Midwife in the Tire Swing

Chapter 4—Clear-eyed Alicia

“Bunglehouse,” said Clear-eyed Alicia Drye as she balanced on one foot. “That deep purple of the clematis flower. It is a color, Bunglehouse. Or the name of a color at the Dutch Boy store. Pardon me for I am flopping.” Her puffy pink mule. “Mules. That is what they are called, Lucy. Now none of your joking about a name. They are only house slippers, after all. I have lost one; no need for a fight.” Thup thup thup.

The clematis. Had she cut it back? She must have forgotten to clip it. C. jackmanii, the huge purple blooms that crowded the trellis, the envy of the neighbors, she was sure. The trellis. She must take it down so that the men would come with their staple guns and laths and roofing nails to skirt the cellar walls with banking plastic for surely the leaves were off the trees by now.

Now. Alicia Drye shuffled to the kitchen with its calendar thumbtacked neatly to the center of the cellarway door. Thup thup thup. Her pink mule’s loose heel flopped as she walked. One foot was bare where, interrupted in mid-thought, she had forgotten to put on its mate which she held in her hand.

Now—a square with a number in the middle of the month. It was good to know where you were.

Clear-eyed Alicia, that was what Lucy called her even as she called him Archie Drye. Bunglehouse was the name for a tint, a dusty deep blue, they had had custom blended at Dutch Boy. They had brought home swatches with the color samples called “chips.” Lucy rolled up his sleeves and loosened his tie—he had worn a tie even in the house, their Bungle House, in those days. They had spread newspapers for the painting of the trim.

“Shit.”

Lucy had cut his thumb getting the paint can open. “Oh, you’ve hurt yourself.” This was an omen, Alicia was sure.

“Ichor, the blood of the gods,” Lucy said. He had the thumb in his mouth. “I am full of it. I am damned near indestructible.” He was Archimedes Drye—this day at least, immortal.

The calendar was opened to October.

Hawks Feed and Seed—Midlothian Ohio. There were folded-over pockets for grocery receipts, surely a convenience. Alicia had forgiven Mr. Hawks for short-changing her that time on the delivery of a roasting chicken. The Hawks were good people. They had cows, Alicia recalled. Forty cows. Mr. Hawks had not come home from the war. Or maybe a stroke. That was it—a stroke. Gentler, at home. A good death surrounded by those who loved you. He had fooled her once, over the corpse of a chicken he fobbed off on her as her missing baby—why would he not pretend to be dead as well?

The roasting chicken announced itself as it putrefied, and disintegrated in the time between Octobers.

She paid the bill without complaint but always after made Mr. Hawks’ boy wait while she tallied up the order, emptying out brown paper bags and spreading their contents across her kitchen counter. She saved all her receipts. A woman alone—people should not consider her an easy mark. The truth—which she might guess at but never admit, utter out loud, even to herself—was that during a distraction she had carelessly slipped the roasting chicken into a drawer of the linen closet instead of the monitor-top refrigerator. Her baby had been stolen, that was it. She scoured the house from attic to cellar and found no child. She looked at, but did not see the rotten roasting chicken secure in its brown butcher’s paper and twine. She must have done something shameful to have given birth, even a miraculous birth. Alicia bought scented candles of the same brand purchased by Amelia Mahoney Coughlin in Hamilton, Ontario fifty years before and saved her receipts. The accumulated stench of potpourri and lilac kept unwanted visitors at bay.

That she—an attractive and lonely woman left alone in their love nest by a disappeared and faithless man—could be promising material for a casual liaison was common currency in Midlothian, Ohio. Few callers called again and those never a third time. Invitations to the movies, a back road barroom off the beaten track, out in the country, “A drive?” tender offers of a quickie outside in the car park or, more directly, a hip flask and oral sex, right here, right now, were not repeated. Clear-eyed Alicia would have been receptive, but had convinced herself that a dead baby, her child by Lucian Hobart, was buried in the cellar, or worse, its aborted fetus had stopped the drains and she was only one casual passer-by’s whiff short of the electric chair.

The kitchen calendar’s pockets were full with scraps of lined notebook paper—a life. The calendar, its pages yellow, turned brittle at the edges, was decorated with the droppings of the flies of many Octobers. “House flies,” Clear-eyed Alicia called them.

“As opposed to barn flies, I suppose, and garage flies and the flies that fly in your mouth on a motorcycle,” Lucy had said. “Gloria. Your fly now has a name: the last fly of summer moved inside with us. I have to go.” Lucy rolled his sleeves down and adjusted the necktie. Lucy left.

*  *  *

11:30. Mail call. From down by the road came the chunk of a mailbox flap flipped shut and Alicia retraced her path as Addy Blankenship’s right-hand drive Willys wagon diminished screen right toward a two-dimensional vanishing point. Flop, flop. One pink mule caught on a tangle of witch grass and threw her face first on the ground. Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow, ow! Alicia sat down in the yard and examined a wounded toe. Satisfied that there was not a broken bone and only a growing swelling that could be nasty later on—she’d better soak the foot in Epsom salts—the offending spot in an otherwise flawless lawn got a disapproving nod. “We’ll see. We’ll just see...”

The catch of the day was a Special Notice for Ms. Alicia Drye and a shared mail coupon collection with a picture of a lost-looking waif. “Have you seen this child?” Alicia studied the child’s face. It could have been the same face on any number of milk cartons. Trick-or-treaters showed up at the door wearing Halloween costumes inspired by the missing children milk cartons. The faces of the missing children were why she had stopped buying her milk by the quart and went for the big gallon jugs with no pictures, just a label. The trick-or-treaters’ faces poked out through mom-chiseled openings where a lost waif might have been.

She stood in the road and pulled a thumbnail along the edge of the Special Notice for Ms. Alicia Drye. A bright Post-It yellow Business Reply Mail envelope was the first thing out. She read the address: Democratic National Committee, Washington, DC. She addressed her swollen toe, “I have been ‘selected to represent Midlothian, Ohio in the Grassroots Survey of Democratic Leaders.’ The toe had begun to throb. Perhaps some ice. “They want money,” she told her toe. Had she voted? Yes. That nice Bill Clinton who couldn’t keep it zipped. That girl he had been caught with, she was pretty too, Alicia recalled. A sturdy brunette who stared at the camera with flashing, uncompromising eyes. “Of course, Hillary is an attractive woman also,” said Alicia, by way of explanation to the “Have you seen this child?” child. The lost child, a halftone engraving, looked on impassively.

*  *  *

Another day as time squirmed. The unmourned dead are brought home to mid-America intertwined and nudge one another forward and back, collapsing like rows of Chinese tiles. Alicia keeps a picture of John F. Kennedy in the parlor. It is a photograph of Jack and Jacqueline, draped over with a swag of funereal black. Alicia hangs a blue flag with a gold star dead center in a window of her sun porch for the missing child—perhaps gone to war—a boy, then. She cries before the silvery photograph of the dead president and his widow. Jackie is so pretty, “I’m sorry,” to have lost her husband in the war. The president had been shot, she remembered that.

Another day and Addy Blankenship’s Willys Overland rattled off in a cloud of blue smoke. Alicia had heard him say, “I buy oil by the case at Nyanza and just dump it in. Oil never needs changing—it changes itself.” There would be a new vehicle soon on Addy’s route. Poor Jackie, with the children and all.

This day Addy left a flyer from the Midlothian Republicans. Alicia held onto the mailbox and settled in for the spasms of tears. They did not come. Not today, thank you. Another flyer in the box, this from the Midlothian Democrats. Mike DiSalle, a favorite son, the governor. He had run against Jackie’s murdered husband. A personal message for Alicia Emmons. She crumpled up the flyer and returned to the envelope from the Midlothian Republicans who were running Barry Goldwater, “In your heart you know he’s right.” Dear Miss Emmons. They wanted money. “My name is Drye. Alicia Drye.”

She mourned her dead child and waited for Lucy’s return.

Ian Emory Hobart knocked at the door.

“Hello, Lucy.”

“Hello, Alicia,” said Ian Emory.

Lucy was back. That was odd. His face looked—different. But then Lucy was not your normal, everyday man. Clear-eyed Alicia had been blessed. She stopped to think about it and arranged her hair, awkwardly, picking at it with her fingers.

“Come in. You left the painting half finished, naughty boy. One shoe on, one shoe off, like me. You aren’t wearing a tie. There is something wrong.”

“Jesus Christ, what’s the smell?” The man was wearing one of the, those... Aloha shirts. Like on a cruise. Alicia had always wanted to go cruising. The smart set went cruising. The man was tattooed, a blue Jesus with a faded red crown of thorns on his bicep.

Alicia placed herself in front of the cellar door. “You don’t want to go down there. There are things...” She could not remember what was down the cellar steps, just a feeling of unease at the unknown dark.

“No. Not there.” He strode—uninvited, mind you. Lucy, always so well-mannered—to the linen closet. The closets were a “feature” as the estate agent assured them, Lucy and her. Lucy bought the house. “Cash on the barrelhead,” he said. Four thousand dollars, a tidy sum for a little house. “Our love nest,” said Alicia. “I played a lot of poker, in the Army, overseas,” said Lucy.

“My grandfather told me about you,” said Ian Emory Hobart.

“Do I know your grandfather?”

“No. He said to say I am Lucy and I have not forgotten.”

“I have not forgotten you, Lucy. You went back to the service.”

“I volunteered for Vietnam and came back alive.”

“There are so many places. I have never heard of Vietnam.”

“French Indochina. It’s there. I’m here.” The man smiled a smile of many missing teeth.

Clear-eyed Alicia drew away. “Lucy...”

“The VA will pull, but not repair, teeth,” Lucian Hobart’s grandson said. “I have a dwindling inventory. So just what the fuck do you have stuck in the drawer?” Alicia placed herself between the intruder—shell-shock, she had heard about this—and the linen closet. Lucy was not himself today. Home care, a few months of her nursing and he would be Archie Drye again. There was that Bunglehouse trim to be painted.

Lucian Hobart’s grandson pulled the drawer open. Dust and mold spores arose from the mummified cadaver of a neatly wrapped chicken, become by stages a jellied, pulped, then a desiccated revenant. Mounds of maggots had died with their dinner, in the linen closet drawer.

“I burned candles.” Alicia leaned tentatively forward, expecting the accusing arms of an infant, raised to its mother. “Sarah. I called her Sarah.”

Ian Emory extended one finger, the little finger of his left hand and stirred within the archaeological remnants of a might-have-been roasting chicken, now a skeleton. Alicia watched closely; he needed a manicure—the finger nail was long and orange, tinted with tobacco smoke. “Hello, Sarah the chicken,” said Ian Emory. He raised the finger to his nose. “This ain’t bad. I’ve seen a lot worse. Yep—chicken. Leftovers.”

Clear-eyed Alicia stared at Ian Emory’s little finger.

“My Yakusa nail. Cocaine? Nope. It’s my nose-picking finger. I considered becoming a male escort there for a while. I clean up pretty good. I will be staying with you.”

*  *  *

Alicia lived in daily dread of the shopping forays of Lucy’s grandson, Ian Emory Hobart. He scavenged the Salvation Army and resale stores for giant plush animals and aloha shirts. He sent Sarah Drye a picture with a stuffed cheetah wearing sunglasses seated beside him in his repossessed convertible. He had caught the repo man in the act, hot-wiring the 83 Mustang, and rode beside him in stony silence to Alicia’s door with the pandas and giraffes, gorillas and aloha shirts. On the lives of his children, his wife, and arson at his home, the repo man was constrained to silence. The Mustang went to the pound.

Ian Emory pored over Clear-eyed Alicia’s photo album and excised relative’s faces and glued them over the giant plush assholes. Then sent them with a note with Alicia Drye’s (Ms.) home address to his relative’s children, “Ellie (aged six ½) should really have one.”

Ian Emory took Clear-eyed Alicia to his bed—a fold-out cot on the sun porch. That they were not contemporaries was not a concern for either. With the arrival of spring and warmer weather they were doing it on the porch, and then in the yard. In a pup tent. “Having sex with you is like camping out,” said Ian Emory, who was easily pleased.

It was a Thursday when he came home with a pellet gun which he carried thrust into his waistband. By Saturday he had switched to superhero action figures and pasted relevant female body parts clipped from girlie magazines over their helmets. “First ass on the moon. Heh, heh, heh.”

He confided to Alicia that he would like to kill her. “You’re so snooty.” He gave this as the reason, a gratuitous insight. But an insight into what? Who?

The pop of Ian’s pellet gun reverberated in Alicia’s back yard. He practiced dawn to dusk. And graduated from the pellet gun to a slingshot and from pebbles to BBs to marbles to ball bearings. Ricochets took out windows and put dings in the neighbor’s cars. Cats and dogs were targets of opportunity. The neighbors called the police and Ian Emory departed with the responding officers.

At age fifty-four, Clear-eyed Alicia was alone again.

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