The Red Pony
Ruth Z. Deming
Pretty quickly, I filled up the plate with the vegetables I needed for my tomato soup. The first I’d ever made. The tomatoes themselves, pear-shaped romas from our garden, were simmering in the slow-cooker.
Gently I placed tiny crescents of celery, hefty slices of purple onion, baby bella mushrooms that Jack the Produce Man had taken down from the high shelf for me, plus half the Saint John’s Wort Tea I was sipping on and some organic vegetable broth into the shiny porcelain pot. I’d bought the pot for eight dollars at a nearby thrift shop that went out of business three months after it opened.
The smell was heavenly.
I sprinkled in some minced garlic that came in a glass jar. Scott had opened it for me, spilling some on the floor and on his fingers.
”Great,” he said, “I’ll smell like garlic when I go to work.”
“They’ll think your girlfriend is a vampire and you need to protect yourself from me.”
We kissed goodbye and he left for work.
Now that he was gone, I pressed the button on my Sony boom box. A conversational voice came on. It was the last chapter of the audio book “The Red Pony” by John Steinbeck.
Finally an audio book that I was engrossed in. I’d tried at least a dozen that I couldn’t stand, including famous best sellers from Nicholas Sparks, Jonathan Franzon (so sorry), and the inconsistent Anne Tyler, still telling tales from Baltimore. Scott and I had loved the seafood restaurants in the bay. Who knows? Perhaps Ms. Tyler herself, whose psychiatrist husband died a decade ago, was at the next table.
I could never go wrong with John Steinbeck and his descriptions of the California landscape. “The Red Pony” featured a mean father, who just plain liked being mean, and young Jody, who copied his dad’s behavior after his beloved red pony, often regaled in a colorful Moroccan saddle, died a dreadful death from pneumonia. It was not supposed to happen.
Neither was my bipolar disorder.
When I was young and slender, the divorced mother of two young children, an odd thing happened to me. I tried to kill my mother. Not an earnest attempt, I’m glad to say, but I pushed her down on the cold February ground. A cop car was summoned and I was driven in the back seat to the state mental hospital.
There I stayed for the three worst days of my life. My young kids, Sarah and Dan, stayed with my sister Donna, who came to pick me up like a rescue helicopter in some foreign war.
My brain, which I described to someone at a nursing home looks like a bunch of intertwined snakes
, now had a mind of its own. The medicine I was put on – lithium and Haldol – robbed me of my ability to think, to contemplate, to
remember what had happened the day before. Back home in my apartment with the forest-green carpet, my glass coffee table was spread with several books I’d been reading before the debacle.
At night when the kids were in bed, I picked up an Anton Chekhov book of short stories. I had successfully read “Lady with a Lapdog,” but when it came time to continue with Dr. Chekhov’s stories, I could not understand a single word.
I was as crushed as the time when my cat Fluffers ran away back in Cleveland. Reading was paramount to my life.
Five long years went by. My children were doing well. One day, I walked into the Upper Moreland Library, a place I had forsaken, since it filled with me with, well, unrequited love. I wandered into the stacks, my head buzzing with excitement. Scanning the shelves, whose titles were like old friends, I put my hand on a slim volume by John Steinbeck.
“Cannery Row” it was called. Carefully I lifted it off the shelf and brought it to a comfortable chair.
With ease, I read the opening paragraph.
Lee Chong’s grocery, while not a model of neatness, was a miracle of supply. It was small and crowded, but within its single room, a man could find everything he needed or wanted to live and be happy.
The spell was broken. The roaring dragon spewing fire and smoke had left town. And I was free! In my early forties now, I ended each day by reading on the couch until midnight or beyond. From “Cannery Row,” I progressed to “The Pearl,” “Of Mice and Men,” “In Dubious Battle” and others.
“You are not,” I said to myself as I entered the library another day, “you’re not going to read ‘The Grapes of Wrath.’” Too sad to read about Tom Joad (Henry Fonda) and Maw and the many folks who left the Dustbowl with nothing but their rickety furniture and a misplaced faith.
I wished the 800-page book would go on another 800 pages.
And now I was reading “Bound for Glory,” the autobiography of the late Woodie Guthrie. I checked his record albums out of the library. If they couldn’t get something, they would kindly order it for you.
The library and I were best friends again, never to part.
As I make a cucumber salad tonight – the trick to picking them is to do so when they’re still small and sweet – I listen to my newest audio book.
She’s good, this Ruth Ware, author of “The Woman in Cabin 10.”
I sit myself down at the blond kitchen table, a hand-me-down from my daughter-in-law, and place a pink linen napkin in my lap. Then, while the narrator explains in her expressive voice – she is quite good with dialog – I slice open a ripe watermelon. My slurps overpower the narrator’s voice. I turn off the Sony and concentrate on the food, digging up the red ripe meat with a fork made in China.
Might I say that like Lee Chong’s grocery store, my kitchen, hardly a model of neatness, and small and crowded, contains everything a woman could possibly find to live and be happy.