Cedars of Lebanon

Mary Miller

They had just been to IHOP, where they’d sat in the middle of the room at a two-top a couple of inches from a four-top, a man and a woman. The woman kept saying the man’s name over and over again, viciously. It was a good name for hurling. They had gone in happy.

Now they were in her apartment and she was wondering how she would feel if she told him to never come back.  

“I want you to say you’ll take care of me,” she said.

“Well I need someone to take care of me, too,” he said.

He squeezed the different parts of her, saying, “These are mine, and this is mine, and this.” He just loved her too much, he explained. She got up to make tea. He wanted her to help him clean out his camper so they could take it to Cedars of Lebanon. The camper was his most recent purchase, a little shit-can that said KNOCK THREE TIME HERE in sticker letters by the door. It looked like a child had put them on.

“Follow me to my house,” he said, “and I’ll put gas in your car.” His house was in Shelbyville, home of the Tennessee Walking Horse. It was a terrible town, full of friendly church-going people where she had been stopped twice for speeding. She packed some clothes into a bag and locked the door to her apartment, followed him down the steps and then to an out-of-the-way gas station where he had a card that entitled him to a ten-cent discount.

At his house, she changed clothes and went out to the camper, which he had bought as-is for three hundred dollars, the amount of money the woman who was living in it owed in rent. The air-conditioning unit alone was worth that, he’d said.

She stepped in and then stepped right back out.  

“I can’t believe someone actually lived here. She must have been on drugs. She must have been bad on drugs.” She recognized bad on drugs as a phrase of her father’s. 

He brought her a bucket of cleaning supplies: paper towels, a broom, trash bags, and a pair of gloves, and she started cleaning. She gagged and had to step outside every few minutes to get air. She wondered what she was doing, cleaning up foreign shit and piss for him. She hated doing the things he wanted her to do and he hated doing the things she wanted him to do. Because of this, they pushed each other harder. 

She had even started cooking bacon, the grease popping and burning her arms.

He hauled the mattress out and beat it with the broom while she sat on the low brick wall, drinking a glass of Kool-Aid. He declared it still good. She thought about going to Cedars of Lebanon with him and having sex on that mattress, the trashy little camper rocking. Then she thought of the piece of her cervix the doctor had removed, how he had been at work that day and couldn’t go with her. 

“Will you take me to the drive-in tonight?” she asked.

“Okay,” he said.

“Can we pick up a pizza?” she asked.

“Okay,” he said, smacking the mattress again.

She always fell asleep before the double feature began, which irritated him, but falling asleep on his chest on the wide leather seats of his old car made her feel happy and safe. She liked everything about the drive-in: the stuffed bear by the door of the snack shop, the popcorn machines and rotating hotdogs, the people in their cars doing things just so they could feel like they were getting away with something. She even liked walking half-asleep through the gravel to use the bathroom.

“I want to have it ready by next weekend,” he said, opening the rest of the windows, which pushed out like the windows in old schoolhouses. She opened the door to the tiny bathroom, feeling enormous, sprayed bleach on the walls, the sink, the toilet.

He went through the cabinets to see what the woman had left behind—a can of artichoke hearts, a cracked bar of soap, an empty carton of cigarettes—lined them up on the counter where she had probably made her sandwiches. Then he opened the little refrigerator and removed an empty bottle of vodka and a jar of pickles. She threw the stuff in a garbage bag and went back to the bathroom and sprayed more bleach. She thought about the drug addict shows she liked to watch on television, how they always had bad skin, how they had run out of veins for shooting. She was glad she wasn’t a drug addict.

After a few hours of this, she said she was finished and went inside and got in the shower. He got in with her and they soaped each other up and washed each other’s hair. He was the only man she’d ever been with who liked to shower with her, who didn’t think taking turns under the water was too much trouble.

When they were clean and dressed, their wet hair brushed back, she opened a beer and drank it while sitting in the middle of his king-sized bed, while he played Johnny Cash’s “Highwayman” on the piano. It was her favorite song and she made him play it constantly—she could listen to it over and over, imagining herself a sailor and a dam builder and a single drop of rain, listening to his voice strain with feeling.