Darelene Wesenberg Rzezotarski
April: Wherein the Grimeses become the center of an April Fool’s Day mystery, Blue Jay’s reputation as a poet of note grows, the city celebrates Earth Day at the edge of Lake Michigan, Lily receives an important letter, and the caretakers are called upon to perform a heroic rescue.
Indeed, Mrs. Davis had been correct. There was some strange business going on in Apartment 2. After receiving Mrs. Davis’s phone call, Blue Jay dashed across the still-unshoveled slushy sidewalk to the front of the building.
“April Fool’s joke, I hope.”
Lily followed, grabbing Little Jay and carrying him in what she called the “flour sack” hold—unceremoniously tucked under her arm, balanced on a slightly jutted hip. When they reached the front door of Apartment 2, they found it hanging open. No lights were on; once again Apartment 2 held the stillness of a tomb. Fearing the worst, Lily softly called, “Sherl!”
No answer; only the deceptive serenity of a snowy Saturday with the occasional clank and hiss of a radiator.
They stepped inside. “Sherl!”
Blue Jay flicked on the foyer light. They walked through the hall, cautiously peering into each room. Lily attempted to make a joke. “Hey, Ned Nickerson, now I know how Nancy Drew felt.”
The kitchen was at the rear of the apartment, adjacent to the fire escape. The entire apartment was empty, except for a sinkful of smashed, dirty dishes, including a sticky frying pan that smelt of bacon and fish.
“Yuk! Well, goodbye, Grimeses!” Blue Jay sighed. He turned to Lily. “Not even a note or a thank you. Mr. Dreschler’s gonna love this.”
“I just hope Sherl is okay. I wonder if she showed up for work at Frenchy’s last night or if they split town.”
“And that poor kid. No wonder he was so moody if this is the life he leads,” Blue Jay shook his head. “Well, I guess I’d better shovel the snow. Nothing like a little physical labor to blunt an emotional trauma.”
“So I get to call Mr. Dreschler?”
“I thought you’d never ask. Ned Nickerson often left such tasks to Nancy Drew, the number one ladt detective role model.”
“No. Drop the Nancy business. Just call me Lily, the Vacuum Cleaner Lady. Suck it up. I don’t think they swept or dusted since they moved in.”
“Well, what do you expect from someone named Grimes?”
They stood amidst the dust bunnies and laughed until tears came. The bad pun brought comic relief. Even Little Jay joined in the laughter, although he didn’t know why.
~ * * * * * ~
News of Blue Jay’s upcoming publication in the prestigious literary magazine Undercurrents spread around the English Department. He was invited to read for Professor Wright’s freshman honors English class where he was greeted with near celebrity status. After reading several poems, students plied him with questions. “When did you start writing?” and “How long does it take to write a poem?” and “Where do you get your inspiration?” all seemed startlingly simple to him; but he realized the genuineness behind the questions and answered them all with patience and respect.
“How long does it take to write a poem?” seemed to be a good place to start.
“Some nights, maybe an hour for a two-liner…” Jay paused. “Or an image or some words might just pop into my head at any time, day or night, and I will take out my trusty notebook and jot them down.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a small legal pad, filled in with very small cursive. “Here’s show-and-tell.”
He replaced it. “Of course, later on I will sit alone with the words and maybe something will emerge that I want to keep. But like everything else, poetry is part inspiration and skill and part discipline. It is a demanding taskmaster. You need to listen to its call and dedicate yourself to keeping the mindset alive.”
Receiving a nod of encouragement from Professor Wright, Jay continued. He got a laugh from the group when he revealed that he recommended hugging trees and confessed that he had a favorite oak tree in Riverside Park; but received several blank stares when he told them that he read Goethe and Dylan Thomas. He also recommended the musical poetry and poetic music of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, proclaiming them two of the greatest sages of the age.
After class, Professor Wright shook Blue Jay’s hand and offered to give him a strong letter of recommendation to include with his graduate school applications. “You are planning to go on, aren’t you?” He was an older, gray-haired man with a lifetime of researching and teaching behind him. He reminded Jay of the stereotypical English professor in worn tweedy jacket with leather elbow patches and bifocals perched halfway down his nose. He had published an anthology of American Literature that was still in wide use, although a group of Native Americans in Minnesota had challenged some of his choices of selections for inclusion. “But Mr. Haakens, you should think about applying for a teaching assistantship right here at UWM. We’re developing a graduate program in English and you could be in on the ground floor. We plan to have some reciprocity with UW Madison. Credits would be accepted here, and you could take the Badger Bus to Madison a couple times a week for some advanced work, in case you saw something intriguing. You could use the bus ride for study time. I would surely put in a good word for you.”
Blue Jay left Bolton Hall smiling, more confidence in his step than he had felt for a long time. Maybe, just maybe, things would work out.
Since he had some time to spare, he decided to make his way down the few blocks toward a familiar haunt, the Tuxedo on Downer. The moist lake air held a hint of Spring, as he inhaled deeply. Someone called out his name.
“Hi, Moisette. Long time, no see. How’s life? Everything must be going okay up in Apartment 5. We haven’t heard from you lately.”
She matched his steps and they proceeded together. “Yes, fine! We’re getting another roommate soon, to help out with the rent.”
“Yeah. I plan to travel this summer. My daddy gave me a round-trip ticket to Paris, so this guy I met will be taking over my room. Just for the summer.”
“Well, why don’t you bring him down and introduce him?” Blue Jay took the news quite calmly.
“I plan to go to abroad on a self-designed tour which I’m calling ‘Moisette’s Seven Wonders of Europe.’ So far, though I only have six lined up. Maybe I’ll stop off in London and visit Windsor Castle. That could be number seven. The queen is really German, you know.”
“So, what are the other six?” Blue Jay couldn’t resist asking.
“Well, there’s the big French cathedral, Notre Dame. That’s French for ‘Our Lady,’ referring to Mary, of course. And probably there can be two wonders in one city since it’s Paris. I think I’d like to visit the Eiffel Tower. My daddy took me there when I was about six years old, but I hardly remember, except we got stuck in the elevator. Scary. Then on to Switzerland to see an Alp in person. You know. Stay in a resort on top of those tall mountains where rich people go to ski, even though it won’t be the right season. Or will it? Because snow stays on those mountains all year round. I would consider the Alps a wonder.”
She paused and looked at Blue Jay. “You know, you’d be a pretty good travel companion. Daddy would probably spring for a ticket for you, too, because he’s worried about an attractive girl like me traveling alone.”
Blue Jay looked at her incredulously and swallowed a laugh. “Maybe you should take the would-be summer tenant along. Lily and I have plans for the Upper Peninsula the summer. Big plans.”
“Groovy,” she smiled. “Maybe I’ll come back engaged to a duke.”
“Well, Moisette, I’m not sure that there are too many loose dukes running around the Alps. He could be your seventh wonder. Good luck, though.”
As they approached the Tux, Moisette continued on to the grocery store. “See you back at the Tannenbaum,” she said.
“Stay cool!” Blue Jay waved.
Inside the Tux, Blue Jay spotted Frank sitting by the window filling a spiral notebook with his spidery writing. He nodded to Eddie the bartender, and noisily pulled out a chair across from Frank, who finished a sentence and looked up. “Hi, Bro!”
“How about a frothy glass of Schlitz? Treat’s on me.”
“You bet.” He walked to the bar. “Two taps, Eddie. Please.”
“Well, ain’t you the big spender today!”
Blue Jay smiled. “Gotta treat your friends right.”
“And your enemies wrong?” Eddie quipped.
“Actually, killing with kindness would probably be a better strategy. Think Ghandi and King,” Blue Jay said as he took the two glasses over to the table.
“What’s up, Franko? I hope I’m not interrupting.”
“Sure, you’re interrupting, but that’s okay. I’m just trying to jot down more background for my novel. Calling it Respite in Hell, but the name changes just about every week. You just missed Pete. He’s planning activities for another event. Talked non-stop. He never quits. An Earth Day reading on Bradford Beach. Later this month. Coming up. I needed a break from my other break.” He nodded at the glasses. “And the froth is free to flow.”
“Nice alliteration. Did you hear what happened here on campus with the Chicago 7 verdict? Some of the professors joined the students and now their bids for tenure are in question. Including Young Dr. Frankenstein from English.”
“Frawwwwnkinschtein. Everything is so political, even teaching.”
“Especially teaching. I think the faculty is torn apart. At least they’re taking the issues seriously since the Hayakawa debacle.”
“You know, Frank, I totally missed that. It was Valentine’s Day and I must have been busy with one thing or another at the building. We covered his book, Language in Action, in Wiegner’s class last year.”
“I took that class, too, remember? Dangers of propaganda. A critical attitude toward language. Susceptibility to sloganeering and following tyrants because of their persuasive rhetoric. But he turned from being an academician to a politician. Or propagandist. This night was about politics.” He paused. “You missed another scene. The SDS held a protest outside when they couldn’t get in.”
Jay nodded. “Sometimes the SDS is our conscience, but sometimes they don’t know when to quit.”
“He deserved that treatment. You gotta know the background from Cali. He turned out to be a little guy with a silver sword of a tongue. He started out as a clever linguist but turned out to be one of the tyrants his own book warned us about. His visit here got a little uncomfortable when the protesters threw smoke bombs into the Union ballroom and pelted the windows with stones. I was sitting in the middle and was afraid I would have an asthma attack, even though I haven’t had one since eighth grade.”
“The mystery of history. The irony of tyranny,” Jay replied. “Not too sad I missed that event.”
The door opened, creating a swath of light in the semi-dark interior. Frank waved at the young woman hesitating in the doorway, her hair a glowing halo in the backlight. “Rosie!”
She joined them. “How’s the novel going, Frank? Hi, Jaybird!” She reached over and took a sip of Frank’s beer. “What’s going on with Poets for Peace? I missed you over at the Gibson’s house. Quite a read-in.”
“I’m on a brief sabbatical. It’s called grad school applications and German irregular verbs,” Blue Jay replied. “How about you?”
She hesitated. “I’m not writing, either. In fact, I’m thinking of dropping out of school for a while after this semester. It’s like this great bat of despair is blocking out the sun. I can’t write and I can’t even think straight. I question why I’m even staying in Milwaukee. This bat is hovering and I keep hearing my own voice, but whispering in my ear like waves hitting the shore, again and again, ‘Why bother? Why bother? And I hate my apartment now.’”
Frank leaned forward, “What is this about, Rose?”
She broke into tears. “You know Elly? My roommate? I should say, my ex-roommate. You know, she tried to kill herself on St. Patrick’s Day night. I was out partying and when I came home, I found her in the bathroom with blood all over the floor. She slashed her wrist. I called the police and they sent an ambulance over. First she was out at Bayside Psych, but now they’ve sent her back to Sheboygan by her parents and they won’t even let her friends visit. But the weird thing is I didn’t even know anything was that seriously wrong. And now I just can’t move on.”
Her voice trailed off. “All the while I cleaned her blood off the floor, I was beyond tears. Do you know how thick and messy blood is? It just wouldn’t mop up. The more I tried to wipe it, the more it sloshed around. Evil finger paint on the floor. Finally I just took a bucket and dumped it on the tile and then sopped it up with towels and threw all the towels out. I thought Elly and I were close. We talked all the time. I knew about her boyfriend being sent to Vietnam, but I never realized how much she was hurting inside.”
“So now you’ve got a bat in your belfry,” Frank prodded. “You. You are not the type to be a bat hostess, Miss Rosie, my friend.”
She smiled. “Apparently I am. Just like I thought Elly was not the type to try to take her life.”
“I didn’t really know her that well. Only met her when you brought her along to the Kinnell reading,” Frank continued. “Maybe too much alcohol just got to her. That’s a rough time to be alone. Too much green beer and forced cheer and shamrocks sprouting out of nowhere.”
“She even seemed contented enough, no more problematic than the rest of us. Elly used to talk non-stop. A couple times she dropped acid, smoked a little hash, but mostly she stayed away from the drug scene,” Rosie continued. “She’d check the mailbox a couple times a day, just waiting for letters from her boyfriend. Kept all those letters in an old cedar candy box by her bed. She said he was going through hell over there, dropping napalm on jungles and such, which he wrote her about.”
“Well, she wouldn’t have been much use to him if she had succeeded in killing herself. I wonder if he knows about this,” Blue Jay remarked.
Frank and Rosie both stared at him, as if they had forgotten his presence at the table. Jay laughed nervously. “Well, I guess I’d better be going. It’s my turn for Kid Patrol at the Tannenbaum.” He stood up and they exchanged their goodbyes. By the time he was out the door, Frank had reached across the table and covered Rosie’s hand with his as a gesture of consolation. Their conversation resumed.
~ * * * * * ~
Blue Jay walked solemnly down Oakland Avenue, contemplating the ups and downs of his tumultuous life as a poet. Lily had taken Little Jay out for a stroller ride and met him as he rounded the corner about a block east of Tannenbaum Arms. When they returned home, there was a letter in the mailbox with a Tulsa postmark and a four-word note taped to their door: Call me. Oscar Dreschler.
“It’s your turn to call him, Blue Jay,” was Lily’s only response as she seized the letter and retreated to the bedroom for privacy. Tears welled up as she recognized her mother’s bold script:
I received your letter last month and I have thought about what I could possibly say to you. Of course, you are also in my thoughts. Now that you are a parent, you should know that a parent’s love never quits. But circumstances here are very tough. I am working part time as a bank teller, just hanging on financially.
I suppose I should have told you about this a long time ago, but I didn’t want you to worry. I’m sorry to say that things are not going well with Clem. About four years ago he was diagnosed with a disease called multiple sclerosis, which is gradually getting worse. There is no treatment for it, although we keep hearing about experimental drugs in the offing. Clem can’t ride his motorcycle anymore. I didn’t have the heart to mention it to him, but finally last month the realization struck him. We went out to the Harley store here in Tulsa and posted his motorcycle for sale on the bulletin board. Finally letting it go was a tough decision. It means that now he is condemned to riding passively in a sidecar at the kindness of his pals. The MS has especially affected his legs and his sense of balance. It seems so cruel to me, that fate should have afflicted him like this, since his greatest pleasure in life was the freedom of getting on that motorcycle, revving the engine, and taking off for who-knows-where. And any profits from the motorcycle will have to go to pay for the experimental drugs.
As for me, it seems that I never can escape the caretaker’s role. Maybe you got that from me. First your father and now Clem. Funny, isn’t it? Mother and daughter are both doing some kind of caretaking job. I do hope you will soon be able to move on to better circumstances. I know how demanding this can be—buildings and people. Clem now has an open pressure sore on his foot and I must change these bandages several times a day. I have to load him into a special van equipped with a wheelchair lift. Who knew? When I married him, I thought I was escaping all the pain that I felt after the death of your father, but now after a reprieve of a few years I’m right back into it.
As for your half-brother Marcus, he is following in your footsteps. He left home about a year ago and we occasionally hear from him. As of January when he last called us, he was living in a commune near Hot Springs, Arkansas, doing farm labor. They don’t eat any meat and they meditate. Seven times a day, he said. They follow this little fat boy guru. I forget his name. He seems okay, but he’s just seventeen now and I wish he’d get it in his head to at least finish high school. I’m thinking that maybe he’d go stay with you for a while in Milwaukee or wherever you’ll be next fall and you and Joshua could influence him to go back to school. I could scrape together the cash to send him a bus ticket. Missy doesn’t worry me so much. She loves art and spends her spare time filling sketchbooks.
I am glad to hear that my grandson is such a remarkable little boy. I look forward to meeting him some day. I hope you realize that right now I am in over my head with troubles. But I think about you every day and I would like to have one of those pictures of Little Joshua that you mentioned. I would be proud to put it on my desk at the bank.
I am sending you my love. Greet both Joshuas for me.
PS: Speaking of pictures, I always kept your father’s camera. It is an expensive one, with a German Leica lens. Next to you, it was his dearest treasure. He had a gift for catching just the right moment in a photo. I want you to have it. Maybe you can learn to take your own pictures. Also, there is a manila envelope of pictures he took—some in the Army in Korea and some of you as a toddler. I will be sending them out for you but need to wait until I can find a very safe box for shipping the camera. It’s valuable. I almost sold it once, but now I am glad I had second thoughts about that. Check your mail in about a week.
Lily placed the letter back in its envelope and stuck it under her pillow. She went back into the kitchen where Blue Jay was engaged in heated conversation with Mr. Dreschler. “No, I didn’t hear them leave. They left in the middle of the night. How could I know?” (pause) “No, they didn’t give any signs.” (pause) “Yes, I know we’re the caretakers and we should always be on duty day and night, twenty-four hours a day. Yes, Mr. Dreschler.” (pause) “No, we don’t drink.” (pause) “Yes, we were home. We were asleep.” (pause) “I was just heading out to shovel snow when Mrs. Davis called us.” (pause) “Yes, we check the front hall. But it was just eight in the morning.” Lily shook her head in disbelief. Mr. Dreschler was blaming them for the unexpected departure of the Grimes family. That seemed so unreasonable. “Blue Jay, tell him to try contacting Sherl at Frenchy’s,” she whispered. “Maybe you can contact Mrs. Grimes at Frenchy’s,” Blue Jay echoed. “I’m sorry that all the money you ever got was the deposit, but you know we don’t handle the rent. Maybe she still works there.” (pause) “Thanks, Mr. Dreschler. We try.” He hung up the receiver and just stood there in the middle of the kitchen shaking his head. “That man is not reasonable. How can he think this is our fault?” “Sometimes he just doesn’t get it,” Lily responded. “At least I heard from my mother. You can read it later. It’s a good letter, mostly full of sad news. Except for the end. I’m getting my dad’s camera! I didn’t even know he had one, and now I can’t wait!” She burst into tears. Two days later, upon Mr. Dreschler’s bidding, Lily and Jay were working in the small, back bathroom of Apartment 2. Papers covered the exquisite hexagonal tiles on the floor and a paint tray was delicately balanced on the toilet. “Lovely way to spend a rainy day, ya know. Too bad the Grimeses couldn’t have stayed a couple more months and we would have been done with this place.” Jay sighed and dipped his roller into the pale-blue paint. “Mr. Dreschler is so unreasonable. Like it’s our fault they ditched?” Little Jay was having a grand time with all the empty space, running from the living room all the way to the butler’s pantry and back again, with little detours into the vacant bedrooms. Since there was no furniture and nothing he could get into as far as they knew, Lily and Jay let him have free range in the apartment while they focused their attention on the bathroom. “Let’s blitz this. It’s too nice to spend all day like this. We could be walking in the rain or dancing in puddles or…” Lily burst into a loud, slightly off-key version of “Just a little rain falling on the ground. The grass lifts its head to the heavenly sound.” Just then Jay swerved sharply to block Little Jay as he toddled in at the sound of his mother’s singing. Just as she got to “What have they done to the rain?” the precariously balanced paint tray yielded to the force of gravity and clanked onto the tile floor. “Dang! Grab the baby!” Lily shouted, since she was on the far side of the tub. “Too late, Lily!” Little Jay slipped on the floor and slithered down with a splat into the gooey mess. The toddler burst out into a chuckle, lifting his paint-wet palm to his red curls. Lily moved fast and in one swoop lifted him into the tub and turned on the water. She grabbed his hand just as he was going to suck his gooey blue fingers. “Oh, no, you don’t! Tubby time is here! One of these days we’ll have to give you your first haircut if you keep this up.” Jay went downstairs for rags and towels to clean up the mess. Little Jay’s screams could be heard all the way as he exercised his right to protest a vigorous hair-wash. “Good thing Mr. Dreschler got cheap latex paint. Good thing toddlers are relatively washable,” Lily mused, removing Little Jay from the porcelain torture chamber. The absurdity of the situation was beginning to grab her, and soon all three of them were laughing, although the thought of the extra work was daunting.
Jay was determined to finish the job after cleaning the tile. Lily hustled Little Jay downstairs, depositing his paint-smeared overalls in the trash on her way. Lenore greeted them in the doorway, as always ready for a romp. Lily and Little Jay were ready for a nap.
~ * * * * * ~
There is always one of those spring days in Milwaukee when one opens the front door to be greeted with a kiss in the face by a velvet-soft breeze. On this day, the sun is so warm that the last vestiges of diminished glaciers retreat to oblivion in their shady corners. On this day, as if part of a great, orchestrated Dance of the Lemmings, the good citizens of Milwaukee forsake all responsibility and head for Lake Michigan. To be living in a city perched on the edge of this Great Lake means constantly to be in touch with edges. The edge of the state, the edge of the lake. The edge of the world, sea meeting sky with a dream of land invisible in the east; each grain of sand on Bradford Beach a cosmos; each bit of fossilized crinoid chain snatched from the place where sand and water meet—a reminder that this is also the edge of time. And Time greets the good citizens and says, “Congratulations, you’ve survived another Winter. Warm yourself in the sunlight, take off your shoes, leave toe tracks in the sand, then dance to the music of the spheres. It’s the springtime of the world.”
In the Spring of 1970, this day of wonder coincided with the officially designated “Earth Day,” April 22. This first-ever event had been the inspiration of a Wisconsin senator, Gaylord Nelson, who had pushed forth legislation to give it national credence. People called him a tree hugger and pie-eyed optimist; but a nation in poisonous embattlement within and without sorely needed a chance to share a few hugs and shake off the cloak of gloom, however temporarily. The official Earth Day celebration was planned for the Milwaukee River, with its polluted run-offs, with its dead rats floating downstream. Crews of people were doing a clean-up there, ending in a teach-in the downtown area.
On this Earth Day Blue Jay and Lily, along with The Lost Lenore and Little Jay, rose early, ignoring customary activities of attending classes, doing homework and laundry. They joined the crowds already on the lakefront to participate in the celebration. A string quartet played Vivaldi to greet the sunrise over the lake, followed by a beach clean-up at 8:00A.M.
Shunning the stagnant river and the official activities, Lily and Jay made their way down to their beloved beach for the more spontaneous celebration. Groups of elementary school children and their teachers showed up with large garbage bags and cheerfully walked the several miles of lakefront. One silly man in Bermuda shorts wandered around with a megaphone, giving orders about where to stack the recyclables. UWM students supervised a great beach-cleaning activity and the creation of “Garbage Mountain,” which rose over ten feet into the sky by noon.
Jay was particularly amused by an artistic creation on the sand. “Look at this, Lily!” Somebody had made an octopus out of eight used condoms around a rusted smiley-face button.
They moved aside as high school students snaked through the groups chanting, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” Small bands of roaming musicians wearing tie-dyed tee shirts with deliberately torn necklines paused along the sand with impromptu performances playing everything from bongos to clarinets.
Lenore tugged at her leash and wanted to join the musicians, but eventually resigned herself to being Little Jay’s bodyguard as he sat in his stroller and took in the sights. She had her moments of glory as people came over to admire her beautiful face. She wagged mightily and tried to kiss each one individually, not always a welcome happening.
At high noon, the Poets for Peace gave a reading, although most of their poems were drowned out by portable cassette players and chattering children.
Rita, a newer member of the group who had moved from Cleveland, was a sensational reader with her “Kaddish for Lake Erie.” She had been living there a year before when the Cuyahoga River, a tributary, actually had caught fire.
“Burning Lake, napalm-baked, oil-caked maiden….” she chanted. Her voice sounded like a crystal bell and people stopped to listen.
“Great addition to the group!” Mel remarked. “At least Lake Michigan isn’t dead like Lake Erie, but this should be a warning.”
Blue Jay was one of the last readers, and shouted his poem through a megaphone improvised from a rolled-up magazine:
Sun Sky Lake Sand People
Let’s bring it down
Of our shared earth
And star-swirled heavens.
Let’s raise it up
Not everyone could hear; not everyone cared; but a loyal cadre of fellow poets and friends crowded around protectively and cheered after each poet read. Someone passed around a bottle of fairly decent Chianti. A couple of reefers circulated—take it or leave it, live and let live—and after the reading, the group agreed that Earth Day was a great success and should become an annual event.
Lily beamed as she spun around with Little Jay, glimpsing first the lake, then the bluff, then the lake, then her giggling son, as they twirled. Her long batik skirt swirled around her and her necklace with its small harem bells jangled pleasantly. Lily had brought a generous supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and when they were dizzy from their beach dance, she dug into her backpack and brought them out. “Anybody hungry?” she called.
Several poets agreed that it was time to eat. Frank supplied a jug of apple cider, only slightly fermented; other poets pitched in with a variety of offerings such as carrot sticks and M&Ms, creating an impromptu banquet splendidly spread on a Navajo-patterned beach blanket. Since their work of the day was done and the breeze no longer felt warm—after all, it was still only April on the Lake Michigan shore—the Poets for Peace clung to the warmth of the sand and feasted beneath the diminishing springtime sun. Lily took off Little Jay’s tennis shoes and Lenore and Little Jay had one last romp on the sand together.
During the walk home, Blue Jay and Lily were quiet, each comfortable in their shared solitude, and Little Jay fell asleep before his stroller reached the top of the bluff.
~ * * * * * ~
A week later, Apartment 2 still stood empty and they hadn’t heard from Mr. Dreschler. They expected to find an ad in the Sunday paper, so they spent their spare time shampooing the carpets, disposing of the broken dishes and other debris, and giving the apartment a thorough cleaning. “Maybe we should contact him, Blue Jay,” Lily sighed. “This isn’t like him.” “No, I don’t plan to invite trouble. Let’s just tend to business as usual and let him call.” As they pondered their most prudent course of action as they were delving into a savory Saturday spaghetti supper, Mrs. Hopkinson called from Apartment 3. “Lily! Blue Jay! I don’t like to bother you but come upstairs quickly! There’s something horrible going on in Apartment 5. I think someone’s being tortured or murdered right over my head.” “Mrs. Hopkinson is not an alarmist,” Blue Jay proclaimed. “If she says it’s an emergency, I believe her.” He sighed and looked longingly at his plate filled with spaghetti and three big meatballs. “We better put this up on the stove so Lenore doesn’t help herself to a banquet.” Once again, Little Josh was hoisted into the potato-sack carry under Jay’s arm and they hastened to the front entrance, this time going upstairs to Apartment 3. On the way they met Larry and Lenny, just in from an evening stroll. “What’s up? What’s the rush?” “Mrs. Hopkinson called. We have to talk to her in person. There seems to be trouble in Apartment 5.” “We’ll help,” Larry said, without hesitation. “Mrs. Hopkinson is a great neighbor.” “C’mon, then,” Lily said. “We might need some help.” Mrs. Hopkinson was at the door. “Just come in and listen first,” she said. “I don’t know what you’ll be walking into. I don’t know what to think of it. This has been going on for about half an hour already.” They huddled together in the kitchen, the back door to the fire escape cracked open. “No! Let me alone!” a shrill voice called, choking back tears. A piercing shriek filled the landing. “Oh, my God!” Lily whispered, looking at Blue Jay. “It sounds like Moisette! Now what’s she gotten herself into?” The voice continued. “I hate you! I hate this! How can you make me do this! It’s not fair. I’ve been so good.” Great wailing and screaming ensued. “How dare you! No! I won’t pick that up. No! You can’t make me,” followed by sobbing and choking sounds and the methodical stamping of feet. “What do you think, Lily? Should we call the police?” “It’s very one-sided. Maybe it’s just a bad acid trip. Or peyote. Maybe the Sixers found her and fed her some of their magical brownies. I think I’ll just go up and take a look at what’s going on.” Lenny interjected, “I know! Since you’re the caretaker, why don’t you just go up the fire escape and knock on the door and say you hafta check the radiators? I’ll go with you. And leave your little one down here,” he smiled at the little red-headed toddler who smiled back and squirmed to get free of Lily’s arms. “Um, upstairs. Oh, sure. Check the radiators in April. What’s a caretaker for?” Blue Jay paused. “Okay. But then the rest of you should stay down here and be the back-up crew. You too, Lily. Be ready to call the police if you hear that it’s getting out of hand.” “Okay.” Terrible screams and moans and sobs continued. “Forward, march, Lenny! Let’s make a lot of racket.” Blue Jay and Lenny loudly clomped up the fire escape making their presence known. The moans and sobs continued. “I don’t know what we’ll find. Stand back,” Blue Jay said. With a false note of friendly confidence in his voice, he announced, “Caretaker here.” He abruptly pushed open the screen door. Moisette glared at the intruders. She sat alone on a large stool in the middle of the kitchen, random dribbles and crumbs dotting her blouse. Around her, strewn on the table and on the floor, were bits of food and puddles of milk.
Eyes blazing, she looked at them in amazement.
“How dare you!” she screamed at Blue Jay and Lenny. “How dare you enter my kitchen without even knocking! You startled me!”
“Uh, sorry,” Blue Jay mumbled, staring at the strange scene. “What’s going on here?”
“What’s going on here is none of your business. That’s breaking and entering! I should have my father sue you!”
“Look, Moisette, we only meant to help you. Are you okay?”
“We thought you were being injured. Can you explain what this is all about?” Lenny gestured at the mess.
“This is a case of breaking and entering. Leave!”
“Moisette, if you had been in real trouble, you’d be thanking us,” Jay countered. “Do you have any idea what this sounded like outside? Everyone was worried about you.”
She began to mellow. “I have been seeing a psychiatrist who is helping me resolve issues from childhood. He’s helping me chill out. He has advised me to try to re-live those early times of frustration.” Her voice was hoarse from screaming.
Blue Jay and Lenny exchanged glances.
“And so I am re-living the time when my parents made me eat with a fork and spoon. I hated it. I resented it all these years, only I just didn’t remember it until now.”
“So?” Blue Jay prodded her to continue. “How can I take this seriously?” he thought.
“I have a lot of repressed memories and I am just learning to deal with them. Imagine the agony parents inflict on their children with all the rules and punishments.” She looked at Jay when she said that. “Who knows how you’re damaging your son.”
“Well, he’s a little young for too many table manners yet,” Jay laughed. “I think all parents give their kids plenty to get neurotic about. It’s the name of the game.”
My psychiatrist gave me this book to read. It’s called The Primal Scream.” She gestured to a food-spattered book folded open on the kitchen table. “This author says it’s a good idea to get all the pain out and then you can move on with your life. Go back into your past and ferret out all the horrible experiences that your parents and teachers put you through. Next week I intend to work through my bad times in first grade when the teacher made me write with my right hand even though I am left-handed.”
“Janov,” Lenny read the author’s name.
“Yes, right. And now, if you would please leave, I want to continue with this session before my roommates get home. I’m supposed to do this every day for an hour until there aren’t any screams or sobs left in me and I have to report back to my psychiatrist at my next session.”
Lenny and Blue Jay looked at each other, suppressing smiles.
“We’re leaving right now,” Blue Jay said, “but do you think you could at least keep your door shut so the other tenants don’t think someone’s being killed? One aspect of being a good neighbor is not giving them cause to believe you are being murdered. This is something parents try to teach children.”
The two men quickly clattered down the metal steps of the fire escape to make their report to the others; and the now-muffled sobs and cries and screams resumed.
“Ah, sweet catharsis,” Blue Jay chuckled. “Maybe we all should get together and have a scream-in.”
“Not a bad idea, Jay,” Mrs. Hopkinson smiled.
Jay and Lenny explained the concept of Janov’s therapeutic techniques to the others. Everyone felt relieved that nothing serious was wrong, but Lily was indignant. “She has no manners.”
“Good that you called, Mrs. Hopkinson; but good that we decided against calling the police. We would have all felt like fools,” Jay added. “Maybe we should open up a special scream therapy chamber in the boiler room and all take turns using it.”
Mrs. Hopkinson served everyone claret wine in crystal goblets and they spent a delightful hour thinking of other painful situations that could be dealt with through this new, innovative scream therapy. Larry’s suggestion that actual leaders of warring countries could emote and scream at each other rather than sending troops into battle was well received, but Mrs. Hopkinson gently reminded them that just because it might work for individuals didn’t mean it would work for nations.
Blue Jay then speculated, “Yes, but the pen is mightier than the sword. Maybe a battle of the poets would be better than just shapeless, shameless emoting.”
“At least that would be virtually soundless and the neighbors wouldn’t have to endure it,” Mrs. Hopkinson smiled.
Lily felt an emptiness in her stomach from hunger, made more intense by the wine. Recalling her abandoned dinner, the image of a heaping plate of spaghetti loomed large in her mind. “After living through this, I seem to have worked up an appetite. Then after supper I might need to go to the boiler room where I won’t bother anybody and try a little scream catharsis myself.”
Lily and Jay returned to their plates of tepid spaghetti.
“Supper interrupted,” Jay mused. “Don’t worry, Lily. Just another couple more months and the semester will be over. We’re almost there. Things can’t get any worse,” Blue Jay turned to poetry for comfort. “Like the late, over-rated T.S. Eliot never said, ‘April is the cruelest month.’”
But events of the supposedly “Merry Month of May” would vehemently disprove this prediction.
~ * * * * * ~