Interstate 10 crossed Lake Pontchartrain with a 23 mile long bridge. We reached the bridge at nearly 6 pm and decided to not go all the way to Texas. We drove as far as Baton Rouge and stayed at a small interstate motel mostly because of its onsite restaurant and the sign which said it was pet friendly.
Again, we got two rooms and I went inside to get cleaned up for dinner. After my shower, I called Matthew.
“It’s the Anne Archer,” he said.
“No. Not the Anne Archer. An Anne Archer,” I replied.
“Well, An Anne Archer, you haven’t killed Chris yet. He called me a few minutes ago, mostly to complain about having to spend time in the car with you. He did not find a sympathetic ear, here. I yelled at him about cheating on you, and yelled at him about smoking. He whined and said everyone was beating him up all the time. I told him to behave himself and that would stop.”
“Well, then you know how this trip is going. He’s about as much fun as root canal.”
“Has it been very awful for you?”
“No. I actually got him to admit he should have been at the wake. We have Lillian’s ashes with us and he talked to her a couple of times.”
“Probably more than he did when she was alive.”
“I daresay. Now, how is Barbara faring?”
“Not much change from day to day. But overall, we see improvement from week to week. She sends her love. I know because she just blew me a kiss.”
“I love her, too. Check in with Lily from time to time. My sister’s three boys are hellions and I want to make sure they don’t tie her to a tree or lock her in the tool shed.”
“Righteo.” He disconnected the call.
I stared at the framed generic landscape that hung on the wall in my room for what seemed to be hours, though only minutes passed. My mind raced with all that happened in the past couple of weeks. Mostly, I wondered how I could survive a month on the road with Chris. Things between us grew worse and not better. He sulked all the way through Alabama and Mississippi and Louisiana. Dark and brooding, but he didn’t tell me why. Admittedly, I didn’t ask.
A glance at my watch told me it was nearly 9:00 pm. I decided that I would wander to the restaurant. If I couldn’t get anything to bring back to the room, a call to room service was the next best thing.
Chris sat in the bar with a nearly empty glass of amber liquid in front of him. I watched him for a moment and he said to me, “Are you going to join me?”
He slurred his words. Obviously, the drink in front of him was number three or number four.
“I didn’t come down here to drink. I want some food.”
“Suit yourself,” the disinterested voice said.
“I’m leaving at 8:00 am sharp, with or without you.”
“Bitch.” Like I said. Dark and brooding.
I walked into the restaurant and asked the hostess if I could get something to take back to my room. She shook her head sadly and then suggested I call room service.
I thanked her and returned to my room. The braised chicken breast I ordered arrived a few minutes later and I ate while watching a nameless movie on the hotel TV.
I emailed Lily, not wanting to call in case she was already in bed, and I told her that Snow was having a great time. I asked about Carolyn’s boys and then shut the lid on my laptop.
My younger sister, by seven years, had three boys, each named after the city they were born in. Austin was born in Austin, Texas, Jackson in Jackson, Mississippi and Ham which is short for Hampton, in Hampton, Virginia. They continued the tradition started by Louis’s mother who named her only son after St. Louis, Missouri. Carolyn and Louis were exceedingly happy. They didn’t own a pot or a window and they seemed much happier for it.
Another of Lillian’s favorite sayings: They didn’t have a pot to pee in or a window to throw it out of, referring to a poor person.
I have a younger brother, too. Ian married Stephanie and they had two boys named Drum and Banjoe. My family wins the prize for weird children names. Stephanie named the two kids after her favorite instruments. Granted, she played the banjo exceptionally well and played the drums a little, but that seemed no reason to ruin her boys with those strange names. I didn’t like much that Stephanie did and spent little time thinking about her.
Even my own two children won the Strange Name Award. Lily was named after grandmothers Lilith and Lillian. Her middle name is Anne, named after me, of course. Our son was Christian Matthew Archer the Third. Lily started calling him Triple when she saw his name written the first time with the Roman numeral for three at the end. By the time he was two, his name was shortened to Trip.
Trip, my only son. The only son I would ever have because a tubal ligation made sure no additional Archers entered the world.
Trip was eight when he died, nearly two years ago. Trip’s hair was blonde like mine and curly like Chris’s. His eyes blue and his face cherubic. Trip smiled continually, was always well behaved and happy. He listened, obeyed, ate all his veggies. I know my memory is distorted by his death, but I can never think of any time he cried or did something he wasn’t supposed to do.
We hosted a Fourth of July party at our house with Lillian, and a few friends. The children played in the pool and the adults sat in our outdoor living room to talk, eat, drink and have a good time. No one watched the kids closely. Trip dove into the pool, head first, at the shallow end. His head hit the bottom and his neck snapped like a twig. I winced when I remember his lifeless body floating to the surface. The world went totally silent in the next few moments. Then, I heard someone screaming. Lillian told me later, it was me who screamed. I don’t remember doing it.
Again, I fell asleep with Snow at my side and HBO playing endless movies and tears staining my face.
I woke at 6:00 am and ordered room service for my breakfast. Snow ate her Blue and drank water. She frolicked by the door, eager to go outside.
I dressed, walked her, and returned to the room to get ready to leave. I called Chris’s room and he answered with a groan. “Are you ready to go?” I asked.
“No. I’m still in bed.”
“I was in the bar until around two. I need to sleep.”
I hung up on him. Well, if Chris was going to sleep all day, then Snow and I could explore Baton Rouge. I let her sit in the front seat and she was happy with that arrangement. We drove up and down streets in the downtown section looking at buildings and then headed out of town to see what the suburbs looked like. I almost missed the sign for the Magnolia Mound Plantation and impulsively decided to take a look.
At the entrance, I asked the lady if I could bring Snow on the property and she said yes because it was a slow day. I paid two admissions, one for me and one for Snow, and then we two went in search of plantation’s wonders. We saw the original house, slave quarters and overseer’s houses. We had the tour guide to ourselves and he was very informed about the history of the place. The old man flirted with me and petted Snow. If I were a few years older, I thought wistfully.
After three hours of wandering the grounds, Snow and I got back into the car and I drove to a burger place to buy two burgers. I shared one with Snow. I turned on the GPS to guide us back to the hotel, where Chris, presumably, still slept it off.
I was wrong. Back at the hotel, Chris fumed.
“Where the hell have you been?” he demanded.
“Snow and I played tourist while you nursed a hangover.”
“Whatever. I am ready to go. Now. Why didn’t you answer your phone?”
“It’s in my purse and turned off. Maybe, I didn’t want to talk to you.” I got out of the car and handed Snow’s leash to Chris. “Walk her while I grab my stuff.” I packed up before I went sightseeing, so transferring the items to the car was the work of a moment.
Chris returned to the car with Snow while I loaded my things into the back. He went back into his room to get his suitcase and I, once again, climbed into the driver’s seat.
“Hey, it’s my turn to drive.”
“Nope. If you snooze, you lose,” I said. “I was ready to go five hours ago.”
“We are not under any kind of time frame,” he said as he opened the passenger side door.
“I thought you were the one who wanted to get this over with as soon as possible.”
“There is no need to drive twelve hours every day,” Chris said.
“Hey Lillian, did you hear that? Chris wants to lengthen our trip by not driving twelve hours each day,” I said.
“I didn’t say that, Mom. You hear what she does? She twists everything I say.”
“Lillian, you heard for yourself. I didn’t twist anything. Your son is an ass.”
“You can’t say ass in front of Lillian.”
“What’s she going to do? Wash my mouth out with soap?”
“Look, Anne, I don’t want to argue. My head is killing me.”
“Lillian, Chris has a hangover. Drink some water,” I told him.
“Yeah, that’s right, Mom. I drank too much last night. It’s the only way I can get along with her.”
“Lillian wants to know if you are going to get drunk every night?”
“So what if I do? She going to send me to my room with no dessert? Mom, I am smoking like a chimney and drinking like a fish.”
“Captain Cliche certainly is,” I told Lillian.
“I can’t do anything right, can I? He demanded.
“Not lately,” I said and he fell into a sulk, again. What a baby he is.
I didn’t say a word when I pulled onto the shoulder next to the Welcome to Texas sign. He got out of the car and Snow jumped over the seat and followed him out. We took the selfie while Snow munched on some grass. Maybe our fighting was upsetting her stomach. I know it upset mine. I emailed the selfie to Mr. Cartwright, but not to Lily. I didn’t have the heart to email the picture of with Snow in the background harking up the grass she just ate