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“Okay, so she calls me, and she tells me she sees divots in the floor. I don’t know what she’s talking about, and I tell her as much, and she keeps saying, ‘Divots, Jimmy, divots. They’re all over, Jimmy. She’s alive,’ she says, ‘I know it. They’re all over the floors, Jimmy.’ So I tell her to calm down. I mean, it’s early, right, and the phone woke me up. I’m groggy. I tell her I’ll come by on my lunch break.” He took a moment to swallow. “So I do, I go on my lunch break. Except I’m not the only one there.”
“The psychic. He’s this older guy. Black, you know.”
“What’s that got to do with it.”
“I don’t know. Nothing. I’m just filling out the picture.”
“But you said it…”
“I just said he was an old black guy. What’s wrong with saying that?”
“So anyway, I get in there, and there’s this old black guy on the kitchen floor. No fooling, flat on his stomach on the kitchen floor, arms all spread out, and Mom’s rushing over to me, telling me to be quiet.” Jim made a shushing noise and sent a piece of his sub flying. He wiped at his chin with a napkin. “I say, what’s going on, and she says he’s listening. Listening, she says, and I guess she’s right, cuz the guy’s got his ear pressed into the goddamn floorboards. So I go to tell this old black guy to get up off my mom’s floor, except she’s pulling at my arm, saying, ‘Jimmy, come here, come look,’ so we go into the other room and let him finish with whatever the hell. And that’s when she tells me about these divots. She gets down on her knees and pulls back the rug, cigarette hanging out of her mouth, you know, and she shows me all these little divots in the floor, like it’s been shot at with a BB gun. She tells me to run my hand over them. I kind of hold back for a second, and she takes my hand and yanks me down, forces it over the bumps, like we’re reading braille or something. It’s weird, Steph. It’s something. And I say, ‘Mom, what’s that old black guy doing in there?’”
“He got a name?”
“I’m just tired of hearing you call him ‘this old black guy’ or ‘that old black guy.’”
“What is it anyhow about that fella you were watching? He got you all worked up?”
“Don’t got me worked up.”
“He here alone? You thinkin’ he’ll ask you out? Ask you to join him?”
Steph started to laugh. Despite herself, Jim’s teasing always tickled her.
“Oh, my God, that’s it. You’re sitting here all hot and bothered and hoping he’ll saunter on over in them tight jeans and…”
“You want it right here, don’tcha? You want him to have you right there behind the desk, knock you right off that stool. You want him to have you right here where I’m sitting, don’tcha, with your perverted shows going? You’re sick.”
Steph waved her hands—“I give up, no more.” She caught her breath. “You’re wrong anyhow. He’s here with a girl.”
“Oh, you want it to be one of them nights, do ya?”
Steph fell over the counter, crying with laughter. “You’re gonna make me choke.”
“Okay, fine. Let’s call him Dudley. Old black Dudley. That alright with you?”
“Okay, so Dudley walks in, and we’re still down on the floor, and I go to stand, but then he sits down next to us, Indian-style, and he puts a hand on Mom’s shoulder, just looks at her for a while, and she says, ‘I got something, don’t I?’ And Dudley nods. Then she says, to me, ‘I knew it. It’s Isabelle. That’s who it is.’”
“Isabelle’s the fairy she’s got out back. The bird feeder. Concrete thing. She says Isabelle comes alive at night and sneaks into the house. She hears her, hopping around, and that’s what’s causing all them divots, she says. Isabelle’s concrete ballet shoes.”
“She said all that.”
“Sure did. She was repeating it over and over, with Dudley’s hand on her shoulder.”
Steph looked to the screen door, as though she were thinking it over, and maybe she was, but soon her thoughts gave way to the smoky motel room at the end of the row, to Rick Little in his underwear kneeling at the foot of the bed with Angela’s foot in his hands, Angela telling him the different spots to touch.
“You accuse me of being racist, but think about it. This is Mom. Black guy’s hand on her shoulder, and she don’t mind a bit.”
But why had Rick Little stayed in the office like that, to watch the movie, if that’s what he was doing? Why hadn’t he gone right back?
Steph’s fantasy compensated—Angela pulling when Rick Little accidentally scratches her. Cut your nails, she scolds him, and he stands, humiliated, walks off. Says he’s gonna go get a soda anyway, and when he comes back, after it’s been too long to get a soda, she apologizes, says she likes his long nails, and he laughs and tells her to shut up.
“This whole fairy business, it’s freaky I suppose, but I’m only thinking how much this Dudley fella is charging to lie on our kitchen floor, you know? Until I start to look around. And sure enough, there’s divots everywhere, and not just in the living room. All over the house. Kitchen. Bathroom. In the hardwood. In the linoleum. I ran back to my old room. I’m not sure why it mattered, but I wanted to see if it was there too, and it was. It’s some weird shit, Steph. It’s something. So I come back to the living room, and Dudley’s got his hands on Mom’s face, like he’s gonna lay one on her, and their foreheads are touching, and they’re whispering together. She’s still got her cigarette in her fingers, and it’s trembling, I see it trembling. So I walk up to them. I say, ‘That’s it. Time to go.’ And Mom pops up, like you never seen her, pops right up and pushes me. She might be a little old lady now, but she knocked the wind outta me. Pushes me hard and says I’m not listening, says I don’t care. ‘You don’t care about nothing, Jimmy,’ she says. ‘Nothing.’ She’s angry and she’s crying, and she says this isn’t my house and I don’t know. ‘You don’t know nothing, Jimmy.’ I can’t talk, cuz I got no air, and anyway I don’t know what to say. I mean, she’s said things like that to me before. Says them all the time, but not like this. She looked like she was gonna hurt me, really hurt me—and I gotta say, I think she bruised my sternum. So Dudley puts his hands on her shoulders—this is Mom we’re talking about—hands on her shoulders to calm her. And when she stops crying, I tell her everything’s fine, I just want to walk Dudley out. Nothing rude, I say, just seeing him out, being nice. So Dudley and I go outside. You hearing me, Steph?”
“What’s out there?”
“Nothing. I hear you.”
“This movie’s irritating as hell. Can I shut it off?”
“Leave it,” Steph said, looking at the TV screen, seeing Rick Little go to the pile of clothes on the floor, pull out a disposable camera, wind it. Seeing Angela pose. “I like the noise.”
“So we step outside, and I tell him no offense, but I don’t want to see him here again. That’s an old woman in there, old and losing it fast, and I know people like you, no offense, but I do, and you’re not getting a dime out of her, or me, not one dime, so move along. Find another house. He don’t put up a fight. He seems like a nice enough guy actually, and I guess that’s part of it, you know, being a crook, or at least a good one. Then he says something strange. He says, ‘It’s not the house.’ He says, ‘It’s her.’ And I think he means Isabelle for a second, but then he says, ‘Your mother.’”
Rick Little sitting now in the armchair by the window, naked, legs out on the ottoman. He keeps the curtain closed, but he plays with the plastic ends of the pull strings, knots the strings together, takes them apart. Angela is singing in the shower—no, she’s telling someone off, between gargles, a coworker, a family member, another boyfriend, or maybe a young husband who has no idea, no fucking idea—and Rick Little wonders why they can’t live here in this room, why they have to go back, or go anywhere at all.
But then, he doesn’t want to live here, in this room, does he?
“Well, I’m bound to agree with Dudley on that one. I think it is our mother and not some concrete fairy sprung to life and flitting about the house. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mom’s the one putting divots in all the floors, taking a ball-peen hammer to them like she’s sleepwalking or something, or worse, fully awake. Just smoking and banging up the floors. She needs help, Steph. Either way, she needs help, and I’m not so sure we can give it. We got jobs, you know, and homes are expensive. I mean, I guess you could watch her during the day and I could watch her at night, but it’s hard enough getting around as it is. I’m not saying it’s your fault or anything, but, you know, with you not driving, it’s hard to get everyone synched up, and Mad’s going to have the baby soon, and, you know…”
“I’ll be right back,” Steph said.
Jim looked at her. “You okay?”
“Rick Little said something about the Coke machine. I just remembered.”
“There’s supposed to be a sign. He said he didn’t see one. Just gonna check.”
“Is it what I said about your driving? I’m sorry.”
“Just gonna check the machine.”