All he did was up and move.
Couldn’t tell you where he went. Rented one of those twenty-buck-a-day U-Hauls, packed up his pitiful possessions and left.
The sun was a medallion on the horizon when the truck shrunk over the hills. It was my prize. A sign I’d paid my price. That I’d have my reward. And, believe me, I deserved it. Even a brief encounter with him was lethal cocktail. Two parts annoyance, one part humiliation—like having your eyes pecked out by a gaggle of street corner pigeons. Or like being stranded in a pasture under the light of a new moon—mighty hard to avoid the cow patties.
Once time the numbskull tried to tell me his father’s hairpiece smelled like burnt toast. Don’t ask me why he told me. I was out in my yard one morning just minding my business. It was a Sunday and it was October. I remember. I’d just scratched the old rake across the front lawn for the first time that season. The leaves were wet. They stuck to the ground and the blades of the rake as I arranged them in piles of orange, red, and yellow.
Then he started yammering about his father’s hair and how it reminded him of scorched breakfast product. I rolled my eyes a few times and blew a puff of steam through my lips, but he kept blabbering. Told me about his pop’s shiny, bald head and how his granddaddy had a full head of hair bushier than a raccoon’s tail. Found himself quite ironic—which is when he broke into that laugh.
Ugh. That laugh. It hovered somewhere between a starving hyena’s final whimper and my Aunt Gilda singing in the shower while choking on a pork chop. But he couldn’t help himself. He’d keep guffawing until his cheeks were red as fire ants, and then he’d be faced with an awful choice: laughter or suffocation?
Sometimes I wished he’d choose the latter. He never did. Just took a deep breath and moved on to the next subject. Probably something fit for an idiot. Like how he taught his pet iguana to use a standard toilet. “Never once left the seat up. Always remembered to flush,” he told me. And I just grunted and struggled to keep the blueberry muffin I’d eaten for breakfast from sliding up and mixing with lunch.
What else could I do? Respond to him? Then he was liable to tell me any number of recycled and nonsensical tales. Like the one about old Lacy Mae, the prom queen. Prettiest blue eyes he’d ever seen. Would have been his wife, too, had he just been able to shave four or five minutes off his mile time in gym class. “Coulda been an O-lymp-ic athlete,” he’d say. “Girls like Lacy are real fond of the athletic type.” I never had the heart to say, “Guys who get winded on the walk to the mailbox have as much chance at Olympic gold as a walrus gymnast.”
But here I am talking about him like he’s still here, just lurking out on his front porch waiting to spin a yarn for me. Glad he’s gone so I can finally get a few things done. And believe me, I have plenty to keep me busy. Have a thick, old lawn to mow—both front and back. Gotta be sure to cut it with the grain.
There’s a two-inch layer of dust on all the lampshades, so thick it can drown out twenty watts per bulb. My Aunt Beatrice—that’s Gilda’s sister—once kept a whole crate of 60-watt bulbs in her cellar. “Just for safe keeping,” she used to say. “In case of emergency.” Only nothing ever happened in the sleepy town where Bea, Gilda, and my mother grew up. Two decades later, the darn bulbs were still buried under moth-eaten rugs, vintage bicycle parts, and old cellar cobwebs. Had to sort through it all after she passed.
Look at me. I sound like him. But he’s gone and ain’t ever coming back. Now I have time to wash and wax the green pickup with the rust stain on the hood. Time to thatch the grass, and rake the leaves, and cook up big feasts on Sunday afternoons, and lay out like a fattened calf on my front porch come Sunday night. Time to call my pa and talk to him about my sister’s children, and my sister’s husband, and my cousin’s uncle. Time to take short rides into town and haggle with old Barney McGill over the bale price of barley, or the cost of a root beer float.
And time to keep my appointments. Dr. Ross will love me for that. She’ll tell me I’m progressing nicely, and our sessions have been well worth the hourly. She’ll mention I still have a ways to go—that I could wake up tomorrow and be any one of them. And I’ll nod and tell her I’m aware of all she’s saying, and I’ll fight each and every one of them until they’re dead and buried. But I’m not so sure.
For what’s an idiot without a wise man’s judgment? And what is wise without the buffoon?
The U-Haul snaked its way across the winding valley below and honed in on its course—right back to where it started.