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Marco Polo Mother & Son
Chapter One
Hope Got the Better of Me
[mom]

The older I got the unhappier I became with what I remembered. Why was this little something lodged in my mind while so many more important things vanished entirely or seemed no more than a dim outline against an opaque sky?

     Now I wonder whether I even have a mind for memories to appear in. No mind, no body, no time, but there is something like awareness. I’m aware that I’m here and not there. I’m aware that my son George is wandering through his memories trying to create something like a memorial for me.

     I’d like to help him, but he seems to enjoy doing it all by himself. Overdoing it, is more like it. He’s trying to write a requiem when a simple pop song would do the trick. More power to him! Whatever that old saying means.

     Dwelling on the meaning of words spirals me away from any sense of George or anyone else I ever knew.

So, I step lightly, mindful that remembering is like putting on a play or projecting a movie into a dark room.

There I am sitting at my kitchen table nibbling on a piece of toast, enjoying the hour or so of sunlight that shines through the dining room window in the morning. George is stirring in the spare bedroom. In a few minutes he’ll say hello on his way to the bathroom. Disheveled in his wrinkled mismatched pajamas with his thin hair sticking out at odd angles.

     George had arrived late the previous night, wearing old blue jeans and a baggy gray sweater with a ratty hood that drooped and clung to his body with no rhyme or reason. He said he left work as soon as he could, but some computer glitch kept him at the library late.

     I wonder how he gets away with looking like that at work. How come nobody tells him he’s too old to dress like a college student? On the other hand, what’s the big deal? Why should I care if my son never learned how to dress like an adult.

     By the time George gets out of the bathroom, I have already read the Fresno Bee front to back. Once again, I’m offended by the vapid stupidity they pass off as news. I shove the pile of paper toward the center of the table and greet George as he sits down with his coffee. He picks up a section without saying a word.

     Oh, my inscrutable son. You never know your children any better than they know you.

     For a long time, I regretted naming George after my dad. It just seemed to confuse things. When George was a kid, I couldn’t help but look for similarities. My dad who had been a big-hearted funny man who could make anyone laugh. My dad who taught me how to dance and how to ski and how to ride a horse. My dad who was an A1 dresser. And my George, well, my George was different from my dad in nearly every way.

     My dad’s side of the family was full of Georges. His name was George Edwin, and his dad was George Ernest, and he and my mom named me Georgiana. I’d bet there were dozens of Georges going back hundreds and hundreds of years. When I was young, I was determined not to add another George to the family. Then my dad died, and I got pregnant. And all those Georges from the past started whispering in my ear.

     I slide the heavy yellow chair back from the table and stand up. I feel the warm air from the heater pushed down by the ceiling fan. I take three steps to the edge of the counter and wince. The red toaster distracts me, and the faint outline where the wall-phone used to hang on the side of the cabinet next to the back door.

I inch my way past the plastic dish-rack and the stainless-steel sink and the basket full of medicines to the cabinet where I keep the glasses. Then I turn and open the refrigerator and pour myself some orange juice. I hate not being able to walk like a normal person. Well, what I hate is the pain in my back when I take more than a few steps. I feel handicapped or disabled or whatever the right word is these days.

     When I get back to the table, George is reading the newspaper with his chin resting on the palm of one hand, and his fingers pressed against his cheek. There is a complacent smirk on his face, as if he’s reading the paper just to confirm that reading the paper is a complete waste of his time.

     Fuck! He suddenly exclaims, sitting straight up in his chair. Sorry, Mom! He quickly adds, as if he needs to apologize to me for saying what we used to call a cuss word.

     Listen to this, George stammers:

     The house that William Saroyan, famed Armenian American writer, lived in from 1964 until he died in 1981 is in foreclosure and headed for auction.

     Can you believe it? George almost yells, full of frustration with the world.

     Of course, I can believe it.

     How can they treat one of the few truly great people to ever be born in Fresno like that?

     What do you expect, George?

     He looks at me like he is going to say something, but what can he say? Most people don’t give a shit. That’s a simple fact.

     George quickly glances down at the newspaper and back up at me. According to the article Saroyan’s house is on West Griffith. That’s close, right?

     Not far. I admit.

     Let’s go look at it. Come on. Finish your coffee, I’m getting dressed.

     Are you sure you want to do that? I’m trying to make it sound like getting up and hobbling my way to the carport and getting in George’s car and driving the couple of miles to Saroyan’s house is a big deal.

     When I stand up my head feels light, and I feel wobbly as a wheelbarrow full of bricks.

If we’re going, I grumble, I’m going to need a Percocet.

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