Cinder Block Through a Car Window

I moved home to work and attend college the summer I turned twenty-three. One sultry night I heard glass shattering followed by squealing tires. I stepped outside, gingerly approached the street, and saw a heavy-set man with a flashlight investigating the rear window of a parked car. It was P.T., our neighbor across the street, and the damaged vehicle belonged to his son. He blinded me with the light as I approached, but pointed it down to the ground when I said, “It’s me, Dennis.”

I asked him what had happened, and he said, “Some punks came along and threw a cinder block through the window. They’re after my son. He owes them money for drugs.”

I said, “Are you gonna call the cops?”

P.T. said, “I might. Right now, I’m gonna hide beneath this tree and wait for them to come back.”

“Come back?” I said.

“They’ll want to inspect the damage, and I’ll be right here.”

“Are you sure? What are you gonna do if they come back?” I asked.

A car approached slowly with its lights off before my neighbor could answer, and we stepped back into the shadows. The prowler idled close and came to a stop beside the cinder-blocked car, and P.T. dashed out and shone his light on the license plate. The punks hit the gas and sped away, but P.T. had them.

I crossed the street, and P.T. cried, “Got the plate! Now I’ll call the cops!” But before he did, he bent over double and took several deep breaths. He was an out of shape man in his fifties, and I wondered if a heart attack loomed.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Sure, sure. I’m fine,” he gasped.

I never saw him again. A few weeks later the whole family moved to a small town in Wisconsin. They hoped to find a place where the population of cows outnumbered drug dealers and addicts. P.T. still hoped to save his son.

I forget the boy’s name, so let’s call him Sam. Sam had always been a big mouth, a kid who liked to challenge older boys. He told me, when I was thirteen and he ten, that he could tackle me. I said, “Go ahead and try,” and he ran and hit me at the waist. I swayed but didn’t fall. He locked his arms around my middle and tried to throw me to the ground, and we staggered in a circle. He finally gave up, but still swore that he could take me.

When we played touch football in the street, he’d miss blocks, run wrong routes and let players rush by him untouched. But the constant flow of trash-talk never ended. He acted like a tough guy even though he had it softer than the rest of us. I assumed that his giant ego meant he didn’t give a damn about anyone else.

One day, right in the middle of a game, his father drove by in his Cadillac and waved to his boy. Sam’s face lit up, and he ran down the street crying, “Daddy! Daddy!” We saw him jumping up and down in his driveway as Pops unfastened his seat belt. They gave each other a big hug and went inside.

We stared at their house and wondered where the devotion came from. When our fathers came home, most of us felt the weight of oppression more than the lift of affection. My father could be a harsh disciplinarian, and I feared his wrath. I never once felt the urge to run after him and call out his name, and hugs were rarely on the list of events even on holidays.

I said, “What’s the matter with Sammy boy?”

Freddie said, “That kid sure loves his Daddy.”


The Tell-Tale Patch

Have you noticed that men and women in long term relationships begin to lose their separate identities?  They transform into tandem units.  Below is a personal account of one such melding.

Over the Thanksgiving break I watched very little football, ate no red meat, and drank only a few beers…no whiskey…And I smoked no cigars.  When I cooked for myself I leaned toward vegetarian dishes, and I took time to meditate and do yoga.  I spent many contented hours sitting in a chair in my living room talking to my wife, Judy, and watching Downton Abbey reruns and a Netflix revival of Gilmore Girls.  At night before we went to bed we cuddled on the sofa and talked about how we first met, how sweet our children were when they were toddlers.  And I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

But I had a nagging feeling that something was wrong.

Two nights ago I fell asleep around midnight.  I woke when my bedroom door creaked open but didn’t jump up and confront the intruder.  I could see my wife in the dim light.  She carried a flash light pointed toward the floor with a hand cupped over the lit end.  I had no idea what she was up to, but decided to let her carry out whatever mission she had in mind.  She slowly approached and pulled back my sheet when she stood beside me.  I wasn’t wearing a pajama top, so the cool night air made me shiver.  She must have seen movement: she froze in place for a long spell and then carefully spread her fingers to shine a narrow ray of light on my face.  I closed my eyes just in time before she discovered that I was awake.  The light eventually snapped off.

I felt her fingers on my back.  They were cold.  They pressed something sticky between my shoulder blades.  Judy had studied medicinal botany, and I wondered if she was applying a poultice to ease a cough that had lingered for weeks.

She dropped the sheet and turned away.  I watched her shadowy figure retreat to the door and heard her slippered feet shuffle down the hallway.  I fell into a deep sleep and dreamt of rose gardens, newborn babies and a springtime trip to Paris.

Yesterday I woke up feeling refreshed.  I picked some flowers from the garden and made us chocolate chip scones and herbal tea for breakfast.  I lit a scented candle mid morning and chanted a mantra, and then Judy and I recited Elizabeth Barrett Browning poems to one another.  Everything was lovely, truly lovely, and I regretted that I had to go out to a nasty hardware store to buy an extension cord.

I decided to shower before I went.  I usually don’t bother but have recently found that when I give my appearance more attention I feel better about myself.  My eyebrows were a mess and needed a good plucking, and I just had to pull some white hairs that sprung up on my temples over night.  It was one o’clock before I stepped into the shower.  In a hurry I didn’t bother to investigate when I felt something hit the back of my left calf.  After I stepped out and dried myself off with a plush towel I had just bought at B, B and B (love that store!)  I took a few minutes to pick out my ensemble.  I didn’t go back in the bathroom to wipe down the shower.  I decided instead to give it a thorough scrubbing after I came home and rearranged the china in the kitchen cupboards.

I got distracted by a Julia Roberts movie marathon that afternoon, and it wasn’t until 8 o’clock yesterday evening that I ventured back into the bathroom to clean the shower.  When I did I saw a little patch lying on a nest of hair over the drain.  I picked it up and inspected it carefully.  It wasn’t one of Judy’s home made poultices.  The print was small and difficult to read, but I understood from the logo (ESTROGENIE) that it was an estrogen replacement patch.  Had Judy stuck this on my back the night before?

She was out in the living room watching a ballet.  I recognized the overture to Swan Lake and felt a strong urge to join her.  But I sneaked into her bedroom and searched her bureau.  I found a box of patches in an upper drawer.  It held a count of 50, and about a quarter of them were gone.

Judy has never taken hormone replacement therapy.  One of her menopausal girlfriends must have passed them along.

When I came out into the living room I didn’t confront Judy.  I didn’t know for sure whether or not she had been dosing me with estrogen, and I wasn’t in the mood to start a silly fight.  Instead I asked her if she’d like a blueberry muffin.  I had baked a dozen after supper.  I made us a pot of chamomile tea, and after we snacked we cuddled on the sofa and let Tchaikovsky carry us away on golden clouds of music.  We said goodnight when the last strains faded away and went to our separate bedrooms.  I waited in the dark.

At midnight I heard the door creak.  A shadowy figure crept into my room.  She lifted the sheet and touched my back with cold fingers.  She pressed one then two sticky patches between my shoulder blades and retreated.  I thought about pulling them off but suddenly felt too content and comfortable to bother.  I dreamed of butterflies and puppies and women wearing long, brocaded gowns.  They had decorative combs in their hair, and I admired the intricate weave of their ebony locks.

This morning I planted rose bushes in front of the house, vacuumed and took a shower.  I felt the patches fall off my back, but I managed to dry them off and stick them back on.  After I dressed I got out my watercolors.  I began to design a sweater that I had been thinking about knitting every time I’ve wandered into Jo Ann’s Fabrics the last few days.

The colors should compliment my complexion, but I hope that the pattern won’t be too bold and flashy…I like to make an impression when I walk into a room, but I don’t want anyone to think that I’m trying too hard.