switched to State 9J to keep next to the river, and onward to Kinderhook, Resselaer, and the dusty state capital, Albany. Out of Albany and into Troy—where, sparing a thought for Herman Melville, I bellowed “Thar she blows!” out of the window, scaring an old man, who was busy scything his lawn, out of any growing he still had left to do—we took U.S. 4 back over the Hudson into Waterford and across the Mohawk to Cohoes. By this time, the butterflies in my stomach had put on boots and were busy working out to Michael Jackson.

Crescent Road followed the Mohawk through Crescent, Vischer Ferry and Rexford, then it became State 146 and took us on into Niskayuna and Schenectady.

Our destination.

Schenectady is home to two formidable institutions: General Electric’s research and development center and my mom.

Although New York’s heartland is generally considered to begin west of the industrial triangle of Albany, Troy, and Schenectady, north of the Catskills and south of the Adirondacks, there’s still a lot of small-town soul in Schenectady itself…along with some of the prettiest picket-fenced smallholdings you’ll see this side of a Rockwell calendar or the pages of an old Archie comic book. Eleanor Alice Tate lived at one of them, 421 Fenimore Street.

I pulled the Toyota up against her front lawn and turned off the engine. The car breathed a clink of relief and began to settle itself onto its chassis for a well-earned rest. I got out and stretched, winding my head around to bring some feeling back into my shoulders, breathing in the heady scent of roses and night stocks that wouldn’t even begin doing their real work until the sun went down and the air cooled off. Just as I was thinking of opening the back door and getting my jacket, the little old lady that used to protect Tweety and smack Sylvester with a broom walked out onto the step of the house, holding the screen door ajar with her shoulder and wiping her hands on a blue-and-yellow floral apron. Shielding her eyes with her right hand, she stared at me across the grass. “Koko?”

“Hi, Mom,” I shouted. The butterflies had tuned in to a metal-rock station. I walked toward her, the years falling away from me with every step, the sounds of the Toyota’s hot metal ticking behind me, the gentle breeze lifting the branches of a huge sycamore that probably looked down in the same benevolent way when the American Locomotive Company opened for business back in 1851. Two houses along, a guy in a Hawaiian shirt stopped mowing his lawn and leaned on the machine handle.

The smell of freshly cut grass drifted across and around me and, by the time I got up to her, I was fourteen years old, knees scuffed and hands dirty, looking behind her small frame for a sign of Dad standing in the doorway, rolled-up copy of The New York Times grasped firmly in one hand. But he didn’t appear. I hadn’t seen him—except in my dreams and one time during a scary hypnotism session with Jim Garnett—since 1972 when we’d laid him to rest in a small graveyard in Lawnswood where, on a still clear night, you could hear the shouts of kids reaching for the brass rings on the Palisades rides and smell the sweet, cloying drift of cotton candy.

My mom took hold of my arms and held me there, eyes moistening. Behind me, the guy in the shirt started up his mower. She shook her head, and when she spoke it was with a mixture of pride and loss, her voice shaky and unsure. “Koko,” she said, “it’s real good to see you.”

“You too, Mom,” I said, and I bent forward and hugged her to me and bit my lip to stop from crying, squeezing my eyes tightly closed and breathing in her smells so that I could call on them those times when I felt scared or lonely. She patted my back and shook her head again, pushing me back to arms’ length and taking another look. “My, but you’re so tall,” she said with just a hint of a smile.

“Six feet is all, Mom,” I said. “Same as ever.”

She nodded her head and then lifted a hand to tuck a strand of hair beneath a silver clip. “It’s me, I guess. Shrinking,” she said. Then, with a dismissive wave, “Go get your things, now. I’ve got hot blueberry muffins and a fresh pot of coffee.”

“Hot dog,” I said, immediately wondering where the words had come from and I jogged back, up through the years, to the disappointment of adulthood and the promise of decay and obsolescence offered by my slumbering Toyota.

As the afternoon drifted into early evening and the first night flies took to the airwaves, my mom and I brought each other up-to-date with news and stories, rediscovering each other again after long months of unnecessary separation.

I told her about “Lonesome” Pines—missing out the shooting—and Philippa Tamidge, and about the Bible murder and my trip down to Louisiana with Jeff Sandusky. She liked that story a lot, always having been partial to cats. I didn’t tell her about the little old ladies from last Christmas. Too close to home.

And as she stood at her sink, washing our plates and cups and staring out into the colors of the evening, I told her about Ella Thornley, and about how much she’d like her. My mom told me that Ella sounded just fine and that I had to bring her up to visit.

In her voice I could hear her silent prayers that God should keep me well and make me settle down and marry and, maybe, just so’s she could see them one time, bless me and this Ella Thornley with kids that could run bare-assed through the long grasses that she still thought existed off the main roads of New York City.

Sitting in Dad’s old chair, smoking a stale Pall Mall from a pack that Mom kept around for emergencies, I flicked through an old copy of Vogue. Mom turned on a side lamp and settled down into the chair next to me, picked up her sewing. I felt like I was in an off-Broadway play, maybe something by Arthur Miller, set back in the mid-Fifties.We were building up to moving into the second stage of our conversations when the knock on the door interrupted the thought flows.

“Just hold on a minute,” Mom said, straining out of the chair. “Now who could that be at this time?” she muttered, aside to me. I watched her walk to the door, arthritis pulling her knees outward, and wondered where all the time had gone.

She pulled the door open and gave a small yelp of delight. “Tyrone Daniels, what are you doing out here at this time?”

A tall, thin man in his late fifties ambled through into the living room, nodding to Mom and smiling over at me. “I couldn’t get out here until now, Eleanor, and I truly am sorry.”

Mom waved him nevermind.

“We had all manner of things going on today, and I did promise I’d get out here and talk to you about the missing hose and…” Tyrone Daniels let his voice drift and fixed his eyes on me the way any lawman would.

“This is my son, Koko,” Mom said grandly. “Koko, this is Tyrone.”

I nodded and held out a hand. “Tyrone, how you doing?”

He took it and shook it hard. “Doing just fine,” he said, “just fine.” He removed his hand and jammed it into his jacket pocket. “Koko you say?” he said to Mom.

“It’s short for Kokorian,” I explained over Mom’s nod. “Mom always wanted me to be a ballet dancer, but I never did make it.”

“Oh, Koko!” she said with a laugh, and struggled back to her chair, landing with a plump and a sigh into the cushions.

Tyrone Daniels gave out the kind of smile that people reserve for when they don’t know what the hell’s going on. I shook my head and waved him free.

“Sit down, Tyrone,” Mom said. She turned around to me and said, “Tyrone works out at the sheriff’s office.”

“Oh?” I said, like I hadn’t already guessed. The big man nodded and sat on the edge of a high-backed chair. “What you been doing, Mom? Not speeding again?”

Mom shook her head, allowed her beaming smile to spread still farther across her face, and pushed her glasses farther back on her nose.

“There’s been a whole spate of burglaries along this road, Mr. Tate,” he said.

“That’s Koko,” I corrected.

He smiled and gave a quick nod.

“Burglaries? You didn’t mention this to me, Mom.”

“Didn’t see that I needed to, Son. They didn’t get away with much at all, just some old hose I had curled up outside the back porch.”

“Any ideas on who was responsible?”

“Kids most likely,” Daniels said in an easy voice that covered up his strength and sharpness admirably. I was impressed. “Stole junk and bric-a-brac mostly,” he went on.“No offense, Eleanor.”

Mom shook her head and resumed her sewing. “None taken, Tyrone.”

“Junk? Like what?”

Well, your mom’s hose, some barbecue equipment—tools and the like, you know—a couple of garden pixies from Mrs. Berryman’s place…” Mom sniggered, and Tyrone shot her a glance before continuing. “A garden fork left out overnight…that kind of thing. Nothing important, but it’s just the fact that there’s someone prowling around that…well, it just causes some discomfort.”

“When was this, Mom?”

“Couple of nights ago, now. It’s not all that important, now, so stop your worrying,” she said, patting my arm.Then to Tyrone, “I’m really grateful you came around, Tyrone, but everything’s all right now Koko’s here.”

I flexed my muscles and put on one of my toughest expressions. “Koko Tate, scourge of pixie thieves!” He laughed dutifully.

“So what line of business you in?” he said, getting to his feet. “Seeing as how you didn’t make the Bolshoi.”

“Same as you,” I said, “but private.”

“A pee eye, huh.” He didn’t sound impressed. Nobody ever did. “How’s it pay?”

I shrugged. “I eat every other day and sleep at the Y on Saturdays. What was it the animals used to say on The Flintstones? ‘It’s a living!’”

“Yeah, right,” he said. He didn’t know what the hell I was talking about. He turned to my mom and gave her the big warm smile he had so successfully kept from me. “You let me know if you hear anything now, Eleanor,” he said, “and keep those doors locked.” Mom started to get out of the chair, but stopped when he placed a firm hand on her shoulder. “I’ll see myself out.” He turned around and walked to the door. “Good meeting you, Mr. Tate,” he said.

“You too, Tyrone,” I answered. I walked over to him, pulled open the door, and walked out onto the step with him. He paused and looked up into the steadily darkening sky. “Gonna be another hot one,” he said.

I followed his gaze…Fredric March and Spencer Tracy out on the front porch in Inherit The Wind. “Yep,” I said, fighting off the urge to hitch up my pants. “Looks that way.”

“You staying long?”

“Over the weekend,” I said. “Mother’s Day.”

“Right. My mom died few years back.” I nodded and just managed to stop from telling him I was sorry to hear that. “Well, gotta get along now.” He ambled off across the grass toward a waiting Dodge Rambler with its sides on. “Be seeing you.”

I waited until he got into his car and gave a wave as he pulled off. Somewhere up behind the nighttime clouds, a god that must’ve had a soft spot for Stephen Spielberg sent a meteor searing across the treetops on the other side of the road, flying high enough to make Toledo. Its trail flashed bright and then disappeared, leaving a dark scratch, like a kid’s uneven scrawl or an old woman’s signature, etched on the blackness.

When I looked down and turned around, the guy in the Hawaiian shirt was watching me, standing out on the sidewalk smoking a cigarette. I nodded to him. “Hello there.”

“Hello yourself,” he said. “You Ellie’s boy?”

“I guess so”—I laughed—“but ‘boy’ might be a bit ambitious.” I held out my hand and walked over to him. “Koko Tate,” I said.

He took the hand, limply, held if for a second or two, like it was a fresh dog turd, and then let it drop. “Jerry Parmenter. So how’s she doing?”

“My mom? She’s doing just fine far as I can make out. But maybe it’s me should be asking you.”

“Me? Hell, we never hardly see hide nor hair of Ellie. Keeps herself to herself,” he said, pulling on his cigarette. “And that’s just fine with me’s what I say.” He raised his eyebrows and nodded at me, as if to say it was a pity more folks along the street didn’t follow my mom’s example.

“Yeah,” I said, mainly because I couldn’t think of anything else to say, and looked around at the street and my Toyota. “It sure is quiet along here.”

He pulled again on the cigarette and threw it to the grass, ground it in with his foot, and blew out a cloud of smoke. “We were worried about her a while back, me and Doreen—Doreen’s my wife.”

I smiled. “Worried?”

“Yeah, she didn’t seem herself.”

“How’s that?”

“Oh, I don’t know.” He pulled a bent-looking pack of Kools out of his shirt pocket and shook one out. I didn’t even know they still made menthol cigarettes. He put the cigarette in his mouth and said, “Walking around the lawn late at night, muttering…like she was talking to somebody.” He looked sheepish, embarrassed to be telling me this about my mother.

I glanced back at my mom’s house, saw the curtain twitch at the window. “How late is late?”

“This time, maybe a little later. I always come out ’round about now. For a smoke, you know. Doreen, she doesn’t like me smoking in the house.”

“She do it often?”

“Every night,” he said emphatically.

“When was the last time?”

He frowned. “Night before last, I think.”

“Well, I’m grateful for you telling me, Jerry. I don’t see how there’s a whole lot I can do about it, but I do appreciate you telling me.”

“Where’re you from…Koko?”

“New York City. Born and bred. Mom moved out a few years after Dad died.”

“You staying long?”

“Just over Mother’s Day, going back Monday morning.”

He threw the cigarette down on top of the first one, ground it in the same way. “Well, gotta be getting back. Only supposed to have the one.” He slapped the pack of Kools through his shirt pocket like a teenager checking his trusty Trojans. “You give her my best, now,” he said as he walked across the grass to his house.

“Will do,” I shouted after him. When I turned around, the curtain twitched again.

Back inside the house, Mom was making a fresh pot of coffee and there was a plate of cookies all laid out on the table. “Who was that?” she said.

“One of your neighbors, Jerry Parmenter.”

She sniffed her disapproval. “He’s new. Been here around four months, never speaks to me, neither him nor Doreen—she’s his wife.”

“I know.”

“You shake his hand?”

I laughed. “Like a dog’s paw.”

She joined in with the laughter. “He’s out there every single night, smoking those mint cigarettes.” She tutted and stirred the coffee. “You’d never catch anyone who was anyone smoking those things.”

Mom had always been the ad man’s dream come true. For most things, but particularly for cigarettes. She smoked Chesterfield because Ronald Reagan said he sent all his friends a box at Christmas and then Luckies when Marlene Dietrich advertised them in the early Fifties. It was Camel when John Wayne told the nation “It’s kind of gratifying to see that my cigarette is America’s choice, too,” then Philip Morris when Lucy Ball told everyone to “Call for Philip Morris.” She kept with Philip Morris right up until Lucy and Desi got their divorce, then switched back to Chesterfield when they advertised that they were actually air-softened and because the ads said that two out of every three smokers smoked them. Now she smoked hardly any at all, and she only bought what was cheapest in the store.

“He say anything about me?” She handed me a pot of steaming coffee that smelled strong enough to climb right out and walk around the floor.

I took the coffee and frowned, shook my head thoughtfully. “Oh, he said for me to give you his best.” I sipped.

“Mmmm.” She flopped into her chair and winced in pain.

“Bad?”

“They’re always bad around nighttime, honey. There’s not a single thing you can do about it.” She rubbed her swollen knee joints tenderly, and I felt suddenly sorry that she had to do it for herself. No one around to give her sympathy, show her affection, tell her she looked nice.

“You look great in that dress, Mom,” I said.

“This?!” She took hold of the collar like it was an old sooty rag, and laughed a short sharp snort. But deep down, I knew, she liked me saying that.

I never sleep late.

So it was a surprise to find it was almost ten o’clock when I came downstairs in the morning, the house silent and empty, a bowl and packet of Cheerios left out on the table for me. A note in Mom’s careful hand said she’d gone out to church and would be back around eleven-thirty.

The slowed-down country air had furred my head cogs and left me feeling thick, couldn’t-care-less, and young. I wandered around the rooms rediscovering pieces of my youth, all preserved just the way I remembered them. My heart ached with the memories and the silence. I felt like I was waiting for something to happen.

I went down to the Toyota and brought up the flowers and candies I’d bought before I left New York, put them out on the table so she’d see them as soon as she walked in the house. Then I decided to cut the grass. Out in the garage, jammed down behind the mower, is where I saw the hose. To one side of it were two brightly colored pixies that could have been identical twins. Behind an old washtub cabinet that I remembered Dad taking the mechanical guts out of, I found the pitchfork. Everything else was there, too. It seemed like I could solve cases without even trying.

By the time she got home, I’d finished the grass and used the telephone. The first thing I said to her when she walked in was, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom.” The second was, “Cute move stealing your own hose. The last person to suspect is a victim.”

Her mouth dropped open, then snapped shut. Years tumbled down out of the ceiling and landed squarely on her shoulders, bending her almost double by the time she’d made it to the chair.

I lifted the flowers and placed them on her lap, gave her a big kiss on the cheek, and knelt beside her. “You want to tell me about it?”

The world has a lot of sights that just take hold of your heart and wring the life right out of it. One of the worst of those is seeing your mom cry. Only seniority can truly console and when you get on up toward seventy years old, there’s not too many folks left around who qualify for the task. She sobbed and shook her head, holding onto her flowers like a mother with her baby. Which made an awful lot of sense.

“You feeling lonely out here?”

The tears subsided a little, and she nodded. “Very,” she said, making such a short simple word into a huge weight of despair.

“So you took the things to draw attention to yourself.”

She looked at me in horror. “No! I did no such thing. I didn’t want people to know it was me.”

I stroked her arm and shook my head. “No, I know you didn’t want people to know it was you, but, deep down, maybe you thought they’d find out. Then wonder why you did such a thing.”

“No, it wasn’t a cry for help, Son.” She gave the phrase a dose of disdain and licked her lips. “They were keepsakes.”

“Keepsakes?”

“Yes, mementos of life, I suppose.”

I watched her face, waiting for it to make some sense to me.

“The pixies and the barbecue things…they’re all things that people have, that people make a noise around. I guess I just wanted to bring some of that life inside.” Her face was bright now, animated with trying to make me see. “There’s no life around me anymore. Everything’s so still and so slow, everybody treats me so soft and gentle…I don’t want that, Koko. I remember the days when…when everything was so active around me.” Her eyes misted up again, and I held her hand tighter now. When she spoke again, it was so soft I almost couldn’t hear her. “I miss him so much, Son,” she said. “I get so lonely.”

“I know, Mom, I know.”

The knock came right before the door opened, and Tyrone Daniels stood there, a sky-gray Stetson Whippet clasped tightly in his hand, a big beaming Sunday smile on his face. When he saw Mom, his smile dropped.

“It’s okay, Tyrone,” I said, “she hates it when I give her things.”

Tyrone looked a little confused and cleared his throat. “I just came to say I got all the things back to their owners, Koko.”

I squeezed Mom’s hand twice. “Glad to hear it. You figure you’ll ever catch who left the stuff over in those bushes?”

He shook his head. “Kids. Like I said. Leastways nothing was broken.”

“Yeah, nothing was broken.” I stood up and moved toward the door.

“I just came around to thank you again, Koko,” he said, following me. “Seems like we country folks could learn a thing or two from you big city clickers.”

I smiled awkwardly and slowly pushed the screen door open.

“Well, you take care now, Eleanor,” he said over his shoulder, and I saw Mom’s eyes twinkle in surprise. “I’ll be in touch Monday or Tuesday. There’s a recital at the church on Thursday, thought you’d like to go. I’ll give you a call. Though you might be lonely when Koko goes back.”

Mom nodded in amazement.

I followed Tyrone outside where it had started to rain. I’d cut the grass just in time. Halfway down the path, he said, “How was I?”

“Don’t give up the day job.”

He sniggered.

“You laid on the country bumpkin act with a trowel,” I said. “And what the hell are city clickers?”

“Huh?”

Maybe he hadn’t laid it on all that much.

Waving him off, relishing the refreshing coolness of the rain on my head and shoulders, I felt undeniably good. The first warmth of the year’s summer. Mom would never know that I had told Tyrone Daniels the truth, told him what she’d done, and what I believed had caused her to do it. That was the real present right there. Real presents aren’t always things you can see or buy, like candies and flowers…they’re things you know, and things you do.

I turned around just in time to see the garish strains of a Hawaiian shirt disappear into Mom’s house.

When I got back inside, she was pouring hot water into three mugs. The cookies were already laid out on a plate, and Jerry Parmenter was halfway through his first Kool.

Before I got the chance to say anything, Mom said, “Jerry asked if he could duck in here for a cigarette. Doreen doesn’t like him smoking in the house.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“It’s raining,” Jerry Parmenter said.

“Yeah,” I said again.

“I told him it was okay to call in any time, particularly when it’s raining. I love the smell of tobacco.”

I looked across at the man with the dullest handshake this side of a cemetery and saw him wink at me. Some neighbors are like that. They don’t miss a trick. He’d seen Tyrone Daniels and me loading the things into Tyrone’s trunk, put two and two together.

Mom handed out the mugs of coffee and plopped into her chair. She looked as fresh as mountain air. “We’ll just drink this down, and then I’ll fix us some lunch,” she said, taking a sip.

“And I’ll just have another cigarette,” Jerry Parmenter said. “You want to try one of these?” he asked my mom, holding the pack of Kools out to her.

Mom reached for them and looked up at me with that old mischievous gleam. “Don’t mind if I do, thank you.”

Jerry Parmenter lifted his mug toward the ceiling. “Here’s to mothers…everywhere,” he announced.

Thornton Wilder…Edgar Lee Masters…Sherwood

Anderson…John Howland Spyker—eat your hearts out!

 

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