Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Levitation of Mrs. Caruso by Lyon Kennedy

After her husband's death, a lonely and crotchety old lady struggles to face her prejudices and rediscover her will to live; by Lyon Kennedy.

The shadow of approaching sunset lingered by the bay. It then slipped through the sliding door of 99 Battersea Avenue, crept over a stolid walnut buffet, muted a persnickety red Persian carpet and slid atop all four feet eleven inches and ninety-nine pounds of Sylvia Caruso.

Every evening at the same time, though of course not the same time as she was reminded by the ship's clock on the mantel, dusk arrived. On occasion, it fell herky-jerky, like the curtain of a children's stage production, as she nodded off to sleep.

In the room, above the buffet, hung a multi-colored map of Italy; opposite, a shelf supporting the Virgin Mary, flanked by two smaller statues of Saint Joseph and Saint Robert.

Mrs. Caruso said her prayers in the morning, took the Eucharist weekdays when Sister Margaret came to visit, and said her prayers in the evening before she had a little something to help her sleep. She preferred Frangelico or B&B, but settled for sherry on the weekends because she suspected her helpers helped themselves once she nodded off.

Her first home health aide had been a German lady, not too bossy, with that tic for cleaning so many of them have. Then there was a chubby smiling Jamaican lady who had spoken in such a thick accent she couldn't understand her for much of the first week. She had been friendly, but Mrs. Caruso thought she stole, because they knew hardship, and stealing from a nearly dead lady was barely stealing at all. After these two, others cycled in and out frequently; there had been too many to recall.

She often looked back on the early days. Just a girl from Naples, standing in line at the immigration office before the war, her father's battered brown leather suitcase clasped in both hands.

The hands moving over her, the sharp creases in the men's slacks and women's blouses, the unsmiling, pinched pink faces, shuttling from station to station, older children scolding younger. Her aunt Dorotea at Battery Park, Brooklyn Ferry, walking countless blocks. The story of the fall - the loss of the great mansion on the Hudson, how times had gotten so tough; then an apartment. The word "apartment" hanging in the air like a sin confessed.

The explosive argument after her mother arrived. On the way to her mother's Lower East Side tenement, her mother cursing her sister. "Bugiardo." Liar.

After her father died in Italy, her mother mourned, then remarried, and lived well enough in a row house in Newark, New Jersey. But stale bread, meat scraps and the callous glances from the rich had convinced her mother things would never get much better.



Things got better for her daughter; presently Mrs. Caruso grew bored of the panorama from her million-dollar home overlooking the bay in Margate. Her Anthony had treasured the view and the proximity to Atlantic City for so long. So when they had wanted to downsize from their home in Hamilton, she didn't protest.

How she missed him! Even talking with his mouth full or resting his hairy forearm on the table when eating, and his disinterest in reading anything beyond an auto or fishing magazine. She felt almost embarrassed at the warmth these memories kindled in her.

And how he had worked! He had begun at eight years old, distributing newspapers. At thirteen he sold shoes, after school and weekends. By fifteen he was an apprentice to the Italian shoe repair man. Soon he began to dream of opening a new kind of store, combining shoe sales and repair.

It had opened a year after they married. Hamilton Shoes sold new shoes up front and repaired shoes in the back. He added uniform shoes, and became the sole source for Catholic schools in the diocese of Trenton (his uncle was monsignor), the Trenton police (his cousin was captain) and Trenton firemen (his brother was commissioner).

She had taught third grade at the same public high school down the street for twenty-four years. They were never rich, but they managed to raise three sons and weather the economic downturns together, while considering debt nearly a sin.

On the first Friday of every month, for as long as she could remember, he drove to Amici Milano restaurant in the Chambersburg section of Trenton, for lunch with his "financial advisor." She didn't know what this meant; what was wrong with the accountant? Once she even suspected him of having an affair.

Before he sold the store, he sat down at the kitchen table with a stack of papers and a broad smile to explain that he'd saved fifteen percent of his income over forty years in municipal bonds as well as blue chip stocks like Ford and GE.

Over half a million dollars.

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, you think we'd live forever?" she asked.

"I just wanted to pad the nest a bit," he explained.

Two years after moving in to their new shore home he was found face down in the front garden after a massive heart attack.



This morning she had awakened to the "QUAW, aw uck, QUAW!" of a pair of seagulls on the deck. Then the awful sulfurous odor of the marsh. But she would neither shoo the birds nor close the windows.

Her back door remained unlocked so aides could come and go. Mid-morning, a knock on the door.

"It's unlocked!" she called.

A young handsome man who looked Asian or Latin, she couldn't tell which, stood smiling.

"Hi Mrs. Caruso," he said.

She narrowed her eyes, then looked away, then looked back. "Who are you? The grim reaper?

"No, I'm Jeremy, your Home Health Aide."

"Oh."

"How are you feeling? "

"Like someone on death's door," she said.

"Well, I'm going to check some vitals, then we'll get you out of bed, OK?"

"Why? Who says I want to get out of bed?"

"It'll be good for you, Mrs. Caruso."

She looked at the ceiling. "Humph. Good for me... What are you, twenty-four years old?"

"No, I'm almost thirty. I'll be thirty soon. This September."

"Oh that's my month. The nineteenth."

"Oh that's mine too!" he said, patting the bedside as exclamation.

"Well, we have something in common," Mrs. Caruso said.

"Oh, I'm sure we've got a lot in common. We're the same sign."

"You don't like girls, do you?" she asked as he measured her blood pressure.

"What was that, Mrs. Caruso?"

"Oh, never mind," she replied.

He checked her body for sores, then moved her arms and legs to stimulate circulation, before sitting down to read a book while she dozed off. She heard some noises and awoke to find him cleaning the sliding doors that looked out on the bay.

"You a neat freak?" she asked.

"Oh, hey. No, sometimes I just... get bored."

He asked her if she'd like him to get her something and she asked for the Bible.

A few hours after he left, her weekday helper arrived; Dolores was the twenty-something daughter of a neighbor who checked in first thing in the morning and last thing at night, but not weekends.



Sylvia Caruso's greatest fear in life was losing her mind, and thus her control, and becoming victim to the thugs who would burst in to find her drooling senselessly and proceed to rob her of the ten thousand dollars in the shoebox under her bed upstairs before clubbing her over the head. On the same day she'd had the hospital bed set up, she made them mount a phone on the wall beside her; if something happened now she'd click one button for 911 and scream bloody murder.

Then again, she knew if she lost her mind she wouldn't much care what happened to her. But her three sons would care, and she wouldn't want them to find her in those circumstances.

She awoke to the pale morning light arcing over the bay and sighed on finding herself still alive. The breeze blew the rank marsh inside. Worse, an enormous greenhead buzzed along the inside of the sliding door. Better a hypodermic needle than a bite from that!

When Dolores arrived Mrs. Caruso pleaded with her to kill it. After telling her to grab the swatter from the kitchen closet, Dolores yanked a hand towel lying on the table and slapped it against the window. The fly fell to the ground. She smiled as she picked it up by a wing and walked it to the toilet.

"Don't forget, wash your hands!" Mrs. Caruso shouted as she walked into the kitchen.

"I will," Dolores replied.

She was relieved to see Dolores bring her favorite breakfast. Oatmeal with fresh fruit, this time both bananas and strawberries.

"You washed your hands, didn't you?" Mrs. Caruso asked.

"Of course," Dolores replied.

After Dolores left she remembered she hadn't asked what day it was. Thursday or Friday, she guessed. She came to loathe the weekends, as she suspected the weekend helpers envied the vacationers strolling by the house. If she could just stay in bed she could hasten the end. But I'll need to battle do-gooders like Jeremy. They want to sour every pleasant experience in life, even the unpleasant ones! Come to think of it, he's due soon and -

"Hello, Mrs. Caruso!"

"My God, I didn't hear," she said, raising her head slightly.

"Oh, sorry, I knocked, but not loud. Didn't want to wake you," Jeremy explained.

"But you... oh, never mind. I just want to say, you're not getting me out of bed today. OK? So let's not discuss it anymore."

"Umm, Mrs. Caruso, it's on my checklist," he said, holding a clipboard in his hand.

"Well it's not on my checklist. And I'm the customer. What happened to the customer always being right?"

"That's still true, Mrs. Caruso. You're always right, except when you harm yourself. I mean, if you want to die I could give you an injection of sodium pentothal."

"You could do that?"

"No, Mrs. Caruso, I can't. And even if I could, I wouldn't do it."

She turned her head. He was not a simpleton. "Well, you're not a PT, and I want a PT helper."

"Actually, Mrs. Caruso, I'm studying to be a Physical Therapist. I graduate in December, as a matter-of-fact." He got on a knee to rummage through his large bag.

Her left hand tapped the railing. "Could you stop that? Calling me 'Mrs. Caruso'? I get tired of that sing song."

"OK, what would you like me to call you?"

"How about 'Sylvia'? Only my friends call me that, but I'll give you permission anyway."

"Sylvia, I like that," he said.

She waited until he was finished with her blood pressure before speaking.

"What's it like being homosexual?"

Jeremy laughed.

"What's so funny?"

"I just find it funny you ask. Most people don't try. Too taboo."

"Well, I'll be gone soon. So what's to lose?"

"It's not that different from what you had," he answered, swinging the empty wheelchair in from the living room.

"Excuse me? I think it's very different!"

Jeremy laughed and took a drink from a plastic bottle.

"I didn't mean physically. I mean companionship, warmth, being together, reassuring each other."

"Oh," she said.

She stared at the ceiling which had developed very fine cracks recently, though they seemed to fade in some light, which made her question whether they existed or not.

"So you thought it was just physical?" he asked.

"I'm not certain... Before I landed here the ladies in my book club, well, I haven't gone for months, but they talk, you know, like they're so keen on it. Kind of silly. One can only imagine so much."

"I agree, Sylvia. It's hard for me to imagine having relations with a woman."

"You've never touched a woman before?"

Jeremy shook his head and fastened the Velcro on his belt then reached out to pick Mrs. Caruso up.

"Wait! You trying to catch up with me?"

Jeremy shook his head and laughed loudly.

Mrs. Caruso had heard they were like this, else why would they be called gay?

"Sylvia, how long's it been since you've been on the deck? It's not hot right now."

"No. I'm not sitting out there. Stop being pushy. You can be gay, but not pushy."

"OK, then how about we get up and you can show me around the house?"

She stared at him but didn't resist when he deposited her in the wheelchair.

"Later we're going to go over nutrition, OK? Make sure you're eating good things."



The doorbell rang and he pushed her to the front door. A tall woman in her forties appeared, wearing navy slacks and a white blouse with a buttoned collar. She carried a black box the size of a toaster.

"I got up just in time, Sister Margaret," Mrs. Caruso said, smiling.

The woman kissed Mrs. Caruso on the cheek. "I'm delighted to see you up. It's been a while!"

"Well, I have this gentleman to thank," she said.

"Oh, hello," Sister Margaret said as they shook hands.

"Jeremy, could you give Sister Margaret and me a minute?"

"Sure," he said, before stepping out and settling on the deck.

"Sister Margaret, he's homosexual!" Mrs. Caruso whispered.

"OK," Sister said.

Mrs. Caruso leaned back in her chair. "'OK?' That's it? What if he... I mean, he's open, he admits it!"

Sister Margaret smiled and sat down, then smoothed Mrs. Caruso's hand.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about, Mrs. Caruso."

"Sister! I asked him and he admitted to it, just like that. I mean, no shame, no fibbing, right out, just like 'Boom!'"

"Well, it's changed over the years. More and more feel like they don't have to hide it."

"Sister, the church? Where are the rules anymore?"

"It's true the church doesn't condone homosexuality, Mrs. Caruso. But I don't think you have anything to fear, even if his chosen lifestyle isn't what we believe."

Mrs. Caruso pointed. "That's it, it's a choice, isn't it! I told my book club that, but they shouted me down. Said that's been disproved. Well, what's good for the church is good enough for me, that's all I can say, Sister. Some of those club ladies, why some of them never go to church. Humanists, they say. Just another name for being wishy-washy and weak! You can see what Hitler did to Humanists! He killed my father!"

"Yes, you told me that, I'm sorry."

"They weren't crazy about being gay either. Why he stuffed them in the ovens along with everyone else he hated!"

Sister smiled and patted Mrs. Caruso's hand before leaning over and unfastening the box that contained the chalice. After a prayer, she presented the host to Mrs. Caruso, then placed the chalice back in the box.

"You know, not too long ago, I wasn't able to give out the Eucharist. The church saw an expanding need for this kind of ministry, so they changed the rules."

"Well, Sister, I don't think the church changes to please some special groups who yell louder than others. If only the politicians... oh, never mind."

Sister held Mrs. Caruso's hand as they prayed the Hail Mary and Our Father, then kissed her on the forehead and departed.

Jeremy opened the sliding doors and smiled.

"Why are you always smiling? Everything in your life can't be that good, can it?"

"Sylvia, I've been smiling since I was on my mother's lap."

She thought to say Maybe you sat there too long, but let it go.

She wheeled in front of the large living room television, but then decided against it. She sat staring at the black screen until Jeremy grabbed the remote from the shelf.

"Don't turn it on," she said.

"OK, I just thought you might want to watch. Is there anything I can get you?"

She shook her head but began to seethe as he walked away. Everything was rolling along as planned without too much pain or discomfort. Then he arrives, pushing himself and his happy lifestyle on me. Of course you can afford to be happy! You don't pay the bills like a father of three boys pays the bills. Or change diapers or do homework or anything parents have to do. What a lie these people live!

"Everything OK, Sylvia?" Jeremy asked from the living room.

She closed her eyes and prayed for self-control, then opened them, thinking self-control be damned.

"I don't want you coming back here."

"Sure, Sylvia. Can you tell me why? Just in case they ask..."

"Well, I have a right to comfort in my own home, right?"

"Of course you do," he answered, placing his stethoscope back in his bag.

"I'm just not, not comfortable. Threatened, like forced into something. Well, I'm the customer and I'm not buying," she said, crossing her arms.

She looked over to him against her will and saw he was genuinely hurt.

"I'm sure if you were in my shoes, you'd feel... I don't mean to, but this is my home."

"No need to explain, I won't come back. Would you like me to help you with anything before I leave?" he asked.

"No thank you. Please leave me as I am."

He nodded and closed the door behind him. She heard his car door close and felt relief, then guilt, then outrage. Why should I feel badly in my own home? Don't I have a right to the kind of care I want in my own home?



Monday morning she awoke again to the "QUAW QUAW!" of two seagulls on her deck. She wished she knew whether they were fighting or playing.

After breakfast she called her son Stephen in Buffalo and asked him to find another care provider.

Around noon a door knock announced a middle-aged man with a beer gut and stubble. He was from Genesis Homecare, the "premiere provider" in the region. Mrs. Caruso made a note to admonish her son for not choosing this more expensive service in the first place.

The man pulled the Windsor chair to her bedside, and began flipping through forms, and asking questions.

"Can we just simplify this a little?" she asked.

"Uh, this is just standard intake procedure," he responded.

"I don't mean to be impolite, but could you can the procedure? I'm trying to get from point A to point B without getting my head bashed in. Can you help me do that?"

"That's our business, Mrs. Caruso. But until we understand..."

"OK, OK, I give up, ask away. It's not like I have to attend a ball tonight."

"Thank you, Mrs. Caruso," he responded.

He didn't smile and had no sense of humor. A big company tin man! She hoped the helpers were better.

Tuesday morning she was awakened by three loud bangs on the door. She pulled herself upright.

A large barrel-chested woman burst in, a large bag aloft on her shoulder.

"I'm Susan Wilson, Mrs. Caruso, and I'll be your home care giver from now on," she said.

Thud! The bag fell to the floor.

"I hear you had another provider, so you're familiar with the whole routine," Susan Wilson said, rooting through her bag to pull out a stethoscope and blood pressure monitor.

"What's 'Wilson'? Is that English?" Mrs. Caruso asked, hoping to suppress the fear in her voice.

"Heinz Fifty-Seven, like most of this country nowadays. Alright, so I studied your chart before I came over and I see no conditions that limit your mobility. So I'm gonna take your blood pressure, then get you out into the wheelchair, and we'll see if we can't get you onto a walker soon."

"Are you out of your mind? I'm dying," she said.

Susan held out her arms. "All I know is what Bob Crane wrote down yesterday during intake. I'm just following procedure. If they told me to leave you in bed all day, I'd do that."

"You ever dropped a patient?" Mrs. Caruso asked.

"I'm stronger than some men I work with, Mrs. Caruso," she said, snapping the Velcro belt around her waist with military aplomb. "Your blood pressure looks good, let's get you up and out."

Before Mrs. Caruso could become afraid, she was deposited in the wheelchair, the woman's awful breath trailing in her wake. To the deck, then the kitchen and living room; her anxiety increased steadily. When she left Mrs. Caruso thanked God she remained unharmed.

She rolled over in bed and dialed Stephen, who sounded groggy.

"What, did you just wake up?" she asked.

"No, Mom, just a nap. Big meal. What's up? How's the new service?"

"Oh my, I had the scare of my life today. They sent some bully over here, she tossed me around like a leaf in the wind!"

"Oh. You OK?"

"I'm terrified! Call them, get someone else!"

"Mom, they're probably closed now, but I'll leave a message, OK?"

"Oh, thank you! I thank God for your help every day."

"You're welcome, Mom."

Mrs. Caruso waited Wednesday morning for someone to appear. At midday an attractive young lady arrived and the routine began again. She was Italian and seemed neat and clean. She even agreed to leave her in bed. But an acrid scent wafted in through the screen door. A smoker! Emphysema had taken her mother too soon; smoking was one habit she had zero tolerance for. After the caregiver left, she called Stephen again.

The next to arrive was a young man with a rash and runny nose; he lasted two days. When she called Stephen he told her they wouldn't let her switch like this again.

"Then get me back to the old service!"

She was relieved to see Beatrice again. She was neat and nice and wouldn't push her around like that last one. And she'd let her die in peace, thank God. They know how to do that in Jamaica, she thought, not like here where everyone wants to live forever.

An entire week passed in relative bliss. On the second week Mrs. Caruso noticed her helper seemed down.

"Well, to tell you the truth Sylvia, my mother dying right now. So I may have to flying back to see her soon."

"That's terrible! I'm sorry to hear. How long, do you think?"

"No telling, Sylvia. Maybe two weeks, maybe longer. God's will, not mine."

That evening Mrs. Caruso stared at the ceiling and fell into a widening chasm of despair. She couldn't take any more surprises. She prayed and prayed and prayed to be taken that night until she seemed to float above her bed and her spirit soared.

She remained in this state for a long time, patiently waiting for the brilliant figures to appear. Yet when her eyes opened to the sunlight, nothing had changed; the despair overwhelmed her, and she cried loudly and openly. She even thought about falling out of bed, but that would be a grave sin even given the slim chance it was effective.



That morning seemed unusually bright; the sun lit up the kitchen and living room. The scent of the ocean wafted through the home.

She hadn't spoken to her two older boys in California in weeks, so she called. James, the corporate attorney, lived near San Francisco and Anthony Junior, the podiatrist, lived in San Diego. Then she spoke to their wives and got the latest on the kids, either in college or starting their careers. They all seemed headed for distinguished success. She lay back on the bed to take a nap until the weekend care giver left; the night helper would be at the door in a minute.

But she couldn't relax; something niggled at her. In the past she called all three sons in order, from oldest to youngest, from west coast to east. But she'd gotten away from checking up on her youngest, Stephen. He was still single with no kids at thirty-five; she couldn't understand why he didn't settle.

Her western sons were so busy yet they managed to send flowers and baskets of fruit from the finer stores or even fly out and say hello when they had a conference nearby or a layover in transit to Europe.

But did they ever call just to ask about her?

Never!

And Stephen used to call regularly before she tuned him out. The more she reflected, the more she realized how she'd pulled back from him in favor of family news out west.

And he was the only one to help me when I was in need... How selfish I've been!

She grabbed the phone and called him; he was headed out to a restaurant.

"Oh, a big date?" she asked.

He laughed. "I'll call you tomorrow, OK?"

"Thank you, Stephen. I hope you enjoy your meal."

She lay back and wondered again if she should ask him, but again she had no idea how she should approach it. If she said the wrong thing, she was afraid he'd become upset and possibly pull back from her, and she couldn't afford that.

The next morning Stephen called and sounded in excellent spirits.

"You sound like you've just hit the jackpot or something. What's going on?" she asked.

"I was rushing last night or I would've told you. I've got an offer to manage the entire food service at Trump's Taj Mahal, Mom."

"Oh, I don't like Vegas. And Trump is such a blowhard!"

Stephen laughed. "Mom, not Vegas, in Atlantic City! You always hated Buffalo, now it looks like I'll be in the neighborhood again!"

"You mean you got a raise, and you're moving to the area?"

"A big-time raise, Mom. I'm putting my house on sale up here. I've got a realtor in A.C. looking for a rental. I'll be there in two weeks. Great news, huh?"

"I'm very happy for you. And yes, it would be great to have a helper again. Too many weirdoes."

When she hung up her mind battled conflicting thoughts. This might slow her departure, but she'd have a true helper, someone who'd be able to manage this crazy schedule and be around in an emergency. It was a godsend and she prayed in gratitude.

Her mood improved; anxiety about who might appear and what might happen disappeared; her son was coming and would guide her into the next realm. She couldn't wait to see him.

But the more she thought about it, the more she paused. He looked OK at his father's funeral, but what if he'd changed for the worse? What if he moved here with someone? What if she wasn't OK with that someone?

She wondered whether she ought to call, but then he wasn't a slow one, no Carusos were. He'd sense her concern. He might back off. She didn't want that to happen.



A week later Stephen called and said he'd arrive Wednesday to stay in Atlantic City and search for a new place. Sylvia insisted he save his money and stay with her.

On Monday she shared the news with Beatrice.

"Well, I have to believe that comes from God, because I'm being called away to Jamaica. I've got a ticket to fly on Friday, and I'm very sorry to be leaving you like this. But at least you have your son in the area."

"You've been very good to me, Beatrice. Do you need any help with arrangements?"

"Oh, no, no, thank you, everything's been arranged. The flight is booked, the bag is packed. I just have to tell the clients now and hope when I come back I have a job."

"Does a young man named Jeremy still work for you?"

"Oh sure Jeremy, he always busy. He going to school when he not working. He was here?" she asked.

"For a short time, yes. He had a hard time not smiling."

"Oh yes, that's Jeremy alright, always smiling."

Wednesday Mrs. Caruso awoke feeling much lighter. When Stephen called and said he'd be over about six that evening, she called Dolores and told her to take the night off.

The day dragged and dragged. She tried to distract herself, but something drew her back continuously to Stephen. When Beatrice left, she could hardly stay in bed and gripped the chrome bars to release tension.

She watched the minute hand on the ship's clock until it froze and she had to pull away.

"Hi, Mom!"

There in the flesh!

"Oh, my, Stephen! I must have fallen asleep. How are you?"

"I'm doing great. Got my big break, and moving here, it's all good, Mom," he smiled.

He was unshaven, but as handsome as ever. He had thick black eyebrows and a shrub of black hair, just like his dad. His lips were fuller and more sensual, more like his aunt than anyone else.

"Mom, I can't believe it! You look like you lost twenty pounds since I saw you last."

"If you help get me up, I can make you something," she said.

"Oh, c'mon Mom, I'm a chef. How about I get you up and you watch me cook?"

"Just don't drop me," she said.

He pulled the wheelchair over and chuckled when she reminded him that all the homecare people wear a support belt. He hoisted her up and in the chair without much effort.

"My, you're as strong as ever. A nice lady would enjoy that," she said.

Stephen laughed. "Still trying to get me married, huh, Mom?"

"Well, it's a mother's duty. Can't rest until all their chicks have their own nests."

He pushed her to the middle of the kitchen floor facing the oven and began looking for utensils.

"I'm building a nice nest now, Mom," he replied, hand in the kitchen cabinet.

"I don't mean to pry... but you haven't given up on the right girl, have you?" she asked.

Stephen turned around and smiled at her, a spatula in his hand. "I've always enjoyed women, Mom. So you want one of my famous omelets?"

"I'd love an omelet, thank you. I'm not saying that because your brothers are settled, I just think it's the best thing for a man, that's all."

"I hear you, Mom."

She could tell by the way his voice changed even with his back turned that he was uncomfortable, so she backed off.

What a treat to watch him cook! He sliced mushrooms and broccoli and cheese and offered her samples, just as she'd done for him as a child. His elbows jabbed, his hands shuttled about, and his feet dashed like a dancer.

"So have you seen any places in Atlantic City yet?" she asked.

"Why I came down here," he answered, setting the table, then wheeling her over before sitting down.

She took a bite then looked at him. "It's delicious, thank you."

"Sure, Mom. Everything else OK?" he asked.

"Oh, absolutely. Just wonder how you're going to do. All alone in the big city," she said.

He chuckled and rubbed his nose with the back of his hand. "Mom, Atlantic City is not a big city. New York is big. Even Buffalo. Atlantic City, it's casinos. As many tourists as residents. Though it's not like here where you only have them in the summer."

"You won't miss the snow up there?"

He laughed. "No, Mom, I won't miss the snow. I had a great job at Niagara. The best hotel. Now I'm ready for the next step."

"And Trump pays OK?"

"Best in the business. It's the biggest place in Atlantic City."

"Your father liked going there, but he thought it seedy. Too many people chasing too much easy money."

Stephen wiped his mouth with a napkin. "It's true, Mom, there are a lot of seedy places. But not where I am. And look, if you think about it, Hamilton had its seedy side too, you've got to admit that."

"But we never went there," she said.

"But Dad didn't exactly bar people from his store, right, if they came from a seedy neighborhood?"

She didn't answer, but loaded her fork with the last bit of egg and sat meditatively, which made Stephen uneasy.

"Mom, what was it that got you sick? I never heard what happened."

"Oh, Jesus, Mary. After your dad died I was in the hospital and I was in and out so much they put me in hospice. Basically a few months to live."

"Was it your heart?" he asked.

"The heart, the lungs, everything fell apart at the same time. I just, oh my, I just couldn't see dying in that hospital."

"But now you've been home almost six months, right? I mean, besides looking too thin, you look in good health, I -"

"Good health? Are you nuts? One fall and I'd be gone! You don't know how close I was in that hospital. They were about to call you boys, but I told them, 'no, no, don't do that.' I wanted to go home and die in peace, without the machines and busybodies."

He got up and cleared the table and sat back down. Again she reflected on how well he still moved; he had not only been the most handsome son, but also the most graceful.

"Can't get over how quiet it is around here," he said.

"Ha! It's a weekday. Just wait till the shoobies come down from Philly and New York. That's weekends here."

She lowered her head and raised her finger in the air. "Now I'm afraid I've forgotten something. Stephen, can you please look at the calendar on the wall behind by bed? I think I just missed my doctor's appointment."

Stephen walked over and back. "Doctor Danforth tomorrow, nine-thirty?"

"Oh, my, yes, I completely forgot. I forgot to shower!" she said.

Stephen laughed. "What, you wheel yourself into the shower?" he asked.

"Oh, no, I just clean myself with a wash rag," she said anxiously, "but you can't be around, it's too embarrassing."

"No worries, Mom, I'm leaving early tomorrow. I brought a book a friend of mine wrote. Thought I'd just relax and read."

"A book from a friend?" she asked.

"Yeah, a cookbook. Modern French cooking, he's from Toulouse."

"A French chef? Friend of yours?"

Stephen laughed. "Yeah Mom, in this business you have friends who are chefs. You expect race car drivers?"

She raised her eyebrows, then yawned. "Can you help me over? I'm getting tired."

He rolled her over and deposited her into bed, marveling at how light she'd become. But she ate well enough; more of that would fill her out in no time. He walked into the kitchen and poured a glass of milk and wondered who went shopping for her. When he came back he was about to ask something but he found her asleep.



Stephen awoke to a man's voice and looked at the clock: it was almost ten! He threw his pants and shirt on, then ran down the stairs, his bag banging the banister behind him. He crossed over to the bed, where he found his mother standing by her wheelchair.

"Mom, you're standing up!" he said.

She dropped back into the wheelchair as the doctor extended his hand. "Your mother is very happy to see you," he said.

"Likewise here, doctor. I just got a job at Trump's, so I'll be living in the area now."

Stephen placed his hand on his mother's. "Mom, I'm running late, so I've got to go. I'll call you later today, OK?"

His mother nodded and the doctor touched his arm.

"Would you have a minute?" he asked.

"Sure, of course," Stephen responded as he walked outside.

The doctor opened the sliding door.

"You know what's wrong with your mother?" the doctor asked.

"No, I've been meaning to ask, actually."

"Well, there's nothing wrong with your mother."

Stephen dropped his bag and looked back inside. "But last night, she said her heart and lungs -"

"She believed it too. But she's a perfectly healthy woman at her age. She's only seventy-two years old. She did suffer from a broken heart after your dad died."

Stephen put his hand to his forehead. He hadn't known. "So you think I can help?" he began.

"Absolutely. I can see by the color in her face and her smiling that she feels better. Your moving to the area was the best thing for her."

Stephen extended his hand. "Thank you."

Mrs. Caruso didn't like being excluded from the conversation. She pushed herself out of the wheelchair and crept slowly toward the kitchen, leaning against the wainscoting, then opened the fridge for milk. I'll have to go out soon for food, she thought, feeling a twinge of guilt about asking Dolores to shop for her.

She heard a door close and looked out to see Beatrice walk up the sidewalk, so she walked back and made it to the bedside as Beatrice walked in.

"Oh my, what happened?" Beatrice asked.

"Oh, I tried to reach for something, and just slipped out of bed. Can you help me in?"



Alone in the evening, she eased herself out of bed and walked once around the first floor, then half way around again till she stared at the carpeted stairway to the second floor. Her muscles were stiff, her joints sore. She didn't know if she had the strength to make it up, and didn't want to try.

She turned and made it to the kitchen table and gathered a stack of mail which she began to sort. After separating the bills from the sales offers, she picked up "Anna Karenina" and opened it to the bookmarked page, but she'd forgotten the scene, so would have to backtrack to the beginning of the chapter. It had been so long. How she missed Tolstoy!

She looked up to see darkness slip in through the sliding door. It happened so quickly! She shuddered on realizing it was the Devil, waiting to rob her of the last years of her life, and she aided him! She felt the need to speak to Sister Margaret, to go to confession and mass. She found a wrinkled mass bulletin and wondered if she could risk church on Sunday.

She suddenly felt very tired, but forced herself to walk to the back door to ensure that it was locked. Then she lay back in bed.



Sunlight suffused the house when she awoke. She looked at the clock: nearly ten!

Three knocks on the door, followed by a form: Jeremy! She closed her eyes.

"Hello Sylvia, sorry if I woke you. Beatrice asked me to cover... she couldn't find anyone. Is it OK for one day?" he asked.

"Yes, Jeremy, it's fine. But you don't have to get me out of bed, OK?"

"OK, I'll just leave you be if that's what you want," he said, turning to open his bag on the floor. When he turned back she was standing against the bed.

"Sylvia, how did you -"

"Well, since you've been gone I've had PT, so I've been able to get some strength. Now I can walk to the bathroom."

Jeremy watched as she gingerly walked away, then closed the door. He heard the toilet flush, then the door close as she walked to the kitchen. "Want anything to eat, Jeremy?" she asked, pulling the refrigerator opened.

"Oh my, Sylvia, here I thought you were at death's door, and to see -"

"I was."

"Oh, well it's great news, it's wonderful to see."

Mrs. Caruso looked out back to see her son approaching the door.

"Oh my, oh my," she said, reaching out for the bed.

"Mom! You OK?" Stephen asked.

She introduced them as her hands gripped the rails.

"Stephen, thank you for stopping by, but I think Jeremy has to do all his things."

"Oh, gosh, it's OK," Jeremy said.

"Mom, just stopping in to say hello, I was in the neighborhood. I'll go make something to eat, you hungry?" Stephen asked.

"Haven't eaten yet," she answered.

After eating, Stephen and his mother settled into the kitchen as Jeremy sat on the deck looking out at the bay.

"What time's he work till, Mom?" Stephen asked.

"Oh, till about four or five I think," she said.

"Well, how about I hang around? I can just send him home..."

His mother said that was a great idea, so he told Jeremy he could take off. As Jeremy turned to go, Stephen asked him, "By the way, do you know what's wrong with my mother?"

"Well, looks like less is wrong now that you're here. But I just think she was down. She lost her will to live."

Stephen nodded then shook Jeremy's hand and watched him drive off. A stab of guilt: a stranger had figured her out before me. Then again, she was no fool, never was. Maybe if I'd come down more often... but then again, she wasn't exactly welcoming recently.

Stephen opened the sliding door and found his mother standing in the middle of the floor, hands clasped in front.

"What did you think of him?" she asked.

"Seems like a nice kid," Stephen replied.

Mrs. Caruso shifted her weight. "Is that it?"

"Yeah, a nice kid. Very gay, too."

"You noticed!" she said.

"Yeah, Mom. There are a lot of gay people in my business."

"Yes, I thought that when you first started!"

Stephen smiled and sat on the wheelchair.

"You were worried about me being gay?" he asked.

She nodded.

"I'm not gay, Mom. I'm a happy single guy with a lot of gay friends, but I'm not gay."

"Oh, Jesus, Mary," she said, and wobbled on her feet as Stephen reached out to hold her. "So maybe there's still a chance?"

Stephen laughed loudly. "Maybe I'm too much of a momma's boy to get married, Mom. Maybe I'll wait till I'm fifty."

"You better not wait too long! You won't be able to have kids if you wait too long."

"I promise Mom, when I find the right one, I'll bring her around for your tests, OK?"

She looked at him severely then smiled. He offered his arm to her and walked her to the kitchen, where she sat and listened to him describe what he was going to make for lunch.

9 comments:

  1. Once again I use my overused line - "I didn't think I was going to like this..."
    But it slowly drew me in and the characters were well played. Some subtle commentary mixed in with the familiar East Coast "mama" story, all of which works very well. Nicely done.

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  2. Thanks Jim for the kind words.
    Cheers,

    Lyon

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  3. The complexities of human perceptions and human needs, embedded within the turmoil of relationships and connections, are invoked deftly in this story. An interesting and thoughtful story. Thank you,
    Ceinwen Haydon

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  4. from the description of the approaching sunset I found this an excellent story, humorous and thought provoking, with excellent characters and dialogue.,

    Michael McCarthy

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  5. Yes, I liked the 'sunset' scene-setting, and from this and the rather droll philosophy of '...stealing from a nearly dead lady isn't really stealing at all,' assumed that this humorous voice would persist. But the story deals head on with serious - and heart achingly familiar themes; fears for your child's welfare, prejudices about gayness, xenophobia, fear of aloneness, self-centredness, and just a touch of emotional blackmail. I must say I thought that Stephen and Jeremy were going to 'get together'. I guess that's the path the reader is being led towards, but in the end we travel a different route. Well thought out!

    Brooke

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  6. Ceinwen, Michael, and Brooke,

    I'm very gratified by your thoughtful comments.

    Lyon

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  7. Well, like arriving late to a party, you find all the good food is gone or in the case of this party, all the good comments have been made! Heck of a party anyway...I find myself in good company.

    I love the title to this story. Levitation suggests something magical. We're going to see a magic act! And Lyon's story doesn't let us down. Mrs. Caruso is the act. With all her foibles, short-sighted misgivings, doubts, prejudices, laying there in that bed--her retreat--she just needed that impetus, that one push, the one reason to live again. Her son's return did it for her, and like magic, she was restored. Her prejudices dropped away. The morning looked brighter. "Hope springs eternal...". I guess miracles do happen if you are willing to let them.

    But I still hear Joe Cocker singing in the background..."you gave me reason to live...". Is it just me?

    James Shaffer

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  8. For me, Sylvia's spunk carries beautifully through the story. She is imperfect, but entirely likable because she is written so honestly. And your attention to real-world detail ("...with that tic for cleaning so many of them have") really draws the reader in. I also thought the last sentence was satisfying without being overwritten. A terrific story. Bravo!

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  9. James and Anonymous,

    Thanks much for your comments. Immensely gratifying!

    Lyon

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