When Ruby met Henry, he had money saved in one hand and the keys to a brand new Chevy Impala in the other. A lot of money. A lot of car. He had worked the railroads since he was 13 and had saved most of it. When he and Ruby married, he started working in a restaurant. Then opened his own little café.
Cooking was his life. It was also his death. The type of metals used in pots in those days had a corrosive effect on Henry’s brain. Over time. Binswanger’s Disease, named after Leonard Binswanger. Why would someone take so much pride in discovering a disease that they’d name it after them.
Binswanger’s gradually dissolved the seal around one’s brain. And with no protective coating, anything could happen. Anything did to Henry. For two years. And then he died.
And with him, a large part of Cleveland died. He tried to get over it. He tried to hide it. He was unsuccessful in both attempts. Time would prove the final arbiter. But, getting through the time was a type of hell for Cleveland that no one could ever guess the depth of.
He tries to shake it off by teasing Ruby.
“Now, we can have the funeral,” says Cleveland. “Folks sa been asking.”
Amelia’s surprised. “No one’s planned the funeral yet?”
“Mom won’t talk about it?” explains Cleveland.
Amelia jumps to an assumption. Death is always hard for those closest. Well, at least the funeral was something Amelia could handle. In fact, she felt glad to be able to offer her services in some way.
“I’ll take care of the arrangements, Mom. Just pick a day,” says Amelia.
“A day, a day mom?” teases Cleveland. “Hey sis, cool hair?”
Cleveland leaves before Ruby answers. A sure sign that Ruby’s response was not going to please Amelia. His footsteps fade up the stairs.
Ruby’s tone was light. Not something Amelia was used to. Ruby and light? An inherent contradiction that immediately made Amelia suspect.
“Your father ain’t been dead that long.” Strange how the way she said it came out sounding just the opposite. As if Henry had been dead in her mind, in her heart, so to speak, for longer than forever.
“Yeah, but I thought it had to be taken care of fairly soon…” says Amelia, “Before the body, you know…”
Ruby puts her jacket on. Seems more absorbed by the process of buttoning than in the subject of her husband’s death.
“What?” asks Ruby, “Wanders off and gets lost?”
Amelia just looks at her. Not understanding her mom’s casual attitude towards the death of her husband.
“He used to do that when he was alive,” continues Ruby, barely hiding her contempt, “the last few years before he went to the hospital. Wander off and get lost. And some kid would find him a block from him and bring him home.”
“The disease did that?” asks Amelia.
The water starts to boil. Ruby and Amelia bump into each other trying to turn it off. Even that accidental brush makes Ruby shy away. It made Amelia wonder how Ruby ever let Henry get close enough to her to have children. Not a thought she wanted to dwell on long.
Amelia takes down a cup from the cupboard. Ruby switches it for an older, bulkier one.
“This way, you don’t waste the teabag,” explains Ruby, as if she wasn’t explaining it for the millionth time to someone who could care less.