Ever Seen Sedona?
I’m kneeled on the old woman’s green shag carpet, bubble-wrapping forty-three Tiffany- crystal miniature presidential busts from her china cabinet. Lance is across the living room packing up her entertainment center, rifling through CDs and calling out musicians he loves.
“Don’t ever let me collect anything I can’t give away,” I tell Lance and he looks at me like I’ve just asked him to whittle the Seven Wonders of the World.
“Relax. I’m not asking you to marry me,” I say. Lance owns Prescott, Arizona’s largest moving company and because he takes as much time with sex as he does explaining String Theory, I tag along on my days off. “All I’m saying is that if we’re still together when I start stockpiling matchbooks, kill me.”
“How do you want to die?” He mimes holding a pen to imaginary paper. “I’m taking notes. Not a bloody death, please. Not for my Goldilocks.” In the adjacent bedroom, his three-man crew is making a racquet taking apart a canopy.
“Cyanide, then,” I say. Lincoln, with his especially fragile stovetop hat, requires an extra layer of bubble wrap. “Enough to down a horse. I don’t want to feel a thing.” His face instantly disfigures. “Man, Leah. Why are you rushing?” He grabs Lincoln from me and demonstrates a chaste packing technique. “Slow down, sweetheart, pack it like it’s yours.”
Mid-morning sun slants through the condo’s vertical blinds, adding more angles to his already Modigliani-chiseled face. If Grandmother met him today she’d say: He’s too good-looking for a good life. She’d call him a lady-killer and not mean it as a compliment, but as prophecy.
“Don’t forget,” he says, “everyone’s shit is my bread and butter.” “That’s what you should have had painted on your trucks.” “What’s wrong with Let Us Move You?”
“Sort of schmaltzy,” I say. “ And slutty.”
He moons me and goes back to fawning over the CDs. As I look up to agree with his appraisal of Elton John, I see him sneaking Whitney Houston’s Greatest Hits into his Carhartt jacket.
Last week was the first time I caught him stealing—a set of diamond cufflinks— and he said not to worry because he sells most stuff on eBay and donates 40% of proceeds to Prescott’s no-kill animal shelter. He said it’s actually charity work because he’s helping people cull down their crap and appreciate what they didn’t lose.
“Are you coming with me tomorrow to visit Mom?” I’m fuming mad about having to ask him a second time. After dating a month I asked, even buffering the question with “my mom.” But now we’re going on three months and it’s hardly any skin off his back anyway to meet Mom when he won’t have to say a word, not even Hello.
“By the way,” I told him about a month ago, “she’s in a coma and has been for almost twenty-one years, since a stroke.” And he said, “Wow. That’s how you’re going to tell me? How frighteningly sociopathic.” And I said, “Sorry. I don’t tell people ever. I’m short on practice.” Right then he took me in his arms and we sat on his brick fireplace hearth while the heat from the fire pulled my face tight. “I thought the Hope House only took dying people?” he finally said. And before I could tame my completely reflexive and hostile expression, he was already buttering me with apologies, practically mewing into my neck. “Please, stop,” I said. “I get it: she’s dead to everyone but me and Grandma. Trust me, I get it.”
“Tomorrow won’t work,” he says and I can see that the bulge in his pocket is bigger than just a Whitney track. “I want to, but I can’t. Next week. Promise. Tomorrow, we’ve got a ‘three by three’ on the schedule.” That’s his industry lingo for moving folks out of a place with three flights of stairs and into a place with three flights of stairs.
While he’s loving on a Kenny Rogers CD, telling me how he used “She Believes in Me” for his Harmonic Frequencies paper in college physics, I pull off my sweater and quickly nestle Bill Clinton inside. I’m careful not to let Lance see, more careful not to snap off the itsy cigar some smart-aleck designer at Tiffany’s carved into the corner of Bill’s smirk.
I clock out at noon the next day, shed my apron in the break room, and squeeze through the service hallway past stacked boxes of our signature Ho-Ho-Ho Honduran Blend. We’re only one day in to November and already grinding through seventy pounds a day of the nutmeg-undertoned bunk. By New Year’s Day, The Beanery will have sold fifty five thousand cups, enough to stain the enamel of every Prescott resident, twice.
I run the five blocks to Hope House to visit Mom. The sidewalk is slick with freezing snow; I feel my foot muscles orchestrating my balance. Grandmother’s daily passage is written on a Post-It and stuffed deep in my jacket pocket. A righteous man hateth lying. -Proverbs 13:5.
I visit every day at noon; Grandmother visits only on Wednesdays, after 2 o’clock confession. She says she must be pure in the face of a miracle. Mom will wake one day, she says. It’s only a matter of time, as much as Mom’s survival was only a matter of timing. If, when she snapped her spinal cord at C1, the apartment’s night security guy hadn’t found her three minutes later to administer CPR and get her heart beating, she’d