Monday, January 26, 2009

Light on a Hill

Tom Vormund the bus driver sat, as was his custom after a long work day and a delicious supper, in his shabby recliner chair silently watching the courtroom TV show that aired every weekday night. Tom, normally the goofy life of the party at work or extended family gatherings, religiously avoided talking during two daily activities: eating his meals and watching light-weight programs on TV. In fact, the more shallow or banal the show, the more rapt attention it received from Tom. Or so it seemed to his wife Gloria, who was just out of sight washing dishes in the kitchen. Each day she steadily whittled off time in purgatory by just being within continual earshot of the sci-fi channel and Steven Seagall.

Living in the reduced, formerly glorious city of Schenectady, NY and dwelling in a large, World War I era, formerly glorious house in need of serious updating, she secretly thanked God that her kitchen was not part of some suburban, "wonderful open floor plan". In fact, hiding back here and doing dishes in solitude (since, especially if one asked for help it would ensure that one would be completely left alone), gave her respite from her busy day with the six children, the animals, the phone calls and ill-timed visits from neighbors, friends and relatives. Gloria Vormund, nee DeGrazia, even as she approached middle age, had just begun to become aware of how eccentric and out-of-step she truly was, thinking her thoughts and treasuring her stay-at-home life in this day and age, doing dishes by hand and singing the Mass parts in her head as she scrubbed and stacked.

Just now the baby, strategically placed next to Daddy, was swinging in his swing, hostage to its hypnotic rhythm, surveying the opening credits rolling over a shot of the TV courtroom. Big 6 year old sister, Sophia, was imparting fashion advice to little 4 year old sister Giselle, as the former, with her long, golden curls lovingly brushed out the long, auburn curls of the latter, cozily ensconced as they were in their pink, doll-infested bedroom.

The boys were each engaged in favorite pastimes, as well. The eldest child, 12 year old Joshua, had slipped unobserved, out the back door and into the alley that ran along the back yards between the streets. Free at last, he stood outside in the not quite satisfactory shelter of a scraggly tree and lit up an illicit Marlboro. As he took a nice, big puff, his quick and agile mind thought about this stifling, ridiculous world of school and church and family rules and how inanely lame it all truly was, and resolved to live a libertine life somewhere else, as soon as he turned 18. He was all alone, or so he thought, except for the neighbor's homely tom cat, who came out from under a broken end table that the garbage men had missed. He rubbed up against the boy's leg and received some gentle head-rubbing affection from that bohemian in a ball cap, that hardened sinner, the animal-loving Joshua.

He was all alone, or so he thought.

The younger boys, up in their room with the unmade beds, busied themselves in more age-appropriate activity. Nicholas, 8, was busily searching under the bed for lost Legos in order to assist brother Anthony, 10, with the construction of their newly imagined project, the foreboding dark fortress of the rock trolls. However, just as the warm soapy, low-tech washing of dishes freed their mother's mind to ponder the sublime mysteries of life, so the builders of Lego castles had leisure to discuss the truly important.

"Do you know how much money we could make on a yard sale? Let's get all our old toys and the junk in the attic and have one Saturday", said Nicholas, who was not as sentimental about keeping old things as he was desirous of raising capital for new endeavors. His big brother, Anthony, though not one to turn down a little extra coin with which to hunt down bargains, was nevertheless, more of a collector.

"Well, we could, but do you really want to give up all your old toys?" he asked, fitting a tiny black helmet on the head of a menacingly cute Lego troll man.

"Hmm, we could start with the girls'
stuff then", answered the pragmatic Nicholas, still under the bed.

"If Sophia catches you, she'll beat your head in with that big, old hard plastic doll that used to be Mom's", laughed Anthony.

"That's the one I'd get rid of first", said Nicholas as he wiggled back out from under the bed with a small cache of the tiny building blocks. "Here", he said.

"Thanks, Nick. I still don't think we can have a yard sale, though. Maybe in the Spring, but not right now cause its November. And people don't like to walk around and be cold at yard sales".

Anthony was right. November, in upstate NY, is a dark melodrama of lengthening shadows. It serves as a rainy, blank interlude between the bright gaudy, golden days of high Autumn and Thanksgiving Day, which finally pulls back the curtain on the year's crown jewel, Christmas. Ah, Christmas, the holiday that lasts well into a New York January and in some minds, makes the rest of the year just able to be suffered.

Even now, on a Monday evening at 6 p.m., the night outside the lace-curtained window was black as pitch, its air filled with a chilly drizzle and the long, sorrowful descent of the last brown leaves from the great branches of old trees to the rotting leaf graveyard that was the grass and street below.

"Well then," resolved little Nicholas, "I might just load up my wagon and go door to door".

Gloria was just rinsing off the last dish, her beloved, oversized cast-iron skillet, which she then dried with a paper napkin, placed back on the gas stove, gave its inside an olive oil rub, and lit the burner in order to season it for its next use, undoubtedly tomorrow. Her ritual was interrupted by Tom who was talking loud enough in the living room to attract her attention.

"Now I know this is fake!" he proclaimed, either to her, the baby, or into the unquestioning ether. She turned down the burner to low, and went in to investigate.

"What?" she asked.

"How many times have I watched this show?" he asked.

"Tons, why?"

"All these cases are fake."

"No, they're not. What do you mean?"

"Every time they start a new case, they show the people walking in and what does the announcer say?" Tom asked rhetorically, because Gloria sure didn't know or care. He proceeded to enlighten her.

"They always say, 'the litigants are on their way into the courtroom'".

"So?" she asked, clueless and mindful of her pan on the stove.

"Now how could all these people be from the same family, huh?"

"They're not from the same family, what are you talking about Tom?"

"Exactly. How could they all be the Litigants? How come they all have the same last name, the Litigants? The guy always says, 'The Litigants are on their way into the courtroom"

Just then, the baby looked up at his mother and sighed.

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