Saturday, March 20, 2010

Final Spin

Roy turned off the television and squirted airplane glue into a Velour pouch. He put the pouch - an eyeglass carrying case - over his nose and inhaled deeply. His face and spine got all gooey, and his eyes did insane, unsynchronized pirouettes. Wiping drool off his chin, he got up to do the laundry. Mom asked him to get a couple loads done before bed. In a house full of Neanderthals, as she called her four boys, the wash was one serious matter.

One day not long ago, he found his mother sitting on a big mound of clothes in the utility room sobbing. "What's the matter, mom?" he asked. Embarrassed in her moment of weakness, Mrs. Cooper rubbed her eyes and rocked into a standing position. "I can't take it anymore," she screamed. "You pig-hogs just open that door and throw stuff out here that's not even dirty. I spent half the morning getting a grip on this mountain when your brother Gene chucked these pants at my head. He wasn't even looking. I just...folded hour ago...and PUT THEM ON HIS BED!"

Mrs. Cooper had issued her tornado warning. He and his brothers usually pretended that gale winds blew from her mouth when she ranted like this. Flinging themselves across the room, they would crash land upside down, limbs twisted, legs up on a chair or wall. The storm would pass with a smile, and the Neanderthals would be off the hook. Roy was about to ask the origin of "pig-hog" when he noticed that familiar curvature in her brow. It said, "Do you WANT to die!"

He sympathized. He too was guilty of this laundry faux pas, but he just followed the unwritten rules of the pack.

Spoiled Brat Handbook
Chapter 43: LAUNDRY
1.) Try something on from your closet.
2.) Look in mirror.
3.) Scowl with foppish disapproval.
4.) Fling garment into garage.
5.) Later, find it clean and folded in closet.
6.) Repeat as needed.

Well, late or not, the wash was out there, dirty and waiting for Roy. He quietly opened the garage door, careful not to disturb his grandmother. She lived out there in a nice, little apartment that had built for her. It had air conditioning, carpet, bathroom and a big picture window facing the street.

Nicer than that creepy house in Mississippi, he thought. It wasn't the house that was creepy, Roy knew, just the location. There was a massive cemetery with an imposing, black, wrought iron gate. The entrance was absolutely, smack-dab, right in front of his grandparents' house. The sidewalk by the gate rose four feet above the street - higher than Roy at the time - and foot-wide drainage pipes stuck out of the retention wall. Roy thought that if he looked in there, there was going to be someone, or something, looking back at him. As far as he was concerned, they were escape hatches for the living dead.

Roy punched HOT, starting the cycle. Bending over, sorting lights and darks, old and new, he heard something. He got light headed and hair pricked up on the back of his neck. He was still high from the glue. He turned off the washer and cocked his head.

"Henry...Henry," he heard faintly coming through the wall. Roy resumed the cycle and poured in detergent.

Henry was his grandfather. He died a little over a year ago back in their hometown of Water Valley, Mississippi. One night, a few weeks after his death, their neighbor spotted Faye, dressed only in her nightgown, standing in the street waving her arms in the air. She told her neighbor that she saw Henry trying to unlock the gate across the street. "We have a date," she tried to explain. "Oh, Faye," they said, not knowing what she meant.

Mrs. Cooper was notified and went to collect her mother. It had now been a year since Faye moved in with Roy, Gene, and the oldest, the twin Neanderthals, Rule and Bud. Being a single parent, Mrs. Cooper had told her boys that Faye was going to help her around the house and she needed their help with her.

Some nights Faye came in when they were all asleep. She would roam the house, wringing her hands and nervously biting her lip. This terrified Roy. He imagined her snapping one night and buffing their throats open with an emery board. His fear peaked the night she sneaked up beside his bed.

Still scared of the dark, Roy slept with his door open to let in the bathroom light. At first he heard her clicking dentures approach that night, then saw her blue flannel housecoat emerge down the hallway. She stealthily shimmied into his room, as he lay paralyzed. Squinting his eyes, he feigned sleep and kept guard. She leaned over him, took a gander, then left clicking her jaw, pitifully mumbling, "Henry, Henry..." Roy got a nightlight and now locks his door.

Of course she only wanted to talk to someone, he thought, and she probably got a good freaking out when she saw his cracked eyes. Roy wanted to show more affection, but she sometimes didn't even know who he was, and she smelled like a licked spoon. Now she busied herself with an occasional Southern Living Magazine and watched for the mail from her window.

The washing machine was full of water. The whites - more like the grays - would be first. Cramming a pile into the machine, a stray article escaped. Roy looked down and saw a pair of Gene's Fruit of the Loom's, now an albino starfish, crawling back toward the hamper. "Oh, that glue!" he thought, blinking hard, rebooting his brain.

He made some tongs out of a coat hanger, grabbed the Size 38 starfish and threw it in the boiling pot. He grabbed the bleach and read: "Fill washing machine with water. Add soap and articles to be cleaned. Allow machine to operate for five minutes. Turn off machine. Add one cup bleach and let articles soak for an additional five minutes. Resume cycle." All that waiting? "Hogwash," he said and dropped the lid.

"Yes, Henry!" Faye shouted.

Roy walked over and rapped lightly with his tongs. "Grandmama, are you all right?" No answer. Roy opened the door. It was dark. She sat by the window, moonlight shining through the blinds. Bars of light highlighted her blue bouffant and her blue-veined hands. Roy thought her hands looked like a couple of uncooked chicken thighs. Her ceiling fan blew at the blinds making light dance on the lacy hem of her blue nightgown and blue slippers. Always color coordinated, Roy thought. Again he timidly called out to her. No reply.

She drifted in and out all day looking through her window. "These people around here beat those silly stories on television," she would say. Talking to herself, she would give the play by play: "I swear Mrs. Latham is going to lose her drawers bending over like that. Those kids are going to break that mailbox. Why on earth doesn't Mr. Clark wash that filthy van of his? Going out all hours of the night. Driving down the road like a bat out of hell. Can't believe he wears those ugly sweatpants every day. Lifting those weights. No underwear. You can tell." Then her mood would change and she'd say to Roy, "I'm waiting for Henry to come bring me to heaven."

Roy stared at her silhouette for a while, ruefully grinned and closed her door.

"Mother's high strung." Mrs. Cooper told Roy once. "She makes me want to pull my hair out, but my father put her on a pedestal. I asked Daddy one time, 'How do you put up with her?'" Mrs. Cooper teared up and smiled at her son. "'Because I love her,' he said."

Roy's mom said her parents were a "couple of walkin' fools" back home in Water Valley. "Arm in arm they'd go tearin' down that street," she said. "Mother holdin' her head high like some model and dressed real nice. She liked her clothes."

"I've noticed," Roy said.

"Daddy dressed nice too, everybody did back then" she said. "Nice pressed suit, had his hat on and, of course, kept those shoes polished." Roy's brother Rule got Papa's shoeshine box. Little did his mother know that Rule kept his weed in it.

"Whole town knew 'em," she continued. "Roy, you remember when - no you probably don't, but you were there - we all were walking by Big Star, that supermarket, and that fella yelled, 'Here come the Duke and Duchess of the Delta!'" He used to work for Daddy, but Mother always said she hated him. She hated everybody. Later, when Daddy started getting sick, they kind'a toned it down a little and just walked around the cemetery. They went on 'walkin' dates,' as Daddy called them. They used to go look at those headstones they bought - kind of morbid, I guess - but it was real pretty in there, prettier than where the living people lived. That's why I got out. I was standin' next to Daddy when he died. He was holding Mother, pressing his lips to her cheek. He whispered in that raspy voice, 'When we gonna go for our little spin around the park, darlin'?' you know, like nothing was wrong. 'Anytime,' Mother said, 'just call me up proper-like for an honest-to-goodness real date, so I can get pretty for you, honey.' Then he was gone."

The washer had a few more minutes before final spin, so Roy decided to go back inside to kill some time. He turned on the Benny Hill Show and went into the kitchen to get some apple juice. His mom called from work at the deli. "I got inventory tonight," she said, "probably won't be home 'til three or four. How's the wash going?"

"It's going," he said.

"Where is everybody?" she asked.

"Gene's rented "Dead Man Walking" and is over at Jane's. Rule and Bud went with Scott and Robin to see The Grateful Dead laser show at the planetarium."

"Is Robin that girl with the orange afro?"

"That's Stacy. She moved. Mom, uh, Grandmama's having nightmares. She keeps calling out Papa's name."

Mrs. Cooper started talking to someone at work, laughing about someone leaving early or something. "I've got to go," she said. "Wash those dishes in the sink for me, will you? I cut my finger bad and can't get the bandage wet."

"Why can't you get Gene to do it?" Roy asked. "He never does nothing. Or how about Grandmama? She's up all night anyway. She's about as much help as a corpse around here."

"Roy, you know you're the only one I can count on. Do you remember the last time mother washed the dishes? Do you remember how she washed them?"

"With the hose."

"That's right, with the hose," she said. "Gene's a pig-hog, just forget it."

She hung up on him.

Roy grabbed his juice and plopped down on the sofa. He took a fresh hit off the pouch of glue fumes and dumbly stared at the tube. Benny Hill was slapping the top of an old man's head. "Fuuunnnyyy!" Roy said in slo-mo. He thought about ransacking Rule's shoeshine box, but had never done weed and was scared. Instead he took another hit and his head began to spin, encircling a long tunnel of fur, or was it the velour eyeglass pouch. The seconds slowed to minutes, or maybe the minutes were speeding into seconds, Roy vaguely wondered as his brain slowly died.


The clothes dryer door slammed shut in the garage. Jumping up, he tripped over the glass coffee table and badly gouged his calf. He hobbled to the garage, opened the door and caught the faintest glimpse of lacy hem from his grandmother's blue nightgown slipping out the side door. "Where is she going?" he asked himself. She had gone on running jags before, Roy remembered. They were accompanied by screaming fits, and she was pretty fast for an old lady. Roy wasted no time.

The grass between the houses was high and wet. Roy trotted along in the dark down the hill to the front street trying to come up with a good con to get his grandmother back inside. He would probably tell her that his mother wanted her on the phone. That would work. He got to the sidewalk and looked up and down the street. Despite a full moon, dark clouds now obscured most of the light. He wished that he were wearing his glasses. Across the street, Mr. Clark was loading bags of newspapers and cans into his van. She must not have come this way, Roy thought. If she had, Mr. Clark would have stopped her. He knows the whole story. After all, Mr. Clark had caught her washing his van in the middle of the night that time.

Roy walked back up the side yard to check out the Latham's garden - "Yard of the Month" so their sign read. Ducking under their lemon tree, Roy finally spotted her. She stood next to their birdbath facing the side street. Clouds parted allowing moonlight to shine on the stone-tasseled hair of a cherub tipping its jug in the bath.

Trying not the wake the Latham's, Roy whisper-yelled, "Grandmama, what are you doing out here?"

She turned and smiled. She looked radiant. Her stooped shoulders were drawn back, and she stood tall, her sad eyes open wide with glee.

"Mom's on the phone." Roy said.

Faye ran down a hill and he followed. She waved at somebody across the street. Roy had never seen this skinny guy in the neighborhood before.


Standing on the sidewalk, the skinny guy crooked his arm and pivoted his body on his heels toward the distance, like some kind of drum major in a marching band. Roy was too puzzled to notice Mr. Clark's filthy van barreling down the road. When he did though, it was too late. Faye stepped out to cross over.

Bolting down the hill, Roy frantically waved his arms at the oncoming headlights and cried, "Stop, stop! Mr. Clark, STOP!"

Mr. Clark slammed on his brakes and tires screamed into the night. Roy thought he'd see Faye fly 50 yards in the air, but when the van came to a stop in front of him, there was no scream of agony. There was no trauma there. In fact, there was no Grandmama.

"What are you doing, Roy?" Mr. Clark asked.

"You ran over Grandmama!" Roy said in tears.

Mr. Clark jumped out of his van. He ran around crazy, looking all up and down. They both dropped to the pavement and checked the asphalt. No body. Mr. Clark put his face in his hands and choked back a sob, then he glared at Roy.

"Roy, get in the van," he said. "Running around in the middle of the night. Barefoot. What's got into you? Why did you do that? I almost had a heart attack. Get in!"

"I saw some guy over there," Roy said. They both looked but saw no one.

"Sure it wasn't that busted mailbox?" Mr. Clark asked, wiping his face with a bandana.

As he climbed in, Roy vowed to never sniff glue again. This was by far the worst experience he had ever had. It even beat the time he let his mind see a three-toed sloth crawling towards him in the attic. He had a major headache and wanted his bed. Forget the laundry, forget the dishes, he thought. Hopefully, Mr. Clark will forget to tell his mom.

They pulled up into Roy's driveway. "See, you little monkey," Mr. Clark said pointing at the window. "There's Faye, right where she always is."

Roy saw her silhouette through the blinds. Blue bouffant beaming in the glow of the moon. "I'm sorry, Mr. Clark," Roy said. "I didn't mean to scare you. I was, I was, um...please don't tell mom."

"Go to bed, Roy," Mr. Clark said, waving at Faye. Pulling out of the driveway, he stopped and called to Roy, "Please tell your grandmother to stop staring at me while I'm working out. She's makes me nervous."

Roy walked up to the window and saw that Faye was strangely slumped in her chair. Her eyes were wide open and she stared into oblivion. Roy ran through the front door, charged into the garage, bust open her door and flicked on her lights. Horrified, he forced himself to walk over and touch her shoulder.


Faye fell over and onto the ground. Roy bent down and saw that she was dead.

"What do I do?" he said. "I don't know CPR. I have A.D.D." Roy ran into the kitchen and called 911.

As he hung up, he saw headlights on the wall. Gene was home. He looked into the kitchen and saw that the dishes had been washed and were drying on the rack. Next to it on the counter was the wash. All the whites Roy had started were neatly stacked inside a large wicker basket. Gene's Fruit of the Looms, no longer a creeping starfish, were folded on top. The laundry never looked so good, so white. Whiter than ever, he thought, as white as a ghost.

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