Wednesday, November 24, 1982
It was almost 11 o'clock when Willie climbed into the cab of his pickup truck. His wife passed a paper bag through the window.
"Here's a ham sandwich and a peanut butter sandwich. Try not to eat at any truck stops along the highway. They're overpriced, and have lousy food and rough characters."
She passed in a large thermos. "Here's your coffee. Promise you'll stop at a motel if you get too tired."
"Call me tomorrow." He nodded. "Do you have the pie?"
"Do you have enough gas?"
"Everything's cool, Maggie. I'll see you Friday night."
"Why do you have to leave now? You're going to get there at 4 AM."
"Nah, I'll probably stop somewhere." Willie wanted to be well on his way when Julia's middle of the night phone call came. Better to tell them after the fact. But, if his servant didn't answer, Barnabas might come looking for him. "You should sleep at your Pop's tonight. It'd be…more convenient."
"I'll be fine; I'm a big girl."
"Just do it!" he snapped. "For once, do somethin' I say, will ya?"
"Alright, geez." She backed away from the truck.
Willie jumped down from the cab and grabbed her into his arms.
"Sorry—I'm sorry, it's just that I don't want anythin' bad to happen to you—again."
"Then stop squeezing so tight." She looked at him. "So you really haven't blocked everything from your mind, have you?"
"I dunno. Some stuff I wish I could."
"No, don't ever forget…and don't ever forgive."
"I won't forget you."
"You do and I'll kick your blond butt down the street." Willie began to kiss her all over but she pulled back in embarrassment. "Not out here where everybody can see."
"It's dark. They're all in bed."
"Except for Mrs. Riddle peeping out the window." Willie waved and smiled at Mrs. Riddle. "Stop it, she already thinks you're odd." Maggie gave him a little push. "Go, if you're going."
The young man folded his arms, waiting for the answer to his request. "Well?"
"Fine. I'll call Pop to come pick me up."
"Not now; he'll be too sloshed to drive."
"Then I'll call Joe."
"Uh uh," he shook his head. "Get in, I'll give ya a lift."
"There's things I want to do first."
"No, there ain't." Maggie gave out a little scream as Willie scooped her into his arms and walked around the truck. "I'm kidnapping you."
"Be careful! I could fall!" He deposited his burden in the passenger seat, and not a second too soon. Boy, was she getting heavy. "Watch out, I almost sat on the pie!"
Willie threw the truck in gear and took off down the road.
"You realize this is the complete opposite direction," the young woman reminded him.
"Just lookin' after my wife. Sometimes ya gotta take care of people whether they want it or not."
"Yes, lord and master," Maggie smiled. "Whatever you say."
The young man smiled back. "I like that. You can call me that from now on."
It felt good to win an argument for a change, like he was the boss.
"You don't have to walk me to the door." She descended awkwardly from the cab and slid to the ground. "Drive carefully and have a good time tomorrow." Maggie blew him a kiss and walked away.
"You too," he called after her. "Stay upwind of them nasty cows." Willie jumped from the cab and chased his wife to the front door. "Wait! You didn't say bye or gimme a kiss."
"I did so."
"Again." Maggie kissed him. "Again." She kissed him again. "Again."
"You don't have to go, you know," Maggie said with a sly smile.
"Yes, he does." Sam was standing behind them in the open doorway. "Stop doing that on my front steps."
"Oh, Pop, we were just saying goodnight." She walked past her father into the cottage.
Willie stood at the bottom of the steps, hands thrust in his pockets, waiting for the door to shut in his face.
"Er, drive safely," Sam mumbled. "Watch out for deer in the road. Pesky animals will run right out in front of your car."
"Yessir. I'll be careful."
Sam swayed a bit as Maggie caught him up and led the old man away. With a wink to Willie, she quietly closed the door.
It was going to be a long, lonely trip, so his dead partner, Jason, showed up to keep Willie company and help him stay awake. They reminisced about the long stretches of driving they did in the past, about which were their favorite cities, and which were their favorite scams. Just like in the good old days, Willie drove and Jason talked.
Without warning, the ghost of a little girl appeared on the seat between them.
"Christmas hymns!" she announced brightly. "Let's all sing!"
The young man almost swerved off the road. "Sarah, what are you doin' here?"
"There was no one to play with, and I was lonesome, so I followed the Irishman." She explored the dashboard. "David has music boxes, is this yours? How does it work?"
Willie switched on the radio. The child didn't know the words to Have a Holly Jolly Christmas, but bounced in her seat as Jason sang along with Burl Ives. Then she cuddled up under the arm of the Old House servant.
"Don't lean on me, I'm drivin'," Willie said.
"You have to sing."
"I don't like to, and I don't like Christmas carols, so don't push your luck."
"Don't mind him, dear girl," McGuire pulled the spirit away. "He always was a sharp-tongued lad and gets grumpy when he's tired. Come sit with Uncle Jason."
Willie switched to the other station, but they were subjected to more seasonal tunes.
What child is this, who, laid to
On Mary's lap is sleeping…
"Hey, Jason, they ain't the right words. It goes: There was a dusky Eurasian maid, in old Karachi she plied her trade—"
"That's not somethin' we sing near the wee one," the Irishman interrupted. "This is a slight variation on the version I taught you."
Willie shrugged. "Don't sound that funny to me."
"I do not know these hymns," Sarah sniffed as she curled into a ball and went to sleep. Slowly, her visage faded and disappeared.
For the remainder of the trip, Jason read to his partner from Hamlet, beginning with the scene in which the ghost of his father appears to young prince, demanding revenge for his murder most foul.
Well, his wife was right, as wives always are, and the young man landed in the suburbs of Schenectady in the early hours of the morning. Willie had forgotten that he was supposed to stop at a motel, and he was too far from the highway to find anything now. He pulled out an old blanket stuffed in the back and laid across the bench car seat to catch a little shut eye. His head ended up in Jason's lap, but neither man nor specter remarked on it. Willie awoke a few hours later with a crick in his neck. The sun had risen and he was alone.
Willie took a deep breath. His heart was pounding as he rang the doorbell with a slightly trembling hand. Smile.
The door opened and there stood a smiling, middle aged man in pajamas and robe, the picture of suburban fatherhood.
"Bill! Come in." Willie stepped over the threshold and dropped his duffle bag. "Richard Harrison. It's so good to meet you; I'm your stepdad." He shook hands with the visitor and began to pull him into an embrace, but the pumpkin pie in Willie's other hand got in the way and was almost crushed.
"Oh, sorry, sir!" Willie pulled back awkwardly as a fat bulldog waddled with excitement around his legs, dribbling urine behind her as she went.
"Please, call me Rick. Do you prefer Willie or Bill?"
"I-I don't care. Here." He held out the pie. "This is from my wife. They made it at the place where we work."
"Thank you." Then he called to two golden-haired youngsters parked in front of the TV set, eating donuts. "Children, say hello to your brother."
"Hello, brother!" they called without looking away from the Thanksgiving Day parade. "Dad, come here, it's Underdog!"
The boy's mother burst through the kitchen door, looking a little flustered, carrying paper towels.
"Big Bill! Kiss me, but don't touch my hands, I'm cleaning the turkey." She handed the towels to her husband who started to wipe up the floor. "That's Matilda, she gets nervous around strangers. She wants you to pet her."
"Uh, hi." Willie crouched down and cautiously patted the dog's head. Matilda wiggled the back half of her body in the course of wagging her tail.
Lydia looked behind him. "Where's Maggie?"
"Oh, uh, she has a cold, she's sick and hadda stay home, but she sent a pie. She didn't touch it or anything."
"Is her dad taking good care of her?" Willie nodded. "Good. Well, I'm glad you were still able to come."
The young man smiled. "Me too."
"Something's burning." Richard looked up from his crossword puzzle. "Lydia, are you okay?"
Willie was sitting around the coffee table with Ricky and Jocelyn amidst a sea of board games: Monopoly, Parcheesi, Life and Sorry. He jumped up and flew from the room before anyone else was out of their seat. The oven door gaped open and the charred poultry sent smoke throughout the kitchen.
"I burnt it again!" His mother sat at the table crying. "Every year I ruin the turkey."
Richard brushed past his stepson and put his arm around Lydia. "It's alright, honey. There's always some parts we can still eat."
"I didn't know you cooked Cajun." Willie sprung into action, grabbing two tea towels as potholders, and rescued the smoking roaster to the top of the stove. "I seen worse than this. Much worse." Lydia continued to cry, as Willie approached her. "Don’t worry, I can fix it. It won't look too pretty, but it'll taste okay."
"But you're our guest…"
"I thought I was your son, and I wanna help. Will ya let me do that?" Lydia nodded, sniffing. "Do ya got some kinda gravy mix?" She pointed to a counter which contained all the fixings for a gourmet meal. There was a box of Stovetop Stuffing, Mrs. Paul's Sweet Potatoes, frozen succotash, Pillsbury crescent rolls, a can of cranberry sauce and two jars of Heinz turkey gravy. "Perfect. I can handle this, and the kids can help. Send 'em in and you two set the table. Real nice now, with folded napkins."
His parents left the room and Willie began to pull off blackened skin from the bird, after which he planned to cut up the salvageable bits and drown them in a bowl of gravy; that would help to moisten up the dried out meat. He heard raised voices from the living room, and a few minutes later, his half-siblings slammed through the door.
"I have to get changed," Jocelyn complained. "I'm going to my girlfriend's later, so I can have a real dinner. Mom does this every year, you know."
"You ain't goin' nowhere. If we were all helpin' her to begin with, maybe this wouldn't 'a happened. What're you, eight?"
"Nine." She scowled, folding her arms.
"Good, then you can read directions. Start with the stuffin'. Brother can do the yams."
"Since when do kids have to cook?" Ricky demanded. "Don't you know it's dangerous to go near the stove?"
"Why don't you start bein' a Jedi knight and stop actin' like a sissy, or I'm gonna call you Little Dick from now on."
"You were a lot nicer in my dream."
"I still have the picture you drew of Luke Skywalker."
"It was a picture of you, and that was just in my dream."
"It was magic," big brother corrected him, "and now we're gonna make some more. Let's get this party started."
It was, in Willie's opinion, the best Thanksgiving dinner ever. He had two helpings of everything, did not shovel his food, and answered their questions to the best of his ability. Oh, yes, he had traveled quite a bit with his friend and business partner who had passed away. Now he lived in scenic Maine with his lovely wife where he was in the restoration business and worked for the richest guy in town. He also helped out at a very nice restaurant where Maggie was the manager. In his spare time he did framing for her father, a well-known local artist, and, yes, very soon the young couple was planning to start a family. That actually didn't sound bad—much better than saying he fucked up his life, pissed off people most of the time and was bat-shit crazy.
The parents seemed satisfied at his prospects.
Willie asked permission to make a long distance call, but there was no answer at the apartment or the Evans' cottage. Shit, he wanted to talk to Maggie, see if she was alright, and tell her he loved her. Then he called the Old House to apologize for taking off without permission, but no one was home there either. Everybody was somewhere celebrating turkey day with loved ones.
Rick pulled out his instamatic camera. "Okay, Lydia and all children on the sofa. I'm sick and tired of hearing my wife complain that she has no photos of her oldest son."
"There's two pictures a' me in North Carolina. One front and one to the side."
Richard snapped an entire roll of film: he took formal pictures and silly pictures. The little kids sat in big brother's lap, hung upside down, or made rabbit ears behind his head. He hugged his mother and kissed her cheek. Even for the pretend serious pose, Willie could not stop smiling.
His stepfather graciously offered to do the dishes and, in fact, didn't look that out of place wearing an apron. Lydia took out the trash. The children tried to rekindle Willie's interest in Monopoly, but he convinced them to pull out the play money and find a deck of cards, whereupon he taught them how to play poker.
Matilda nuzzled under his elbow.
"She wants to go out. Mom usually takes her for a walk," Josey explained.
"Sounds good." Willie grabbed his jacket. "You two practice while I'm gone, so I don't kick your butts when I get back."
"Hurry up. The movie's going to start soon."
His eyes lit up. "Is it Wizard of Oz?"
"No, The Sound of Music."
Willie wasn't interested in a film about singing children and nuns. He was hoping to see how green the witch really was. Matilda led him down the basement stairs and through the door to the garage where, in the far corner, his mother huddled in front of a tool storage cabinet.
"Hey, how long does it take to—?" She slammed the cabinet door shut and spun around. "What's the matter? You been gone a long time."
"I just come here to be alone."
"Why?" He approached her warily. "What's in there?"
"Nothing." He reached past her to open it. "No, don't—" Willie pulled out a pint of vodka, and Lydia began to cry again.
"Don't do that," her son said, slipping the bottle in his pocket. "We gotta walk the dog. Where's the leash?"
Lydia, Matilda and Willie strolled down the street, their breath vaporizing in the crisp night air. When they reached the corner playground, Willie sat on a bench as Lydia released the bulldog to run in the field before joining him. The young man lit a cigarette and offered one to his mother.
"No, I don't smoke anymore."
"You don't drink either." She took the cigarette.
"I can explain."
Willie shrugged. "Don't bother, unless you wanna talk about it."
She blew her nose. "I don't have an excuse."
"I bet you got twenty. You're bored. You're sad. You're not a good enough wife, or mother. They expect too much from you, keep the house all clean, cook fancy meals, volunteer at every stupid thing, and you're still not as important as someone with a real job. Your neighbors are all cluckin' busybodies, and your dog pees on the floor. It's hard spendin' your whole day pretendin' to be somethin' you're not...I know."
"I won't drink anymore."
"Don't say that if ya don't mean it. Not to me." He pulled the bottle from his jacket. "You got more of these around?"
"No, that's the only safe hiding spot. Richard's not very handy around the house."
"Good." He took a swig and grimaced. "I been wantin' a drink all day. Now, you and me are gonna finish this up, but before ya buy another one: Stop. Think. You could lose everythin'. I wish someone had said that to me a couple a' times."
Lydia cuddled up next to her son, as he put his arm around her. "I lost you. How could I do that?"
"That was my fault. I ran away 'cause I was scared of havin' a stepfather that wouldn't like me, and then you would dump me for that new baby. I done some awful stupid things in my life. Things I'm still payin' for."
"Aren't you happy, sweetheart?"
He hugged tighter, looking up at the stars as they peeked through the bare tree limbs. "I'm scared, Ma. I space out all the time and forget things. I think I'm goin' crazy."
Lydia nodded thoughtfully. "Depression runs in our family. Your grandmother died in a mental institution. That's when I went to live with Aunt Blanche and Uncle Bill."
Willie put on a smile. "We won't get depressed then. So, what makes you happy? I mean, besides vodka."
"My children, my husband," she answered automatically.
"Yeah. Rick really loves you; turned out he wasn't a dick at all. And your kids'll turn out fine if ya don't spoil 'em so much and slap 'em around a little." Matilda scampered back to inform the couple that she had concluded her evening constitutional. "Rick's not so handy, huh? Well I am. If you look up handyman in the dictionary, it says see Willie Loomis." He smiled. "Make me a list of stuff that's broke, and I'll see what I can fix tomorrow before I go."
Before they entered the house, Lydia pulled from her pocket two breath mints and a bottle of spray cologne.
"Boy, you come prepared,” Willie remarked. "I'll just take the mint."
That night, Willie slept in Ricky's bed, and the boy utilized a sleeping bag on the floor.
"Mom says they used to call you Chilly Willie. Why did they do that? Did you have a red hat?"
"Shuddup. Go to sleep."
"I have two light sabers if you want to play Star Wars tomorrow. You can be Luke Skywalker, the hero."
"Then who are you?"
"I'm Luke Skywalker too."
"That makes no sense. I'll be the crook—what's-his-name, Hans. And Josey can be Princess Leah."
"She's going shopping at the mall tomorrow."
"No, she ain't, 'cause I told her I'd put polish on her nails."
"What? That's girl stuff."
"Nah, looks to me like paintin' detail, like I do on chair rails. Besides, you're the sissy, not me."
"Don't call me that."
"Okay." They were silent for a moment. "Do the kids beat ya up at school?"
"Sometimes," the boy sniffed, "because I'm short."
"No, 'cause you let 'em. Punch in the nose, punch to the throat, kick in the balls. They won't bother ya anymore."
The following day, as Willie prepared to leave, Lydia pulled him aside and pressed a handkerchief into his hand.
"These are for your wife; it's a wedding present." Willie opened the cloth to reveal Elizabeth Stoddard's sapphire earrings. "They were given to me by—Bill, I think I have a guardian angel, and one night it visited our house while we were sleeping."
Willie stared at the jewels for a moment, then put them on his mother. "Yeah, you got a guardian angel who's gonna take good care 'a you, so you gotta wear these, to the grocery store and ev'rywhere, like a magic charm."
It sounded reminiscent of her son's fantastical childhood stories, but Lyddie agreed and kissed him goodbye. Willie promised to bring Maggie to visit at Christmastime.