Ruth Z. Deming, winner of a Leeway Grant for Women Artists, has had her work published in lit mags including Hektoen International, Creative Nonfiction, Haggard and Halloo, and Literary Yard. A psychotherapist and mental health advocate, she runs New Directions Support Group for people with depression, bipolar disorder, and their loved ones. Viewwww.newdirectionssupport.org. She runs a weekly writers' group in the comfy home of one of our talented writers. She lives in Willow Grove, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her blog is www.ruthzdeming.blogspot.com.
THE DAY TRIP
Anna and David Hoffman were artists, now in their later years. “Why is it important to list our ages?” Anna asked a reporter from The Daily Reader who arrived to do a profile. The female reporter shrugged. “It’s just to show your phase in life.”
“Just put our mid-seventies,” said Anna, who took an immediate dislike to the reporter. David was not home. He was at his gallery in Lambertville, New Jersey, across the Delaware River, hanging his latest digital art work for an opening the following week.
Anna showed the reporter, whose name was Joelle, around the house and let the young woman take photos. Not surprisingly, Joelle didn’t know how to use her new Nikon camera, so Anna ended up photographing her pincushion collection, and David’s collection of tins – cookie tins, old baking powder tins – and then, warning Joelle, “Be careful going down the stairs,” she took her into their art studio in the basement.
The basement walls were painted a bright white. Anna pointed at her work bench and the tools she used to make her jewelry – earrings, necklaces, watch bands – part of her collection sold in museum shops all over Philadelphia.
Anna heard Joelle’s intake of breath as she looked all around. She began to like her a little bit more and for the first time wondered whether or not Joelle was a good writer.
She was. The story appeared on the front page of The Arts section of The Daily Reader with a huge photo of Anna’s face, her white braids twirled atop her head, and a pair of triangular orange earrings that dangled to her shoulders. There was also a black and white photo of Anna and David in a gondola on their honeymoon in Venice.
“Not bad,” said David, when Anna showed him the article. He had just come home from hanging some of his more traditional paintings at one of the scores of nursing homes in the area.
“Lunch, dear?” asked Anna.
“I’ll lie down a few minutes and then, if you don’t mind, I’ll have an egg salad sandwich.”
“Of course,” she said, kissing him on his soft lips.
She had learned to bake bread when they were first married. The crust was crunchy the way he liked it – she had baked a whole wheat this time – and the egg salad with bits of celery and green pepper from their vegetable garden – was also stuffed with their Big Boy Tomatoes, sweet onion slices and spinach.
Anna watched him, satisfied, that he so enjoyed her food.
“I was thinking, dear,” she said. “What if we go to the new restaurant in Hatboro this evening.”
David agreed they should try out “Oscar’s” but surprised her by saying, “I’ll take a rain check. It’s one of those days when I feel like…“
“Driving? Taking one of your day trips?”
“Yep. That’s it. Do you mind?”
“Of course not,” she said. She loved his independence.
“And,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’m not gonna drop dead of a heart attack or have a senior moment that has me forget where I am. I’m gonna head toward Sulphur Springs but God knows where I might end up.”
“Well, take some raisins and pretzels with you.”
David adjusted his mirror as he backed his gray Suburu wagon, still loaded with paintings and art work, out of the driveway on Cantankerous Drive. The real name of course was Canterbury Drive. He waved at neighbors who were pulling weeds and then switched on the classical music station. What on earth were they doing playing a Bach Unaccompanied Suite for Cello? It would put everyone to sleep. Changing the station, he found a song by the late Warren Zevon, “Lawyers, Guns and Money.”
“Right you are, Mr. Z. And Yes, I am enjoying every egg salad sandwich,” referring to Zevon’s famous line “Enjoy every sandwich” - after he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. His hand went over to the crinkly bag of pretzels, took out two, and crunched away. In less than an hour, his GPS had guided him to the back roads of Chester County, PA. He and Anna had bypassed it many a time but now he would see what their offerings were.
As he put on his signal to enter the town, a gentle honk of the horn told him to stay on the right side of the road. A huge funeral procession was passing him by. He sat on the shoulder of the road as the long shiny black limousine, bearing a sign, Rowland and Sons, drove slowly by. Without thinking, David turned on the Bach Unaccompanied Suite for Cello, possibly the most despairingly sad piece of music ever composed. Immediately, David felt sad and brushed his sparse white locks across his head, feeling them come to rest on his forehead. There was a gap in the cortege and someone honked at him, so he carefully immersed himself in the funeral party. There were mostly young people in the cars. Families with children bouncing up and down in the seats. He thought of his great grandchildren – six of them – cute as could be – little Max’s face passed before him – the little guy always smiled. David’s wallet bulged with all the family pictures of the children.
He remembered the headlines. “Parents cleared. Twin daughters’ death ruled accidental.” Who had been paid off to get the wealthy divorcing parents off? David and Anna thought of it as the Jason and Medea murders. Each hated the other so much they murdered their own two innocent children for revenge. Better get out of here while I can, thought David, but the cars were now driving into the Holy Sepulcher Cemetery and a man in an orange vest was pointing to where he should park. David obeyed. Reaching into his glove compartment, he found a blue nautical cap to protect his head from the hot sun. A huge white tent was filled with chairs, which spilled from the tent and onto the grass.
Mr. and Mrs. Spencer – aristocratic name, he thought – were holding each other upright as they stood near two tiny caskets in the center of the tent. David took out his driving glasses from his pocket to have a better look at the scene, which reminded him of either a Shakespearean tragedy or comedy. Mrs. Elizabeth Spencer, a blond, wearing a knee-length black dress, bare at the shoulders, was apparently sobbing. Her chest heaved in and out. She removed her dark sunglasses and wiped the tears from her eyes and mopped her brow with a white handkerchief.
An Episcopal priest in a long white robe and huge cross made of what looked to be a series of mosaics did his best to console the grieving parents. Well-done, thought David, wanting to applaud. He was not the only one to have this thought and applause did break out.
Well, I should really go now, thought David, rising from his cushioned folding chair and fanning himself with the nautical cap he and Anna had bought at the Baltimore Aquarium where they had taken their two daughters many moons ago. After the ceremony, the priest announced that everyone who wished could attend a luncheon up the road at the Pleasantville Inn. Why not, thought David. A black woman and her little boy asked if she could ride with him.
“If you can fit in the car,” he told them, “be my guests.”
They sat down and left the doors open. David, meanwhile, wandered about this new countryside, delighting in watching trees and shrubs unlike those back home. Here and there on the ground were forgotten items that had dropped from the visitors’ hands. Several playing cards from children’s card games. David stooped down and put them in his pocket, along with decorative hair bands, some with sparkles, pink, black, sky-blue. Someone’s earring had broken and lay by the gravestone of one Letty Davison. Anna’s earrings were made of much stronger material and had never, as far as they knew, had broken. If they did, a free replacement would be made.
How good David felt with his new cache of “found objects” to be transformed eventually into a hanging mobile or jewelry for Anna. He knew just the spot where it would go in the living room.
Silently, they began to drive to the inn.
“I worked for the Spencers,” said the woman, who said her name was Jenny. “No way I could miss the funeral and my son, Jeffrey, had to come along since it’s a school day.”
“Pretty sad,” said Jeffrey. “Why you think they did it, Ma?”
“Hush now, son, we don’t want this nice man – “
“David, and not so nice…”
“Think we was pointing fingers.”
The inn was dark, as if done up specially for the dead children, but, no, that’s just the way it was. They signed the registry. Folks had come from all over: Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, Tennessee and even New Orleans. David led Jenny and her son to a table near the head table. He wanted to be a silent observer, to see the parents in action, as if he were watching the Euripides play “Jason and Medea” at an outdoor theatre in Athens.
Jenny said she was familiar with the play. “Make sure your son reads it,” he said. “All people are the same. Anyone could be driven to do something like this.”
“Such a world we’re living in,” said Jenny. “All those murders of our black children.” David nodded, “terrible,” as he helped her sit down in a plush purple chair.
“They’re moneyed people,” said David. “I guess they can afford this place.” Then added, “Yeah, I wonder how their investment business will do after they bury their slaughtered lambs.”
David was exhausted when he pulled in the drive at nearly midnight. Anna was in the living room, sitting and reading in the easy chair.
She stood up when he entered the living room.
“I’m going straight to bed,” he said. “Talk to you in the morning.”
Anna followed him upstairs. She watched him kick off his shoes on the hardwood floor and fall like a dead person onto the bed. Anna laughed but stayed up until her usual three a.m. reading “Nora Webster” for her Wednesday Book Group.
In her room, she changed into her white silk nightgown. But where was David? She heard him downstairs in his art studio making a minor racket. She snuggled under the covers and fell asleep immediately.
In the morning, she smelled coffee. Breakfast was all ready. Scrambled eggs with goat cheese, a piece of whole wheat toast with plum jam and a glass of Cranapple Juice. David sat at the table and yawned. “Made you these, dear,” he said.
Out of the playing cards, the broken jewelry, the headbands and other found objects from Holy Sepulchre, he had fashioned a set of jewelry for her. A lively set of dangling earrings, matching necklace and two bracelets.
“Why, they’re lovely, David,” she said and began to insert one of the earrings.
“You are too much, David,” said his wife. “Now you’ve got to explain everything.”
As he was picking up his cup of coffee, the front door bell rang.
“At 9 o’clock in the morning?” Anna said.
She walked to the door where she found two state troopers in their navy uniforms.
They held up their badges as if they were from Criminal Minds. An Officer Dealy and Officer Oliver.
David’s face turned white. Anna stepped outside.
“Officers,” she said in her deep voice. “What the hell is this about.”
“Your husband is wanted for stealing some ornaments at the Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.”
“Oh, for crying out loud,” she said.
She vanished into the house and re-emerged wearing the earrings, bracelet and necklace.
“You mean these?” she asked.
The officers looked at her. And then at one another.
“You may not know it,” she said, “but these are called ‘found objects.’” She touched an orange earring and made it dance on her ear. “They are decidedly not stolen. It’s one of the ways David and I make our living as the artists we are.”
She looked at the officers.
They were speechless. She wondered if they’d ever been to an art museum.
“I have an idea,” she said. “How would you like a tour of our studios.”
“That won’t be necessary, ma’am,” said Officer Dealy.
“Well, at least come in and have some lemonade. It’s mighty hot out there.”