Monday, February 27, 2006


So there's Roberta Rae in her nightgown, thinking uncharitable things about her sister (who's not fooling anybody with that age-defying chemical skin scrub) and the beau who've waved off the offer of a guest room and instead are staying at the La Quinta Inn on the highway, leaving her in a solitude that takes up space in the bedroom like some big man who talks too loud when he drinks, and behind that solitude is the slowly-souring tumor. And the shiftlessness of not having money for a surgery that seems dramatic. Or maybe, as the beau said, lots of tumors, though tonight it just feels like the old familiar one.

Down the street there's a twelve-year-old boy named Owen, who has ADHD; his mother tells everyone, Roberta thinks, like she's spreading an alibi. Owen comes around sometimes when Roberta's burning weeds or mowing and tries to help. He's more work than help, picks up a stick or a mower and tosses it down again, talking nonstop about a violent video game his parents won't buy for him. He's already played the entire game at a friend's house, and he tells Roberta about all the traps and weapons.

Last month Owen threw a stick and it caught in the spokes of Frank Bierlander's bicycle. Frank, age 78, went over the handlebars and cracked his collarbone. Owen's mother claims Owen had no idea what he was doing, and though at first she was frightened and offered to help pay the doctor bills, now she claims it's Frank's own fault for riding where children play, even though all Frank had done was ride past their low brick ranch as he had done most days for five years. Owen's parents both blame Frank for riding a bike at all if he can't take falling off. Plenty in town agree with them and have been irritated anyway with Frank for schoonering around on the bicycle like some eccentric who can do as he pleases. And at his age. It helped that they could joke about dementia, but it was irritating, catching him sliding by like that, out of the corner of your eye, out the front picture window. It wasn't what you expected when you were carrying a Pepsi through the living room. So now there are at least twenty or thirty people relieved that they will not be surprised by Frank on his bike.

Was it Owen's fault? He throws things all the time like a snake throwing skin, and he gets occupational therapy for it along with the medication. He's homeschooled sometimes because he throws pencils and rulers or sends them shooting off his desk. He says, sullenly, that he doesn't remember throwing any stick.

Was it her sister's fault that she brings her boyfriend around when Roberta's got nothing but a tumor to keep her company?

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