See, Crumb cooks magic into all her creations, even prepackaged goods. Her post-Sunday morning meeting lunch was another miracle we came to take for granted. She measured everything by hand, building a help-yourself on top of the plaid laminate. Whoever crumbled their love biscuits first got the dried beef gravy. Usually, we felt like a nap afterwards; instead we sang hymns as she washed dishes. No one was allowed to help her. Halfway through the pile of dirty plates, she fell to the floor whispering, “I can’t leave Ryan.”
Tears should be coming, but they are not. I have done very little for her since her last words twelve years ago. I’m afraid of Crumb at first. I pat her forehead with the back of my hand. She feels cool. I’m the last one in the room. My family has left me alone with her body. This is the last time I will ever see her.
I ride Crumb’s gold couch over her mustard carpet, taking in a vast empire. The corner of my eye registers wandering ants, people. I watch them drag Brownie back and forth all day, stare at Crumb’s stacked toes, and pull the skin tags on her neck. I stretch them out and let them go again. She tells me about the Haints over breakfast and the crossword. She tells me to stop and look both ways before the railroad tracks (J.R. was killed at a crossing); to keep my hands inside the window (J.R. had his cut off by a tree); to eat or sleep if there’s anything wrong with me; to not care what I do as long as it’s honest work; to not befriend coworkers; and to walk in backwards so my glasses won’t fog up. I know now that one day my pee-pee will get hard like her brick house. I hold on to the hands of time until Little Westclox tells me I have to go. It’s a blessing she’s not around to see me become a monster.
Everything in life is free. Student loans pay my way to Jamaica. As soon as I get off the plane I buy everything they sell me until I run out of cash. Come home a lot lighter from trading my name-brand clothes for blow. They call me R2K because I’m Ryan for the new millennium. Hit the credit card tent on campus and sign up for all seven. Free two liter and COLLEGE tee-shirt coming my way. In less than two weeks I got game. Strut into Man Alive telling them I’m going to a rave in Chicago. Get the shiny, shiny pants with platform heels. Ooh that polyester feels so silky close to my freshly shaved chest. Tan every other day. Swear my bleach blond hair came in before Eminem’s. Dose twenty mill Paxil, drink Erk and Jerk, chief blunts, and shove so much stuff in my nose I have to tell everyone it’s a cold because of my sniffles. D.J.’s and kegs charged to the game. Cash advances for strippers, bills, pizzas, gas, and rent. All you have to do is make minimum payment. So they bleed me dry twice a week separating the plasma from red blood cells. Get twenty on the first visit and forty-something on the second. On my birthday, I drive my car into the side of our house. I’m bald, broke and alone in my waterbed listening to the cassette tape of me interviewing Crumb back in the Eighties.
I grew up in Olive Hill, Kentucky, where they speak in tongues, roll around on the floor, break into fits of hysteria, and fondle the occasional snake. They worship trees. They believe in the Haints. It’s all a bunch of foolishness. From Olive Hill to Soldier we would walk three miles to school, sometimes with no shoes. Daddy only bought one pair a year. If they wore out, then they wore out. We joined the service to get out of there. It broke my heart when I rode past home, waving goodbye on my way to Baltimore. Henry blew up in England. Paul was dumped off too deep in icy waters and had to drag Clyde to shore. I was a WAC in Baltimore. One day I became so exhausted from work that I laid down to rest. One of the WAC’s woke me up to tell me the white phosphorous plant had exploded and I had to work twenty-four more hours. The bidies were badly burned and covered in white phosphorous. We stacked all of the white bidies outside the barracks. One bidie was badly burned but still alive. We used donor skin from all of us to repair her. She ended up looking like a patchwork quilt.
Every time they play Taps I cried over the boys who never came home. Clyde was back on leave. I was stationed in Philadelphia. He hadn’t slept in days. We went to the movies so he could rest. They interrupted the movie with news that war was over. Everyone ran outside. We hugged and kissed and they drank all night. All of my brothers came back from the war. Henry brought back a box of chocolates from France for Maw. Chocolates were rare in those days due to the rationing. On Mother’s Day we gave Maw the chocolates. She had a bad reaction. I picked her up and drove towards Soldier. It was too late though. She died in my arms. Daddy’s heart gave out. I learn the three R’s:
3. The road to New Castle
My brothers begged me to stay. Ever since Mom died, I cooked and cleaned for them, but I took that train. Paul stayed in the shack and paid a dollar-a-month electricity bill for the rest of his life. He had one light bulb, listened to Hee-Haw once a week, dug holes for the outhouse, fetched water from the well, chopped wood, worked the tobacco. He was lucky to meet Pauline. Clyde lodged on his tired sofa with Goldie chewing plugs and Moon Pies. They gradually returned back to nature. Henry was buck wild. He’d come around every few years to raid my medicine cabinet and fall in the fireplace. I’d tie him up in bed sheets until the cough syrup wore off.
I met your grandfather after he lifted off without an instructor. His crash landing made the paper. He was a pilot, welder, shepherd, Notary Public, calligrapher, and car repo-er. He fit a plane in his fenced-in yard. He also knew the Truth. The churches I went to were fussy, big, cold, and lonely. They weren’t for me. Russell took me to meeting in other people’s houses on Wednesdays and Sundays. Everybody stood up and spoke from a chapter in the Bible. The preachers called themselves workers. They gave up all their possessions to travel the world two and two together. The workers stayed with different brothers and sisters. I started to wear a dress with my hair in a bun. One Sunday we went to Pearl Lundy’s. I professed there. We married and I retired from The Perfect Circle. I never had to make sure that the radii were equal ever again.
We had two kids. Your Mom had you during the Blizzard of ’78. They thought you had spinal meningitis. Whatever it was, it left you rail thin. We weren’t supposed to feed you, but that didn’t stop me. I brought every flavor of jar food known to man. You ate it all up and busted out the sides of your diaper. You were my first grandchild. Hanging on my clothesline did not get you switched. Your foolishness never meant no gallon of ice cream for you. You and your cousins stayed with me every summer. You all sat in the creek, wrote newspapers, played house, and gorged in your underwear on my gold couch. There were daily trips to Pic ‘N’ Save. As I dug through my purse, separating the wadded ones from balls of Kleenex, you played in the freezer. Frozen-over Polar Pops and boxes of broccoli chipped loose and slid down the back aisle. Dirty Diana tapped her three-inch-long Lee Press-On Nails by the flies swarming the deli display. Her cat eyes followed us out the door. We drove all over tarnation with the ceiling sagging on my bun, because you kids had unstuck the headliner.
When I passed straight through the curly-q into oncoming traffic, your Mom gave you the keys. I continued to pay you twenty dollars to mow my lawn once a week even though I know you spent it on booze, cigarettes, and weed. I saw you less and less. You came over to bring me food now and then.
On a midday delivery you found me on the floor behind my door. That was the last time I was home. Now I’m in a nursing home bed, ripping up my diaper, letting it snow.
Crumb, I’m using your bathroom tonight. I pull out a National Enquirer from your bottom drawer. The scent is a mix of worn pantyhose and tissue paper. The crickets reach a fever pitch outside my window-view of nothing, where your strands of wild hair used to whip through the evening air as you ran off critters from your garden with a shotgun. I lean against the cold tile and flip through Amelia Earhart’s discovery on a small atoll. You waited fifty years for that moment. The porcelain beneath my feet takes me there. White hair overflows the pot where you kept your bun filling. I stick my finger in the hole, whirl it around, and keep the strands forever.
Ryan B. Richey is a writer, painter, performer, half of Hannis Pannis, and a quarter of ED JR.