Continued from: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 4 — The Gravedigger’s Den
“Well, why don’t you get your own fucking car then?” the lanky man yelled. He struggled for balance and poked around the hood of an old Buick with a cane extended from one arm. The blue paint on the car was faded almost to white and the front bumper angled toward the ground.
“I would if they’d allowed me a license, Harry. Lord knows I’m a better driver than you,” the pudgy little lady retorted, hurt lacing her voice. She bunched the hem of her purple house dress into one fist and eased herself through the passenger door. It shut behind her with a dull thud, the sort of noise a casket might make in one of the old black and white horror flicks.
Harry’s door was still open and he just couldn’t seem to figure out a way to get the cane into the back seat. After three or four fruitless shoves, the backseat’s empty space finally swallowed it up like a fish gobbling up food. Cooper imagined the car’s backseat was big enough to stand up in, or better yet, to roll around in with a girl. The car’s engine turned with a grunt, and as the old couple rolled past him, he heard Harry whine at his wife. “You get enough practice driving Dolores. You’ve driven me fucking crazy for fifty seven years!”
Cooper chuckled, but realized that it wasn’t all that funny. Their relationship was a testament to longevity, but not the type that was depicted on television or in the books that he read. Fictional old folks often became exaggerations of harmless souls who imparted bits of wisdom while they waited around for death. The idea was even extended to retired people in the good guy / bad guy movies, when cops with expired careers were drawn out of the woodwork to help their ambitious, yet inexperienced, successors solve the crime. But not all of the elderly drifted along amicably. And some, like Harry and Mrs. Harry, apparently fed off of one another’s nastiness right up until the end.
“I hope I never end up like those freaks,” Cooper whispered.
He had jumped off the school bus a few stops too early, already tiring of the routine. By October, he figured, he’d know which kid got off at each stop and he’d also recognize who wasn’t riding the bus that day just by appraising the empty seats. Even though they weren’t assigned seats, most kids took the same one every day. It probably just seemed safe that way, he thought.
On the morning commute, he landed pretty close to the back of the bus and noticed that some kids got nauseated back there, unconditioned to having their oxygen supply cut with exhaust fumes. But the status that accompanied riding in the back was worth it to most of them. After school, though, he had some trouble opening his new lock and stood at his locker for more than ten minutes fiddling with the numbered dial. It turned out that he was going left-right-left instead of right-left-right, a common mistake among rookie lock users. This delay made him late for the bus and, consequently, he was forced to take a seat toward the front, sandwiched between a pair of band geeks. Sweat glistened on the chubby neck of a girl across the aisle, and she smiled at him, profiling her braces. Some kids near the back of the bus shouted about a flag football game where some “hotties” might show up, but they were all jocks and he didn’t really fit in with them either. So he jumped off about a mile from home, lit up a cigarette, and tightened the straps on his backpack for the walk ahead.
Now, he sat on a curb in the parking lot of The Villas taking hauls from another cigarette. There was only one more secured beneath the brim of his Sox cap and he hoped his mom would leave a fresh pack lying around so he could sneak a few more to enjoy out in the tree fort after dinner. He’d have headed out there right then, but hunger begged him to wait, and he decided that he’d need to rig up some sort of food supply in the tree. It would need to be something tightly contained to keep the animals from getting to it, but he supposed that one of the empty Tupperware bowls his mom kept stashed in a kitchen cabinet would do the trick. He could fill it up with chips, cookies, and maybe even apples as long as he resupplied on a regular basis. There was nothing worse than biting into a piece of rotten fruit. And, he thought, he’d need to lug a few gallons of water up there and keep them sealed with lids. It would be his own private kitchen.
The idea was exciting.
Cooper looked across the parking lot. Empty spaces mingled between parked cars. Most of the cars were big boats like the Chevy Caprice or the Olds Cutlass that belonged to some of the older folks who lived at The Villas. Almost all of them remained stationary, and when the residents did leave, they were carted away by a big van with Senior-Transit scripted on the side in big blue letters. It took them to many of the shopping centers off island, and even made runs to the city. He wondered why some of those old folks even had cars at all.
The olive-colored maintenance truck was parked illegally at the far end of the lot surrounded by large space that had NO PARKING painted on it. Scabs of rust peeled from around the wheel wells and the bed of the truck was filled with scrap metal and pipes that stood erect like misplaced patches of hair after a long nap. For some reason, he imagined the inside of the truck littered with beer cans and food wrappers. Maybe there was junk mail crumpled on the floor, or even a few nudie magazines stashed beneath the seat. An old dog lay sleeping right behind the rear wheel of the truck and he visualized it standing up in fear, an instant too late as the truck popped into gear and rolled backward. He’d seen possum road kill once, the animal’s guts shot out right through its mouth into a neat pile, just like it’d thrown up and then decided to sleep beside the mess. Cooper wondered if the lazy mutt would endure a similar fate.
He hoped the ol’ boy would wake up soon and hurry in to wherever it belonged. Then he headed inside himself, thinking about dinner. Would it be Hungry Man frozen meatloaf? Gravy, stuffing and imitation turkey? Morton Chicken pot pie? The possibilities seemed endless, each of them more grim than the one before it.
Continued in: Beneath the Weeping Tree: Part 6 — The Counting