"I'm getting along as best I can," I said, and swallowed hard at the truth of it.
"I mean, how's your summer?"
"It's had its moments." I shrugged. "But it'll all be over soon."
"That's life, Genie," she sighed, "what'd you expect?"
"What? Okay, all right, have it your way . . . Huge," she said as she placed her bag on the floor beside her. She went quiet, peering over her shoulder toward the window and then down at her white orthopedic sneakers. Not a good start: she was either drifting or upset. I took a seat on the bed and made myself comfortable, because I knew it could take a while for her to snap to.
"Do you want a sweet?" she asked.
Shit, that was quicker than usual, and I should've yelled no or made a break for the door, but it was too late. She'd already reached into the plastic dish on the nightstand and pulled out this shiny green nugget.
"Here, it's lime." She wrapped my fingers around it and motioned for me to eat.
I froze. My lips tightened and my stomach whined, but she was nodding and smiling and there was nothing I could do. I took a deep breath and popped it into my mouth. It tasted like sweat from the crack of a dockworker's ass. Not that I'd ever sampled any, but I felt like spewing and then gargling with bleach all the same. She was watching me, though, so I had no choice but to choke the damn thing back.
"Good, isn't it?"
I didn't say anything, but that didn't keep Thrash from smiling.
"Now, don't tell your mother that I gave you candy." She winked. "It'll be our secret."
It was sad, really. Because if she thought this was candy, then she was much further gone than everybody said.
She talked about my mother and her new boyfriend, Craig, how it was good for mom to have a man around the house and good for my sister, Neecey, and me, too, but how it meant that mom had less time for her. I didn't have any problem with Craig, because he wasn't around as often as she thought and he never gave me trouble when he was. The dig about mom not stopping by as often wasn't true, but I didn't argue the point.
Then it was the usual stuff about the activities they'd done last week (a day trip to the horse races at Monmouth Park) and what was scheduled for next week (a day trip down to the casinos in Atlantic City). And she said, "With all the gambling they expose us to, you'd think we're swimming in cash. But Margaret in sixteen can barely afford her medication, and she's not the only one. Now, tell me, where's the sense in that?"
I told her there wasn't any, but that they had to do something.
"You may be right, Genie," she sighed, flattening her dress across her lap so the flowers weren't wrinkled, "but sometimes it seems that old age brings nothing but one petty insult after another."
Great. Two gripes and then right into the old-age shtick. That could only mean one thing: she was upset about something, and I'd have to hear it.
"To watch the sun go down with a little bit of dignity," she went on, "is that too much to ask?"
I knew better than to answer that.
"Speaking of which," she said, her cloudy brown eyes flaring with annoyance, "did you see what they did to our sign?"
"No," I said, because I hadn't. I'd taken the back way instead of the front. "What'd they do?"
"They vandalized it," she hissed, glaring and shaking her head.
Maybe that's why she was so cranky. "Vandalized it? Who? How?"
"There, over there." She pointed with her left hand as she turned her wheelchair to face the window with her right. "See for yourself."
I followed the direction of her finger, over the air vents along the windowsill, through the parted green curtains, across the parking lot pavement shivering from the heat, to an island of withered grass near the four-lane highway that ran along the front of the home. In the center of the island were a dirt mound, a few mangy weeds, a high, thick hedge that bordered the roadway, and a tall wooden sign, which ordinarily read oakshade retirement home. But the "irement" was covered over in black paint, and the sign now read oakshade retarted home.
Excerpted from Huge by James Fuerst Copyright © 2009 by James Fuerst. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
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