Mrs. Entwhistle Takes a Road Trip

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Chapter One

It’s Never Too Late

 

“I’m under the doctor for the high blood pressure, so I take these blue ones, and the little red ones are betty blockers – or something like that.” Jacinta O’Reilly furrowed her brow as she shook her day-by-day compartmentalized pill holder under Mrs. Entwhistle’s nose.

Jacinta was apt to get a little confused in her old age, although, as Mrs. Entwhistle put it, she’d never been the brightest headlight on the highway. Now Jacinta paused to think.

“The only Betty I can think of is Betty Jo Smith, who used to teach Sunday School. Do you remember her?”

Maxine opened her mouth to answer but closed it again after a fierce look and a hissed whisper from Mrs. Entwhistle: “Don’t go down that rabbit hole.”

They were sitting in the day room at the Shady Rest Assisted Living Center. Mrs. Entwhistle and her best friend, Maxine, visited the Shady Rest every Wednesday afternoon. They were as old as many of the residents, but had been blessed with strong constitutions and resulting good health.

“Visiting is the least we can do; we’re so lucky,” Mrs. Entwhistle always said. But both of them dreaded it.

“It’s the organ recitals that get to me,” Maxine said as she drove them in her Lincoln Navigator. “You’d think they’d be glad to take a mental break from all their health problems and think about something new.”

She always brought a book to read aloud, but seldom got through more than a page or two before someone, often Jacinta, was reminded of an ailment that needed discussing. In detail.

But despite their frustration Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine continued to visit, knowing how long the days were for the residents. Today Maxine had brought a book by Fannie Flagg that she just knew would be a hit. Instead, they were talking about Jacinta’s pills again. Betty blocker, indeed!

Never the most patient of people, Mrs. Entwhistle was tapping her foot. Maxine watched with apprehension as the tapping grew faster and faster.

“I think it’s time for us to go,” she said when she thought her friend had reached critical mass and was about to blow. “We’ll see y’all next week. Come on, Cora, you need to let Roger out.”

Roger was Mrs. Entwhistle’s aged Shih’Tzu and it was certainly true that he needed to go out more often than ever before in his long life. Mrs. Entwhistle frequently had to get up during the night and escort the old dog down the stairs and out the back door. She accompanied him on these midnight excursions because she’d seen coyotes in the woods behind her house and knew Roger would be a mere McNugget to those wild scavengers. She had perfect confidence that she, at age seventy-nine, could fend them off through sheer force of personality.

Mrs. Entwhistle was uncharacteristically quiet on the way home. Maxine darted glances over at her, knowing something was coming. And it did.

“Max, do you ever want to just get up and go?”

“What do you mean? Go where?”

“You know, just hit the road. Remember that movie, Thelma and Louise? Like that.”

“I hope not just like that! They drove off a cliff at the end.”

“True. True. I wouldn’t want to do that. But I think I would like to go somewhere, get away from my routine and experience something new.”

“What brought this on?”

“I guess it’s being with the Shady Rest folks,” Mrs. Entwhistle said slowly. “I’ve known all of them for years. They used to be interested in other people and what was going on in the world, but now all they can think about is their ailments and medications and doctor visits.”

“Well, when you don’t feel good, that does tend to occupy your mind, don’t you think?”

“Oh, sure, I get that. But it’s just sad. There’s more to this world than counting out your pills. I think I’d like to get out there and see some of it. One last time.”

Mrs. Entwhistle sounded wistful. She and Floyd had never been able to travel as they’d planned when he retired. In fact, except for the trip she and Maxine had taken to Hawaii courtesy of her Publishers Clearinghouse winnings, she hadn’t been much of anywhere.

“It’s not that I don’t love my home. I’m grateful for it,” she continued, “and I’m not talking about a big elaborate cruise or anything. I just wish I’d seen more of the U.S.A. when I was younger. Do you think it’s too late?”

“What exactly do you have in mind?” Maxine asked.

“Let’s just pack up the car and take off.”

“Do you have your heart set on a destination?”

“I’d like to see the Southwest,” Mrs. Entwhistle replied. “You know how I love the book, Lonesome Dove. I’ve read it four times. Well, I’d like to see that countryside. Tumbleweeds and pueblos and the like.”

Maxine’s face lit up. “I know! I have a niece in Santa Monica who’s going to have her first baby in about a month. Her mama has passed. You remember, my youngest sister, Lucille?”

Mrs. Entwhistle nodded. “Yes, that was sad. She was too young.”

They were quiet for a minute, reflecting on the vagaries of life and how fast things could change. Maxine’s sister had gotten up expecting a normal day and had a fatal heart attack. You just never knew.

“I’d love to stand in for Lucille, see the baby and maybe help out a bit if Lucy Junior needs it. I know Lucy will miss her mother so much when the baby comes.”

“Santa Monica is near Los Angeles,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. She pulled out her phone and conjured up a map with a certain smugness at being able to do so. Her phone had caused her many hours of frustration and confusion as she was learning to use it, but she felt confident in her skills now.

“You know what? We could take Route 66 all the way like they did on that television show. We’d see some scenery and the route is far enough south that we shouldn’t get into terrible weather if we left right away. What do you think?”

The more they talked about it, the more they liked the idea. “We could take my car,” Maxine said, “it’s big and comfortable.”

“The gas, though,” Mrs. Entwhistle said.

“Yes, but we’ll be splitting the cost,” Maxine said. She was sensitive about what it took to drive her behemoth of a car down the road. “And my car really isn’t all that inefficient. I only drive it on short hops, so of course, it guzzles gas. But on the road, I bet it would do fine.”

“Hmm. Okay. We certainly couldn’t take my car, it’s pretty well toast. If I didn’t have the scooter, I couldn’t get around at all.”

Mrs. Entwhistle had gotten herself a pink scooter as a result of her friendship with Dex Shofield, intern and co-conspirator at the newspaper where they’d both worked, the Pantograph. Dex cut a dashing figure on his motorcycle. When Mrs. Entwhistle’s old car finally died, he convinced her to try a milder version, a Pink Vespa, herself.  She loved it. She liked to say that she rode her scooter with gusto, and if gusto couldn’t come, she rode alone – a joke that never got old as far as she was concerned. She knew her contemporaries uttered dire prophecies about what would befall her for riding a scooter at her age, but that just made the experience sweeter.

“Oh!” Mrs. Entwhistle was struck by a thought. “What about my job? Jimmy Jack counts on me.”

Jimmy Jack McNamara was her editor and boss at the Pantograph where Mrs. Entwhistle worked as a reporter – the oldest reporter ever, she suspected. She’d had –let’s say creative differences with Jimmy Jack, but over time they’d developed a working relationship that both respected.

“I’m sure Jimmy Jack would let you have a vacation,” Maxine said. “You’ve been working there for over a year and have never taken time off.”

“Yes, but I don’t want just two weeks,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “I want an open-ended time to go wherever we want, and not be worried about getting back for work.”

“Well, you know what that means.”

“I’d have to quit?”

“I guess you would.”

“I need the paycheck, though.”

They thought for a while. Then Maxine said, “Do you suppose the Pantograph would want some travel articles?”

~*~

It turned out Jimmy Jack was amenable to the idea of travel articles. He’d come a long way since the days when all he wanted to do was put out the paper with as little effort as possible. Mrs. Entwhistle had been happy to revise her initial opinion that he was indolent, indecisive and ignorant. She felt a secret pride that she’d brought him along.

“It might be just the thing to broaden our horizons,” he said when Mrs. Entwhistle broached the idea to him. “Most folks around here go by car when they travel, so it would be of interest to our readers. Do you have a planned route and destination?”

“Well, we thought we’d head for California,” Mrs. Entwhistle said. “We’ve never been there, and Maxine has a niece in Santa Monica who’s going to have a baby. She’d like to see the young’un and maybe help her niece a little bit. We thought we’d take Route 66, like on that old television show.”

Jimmy Jack looked blank and Mrs. Entwhistle remembered he was too young to remember the program. “Never mind,” she said, “It was about two young men who set out in a Corvette to drive across the country on Route 66. Before your time.”

“Do you think it’s safe, though?” Jimmy Jack asked, worry creasing his brow. “I mean, the two of you aren’t as young as you used to be.”

Mrs. Entwhistle regarded him in frosty silence long enough to make sweat pop out along his hairline. “None of us are, for that matter,” she finally said. “I think Maxine and I are the best judges of what we can do.”

“Oh, of course you are, of course,” Jimmy Jack said, “I just meant…”

“I know what you meant.”

“Well, anyway, travel articles would be great, just great. If you feel up to it…” Another frosty stare. “I mean, of course, you’d feel up to it, you could take your laptop and just send me a story whenever you like.”

Mrs. Entwhistle took mercy on him and graciously agreed to file stories whenever the spirit moved her while she continued to get her regular paycheck. Satisfied with the outcome of their meeting, she hurried home to call Maxine and tell her their path was clear, at least that aspect of it.

Roger met her at the door, his filmy old eyes searching until they found her face. Then he attempted a happy shuffle, but it made him cough and he had to settle for wagging his tail.

“Oh, dear, Roger. What will I do about you?”

Time to Say Goodby

 

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Or at least “see you later.”  I’m going to take a hiatus from the weekly flash fiction stories I’ve been posting for a couple of years now. Creating over a hundred stories has left me muttering and stumbling like a zombie, and nobody wants to see that.

Besides, I’ve got a book to finish. The redoubtable Mrs. Entwhistle and her friend, Maxine, are taking a road trip on Route 66. You wouldn’t believe what’s been happening to them. Below is a sneak preview of this work in progress.

I’ll post more flash fiction when inspiration strikes. Meanwhile, I’ve gathered some of my stories in a book called Snapshots, available on Amazon.

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I’ll miss our Sunday morning get-togethers, but we’ll talk soon.

~*~

Mrs. Entwhistle Takes a Road Trip 

(Excerpt from Work in Progress)

(In Chapter Three, Mrs. Entwhistle and Maxine are driving on Route 66, having just visited the Catoosa Blue Whale in Tulsa. They’re heading for the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo when Mrs. E. experiences an urgent call of nature.)

“Max, I’ve got to have a pit stop,” Mrs. Entwhistle declared as they approached a ramshackle building set just off the road. The lopsided sign announced it was the Pigsticker Bar and Grill. Actually, the sign said Bar and Gr because some of the letters had fallen off. It wasn’t good to think about who was sticking what pigs, but Mrs. Entwhistle was desperate.

“This place looks sketchy, but they’ll at least have a bathroom. You can get a cup of tea. Well, maybe it’ll have to be coffee; it doesn’t really look like a tea-drinking place.”

Maxine surveyed the dilapidated building doubtfully. The lights had just come on in the parking lot, sparking on the gleaming chrome of a dozen motorcycles.

“I don’t know,” she began, but Mrs. Entwhistle had already pulled in, cut the engine and climbed out of the car.

“I can’t wait, Max, go ahead on in,” she said, hustling off with unusual speed to the outside door marked Cowgirls. “It’s all those Twinkies,” she called back over her shoulder.

Maxine followed more sedately. When she entered the Pigsticker, every head in the small, smoky room turned toward her. She stopped, hand on her heart. She’d never seen so many long-haired males in one place. There were man-buns, pony-tails, beaded head-bands and flowing locks unchecked on leather-clad shoulders. Everyone but her had elaborate whiskers.

“Oh,” Maxine said in a very small voice.

One of the men got up and came toward her. “Come on in, honey, don’t be scared of us,” he said, gesturing to an empty stool at the bar. “Sit yourself down and have a drink.”

He sounded so friendly that Maxine felt reassured.

“Oh, well, maybe just for a minute. My friend will be here soon.” She seated herself on the stool and tucked her feet on the brass rail.

“Now what’d you like to drink, honey?”

“Why, I guess iced tea?”

There were fond chuckles and a few comments: “Just like my grandma.” “Ain’t she sweet?” The atmosphere was positively sticky with sentiment. Maxine felt an obligation to return all that warmth. She sat up straight and smiled.

“You are all so nice!” she said. “Actually, I’ll have a beer.”

After that, time seemed to slow down and speed up at strange intervals. Maxine wondered where Mrs. Entwhistle had gotten to and what was taking so long, but her new friends kept motioning the bartender to refill her glass. They told her about their hawgs, which she learned were motorcycles, and about the road trip they were on, a trip they took every year. They loved their families, they said, but it was great to get out on the road again. Maxine nodded and asked questions when she could and drank her beer. Beers. When they started singing, she sang, too.

It was into this convivial scene that Mrs. Entwhistle finally entered. Her face was noticeably green and she clutched her stomach with one hand. But her physical ailments were forgotten at the sight of Maxine, singing and swaying with a lot of large, scruffy-looking men. Arms entwined, they harmonized on Hotel California and Maxine seemed to know all the words. Mrs. Entwhistle was reminded that Maxine was a dark horse and even after all their years of friendship, she could still surprise.

“Ahem,” she tried. No response.

“AHEM!”

“Oh, hi, Cora.” Maxine finally noticed her. “Come meet my new friends.”

“Yeah, Cora, come on over here. Have yourself a beer, or do you want something stronger?”

Mrs. Entwhistle wanted nothing at all, not with the way her stomach was acting. But it seemed churlish to refuse, so she perched on the stool vacated for her next to Maxine and asked the bartender for a Shirley Temple. The crowd erupted in cheers and Mrs. Entwhistle’s back was patted rather too enthusiastically.

“I swear, they’re just like my mama,” one of the men said, and shed a few tears in his drink. “Put a little vodka in that Shirley Temple,” he whispered to the bartender. “It’ll do her good. Bless her heart.”

Soon Mrs. Entwhistle found herself swaying and singing, too. They ran through Dixie, When Irish Eyes are Smiling, Thank God I’m a Country Boy, and then she lost track. When she looked at her watch, she couldn’t believe the time.

“Maxine! We’ve got to leave right now. We’ll never find a place to spend the night if we don’t get going.”

“Wha?” Maxine seemed to be having trouble focusing her eyes. “Ish it late?”

“It’s very late.” Mrs. Entwhistle launched herself from the tall bar stool, but the floor had developed an alarming tilt since she’d first sat down. A strong hand caught her arm and held her upright.

“I don’t think you ladies will want to be driving,” the owner of the hand said.

“We have to, we need to find a place to stop for the night.”

“Now, don’t you worry about that. You ever sleep in your car before? You ain’t in no shape to drive, neither one of you. We got blankets in our saddlebags, we’ll get you all set up.”

The ladies were helped to their car and the seats were lowered. Smelly blankets were tucked around them and the windows cracked a few inches.

“There now, you ladies just have you a good sleep. We’ll be here all night and we’ll look out for you.”

Mrs. Entwhistle’s eyes seemed happy to follow this suggestion. As she drifted off to sleep, the lead sentence of her next Pantograph article wrote itself in her mind:

Today we saw a blue whale and took up with a motorcycle gang.

 

 

 

The Cult Next Door

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Corey’s bar was the fulfillment of a dream. The day his sign – Corey’s Pub– went up, he shed a tear or two. He fussed over every detail, from the coasters to the bartender’s bow tie, wanting it all to be perfect. The one thing he couldn’t control, however, was his neighbor. The headquarters of the Church of Synchronicity was right next door.

“Those people don’t drink, you know,” he said darkly. “That might be a problem.”

But he’d gotten a steal on the rent so he went ahead despite his misgivings. Characteristically, he initiated the hostilities once he was settled.

“That so-called church is nothing but a cult,” he’d say to anyone who’d listen. “Just because they’ve got money and powerful members, they think they can rule the world. Well, they are not going to rule me!”

“What have they ever done to you?” I asked.

“It’s their power and the way everything they do has to be such a big secret. The members are like prisoners. Some of ‘em look like zombies. You should see the poor slobs that have to clean the kennels. I think they’re being punished for something.”

The kennels were an especially touchy point with Corey. The captive hounds were situated right behind his building and the baying drove him mad. He’d scream out the back door, “Shut up, shut up!” causing even more chaos. “Why does a church need tracking dogs?” he’d ask, a rhetorical question which he’d immediately answer himself.

His customers shuffled uneasily when Corey got going. “You’re driving business away,” I warned him. “People come in here to relax, not listen to you rant.”

He did try to talk less about the Cult Next Door, as he called them, but he started doing stupid things like posting derogatory comments on Facebook and Twitter.

“Don’t poke the bear,” I kept telling him. “Live and let live.” But he couldn’t hear me.

Rumor had it that a certain Very Important Movie Star was building an apartment on the top two floors of the church’s building. Work trucks filled the street, often blocking traffic. Corey was beside himself because his customers couldn’t get through. He looked for an opportunity for revenge. When one of the contractors stopped by one day, Corey made sure the drinks were strong and plentiful. Before long the guy was spilling all kinds of inside information, and Corey was egging him on.

“It’s got six bedrooms and each of ‘em has its own marble bathroom. There are servants’ quarters for the live-in help. The kitchen – you wouldn’t believe the finishes in that kitchen, and the cook will be the only one who sees it.”

“I’ll bet it isn’t near as fancy as you say,” Corey said, goading the guy.

“Yeah? You don’t believe me? C’mon, I’ve got the key, I’ll show you.”

Corey not only went on the sight-seeing tour, he snapped a lot of pictures with his cell phone. His guide was too plastered to notice, but everybody noticed when those pictures went viral on social media.

“What are you thinking?” I asked him. “You cost that man his job and invaded the privacy of a celebrity who has all the money in the world. You think you’re going to get away with it?”

“What can they do?” he laughed. “I just gave them some free publicity, that’s all.”

“They’ll run you off. They’ve got the cash to do it.”

“I’d never sell to them, no matter how much they offered.” Corey slammed his fist on the bar for emphasis. “They can’t make me move.”

But, of course, they could. The entire building in which his bar was located was sold – yep, to the Cult Next Door. In record time, he got an eviction notice. He had thirty days to get out.

“I’m ruined,” he moaned, head in hands. “I’ll never find another place I can afford. They’ve finished me off.”

Corey was so miserable I have to admit I avoided him for a while. I’d heard stories that he’d lost his house and was couch-surfing with friends, so I was pleasantly surprised by his appearance when I ran into him on the street a couple months later. I’d never seen him look as well-groomed – dark slacks, pristine white shirt and polished shoes. He’d gotten a haircut and the beard was gone.

“You’re looking good,” I said. “Has your situation improved?”

“Oh, yeah. Never felt better in my life.”

“Did you find a place to relocate the bar?”

“The bar? That was yesterday; I wouldn’t peddle that poison today. I’ve got a lifetime of brand-new tomorrows now.”

That didn’t sound like Corey at all. “What gives?” I asked in alarm.

He beamed at me radiantly. “I was completely, totally wrong about the Church of Synchronicity.”

I waited to hear more, but his phone beeped a reminder. “Oops, gotta run. I’ve got a mind-melding class, and then it’s my turn to clean the kennels.”

Oh, And P.S.

 

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Attention: Frederick K. Lucifer

Please accept this letter as notice of my resignation, effective immediately. After ten years of working closely with you, I can honestly say I’ve learned a lot.

Sincerely,

Wanda Winkler, Chief Deputy Assistant and General Flunky

Oh, and P.S.

I hope you won’t mind if I take this opportunity to leave some feedback. It’s given in the same spirit of constructive criticism with which you so often ruined my day. Consider it my exit interview.

I know you worry about your appearance because you often fish for compliments.  You know when you got that new haircut and asked me how it looked and I, trying to hang onto my paycheck, said great? I lied. It’s still a comb-over. And double-breasted suits make you look like the Penguin.

You ordered the permanent deletion of those photos someone (okay, it was me) posted online after the last Christmas party. Well, guess what: once something is on the Internet, it never dies. If you check social media, you’ll find those photos alive and well and having a lively afterlife.

Allow me explain what a “raise” is. A raise means I get more money. Obviously, this is a foreign concept to you.

Although you are much too busy with matters of great importance to bother about something as mundane as food, you should know this: when you raid the lunches in the office fridge, we go straight to our computers and research untraceable poisons.

Nobody wants to hear about the tax burdens of wealth. If it’s you vs. the IRS, we’re rooting for the IRS.

People are not really laughing with you.

Here’s an idea: seniority is when employees who have been with you the longest receive pay based on their years of service and abilities. When you hire new people for more than the old people are making, there are dreams of revenge. (See “photos” above)

And when the workforce dreams of revenge…(See “untraceable poisons” above).

But maybe I’m being too hard on you. Being a boss is a tough job. It must take maturity, patience, and the ability to both take responsibility and  give credit where it’s due.  Maybe if I was the boss, I’d…oh, wait! You know that hostile company takeover you’ve been worried about? It’s happening – I have it on good authority. In fact, I have it from my new boss, who just made me your new boss. You should be getting the revised organizational chart in your inbox soon.  It’s a bit of a demotion for you, but as you frequently said to me, feel lucky you have a job.

See you Monday.

 

Who Are You? – Part 4

 

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Moira had access to a wealth of resources in the crime lab. The first thing she did was check Jeremy’s birth certificate.

“The name on the original is Kirkpatrick. An amended version changing your name to Caudell was filed after your parents adopted you.”

“Bought me, you mean. So the birth certificates were no help in tracing my biological father. What other options do we have?” Jeremy asked.

“Good old DNA,” Moira replied cheerfully. “If you’ll give me a sample, I’ll run it through the data base for a match. It may take a while. The lab is always backed up.”

While they waited, it seemed natural for Moira and Jeremy to meet a couple of times a week to share information. Jeremy didn’t admit to himself how much he looked forward to those evenings. They’d sit talking for hours and Jeremy felt he knew Moira better than he’d ever known anyone. He secretly hoped the lab would stay backed up forever.

One evening Moira hurried in, her face alight with news. “I found him!” she said without preamble as she plopped into the seat across from him. “You aren’t going to believe this.”

“Tell me.”

“Now, brace yourself. This will come as a shock. Are you ready?”

“Jeez, just spit it out, will you?”

“Your father is Hank Kirkpatrick.”

“Hank! What about Myrna’s mysterious affair? If Hank’s my father, why did he sell me? Why would he do that?”

“I can only speculate that Myrna really didn’t know which man was the father of her child. Hank assumed you weren’t his.”

“But how did you get his DNA? He refused when I suggested it.”

“Turns out, it was already in the system. He’d had a traffic accident a couple of years ago in which he was at fault and the other driver was seriously hurt. The officer at the scene gave Hank a Breathalizer test and preserved the mouthpiece just in case. If the other guy had died, Hank would have been facing charges. Once I unearthed that piece of information, putting it together was simple.”

Jeremy recalled Myrna’s sorrowful face as she stood silently behind her husband at their front door. Hank said Myrna needed a lesson and he’d certainly given it to her. In a colossal mistake born of vengeance and anger, he’d sold his own son.

“It’s like an O. Henry story,” Jeremy said, shaking his head. “What am I supposed to do now?”

“O. Henry was known for his plot twists,” Moira said. “You get to write this one. How do you want your story to unfold?”

~*~

When Jeremy delivered the dinner invitation, Hank refused outright.

“Ain’t gonna happen,” he said with his trademark snarl.

A small, firm voice spoke up behind him.

“Yes, we’ll be there,” Myrna Kirkpatrick said. When Hank rounded on her with fire in his eyes, she faced him down for the first time in their long married life.

“We’ll be there,” she repeated, made brave by the need to reclaim her child. “We owe it to our son, Hank. We’re going to get to know our boy.”

~*~

The little group sitting around the dining room table was anything but at ease. Mr. and Mrs. Caudell were hosting Mr. and Mrs. Kirkpatrick and heartburn was on the menu. Moira rubbed a muscle in Jeremy’s shoulder that was taut as a wire.

“Will this night ever end?” he whispered.

“The next time will be easier,” she whispered back.

Jeremy had decided to get all his parents together in one room. He thought it was time they collectively faced what they’d done if there was to be any hope of reconciliation. After the last plate was cleared, he cleared his throat, stood and became the focus of all eyes. Moira winked.

“The past is the past and nothing can change what’s happened,” Jeremy said, “but there will be no more secrets going forward. We are an unconventional family, and maybe it’s too much to ask that you become friends. That’s up to you, but I’m going to treat the four of you as my parents, and I hope you’ll treat me as a son. Moira and I want to see you all sitting together in the front pew at our wedding.”

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? Part 3

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Jeremy was angrier than he’d ever been in his life. Grinding his teeth through sleepless nights, driving too fast, drinking too much, snapping at strangers – it was new to him, these feelings and this behavior. He’d always been a pretty laid-back sort of guy. But to find out, at thirty-three, that he’d been sold to his parents like a bag of groceries. To learn that his birth mother’s husband had paid off the mortgage with money he’d gotten for Jeremy.  It was just too much to process, and it was easier to be mad than sad.

It sounded like the kind of soapy TV drama he’d never watch, and at the bottom of the mess was a woman named Moira. If only she’d let well enough alone, but no, she kept digging and churning until she somehow uncovered the truth. He hated her for it.

He hated his parents, too. They’d misled him his entire life. Those honest, upright people, who wouldn’t pick up a quarter on the sidewalk in case the rightful owner came looking for it, had lied by omission. Yes, they’d always told him he was adopted, that he’d been chosen because he was special, but they skipped the fine print part of that story. Jeremy hadn’t seen or spoken to them since the night he found out the truth. As for his birth mother, what kind of woman would allow her nine-month-old son to be taken from her?  When Moira called “to check on him,” as she put it, he let her have it.

“You want to know how I am? I’m practically an orphan, thanks to you. Just butt out for a change and leave me alone.”

“Sounds like you need to talk,” Moira said, her voice warm with concern. “Let’s get together.”

His first instinct was to shout a resounding no, but he was bursting with feelings he’d bottled up inside. It would be a relief to dump them all on Moira. She deserved it.

They met at a neighborhood pub after work. The place was only about half-full and they had no trouble finding a private booth. Facing her across the scarred table, Jeremy dived right in.

“What made you pursue my kidnapping so relentlessly? Why did you even care?”

“I remember when you went missing. I was seven and it shook my world. It was a big factor in why I chose my career path. I just couldn’t forget the baby who disappeared.”

“Well, you carried it too far and now you’ve ruined my life. I think you owe me an apology.”

“Oh, no, I never apologize for telling the truth. You needed to know.”

Jeremy looked narrowly at the woman across from him. She had to be about forty, seven years older than he, but she didn’t look it. She met his eyes with a frank, untroubled gaze. Obviously, her conscience was clear.

“Look, my whole life went up in flames because of you,” Jeremy said. He hated the whine in his voice, but there it was.

“You had good parents, didn’t you? They gave you a great start in life and raised you with love, right?”

“Love and lies.”

“They wanted you so much they were willing to take a terrible gamble to get you. They must have lived in fear all these years, and imagine how they feel now. And your poor birth mother. She had to have gone through hell when her baby was taken from her. You were her love child, you know. When I consider Hank Kirkpatrick, I can’t blame Myrna for having an affair.”

“Rather than let him sell me, why didn’t she leave? Why didn’t she take me and leave?”

“You should ask her.”

“Yeah, sure. And I’ll ask my birth father, whoever he is.”

“You could probably find him if you tried. I bet he’s local.”

“And then what?”

“Just meet him, talk to him. If nothing else, you need to know about medical conditions you could inherit.”

“You make it all sound so easy.”

“It’s as hard as you decide it will be,” Moira said, smiling at him as she might smile at a pouting little boy.

Jeremy struggled with that for a moment. Moira had a lot of chutzpa, but he had to admit she made sense. He’d been so wrapped up in his own feelings that he really hadn’t thought about what his parents were going through. A little niggle of empathy and another niggle of guilt broke through his hard shell of self-pity. He was acting like a jerk. Moira had led him to that realization so gently that his anger slipped away, replaced by a feeling of being understood and accepted, anger and all. Maybe she was right about his father, too. There was no doubt she was resourceful; she’d make a good ally.

“So, my father,” he said. “If I decide to look for him, will you help me find him?”

 

Who Are You? – Part 2

Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Jeremy hadn’t even wanted to go to the book discussion group, but he was interested in the young librarian who led it. Joining her book club would get him noticed. He whistled The Things We Do For Love as he tucked in his new shirt and headed out the door. If he’d been pressed to put his thoughts into words, he might have said ordinary day, ordinary guy, good to be alive. He had no premonition that he was walking into a vortex.

He surveyed the crowd of mostly middle-aged ladies at the library without much joy. He was paying a high price for the pretty librarian. But one woman looked at him with the intensity of a laser. She immediately crossed the room and introduced herself: “I’m Moira.” Puzzled, he’d asked if they’d met before. She said, “In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”

That was the beginning. She took his arm, led him firmly to a nearby diner, settled into her side of the booth and proceeded to turn his world upside down.

First off, his name. He’d been Jeremy Caudell all his life. That’s what his parents called him and it was his legal name on all the documents that defined him for the world. But this Moira person said his name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been kidnapped from his crib when he was a baby, and he had parents, “real” parents, who still watched and waited for his return. He was Andy? His parents weren’t really his parents? He’d been kidnapped? Jeremy shook his head. He was getting angry.

“What are you talking about?” he said, glaring across the table at Moira. “Where did you get this crazy idea?”

And Moira told him, patiently unraveling her life-long obsession with the baby who’d gone missing and had never been found. She described her job in the crime lab, how she’d worked from a baby picture to make a forensic forecast in clay of his adult face. Here she paused to produce her phone and show him a photograph of her sculpture. Jeremy was silenced by the unmistakable resemblance. He felt the hair on his arms raise, a sign, his mother always said, that you were hearing the truth.

“I’m sorry, I know it’s tough, but I think you have a right to know,” Moira finished.

“I can’t believe – I won’t believe – my parents kidnapped me,” Jeremy said slowly.

“Were you adopted?” Moira asked.

“I was. I’ve always known that.”

“Better ask your folks how that came about.”

Jeremy went directly to his parents’ house. Sitting in the familiar living room, he recounted Moira’s story, expecting a storm of indignant denial, or maybe even laughter. As he talked, his mother’s head drooped lower and lower. His father’s face got paler and paler. They were silent.

Then his mother looked up. “I always knew this day would come,” she said.

Sick with confusion, Jeremy stood and left without another word.

Of course, he went to see his so-called birth parents. He approached a little house with glowing windows. It floated in the dark like a ship at sea, and Jeremy felt he was diving into very deep water. He rang the bell and the porch light came on.

“Yes? Can I help you?” The elderly lady who answered the door looked him over indifferently.

“Are you Myrna Kirkpatrick?”

“Yes. What do you want? I don’t buy from door-to-door salesmen.”

“That’s not why I’m here. I understand you had a son named Andrew.”

“My son died as an infant.”

“Did he? What if he’s still alive? I’ve been told I was that baby.”

“Hank?” She turned and called over her shoulder, her voice fizzing with panic. “Hank, come quick. There’s a man here who says he’s Andy.”

Hank shuffled to the door in sheepskin slippers and a cardigan with leather elbow patches. His glasses slid down his nose and he re-anchored them to consider Jeremy.

“Look, mister, I don’t know what your game is, but it won’t work.”

“Just let me explain,” Jeremy pleaded. “Let me come in and explain.”

“You can say what you’ve got to say right here.”

For the second time Jeremy told the story of abduction to a set of parents. The couple listened without expression, but the woman’s eyes brimmed with tears she didn’t even seem to notice.

“So I think we should all take a DNA test and find out for sure if I really am your child,” Jeremy concluded.

“No way!” Hank snapped. “I won’t give back the money, I sold that kid fair and square and it’s been more than thirty years ago.”

“Sold? But what about the kidnapping you reported? What really happened? Tell me! I have a right to know.”

“I don’t know about your rights, but I’ll tell you just to get rid of you. Myrna, here…well, that baby wasn’t mine and I didn’t want to raise another man’s by-blow. Myrna needed to learn a lesson, and I needed some cash.” He shot a poisonous look at his wife. “Paid off the mortgage with what I got for that little bastard. Don’t know who you are, with your fancy DNA talk, and don’t care. It’s ancient history now, and if you go to the cops I’ll say you’re a con man trying to take advantage of us. Now clear out.”

The door swung shut and Jeremy heard the dead-bolt slide into place, locking him out, locking his past in. He turned and walked heavily back to his life. An ordinary life where nothing would ever be the same.

 

 

 

 

Who Are You? Part 1

 

Who Are You M P from Pixabay

Moira carefully shaped the damp clay to make a cleft in the chin. The baby’s picture showed that cleft and it was something that wouldn’t have changed with age. She raked some strands of hair over the brow, then stood back and looked critically from her work to the photograph she held in one hand. It wasn’t much to go on – an image of a baby who’d vanished from his crib one night while his parents slept in the next room. Moira had been seven at the time, and the unwelcome knowledge that a neighborhood child could just disappear had a profound effect on her.

His name was Andrew Kirkpatrick, he’d been nine months old when he disappeared and he’d never been found. His parents had no more children. They continued to live in the little house to which they’d brought Andy as a newborn, “so he can find us when he comes home,” as the mother was quoted in a newspaper follow-up article some years later.

Nobody ever figured out what happened. The grief-stricken parents were under suspicion themselves, and when the case went cold, nobody ever bothered to exonerate them. They lived under that cloud for the rest of their lives. Moira had never met them, but she could imagine what it was like to be watched and suspected. Her decision to choose forensic science for her college major arose from a desire to solve mysteries like this one.

“You’ve watched too much CSI,” her Dad said. He’d tease her by singing, “Who are you? Who, who, who, who?”

“Isn’t it depressing, recreating the faces of dead people?” her mother asked.

Moira agreed good-naturedly that she probably had watched too much CSI, and said, no, it didn’t depress her to honor the unidentified dead and unfound missing by showing the world their faces. And maybe it would help. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if one of her recreations solved a cold case and allowed a family some peace?

“Not that they’d ever really have peace in their hearts,” she added. She knew that.

Moira made a forensic forecast in clay of what Andrew Kirkpatrick would look like as an adult. There were sophisticated 3D laser projectors available, but somehow she needed to shape Andy’s face with her hands. She brought to the task her training and technical expertise, but also her artist’s intuition. It was inexplicable, what happened as she worked. Something seemed to guide her hands and the finished product surprised her with its humanity. When she was finished, she showed it to her boss.

“Good work, Moira,” he said, and looked at her as if seeing her for the first time. “Keep that up and you’ll crack some cases.”

But after a photograph of her sculpture was printed in the newspaper, it raised no leads. There were a couple of phone calls from the poor souls who routinely called at such times, but no new information.

Andy’s memory haunted her. In her dreams he was sometimes an infant, sometimes  an adult. In one dream, he told her what happened to him and she startled awake. Instantly, his words were gone. Tears soaked her pillow when she couldn’t call them back. So near!

Stop it, she scolded herself. Now you’re believing in dreams. What’s next, a Ouija board?

Moira drove past the Kirkpatrick house one night after work, peering at the lighted windows. She felt a tug of connection to that tiny intersection of theory and reality. It became her routine to pass the house every night, even though it was miles out of her way. Andy would be thirty-three now. What kind of life might he have had? Or was still having? His body had never been found. What if he had been brought up by whoever took him, and was now an adult with no knowledge of his past?

Sometimes she feared she was bordering on the obsessive, so she tried to banish Andy from her thoughts. It was possible during the day when she was busy at work, more difficult on her own time.

As a distraction, she joined a book discussion club at the library. The group met every third Thursday evening and members took turns suggesting books to read. She couldn’t remember who proposed a true-crime book about famous unsolved cases. Sure enough, Andrew Kirkpatrick’s kidnapping filled one chapter.

She resolved to say nothing about her involvement in the case. When it was her turn to weigh in on the book, she’d just say it was well-written and well-researched. No way would she tell about creating an adult face from a baby picture, about a lonely house with a light in the window. No way would she creep everyone out with that story.

There was a new person at book club that night. With an inward sigh so profound it turned her bones to water, she recognized him. That cleft chin – she’d shaped it with her hands and she could still feel it. She’d know him anywhere. On trembling legs, she walked directly to him and held out her hand.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m Moira.”

His brow wrinkled. “You seem so familiar. Have we met before?”

“In a way. I’ve been looking for you.”

 

 

 

 

Mick Jagger Makes Me Smile

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Why was it Misha’s fate to be raised by a dear, but ancient grandmother when other people had cool young mothers? Those moms wore short shorts, had pink streaks in their hair, and their car radios blasted rap; they could easily be mistaken for their daughters’ slightly older sisters. Misha’s grandmother wore mom jeans and cardigans and big white sneakers with socks. Her car radio was apt to burble PBS in a genteel whisper.

Gran had taken her in after her parents had each gone off with other partners to lives that had no room for a little daughter. Misha had only a very dim idea of what it must have been like for Gran to suddenly be in charge of a six-year-old. All she knew was now that she was 16, Gran embarrassed her. Misha hated herself for it, but there it was.

True, Gran could absolutely be depended upon. If she said she’d be there, she was there. Misha was never one of the kids sitting glumly in the school’s front office waiting to be picked up. If Gran said she’d do it, it got done. Dinner was on the table and so was breakfast. Beds were fresh and laundry was always caught up. Misha’s friends complained about having to do those tasks themselves and said she was lucky. But still.

Misha was into retro. She explored the world of the 1960’s and thought it was definitely a better time than the present. She and her boyfriend, Jem, picked up some 60’s clothes at thrift stores and Misha found some in the attic. On Saturday nights, they’d dress up. She’d wear a bright micro-mini skirt, tease her hair into a giant bouffant, apply pale lipstick, black cat-eye liner and mascara and white nail polish. Jem would wear plaid bell bottoms, a turtleneck shirt and platform boots that he confessed killed his feet, but looked amazing.

They got acquainted with the music of those times on old 45-rpm records, introducing themselves to the Rolling Stones, Elvis, Buddy Holly and the Crickets. With like-minded friends, they’d dance the Loco-motion and the Twist in somebody’s basement. Gran said at least the kids were supervised and safe.

Misha’s mild rebellion blossomed into a quest for freedom she thought teens enjoyed in those swingin’ 60’s. Gran had to say no too many times. It led to tearful scenes and a bedroom door slammed so hard it made the house echo.

“I know I should be grateful she took me in,” Misha sobbed to Jem, “and I do love her, but she’s just so old. She can’t possibly remember what it’s like to be young.”

“Talk to her, why don’t you, Misha?” Jem advised. “She’s not as uptight as a lot of parents.”

Misha tried. She waited until one night after supper when Gran was washing the dishes and Misha was drying. It was a ridiculously old-fashioned way to clean up, but Gran would often say, “Oh, there are so few dishes, let’s just wash them instead of using the dishwasher.” Misha had learned sharing this activity was the perfect time for conversation.

“So, Gran, I was wondering what you’d say if I got a chance to go downtown to see a Rolling Stones tribute band. They’ll be playing at the Apollo and Jem and I could go on the bus.” Misha knew very well that the Apollo was in a part of town that made Gran start shaking her head at the very mention.

But Gran surprised her. She smiled into the dishwater and said in a reminiscent voice, “The Rolling Stones! I used to love them when I was your age.”

“You did? You did?”

“Oh, yes. Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and that drummer, what was his name?”

“Charlie Watts.”

“That’s right. Oh, they were bad boys.”

“And you liked them?”

“Yes, and my mother thought they were awful. I saw them in person once, on their first U.S. tour in 1964.  There were thousands of people there, but I wormed my way to the front under the stage, and I thought Jagger looked right at me and winked.”

“Gran! You never told me. Do you still like the Stones?”

“Well, Mick Jagger always makes me smile when I see him on TV, so I guess I do.”

“Why is that, Gran?”

“It’s just that he has all those wrinkles, but he keeps dancing and singing and jumping around like a kid, even after heart surgery. He’s my age, you know. We were born the same year.”

Misha felt her jaw drop; she had to sit down. Jagger and Gran were contemporaries? Could it be that her old-fashioned Gran had been a groovy 60’s chick? The micro-mini skirt from the attic, had Gran worn it to the Stones concert where she caught Mick Jagger’s eye? That one incident bestowed coolness that no amount of pink streaks or short shorts could match. It put a whole different spin on things.

Misha couldn’t wait to tell Jem: “Mick Jagger winked at Gran back in the day, and he still makes her smile.”

 

 

 

The Clawfoot Tub

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You know how when you’ve been through a bad time, you get the idea that you “deserve” something you’ve been wanting anyway? A reward, a gold star, a treat for being such a big girl? Well, that’s how I felt about the clawfoot tub.

I’d always wanted one to replace the dinky little builder-grade tub in my bathroom, but it was too expensive, too much trouble and too…unnecessary. I mean, I already had a perfectly usable tub, right?

But after that winter! Everything went wrong that winter. My car stranded me beside the interstate highway in a snowstorm; I got bronchitis that lasted for weeks; my old dog had to be put down; the furnace needed frequent house calls. It was one terrible thing after another, but I soldiered on, much of the time barking like a sea lion. When it was finally over, when the first snowdrops pushed up through the frozen earth, I decided I had earned a treat. And that treat would be the clawfoot tub I’d always wanted.

I look back and think, “Why didn’t I get a new outfit, or go on a cruise, or…or anything but a clawfoot tub?” Well, who knew? That’s why we have hindsight.

I decided I wanted a genuine antique, not a replica. That meant haunting antiques stores and estate sales. When I finally found a rusty, blotchy tub in the basement of an old house, it wasn’t even for sale. I kept mentioning figures until the owner drooled and agreed to let it go.

Now there’s a euphemism. A clawfoot tub isn’t “let go.” It weighs approximately a million pounds and it takes a small nation to move it. Plus, this tub needed resurfacing, so I had to decide whether to have it hauled to a workshop or have it done after it was installed in my house. Given the difficulty of moving Clawdette, as I thought of her, I decided to put up with the mess and toxic fumes and have it done after.

So on to logistics. The tub was in the basement. That meant it had to somehow be muscled up the stairs, then into a truck strong enough to take its weight, on to my house and then – wait for it – up another set of stairs. I would need strong men. Lots of strong men. A survey of my friends wasn’t promising. So many bad backs, knee braces and iffy rotator cuffs! I hired a moving company.

Four huge men with rippling biceps surveyed Clawdette in her spidery resting place. They walked around her with worried faces, hands on hips, looking from her to the stairs, shaking their heads. Finally they seized her and began an epic wrestling match. I won’t even describe the groaning and cursing that accompanied every inch of Clawdette’s progress. We’ll go straight to the moment she was plopped into my upstairs bathroom and all her tremendous weight settled on a floor never meant for such stress. One clawfoot immediately popped through the ceiling of the living room below. It looked like I’d been visited by a giant bird.

“Gotta reinforce that floor, lady,” one of the giants said unnecessarily, slinging sweat from his forehead.

“Can you…?”

“Nope. We don’t do that. Gotta get a contractor. Meanwhile, don’t stand too close to the tub or you might both go through the floor.”

Then he handed me a bill that drove all thoughts of contractors out of my head. I’d be lucky just to eat. Clawdette idled in lop-sided splendor for a couple months while my finances recovered.

I needed a contractor to shore up the floor and repair the ceiling, plus a plumber to reroute the pipes, and then a resurfacer to make Clawdette beautiful. I had nightmares in which money flew out of my wallet and rained down on others. It was now month three and I was still taking sponge baths in the sink.

At last, many thousands of dollars later, my clawfoot tub was in working order. I was given the green light to actually fill it with water and insert my trembling body into it. I leaned back and savored the luxury. It had been a long time coming, but it was all worth it. “I’ll love you forever,” I crooned to Clawdette, stroking her glossy porcelain.

The next morning, my boss called me into his office and informed me I was being promoted to my dream job, the one I’d been working toward all my adult life. I was filled with joy until he mentioned the job was in another state.

“You mean I’d have to move?”

“Of course. You’ve always said you were willing to relocate for the right opportunity. I put my reputation on the line to get you this job.”

That evening I filled Clawdette to the brim, slipped into her depths carefully so as not to splash my phone, and began calling realtors. The next day one came to survey my house from top to bottom.

“You have a lovely home,” she said. “The only thing is, clawfoot tubs aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. They’re kind of like swimming pools – very appealing to some, but a deal-breaker for others. For young families, it’s hard to bathe little kids in them – the high sides, you know. I’d suggest you replace yours with a conventional bathtub.”

“Replace…?”

“Oh dear, are you crying? Was it something I said?”