It was a fifteen minute drive to the Pizza Hut. When I got there the pizzas were ready, and probably already getting somewhat cold, but I hurried over to the pay phone by the restroom to call Ziggy back.
I got his answering machine, but the message on the machine had changed and was clearly for me. “Hey, I had to go out to dinner, couldn’t stay and wait. Please leave a message.”
So I left a message. “Hey. I’m on my way to my sister’s to pick up my mom’s crap and it’s been a hell of a day. Please don’t be mad at me because I don’t think I can take it right now, and I’ll try not to be mad at you either, all right?” There it was again, that plea: all right?
I grabbed the pies* and sped off as fast as I could toward Janine’s. I was imagining the worst: everyone hungry, Landon in a meltdown, Janine in a rage.
But Jake greeted me at the door with a smile and Landon riding on his back. “Hey, Daron. Come on in.”
The Christmas tree was gone and a few cardboard boxes that I guessed had all the decorations in them were sitting next to the window where it had been. It had looked better when it was festive. “Family Feud” was playing on the TV that no one was watching and I hoped it wasn’t a sign.
Janine was fresh out of the shower and said she’d be right down. She didn’t say a word about me being late, so I didn’t bring it up either. Maybe I wasn’t as late as I thought. Landon talked non-stop to me during dinner about everything important to a five-year old and I just listened and said “Oh, yeah?” and “Wow” and “Oh, really.” This included various updates on the lives of his stuffed animals as well as friends of his in school–I didn’t really distinguish between them.
Then dinner was done and while Jake got Landon into his pajamas, Janine took me into what was now Jake’s room. She had brought cardboard boxes from the grocery store and left a stack of them in the center of the room. One of them had some random clothing items already in it, including a pink cardigan sweater that I supposed was definitely not Jake’s.
“When she left she took everything that was in the dresser but not all the knickknacks on top.” Janine waved her hand at the dresser like she was prepared to just sweep everything into the trash. “Those are alllllll hers. And pretty much everything in the closet including those crapped out suitcases.”
“Is there a pair of boots in there?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t had half a second to even look through it.” She left me to it, but then came back a few seconds later. “Have you heard from Courtney?”
“Not very much, why?”
“Just wondering how she’s doing. Never mind.”
“Court can take care of herself,” I said, and hoped it was true.
I decided to start boxing the knickknacks first, but some of them, like the porcelain figurines of angels with gold-tipped wings and halos, were fragile. So I wrapped them in the clothes, one item at a time, placing them in the bottom of a box. A black and white portrait of a young man in a military uniform in a small oval frame. That had to be my grandfather? No matching portrait of my grandmother, though. She had died before I was even born so I had never known her.
For some reason it had never occurred to me before that Claire must have been a teenager when her mother had died.
And she was a teenager when she met Digger. Hm.
The closet had an accordion-type door. Inside were a couple of small suitcases and a lot of department store shopping bags crammed with various things. I could see what Janine meant by “crapped out.” One of the suitcases had no handle and a piece of rope tied around where it had been. The other didn’t zip and the latches didn’t latch, but there was a bungee cord tied in a knot around the handle that could be used to keep it (mostly) shut.
I decided to sort what was in the shopping bags into the open suitcases on the bed so I could figure out what was what. Unless something was obviously garbage I figured I wanted to take it since who knew what she had sentimental feelings about–or would claim to if something was missing later?
Most of what was in the shopping bags was very wrinkled clothing. The bags had to have been sitting there untouched since she’d arrived at Janine’s last year. In the very bottom bag, though, I came to some small photo albums. One of them contained mostly photos of Claire as a child and teenager. A lot of them were posed portrait photos like you get at Sears, except more glamorous. Some of them were stamped with the name of a Manhattan photo studio in the corner. One was clearly the name of a talent agency, though. There were some papers and clippings magazines stuffed in the back as well. I started looking through them out of curiosity.
One of them was several pages of a Playbill, the edges discolored with age, held together with a corner staple. They had come from a 1951 revival of an Oscar Hammerstein musical called Music in the Air. I looked idly through the cast list. Could it be…? The only Claire I could find was in the last item under Cast, a list of names after “Children.” The name was Claire Silver.
I went back to the talent agency photo and carefully slipped it out of the page to look at the back. Sure enough: Claire Silver. It was her stage name.
There were a couple of other Playbill clippings. Some were for shows–and theaters–I’d never heard of. Others I definitely had heard of and it gave me goosebumps looking at ads for places I recognized, like the Winter Garden, where Cats had been playing since I was in junior high.
“You going to look through that stuff all night?” Janine said sharply from the doorway.
“What? No, just… no.” I closed the album and transferred everything out of that shopping bag into a box. There would be plenty of time to go through it in detail later.
The bag under that, at the very bottom, had some more folders of clippings and an album and I almost just added it to the box without looking at it. But the photo album looked much newer. I glanced into it just to see.
The front page was a photocopy of a newspaper clipping. It was a review in the Boston Globe of a Nomad show.
A show I had played in.
A review which mentioned me. My name was underlined in ball point pen. I stared at it for a moment.
Then I turned the page. There was another review from that same tour. From that warmup tour that I had gone on with Nomad back in 1986. Again my name was underlined in ballpoint. Not Remo’s name. Mine.
The rest of the album was all photos and clippings about me and Moondog 3. The SPIN article that Jonathan wrote was there. Reviews and articles I’d never even seen were there.
My hands were shaking and there was a lump in my throat. I was having a feeling and I didn’t even know what the feeling was, but it was very strong. Holy shit.
My mother was keeping track of me all that time?
I didn’t know what to feel or think about that.
I found the boots she wanted, though. They were red suede and she was right. They were tiny and had pointy toes and would not have fit Janine at all.