Be it ever so humble
“Because no one can enjoy the experience he desires until he’s ready for it.”—Henry Miller
It was certainly odd, but she wasn’t complaining. After four months on the market, her house had finally sold, yesterday, to a buyer who neither wanted to see the house nor wanted to negotiate the price. Though that probably bode ill, she was resigned to the sacrifice of her long attachment to the place if she wanted to keep her sanity and escape the nightmare of her humiliating job situation.
Then, out of the blue, Fred had called, asking to see her. She scarcely expected that to bode well either, though he had been sort of sweet when he’d said good-bye to her that last time, which she had assumed was good-bye forever. She’d listened as he pulled the door to, walked around to the back, and when she’d heard him bang the garbage can lids back into place, she knew that he was really, really gone. There were a lot of tears that night. But what was the point of them, if he had called again so soon?
Still, it had been a shock that afternoon to see a tall, nice looking man on her doorstep in the place of the angry teenager who had gone. She’d dropped into a chair and never moved the entire time he was in the house, it had been that unsettling.
There was only one answer: He wanted something.
Well, good luck, my little boy; there’s nothing left to give.
Fred rapped on the wooden door, forsaking the knocker, as he always did. Again, there stood the handsome, dark-eyed man on her doorstep, with the precision and timeliness that she remembered from his boyhood. She ushered him in and shut the door behind her, without locking it.
“Well,” she said, standing with her back to the door as he crossed the room. “The house is sold.”
She watched for his reaction, which was no more than a brief, nostalgic stroll through the rooms. He ran a finger along the mantelpiece where the nails still waited for Christmas stockings, then leaned an elbow there.
“I know,” he said softly, looking somewhere other than at her.
Meaningless words. The Sold sign wasn’t even up yet.
“I bought it.”
Shock and anger fused through her even as the strange words registered. Fine. Her own son taking advantage of her misery and then having the gall to come over to gloat. He really was the perfection of her mother’s work; the old witch striking at her still, even from the grave. It was only now that she noticed he had a thick manila envelope in his hand. He passed it over to her.
He watched her, nodded toward the envelope.
She smiled bitterly and pulled out a thick stack of legal documents. Big deal. She hadn’t the ability at the moment to focus on the whereofs and heretofores to extract any meaning. What was the point?
“Mom,” he said, treading cautiously over the word. “I came into some money.”
She stopped reading.
“I’m giving the house back to you.”
“What?” There was no anger in her voice now.
“I figured you didn’t really want to sell. You grew up here; I grew up here. You always said you’d live and die here. So, I bought it. If I’m wrong, you’re free to put it back on the market. Anyway, the money’s in the bank. You’re free now.”
She said nothing, but held the papers in front of her, staring sightlessly.
He didn’t know if he’d done right or wrong, but it was done. He moved slowly, dragging his feet across the room, on his way back out the door. But as he passed her, she put out a hand to catch his wrist. Tears were spilling down her face.
“You bought my house?”
“Yeah, Mom. I bought your house. Did I do wrong? Why are you so upset?”
“I am not—“ she said, sniffling, but did not raise her face. “—upset. I’m—overwhelmed. I—“
Words failed her and so did her knees. Fred helped her down into a chair, walked into the kitchen and came back with a glass of water. He put it into her hands and sat down across from her.
His eyes were bright. “Don’t worry about it. The shock wears off, believe me.”
“You have money?”
He laughed ruefully. “I won the Powerball.”
“Holy fuck,” she muttered. And then she started laughing.
He tried to laugh too, likely more amused by her oath, but didn’t seem to be feeling quite the same level of hilarity.
“It isn’t easy, you know. Now all of a sudden, the right and wrong you do are quite large.”
She made a flippant gesture with the papers clutched in her hands, still laughing.
“Yes, they are!”
When she had calmed down a little, she laid her hand atop his, an irrepressible grin remained that wiped age and bitterness from her features.
“I’m glad you won. Honestly, Fred. I hope you enjoy it.”
“I enjoyed the first one more.” She looked at him quizzically. “This is my third win this year.”
“Exactly. It’s a little much. I am, quite frankly, at sea.”
“You were always a good little boy. I’m sure you will figure out what’s right.”
“I’m trying, Mom.”
There was an awkward stretch of silence.
“What do you read these days, dear?” she asked, falling naturally into their oldest conversation.
“Mainly Debord and Vaneigem—Situationists, the late Sixties—but I feel the need for a change. Maybe something that isn’t French. Constantia thinks I should read Harry Potter and Esmeralda thinks I should read Angela Carter.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Girlfriends?”
“I would have guessed the other one.”
“Most people do.”
“Have you known her long, Constantia?”
“Only a few months. I like her a lot. It’s Ike and Esmeralda that are my best friends. Probably it shouldn’t be that way though, should it?”
“It’s always hard to say what anything should be like. I’ve not made good choices, and I lost the one thing I loved the best.”
Both her hands were in her lap now. “Yes.”
“What are you reading, Mom?”
“A few things. A book about the dreams of the dying, a gardening book, a collection of Hemingway essays. You know, I’ve read Harry Potter, the first one, when it came out in ‘99. I have it here somewhere.”
She got up and went to a built-in bookcase beside the fireplace. “Or this. You’ll like this better; it’s French.”
She handed a thick volume to Fred.
“Forget the damnable musical, the book is worth reading. Perhaps a more poetic antidote to your Situationists.”
“You know about them?”
She shrugged. “Yet another painful confraternity of French nihilists, no?”
“Well—no more so than your standard bodhisattva.”
Her eyes narrowed skeptically, but beneath them, a subtle smile radiated pride.
Fred was leaning his elbow on the armrest of the curvilinear chair, his chin cupped in his hand. “I like this house—I always did.” He sighed deeply. “But I really hate the furniture.”
“I know, but it’s execrable.”
She laughed, and shortly rose to put a pot of coffee on.
“You know, I feel caught short,” she called from the kitchen. “Christmas and everything. I don’t have anything for you…”
He smiled faintly. “That’s OK. I’m not exactly in need of anything these days.”
She studied him wistfully for a minute from the kitchen doorway. “There is something though…”
She opened a drawer in the writing desk in the corner, and returned with a white square of paper. Not quite a piece of paper, a Polaroid photograph. She handed it to her son.
He looked into the face of a younger version of himself, the flash catching a pale face against the night, a handsome, impish young man with a hideous shaggy haircut.
“Wow.” He held it closer. “I never saw this one before.”
“This one? I never showed you any of them.”
“I went looking. What’s a boy without a father to do? He wonders.”
“Have you looked for him?”
“Yes, but I’ve never found a trace—not even now in the era of Internet searches.”
She made a thoughtful sound and sank back into her chair. “Perhaps it is all for the best.”
“My business math teacher, Mr. Ruggieri, he was good for me, and so was Dom.” And Bes and Ike, he thought, though she didn’t know either of them. Who was Trapp? There was so much they didn’t know about each other. He should encourage her to travel; she’d always wanted to. Good thing about that coffee…
So close to the end…find the beginning here.