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Sit a bit and hear some observational stories I’ve been steeping.

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Five

fallon hotel interiorStanding outside, the air was brisk, but not bitterly cold.  This was thee kind of weather that Jeri’s father always called, “invigorating.”  Certainly, that seemed to be the effect on Andy as he ran full-speed-ahead into the middle of Main Street.  Since cars were only allowed on the periphery of town, Jeri didn’t panic.  At least, not the way she did at home when Andy would try to bolt from her, never ever paying any attention to the danger of cars and buses as they whizzed by.  As a youngster, Jeri’s mother had written a poem to help teach her about traffic safety, “Cars are big and very fast!  You must wait and let them pass.  Don’t you walk until you see – it’s safe to cross for you and me!”  They would often recite it together and it broke her heart that Andy didn’t follow suit when she tried to teach it to him.  The boy could recite hours of televised dialogue, but not the few sentences that his mother tried to share with him.  Jeri tried to be an understanding adult about it, but it still hurt her feelings.

 

Today, instead of spinning madly in the middle of the road on tip-toe, like a human top, a constant self-comforting activity he engaged in, Andy ran as fast as he could on flat feet, crouched down and then suddenly jumped, looking as though he might be playing Leap Frog, despite having no partner to be the other frog.  Watching him from the corner of her eye, Jeri turned to Ruth.  “Thank you again, for the invitation, Ruth.  It’s awfully kind of you and I’m so looking forward to it.”  In her heart of hearts, Jeri was terribly excited to make the connection with this interesting woman, but she was also very afraid of how Andy’s behavior might turn the evening into a catastrophe.  Despite the quivering in her nervous stomach, she tried to remain calm and not alarm her new friend as she asked, “Can we bring anything?”

 

Ruth shook her head and waved her hands at Jeri.  “Golly, no.  I’ve got a pantry full of long-lost and forgotten things I’ll probably just try to unload on you gals when you get there!  Plus, my neighbors have an overgrown garden that they spend most of September and October canning and jarring and drying and pickling and fermenting for weeks on end every year.  They’ve got stuff I wouldn’t be able to get through even if I were to be snowed in all winter with a ravenous bear.”  She covered her eyes with her tiny hands in mock despair.

 

Jeri laughed.  “Okay.  Then, we’ll just have to bring our best appetites.”  She paused, knowing that Andy often was a picky eater and that meals sometimes turned into a battle zone.  In a support group she briefly attended, she heard nightmare story after story of how some moms shopped and prepared only white foods or used food dye to make bland, uninteresting dishes appear more appealing.  Swearing to never cater to her son in this way, Jeri was as relentless as her own parents were when it came to dining issues.  She recalled one summer night of her childhood that she spent seated at the dinner table of her mother’s friend, until after 9:30pm, because she refused to eat a new vegetable dish prepared by the hostess. Her parents never gave in, despite the fact that the other invited children were out playing Flashlight Tag long after dark.  When Jeri finally did take a bite of Dorothy’s strange and exotic looking endive au gratin, she wept angry tears.  Jeri was furious that her parents were as stubborn as she was, and angry at herself and at Dorothy for how delicious it was.  She was also embarrassed.  Shortly after her 27th birthday, Jeri called Dorothy and begged her for the recipe, finally apologizing for her behavior and laughing at how determined she was not to like it decades earlier.

 

Ruth touched Jeri’s arm, bringing her back from Dorothy’s dining table to the present.  “You know, I don’t know if you’re interested, but I heard from a gal over at the market that the Angels Camp Mercantile, in the next town over, might be looking for seasonal employees.  Towns are kind of dead right now, but it picks up again around the holidays.”  Looking down, Ruth fiddled in her pockets and produced her keys.

 

Jeri shoved her hands in her own pockets and stared up at the trees.  “Well, that’s a lovely idea.  But, I’m not sure about what I’m going to do regarding Andy’s care yet, and I don’t know if an employer is going to understand our unusual needs and circumstance.”

 

Chuckling softly, Ruth replied, “Honestly, if anyone would understand, I’ll tell you right now — it’s the proprietor, Will Brosemer.  Helluva guy, he is.  Yep, that guy is one of the good ones, he is.  And, he’s a little unusual himself, truth be told.  He’s pretty accepting of everyone.”

 

The idea that some strange man might be able to understand and accept her beautiful son, but his own father couldn’t, caused Jeri to tear up again.  “Ruth, I hate to ask… but I need to pop in to the washroom for a minute, could I impose upon you to watch Andy for a…”

 

Without letting her finish, Ruth reached up and squeezed Jeri’s shoulder.  “Please.  Go.  Have a moment to yourself.  It’s all good, Darling.  It is all good.”

 

Normally, Jeri would rather risk that her bladder burst and the threat of a hospital visit, than to ask anybody else to watch Andy.  But, at the moment, Andy seemed perfectly content playing his imaginary game of Leap Alone Frog and Jeri knew she’d only be gone a minute or so.  Insofar as trusting Ruth, from the little she’d seen, everyone in town knew her and Jeri now knew where she worked and where she lived, too.  Plus, it was highly likely that if someone ever did try and attempt to lure Andy away or talk him into leaving with them he’d scream bloody murder and send even the toughest of bad guys running for the hills.  All in all, she felt she could probably pee in peace, wash her hands thoroughly and maybe even take a second to apply lipgloss to her chapped, dry lips.

 

Returning from the restroom, after what she calculated to be less than 2.5 minutes, Jeri glanced over to see her beautiful boy, now seated nearby with his legs splayed out, leaning down and playing with marbles.  As she approached him, Andy glanced up at Ruth then back down at the marbles, loudly stage-whispering to her, “I like Spans and Snops, I do.  Ezra said we could play Prisoner’s Base or Saddle My Nag, but those are best with six or eight and we are only two, and three, with you.”

 

Jeri leaned down and ruffled Andy’s hair, wondering what DVD or television program this new dialogue represented.  “Thank you for keeping an eye him, Ruth.  I appreciate that, more than you may ever know.  But now, we really should let you get to work.”  Jeri gently squeezes his son’s slender shoulders.  “And Mr. Andy, it’s time you give those marbles back to Ruth.”

 

Ruth chuckled.  “No-no.  Those are his.  They came out of his pocket, not mine.”

 

Perplexed, Jeri can only think that either Andy found them in the hotel room or perhaps it was another gift, along with the horehound candy, from the caretaker.  Jeri realized she was going to have to question this woman a little more before she hightailed it out of Dodge for Florida.  A stranger giving a kid a piece of candy was already one thing, but to give them toys, too – was just weird and wrong, in Jeri’s mind.

 

With a big, toothy grin, Ruth waved and started down the street heading toward the corner of State Street to the ColumbiaMuseum.  “We’ll see you later, Darlin’.  You and your momma stop by the museum at some point, I have some fine examples of the peg-top and whip-tops you talked about.”

 

Lifting his head, Andy gave Ruth a great big smile and waved goodbye.  Over-the-moon and overjoyed at seeing her son once again exhibit signs of honest-to-goodness “normal” socialization, Jeri found herself slightly weak in the knees.  After all of the discouraging months before, she found that these brief shining moments gave her renewed hope about her son’s future.  It was so hard not to think that the developmental pediatricians might have been wrong when these new instances flashed by.

 

Behind her, the door of the City Hotel banged and clanged repeatedly, as the door opened and then shut again, as a family of five spilled out onto the street.  Jeri figured it looked to be a mother, father, brother, sister and maybe an older sister or baby sitter.  The boy, a husky kid with red hair and freckles, who looked to be about Andy’s age, was carrying cards, fanning them to make as much noise as possible.  “Hey!  Wanna see my magic cards?  My dad got ‘em from a friend who is real magician and he’s gonna teach me how to do tricks with ‘em when I get home!”

 

Frowning, Andy stands up and glances over at the boy, mumbling something that Jeri can’t really hear.  The little girl walks over to the boys and it looks as though Andy is speaking to them, but as Jeri gets closer she realizes Andy is not looking at them, but past them.  She sees Andy’s lips moving and leaning in, Jeri hears only the tail end of his sentence “…father gambling faro and playing Bucking the Tiger, at The Long Tom Saloon.”

 

Confused, the freckle faced boy looked up at Jeri.  “What is he talking about?”

 

Grabbing Andy’s hand, Jeri smiled dismissively at the little boy and gave a fake chuckle to the people she assumed were his parents.  “Pardner, you have got to keep an eye on yer gold ‘round these here parts.  They will take it and spend it all on sasperilla ‘n’ cider at the saloons, if yer not careful.”

 

Jeri and Andy quickly crossed to the other side of the street with Jeri clucking the entire time, like a mother hen.  “Andy, Andy, Andy.  I’m not sure what’s going on here, but I wish you could talk to mommy so I could know what in the world you’re thinking.”  Once they stopped at the wooden sidewalk in front of the Blacksmith’s Shop, Jeri sighed.

 

From around the corner, a young man walked up in a long, black leather apron and began to unlock and open the big metal doors.  In the center of the building was a large forge, with a roaring fire, where the blacksmith would use tongs to heat the iron he was going to bend, flatten or twist into different shapes.  Jeri looked around at all of the hand-forged wrought iron items, things like horseshoe hooks and paper towel dispensers.  The main item sold was a “good luck” horseshoe for a couple of dollars.  There was a sign that said the blacksmith on duty could personalize them for a few dollars more.  Jeri had a horseshoe for each visit she’d made to Columbia, so she made a mental note to have one made for Andy before they left town.

 

Speaking out loud, again never knowing whether he heard her or not, Jeri addressed her boy, “You know, Andy, I probably should talk to the owner of that Angels Camp Mercantile that Ruth mentioned.  Because money just might become an issue.  Sooner than later, I suppose.  Especially if we start buying customized horseshoes for all of the good luck we’re going to need now and forever more.”  Jeri grabbed his hand and warmed it between hers.

 

Leading her son away from the Blacksmith’s Shop, they turned left and began to walk uptown, Andy keeping time with Jeri’s pace, something he never did.  Squeezing her hand, Andy addressed his mother in a voice she couldn’t quite place. It was a voice somewhere between his normal tone which had a relatively flat affect, but this new voice had a rise and fall to it, as though there were a bit of an English accent.   “Mrs. Denoielle ran a home here, the boarding house home.  Ezra said it was so cold in ’51.  Adelaide sang to him.”  Andy glanced up, and looked his mother directly in the eye, for the second time ever, and rather than be comforting, it was odd and piercing and chilled her to the bone.  He opened his bow like lips and in a sweet, lilting voice Andy serenaded his mother.  “The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow, and what will poor robin do then, poor thing?  He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.”

 

Approaching the Miner’s Supply and Gold Panning, Jeri continued to hold her son’s gaze, at first slightly frightened, but now encouraged by the unexpected momentary connection.  “Andy, would you come pan gold some day with Mommy?  You know, gold panning is how the miner’s used to earn a pretty penny back in the day!”

 

Slightly grinning and shaking his head as though he was terribly amused with her, Andy continued to speak in his new sing-song manner.  “Seesaw Margery Daw, Johnny shall have a new master.  He shall earn but a penny a day, because he can’t work any faster.”

 

Jeri watched him run, flat-footed up onto the rocks surrounding the gift shop.  Standing on the biggest rock and making himself stand as tall as he could he shouted, “Who is King of the Castle now, Ezra!”

 

Jeri looked around and saw no one.  It was still early in the day and because it was off-season, the small tourist attraction that in the summer was usually bustling with activity, was now living up to its true ghost town status.

 

Walking down in front of Andy, Jeri raised her voice a little louder than she’d probably meant to.  “Who is Ezra, Andy?  And, where is he?”  She held her arms out dramatically to further point out that there was nobody there.

 

Andy turned and looked away from his mother, his proud posture just a moment ago, quickly withered away as he curled into himself.

 

Pointing to her face, Jeri spoke even louder.  “No-no!  Look at me, Andy.  You look at my eyes.  Andy!!  WHO is Ezra and where is he?!  Look around!  There’s nobody here!”

 

Slumping down into a ball, Andy began to rock back and began to emit a high-pitched soft whimper that slowly built, in a long crescendo, to loud wailing.

 

Helpless, not knowing what to do and regretting what she’d done, Jeri curled up next to her son and found herself crying, right alongside him.  “There’s nobody here, Andy!  It’s just Mommy.  It is just you and me.”

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