Friday, September 02, 2005

Before the curfew

I make it to Glenda's in fear of the damn curfew. Didn't sit down to eat any of the food Mom had ready for us. Barely had time to pack.

The sun starting to sink behind the horizon, but I have to check on Glenda and let her know the plan.

I was supposed to be there earlier today. I know she's disappointed. She doesn't have anybody with her. Lost everything. All alone in the ruins of her life. She is shriven by the heat and exhaustion. I can see the bones of her face. Her hair matted down. The faint uncertainty in her steps. The weakness of her hug.

I try to explain about the trip to Louisiana and how I've been tending to my grandparents. I don't know how much it takes the edge off. She doesn't really look at me when I tell her I'm heading back to see Cindy and the kids, just for a few days.

She asks me to try to pull up some carpet with her. The last room in the house. The one Dad and I didn't touch. I told her it was because the cats were in there. I'm allergic to them.

But we were just too tired. We could barely lift our arms that day in her. But then the explosion of filth from the refrigerator sapped what little reserve we had been holding onto.

Back in that room, I'm not much stronger than she is, now. I don't know how much I even try. I've been running all week. Barely slept. The endless heat. The lack of real food. And no end in sight.

I almost think I'm asleep right now.

And I can't do it.

Can't even make a single cut in the rug.

Glenda pulls. And I try some more. There's nothing left. I can't draw the crescent knife through the soggy carpet. Either the blade is too dull, or I'm just not strong enough. She sighs, curses softly, and brings me another knife. One her David had used on his carpet, she says, Which means if it doesn't work, it is my fault. Not the knife.

And I can't do it.

The carpet refuses to be cut.

She sighs at my failure. But says nothing.

I don't know if she thinks I'm faking it. Trying to get out of here without helping. I don't have the strength to even defend myself, so I do not even try.

We don't look at each other as I walk to the front of the house. Mumbling something about plans for Monday. She is behind me as I make for the door. Both of us dragging and short of breath.

It's all bullshit. I know she needs me to help her. She won't ask. She never does. But I feel the night coming on the horizon. The panic rising behind my eyes. Feel five days of constant battle bend my bones. Feel her disappointment. The paleness of my own situation compared to hers. The weight of her crumbling house leaning against us. Just the two of us. And I'm the one leaving her to it. By herself. It shouldn't be this way. All bullshit. And I'm the one doing it. She won't say any of it. Just suffers through it. Cursing me with her silence.

I'm almost out the door, when I pull out the money. A thousand dollars.

She sees it as I turn to her. Stops and looks at me. A new anger in her eyes.

"Oh, no! No!" she says. Shaking her face.

I start counting out twenties.

"No, Jon!"

But Cindy told me, earlier. Glenda didn't have much left. We're all in the same situation: conditioned to having only $20 in our pockets, thanks to ATMs and debit cards. So I borrowed some from my father.


I fold half and put it in my pocket. Then I look at her.

Her jaw is clenched. Lips pinched tight. Eyes wide and staring at me.

I step in closer. Reach down and pull up her hand.

She takes in a breath. Finding words to stop this.

I put the money in her hand and close her fingers around it.

Step in closer while she holds it. Still silent. Still thinking what she wants to say.

"Take it, Glenda. Please. I don't want to beg." I whisper.

I feel the tears on my neck and pull her closer to me.

"Jon," she says.

I hold her with what little strength I have left. Trying to blink my eyes dry.

"We will all be fine," I say.




"I promise, Glenda. We'll take care of you. Please, let me do this."

She finally breathes. And puts her arms around my neck. The fight rushing out of her in deep, pained sighs.

I don't know how long it lasts. I don't how many of the tears are mine.

Finally, she says. "You have to go. Before the curfew."

I'll be back.
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