Part II: Journeys (Chapter 30)


The car radio is tuned to a jazz station. “Taking the Plunge (for Jennifer)” from Spyro Gyra’s Alternating Currents album wails through the four speakers.

I hum along.

I help Shel load up the trunk of the Jetta: one cooler filled with beer, soda, and ice; another filled with potato salad, hot dogs, lunch meats, and hamburger; grocery bags filled with buns, potato chips, and condiments; and two Orioles’ bags stuffed with swimming suits, towels, and long pants for Shel who freezes to death when the temperature drops below 75 degrees.

Rolled up and stuffed in the back, along with dozens of failed attempts, is my latest painting, a geometric self-portrait in various tints of Prussian Blue, my trademark color. This 48” x 72” masterpiece is the culmination of my life’s work, the result of at least a hundred false starts – an attic filled with flawed selves, some of them stretched and framed, but most of them only half-finished and rolled up, stuffed into the eaves. I can’t seem to destroy those mistakes, yet I can’t show them to anyone; it’s important I keep them safely hidden, away from those who would judge and deem them as “unacceptable.”

Although I’m nearly certain that I was awarded the grant to France on the merits of this latest work, I haven’t yet decided if I’ll show the painting to my relatives – would they even understand its significance? Mostly, I’m afraid they’ll laugh at my work and marginalize it.

Next to the painting: a portfolio filled with some old letters, photos, and other memorabilia, stuff I haven’t looked at in years, including copies of letters I wrote a few years back to George, my prisoner pen pal. I wonder whatever happened to him?

Not sure why I packed the portfolio. I doubt if I’ll be sharing it with my family.

“Samantha!” Shel shouts from the top step leading into Sal’s house, “I can’t find my jeans.”

“I’ve already packed them.”

“Oh.” Shel bounds down the steps and pokes his head into the back seat. “God, look at this mess!”

Debris from the trip litters the floor: McDonald cups and wrappers, candy papers, old newspapers, and crumpled paper towels.

“We’re picking up Nana in five minutes,” I say. “Sal says they don’t have room in the van.”

Shel slaps his forehead. “I’ve got to clean up this mess. Can’t put her in this pigsty.” He swoops up garbage and tosses it into a trash can outside the garage, working until the car is cleaned out. He slaps his hands together. “Still a filthy car.” He looks into the trunk. “We even have room for her wheelchair?”

“Sal’s taking it in the van. So, we’ve got to make sure we all arrive at the nursing home and then at Winnehaha at the same time.” I jump into the passenger side and turn down the volume on the radio, which is now playing Heavy Weather by Weather Report.

“Complicated arrangements...”

“Excuse me?”

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

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