The Living Dead

It started out like almost any other evening in late August of 1984.

The sun had just set.

This was usually the time when our mother would go out to water her vegetable garden, shrubs, and flowers.

The summer months in Alderpoint, California, tend to be very hot and dry.  Today, like most summer days it is incredibly hot, even at sunset.  This is no different from the previous day or the previous weeks for that matter, going all the way back to the end of  May.  This day, this week, the past three months, are typical to the Southern Humboldt County area.

Mom is outside, and we can see her watering the fox glove, hollyhocks, snowball bushes, and roses she's beautifully cultivated at the front of the house.  We can see her through the front door of the house, the living room door.  In the summer months it is always open in the late afternoon and early evening hours.

In the small quiet of our house, we can even hear the water running through the pipes as mom does her plant watering.  There is something comforting about that background sound, even with the television on.

My sister and I have settled into the semi-darkness of the living room.  Dad has retreated to his bedroom already hours ago, to read books.  We know this because we can see him through his bedroom door with his reading light on, book in hand.

On this early evening, we're just starting into our favorite show, it's Ripley's Believe It or Not with Jack Palance as the narrator.  We find his stories gripping.  For the time that he has us this evening, he has our complete attention.  We're only a short way into the broadcast when our father calls out to us, "goodnight, kids, when this show is over it's time for you to go to bed."

He shuts his light and closes his bedroom door.

My sister and I turn to each other and roll our eyes.

It's summertime and dad wants us to be in bed before complete darkness settles into evening.  We've never understood his logic.  To us, it makes no sense for us to be in bed while it is still so hot.  Dad has never understood that with the heat, we just lay in our beds, staring at the ceiling until the temperature drops - something that doesn't begin to happen until at least 10 PM.

This makes our viewing of Ripley's with Jack Palance to be that much more enthralling, as we also know we will soon be in complete darkness when we shut the television and go to bed.

Out in the semi-darkness we hear our mother calling to us.

We are not sure exactly what it is that she is saying because we are so into what Jack Palance is saying.

But then we hear something we've never heard before, mom has just dropped the watering hose.  We can still hear the water running through the pipes and we can even hear the water gushing out the garden watering hose as our mother appears in the dim light around the front door.

"Kids," our mother sounds frantic, "where is your father?"

"Mom, he's in bed.  Why?"

"The zombie is here.  Quick, you [she points to my sister] go to your bed now!  Orval, you stay here..."

Before my sister is able to respond, our mothers directions are cut off by the voice of someone outside, out front.  We hear a woman's voice, distinctly, but in a very slow and slurred manner, she exclaims, "I wanna see my Uncle Eddie."  When she says this, her words are slurred, and it sounds like, "I wanna shee my yyyyuncle Eddeee."

We know who this is.

It is our cousin Patricia.

With Patricia's statement, mom snaps to attention.

Mom is now running to the bedroom she shares with dad.  She's bangs on the bedroom door, and says, "Ed! Ed! Get up. Your niece is here!"

My father replies through the door, "which one?"

Mom screams through the door, "the living dead, Ed, hurry!"

And with that, my mother is in pure panic mode.  I've never seen her like this.  She grabs my sister to her chest and runs to the back bedroom, the room I share with my sister.

I shut the television and sit in the semi darkness.

I can hear my heart beating.

I imagine my father is getting dressed.

Patricia is approaching the front door.  I can hear her shuffling slowly as she approaches.  There is a slight breeze and I can smell a lit cigarette.  A faint patchouli overlay masks the encroaching smoke of Patricia, of her cigarette.

She is now standing in the open door.  I can see the faint outline of her afro-style hair.  As she shuffles in, I can see and hear the rustling of her bell-bottomed jeans on the floor.  My eyes are adjusting to the near darkness and I can see she is also wearing a halter top.  Over her shoulder is a denim handbag.  The whole of her presentation is from another time.  It is, after all, 1984.  Her look is very much the style of the previous decade.

She notices me.  She says, "Orval, is that you?"

I reply, "yes, Patricia, it is me."

She chuckles softly, holding a hand to her face as approaches me.  She coughs, and then she reaches out to touch me.  As she does so, she brushes against the inner part of my left arm with her cigarette, burning me.

"Ouch!" I say to her.

Patricia apologized.  And then she stroked the side of my face with her other hand.

"Orval, is my Uncle Eddie here?"

Once, when there was a brown-out and the power was cut in half for a few minutes, the record player effectively moaned the music from the album it was playing.  It was a collection of songs by the Everly Brothers, played at half-speed.  This is what Patricia sounded like to me.

My eyes, quickly adjusted to the dim light, make out that she is heavily made up.  Her eyebrows are penciled on, but they don't seem to be in the right place.  To me, her eyebrows appear to be penciled about halfway up the front of her forehead.  The area between her penciled-on eyebrows and her eyelids is heavily shaded.  Even in the dim light, I can make out the heavy application of silvery-blue eyeshadow.  The eyebrows and shading dominate her facial features, features framed by an afro-style hairdo.

I don't have to answer.

My father has finally entered the living room.  As he does so, he turns on a table lamp.

As my father begins his interaction with his niece, I am completely forgotten.  I am seated, rubbing the burn mark on my arm, watching them talk.

"Oh, Uncle Eddie," Patricia exclaims, "it is so good to see you!"  She shuffles over quickly to my father.  He hugs her and ushers her to a seat at the kitchen table.

Patricia removes a canister of tobacco and a small packet of rolling papers from her denim handbag.  My father does not object to this behavior as Patricia deftly lays out and begins to make herself another cigarette.  She's put out the one she was smoking in the ashtray on the table.

"Would you like a cigarette, Uncle Eddie?"

"Thank you, Patricia.  I would love a cigarette.  It's been a long time since I've seen you.  How have you been?"

"Yeah, well, you know it's been difficult, but I'm really trying, Uncle Eddie."

"Patricia, I remember when you told me you wanted to be a TWA stewardess.  Do you remember that?"

Patricia, who has been engrossed in the making of cigarettes has stopped.  She looks away from what she is doing and closes her eyes.  In doing so, I observe the length and breadth of that silvery-blue eyeshadow.  Never before nor since have I ever observed anyone do their makeup like this.

Fascinating.

"Yeah, Uncle Eddy," Patricia replies, "I remember that girl.  She hasn't existed in a long time."  And then they launch into a TWA commercial jingle.  Singing together, in unison:

Would you like to fly

Would you like to fly, away...

"Wow," my father says, "we haven't forgotten that, have we, Patricia?  It's so good to see you."  My father, Ed, has a big smile on his face as he says this to his niece.  She smiles too, as she slaps her leg.  After a few shakes of her head, she returns to making the cigarettes.  She does so quickly, and hands my father his cigarette.

He waits.

As Patricia brings her cigarette to her lips, she also prepares to light it herself.  My father flicks open his lighter, leaning forward to light it for her.

"Oh, Uncle Eddie, thank you.  Always the gentleman."

Patricia relaxes into her seat as my father lights his own cigarette.

After lighting his cigarette, my father reflects on the taste of it.  He asks of Patricia, "honey, this cigarette has something more than just tobacco in it, right?"

"Nothing that will hurt you, Uncle Eddie." She leans forward and touches his face, just as she touched mine.

My father puts down the cigarette.

"Patricia," he continues, "would you like something to drink?"

She replies, "no thank you, Uncle Eddie."  She shifts in her seat.  In this moment, she doesn't look comfortable.  She looks at my father, again, and says, "you know, Uncle, times have been very hard for me."  She looks at him.

They look at each other.

My father speaks, "I know, Patricia."

"So, I was hoping you could lend me a few dollars to make it through the week.  You know I'll pay you back."

He replies, "I understand, honey. Give me a sec."  My father gets up and goes to his bedroom.

In that moment, I know she's forgotten I'm in the room.  She looks up at the ceiling.  Then, she finishes out her rolled cigarette with a long drag and exhale, putting it out in the ashtray.  Only her exhale is accompanied by a couple of dry sobs and a quick dab with a finger across the edge of both eyes.  The silvery-blue eyeshadow is intact.

My father returns.  He holds out his hand for hers.  Patricia gets up quickly, hugging her uncle.

As my father places the money in her hand, Patricia says, "thank you so much, Uncle Eddie."

At some point in the conversation, Patricia had stopped slurring.  I believe it was around the time they sang to one another.  And here they were, singing to one another again:

Would you like to fly

Would you like to fly, away...

One last hug.

And a kiss on his cheek.

And she was out the front door.

Whenever I think of Patricia, I think of that night, so long ago.  She's been dead for many years now, but I'm quite certain that a part of her wanted to be that person, to be that TWA stewardess.  My father brought her back to that place, to that place in her life when the possibilities of what her life might be were endless.

Thank you, Patricia.

Would you like to fly

Would you like to fly, away...

Yes.  Yes, indeed.  I would very much like to fly.  To fly away with you.


Comments

  1. A well written story. You had me following deeply wondering who and what was going to happen. There is more to this story for sure. Thanks for sharing this writing today!

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  2. The detail in your piece is quite amazing. You describe the sound of the water traveling through the pipes, the way Patricia's face is made up, the song she and your father sing. All the details pack a punch and leaves the reader satisfied.

    ReplyDelete

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