The next day, upon my return to the old folks home, I was immediately accosted by the unassailable frumpiness of Debora Fanning. Her dark eyes flashed upon my graceful and sweeping entrance through the front doors of this palace of the damned, but they faded back behind the glow of her shiny skin soon enough, for nothing seems to keep Debora Fanning passionate for too long. “Pendel. Just the person I was looking for. A word?” I knew it would be more than one, but I meandered over to the front desk anyway. “Pendel. I spoke with Bill Hardisty yesterday evening. He said you left him hanging with Arnold Tillerman the other day. You know anything about that?” Was she speaking of Big Bill the orderly, friend to all mankind? “His name is Bill Hardisty, and to my knowledge, he’s never left this state.” I said yes, I knew that Big Bill had been on his way to wipe Arnold’s ass, but after taking into account the size of Bill’s dinner plate-sized palms, I figured he had everything under control. Debora stuck her tongue into her cheek and looked deeply into a spot above my head. “He did not, and poor Arnold has been very itchy for the last 36 hours or more. It isn’t funny.”
Well, okay, and so I’m sorry, and so where the hell is Arnie, and let’s get those cheeks scrubbed till they shine, America. Debora Fanning clucked and frowned slightly, and scratching the back of her head she said more: “Some gentlemen were looking for you the other day. You left before I could talk to you about it.” Casually I say: Oh? Did they provide identification? Had she seen them before? “Why would they have identification? They said they represented your grandmother’s estate. It wasn’t your day to serve, and I have no clue where you go when you’re not here, so they said they would be back. Has something happened to your Grandmother?”
The funny thing about my Grandma is that she died about four years ago. And before you all fall over yourselves telling me sorry, save it. The woman never liked me anyway. Apparently I reminded her of her ex-husband, who was of course my Grandpa, who was a difficult bastard, if you believe the rumors. My Grandma, a grown—nay, elderly—woman with stuffed bears and porcelain dolls all over her country-morning-breakfast-themed house…I’m sure my Grandpa merely had to lift a cheek and fart for her to consider him an abomination. She LOVED my brother Matty, though. He was her sun. He provided her with warmth and light and made the crops grow and brought the promise of better times to come on winter mornings after the wind howled and the cold seeped into every bone during the long dark of night. Every Christmas, Matty’s gifts were larger, and always needed batteries. And after I opened my new bathrobe, when the hurt expression would betray my feelings as Matty—a child at the time and not to be blamed for his actions, I SUPPOSE—would gloat with his beeping, blinking, plastic fantastic, my Grandma would shake her head with an impatient frown and claim, “Your Grandfather was the same way. He never appreciated the things he was given.”
So, look, I plan on keeping this short, so suffice to say that I doubt very highly that anyone came around to talk to me about Grandma’s estate four years after her death. Even if there were something left to give, it wouldn’t come to unappreciative ME, unless it happened to be a box of old bathrobes.
The thing I found really disconcerting was the fact that they DIDN’T show a badge. So then what the FUCK?
I told Debora Fanning that if the men happened to show their face again, she should ask them what my Grandmother’s name is. If they don’t say Esmeralda (her actual name was Gladys), she should contact the authorities IMMEDIATELY. She furrowed her brow and opened her mouth to speak, but I touched a finger to her lips and looked about conspiratorially. Later, I said, and ducked my head low, b-lining my way to Charlie’s room.
Upon arriving, having not seen Big Bill, I closed the door and snapped my fingers several times in front of Wide-Eyed Wendell’s nose. I said aloud to him that if he could hear or say a fucking thing, now was the time to let everyone know. In response he merely breathed. I turned and faced Charlie, who was seated in his wheelchair and watching General Hospital on the television. “What’s the big goddamned deal, scaring Wendell like that?” he said. I told him time was short, and I only wanted to ask if the men who talked to him the other day told him who they were. “They didn’t tell me, but it was pretty obvious, so I didn’t ask.” So who were they then? “How should I know? Are you deaf, Pendel? I just said they didn’t tell me.” And with that he turned back to his program. Charlie is so damned cool most of the time that you forget he’s an old man, but there he is in his wheelchair, sucking on his lip, his left hand fidgeting restlessly at his armrest.
I told Wendell to keep it real as I exited, and promptly smacked my nose hard into the chest of Big Bill the orderly. “There he is, ladies and gentleman!” he roared, and he slapped a one meaty hand on my shoulder as the other palmed what seemed like a dozen white towels. “Can I have a word with you, little buddy?” Rushed with no real idea why and with my eyes watering, I tried to tell this heavily browed man with the dark, curly hair and kind face that I knew what he needed to say, but that he needn’t because I was very sorry about Arnie’s rash-covered ass, but he silenced me with a serious look.
“Buddy, I can’t have YOU leaving me hanging when I’VE got to get something hanging out of a man’s butt, okay?” I repeated all my regrets, and stressed that it wouldn’t happen again, but that I needed to be on my way. “Where’s the fire, buddy? This is my point. There’s work to be done HERE. That’s why YOU’RE here. You screwed it up out THERE, so they sent you in HERE to learn about how what you do affects others. You see?” I said yes. He laughed. “No, you don’t. Look, you’re not so new around here that you don’t know what happens to an adult’s sheets after they shit the bed. It’s easily a two-man job, sometimes more. Sometimes MORE, you see?” Bill often repeated his words, adding weight to the things he really wanted his audience to grasp. “Now, that old man has about 500 hours left in him, maximum, and you just stole the dignity out of the last 40 or so. Does that sound like a person who knows what I’m talking about? Does it SOUND that way to YOU?” I said no, because it’s the truth. Bill took his hand off my shoulder and walked away.
I sulked to the nearest cleaning supply closet and shut myself inside the acerbic dark, and wondered morosely why I was made to suffer. This eventually tuned to self-reproach—inevitably, maybe—and the sheer depth of my inability to grow or learn sat on my chest—a lead gargoyle with a sharp, sneering eyes and zero remorse for my shortcomings. My stomach was killing me. My mouth felt watery and tasted of copper.
Eventually the dark grew kinder, and soon my raw nerves, deprived of stimulus, grew calm.
Sugarbear was in a panic about the strangers questioning the workers of the old folks home regarding my whereabouts. He wanted to dump every cube he had right then and there, but Benji and I convinced him to reconsider. I told him that I had no idea who was looking for me yet, and as far as I knew, the eternal Camile’s mother was hunting me down for my indirect role in trashing her house-cleaning business. We kept him from disbanding our little enterprise for the time being, but Sugarbear has been far less jolly than is the norm. If his old man ever found out about how he makes his spending cash, well, kiss Wittenberg University goodbye. I honestly think he frets over this more than he does, say, oh, I don’t know…JAIL TIME. That tells you right there how much simple approval means to a human. We are weaved into a social fabric at birth, the threads tight around our throat. Struggle but a little, and the grip tightens, choking off breath and weakening your resolve.
In all honesty, I think Benji and I are most worried about having to find REAL JOBS. A large part of me is happier than I have ever been. I seem to flourish on the underside of the ship, and the thought of being pried from the hull and dragged out into the sunlight to squirm in the plain sight of others leaves me hopeless and thin.
Personally, I think the horrible bitch that lives next door has something to do with all of this. I can’t prove it yet, but she’s fat and always complains about our music and has one nose out the curtains every time I walk out to hear the birds.
She’s going to find out what trouble is if I discover she’s fucked things up for me. Make book on it.
Ugh. Something tells me I should have apologized to Arnold T. for what happened to his ass. Oh well. There’s a lot of things I should have done.