The handle that operated the door of our school bus was almost impossibly shiny. I would see it sit idle, floating ever ready next to the driver, awaiting activation, and then suddenly how lovingly and gracefully it would move to open the doors and welcome the bus’s newest rider. In the afternoons, it would slide over again to usher us back to our home places, right where we’d begun the day, waiting in the chill that only seven a.m. in a New England valley town can supply.
After school, after the bus door squeaked closed behind me, after the engine pulled against the hill of Webber Road until it reached the top and the sound of it faded down the other side, I walked to Aunt Mary and Uncle Phil’s house. I could have walked all the way home, but that would have involved another three quarters of a mile up the dirt road, beyond still a long and sometimes steep hill. Instead, I’d decide to wait the two hours for Mom to pick me up on her way home from work.
The farmhouse was a giant, sticky, urine-odored place, maintained at about eighty degrees. (It seemed to be, anyway. Perhaps when a place smells like urine that strongly, it also seems to be warmer than it actually is.) Mary and Phil were elderly, heavy drinkers, and limited in their ability to care for themselves. Still, they lived together in relative safety with the help of Mom and Dad’s checking in and the occasional ambulance ride to the emergency room.
The two doors to the side entrance into the kitchen were heavy, the first because it was connected to the frame with a kind of contraption whose job it was to softly close the door behind its user. It worked too well. The second door was heavy because it was adhered to its frame with a gunk comprised of body oils, dust, and decades of lemon scented wood polish. You really had to use some shoulder to break its hold, but it would give with the right touch.
Inside, dull over-waxed linoleum, patterned to look like a collage of blue slate tiles lined the floor. The heat and smell of urine enveloped me. A claw-foot table covered in mail sat in the near corner. In the window sills was a collection of Christmas cacti, dust. Momma Cat was very thin, shiny, oily black with a white bib. She sleekly jumped up onto the white marbled formica countertop. Canned cat food. Electric can opener; the lid of its latest work still magnetized to it, hovering like a UFO. Momma Cat would yowl a desperate meow.
There was always ice cream in the freezer, and it was always recently purchased. It was one of the only reliable foods in the house because it was always eaten quickly. Uncle Phil had almost as much penchant for sugar as he did for scotch.
That’s it for now– just ramblings, but I’m trying to exercise my writing a little again. It’s funny what you remember when you start thinking about details.
Other stuff to add– Coffee flavored ice cream (sometimes cookies and cream or peppermint stick)-too soft-was the freezer not cold enough?/sticky box with cellophane/the drawer of silverware and how it had to be rocked out side to side/The People’s Court/Aunt Mary’s toenails/ the squeak of Phil’s recliner/Well, I gotta/Frosty/the quiet and mystery of upstairs