UNCLE JUDGE
by Ruth Deming

What a family we have. Bigger than most. On Sundays, we’d hop into our Mercury Station Wagon – Dad got it for a bargain – so it was pink. It was long and low and we traveled the country in it. Back then, people didn’t worry much about gas mileage. The Rothman Family – that’s us – traveled to the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The kids jumped around in the back on a mattress with a plaid sheet on top.

We’d sleep whenever we felt like it.

No matter how old I am, I’d always get a crush on someone driving behind us or next to us. You hush your mouth.

At the wheel, Dad smoked incessantly. As a young man, he smoked Lucky Strikes. Unfiltered. One day he could not stop coughing so his doctor told him to switch to filtered Kents.

Dad had terrible taste in music, Lawrence Welk-type music. So I’m in the back coughing and getting a headache from those awful melodies.

The views as we climbed upward were nothing short of spectacular. Trees after trees. They looked like tiny bundles of broccoli. “Live on, you beautiful trees,” I whispered out the window, making a little condensation mark, like on a glass of lemonade or apple cider.

Our parents had given us a love of nature. Every Fourth of July, we’d visit Crimson State Park, alive with tiny animals who wouldn’t harm you: toads, that clung onto roots of trees; tiny streams that you could walk through with your sneakers on, and crows, who made a huge racket.

Crows are the smartest of all birds. They remember who you are and teach their children about you, if you’re good or bad. Seriously! I did a lot of reading at the Cleveland Heights Public Library. Daddy said I had “a thirst for knowledge.”

Our family was filled with smart people. Donny Israel was a physicist. He and his wife Elizabeth worked at the State University of Long Island. What a waste they didn’t have children! Donny grew orchids in their basement. Daddy and I visited and he took “home movies” of them. Then his wife got something wrong with her brain and couldn’t think right. I refuse to write down its name.

My brother Lenny had Asperger’s disease. Boy was he smart! His specialty was comic books. Do you know how much those books were worth? Nothing. Everyone thought, Give them a few years and the Rothmans will make a fortune. Not to be. Lenny just stayed in his bedroom vegetating.

Mother, with her bright red lipstick and dyed brown shoulder-length hair, would unlock his bedroom door and bring him nourishing food. He refused to eat it and got thinner and thinner until he was simply skin and bones. Oh, those big bones poking from his shoulders, like those emaciated Nazi victims. One day Mom walked in and her boy was dead.

We had a famous judge in our family. Oscar Rothman. What a personality he had. He moved in with us in the last years of his life. 

He was a riot. He would sit on the piano bench backwards – and play simple tunes like Twinkle Twinkle Little Star – but he pronounced it “Tinkle Tinkle” and pretended he was, well, tinkling.

We asked him if he believed in “capital punishment.”

“Of course,” he roared. “How would you like if that murderer and rapist came up to you, broke down your front door, and had his way with you?”

Over time, Uncle Judge starting behaving oddly.

He couldn’t remember things.

He would go into the refrigerator, pour mayonnaise in his hand, and lick it off.

Or he’d go into the cupboards and take out a can of salmon, and then ask Mommy to open it for him. He had forgotten all about can openers.

On our street in Cleveland Heights, he would pace day and night. We had made a bracelet for him that said his name – Judge Oscar Rothman – so we believed he was safe.

Once in the middle of the night, Uncle Oscar was out pacing when a huge black and white dog, a Dalmatian, like in the movie A Thousand and One Dalmatians, ran up to Uncle Judge as if he were a favorite cousin coming home, and knocked him down onto the ground.

Uncle Judge lay on the sidewalk with his head bloodied.

I am sniffling now.

Yes, that was the end of Uncle Judge.

As you may gather, years and years have passed by. By the grace of God or whomever is in charge around here, I am still alive.

You might here me practicing piano out the window. I play loudly so people can hear my Papa Haydn, my Mozart sonatas, the Bach family, and little tunes I have invented myself like “Here Comes the Rhinoceros” and “Hey, Hey, the Witch is Dead.”

Marriage is not my thing, though I am in love with several people on my street, Westchester Road. Marvin Wachsman, Judy Ginsberg, Mary Truby and Mrs. Polster.

I will have a party in about a month. My favorite drink will be there: Coca-Cola in tall shapely glass bottles, and my favorite snacks: Pringles potato chips and tongue sandwiches from the local delicatessen.

If at all possible, I’ll try and get someone in bed with me. It’s been quite a while. Mary Truby, I’ll admit, was repulsed, but Marvin Wachsman was delighted.

“I never knew anyone,” he remarked, “who painted their toenails blue and their fingernails a matching blue.”

Still, I prefer living alone, and reading my cache of books at night, as the stars and constellations twinkle outside.  

About the Author:

 Ruth Z. Deming is a poet and short story writer who lives in Willow Grove, PA, a suburb of Philadelphia. Her works have been published in Mad Swirl, Literary Yard, ShortStory,net and other writing venues. She runs New Directions, a support group for people with depression, bipolar  disorder and their loved ones. “Yes I Can: My Bipolar Journey” details her triumph over bipolar disorder. A mental health advocate, she educates the public about this treatable illness.      

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