Monday, January 17, 2005

Cleaning house

Now it's my turn to ring a doorbell.

The little light inside Linda's bell has burned out. I press it firmly, and hear a buzz from inside the house. It's like the noise my dryer makes when it's finished running.

A minute passes. Nothing.


What the HELL is going on? She MUST be home! Doesn't she care that her kid is at my house?


The door creaks open about six inches. I walk inside, and Linda's already got her back to me as she walks rapidly down the hall, talking to herself. "I gotta get the meat," she says.


"Gotta get the meat."


"Gotta get the meat. Yeah?" she says, wheeling around suddenly.

"Charles? And your dad?"

She stares at me expressionlessly.

"They're at my house. And now that there's no emergency, they can come back home. But your dad is asleep and Charles is busy playing with my girlfriend, so they're probably both going to need some encouragement. To leave."

"What do you mean, he's PLAYING with your girlfriend?" she asks, eyeing me suspiciously.

"Connect four."

"Hmm," she says with a sidelong glare, and walks out the front door.

Yeah, lady, your 12-year-old, wheelchair-bound son is ball-deep in my 23-year-old girlfriend. Surely you jest?

I follow her down the sidewalk and into my garage, up the stairs, and through the door. "Charles, get your stuff together. We're leaving. Pop? Come on, let's go!" she says.

"But Mooo-oom," says Charles. "Can't Stephanie and I finish our game?"

"No! This guy wants us out now," she says, nodding her head at me.

"They can finish the game," I say, nodding.

"Pop! Wake up!" Linda says. "POP!"

"Ssshhphhh," says Pop. His eyes open.

"Get up. We're going home," she says.

Pop's eyes close.

"POOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOP!!!!!!!" She screams. She winds up and smacks his shoulder with an open hand; it sounds flat, as if she is hitting a piece of wood.

All movement stops in the room as we turn to look at Linda. Pop's eyes open again. He stands weakly up and heads for the door.

"I'll bring Charles home when we're done," Steph says.

Pop and Linda leave without so much as a thank you. Well, Pop did thank me earlier for allowing him to pollute my commode.

Steph and Charles finish the game, and he's staring at Steph as she puts his blanket back over him.

"Can you come and help me with my therapy sometime," he says softly.

"Well, I'm gonna be very busy with school starting next week, honey," she says. "Plus I'm not a therapist, so I don't know how I could help."

"My mom does it. She just helps with my exercises and junk."

"Maybe when school is over this spring," Steph says.

"Pleeeeeease??" says Charles. The kid has an eye for hot chicks, I have to give him that.

"We'll TALK about it," Steph says firmly. She has a way of telling people to fuck off while still sounding as sweet as Mary Ann from Gilligan's Island.


Steph and I are back on the couch, where we were a few hours before when my doorbell rang. Peace and quiet, again.

"That wheelchair is falling apart," she says.

"Oh yeah?"

"Charles says his father took off. And his brother has ADHD."

"So how the hell is she paying the mortgage?"

"No clue. Maybe the father pays alimony or child support."

"Maybe so. And Linda works. I see her driving off in the morning sometimes."

"There's a lot of grants and state programs to help families like that, and I bet she's not even taking advantage of them," Steph says.

I roll my eyes.

"What? This is what I want to do with my career, Steve! I want to help people just like her!"

"You just said you're gonna be too busy with school," I say.

"I know."

I really hope she does not turn that weird-ass family into her personal charity project.