“Do you think you have any cavities?” Mom asks, steering the Camry down 4th St., remembering her turn signal and keeping a perfect thirty feet from the pulp wood truck just ahead of us.
“No.” I say, meaning I don’t feel anything and am reasonably sure Dr. Saunders won’t find a any surprises, “I brush three times a day.”
Mom nods, content with having taught me at least one good habit.
We pass the North Hills St. Walgreens, several gas stations, and about a dozen mainline churches before entering Castle Point subdivision. The houses in this part of town are gorgeous two and three story colonials, each topped with a mandatory red brick chimney and boarded by the ubiquitous white picket fence. The uniformed Mexicans raking leaves and pruning limbs in the yards are just icing on the cake.
“It’ll only be a few more days before Morgan’s car is fixed. Then you’ll get the van back.” Mom says, something she’s been repeating since we left home. She adjusts the heat (cranking it up somewhere between Death Valley and the surface of the Sun) and tunes the radio. A pop bubble gum classic, Abba’s Take a Chance on Me, filters through from OKJ 101.7: The Feel Good Station.
“So, do you like you’re new Camry?” I ask.
“Yes, I like it. I’ve always wanted one.” She says, her eyes still on the road. It’s impossable to think of anyone’s dream car being a beige Toyota Camry, sporting factory everything. Does she also have a secret love of elevator music and watching paint dry as well?
In my front pocket is a list of questions, short ice breakers I’d written up last night. But after mentally crossing out half of them I’m beginning to worry. Maybe we’re not meant to have a mother-daughter relationship like she and Morgan, however thin their relationship may be. How much am I really missing out on anyways?
We pass West Heights Country Club where several ancient looking white men scurry about in golf carts. This is the good part of Greenville. Our old dentist, Mr. Neal, a fat man with wintermint breath, had his office on the other side of town, near Southeast High. Mom found Dr. Saunders and the West Greenville Dental Clinic a few years ago after the Caravan was broken into during one of Dad’s root canals. Some black kid named Marcus Moore spent a few months in juvie’ for that one. I’m sure he’s moved on to bigger and brighter things since his release.
“So, you’ve bought Oliver a new aquarium?” I ask, question number seven on the list.
“He needed one for his project.” She says.
Ok. I mark that one out.
It feels like I’m already in the dentist chair with Dr. Saunders bending over me, drill in hand. Or am I the one with the drill and Mom’s the squirming patient? That’s perhaps the worst thing about living, the not knowing, the uncertainties with any and everything.
“Are we still going to Grandma Mimi’s for Thanksgiving?” I ask, already knowing the answer to that one.
“Of course.” Mom says. Paw Paw being gone won’t change that tradition, he made us promise before he died. But with his death still fresh on our minds and with Mimi’s shingles flaring up, our first Thanksgiving without him will be about as much fun as a pap smear.
We come to a stop at a red light. In front of us waits a green Prius with a bumper sticker reading, I Protect and Preserve Planet Earth. It’s driver seems oblivious to the grunting F-350 towering beside her, black smoke bellowing from its chrome stacks.
“How do you like you’re new job at Sunset Meadows.” I ask.
“It’s ok.” She flips on the wipers as the grey sky opens up, pouring a cold, uneven drizzle over the beautiful part of town. The old men at West Heights are probably running for cover just about now.
“How does it compare with your old job at Golden Living?” I push it with questions I’ve never thought to ask a week ago. Her uncomfortable silence is a good sign. Maybe I’m getting somewhere.
“Well…” She searches for the words, “There are differences.”
“How?” I’m grasping at straws now.
“Well….” She turns the radio down. “Golden Living is a private for-profit while Sunset Meadows is a non-profit state-run institution. They’re underfunded and cut corners alot. I don’t like that.”
“What corners do they cut?” Memories of Paw Paw’s last days rush back, and I catch my breath.
“They just do.” Disgust fills her voice.
“Did your mom go to a hospice?” I ask.
Mom looks at me for the first time since we left home, maybe for the first time in years. I notice now that her eyes are actually two different colors, with the light green near the whites becoming a hazel star burst around the iris.
“No.” She says, turning back to the road. “My father said he’d take care of her at home. That it’d be cheaper that way.”
“Did he?” I regret it instantly. Even I know you don’t screw on a first date. You take it easy, start with questions about the weather and build a relationship from there.
“Of course, he did great job.” She lies like sag carpeting, terribly.
I leave it at that as we pull into the Chanel Shopping Center parking lot. Dr. Saunders office is between a twenty-four hour gym and a Lane Bryant. Large potted palms straddle it’s large glass doors.
“Call me when your ready to be picked up.” Mom says as I step out. And then with a smile as indiscernible as off-white, “It’s been nice talking to you on the way over.”
“Yeah, it was.” I say, wondering if I missed something. Maybe I have.