(Thanks to your generous donations, here’s a Saturday post! -ctan)
Claire was conked out when I got back to the house. Chief was nowhere to be seen. Flip was sitting in the living room with a beer in one hand.
“I was just starting to wonder if I should send out a search party,” he said when I came in.
“I went for a walk.”
“To the lake?”
“To the gas station. Good thing, too. Caught Ziggy on the phone finally.”
Flip nodded at me but he looked like he was thinking hard. “You know if you want some privacy to talk to him we can figure that out.”
“Thanks.” My cheeks were already red from the night chill, so they probably didn’t blush any worse when I thought about what Ziggy and I had actually just done on the phone. “The gas station isn’t exactly the most private spot, either. But maybe it’s just as well the phone is out.”
“The phone here doesn’t work.” I got up and checked it to make sure. Still dead.
“Oh! I didn’t even realize that. I thought the only reason you went up to the gas station was to get away from eavesdroppers.” He came over and fiddled with the phoe and then agreed with me. “Yeah, seems dead. In daylight I could check the line, though. Meanwhile, we’ve got a bag phone in the RV that we could crank up.”
“It’s like a satellite phone in a bag so you can carry it into the jungle or whatever. Camping, hunting. You know.”
“I don’t know, but that would be really handy. The owner here hasn’t answered any of my previous calls asking about the phone.”
Flip nodded. “While having major medical stuff is not the time to have no phone.” He sounded a bit stoned because he undoubtedly was. “Your mom was a little worried about where you went but I explained it was normal for you to duck out from time to time.”
“Yep.” He shrugged. “So what did Ziggy say?”
“He made me promise to go back to the city for a week to get stuff done. But I can only do that if I know things’ll be okay here.”
“And you’re afraid to leave your mother in the care of three total pot-heads?”
“I was counting your neighbor in there. Simon or whatever his name is.”
“I’m not worried about the drugs,” I said. “I’m worried that it’s too much to ask you to take care of her while I’m gone.”
“What? Your mom’s a sweetheart.”
“Thanks for being nice but you know she’s not. That’s not what I’m talking about, though. Since you’ve been here”–since she’d been smoking pot regularly–“her symptoms have been a lot better. But when it’s bad, it’s really bad.” I couldn’t come up with a nice way to say I didn’t want to ask him to have to clean up her puke, shit, or blood, and that Claire herself preferred a family member for that sort of thing.
But then I realized maybe I was saying a lot of Claire prefers this, Claire prefers that, and the whole point of trying to get out from under her mind control was to be able to separate what I wanted and needed from what she wanted and needed. Right?
Flip yawned. “I can handle her for a week. But it’ll have to be soon. Chief and I are supposed to meet up with some other guys for a bike run through the mountains.”
“What, like the Tour de France?”
“No no, motorcycle trip. Me and Chief’ll switch off who drives the RV. Going through Georgia and then Florida.”
“Isn’t it kind of cold for motorcycling right now?”
“Nah, it’s usually pretty warm by March 1st. Especially as we head south. I mean, sure, roadtripping might be better in the summer. But other than Chief, the rest of us have our best gigs in the summer months. So we always go out in early spring.”
Of course. Well, now I knew Flip’s plans, anyway. “I guess let’s talk with Claire in the morning. I, um, might need some backup on that.”
“I gotcha. It’s always tough to talk to parents about that kind of thing. For what it’s worth, she seems to like me.” He drained the rest of the beer and then crushed the can in his hand. “Must be my incredible savoir faire.”
We chuckled about that. “She probably just doesn’t know what to make of you. And she’s inclined to like the person who brings her good drugs.”
“That is always true,” he said. “So did you give the electric piano a try?”
“I didn’t get a chance,” I said quickly. “Probably shouldn’t now.” I gestured toward my ear to indicate it would be too noisy.
“You can plug a pair of headphones directly into it,” he said. “I’ve got some of those, too.”
“Not right now.”
“Okay, sure. It’s got a few built in timbres, one piano, one Hammond organ, et cetera, and you can play it right through the built in speaker without needing an amp, either. Cute little thing, isn’t it?”
“Sure.” It was like he was a dog person describing the features of their “cute” bulldog to me while I kept thinking about how the dog was going to bite me the first chance it got. “Where’d you get it?”
“My cousin works at a music store in Nashville. Same cousin who worked Farm Aid with me. Grady. I told you about him, right?”
“You told me about Farm Aid once, but I don’t remember anything about your cousin.” We ended up sitting down by the coffee table, Flip with a beer, me with a glass of milk, while Flip told me stories about his cousin. I wasn’t really listening and half my brain was thinking about Ziggy, but I think I mostly laughed at the right points in the stories.
When he was getting ready to go back to the RV to sleep, though, he asked me, “So your mother asked me what we should do for your birthday.”
I had a momentary panic as I realized I had forgotten my own birthday was coming up. That’s how stressed I was, I guess. It had slipped my mind. “Um, we don’t have to do anything for my birthday.” Shit, what day was it?
“She asked me what would be special for you and I thought it would be better to ask you than to spring a surprise on you. You don’t like surprises.”
“I like being surprised just fine! I mean, when it’s a good surprise.”
“Well, that’s what I mean. What you think are good surprises versus bad surprises are somewhat difficult to gauge.”
“Okay, sure, but seriously, no one has to give me anything or do anything for my birthday.” I shrugged. “Um, when is it again?”
“According to your mother, it’s two days from today.”
It struck me as extra weird that Claire remembered my birthday when I hadn’t. She stopped taking responsibility for throwing me a birthday party as a child after I hit about age ten and it became clear I didn’t have enough friends to have a “party” without it being embarrassing. (To her. I was never embarrassed about only having one or two friends, max.) But maybe the date you give birth is one you don’t forget. I wouldn’t know.
“Earth to Daron.”
“Hm? Sorry, did you say something?”
“Just good night, man.” Flip waved from the doorway. “Just good night, sleep tight, and don’t let the bedbugs bite.”
I listened to his footsteps and the door of the RV creaking open and then slamming shut. And then I sat there in the dark, not looking at the keyboard, listening to the sound of wind in the trees.