by Cheryl Diane Kidder
The Blue Station Wagon in the Driveway
As soon as we moved to Los Altos, into the new house that Daddy built for Mother on her grandparents land, it seemed that Uncle Cedric started showing up at weird hours of the afternoon. I knew it was Uncle Cedric, my father’s youngest brother, because of his blue station wagon. I’d round the corner of our long driveway, walking home from school, and it’d be there, parked right in front of my bedroom window and I’d get this really sick feeling in my stomach. He wasn’t supposed to be there.
The Anthropology Teacher
I thought he looked just like Richard Dreyfuss, only the Richard Dreyfuss of Goodbye Girl, not the Richard Dreyfuss of Mr. Holland’s Opus. He was funny too, but smart and had a job I thought would be really interesting: working with the Santa Cruz police to figure out how a dead body had gotten that way. He was my Physical Anthropology teacher at San Jose Community College.
I was taking Physical Anthropology to get myself out of the house at least one night a week. It was past time to break up with Tim but I’d been with him since I was nineteen and didn’t know how else to be. I just figured we’d always be together. But he’d started spending more nights up in Oakland with his brother who had a rock band, telling me he was the manager and the manager has to make sure the money comes in, and yada, yada, yada.
The semester wore on. I sat in the back of the class with my fantasies about the redheaded teacher and read my physical anthropology book. By the second week in December, class was just about over and I’d gotten up my courage enough to decide to bake a banana bread, then stick my phone number inside it on a little scrap of paper. It seemed like a good idea. That way if he wasn’t interested he could just throw it all away, no harm done. I wasn’t really good at this stuff but I’d seen a lot of movies about women baking cakes and stuffing things inside them so I thought I’d give it a try.
I gave it to him on the last class. He acted really thrilled and had me walk him back to his office. It was getting dark. Class was over at 9pm usually and he’d kept us late so it was dark all over, nobody else around. When he unlocked his office door, he let me in first, closed the door behind me and didn’t turn on the light.
I don’t even remember if he opened the banana bread or not. I only remember I was on his lap in a matter of seconds, his mouth all over me and I was thinking this is the perfect way to break up with your boyfriend.
He started teaching another night class in January. By that time he was stopping by the house before class with a six-pack, usually Buds, right after Tim had gone to work for the night. He’d stay for about an hour then drive over to teach class. Sometimes Tim just drove straight up to Oakland after work so I’d picked up my own six-pack and have a couple beers to get sleepy.
One night the teacher came over and for some reason we didn’t turn off the lights. We were on the living room couch and his pants were off and his alabaster skin and red hair just seemed really out of place. I sat straight up and moved off him and went into the kitchen. He got up then and got dressed and went to teach class again.
After a couple of months I moved out into my own apartment, the first time I’d ever lived alone. The teacher started coming to my apartment before his classes. Then one day he stayed the night.
When I woke up he was drinking a beer at the breakfast table. That’s how I knew. After that, when he’d call, I let it go through to the answering machine. When he wouldn’t stop calling I got Tim to go talk to him. He pretended we had gotten back together. Came all the way down from Oakland to talk to the teacher after one of his classes. It wasn’t pretty, but he didn’t call me any more.
The Blue Station Wagon
The first time I came home when Uncle Cedric was there I walked in the kitchen door and he was sitting at the kitchen table. My mom was doing something in the kitchen. She told me to say hello to Uncle Cedric. I’d been trying not to see him.
I looked at him. He had a goofy grin on his face and was sitting sort of cock-eyed in one of our kitchen chairs.
He slurred something back at me but my feet were already moving closer to my mom. I got on the other side of the pantry but he could still see me. It looked like my mom was re-polishing the stove, which certainly didn’t need it.
I lowered my head and mumbled something about homework and walked as quickly as I could down to the end of the hall to my room and closed the door. I was out of breath. I shut my curtains that faced the driveway and sat down cross-legged on my bed. I got out my homework and spread it all over the bed but just sat there listening for footsteps in the hall and listening for the car to start up.
The Arby’s Construction Guy
I met Chris when the baby was still a toddler. We met drinking of course. I mean, I drink sometimes, when I’m out dancing. I get sweaty, need a drink. No big deal. Chris was tall, kind of funny looking, but there was something about him.
He kept buying me beers and we danced and he danced all formal like, taking my hand in the middle of a fast song and wanting to stay always a certain distance away from me. He went on and on about his forearm and how he could drive a nail in with just his forearm. That was OK at first.
He walked me out to his truck when the place closed down and told me he liked country music. Had some tapes in the car I could listen to. I knew where this was going, I thought.
But we got to his truck and I had to sqoosh over close to him under some other pretense. He got out his tape collection and started plugging them in. It was a cold night and the babysitter was waiting and his truck heater didn’t work real well so I got him to hold my hand but that was about it.
The second time I saw him, the baby and I went to the Arby’s he was building over in Daly City by the Mall. He was really into his work. He ran a crew of seven guys who traveled all over building Arby’s Roast Beef Sandwich places. The baby didn’t cooperate much that first time. She’d hold my hand and toddled along as Chris talked to us about putting in walls and booths and getting all the trim right. Then she’d plop right down on the sawdust and refuse to walk another step. I apologized to Chris, picked her up and rocked her a bit.
The third time we went out, Chris took me to this country-western place where he knew the bartender. I was really hoping I’d get to see some of that brawn in action that night maybe in my bedroom, but he just wanted to stay at the bar and drink. When I got tired of dancing and sat down, Chris went and sat at the bar and talked to the bartender. So much time went by I wondered if he’d ever come back. When he came back, he took me home, kissed me on the top of my head and closed the door. I paid the babysitter, turned on the TV and had a beer.
The last time I saw Chris was at the first place we met. I knew he’d be there. He was there every day after work and sometimes before work. He was sitting at the bar talking with a woman. I sat down on the other side of him. He was wincing through the cigarette smoke. He didn’t order me a beer and he didn’t ask me to stay. After a little while I said I had to go. He didn’t stop me.
The Blue Wagon
After that first time, whenever I’d walk home and see the blue station wagon in the driveway I’d go in the front door instead of the kitchen door. I’d open it real soft, step into the tiled entryway and pull it closed whisper-tight behind me. Then I’d hold my breath. Sometimes I’d hear my mom talking and sometimes I wouldn’t hear anything but the radio my mom always kept on. It was always on KOIT, The Fog out of San Francisco that played that really soothing, fall asleep music.
Then I’d walk on the balls of my feet to the hallway, listening all the time. Once I was in the hallway, the carpet was easier. I’d get to my room, shut the curtains, sit on my bed and wait. Usually the car would drive away before my dad got home.
The Swimming Pool Installer
Rick was just gorgeous and I really didn’t care what he did during the day time but turned out he installed swimming pools for a living and it was a really good living in San Jose. Lots of pools going in. He didn’t talk too much about his work though. Only that it brought in a lot of money. Money he needed for his little habit, is what he told me.
Like I said, I hardly cared what Rick did. He was the outdoor type. He was outside all day long with his shirt off doing manual labor so he was incredibly tan. The first time he asked me over it was for a pool party and it was the first time in my life I was glad I spent so much time laying out.
I spent almost every night at his apartment and then would get up and go to work thinking about him all day long. His habit was something I never saw and knew nothing about. Rick always had money to spend, despite spending a hundred a day on his coke habit.
When his brother came to visit we took him to the Renaissance Faire over in the East Bay. They brought beers in the car and started smoking other stuff as soon as we got to the Faire. At some point I got separated from the two of them and sat down to watch a tall good-looking guy in tights throw some flaming batons in the air and catch them behind his back and then swallow all the fire down. He turned to the audience and smiled and I was completely smitten.
I wandered over behind the stage and told him how much I loved his show and next thing you know I’m on his lap in a tent, his tights in the straw.
Rick’s brother found me just coming out of the tent. He smelled like beer. We found Rick, got back in the car and drove back to San Jose. Rick was pissed off that I’d gone missing for four hours and wouldn’t talk to me after that. I didn’t bother to ask him where he’d been all that time. I figured he’d made a connection or two. It took me a long time to forget him.
One time Uncle Cedric was still in our kitchen when my dad got home from work. From my room I’d heard my dad’s car pull into the driveway and then into the garage. I heard the garage door slam and then the kitchen door slam. I thought, this is it. This is where some real trouble begins.
I opened my door enough to hear the voices in the kitchen but there was nothing to hear. A half hour went by and nothing.
Then I heard the kitchen door open and close and Uncle Cedric’s car started up and pulled slowly back out of the driveway.
I ran into the kitchen. My dad was sitting at the table smoking his pipe and reading the paper. My mom was making dinner. The radio was humming something soothing.
I asked my dad what happened. He said nothing happened.
I asked him what happened to Uncle Cedric. My dad said he went home. That he was going to eat dinner at his house.
I asked my dad, why does Uncle Cedric come over here all the time.
My dad put down his paper and tapped his pipe on the corner of the ashtray. He cleared his throat. He told me that Uncle Cedric comes over to talk things over with my mom and it’s nothing for me to concern myself about.
I told him that I thought it was wrong and that we should call the police.
My mom went over and sat down at the table next to my dad. She put her hand out to me to come over but I stepped away from it.
My dad said Uncle Cedric had a problem with drinking and right now he needed our help.
I turned around, ran down the hall to my room and closed the door. I turned off the lights, got into bed and pulled the covers over my face.