The one lamp illuminates the room with a yellowish-orange light. It must be almost 9 pm.
“Dad, you’ve heard of this….you’re not one of “them” , are you? ”
The brow furrows, he sighs. ” We’re not Jewish. I’m not, your mother is not , you are not. ”
” No ,Dad. that other stuff we talked about?”
Dad laughs now, not a true nervous laugh, and not the laugh when he talks to his friends on the phone, but there is something wrong with this laugh, it doesn’t fit into the something-really-is-funny category. A disturbing chuckle which does not refute. I am helping him clean his den while he transforms PDfs into Word documents and types up my legal forms. Tap, tap, tap. Space. Pause.
“I need to focus on this now ” he says as he types away. ” and don’t talk to your mother about all this.” Space, tap, tap tap.
He touches my wrist- ” Go, take a break. You look tired. There’s coffee and food out on the table. ” When all this is over you will feel better, ” he says, unconvincingly. “Oh, before I forget, when your mother and I go up to Russian River , you will feed the fish, water the plants?”
“Of course, Dad”.
The phone rings, I recognize the name, one of his professor friends. He wheels around to look at me with that blank , confused “I-don’t-speak_English” look on his face which I know in this case means “Are you still here?”
I go, close the door behind me, I head to the kitchen, mother must be out on the front deck smoking- and eye the prosciutto, cheese, salad, bread , all spread out on the deli paper. It’s the good stuff, but I don’t want it.
I’m standing there, waiting, waiting- the inevitable cash register/computer that never fails to quit in almost any line I am standing in. Strains of “I Shot the Sheriff” play out in the background. The woman in front of me, turns her head over her shoulder and rolls her eyes at me in acknowledgement of our mutual suffering. Both of us are too far in to defect to another register, our stuff is on the conveyor belt. The hateful Sheriff song has ended, a worse one in its place, behind me a man with chips and a bottle of some kind of alcohol sings along.”Brandy , you’re a fine girl, do, doo , dodoo it, doo, do”.. I catch his movements peripherally and discern possible methamphetamine at work. I feel relieved he is lost in his own world, and will not likely share any mutual sufferring with me. I get to the register, the poster child for future perfect dead soldier scans my items, he brings to my attention my failure to press some button .
“I’m sorry, I’m not really awake today”.
“Neither am I”, he says, looking at me. His hair is fair and cropped close, his eyes are surprisingly dark brown for how light his hair is, and he has been in the sun recently. He smiles a friendly, sympathetic smile, I smile a no-teeth, weak, motherly smile back . I haven’t noticed the bagging clerk, who looks vaguely like a Santa Claus mixed with an aging, heavilly mustashed country singer. He asks if I want help out, I sweetly decline, as I know he will keep me in the parking lot talking, and I already know too much. This time he doesn’t get huffy that I said “no thanks”.
I get back to the house, put everything away, boot up the PC. The Skype is flashing. Lists of names of people I don’t know- or know better than I should. Pop up messages with links I will not click on. Pop up “add me” requests that seem to come from nowhere , with nothing that identifies them as anyone familiar even in a vague “screen name” sense. People telling me more things I really don’t want to know. Asking me stuff I don’t have answers to. Wanting what I can’t give them, that I no longer have myself. People “happy” for me, “sympathetic” . Then there are the resentful, the cautiously casual, the “fake friendly” and the “fishermen”. Dante, surely there is room for instant messaging in Hell?
Mental note: take that out of the start up. Run>>msconfig>>startup>>uncheck. Talk to tech geek son about other VOIP clients. Or not.
The Thoreau-esque cabin image comes to mind again, the scent of dirt, eucalyptus,cypress, the sound of leaves crunching- simplicity. There are no Laura Ashley or Martha Stewart anything in these visions. Ever.
Answering machine flashing as well. Appointments. Discussions. Questions. Fake good cheer. My eyes narrow. I erase them all.