River House Home - Refrigerator
"Pop Pop " by Briana Lovell
“About another 20 minutes, Mrs. Bailey,” the driver said with a small grin. I smiled and gave a slow nod of my head indicating my acknowledgment.
I sat staring at my reflection in the window of the town car, hardly recognizing the twenty-seven year old executive staring back at me. Having worked so hard to get where I was, I should feel proud and successful. My hands drag smoothly through my hair and I sighed. Getting impatient, I picked up my planner and shuffled through papers inside. Rubbing my temples I laid my head back on the seat.
I thought about the last time I had been back home. Eight years was a long time, and yet I could close my eyes and see the route we were taking vividly. A right three lights up, down about two miles, another right at Kingsly… My thoughts slowly shifted and I heard Allen’s voice echoing in my head, “It’s not trash! Look here, you can tape up the hole with duct tape, then it’s perfectly useable!” The sound of a horn brought my attention back to the driver; drowning the voice of Allen back to the past. “Damn drivers!” The driver shot a glance in the review mirror. “Sorry Mrs. Bailey, the drivers here are just so terrible.” I stared out of the window without responding. Propping my arm on the window, I let a heavy sigh escape and laid my head in my hand.
“You ok, Mrs. Bailey?”
I nodded and swallowed anxiety. I could feel the driver’s eyes on me, reflecting from the rearview mirror. I closed my eyelids and took in a deep breath. The smell of new leather seats tickled my nose. I looked down at the papers that lay in my planner. “Who did you say would be meeting us?”
“Bob O’Reilly,” The driver said over his shoulder.
“Bob O’Reilly” I repeated to myself. “I don’t think I know that name.”
“He said he knows you, said he was really close with Allen.”
Allen Glenn was a unique sort of man. He spent his life always concerned that he was missing out on a better deal, or that he was being taken for too much money. He grew up with little to nothing, so he overcompensated by never throwing anything out. He was always in the middle of fixing something broken he found at the bottom of a dumpster, and let’s not forget about the food that the grocery stores had thrown away. He would leave a box of it on our doorstep. He would say that we could still eat the expired food; the expiration date was only a suggestion.
As a child I called him Pop Pop. He wasn’t legally my grandfather; he and my grandma never actually got married. He did assume the role just the same. He taught me my ABC’s, helped me overcome my fear of heights, he even taught me to drive when I was thirteen using his riding lawnmower. He was my “go to” person for anything I needed; things tended to come with a price, but he was always there. There isn’t much detail I care to recall of my childhood, but my memories of Allen Glenn never withered.
Sitting there in that town car thinking about Allen made a smile sweep across my face.
I closed my eyes; the memory flooded my consciousness. I could hear my husband’s voice clear and thick with anguish.
“We don’t have to stay long, do we?”
“I don’t think so,” I said while filling out the money order we gave to Allen every month.
“We can just be in and out right?”
“Should be. I told him ahead of time that we already had plans for tonight, that we couldn’t stay too long. We’ll just drop off a check; visit for a minute, then go.” I almost believed it when I said it.
“Babe, remember what happened last time you told me that?”
I pursed my lips in an attempt to not laugh. “Um, nope, don’t recall.” I did remember. I just wanted to hear the story again.
“Seriously?” he moved forward leaning on top of the steering wheel. Jeff’s stories were always better when he got worked up first. “You don’t remember? How could you forget? It was supposed to be a quick drop, and I was stuck there for two hours?” He was looking at me; waiting for that moment of recognition.
“Um… hmm…” I tapped my chin and crossed my legs, “nope, nothin.” I faced the window so he couldn’t see the trace of a smile that crept on my face.
“Babe! That was the shittiest day I ever spent out there, how could you not remember that? I had to scavenger hunt for the pieces of his hearing aids that his beastly dogs chewed up in the yard? Remember? Then he made me rig those stupid Christmas lights to that box he hooked up to his mailbox? You know, so that the lights would blink whenever someone drove into his drive way? Come on!” He was staring at me instead of the road.
My shoulders shook with silent laughter. “Sorry hun, I don’t think you told me this one.”
“Oh my god, yes I did! Remember, we couldn’t find the last piece of his hearing aid and I came home all hoarse cuz I had to scream at him all day just so he could hear me?”
He snapped his finger and pointed at me, “It was the same day he tried to get me to cut that damn hole in the floor of his truck so he would have a short cut to the fuel filter.”
I laughed out loud then. I looked at him with watered eyes and then laughed a little harder.
“You’re such a bitch.” His shoulders relaxed and he leaned back into his seat smiling. “You do this shit to me on purpose.” He sighed shaking his head.
“Aww I’m sorry,” I said sarcastically, pouting my lips, “I just love to hear you tell me all about your little adventures with him.” I brushed my hand on his cheek and he pushed me away playfully. “But really hun, you know he appreciates all the help you give him.”
Jeff shrugged uncomfortably.
“Alright, put your game face on,” he said as we pulled into the driveway. I could see the Christmas lights blinking as we approached the house. “Remember, in and out,” he said “in-and-out.”
My cell phone rang and the memory was gone. I fumbled for my phone and our laughter withered back to the past , “Carla Bailey.”
“Hey babe, it’s me…”
“Oh… hey hun, I’m just about to the house; what’s up?”
“I just wanted to let ya know I was thinkin about you.”
A smile spread across my face, but I said nothing.
“I’m also really sorry I couldn’t be there with you. I imagine this isn’t-easy. I just couldn’t get out there in such short notice.” The guilt in his voice tightened a knot in my stomach.
“Thanks baby- and I know.” It was silent for a moment. I had to take another deep breath and it came out a little shaky. I cleared my throat, “I wish you couldn’ve been here with me, but I really do understand.” I sat silent for a moment. “I just wish we had-“
“I know, Carla, I know.” Jeff let a deep breath out into the phone.
I didn’t want to talk any more.
“I’ll just call you tonight when I get to the hotel, and try not to over work yourself and please remember to eat something.”
He laughed a little. “Of course, and remember, in-and-out.”
I half laughed and then we hung up.
“Just a little ways longer, Mrs. Bailey.”
I smiled and could feel my headache fading, “thanks.”
When we turned into the driveway, the overgrown tree branches scrapped along the car. I sat up looking to the front of the house for the blinking Christmas lights. But there were no lights. Just piles of junk scattered throughout the front yard. The trees that surrounded the property were overgrown and littered with un-cleared brush.
“Uh, Mrs. Bailey, there’s really no place for me to park… what should I do?”
“Just stop, I’ll walk from here.”
The driver nodded and hurried around to open my door, but I didn’t wait for him. I stepped out; my high heels sank into the moist dirt.
My eyes followed one pile of junk to the next, stopping on his ’99 Chevy Suburban. Rust stains took most of the color away, but I could still see hints of the apple red and silver it used to be. Just under the scent of old earth and mildew, I caught a hint of the cold river. Sitting on the water was the only quality this property ever had to offer. I stood breathing in all the smells remembering everything I had tried to suppress for eight years.
“This place is disgusting.” The driver said under his breath.
“This disgust is worth over two million dollars,” I said lashing a glare at the driver.
“Yes, of course m’am, my apologies.” He stepped back and leaned against the car, his head down and hands behind his back.
I turned back to the house and traced its’ rusty frame and shingle less roof.
“I will die a happy man in my house with my animals and all my treasures. I don’t care if people think its junk, they are my treasures!” I heard him so clearly, I turned back to the driver expecting to see Allen standing there, defending his treasures.
The driver sat up from the car and met my glance. “Do you need me to walk you up there, Mrs. Bailey?”
“No.” I turned my back to him. As I walked to the front door I half expected Allen’s raging dogs to come charging. No dogs came. I stopped as I came to the steps that led up to the door. I caught a glimpse of a doghouse and stared, remembering with a smile.
“Ok babe, here’s the plan.” I sat patiently waiting for him to give me the “go-sign”. “You have the peanut butter crackers?”
“Check,” I said with a smile. “You think it’ll work?”
Jeff sat staring at the four dogs surrounding the front of the house. “Uh… yea, yea I think it’ll work.” He gave me a half grin and a wink. “Aright, here’s the plan: You get out, grab their attention with the delicious treat.” He paused and laughed at his own word usage, then continued, “I’m gonna sneak around the tree here with our basket of goodies for Pop Pop, and while you distract the pack of dingoes with the crackers, I’ll plant the basket in front of the door; then-we’ll move out.”
I sat in the passenger seat giggling. “Ok, well it sounds like a good plan…but uh, what if they don’t take to the crackers?” I held up the crackers and waved them in his face from side to side.
“Babe… don’t be a nay-sayer…” He patted my knee, “Its go-time.”
Jeff eased out of the car and watched, waiting for me to distract the dogs with the crackers. “Here puppies, puppies…” Bowgy was the most aggressive of the pack. He was mixed with a handful of different breeds. It didn’t matter what the mix was; what did matter was that he wasn’t playing with a full deck of cards. Inbreeding. The dogs smelled the peanut butter and slowly crept toward me. I kept chucking small pieces of cracker in a line while stepping backward. Jeff slowly made his way up the steps to the door. Bowgy was growling and licking drool from his chin; the rest followed suit. The dogs wouldn’t have been all that scary, but Pop Pop bathed them with dish soap, and they had patches of hair missing. Bowgy’s hair spiked out in some places and looked like he’d stepped on a live wire. Allen collected stray dogs like most people collect stamps, or coins.
Jeff made the drop and started creeping back toward the car. I straightened and met Jeff’s eyes. Bowgy took that opportunity to lunge at me, his leash stopping him before he caught my throat. I screamed, threw the crackers and ran back toward the car.
“Baby don’t run!” Jeff’s voice caught the attention of the dogs and they turned and charged him. He took off toward the car, disregarding his own advice. We jumped in and took off down the driveway.
I knelt, looking over the backseat of the car.
“You think the basket’ll be ok?” Jeff’s voice was breathy.
I watched Bowgy trot up to the basket wrapped in green plastic wrap and a Christmas bow. He lifted his leg and peed all over the front of it while staring back at the car. I hunched my shoulders and sighed. “Yea hun, it’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure you’re ok, Mrs. Bailey?” The driver walked up cautiously behind me, his voice interrupting my memory. “I don’t think there are any dogs out here…” His head was tilted to one side and concern lurked in his voice.
I looked back and held my hand up to stop him from walking over. I turned, smiled one more time at the doghouse, then walked up the steps to the front door.
I knocked hard and the door pushed open. The smell of rotting wood and mildew smacked me in the face. The smell caked in my throat and I could taste it on my tongue. The house was dark; the sun was streaming in from the back window, creating a moldy green tint to the room. There were boxes everywhere. Tables full of so much junk, it was hard to distinguish one piece from another. There were inches of dust resting undisturbed on the counters. The kitchen to my left had another table with pieces of equipment scattered about. Dishes were still in the sink. A grin spread across my face and half laughed out loud. It looked exactly like it had eight years ago.
Near the TV there was his sofa and recliner; both riddled with duct tape that covered the torn fabric. There was a giant wooden wheel; it had Lego pieces hooked to it and was propped up on blocks of wood. I stared at the wheel frowning, shaking my head, and thinking back to the night he put it together.
“Do you know what perpetual motion is, Carla? I am going to invent a wheel based on perpetual motion using gravity. It can be scaled to a size big enough that we can use gravity as a power source.”
“Is that right,” I said absently flipping through channels on the TV.
“I’ve been using this magnet to figure a way to use gravity to perpetually move the wheel, if I can get it just right, we could generate enough electricity for an entire house!”
“You’re right, Pop Pop, no one has thought of that before. You’ll be famous.” Rolling my eyes toward him, I sighed with annoyance.
“Yes, Pop Pop, a millionaire...”
I ran my hands along the wheel thinking back and swallowed hard. “Your experiments were always good ideas,” I said in a low whisper to myself. I shut my eyes tight to fight the burning in my eyes. I pushed away from the wheel.
“Mrs. Bailey?” A man with a thick Irish accent walked in breaking the silence.
“Yes? Oh-Yes I’m Carla Bailey.” I walked to him with my hand out.
“Bob O’Reilly.” He took my hand and gave it a hefty shake. “Boy, ya sure have grown up!”
I gave a hesitant laugh and shifted my weight. “Yea, I uh-I suppose eight years is quite a long time.”
“Ya don’t remember me do ya?” He rested his hands on his round belly.
I waited a moment, unsure of what to say. “Uh, sorry, no I don’t.”
“It’s aright kid, we really only met a few times. I was real close with Allen. Best friends!”
“Uh huh, I see. Why is it you needed to see me personally, Mr. O’Reilly?”
“Ah, yes, well, it’s all here.” He handed me an expandable folder with papers and envelopes stuffed inside.”
“What’s all this?”
“Allen’s Estate,” he shrugged. “He left everything to ya. This house, a couple properties out at the beach, one in Hastings and Point Villa. Even some old stock he bought back in 1932.”
My mouth hung open. “I don’t understand…I haven’t--”
“Well, I suppose he had his reasons,” he interrupted. His hearty tone never faltered. “You were the only family he really had after Dotty died.” He sighed and gave a look around; then met my gaze; his whiskey colored eyes deceiving his tone. “Well, kid,” he clapped his hands together, “I’m uh-I’m gonna leave ya to it.” He started toward the door when he stopped and turned snapping a finger in the air, “I almost forgot,” he said slowly. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a picture. He walked slowly toward me staring down at the picture pursing his lips. I stared into those drowning eyes as he handed me the picture. “He kept an entire box of em. All the pictures you ever took with him. The box’s in the back bedroom,” he said in a low voice, “if you want em.” He let his hand fall hard at his side as he watched my face closely.
The tears swelled in my eyes at the first glance of the picture. It was taken at the ninth grade science fair. I had a first place ribbon on my shoulder and I sat staring at the Camera while sitting on Pop Pop’s lap. “He and I worked for weeks together, nonstop on that damn project,” I spoke in soft shame. “I wanted to quit over and over again, and he never let me.” I met Bob’s gaze as he was nodding his head in silence. Bob scratched at the stubles on his chin. “You uh… you take care kid.” He patted me on the shoulder, gave it a gentle squeeze and left.
A heavy pain built in my chest. I felt hot and my breaths came quickly. Suppressed emotion flooded my body. I took a few steps back and let myself fall onto the couch behind me. A cape of dust filled the air and clenched around my lungs. I stared at Allen’s empty recliner barely able to breathe. All I could do was stare and remember the last time I saw him.
“Come in kids, come in. I’m so glad you could make it out today.”
“We really can’t stay long Pop Pop.” The response was automatic from years of him roping us into staying for hours at a time.
“Of course, of course. Come, come and have a seat. Can I get you something to eat or drink? I have this delicious bottle of wine I picked up at Food Lion.
“No-no, really I’m fine.” I paused a moment; and turned a wicked grin toward Jeff. “But, ya know, Pop Pop, I’m sure Jeff would love a glass of wine.” Jeff shot a nasty glare in my direction. Allen picked up his glass and took it into the kitchen with him. When he came back he handed Jeff a glass of red wine with ice.
“I’m pretty sure he gave me the glass he was drinkin out of, babe,” Jeff said from the corner of his mouth while examining the tip of the glass closely. “Look, I can see his lip prints.” He put the glass intentionally close to my face, and I nudged him to behave as Allen sat and faced us.
“What,” Jeff said with a shrug. “He can’t hear me. Look, I’m sitting right in front of him and he’s just grinning like he understands everything I’m sayin.” Jeff smiled and nodded and waved at Allen, barely moving his lips as he spoke. “Hey, I wonder if he ever found that other piece to his hearing aid.” Jeff bumped elbows with me and wiggled his eyebrows.
“What’s that, son?” Allen put his hand behind his ear.
“Nothing, Pop Pop,” Jeff shouted then turned and smiled a big toothy grin at me.
Allen sat up in his chair and started to click through the channels with his remote. “Do you kids ever watch Jeopardy? It’s just fascinating; all those smart people.”
Jeff’s head shot back and he groaned.
I scooted to the edge of the couch. “Listen, Pop Pop we don’t have time to really-hang out. We’re here because of the message you left me about adding interest to the loan you gave us. I was a little surprised and, frankly, we just don’t feel like you’ve been very understanding with us.”
That was his que. Jeff sat up, all business now. I could feel his mood go cold and serious. “Yea, Pop Pop. It’s like you keep saying you consider us like your family, and you were happy to lend us money to help us out, but really, we feel like you’re taking advantage of us. I mean, you’re charging us 12.5 percent interest on the loan. I didn’t think family did that.”
“Well, its still business, son.” Allen sat back resting his hands on his bare chest. “Why wouldn’t I use my money to make a profit?”
“That’s just it, Pop Pop, one minute you’re tellin me and Carla we’re family, then, whenever it’s convenient for you, it’s just business.” Jeff Paused a moment. “You gave us that loan to get us out of a bind. We appreciate that, really we do. But when we had the money to pay you back, you said it wasn’t necessary to give it all back at once. You insisted we save our money and pay you a little at a time. Now you want to charge us interest?” Jeff held his hands out waiting for a response.
I sat quietly, my eyes studying the dirty planks of wood beneath our feet.
Jeff continued, “I mean really, it’s not only the interest. When Carla and I asked to move out of that house, you gave us ten days to get out or you would charge us a full months rent. Now you’re acting like you’re doin us this huge favor in only charging us half the rent cuz we were there a couple days past the 15th!”
“Well, son I’m sorry you feel that way, but I told you in the beginning, ten days is plenty of time to get out. As far as the loan, you kids are like my family, and I did lend you the money to help you out. But that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to make a profit too.” Allen rocked in his recliner.
Jeff shook his head and looked at me. I didn’t know what to say. Allen couldn’t separate us, his “family”, from business.
“I pulled up an amortization schedule for you to look at and planned out all the payments and what you would be paying in full at the end of the pay periods, with the interest of course.” Allen handed the paper to Jeff.
Jeff sat quietly looking at the paper. I knew that look and I knew what was coming. Jeff reached into his back pocket and pulled out a manila envelope. My eyes started to burn. That was supposed to be the last resort, the last plan we would fall back on if we couldn’t get through to him.
“Jeff…” I touched his arm gently. My heart was thudding in my throat and I felt nauseous. He held up his hand at me. He was right; we agreed if he didn’t budge or we couldn’t get through to him, this is what we would do.
“Allen…” Jeff’s tone caught his attention. Allen looked at Jeff surprised and leaned forward as Jeff handed him the manila envelope.
“What’s this son?”
“We appreciate what help you gave us.” Jeff stood, “We’re really grateful that you were able to help us when we needed it.” Jeff patted Allen’s shoulder, took my hand and helped me up from the couch. Allen stared at our backs as we walked out.
I sat staring at Allen’s empty recliner, choking on the burning pain in my throat and chest. I took a deep breath and the pungent smell hit me again. I kept shaking my head and felt my hands trembling. I pushed myself away from the couch and the folder Bob had given me hit the floor, sending an echo through the house. I stood frozen, a breath caught in my throat and I stared at the papers scattered on the floor. A withered manila envelope sat at my feet. When I picked it up, I clenched my jaw tight.
I pulled out a cashier’s check, made payable to Allen Glenn, from Jeff Bailey and Carla Hudson; dated eight years ago. In the memo line it read: Loan paid in full.