Chapter Twenty-Four: Reseda
What Magdalena said to me on the way to work did help me feel better. I could get through this day with my dick flopping in my jeans. I pretty much forgot about it with all the work I had to do.
We got a new shipment of Mother’s Day cards. Not Hallmark, of course, but a lot of them were actually nice. I took a package of cards out of the box and carefully tore off the cellophane wrapper.
“Lovely selection this year.”
I turned around. Mrs. Cimino stepped gingerly around the boxes I had stacked in front of the card display.
“Yeah, I think so too.” I slipped the cards and their envelopes into a rack. I reached into the box for another package. I didn’t want to be rude to Mrs. Cimino, but I didn’t want to get in trouble for chatting. I tore off the cellophane wrapper for the package.
“I used to love getting Mother’s Day cards from my children.”
“That’s good.” I slipped the cards and envelopes into the rack and reached for another box. I had to keep stocking the rack. If Mrs. Cimino really was trying to save me, this was not the time.
“I especially liked their handmade cards. Especially Bernice’s. She was such a wonderful artist.”
“That’s very nice.” I started tearing off the cellophane for another package of cards.
“I’m sure you’ll want to pick one out for your mother.”
I froze. The cellophane between my fingertips. The package half unwrapped. Mrs. Cimino stared through me as if I were as clear as the cellophane. Then, she abruptly stepped back.
“I’m sorry.” Her voice turned somber. “Did your mother pass away?”
“No, it’s...” I couldn’t think of a way to describe Mom without saying “bitch.” So, I just threw out, “We don’t talk.”
“I see.” Her voice sounded unusually tense.
I’d never seen Mrs. Cimino upset before. Even when we ran out of her favorite brand of generic bar soap. Was she angry that I didn’t talk to my mom? She is a mother. She probably has grandkids too. So, she’d be pretty pissed if they forget to send her a Mother’s Day card. So, why did she say she used to love getting Mother’s Day cards from them. Did they stop for some reason? Maybe they died. That would make it even worse!
I was relieved when Mrs. Cimino exhaled softly and let her shoulders relax. But then she said, “Did you read that part of the book about forgiveness?”
I thought when I dropped out of school, I didn’t have to take any more pop quizzes. And if Mrs. Cimino was pissed at me, I’d hate to make her more pissed by giving the wrong answer. There was that one thing I read. I hoped it was the right one.
“Was it about a key to freedom? Or something like that?”
“‘All of us are broken. All of us are flawed. All of us have sinned against God, each other, and ourselves. Until we see the grace in the brokenness in ourselves and others, we cannot receive God’s grace.’ That was the hardest thing for me to learn.” She stared at me for a moment, then she patted me on the arm. “I’ll let you get back to work.”
I watched her continue down the aisle. She seemed to walk a little stiffer. What happened to Mrs. Cimino in her life? Where was she broken? She didn’t seem broken at all. How could she be, if she thinks she’s trying to save me? Yet, something seemed to set her off when I told her I didn’t talk to my mom.
I looked at the cards in my hand. They had a watercolor painting of some roses on them. Printed in some fancy script, it said:
“Thinking of you across the miles on Mother’s Day.
Although we live so far apart,
You’ll always be with me in my heart.”
I shook my head and stuck the cards and envelopes in the rack. Then, I reached into the box and took out the next package of cards. I quickly tore off the cellophane and stuck the cards in the rack without reading them. I made short work of that box of Mother’s Day cards. Anything to forget about forgiveness and brokenness. And my own mom.
But the next box of cards was harder for me. Graduation cards. I would have graduated high school this year if I hadn’t dropped out. Or gotten kicked out. I thought about Pearl’s high school and how things would have been different if...
“It’s a long day livin’ in Reseda.”
I turned around. Pearl stood next to me. She wore one of those short baggy dresses again. I guess she ran out of clothes too.
I stared at her. “What’d you say?”
“It’s a long day livin’ in Reseda.”
“Why’d you say that?”
She looked at my lap. “‘Cause you’re freeballin’.”
I folded my arms. “You have a thing about dicks.”
She smiled. “Many women do.”
“I have to do my laundry.”
She tugged on the sleeve of her baggy dress. “So do I.”
“There’s a laundromat across the street.”
“I have a washing machine and dryer. Remember?”
Hours later, I was standing in what she called a service porch. It was basically her laundry room, but it also had the water heater, a cabinet for her cleaning supplies, and a door that led to her backyard. She let me wear the same Reseda Regents t-shirt and sweatpants as last time. Oh, how good it felt to wear something soft!
She walked in carrying a plastic laundry basket piled high with clothes. I saw mine on the top. She wore a Reseda High School Softball t-shirt and white cotton shorts.
Muriel had lots of high school t-shirts too. Every team she played on gave some sort of shirt. She’d go to games for all the other teams, and she’d get those t-shirts too. Along with blue face paint so she could paint D and H for Dana Hills on her cheeks for all the football games. A picture of her with that DH showed up in the “OC Varsity” section of the Orange County Register.
I never got into the whole school spirit thing. Now, I’m sorry I didn’t.
Pearl set the laundry basket on top of the dryer and flipped up the lid of the washing machine. She started picking through the pile and tossing in items. There were other items she set aside. She seemed to have some system to decide which items to put in.
“Can I help?”
“I got it under control.” She tossed in a pair of socks.
“I’d like to learn.”
“I’m doing a dark wash. Look for lightweight dark colored items.”
My fingers grabbed something lightweight and dark colored. And soft.
I plucked the item out of the pile. It was a pair of panties. My cheeks burned. She didn’t bat an eye.
I tossed them in the washing machine. I was glad to get those out of my hands. I don’t know what would be worse, if they were hers or her mother’s.
As I pulled back my hand, I accidentally brushed against the front of Pearl’s shirt. She wasn’t wearing a bra. I could tell. Her breast jiggled as I touched it. Her nipples poked up the R and the A of “Reseda.”
“Sorry,” I said.
“No problem.” She seemed like she just caught her breath.
Which made it a problem for me. Looking at her breasts bounce a little as she moved. I wanted to reach underneath that high school softball -- No. That was way too creepy. The whole thing was fucked up. Pearl and I were legal adults, yet we dressed like high school kids. I’d still be in high school if I hadn’t dropped out or been kicked out. Were we adults or high school kids? Who the fuck are we?
I went back to picking through the pile. I stepped a little further away to avoid touching her again. Although I kind of wanted to.
“Who did your laundry?” She pulled out a t-shirt without looking up at me.
“We had a maid.”
She set some white items aside. “Poor little rich kid, huh?”
“Now, just poor.” I looked through the pile. “Did we get them all?”
She moved aside some t-shirts and pulled out my boxers, the ones I blew my load into. I gasped. But she just looked at the stain like she was figuring out a math problem.
“When you cum, you cum hard.”
She was about to toss them in the washing machine.
“Wait!” I cried.
“The sperm’s already dead. It all comes out in the wash anyway.”
I still cringed as she tossed my cum-stained boxers in with her clothes.
“Besides.” She turned to me and smiled. “My bad, right?”
How did she know? And how could I answer?
But she just looked back at the cabinet. “Can you get me a bottle of laundry detergent?”
Her shower, which gave me such relief last time, now made me unnerved. What did she want from me? Did she want me? And why did she say I couldn’t have sex with her? Was she married? I didn’t see a wedding ring, and she was living with her mom. Or maybe she had a boyfriend. Maybe he was in the Army overseas.
But even if she were free, did I really want her? Could I really have her? What the hell could I offer her? I was sleeping in a fucking SUV!
The girls I knew in Dana Point wanted to be treated right. They wanted guys to take them out to dinner, and not at Taco Bell. They wanted the Pacific Swordfish at Harbor Grill and Yogurtland for dessert. And the best top shelf nug. They wanted a new Forever 21 dress for their birthday, and you better get the right size. The size she thinks she is. If she says she’s a size 8, and you know she’s a size 10, you still get her the size 8. If you get her the size 10, she’ll get pissed because she thought you called her fat, even though she’ll exchange it for a size 10 later.
I could tell Pearl wasn’t that type of girl, but I would want to treat her right. She deserved it. And it pissed me off that I couldn’t do it. And maybe she knew it, which is why she said...
The door creaked open. I grabbed the edge of the shower curtain and clutched it tight over my circumcision.
But I could tell from the direction of Pearl’s voice that she stayed near the bathroom door.
“Mom wants you to join us for dinner.”
I got dressed in her bedroom. My clothes were still in the wash, so I got back in that high school t-shirt and freeballed it in her sweatpants again. She let me charge my iPhone next to her MacBook Pro.
I still didn’t know what to think as I walked towards the dining room. I had been in mansions that were four times the size of this house. They had cathedral ceilings, crystal chandeliers, and designer couches that cost as much as a used car. But Pearl’s house was the first place where I felt nervous.
Her house was clean and neat. The dark tan carpet seemed dated and faded, but it was well vacuumed and in good repair. They had a sofa and love seat in tan corduroy. It wasn’t fashionable, but it looked comfortable. There was a small crack that ran down one wall. Probably from that big earthquake they had about twenty years ago.
One wall had pictures of Pearl. All ages. Some when she was a baby. A child in her Brownie outfit. Pictures of her in Girl Scout uniforms and sports uniforms. There were some pictures of Pearl and her mother together. One showed her mother with her arm around Pearl’s shoulders when she was on a youth softball league. It must have been a Mother’s Day picture because she was holding a bouquet of flowers. Pearl’s mother looked pretty tall and broad shouldered. I noticed that when I transferred her to her wheelchair. If Pearl wore her mom’s dresses, no wonder they were big on her. Pearl’s mom had the same length and style of hair, except hers was blonder than Pearl’s. I then realized that Pearl’s mother looked pretty young. And there was no father in any of the pictures.
“The ones in her high school uniforms are my favorite.”
Pearl was wheeling her mom into the hallway. She seemed stronger and more cheerful from the day before. She must have regained her strength after chemo. The strength showed in her smile.
“Navy and Columbia blue, such beautiful shades. My school’s colors were red and white. Boring.”
Pearl seemed a bit embarrassed. That seemed odd considering the type of things she said to me.
Pearl’s mom then waved her hands towards me. “Go on. Have a seat.”
I then noticed that Pearl’s mom had an accent. I couldn’t tell where it was from. Her mom had deep-set blue eyes like Pearl, and her skin seemed a few shades lighter. She must have come from somewhere in Europe. But Pearl’s last name was Hawthorne, an American name. Was that her father’s name?
Pearl wheeled her mother towards the table. She stopped to move aside a chair that was at the end. I was about to offer to help, but Pearl had already moved her mother to the table. Pearl turned and headed to the kitchen without a word.
I looked out across the table. Plain stainless steel flatware on paper napkins, but everything was clean and properly arranged. White plastic tumblers filled with ice water. Mom and Steven had Lucinda do all this work, but Pearl was doing it. On top of her job at Buck & Awesome. And taking care of her mother. No wonder why she couldn’t go to college. She had no time!
“Have you ever had zlikrofi?”
I looked up at Pearl’s mom. “No.”
“It’s quite good. I never could make it like my mother, but Pearl does an excellent job.” She reached out her hand towards me. “She said your name is Duane...”
“Dylan.” I smiled. “And your name is?”
I reached across and shook her hand.
“You were so kind to help me the other day, Dylan.”
“No, thank you.”
“It was so nice that Pearl found...Oh!”
Pearl walked in holding two large plates. She served Hannah’s dish first, then mine. She returned to the kitchen.
Back home, this was expected. Lucinda served us, then disappeared. But this felt awkward. Pearl wasn’t my servant! I was relieved to see Pearl return with her own plate of food.
It looked delicious. Little dumplings, which looked like gnocchi or mini raviolis, but served with cubes of meat, sliced carrots, and pearl onions in some sort of white cream sauce. It reminded me of beef stroganoff. I couldn’t wait to dig into Pearl’s creation. But there was something we always did at home, something we couldn’t start a meal without doing. I looked around the table. Hannah started eating first. Then, Pearl started. So, I followed.
It was just as well, because I hated saying grace. It seemed like such bullshit. We’d have a terrible day where Muriel and Mom got into some sort of fight, Steven shouted all sorts of shit at me for one thing or another. But at dinner, we were all supposed to hold hands like we’re one happy family, thank God for a dinner Lucinda busted her ass to make, and then we’d go back to the arguments we had before dinner.
But the food Pearl made was delicious. The dumplings with potatoes, bacon, and onions as filling. They were rich by themselves, but add the meat and that cream sauce. Wow! I didn’t know what country Hannah was from, but it must be someplace awesome to make such great food.
I turned to Pearl. With a big smile, I said, “This is de...”
But she frowned at me, as if I were about to violate some Old World custom by thanking her.
Hannah tried to break the awkwardness. “I understand you’re from Orange County.”
“Yes. Dana Point.”
“Are you familiar with Garden Grove?”
Now, Pearl turned her glare towards her mother. For a moment, the two of them distorted their faces into taut expressions. They were having some sort of silent argument.
From the service porch, a loud BZZZZZ!
“I better get that.” Pearl set down her fork and rushed from the table.
Hannah sighed. “It has not been easy for her.”
I nodded. “My grandmother had cancer too.” I wasn’t going to tell Hannah how her story ended.
Hannah stared into the distance. “I never wanted to be a burden for her. She’s such a smart girl. She was offered a scholarship to Oklahoma. Then...” She looked down.
I wanted to say something encouraging. All I could think of was some bullshit from Dr. Steven Fucking Dimity.
“I once read that God takes us where we need to go and teaches us what we need to learn.”
As the words finished coming out of my lips, they seemed trite and condescending. And probably offensive. When she looked up with her eyes open, I thought I must have pissed her off.
“You read the book?” She actually seemed excited.
I blinked my eyes. ”Face Time with Jesus?”
She gave a small smile and shook her head. “Oh, I don’t read things like that.”
She reached for the rims of the wheelchair and rolled herself back. She then moved to a bookcase that was built into the back of a divider between the entryway and dining room.
“I found this book at the library bookstore. They were giving it away for free.”
She pulled out an old paperback with a cracked spine and faded print. She set it on her lap and wheeled back to the table.
“This book helped me when I really needed it.”
She set it on the table. It definitely wasn’t Face Time with Jesus. It had a faded pastel cover with a picture of a mountain stream with a rainbow and a glowing white angel floating over it. Hannah pushed the book towards me. I picked it up and looked at the cover more closely.
The Healing Power of God’s Light by Reverend Patricia Williams Story.
I flipped over the book and read the description on the back cover.
“As Ernest Holmes wrote in The Science of Mind, ‘There is one power in the Universe and we can all use it.’ Reverend Patricia Williams Story shows how you can tap into this Infinite Intelligence to heal any situation in your life. You will learn how to use the crises in your life to achieve greater personal growth and strength by overcoming them. Discover The Healing Power of God’s Light and find your way to a better life.
Reverend Patricia Williams Story is the senior minister of the Windham Hill Church of Religious Science in Palo Alto, California.”
Yes, this definitely wasn’t Face Time with Jesus.
I looked up at Hannah.
“You may borrow it, if you like,” she said.
At the same time, we both turned towards Pearl, who had returned to the table. But she was standing up. She picked up her plate with most of her food uneaten.
“I’ll finish it later.” She carried the plate to the kitchen.
I stared at the food still left on my plate. The food Pearl worked so hard to make.
“You should eat.” Hannah encouraged.
I could understand Pearl acting strangely around her mom. I certainly did with Mom, but that’s only because she acted like a bitch to me. I don’t know what Hannah did that made Pearl upset.
And I didn’t know why Pearl was still upset with me.
“Your clothes are in my bedroom.”
I looked into her deep-set pale blue eyes. “Are you OK?”
She turned away. “I need to get you back.”
Pearl had neatly stacked up all of my clothes in a single pile. Everything I owned in the way of clothing was a stack about a foot and a half high. Next to it was a large gray Kohl’s bag. I assumed I would put anything I didn’t wear into that bag. I used to fill up an entire closet with my clothes, but I didn’t wear most of them. All I had in that pile was really all I needed. And thanks to Pearl, it was all clean.
I peeled off Pearl’s clothes and slipped on my boxers as quickly as I could. I didn’t want to be naked in her room for that long. I stared at that Reseda Regents shirt. I was now glad Mom and Steven didn’t give me that Dana Hills High School Dolphins sweatshirt. I didn’t want to dress like a high school kid. I certainly didn’t feel like one. Not anymore, at least.
I grabbed a t-shirt, jeans, and socks and slipped them on quickly. I then put on my shoes. I had gotten good at getting dressed in a hurry. I straightened up my pile of clothes. I grabbed both handles of the bag and snapped them hard. The bag opened fully. I slid the opening of the bag underneath the pile and pulled up both ends quickly and firmly. The pile remained neat inside the bag.
I had to get my iPhone and charger, which was plugged in next to Pearl’s MacBook Pro. The charger was snug inside the socket. I pulled hard. As the charger came out, my hand accidentally bumped her laptop. And the screen came on.
I found myself drawn to her laptop. She had her Web browser open with a bunch of tabs. Didn’t she keep her screen locked? I always kept my screen locked, especially with the shit I used to look at. Maybe she recently used her computer, and the lock didn’t take effect. Or maybe she just didn’t bother. Her mom was the only other person in the house. She wasn’t going to look at her computer.
But I was. I couldn’t help myself.
I was surprised she didn’t have Facebook open. I had Facebook open all the time at home, back when it didn’t depress me. I looked through the tabs and none of them were for social media.
But one tab caught my attention. I thought twice about clicking it, but I couldn’t resist.
“Classic Bondage Hall of Fame
All the best bondage from the 1970s to today!”
What the?... Why would Pearl be interested in?...
It got weirder as I scrolled down the page. Was that? No, it couldn’t be...
That’s when I saw the hands grab the top of the screen. My hands fled from the trackpad as the lid came slamming down.
Pearl’s fuming face glared at me.
We didn’t say a word that whole drive up Reseda Boulevard. She pulled up behind the Explorer and stopped. She kept the engine running. She didn’t even put it in park. She just turned and stared at me. She expected me to get out, and she would drive off.
But I had something to say.
“Pearl, I’m really sorry...”
“It was my mom. Satisfied?”
“But why would you be looking at...”
“It’s none of your fucking business.”
I grabbed the Kohl’s bag with my clothes and reached for the door handle. She exhaled hard.
“Dylan.” She exhaled hard again. “I said if you want to have sex with me, you can’t.”
She gave another hard exhale. There seemed to be some dampness in it, like tears.
“You wouldn’t like me if you got too close.”
“Pearl, you’ve seen me. I’m the lowest I’ve ever been in my life. What could you possibly show me that would make me dislike you?”
“You’ve already seen it. I’m a freak.”
“Please!” She sniffed. It was definitely the sound of tears. Her voice softened. “Just go. Please.”
“Let’s talk about it tomorrow after work.”
“Then we can talk about it...”
“We won’t. Good night, Dylan.”
“Please.” Her voice cracked.
I watched her Hyundai zip across the parking lot too quickly. When she got to the driveway onto Canby, her tail lights glowed bright and the car seemed to jerk, as if she braked too hard.
That heavy sadness came over me again as I trudged back to the Explorer with that Kohl’s bag full of clothes.
“Girl problems, huh? Especially on a Saturday night.”
I turned around. It was the drug dealer. The heavy sadness was burned away by my irritation.
“We made a deal,” I growled.
“I’m not getting up in your business, man. Just thought you’d like a little help.”
I looked at the baggie he pulled out of his pocket.
“That shit doesn’t help. I know.”
“At least you won’t give a fuck about it anymore.”
He was right. I blotted out a lot of rough stuff on that shit. But I wasn’t sure blotting it out was what I wanted to do.
So, I shook my head. “I’m good.”
“All right.” He shoved the baggie back in his pocket.
I thought our little exchange was over. I started heading back to the Explorer. The heaviness came back to me, but I had to keep going.
“I quit once too.”
I set down the Kohl’s bag and faced him.
“I quit everything. Weed, shrooms, meth, bars, acid, molly. All that shit. Even booze. It ain’t because of no probation neither. I wanted to get clean. I wanted to go straight and live a good life. I wanted to make my parents proud of me for once. And when I got clean, I felt great! Didn’t get sick no more. Didn’t spend my whole day figuring out how to get my next high. I could think clearly again, you know?” He took a step closer to me. “Then, you know what happened? Life kicked my ass again. You do everything right, and life still fucks you over. So, what do you do? How do you cope?”
He took a few steps away from me. I thought he was finally going to leave, but he stopped.
“You’re gonna need me someday. ’Cause life is going to fuck you over too. Life is gonna fuck you in the ass so hard, you just want to die. And when it does...” He turned away. “You know where to find me.”
He kept walking until he disappeared into the dark.