The Bliss of Ignorance
The Bliss of Ignorance
“So, was he angry about hating politics or angry about the politics?” Charlie asked. But I was in no mood to parse Spaccone’s grammar.
The sun set while we were in the meeting. I kept out a watch around us, in shadows and out of them. I hadn’t seen Derek at the high school, but he may have lurked somewhere in the crowd. Some nimrod in that sort of group was bound to have said, “Sure, come on in!” And said nimrod would also be found the next morning dead on school property along with a few extra corpses in the parking lot. Derek hated political meetings, too.
Nor had I seen Ambr’ or any of the vampires she’d persuaded to join her cause. It would be unlike her micromanaging nature not to want a detailed report on Naomi’s…well, what had Naomi done? Given a presentation, made an offer or a bargain? Or spouted ravings from woman of many years, desperate to make the “good old days” she remembered relevant to the present? And whatever Naomi wanted to add to that?
We walked the three blocks from the high school on Genesee towards Mansfield in relative silence. Charlie swore, as most of us did, when the poor condition of the sidewalks caught his toe or threw him off balance. I did not laugh.
“What’s wrong now, Grace?” He walked a little behind me.
Charlie grabbed my shoulder under the streetlight at Genesee and Mansfield. He took my face in that thick-fingered vise grip and tilted it up into the light, forcing me to look him in the eye. I considered biting him. “Let it go, Grace! The whole thing’s going to be a joke on tomorrow’s news and it might last a couple days. You know no sane politician is going to support the babbling of a senile old woman!”
I clawed his hands away from my face. Honestly, he might have cracked my jaw, he was holding my head so tightly! “I know that ‘senile old lady,’ Charlie. Naomi is not senile, but she was under some influence. Those were Ambr’s words and I don’t know what Ambr’ might do from here.” I walked away from him, towards the CPF, my home.
“It’s not worth it, Grace.”
Charlie did not move. I glanced at him as I continued to walk and thought he looked strangely sad, like a lost child. “Please don’t get so upset, Grace. It’s going to be all right. I promise.”
Perhaps on another summer’s night, I would have found that mournful assertion worthy of a hero about to bare his soul in my romance books. On another night, I might have gone into his arms and settled for a tender embrace and another kiss on my forehead. This night, however, I whirled around. I stomped back to him, grabbed his face in what I hoped was as vise-like as his had been on my face.
“God knows I love you, Charlie Tischler,” I said. “But you are so goddamned clueless.” Then I smashed my lips onto his before I shoved him a little away from me.
Then a strange sound from the direction of the CPF turned me into a sprinter: a raspy whoop mixed with a wolfish howl that ascended and descended musical scales in five-second intervals. Charlie heard it, too, and grabbed my arm at the south arch.
I listened again. “You hear it, right?” He nodded. “What is it?”
“Neighbor’s new dog?”
“I’ve never heard a dog sound like that!”
“So you know all the sounds that every dog on the planet can make?”
“Hardly.” I jerked my arm free. We listened to a second volley of whooping and howling.
“Maybe it’s one of your vampire friends changed into a wolf and celebrating his kill.”
I stared at him. “And you say I read garbage. That’s an East European myth.”
“So you’re saying they can’t?” He stood in front of me, hands on his hips. A definite challenge.
“I’m saying the CPF vampires don’t. Derek says it’s beneath them to waste energy doing animal stunts.” I pushed past him, throwing him back another step.
Back at the house, we said little to each other before going to bed that night. He offered a sandwich. I declined. Guilt started to kick in for the lousy first kiss. And my attitude; Grandma Rose would go on for hours about how repellent it is to men to deal with a know-it-all attitude like mine. I offered to fold back the blanket and let us both sleep without the covers and the sweating. He declined.
“You’ve done enough, Grace. I think my lower lip is still bleeding,” he said.
Rain gathered in the Finger Lakes on a somewhat regular basis in June. The low pressure and humidity that night provided an impromptu sauna in my bedroom for the first three hours that Charlie and I lay “bundled” together. Somehow, we fell asleep.
I woke in the dark to a downpour complete with cannoning thunder and lightning flashes. And I was cold. I had to sit up to realize Charlie no longer breathed in my ear. His arm no longer held me and the blanket in place. Nor was the rest of him in the bed at all.
When I was in grade school and could not sleep, I listened to the house’s sounds. The old place rose up and settled again during the winter, but seemed to brave a summer storm with quiet patience. The rattling shutter outside my window had comforted me until Grandpa Dov mounted a long ladder and nailed it in place; I couldn’t sleep for a week after that. Sometimes I imagined I could hear the curtains waving in towards my grandparents’ bed and back to the window frame, in rhythm with my grandfather’s snoring. In the soft gray of dawn, the stairs groaned underfoot so I always knew when Grandma Rose was up and headed to the kitchen to make breakfast.
This night of the town hall meeting, the floors and stairs held their peace. And there came no tell-tale complaint of footsteps from the loose boards in the kitchen floor. I walked out into the upstairs hall and listened again. The house had settled down into protective posture for the duration of the rainstorm.
Then I heard it. A soft, rhythmic sigh of wood moving on wood came from my grandparents’ room at the other end of the hall. I saw in the doorway a soft light that I knew came from one of my grandparents’ bedside lamps when it was turned on. I moved carefully, half-expecting Derek or one of the ghosts or perhaps a mass murderer who wanted a calming rock in Grandma Rose’s old rocking chair.
Charlie rocked slowly, his sable eyes fixed on my grandparents’ bed with its white chenille bedspread. His broad fingers tapped on both dark wood arms of the chair and his blocky head nodded in time with the rocker’s back and forth motion.
“You keep this room as they had it when they were alive?” he asked. He stopped rocking, but did not turn his head.
I jumped a little at the sound of his voice in the dark. I did not thought he’d seen or heard me. “Yes. It seems the right thing to do.”
“How long were they married?”
“I’m not sure. I think about 60 years.”
He nodded. “That’s good. How old were they when they married?”
I had to think about that. “I’m not sure. Young, I guess. Eighteen or maybe twenty. People married pretty young back then.”
“Some people still do.”
An emotional ice cube dropped into my stomach and I shivered. “And do they stay married as long as my grandparents?”
He lifted one hand to run his fingers through his pillow-matted hair, then resumed rocking. “Some do. Some don’t. Go back to bed, Grace.”
Naomi made the news, as I expected. Local and national presenters started the story the following morning with a “Can you believe this?” smirk before and after running the tape of Naomi and Spaccone’s conversation. The buddies announced with a little too much conspiratorial glee “the elderly lady” and her street and city of residence. Field reports were sent to wait outside Naomi’s home for a comment, but, after four hours of neither movement nor even lights coming on in the house, the viewing public’s attention span sent them off to cover a house fire in Liverpool by noon.
Spaccone and his campaign objected in print and on tape to what they felt was misplaced attention and in very strong terms. The manager, a bull-dog faced man with iron gray hair sputtered over a phone line against the inequity of the coverage with his face growing redder and redder as he tried to avoid cursing the reporter, who never stopped demanding a more specific response to Naomi’s petition.
“Our candidate’s town hall was more than one crackpot incident, one old lady heckler,” the Spaccone manager told the news buddies. “The entire exchange with her was a whole ninety seconds out of a ninety minute long meeting! And our candidate was polite and respectful to her. Then he was right back on message, so why the hell don’t you people cover that?”
And yet, the analysts were called in to fill air time with whether Naomi had “touched a nerve with the American People” or merely voiced the “thoughts” of the right wing fringe.
I would have laughed, but I had my own headaches.
I spent the morning after the town hall meeting refereeing a fight between the Board and a mourner who wanted to cover her dearly departed mother’s grave with the mother’s favorite perennial: pink creeping phlox instead of grass.
How the problem rose all the way to the President of the Board’s stock brokerage office, I did not want to know, but I found myself the next morning right in the middle of a politely contentious conference call.
I told the mourner and the impatient President that the difficulty lay not in the gaudiness such a floral transplant installed next to the other grass-covered sites, although that was the president of the Board’s first objection. I defended the mourner’s position by pointing out some of the huge flower arrangements left by some families and other “loved ones” (by and large these were the ones who couldn’t have bothered with the deceased while s/he was alive and sought atonement through flowers). These floral “visits” were already on the obscene end of the gaudy spectrum and spread out over the plot’s grass; not to mention these monstrosities occasionally killed the grass by blocking out the sun or “peeing” excess water when the family came to refresh the arrangement. Moreover, I pointed out, the grave was on the backside of the hill in Section E. The pink blanket would not be seen from Mansfield Road.
However, I moved to appease the Board President, where the difficulty did lie was in the fact that creeping phlox does in fact creep and might well take over the plots beside it without the other families’ permission. And the mowers would surely tear right through the flowers without regard. I could not guarantee the phlox would survive the biweekly assault. Both parties finally agreed that the phlox blanket had to remain as a generous thought, and nothing more.
I gave myself an extra cup of cocoa and coffee as a reward for outstanding diplomacy. Dealing with such matters, Grandpa Dov said, took more skill in what you did not say to satisfy both sides. The true issue in the CPF had never been the creeping flowers. What I could not tell the mourner and the Board president is that a dozen ghosts shared Section E with the deceased in question. Among those dozen specters, lay more than one socially sensitive or otherwise immature specter who would want to know why s/he was not allowed creeping phlox or some other groundcover as well. I can only imagine how they had been in life when a neighbor repainted his or her house or had ornamental landscaping done.
The truth that neither the mourner nor the president wanted to hear was that CPF is a sort of Middle/High School for the Deceased when it comes to such things. You have to live this life to realize how often the caretaker has the “privilege” of refereeing squabbles between the living, the dead and the undead or any number of combinations of all three. It’s something to avoid, if at all possible and I really had no desire to deal with whining spirits invading my house or my walks through the CPF. A ghostly chorus of “It’s not fair” can arch any cat’s back and raise goose flesh on the calmest of caretakers.
I didn’t need extra headaches. Fortunately, community spirit and the carelessness of the mowers convinced both sides to the argument the phlox should not be planted. Now, if some of that spirit could induce the Board to expand the Potter’s Field…
I did ask, while I had the president on the line. No, settling with a paying customer over flowers seemed the extent of his interest in the CPF for the day.
Predictably, the news coverage of the town hall and Naomi’s (or, more accurately, Ambr’s)petition did not stop with the morning reports. Flowers, after all, are easier to root out than ideas.
In plainer words, Charlie, and I suspect the news buddies, underestimated the newsworthiness of Naomi’s performance. Drastically underestimated it, as events would show.
This notion of repealing the 19th Amendment, like most bad smells and bad ideas, would not go away. The usual fringe wingnuts – opponents of Roe v. Wade, equal rights and equal pay as well as non-white immigration; the inflexible and sometimes illiterate fundamentalists in almost every religion; the regular complainers about societal morals not being what they used to be – raged for a week on social media and in the Op-Ed section of all the local papers.
Their rants seemed to boil down to this: technology and progressive thought have taken us so far, but was it really worth the trip? Reform was what was needed. Government, social and personal reform and why not start with by reforming the women?
The usual male or male-influenced pundits (Grandpa Dov would have called them pudniks)trotted out their favorite bones to chew like abortion, legal levels of rape and how we as a country are turning into a bunch of girls (like that was the worst thing ever). The more religiously inclined went further. Eve and the Garden of Eden story suddenly saw more media coverage than rug-swilling pop stars or startled domestic animals.
And Charlie wanted to watch it all. The 24/7 news broadcasts played on my television all day every day that he spent with me. He laughed a lot, so I did not mind too much.
“People are so gullible,” he said.
“And you wonder why I prefer the dead and undead,” I said. “Present company excepted.”
He grunted and waved me off so he could hear the next “expert” waste time and oxygen.
I made breakfast for dinner and served him a pancake with two sunny-side up eggs for eyes and a turkey sausage patty for a gaping mouth. If he got the hint, he did not show it.