Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 15—Lucy Hobart ponders Yard Rot

Enter Chorus

Now old desire doth in his death-bed lie,
And young affection gapes to be his heir;
That fair for which love groan’d for and would die,
With tender Juliet match’d, is now not fair.

Exit Chorus

—Wm. Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

“The child,” says Cat Hobart to Lucy. “DazL.” Cat is uneasy about her great-great-grandchild’s hereafter potential. “There is no birth certificate. Voodoo priests will kidnap him for a zombie. They do that with children born from a test tube; I have seen this on TV. They will lurk in the woods on the way to vacation Bible school and take him to the Caribbean islands. Get him one—a soul not a voodoo priest.” Her television flickers and fades.

“God forbid we should have yet another zombie,” says Lucian Hobart, her husband. “I thought we had bagged our limit. We’ll be running out of room and have to put them up at a motel.”

Cat rises from her recliner and fetches the TV an open-handed smack alongside the power supply. Inside the plastic box an announcer clears his throat. Horizontal scan lines roll over.

Lucy strikes a pose with his chin between thumb and forefinger. “Why should you care about the kid—his zombiehood or not, dear Cat? Have you been got at by Phil leVoid over at the Third Baptist?”

“I care.”

“Well, I have always thought the church needed to put aside its intolerance and start accepting naïve religion. If Voodoo practitioners are willing to recognize Christ as their Savior, whatever, then why aren’t Christians willing to practice Voodoo?”

“Biting the heads off chickens? Sticking pins in dolls? This is not the celebration of life one may find in even the rowdiest Pentecostal church; they are untidy at best.”

“And death is not?”

“Die? I am never going to die, Lucy. You, not I.”

*  *  *

Samantha, the mother of the voodoo child, stood up, checked the behind of her shorts, gave her buttocks a slap-slap like a hotel chambermaid fluffing a guest’s pillow, then wiped the workout bench with a shop towel from a big blue roll. “You lift weights. You said so. To stay in shape? This bench has a coat of museum-quality dust.”

“I’ve been busy. Get a lot of exercise just working on the car.”

“Old car. A classic?”

“Classic car... what a hoot. Sold for seven-hundred dollars brand spanking new. I bought it third hand for fifty bucks. Used it to pick up girls.”

“Any luck?”

“You are here.”

“Oh...” Samantha laughed. She touched her hair to see if it had come loose. It had not. “You mean... in the back?” She rose and circled the Chevy Six. Lucy had jacked it up onto cement blocks. Underneath oily iridescences shone. “It’s got a leak.”

“Old cars leak. I filled it up with oil—gear oil for the transmission, the gear box? Yesterday. Put in a quart of gas and cranked her. Gaskets shot. Figures—fifty years and all. Good thing I drained it first, the oil and gas would have turned to varnish. Good for nothing then.”

Getting the Chevy Six free enough to move—a flat cleared patch on three sides, back and the two sides—had taken him a week. The car he winched into the barn, using sixty feet of aileron cable and the hand-cranked winch the paper mill roustabouts called a come-along.

“DazL’s usually asleep in the house. In Cat’s room. They just watch each other sleep. He wakes up, she wakes up. Check to see if they’re OK and nod off again. The kid sleeps like a, a...” Samantha did not want to say ‘sleeps like a baby.’ “...an overdose of dextromethorphan.”

Lucy looked up from adjusting the wrist joint of a piston. “Watch what she feeds the kid. Cat’s not all there and she’s got a medicine cabinet that’d put any clinic to shame.”

Samantha’s appraising look said this was something new. “We are related? This is not all make-believe to have me and Sarah get along like, like... like what? Mother and daughter? Auntie and Niece? I can swing both ways. What do you get out of all this maneuvering that’s going on around here? More than my kid watching Cat sleep...”

“This automobile is where we made your grandfather, Cat and I. Sex in a rumble seat. It requires a certain nimbleness and a dedication to the task at hand.”

“Lucy. You and Cat...”

“This is the car where Elliot was conceived.”

Samantha smiled lightly, seeing this old, gnarled man in his grease-spattered overalls recounting a youthful conquest. “Hmm... let’s see. You would have been in your twenties, thirties. Not a teenager. Why the car?”

“As a matter of fact I was a teenager. Cat has ten years on me. And why not? We didn’t have any motels then. Not in Willipaq.”

“I guess not. You skateboard, too.” A flat-bed mechanic’s trolley stood nearby. It was spotted from where something had leaked or Lucy had missed with an oilcan. “Uhn, you going to slide in under on that thing?”

“Yep. That’s why I asked you here. In case I can’t get out.”

“You look lean enough. Fit—for your age. Jesus, you probably hear that a lot.”

“Not much. Until you there hasn’t been anyone I wanted to impress.”

“You like playing a feeble old man.”

“I love it. I’m undercover, a secret agent. ‘Shaken, not stirred’—James Bond? I had a cat named James Bond. No, that was before your time. People cut a lot of slack for old folks. They talk around you, past you, over your head like you weren’t there. Hear a lot of interesting stuff that way. It’s the new knee. I got metal parts. Get me in at an angle and I’m stuck. No one knows I’m under there; I stay there is all.”

“I’ll pull you out.”

“Think it over. Don’t go doing anything you will come to regret.”

“I’d regret losing you, Lucy. In the darkness.”

There is a pause; they listen to one another breathe.

*  *  *

A Chevy 6 roadster is the only memorial to Lucy and Cat’s only child, who died falling off a ladder. There might have been an open-casket funeral; this was a Third-conditional thing, thinks Philomena, Elliot’s widow. She had done well with grammar and Latin at Miss Fitzwalter’s Academy. Exploring the Third-conditional to describe her husband’s impact with the ground was, she felt, appropriate as the event was in the past, and she could not change what had happened, Elliot landing on his head and all.

Exordium ad terminus. Painting the eaves. Huh. A heart attack, a stroke, whatever, and he drops forty feet on his head. Your grandfather had a prologue and a finale, no middle. And it took him 35 years.” His father says this, but it was not the fall that killed Elliot Hobart. “The ground, his own backyard claimed him,” says Lucy. “Not a manly way to die, with but a one car garage and a swing set, not the cowboy way—spread fingers over a sudden bullet hole, crumpling gracefully to a sun-drenched dirt street. As the tumbleweeds tumble by, the newly departed searches for a pithy epitaph. Fade to black.”

What Elliot’s parcel of land wanted with him was uncertain. Lucy felt that it had wanted attention, to be loved for what it was, a former wetland dredged and filled by a rapacious developer. Elliot’s quarter-acre—grubs, slugs, rocks and gravel, Indian artifacts, the sundered skeletons of an ancient burial ground, dynamited slate and granitic ledge, flute-knapped spear points dropped by vanished Paleo-Indians. Plus a foldaway bed and one half of a Sealy Posturepedic mattress that a corner-cutting hauler shanghaied from the transfer station to top off a load of fill, three refrigerators and an RCA 7-inch television set with an oval-faced tube and walnut veneer cabinetry abandoned in 1953—all rusted, rotted, to be returned gradually to their constituent elements. And this just on the crust, the trembling top of the Earth, Elliot’s wedge which, the property laws of the State of Maine considering it to be triangular, hence pyramidal, continued in diminishing perspective to the center of the planet. It had been the flat, square side of the dimensional pyramid, and not the pointy end buried in the molten recesses of the Earth’s core, that did the deed.

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