The Fiction Warehouse 2003
May 8, 2012
Rattner turned a corner and saw his Mother (1917-1971) talking to his Aunt Tess (1909-1994). They were standing on the corner talking while watching the comings and goings around them. Rattner saw his Mother tense as she realized that she and Tess were in the path of their younger sister Alice (1929-1981) who was walking along talking to herself. Alice came upon her sisters, ignored Tess’s greeting and said hello to Rattner’s Mother, Harriet, who nodded and said hello back.
Tess shrugged after Alice passed and they continued on with their conversation.
Harriet Rattner had been dead for almost thirty years, Tess for seven and Rattner himself only recently— perhaps a matter of days or hours.
Rattner sat on a bench under a large Maple tree and watched. Three women who were walking together stopped to talk with his Mother and Aunt. Rattner accepted, without thinking, his ability to hear their conversation clearly.
“So, Harriet, I hear your boy is in. How is he?” The woman without glasses asked.
“He’s only been here a short time. He’s sitting right over there,” she said looking towards Rattner sitting on the bench. “I’m sure he’ll look me up when he’s ready; it’s not like we’re going anywhere.” “Is this the boy who planted those beautiful Tulips in front of your stone and visited you three, four times a year?”
“No, that’s my Harold. This is Barry, the one who never visited but wrote about visiting.”
“As long as they were thinking of you, that’s what counts,” she said, walking off with her two friends.
Rattner felt no emotion; he was calm. He got up from the bench and continued on, walking through the neighborhood not thinking about his mother, aunts or even his wife and children.
It was bright, but not sunny bright—more like very light and there were people everywhere. Only minutes earlier, right before he saw his Mother and Aunt there was no one on the street. Now people were sitting on every stoop, and every porch had someone in rockers or swings or kitchen chairs brought out after mealtime.
Rattner found that if he stopped and faced someone he could hear their conversations. He accepted the happenings around him, happenings like watching a young Rattner playing stoopball. He continued on and saw a teen-age Rattner rolling dice against the curb with some of the guys he grew up with—the ones his Mother forbade him from hanging out with.
“C’mon, Heeb, either roll em or give em up,” Tony said.
The shorter Rattner looked up at Tony. “Don’t call me a Heeb. I told you before.” His fists were balled, ready to do combat.
“How bout Sheeny? You like Sheeny better?”
Rattner watched Rattner swing a garbage can lid down on Tony’s head as Tony bent to pick up the dice. He turned and was inside their third floor flat with his Mother on the phone talking to Tony’s mother. He watched her hang up and give teen Rattner a beating. Rattner was a walker. His Aunt Alice talked to herself and crossed streets. His Mother and Aunt Tess were corner talkers. People just did what they did; Rattner sat on the bench every time he came to the large Maple tree, and was bound to see three women stop and talk to his Mother and Aunt and have his Mother point at him. After a while he no longer thought these thoughts and each walk, each repetition, was a new experience. In other places they did other things. It never dawned on him that although he saw many people he knew, he spoke to no one, and while people spoke about him, they never spoke to him. Even his Mother or Aunts who acknowledged his presence in their conversations never spoke directly to him or even waved him over. He felt that he could insert himself into a conversation or group anytime he wanted, but somehow the questions or concerns that once seemed so important to him, especially where his Mother was concerned, were no longer pressing.
What was, is. What is, is. That’s what a briefly lucid Rattner thought and accepted. He wasn’t unhappy or even very reflective about it. Rattner passed his Father (1920-1989) talking to him on his twelfth birthday. They were standing in front of Wanda’s Palace of Sweets, about to go in, when a beautiful redhead driving a long white Caddy convertible, pulled into a parking space across the street. “Barry,” Rattner’s Father said.
“There’s nothing more beautiful than a redhead in a convertible,” he said.
“Nothing?” Rattner asked.
“Absolutely nothing, unless it’s a blonde on a pillow,” his Father said smugly as one who would know.
“What about Mom?” Rattner asked.
Rattner’s father looked at him with a hint of disappointment and disgust and walked over to where the redhead had parked the Caddy. He put one arm on the windshield and the other on her door, bent down and smiled at her. She looked up and smiled back. He said something to her and then opened the car door and she slid out and they walked off arm in arm leaving Rattner standing alone outside of Wanda’s. “Is that the son who named his daughter after you?” The woman with the straw hat asked his Mother. She and Tess had been standing on another street corner talking, when the three women stopped their walk and joined in their conversation.
“Yes, but he also named his cat after me,” she said matter-of-factly.
“It shows that he thought of you often. No?”
“The cat wasn’t so nice.”
Rattner listened and turned his head until the voices faded out and he felt a lucid time coming on. Lucidity was sporadic and he was unable to will it or even think about it, but he knew when it was happening.
He remembered clutching at his chest and trying not to fall over. Between spasms of pain he looked for the tunnel with the brilliant white light that he’d heard so much about. He knew that once he saw it he’d feel a great sense of relief and calmness, but none of that happened. Rattner felt pain, unbearable pain, and the next thing he knew he was walking the neighborhood streets he’d known over the years. There was no sense of time. There were no calendars but there were clocks whose time was meaningless.
A street clock might show ten o’clock while only steps away inside a store, a wall clock would read three thirty.
He watched his Aunt Alice say hello to his Mother and ignore his Aunt Tess. He saw Tess shrug and heard her say, “Don’t worry, Harriet, when he’s ready he’ll come over,” and he saw his Mother shake her head.
Once again he found himself in front of the soda shop with his Father who had taken the bus in for Rattner’s birthday. They were going to have an ice cream sundae or maybe a banana split. A white Caddy with big fins drove slowly by. Rattner watched as his Father spoke to young Rattner and then walked over to the Caddy and the Redhead.
Rattner walked on and turned the corner unthinkingly heading towards the craps game. He saw his Mother look over his Aunt Tess’ shoulder and felt the familiarity of the look.
He walked down an alleyway and came out in front of a school. The children were being let out and he saw himself standing on the sidewalk watching his wife, Deb through her classroom window. She wore a tight black skirt and a white short-sleeved blouse. Her shoulder length hair was pulled back and tied with a white ribbon. Rattner continued to watch as a man entered Deb’s classroom. They embraced and Rattner turned away only to be facing The Post Road Motel on the outskirts of town.
He watched himself watch his next door neighbor, the tall thin man who had embraced Deb in her classroom, park his car and walk over to a room that had a white ribbon hanging from the doorknob. The man knocked once and Deb opened the door, smiled and moved aside to let him in. She took the ribbon and closed the door.
Rattner walked on and saw himself and Deb making out in the covered entrance to her dorm while the rain came pouring down. He watched as the young awkward Rattner, the University freshman, put his hands inside Deb’s raincoat while they kissed. He felt the stirrings of new love. Rattner could see himself through the living room window. He was sitting when Deb walked into their house and over to him. Her hair was down and she was smiling as she sat next to Rattner on the sofa. She kissed him on his sad cheek and then got up and went into the kitchen, leaving her purse. He opened it and saw a white ribbon tied in a loop. He took it and hung it outside their bedroom door and went in, closing the door behind him.
He saw himself clutch his chest, his face contorted, and he watched as he fell against the bedroom door hard and slid down onto the floor unable to move. Rattner saw Deb come running when she heard the noise and then stop cold when she saw the ribbon. He watched her trying to push the blocked bedroom door open unsuccessfully and then run to the phone. Rattner watched as the tall thin man and his wife from next door came running over.
Rattner walked on, past the corner store, stopping long enough to look in at a young Rattner selecting penny candies.