MY BROTHERS WERE IN TOWN OVER EASTER WEEKEND OF 1997, and we had spent Saturday night howling at the moon. I was sleeping hard, my head at the foot of the bed and my feet up top, when Josh flipped on the light in my bedroom at 5 a.m.
“Phone,” he said. I strained to lift my head, my eyes still closed tightly.
“Phone. Some guy. Mooney? Moody? I don’t know.”
He dropped the phone on the pillow next to my head and went back to his place on the couch I’d taken from our grandparents’ house after our grandma had died the previous fall.
“Yeah? Hello?” I said.
“Hey, Paul. It’s Joe.”
“Joe Mooney. From down the street.”
“Oh sure,” I said, but I had no idea who I was speaking to. “What can I do for you Joe?”
“I’m thinking of throwing something together for lunch. You busy?”
“Of course today!” he said loudly, reminding me of the four--possibly seven--shots of Jagermeister I had downed the night before.
“I can’t today. My brothers are in town. We’re going to see my mom.”
“Mom, huh? Where’s she at again?”
“Elderhaven. Over in Cranston.”
“Right, right,” he said. He paused for a couple of long seconds. “Well, I’m afraid I won’t be able to make it today. Like I said, I’ve got people coming over. Tell her I said hi.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said, still trying to make sense of these last couple of sentences, but he hung up before the words came out.
“RUTH HENDERSON IS A WHORE AND THAT’S ALL I’VE GOT TO SAY,” said my mother when Josh, Scott, David, and I were settled into her cramped apartment.
“Mom, you can’t say that,” said Scott.
“You don’t believe me?”
“That’s not the point. It’s just that you can’t go around calling Mrs. Henderson a whore.”
“Miss Henderson!” my mother said. “It’s miss, and don’t you forget it. She doesn’t want anyone thinking she’s off the market. And don’t you tell me what is and is not the point. I’ll tell you what the point is. The point is that Ruth Henderson is a damn whore. David, do you remember that little tart you brought home the summer after you graduated?”
“Well, even she would have been embarrassed to see the way Ruth Henderson flounces and struts around this place.”
My mother had been at Elderhaven for about six months, and she wasn’t happy. The people were nice, but my mother was a caretaker--the one who made pancakes for breakfast when your friends spent the night or woke up at dawn to make sure the shirts that you and your brothers wanted to wear were properly ironed. What she didn’t like about Elderhaven was that she was now the one being taken care of.
Over the next few hours, we talked, played cards, and went for a walk, but I couldn’t shake the thought of Joe Mooney’s early morning phone call. I still didn’t know which neighbor I had spoken to, but I had a picture in my head of the overweight guy in the blue A-frame because he was single and reclusive, and I figured that those things had to be true of a guy to whom it wouldn't occur that most people would already have plans for Easter. I wondered if anyone would accept his invitation. Maybe everyone would. How did I know? Maybe Joe Mooney was a celebrity on Beckman Avenue, and I just didn’t know it. He seemed nice enough.