By Ruth Z. Deming
Finally I was ready to visit my relatives in my home town of Cleveland, Ohio. We were in a heat wave but I refused to let that stop me. As Rabbi Hillel said, “If not now, when?”
Jewish I am, and proud of it, but I’m not a believer.
Tried to put my blue-eyed Siamese cat, Missy, in a cage for the ride, but she would have none of it. Her former owner had taken her own life, for spite, we believe, so I let Missy ride up front with me.
Was she ever curious!
I live alone. My two children had moved out and, as the book of Genesis says, “And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Please! Such arrogance.
My hand would absent-mindedly stroke Missy, who gave great mewls of joy. She was a well-fed cat. In the trunk of my “Crimson Red Pearl” sports model, I’d packed her cat food, along with my new sexy clothes my sister Toni had mailed me.
I took the back roads. Along the turnpikes – Pennsylvania and Ohio – we whizzed by so fast you couldn’t see a damn thing.
Now I was touring. What a lovely word! On my red couch at home – bought at Gamburg’s Furniture, still there on York Road – I would indeed tour along with Rick Steves as he visited far-flung countries in Europe.
Missy would sit with me for a while and then saunter around my two-story beauty. Occasionally, and I know her former owner did this – she would lock “the Miss” in the bedroom as she would become a nuisance.
“Now there’s a place I’d love to live,” I said to Missy and pointed out the window.
And there it was! The perfect house. As I child I had a Little Golden Book from Racine, Wisconsin, titled “A Day on the Farm.”
An exit was coming up. Although I was going at a good clip, I turned on my right signal and exited.
Like a sleuth, I slowed down and found the house.
Took a sip of my Plantation Mint Bigelow Tea.
The closer I got, the worse the house looked.
Oh no! An old couch was on the front porch.
“Stay here, Missy,” I said.
Carefully I climbed up the front steps and peered in a window in the doorway.
Was I in a William Faulkner novel? Who would I meet? General Sartoris? The idiot Benjy? Or that poor girl, Temple Drake?
“Helloooo!” I shouted.
I heard feet shuffling inside. Reminded me of my boyfriend, Scott, who shuffled around the house in his Deerskin bedroom slippers.
The door squeaked open.
“You wanna come in?” asked a balding man with tufts of hair atop his head.
I nodded and walked inside.
“Jesus Christ,” I said. “What happened to you?”
He explained his welfare checks had stopped coming and he was penniless.
I opened up my back pack and gave him every cent I had.
Twelve dollars and change.
“Listen,” I said, “I’m Lily – short for Lillian – and you are?”
“Oh, ‘jes call me Grandpa Simon,” he said, showing his missing front teeth.
“Get in here,” he said. “Gonna feed you something.’”
Sure enough he had corn cakes in the skillet on the stove.
He motioned me to sit down.
After a few bites, I spoke the truth.
“Best damn corn cakes, Grandpa, I ever did eat.”
I ran my tongue around my mouth and he handed me a toothpick.
Back on the road, I shook my head and thought, “For every house you see, there’s a story behind it. And probably not a good one.”
Dear God, what would become of that man?
Took another sip of my Plantation Mint Tea. The caffeine was giving me a tiny buzz.
Turned on my GPS.
I would visit my cousin Becky. When I knew her nearly 30 years ago, she had a great personality. Like me, her parents were dead. The dad, Leonard, died with his pants down in the bathroom. Her husband Hershel died of a heart attack while driving, poor guy, and caused five other accidents.
Scenes passed me by. Again, I wished I could visit every house I saw, every restaurant – “Homestead Inn” – and every small gas station like the orange Shell station.
“Stop thinking!” I commanded myself.
The actress Helen Mirren was the voice on my GPS.
Wonder if they were paid a lot of money.
“Follow the road to the corner,” she said in her British accent. “Put on your left turn signal and drive a quarter of a mile.”
I knew what I would find when I got to Becky’s. I’d called to let her know I was coming.
“The Bad Luck Kid” would be a good nickname for her.
Or, was it bad luck or bad choices?
A white glider swung with the wind on the front porch.
The house was white and peeling paint.
A dog barked inside.
Missy tried to crawl into my lap.
“Becky,” I said. “Didn’t know you had a dog.”
“A stray,” she said, “who wouldn’t go away.”
So passive, I thought.
I recognized a lemon cake with icing that had been made in a Bundt pan.
We hugged and hugged.
“You won’t believe me, Becky,” I said, “but you are still the beauty I knew when we were children.”
This cluster of land was “drug country.”
Becky was a drug addict.
She fell for the commercials on television saying it’s okay to inject – yes, inject – Oxycodone. It is not habit-forming and in fact, it is good for you.
I asked where her needle was. She led me into her bedroom. There, among photos of her parents and her grandson, Neil, a needle lay on her bedspread.
“I hope you clean it off after you use it,” I said.
“Of course, Miss Lily, I’m no fool.”
“Mind if I help myself?” I asked. “Where shall I inject?”
She reached over, pulled up my orange dress, and injected into the flabby part of my thigh.
I spent the night there.
Closing my eyes, I envisioned swaying green leaves on trees, tall gladioli of many colors, a procession of mustangs on the plains of Montana, racing as fast as they could, and my boyfriend Scott floating above in his Deerskin Slippers like the paintings of Matisse.
Now I knew.
And I liked it.
Very much. Very very much.
Once was enough.