by John Kaufmann
About two-and-a-half or three years after I bought my first park, I got a call from a woman who I will call Wenda. Wenda was maybe sixty years old. She had grown up in Tennessee, and had come north when she met her husband. She lived in the fourth home from the end of Gamma Street in my park in central New York, near the pump house and the pole barn. Her home was old. It did not have a pitched roof, and it was sided with crappy particle-board material, instead of metal or vinyl. I believe that it might have even pre dated the HUD Code. Nevertheless, it was well-kept. Wenda had built an enclosed porch addition onto the front door where she and her husband liked to sit, drink lemonade, and chat with passers-by in the summer. The home was painted yellow with blue trim, and the yard was always kept neat. Wenda supported herself and her husband by running a landscaping business. Her gardening and landscaping skills were also put to use around her home. The lawn was always well-manicured, and there were plenty of flower beds in the yard, and flower boxes on the porch. She had lived in the park for at least twenty years, and I was told that she had never missed a lot rent payment.
Wenda’s son also lived in the park. I assumed that she had had him with a man other than her current husband, because he had a different last name.
Wenda’s husband was a prick. When he saw me in the park, he would corner me and speak at great length in earnest, man-to-man logorrhea about business. Dee Dee and Stan both told me that he abused Wenda verbally. I did not hear of or see any evidence of physical abuse, but I suspect that that was because the husband was too lazy and slow-moving to get off the couch to slap her around. Kiss up, shit down, abuse wife. I did not like him.
Wenda had had medical problems for a while. She had diabetes, and had not always gotten the best medical care. She had had a stent inserted into a blood vessel in her neck to clear some gunk out of her arteries, and she had had a toe amputated. The stent gave her a big scar on the side of her neck that you could not help but stare at when you spoke with her. Jee-sus. I’d hate to see that thing when it got angry. She was only a few years older than me, but she looked skeletal, pale, and badly wounded. None of the medical procedures stopped her from working. Then, she called me.
-John? Sorry to bother you. It’s Wenda.
-Ah’m callin from the ICU.
-What??? What’s going on?
-They’re goin to cut off mah foot.
-Holy crap –
-Ah know you never make exceptions, John, but ah maht be a little late with lot rent this month.
-Oh, Jesus Wenda. Of course I will work with you. This is an exceptional case.
Wenda started to cry.
-Bless you, John. Ah have never been late before.
-Don’t worry about it. Call me when you get home.
-Ah have never taken charity –
-It’s not charity. I will work with you. I wish all tenants were like you.
-How is that family of yours?
Later, I asked Dee Dee, “Why the FUCK didn’t Wenda’s piece-of-shit husband make that call?” Dee Dee rolled her eyes and said, “Uh – huh”.
Away from the park, I go to visit an old friend, from my days teaching school in Brooklyn, shortly after college. She is a French woman, maybe twelve years older than I. When she was younger, she was not classically beautiful, but she was desirable. I mean, sit-next-to-her-in-a-café-and-try-to-make-eye-contact-and-speak-clearly-and-not-jerk-off-inside-your-pants desirable. All the men in the school wanted her. The headmaster wanted her. I wanted her. An older, married History teacher wanted her. G-d knows what the seventeen year old boys thought about her.
She turned out to be a lesbian. Her wife teaches at the same school. We have stayed in touch. Now, she has colon cancer.
When I show up at her apartment, she apologizes for her short hair. The chemo had made everything fall out. It has started to grow back, now that she is on new meds – but will fall back out again, shortly. “It makes you look like Audrey Hepburn.” “That is a compliment.” “Well, yeah.” She looks old, and frail, but I can see the younger, desirable woman still inside the old lady. The big eyes, the slightly too-big, Gallic nose, the weak chin, the full lips, the way she inhales to emphasize a point. Maybe the same thing is inside every old woman – you just need to have known them back in the day to see it.
Wenda looks wracked and horrific, but she reproduced at least once. Somebody, somewhere, sometime, found her desirable at least once. Maybe that quality is still in there, hidden from me.
We sit at the friend’s home, eat lunch and walk in the park, and then I go home. I tell her about the kids. She tells me about the disease. “No doctor will operate on me any more. The tumor cells are too robust. I had black tissue falling out of my navel. That was from the radiotherapy.” “Radiation therapy?” “Yes. They can focus the radiation at a point inside your body.” I try not to think of black matter falling out of her belly button. I can think of other people’s bodies as medical case studies, but, please G-d – not hers. Would she like a final shag – one last fuck before she dies? We are alone in her apartment, after all. Dude – knock it off. She is old, she is frail, and she doesn’t even like men. Her last course of chemo was ten days ago, so she is pretty strong. She walks me to the subway. We hug, and make plans for everyone to get together later. As I walk down the steps, I see that she has stayed at the entrance to the subway. She is looking at me as I descend, and she is crying.
Wenda went back to work for a while after her amputation, mowing lawns and digging flower beds on her artificial foot. After a year or two, things caught up with her. I do not know exactly what happened – it was not cancer or an infectious disease. I think that it was complications from diabetes, and long-term stress on her system. At a certain point, Dee Dee told me that the doctors had sent her to a hospice up by the Lake, and given her six months to live. When I heard this, I dreaded calling her, but my awkwardness seemed to be the least of anyone’s worries under the circumstances. If she thought she was going to die when we spoke, she did not let on:
-Wenda? This is John. How are you doing?
-Bless you, John. Ah’m not goin anywhere.
-Well, you know what GRITS stands for, don’t you?
-Girls Raised In The South.
-Hah, hah. Bless you, John. How is that family of yours?
-My son is going to college next year. My daughter is a handful.
-They are beautiful kids.
-My wife wants to mutilate me.
-Hah, hah – she’s a smart woman, that wife of yours!
-Stupid enough to marry me.
-Hah, hah, hah.
Wenda was in the hospice for about nine months. Each time I asked JB or Dee Dee how she was doing, they would say, “Still in the hospice”, or “About to die any day.” Her husband ran up big water bills during the winter. Dee Dee told me that this was because he spent most of his time at the hospice, and ran the water to prevent freeze-ups while he was there. That lazy fuck should install his heat tape and insulate the riser. We told him a million times.
Then I began to think of the logistics of installing a heat tape and insulating a riser:
How would he fit under the home?
How would they get him out? WD-40 and a team of oxen? Scrap the home out from over him?…
One day in April of the year after she left the park, I asked Dee Dee how Wenda was doing:
-Oh – she’s out of hospice!
-What?! Not in a box?
-Yeah – she’s doing well. They put her in an assisted living facility, but she will be coming back to the park any day. She needs to learn to use her new leg.
-Hah, hah. I went to visit her a few months ago, and couldn’t find her. She was in the kitchen, making pigs-in-a-blanket for the other patients.
-She says that it was like a resort. She had a room to herself, overlooking the Lake. It was the best place she ever lived!
-She should get terminally ill more often.
-She was helping Joe Batsakis dig his flower bed the other day. On her artificial leg.
-While her husband was on the couch, eating pork rinds?
-Likely. He’s a putz.
With luck, Wenda will bury all of us. With a lot of luck, she will bury her husband soon.
About the Author:
John Kaufmann is a recovering lawyer and mobile home park owner who lives in southern New York State. His writing has been published in Analecta, Tax Notes, The Journal of the Taxation of Financial Products, and The Journal of Taxation of Investments.