Midwife in the Tire Swing
Chapter 23—Ian decides on a Visit
Ian Emory Hobart jerked awake with a charleyhorse. He had fallen asleep sitting at the kitchen table and now he would never move again, never walk. Elegantly, exquisitely, a red liquid pain flowed up his legs to his back. He tried to stand but was wedged in tight. He would spend the remainder of his days at the center of an ever-expanding pool of agony. He lurched forward, levitating the kitchen table and setting a half-full fifth to doing circles on its base.
“Dumb table,” said Ian. That Clear-eyed Alicia’s kitchen table had somehow let him down thrust his agony into the background. He grasped the table’s edges and began fine-tuning it, trying to reconcile its wobbly legs with the irregularities of the floor.
Getting the thing level became a study in concentration, like lining up the tumblers in a combination lock. The whole house was off plumb, but there was a magic spot where everything was steady and reliable, where everything lined up. He had found it before; he could find it again. Shoulders squared, he manhandled the table like a bus driver taking a wide turn. As its four legs found their regular dips in the linoleum it corrected itself and his charleyhorse relaxed. The pain subsided. The exercise was ended.
“Good work, team.” A celebratory toast with the remaining bourbon and he passed out again to dream of Faith, called Philomena, and Elliot his father who fell from a ladder.
Philomena was not only a mother to Ian Emory, but THE mother, an earth-goddess figure of wings and stars, full of worship and wonder and painted in red and gold, who answered his questions with Delphic ambiguity. There were few questions. There were many unspoken answers. Elliot would be dead and it would be all Ian Emory’s fault, this was clear. Lucy’s grandchild learned little from his parents.
Elliot restacked his woodpiles in September—mixing up the split and stacked hackmatack and white and yellow birch—so that the bottom logs, wet from the ground, would be on top. He worked in silence; there were no answers to be had from Elliot, the father. In January, Elliot took off the tarps, knocked his freeze-dried wood apart with a maul and chucked it in the cellar. It is however April today, and Elliot has climbed a ladder to clear his gutters.
“Hello. I am here.” Ian Emory says this from far below; it is not a question. He is six years old.
“You are there. And I am here,” says Elliot from the top of his 40-foot extension ladder. “Don’t offer to help. You’ll only get in the way. I will fall and die. Then where would we be?” When Elliot was home and about the house, he made himself too busy for questions from Ian. The hurt of his cold empty bed, the distant remove of his bride Philomena, made the presence of the child of their—his—brief passion unbearable. Elliot had no answers, for to answer the child would be to embrace humiliation. Ian was ignored. Elliot Hobart is deep with guttering and downspouts. Ian Emory has only asked if he could watch.
“Elliot was good around the house,” said Lucy, “a putterer. He mowed the lawn, planted hollyhocks and kept the gutters cleaned out. He puttered with Philomena and got you. He split wood and went to work in town. It was the gutters that finished him though, your father.”
Ian Emory learned from Lucy who taught him the life skills that had served him in his Army days—how to shoot craps kneeling on cement and fade a low roller; how to shave with a straight razor on a moving train; how to shoot a .50 caliber machine gun. To this end the man and the boy retreated to the barn where Lucy would check his traps and Ian Emory would pore over the crates of pulp fiction and paperbacks with lurid covers Lucy kept there. Together they built a machine gun and a makeshift gun turret from a B-24. They did this by hooking an air compressor to a modified carburetor with a trigger assembly from a pesticide sprayer and hoisting young Ian high into the loft with a rigged a rope harness that swung from a loading hook attached to a high beam.
“Bradda-bradda-bradda, just like Sgt. Fury in the comics.” His grandfather’s machine gun made a marvelous noise. Elliot and Philomena pretended not to hear.
One year it was the trotters and the rides at the state fair, ”Ohh, grandpa, let’s go.” The state fair was in Bangor and that meant two days in the farm truck and Ian Emory talking his head off all the way. Lucy’s escapes were his naps. “Take your meds and we’ll pull over,” Ian would tell Lucy when he drifted across the center line. They pulled over and he didn’t take his meds. Ian read comic books while Lucy napped in the back.
After miles in the farm truck and the thrill of Lucy’s spitting tobacco juice out the window to the extended middle fingers of close-following drivers, were pastel rainbows of cotton candy, the midway and the rides. The grandchild rode again and again. He did not throw up on the tilt-a-whirl and bumper cars. Lucy did. Lucy locked himself in their motel bathroom and had a nap on the toilet while Ian Emory blasted cartoons from the TV.
Lucy’s eyes stared blankly; his head lolled back against the tiles. “Ian, help me,” softly. Ian could not hear.
“Grandpa. Lucy? Snap out of it.”
“Where am I?” Jesus Christ, thought Lucy. Here we go again.
“You are here.” Ian Emory is now grown up and wearing washed-out military fatigues.
“So I am. How nice of me to come.” Yes, I have not died, thinks Lucy Hobart. “Did I say anything... anything unusual while I was unconscious? How long was I gone?”
“Just for a minute, a couple of seconds.”
“Not long enough for an out-of-body experience. I have so hoped for one of those.”
“I know. Me too. Ideas running wild in my mind. You don’t know—you can’t know...” Ian’s hands were colored orange. A Cheetos bag gave a cellulose crinkle.
“You do. You think you do. You don’t, grandfather. Wild running ideas, thoughts, feelings. I am not insane, only busy. Very. Very busy. With scuttling thoughts like mice on roller skates.”
“You have a contrapuntal mind. Just like me, boy,” said Lucy.
“The Army psychologists—they call it ‘fugue.’” These were the phantoms that filled Ian Emory’s fever dreams of alcohol and amphetamine, that everyone was gone and he was left alone. He went home. Faith Philomena drew him, a passive presence, waiting. He did not expect help from his mother. “Multiple personalities, like.” He raised an eyebrow and rattled the cellophane bag.
“Your father is dead. Nobody noticed. Philomena called the police; they took the body. And I’ll take a pass on the Cheetos.”
Lucy detached a cotton mop and draped it over his head. A pleated paper air filter became a seventeenth century pastoral collar; Lucy and his grandson were playing church. His eyes huge, Lucy thundered from the pulpit, his cotton hair a silver mane. That and a broadcloth box-backed coat bespoke flagellation, public confession, the pillory. “Oh that’s right—you smug, self-satisfied child, snarfing down the bounty of the earth, grinding the faces of the poor. The sweat of other brows makes you sleek and glossy.”
Ian raised his eyes to the hayloft, distancing himself from any chance glossiness.
“Ah, boy—you take. But do you give back? Ever? Do you ever pause, stop a moment in your galloping rush for more, more—this, this... this...” Lucy riffled through a stack of file cards on his lectern. The grownup Ian Emory munched quietly, eyes wide with admiration. Despite moments of uncertainty, Lucy was to Ian Emory Captain Ahab, Elvis, and all the TV preachers personified.
“Insights. We hope to inform your insights.” Lucy relaxed and, leaning casually on the pulpit, thrust his free hand in his coat pocket. “Insight and details. Attention to details is why you are here, for small things beget great things.” An expansive gesture was called for at this point. The hand came out of the pocket. In it were a half dozen mothballs. He ruffled his hand through his hair, a bit confused. You eat from aluminum plates, boy?”
Ian Emory the child shakes his head No. He wonders if Grandpa is ever going to get to the point. This was getting boring.
“Boy Scouts. The Boy Scouts will rot your brains: stay away from ’em. Aluminum, that’s what they do. I was a Boy Scout and look where it has brought me: shooting craps with my grandson behind the barn. If there is a Heaven, we’ll be for Hell together. But there is not. A Heaven, that is.” Lucy scowled, then smiled the wolf smile. “Or a Hell, save what we create for ourselves. The point is...” Lucy said, estimating the attention span of a six-year-old, “...me. Senile dementia is the scoutmaster’s plague, too many cookouts with nesting utensils.”
“Your father. He goes to work. What does he do there? He does not tell his wife; he does not tell his child, his family, what he does when he is gone from the house. This is because he does not know. He goes to work; this is enough. Who knows what he does, who he is when he is not here? Who cares? Even he does not care; he just does it. And we... what do we do? We play at dropping bombs together. Know why, boy?”
“Because it’s fun.”
“Goddamned right. Because it’s fun. And what else?”
“You are God.”
“Close enough. I have a machine gun.”
Ian Emory thumped his grandfather and seized the controls of their makeshift B-24. “Now I have the machine gun, grandpa.”
“Yes. Years of eating from aluminum plates will do that.”
next chapter »
« table of contents