Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Handful of Air

A Handful of Air

Deets is sick. In the hospital. Maybe dying, I don't know. I don't know anything. And I forgot to ask Jeb her last name. For Christ's sake, what's her last name? His name's Farley. But Farley what? I can't remember. I've never met Farley but I picture him -- short, stocky, thick neck, bald head, cold gray eyes behind steel-rimmed glasses -- that's how I picture him, Farley. But what's his last name? Jesus, I can't remember anything anymore. I should've asked Jeb.

I'm going through that little red address book, looking for someone to call, someone who'd know her name. The Aronsons. Peter Brennan, Cindy -- I get to the 'h's' and Sissy Hellman -- Deets' cousin? Her aunt? I can't remember which. I call her anyway and she asks me about my leg. How the hell did she know about my leg? Have we met? I tell her about how Jeb just called from the hospital and Deets is there, maybe dying. I tell her how I can't remember Deets' new name -- the new one she's had for fifteen years.
Sissy's voice is soft and sweet and I wish I could remember her but I can't. She gives me Deets' last name, Farley's last name, and I call the hospital in Connecticut and ask for her.
But the receptionist is wary, protective, she wants to know who I am. I tell her I'm Deets' ex-husband and there's a pause.
I don't want to cause any trouble, I just want to know how she is, that's all. She's so suspicious. I feel like saying, Look, you officious little bitch, we lived together for eight years, we made love every night, we've got a son named Jeb who looks just like me. I've got a right, goddammit.
The receptionist says she can't take any calls. Her condition is serious but stable. She'll give her the message that I called. I hang up and call the florist. The card will read, Get well soon. What else do you say? Farley might get mad. Fuck Farley. I put on my coat and go out for coffee.

We had her mother's car that day, that broken-down old Plymouth. It was summer and we were sick of it, sick of all the bills and the heat and the city, so we got in the car and we drove, all the way out to the country, through Valley Forge and Brandywine and King-of-Prussia, and Deets was smiling, smiling again, the prettiest girl in the school, passing me cold Millers from the plastic cooler in the back seat and I drove right the hell off the highway, into a pasture and up a hill, through the tall green grass, past great, sad, unastonished cows, and Deets was screaming, screaming I was CRAZY -- but she was laughing.
Jesus, I can remember her laughing.

I'm walking home and I see that old German Shepherd coming towards me, trotting kind of sideways, rump sloping, hind legs strangely out of sync. I reach down for him as he passes but he eludes me somehow and all I get is a handful of air.

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