Rome – Chapter 2

On the morning Sylvia LaMann died, Tom LaMann, her husband of forty-three years, opened the bedroom window wide. The most pleasant feature of their property, besides the house, an old Victorian style house on a square piece of land stained with brown weeds, was the tree in back. It was a tall, open, immense maple that could, at any given period of day, cast cool shadows on some part of the yard. And as long as you were willing to walk your chair, as Sylvia had done, holding it with both hands to her back-end, magazine-in-mouth and two-stepping forward, you could find shade.

Every Monday morning Tom moved a little more slowly, bent over the sink to look at his face and hair a little longer, and then found his way downstairs. He called out for Sylvia and coffee and opened the front door, which she had forgotten again to lock the night before and he thought it was just a matter of time before somebody came “waltzing in to steal their TV”.

On the front page of The Rome Daily paper there was a headline about some money that somebody somehow misplaced in the local City Hall, and Tom grunted and shook his head, calling for Sylvia to guess who was in trouble again downtown. He forgot to hold the screen door and it banged. The noise rang through the house and Tom paused. He tensed and waited for the response she always gave when he forgot or spilled or broke or dribbled something somewhere. But, there came none.

He walked into the kitchen where breakfast was on the table: two eggs, country ham, potatoes and an apple cut into slices with the seeds taken out, a thing he had protested against-  fruit for breakfast. But Sylvia had read how apples gave energy and helped clear the bile in gallbladders, so now they ate apples with every meal. She loved reading women’s magazines, he thought, not for the articles or pictures of pretty dresses, but as a resource guide for torture. The refrigerator was plastered with these clippings. Every month brought a new anomaly to burden his plate, or clutter to his table, or, once, involved a bag of warm vinegar, coffee, and sea salts to be squeezed through a tube into regions Tom thought should not even be known to God.

He called for Sylvia and his coffee and sat to down to eat, debating what to do with the apple. It was just perched there on his plate. Almost spitefully, he thought. And he hated wasting food. The most common solution, when Sylvia was not about, was to take the unwanted refuse to the Maple out back for the squirrels to find. He had adopted two who nested there and opted to give them the remains of Sylvia’s more unpalatable feats. Usually, they waited till Tom went back inside before they scuffled and twirled down the trunk. Frank, the male, as Tom surmised, would dash in headfirst pawing and sniffing every available inch before gorging himself. While Betty, the female, as Tom’s logic dictated, was more wary. She stood up on her back legs and scouted out the land. Betty would inspect, with frozen intensity, the cracked board in the back fence where often enough the neighbor’s mutt Scooter squeezed his heavy brown sides through and gave a loud chase around the yard. Tom hated Scooter. He hated Scooter with a deep rooted passion, a passion that Sylvia thought could only stem from some terrible childhood encounter, an experience at the developmental age that leaft an everlasting scar from child to man. Sylvia never asked Tom about it though, and Tom never offered to tell her. He did threaten to un-box his gun one day and shoot Scooter in the head. Apologetically and a little nervously the young neighbors promised to tie him up better next time and after the confrontation Sylvia poured Tom some vodka to quiet him down, inside, by the TV.

Tom took the apple slices and wrapped them in a napkin from the wooden center piece of the table and walked out the backdoor. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the already bright sun which that beamed down through the branches. He squinted and wished he had first put on his hat. Carefully, at the bottom of the maple, he placed the apples, arranging them in what he thought might be an attractive, appetizing arrangement for squirrels. He then stood up and proudly observed his creation. Whenever he did things like that, little uncommon things that had no real purpose or logic, Sylvia usually clucked her tongue, only once, but loud enough for Tom to hear it and understand that he could be spending that time painting the house or fixing the front door instead. And then she’d say those two words that he had grown to resent. Words that made his eyes red, and stomach ache; but in the end, he left it at that, and for forty-three years he had been leaving it at that. The apples he placed at the tree were displayed in a fan shape on the napkin and already turning a little brown. It looked fine enough. Tom scanned the tree limbs to see if Frank and Betty were about, somewhere between the leaves, rubbing their hands together. Instead, there in the weeds by the fence he saw Sylvia in her yellow house-dress.

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