Close up Hands Tea x

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

Fallon Hotel – Chapter Twelve

MystificationsTears-of-laughter, tears-of-sorrow, tears-of-frustration, tears-of-anger, tears-of-joy, tears-tears-tears.  Jeri wondered how it was that her body was always prepared to cry, no matter what the circumstance.  It was also somewhat surprising that no matter how many tears: her cheeks were never fully saturated nor her tear ducts ever dry.  It didn’t matter how often she found herself bawling her eyes out.  Even as a kid, she never cried as much.  Certainly she had never shed as many tears as she had since her son was born or… more truthfully, since his diagnosis of autism.  She wondered if it was truly possible that the well might never run dry.

Her doctor had called it, “Emotional Lability.”  Well, he didn’t really call it anything.  Not out loud, at any rate.  She caught a glimpse of her medical file during a routine check-up visit.  The nurse had taken Jeri’s vitals and popped out to find a pen that actually worked and left the file open on the counter for anyone to see.  Jeri felt badly, but was awfully curious to know what was in the file.  It was after all, her file.  Her file that she paid the doctor and his staff to keep up-to-date after each vulnerable forcibly-take-my-fluids and leave-me-cold-and-exposed-in-a-paper-gown appointment.  Nonetheless, she still felt horribly guilty for picking up her file and reading about herself.  At the top of the page near her age, weight, pulse and pressure readings were the words, “Emotional Lability” underlined, circled and surprisingly legible for a doctor’s scrawl.  Being the good Type-A girl she was (well, Type-A personality, but blood type O according to the chart), she wrote it down, went home and looked it up.

Emotional Lability is a condition of excessive emotional reactions and frequent mood changes disproportionate to what is occurring.  [Tends to suggest the presence of a number of conditions that may involve the brain.]

At the time, Jeri muttered possibly a bit more loudly than she intended.  You have got to be kidding me.  Brain?!  Between Brian and Andy, what about the number of conditions that affect the heart?  You heartless weasel PhD.

As time passed, Jeri realized that she really was the medical textbook photo of an example of “Emotional Lability” and therefore tried to be more mindful of the things that set her tear ducts off.  She thought she’d had it pretty much under control, ducts in a row, so to speak.  But, here she was in Columbia and the salt water tap had opened up again.

Andy apparently sensing his mother’s slowed breathing and returned equilibrium, pulled himself up and went over to his bag of toys.  He pulled out a mesh bag filled with red dice, emptied it out and started to line them up against the wall.  As soon as the last one was in place, he scooped them up and started all over again.  Jeri, recognizing a game that Andy would play at least a dozen times in a row, hopped up to brush her teeth and hair and apply a bit of blush and lip gloss.  She never officially timed her grooming routine, but definitely knew she’d be finished just as Andy wrapped up game number eleven or twelve of his invented game.

Sure enough, Jeri tied a sweater around her waist, just as Andy put the dice away.

“Off we go to another adventure, Andy-Panda.  We’re going to a new house to try some new food and experience some new smells.”  Jeri grabbed Andy’s jacket off the bed and winced.  She knew that “new” was not something Andy tolerated very well.  Because of that little fact, her gigantic purse for the evening held a package of instant macaroni & cheese, applesauce and pear juice — just in case.  For some reason, yellow foods didn’t bother Andy as much as other more colorful foods did and the emergency supply meant he wouldn’t leave Ruth’s house with an empty stomach and full-on bad attitude.

Andy opened the door to the hallway, stepped out and stopped.  He closed his eyes and stood rocking in place.  Jeri had learned to decipher Andy’s mood based on his stimming du jour.  Happy-stimming took place mostly in his hands, when he’d bend his elbows and wiggle his fingers as fast as possible.  Curiosity-stimming showed itself in what Jeri called bird-flapping or The Rocketeer where Andy would stand ramrod straight, arms behind him like the “Locust Pose” in her Hot Yoga class – arms poised behind him like he was preparing to fly away, with only his stiff hands flapping.  Confused-stimming meant Andy would stand in one place, spinning as fast as his feet would carry him in little circles.  With him rocking slowly back and forth, like a human metronome, it reminded Jeri of the song by one of her favorite bands, The Clash.  Everything about it seemed to indicate a Should-I-Stay or Should-I-Go Now? attitude.

“Okaaaay… we’re going to go now, Andy.”  Jeri slowly untied the sweater from around her waist then quickly slipped it over her head.  She held up Andy’s jacket, expecting his usual resistance to putting it on.  Where other kids might just say they didn’t want to wear a jacket or they weren’t cold, with Andy the whole process usually turned into a silent frustrated game of Zipper Up/Zipper Down as fast as possible between the two of them.  But like so many other unexpected moments lately, Andy not only let his mother zip up his jacket, he patted and rubbed her arm as she did so, expressing affection toward her that caused her throat to close up.  Great.  She knew she was going to cry one more time today and instead gave Andy a squeeze and said, “Off we go, little man.  We have a dinner date down the road.”

Jeri locked the door behind her with a loud click and thought about Gwen’s recounting of her story of the door being locked behind her.  Certainly strange things had been happening since Jeri and Andy had arrived at the Fallon Hotel, so why not believe that someone else was experiencing odd moments?  Shaking her head to dismiss the thought she headed down the stairs, with Andy leading the way with an uncharacteristic skip in his step.

Landing at the reception desk, Andy stopped and began slowly rocking back and forth in the same stimming motion as he had upstairs.  Gwen, who stood shuffling and straightening papers, had her back to Andy, but either heard him or sensed his presence and spoke without turning around.  “There’s a lad.  Just let me get ma’ jumper and once I’m wrapped up warm, we will all lock and go.”

A bowl of candy that wasn’t there earlier had miraculously appeared on the counter and Jeri reached out and grabbed two for later, one for her and one for Andy, and stuck them into her pocket.  “The best way to get the better of a temptation is just to yield to it.”  She looked down at the carpet and half-whispered.  “Gosh, I wish I knew who said that.  Oscar Wilde maybe?”

Fiddling with her top button, Gwen smiled and chuckled.  “You know, it was actually Clementina Stirling Graham, M’am.”

“Who?”  Jeri glanced up.

“She was a Scottish woman.  I remember my Great Aunt had her book Mystifications given to her by a bloke from Knapdale.  It told all about Miss Clementina pretending to be people, ‘personation’ they called it in the Georgian era.  It was a bit like acting, but without a stage and usually to an audience of a few and sometimes only one in a parlor or place of business.  I don’t think anybody does anything like that anymore.”  Gwen looked up at the ceiling and smiled, lost in thought.

The idea actually made Jeri think about the people dressed and speaking in character, like Captain Jack Sparrow or Cat Woman, in front of the Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles hoping for a tip from the tourists who’d take their picture.  “Gwen, I hate to break it to you… personation is alive and well in the 21st century on Hollywood Boulevard.”  Both women laughed.  The tension from earlier in the day was now gone.

Putting her hand over her mouth as she chuckled, Gwen took a deep breath.  “Oh, I forget about things like that!  Street performance they call that, right?  I could never dream of doing something so crazy.”

“Well, you sort of do.  Working here — you dress a part everyday, don’t you?”  Jeri pointed at Gwen’s current attire of jeans and a sweater and thought, even in modern clothing there was still an old world quality to Gwen.

“Yes.  I suppose, I sort of do, don’t I?”  Gwen blushed.

“Speaking of dreaming, I had the strangest dream during our nap this afternoon.  It was so vivid that I could not only see and hear things, but there was the most unsettling smell of smoke.  I’ve never experienced anything like that before.”  Jeri leaned her elbow on the counter and put her head in her hands and rubbed her eyes.  “Was anything burning outside this afternoon?  I don’t know, like… leaves or garbage?

Jeri lifted her head and saw that Gwen had pulled her shoulders up near her chin and looked frightened.  “No-no.  There was nuthin’ burning.  No fires.”

Realizing that she’d clearly made Gwen uncomfortable made Jeri feel badly.  She glanced down at her watch and quickly changed the subject.  “Oh, my goodness!  Look at the time!  We’d better hustle on out of here before the evening traffic builds up.”

Glad for the shift in conversation, Gwen reached into the candy bowl and plucked a wrapped caramel out and instead of putting it in her pocket, swiftly pulled off the cellophane and popped it in her mouth.  “Yielding to traffic and temptation, I am!”

Exiting the building, Jeri stopped and took a deep breath, filling her lungs with the sharp evening air.  It was dusk, her absolute favorite time of day.  She closed her eyes to the cool night breeze that surrounded her and felt its bracing hug.  It was such a treat to be in Northern California where the temperature was cooler and the people warmer.  It was a good trade considering what she’d left behind in SoCal.

The three of them walked in silence, enjoying the sound of the wind and the leaves of the trees scraping together.  Gwen smiled and pointed at the treetops.  “Even tho’ we’re landlocked, it almost sounds like we’re seaside.”

When they reached Yankee Hill Road, Jeri’s cellphone rang.  She’d almost forgotten she had one, since she’d not made or received any calls in days.  It seemed strange and unnerving to have technology shatter the still of the dusty streets of her beloved ghost mining town.  It took a while to dig through the large purse, pushing aside the containers of food she’d packed for Andy, to find it.  She hadn’t changed the ringtone, so she knew it was Brian and was in no rush to answer.  The strains of Carole King’s Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow played on until the line about a heart being broken before Jeri pushed the button to mute the sound.  She didn’t want to talk to Brian and knew he probably didn’t really want to talk to her either.  She could listen to his message later.  There was nothing to say right now and she was fine with what the song said: Words unspoken.  They could always talk tomorrow and she already knew the answer to the songs’ fateful question.  Honestly, it didn’t matter that he didn’t love her. But having him turn his back on their son was truly heartbreaking.

Fooling around with the phone caused Jeri to fall far behind Gwen and Andy and she had to hustle to catch up to them.  Gwen grabbed at her arm.  “Your fella here sounds like he’s traveled these streets all the days of his little life.  It’s just remarkable.”

“What are you talking about?”  Jeri looked over at a smiling Andy, hands in his pockets and walking with a normal gait and not his usual up on his tip-toes style.

Waving her hand, Gwen motioned to the houses around them.  “He’s been telling me the names of the streets and who lives here.   He’s mentioned a Dr. Hildreth, Mr. & Mrs. Oppenheimer, Charlotte & Billy O’Hara and a Mr. Ferguson…”

Waving her hand dismissively, knowing there’s no way Andy could know any of that information, Jeri interrupts Gwen.  “Uhm, I think this is it.  Ruth said her house was a yellow house on Broadway past Pacific Street and that looks about right.”

The cute yellow house with the white picket fence made Jeri sigh.  It was a picture-perfect cottage house overgrown with roses and small front porch with just enough room for two rocking chairs.  Smoke rose from the chimney and filled the surrounding air with the scent of wood burning.  Jeri couldn’t be sure, but she thought it was cedar, one of the most aromatic firewood there was.  She turned to Gwen, to see if she knew the answer.  “I’m not sure, but I think she’s burning cedar.  That is such a wonderful and cozy smell.  It’s nothing like whatever it was that was burning this afternoon.  That was awful.”

Gwen turned away, making a face.  Jeri continued talking to her anyway.

“You know, I just love how a fireplace can add ‘instant cozy’ to any home.  When we do find a place of our own, I am so hoping it has either a fireplace or potbellied stove.  I remember there was this store in Angels Camp that had a beautiful big potbellied stove right in the middle of the store with a few chairs around it.  Not for any reason other than it was a wonderful, warm and inviting thing to have when days are chilly.”

Gently Gwen shakes her head, obviously disagreeing, but with no further explanation.

As she approached the front step, Jeri turned to Andy.  “Buddy?  You want to ring the doorbell?”

Without making eye contact, Andy bounded up the steps and rang Ruth’s doorbell.  From inside, they could hear the rapid ‘b-r-r-r-inggg’ of the old-fashioned bell.  Andy quivered and rang it again.  In the middle of the ‘b-r-r-ringgg’ Ruth opened the door smiling.  “Every kid loves that doorbell.  Do it one more time, Andy and then you can all come in.”  Without hesitation, Andy rang the bell one more time.

Lightly touching his hand, Jeri made sure that the third time was the charm.  “Okey dokey, sir.  Let’s go in now.”

Ruth chuckled.  “Every kid loves that doorbell and every mother loves it when they stop.  Everyone’s used to doorbells that ding-dong or make music now, not the old electronic ones from once-upon-a-time.  So, I don’t mind if they play with it a time or two.”

From floor to ceiling, Ruth’s home is filled with dishes, lace, photos, afghans, throw rugs, paintings.  Jeri is in awe.  Every nook and cranny is filled.  “Ruth.  Your home is like the best antique store ever!  Were all of these your family’s treasures?”

“Aww.  You’re a darling to say so.  All this?   These are treasures I’ve collected over the years from local garage sales, thrift stores and some items were given to me after a dear neighbor down the road passed away.”  At the thought, Ruth hung her head.

Touching the ornate frames with photos on the wall, Gwen turned back to Ruth.  “Who are all of these people, Ruth?”

Ruth walked over to the largest frame, kissed her fingers then placed them on the photo and starts to walk away.  “Those are just photos, daguerrotypes and tintypes I’ve collected of people from long ago, all of them forgotten in giant bins in thrift stores.  I bring them home and sort of think of them as guardian angels. I swear, when I’m drifting off at night, to the world between awake and asleep, I can almost hear them whisper to me.”  She gives a hearty chuckle and sits down in an overstuffed chair near the fireplace.

From the corner of the hallway, Gwen gasps and whimpers softly.  Jeri walks over and sees her rocking, much like Andy was earlier, pointing to one small painting of a forest fire.  Gwen whispers to Jeri, “It’s like the one in the Fallon Hotel.  It’s so sad.  I can’t hardly stand it.”

Ruth spoke up, “That’s a copy of a painting they say was a local artist, Thomas Oxley Miller, and they tell me that was depicting one of the fires here back in the mid-1800’s.”

Walking over to the chair farthest from the fireplace, Gwen sat down and hugged herself, continuing to rock.  “Ladies, you’ll please forgive me.  I know you must think I’m a silly girl.  But, I am so terribly afraid of fire.  You see, I lost both of parents to a hotel fire when I was a little girl.  It was devastating.  I went to live with my Great Aunt Adelaide, who was a lovely woman, but she wasn’t ma’ mum and pa.”

Upon hearing the name Adelaide, Jeri and Ruth locked eyes, saying nothing.

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