Josh parked behind the liquor store as he always did when he had lived in his Hollywood apartment. He took a bag full of groceries out of the back seat and walked down the alley to Hollywood Boulevard. Unexpectedly, waves of dark memories washed over him. He shook them off and kept walking. Those bad old days were long gone. Thanks to AA and Rosemaria, life was no longer filled with the demons that had once threatened to devour him. He had faced them all. Regularly sharing in AA what had happened when he was a young man in Wisconsin had dissipated his guilt and his regrets. He had discovered that life needn’t be a painful journey soaked in booze to make his daily existence bearable.
His next step would be initiating a relationship with his mother, who was still in Wisconsin. It was something he had resisted. His resentment of her was too strong. Her part in her younger son’s murder by her abusive husband made it difficult for Josh to forgive her. Her weakness and cowardice gave her husband the opportunity to shoot Scott, forcing Josh to kill his father. He blamed his mother for not taking her sons away from the nightmare they had lived in. She forced her mentally handicapped son to endure years of emotional and physical abuse even after Josh thought he was safely away, living in a home with other kids like him. But Josh hadn’t counted on his father bringing Scott home for a final deadly confrontation while his mother huddled on the ground in fear. He had reviled her for that his entire life.
Maybe that’s what made him admire Rosemaria so much. Her feisty nature caused her to stand up to anybody anywhere and protect the ones she loved, even at the risk of her own life.
That’s how a mother should be toward her children. But that was not who his mother was, and her youngest son had died because of it. Everyone had agreed that the shooting was justified, but Josh got an honorable discharge from the army and was scarred for the rest of his life. Through AA, he was dealing with his part in the horror, and the heavy load of Scott’s death had almost lifted. He just needed to find a way to forgive his mother and accept her for who and what she was.
He saw Martha walking ahead of him on Hollywood Boulevard. She headed up Cherokee. Josh had turned his apartment over to the homeless woman when he moved in with Rosemaria. He still paid the rent but had obtained permission from the absentee landlord to “sublet” to Martha. The landlord didn’t care who lived there as long as he got his money. When Josh first met Martha, he had no idea where she found shelter during the night. She was very secretive. Martha did not like being around most people. Jack Daniels was her best friend. Back then, she had bathed when she could sneak into a Starbucks restroom, and her clothes hung on her body in dirty tatters. For some reason, Martha had allowed Josh to befriend her. Begging on the street was a necessary evil to her. She had to do it to survive and to keep up her supply of Jack Daniels. Josh discerned her feelings about charity in a short time and had talked her into coming up to his apartment to take care of his plants. She was happy to accept a “salary” for doing that and was proud that his plants thrived under her care.
As Josh watched Martha walk ahead of him in her determined strides, it was gratifying to see how her appearance had changed since the first time he noticed her five years ago. Her hair was still gray and thinning but was clean and nicely combed. She was wearing the flowered dress and short brown jacket that Rosemaria had bought for her at the thrift store, where Martha loved to browse until a salesperson would hustle her out. The sneakers that Josh had given her two months ago were scuffed and dirty, but she wore them every day because they were her favorite. She was willing to accept money and gifts from Josh and Rosemaria because Josh had made it clear to her that they needed her to stay in the apartment in case he ever wanted to move back in. The music business was undependable, he told her. You never knew what might happen. Until that time came, Martha was doing him a huge favor by staying there. On some level, Martha probably understood what he was really doing, but it assuaged her pride to be useful, so she tucked the truth somewhere in the back of her brain.
He caught up with her inside the entrance of the building. She was holding something level inside a shopping bag. She saw him and happily exclaimed, “Look what I found in the dumpster behind Dexter’s Pizza! It’s not even burned! I have to hold it like this, or all the cheese will slide to the bottom!”
Josh joined in her celebration. “That’s wonderful, Martha. Not even burned. The customers must not have been happy with what they ordered.”
“Yeah, and now I can heat it up and have a whole pizza for myself.”
They stood waiting at the elevator that had been on the blink the entire time Josh lived there but mysteriously was now working. That was a good thing, since Martha always had a hard time walking up even one flight of stairs. The elevator door slid open, and Josh ushered Martha inside.
“I bought some groceries for you too. Everything you like.”
“But nothing’s as good as hot pizza!”
They arrived at the second floor and got out.
They walked down the hall to the apartment, and she opened the door without unlocking it.
He gently scolded her as he followed her inside. “I’ve told you to be sure and lock the door, Martha. You don’t want anyone to come in here and steal from you.”
She looked chastised. “I’m sorry. I’ll do better.”
“I’m not mad, Martha. I’m just reminding you for your own good.” Josh carried the grocery bag into the kitchen and started putting the groceries away.
She carefully took the pizza out of the bag and turned on the oven. “Look, Josh, I’m using the cookie sheet you bought me.” She took it out of a bottom cupboard and showed it to him proudly. “Still looks like new, huh? I’m taking good care of it.” She opened the pizza box and slid the pizza onto the cookie sheet and into the oven. “It’ll be ready soon. Want some?”
“No, thanks. I ate before I got here. I didn’t know you were going to offer me dinner.”
“Next time then?”
“For sure. Next time.”
He sat on the lumpy couch, where he had sat many times writing his songs and working on his musical. He would buy her a new one as soon as she would allow it. He looked around and saw his plants were still as healthy as ever.
“You’re doing a great job with the plants, Martha.”
“Yes, I do have a green thumb, don’t I?” She took off her jacket and hung it in the living room closet. “Want to share a little Jack with me then?”
“I don’t drink anymore, Martha. I’m in AA.”
She looked downcast. “Oh, that’s too bad. I’m sorry.”
“AA is a good thing. I’ve told you I’ll take you with me some time.”
The very thought horrified her. “Oh, no, I couldn’t do that. I don’t want all those people looking at me.”
“That’s fine. No worries. But if you ever change your mind—”
“Pizza should be hot soon.” She went into the kitchen and opened the oven door. “Almost ready.” She came out with a glass and a bottle of Jack Daniels. She held up the bottle, which was half full. “See, I’m taking it easy. Not too much gone.”
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