Rear View

She surfed into the room on a wave of perfume.  We’d heard her stilettos clacking percussively as she approached, and both Pam and I looked up with more than usual interest when she entered the reception area.

We work for the mayor, acolytes of the outer office, answering phones and greeting visitors for His Honor.  While always polite, we make it a point not to be bowled over by the high and mighty, especially those who proclaim their own height and might.

Our visitor was definitely a proclaimer.

“I wish to see the mayor,” she announced, her eyes focused somewhere above our heads.

“Yes, ma’am,” Pam said.  “Do you have an appointment?”

“No, young lady, I do not.  Tell him his most generous campaign contributor is waiting.  The name is Virginia Payton-Price.

Still no eye contact.

“Yes, ma’am, I’ll do that as soon as he’s free.  He’s on the phone now.”

“Do you know who I am?” Virginia Payton-Price asked, her voice rising.

“You just said.”

“Then I strongly suggest you notify the mayor immediately.”

“Please have a seat.  I’ll tell him you’re here as soon as he completes his call.”

“You’ll regret this. I’ll visit the ladies’ room while I’m waiting.  Show me where it is.”

Pam rose and silently led the way.

“What a sweetie!” she said when she returned.  “It was hard to resist giving her a swirly. I think I could’ve done it, too. She doesn’t have much traction in those shoes.”

We heard the clacking heels coming our way again and Virginia Payton-Price swept back into the room, but this time with a difference:  the hem of her soft silk dress was caught up in the waistband of her pantyhose.  Fully displayed, her ample derriere gave literal meaning to the phrase, “showing one’s ass.”

Pam’s smile radiated pure joy.

“The mayor will see you now,” she said.

 

 

 

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Who’s a Good Dog?

Twinkie and Doodle are talking thought the picket fence that separates their respective back yards. They used to bark and snarl and snap at each other, sending their owners racing to break it up, screaming, “No! Bad dog!” But after a while, the humans got tired of running and began ignoring the fracas at the fence. All the joy went out of it then. Now the dogs just sniff, their black noses wrinkling as they take in one million megabytes of information about each other. Then they sometimes sit and talk for a few minutes. Their humans think it’s cute, the two dogs communing.

(English translation)

“You seem a little down today. What’s the matter?” Doodle asks.

“It’s just…sometimes I think I’ll never find out who’s a good dog,” Twinkie says, scratching behind her right ear.

“I know what you’re saying,” Doodle responds sympathetically. “I’ve been hearing that ‘who’s a good dog?’ question for years. Don’t know why she keeps asking me, like I’d know.”

“Yeah, who even understands what “Bad dog! Good dog!” mean? Humans. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em. They do give good treats, though,” Twinkie says philosophically.

“Well, now treats – that’s a sore subject!  She says I’m too fat, and I only get these dinky little Milk Bones once in a while. And she’s really cut down on nibbles from the table. That hurts.” Doodle sneezed for emphasis.

“In fairness, you have put on a pound or two.”

“Grrrrrr!”

“Okay, okay, just kidding. You need to be using your sad puppy eyes. Remember, we talked about that. Have you been practicing?”

“Oh, I’ve gotten much better at it. Sometimes it even works well enough to get me the last bite of whatever she’s eating.”

“Show me.”

Doodle stretches out on the ground with his head resting on his paws. He rolls his eyes up at Twinkie and slowly wags his tail once.

“Oh, wow! Very good!” Twinkie says. “I’d give you a treat myself if I had one.”

“Doodle!”

“Twinkie!”

The two dogs prick up their ears and look over their shoulders at the humans calling them.

“Later, ‘gator,” Twinkie says.

“In a while, crocodile,” Doodle says.

They trot back to their houses, tails in the air, collars jingling. Doodle hears Twinkie’s human say, “Oooh, who’s a good dog then? Who’s a puppy-wuppy boogems?”

Twinkie glances back at Doodle. If dogs could shrug…

Jett

Jett married at seventeen just to get away from home.  She and her equally young husband called it quits after less than a year, their union ill-fated from the start.  But Jett got a baby out of it; she got Brittany. She found she loved Brittany in a way that was new to her. She’d do anything for that little girl.

At eighteen, she had to move back home with her folks.  She needed a babysitter and her mother was delighted to help out.  Well, more like take over.  When she got a job at McDonald’s, her Mom tended Brittany every day. Jett fell back into her familiar slot in her parents’ home, only now she was a child with a child.  But the day that Brittany called her grandmother Mama was the day Jett knew it was time for a change. Planning was never her strong suit, but this was her life, dammit, and her kid. She had to take charge.

She needed a better job than flipping burgers, but she had no particular skill and no patience for spending time and money to learn one. Jett, true to her name, liked to move fast, and she was not over-burdened with scruples.

So: something illegal, then? I don’t think I’d be very good at robbery. Murder? No, I don’t have the stomach for that. What about a con game of some kind? Victimless, because the mark will want what I’m offering, something that’s a step outside the margins. Harmless, because no one will get hurt. Well, not physically hurt, anyway.

She toyed with a few ideas, like faking a fatal illness to get money through a GoFundMe page. But a glance in the mirror confirmed there was no way to disguise the bloom of health and youth. Could she pretend to be a Russian mail-order bride? Probably not, she wasn’t good at accents. What about a womb-for-hire scheme? She’d already been through a pregnancy, so she could easily feign one. Get some of those foam pregnancy bellies in escalating sizes, collect money as her “condition” progressed, then disappear with the cash before the due date. People who were that desperate to have a kid wouldn’t care about the money. They’d have already tried everything legitimate, and would be ready to color outside the lines to get what they wanted. She’d relieve them of some cash, then she’d take Brittany and get the hell out of Dodge. Leave behind her girlhood bedroom, bossy mother and, best of all, that horrible hamburger grill. Start over someplace new.

Jett told no one her plan. She needed secrecy and knew that a secret told to one is told to all, so she kept her mouth shut. She placed an ad on Craig’s List: “Healthy young woman in desperate need of money. Willing to conceive and carry your baby.” She added her e-mail address.

She got a response within fifteen minutes. “We are a couple in our forties, been trying for a baby for ten years. Very interested in your offer. Can we meet?” Jett typed back: “Name time and place.”

~*~

She saw them the minute she entered the coffee shop. Well-dressed, carefully-groomed, obviously nervous, Richard and Gabriella sat together on one side of the booth, never taking their eyes off the door. She saw their faces light up with hope when she headed toward them. Jett slid fluently into the story she’d rehearsed: how she was a single mom, had already had a healthy pregnancy but now needed money for her mother’s operation. She described – truthfully – how much she hated her job and how little money she made from it. The couple nodded at all the right places. At one point, Gabriella reached across the table and squeezed her hand sympathetically. Jett could tell they believed every word.

“We’d need you to donate an ovum,” Gabriella said. “And then you’d be artificially inseminated.”

Jett was prepared for that, too. No reason to give good money to a lab when it could be coming to her. “Doesn’t that cost a fortune?” she asked. “Why spend all that money when we could do it the old-fashioned way for free?”

She didn’t miss the spark of interest in Richard’s eyes, quickly extinguished when he glanced at his wife.

“No emotional commitment,” Jett hurried on. “I know exactly when I’m fertile. It’d be one and done, and then I’d be carrying your baby. And in nine months, you’d have a son or daughter in your arms, I’d have money to help my Mom, and we’d all be happy, right? I don’t want any future contact. We’d never see each other again.”

Gabrielle and Richard exchanged a long look. Richard shrugged.

“How much money would you need?” Gabriella asked, and Jett knew she had them.

“Twenty-one thousand,” she said. “Payable in three installments.”

“We need to think about this,” Gabriella said.

“Sure. But tomorrow is my peak day for fertility. If we wait, it’ll be another month.”

~*~

They went for it, as Jett’d known they would. Now, wearing only a robe, she waited for Richard in a utilitarian motel room off the interstate. She wished it was a more seductive space. Because, actually, Richard wasn’t too bad. Steady job, owned a home, nice car…He just might be her ticket to ride, good for a lot more than twenty-one grand.   Forget about faking pregnancy; she’d go for the real thing. She’d score a nice big house, a new daddy and a sibling for Brittany in one swoop.

She heard Richard’s knock, pushed her robe off one shoulder, fluffed her hair and went to let him in. To her surprise, Gabriella was with him. They hardly looked like the same couple. Gone was the careful grooming and nervous aura. They pushed past her without a greeting. Richard was carrying a small black bag which he set on the bed and unzipped immediately. From it he pulled a roll of duct tape and a scalpel. They eyed Jett, standing open-mouthed in her robe, and exchanged amused looks. Richard snapped off a length of tape like a man who’d done it many times before.

“Looks like she’s been waiting for us,” Gabriella said. “Do you want to carve first, darling, or shall I?”

“After you, sweetie. I went first last time.”

You May Already be a Winner

You know that Publisher’s Clearing House letter that begins, “You may already be a winner”?  Well, let me tell you how that works in real life.  There I was, just on an ordinary Tuesday, October 30, doing a little laundry, thinking what to fix for supper, when the doorbell rang.  I opened the door of my doublewide to find two shined-up people, a man and a woman dressed fit to kill, and holding a great, big cardboard check with my name on it.  There was a truck with a big antenna and a guy with a furry microphone, which he stuck right in my face.  And there I was, in my jeans with bleach stains and an old shirt of Dwayne’s.

“Congratulations, you’re the newest Publisher’s Clearing House winner!” yelled the man, grinning like a mule eating briars.

The woman yipped and yelped and waved the big check back and forth as best she could, considering the size of it and the size of her hairdo.  The camera came in real close and they poked that furry microphone at me.  I just looked at them.  When I’m surprised, I get real quiet.   After a minute or two, the man said, “Cut,” and the cameramen took the big heavy-looking cameras off their shoulders and looked bored.

“Uh, Mrs.….Douglas, is it?  Delladean Douglas?  Look, Mrs. Douglas, we need a little more enthusiasm.  This goes on T.V., you know.   Aren’t you happy to see this giant check with your name on it and all those zeroes?”

“Why, yes, I reckon I am,” I answered slowly, “only I wonder is it for real or some kind of joke?”

“It’s for real, believe me.  You just became a very wealthy woman.  Now, when we turn these cameras back on, could we have a big smile and maybe a little jumping up and down?

Well, no, they could not.  I may be a poor person, but I’ve got my dignity.  Eventually it all got sorted out. The Publisher’s Clearing House folks gave up and left without no pictures of me jumping and smiling.  They was aggravated, I could tell, but they left the check.   Guess I won’t be on the television any time soon.  I went to the bank with the regular-size check they give me and I opened me a ginormous checking account and got a fistful of ten-dollar bills.  I had plans for those tens.  The bank manager put the rest in something he called short-term C.D.s until I can figure out what to do with it.   That night when I went to bed, I was just as tired as if I’d worked real hard.

Here is what I did the next day.

I drove my old junker to the Ford dealership and wrote a check for a new red Mustang convertible.  While I was at it, I bought my ex, Dwayne, a pickup truck.  Dwayne’s had a streak of bad luck.  After he divorced me, he got laid off at the creamery and then his old truck died.  His girlfriend dumped him and he had to move back in with his Mama and her third husband in their singlewide.  Dwayne’s step-daddy don’t like him and that’s close quarters to be in with somebody who don’t like you.  Now he’s got no job and no ride to go looking for one.  I have found out I can get along just fine without him and I ain’t taking him back, which is what he will want when he hears about the money.  So the truck is a consolation prize.  Maybe I wanted to mess with him a little, too.

Then I went to see my brother, Hank.  Him and me ain’t spoke for about a year, since Mama passed and he acted so ugly about her things. Mama sure didn’t have much, but Hank wanted it all because he’s the oldest boy.  I didn’t think it was one bit fair and I still don’t, although I’m shamed that we fought about household plunder. Mama would have whupped us both.  So there’s been bad feelings between Hank and me, but Hank’s boy, David, is a child I purely love.  He’s a senior in high school, and smart!  That boy has made us all proud.  I asked to talk to him.

“David,” I said, “are you planning on going to college?”

“Yes’m, Aunt Delladean, I sure want to, but I don’t know if I can earn enough….”

“Stop right there,” I told him, and I felt my face near split in half with smiling.  “You’re going to college and it ain’t costing you a cent because I’m paying.  I won the Clearing House prize, y’all!”

Well, Hank and me started talking again right then, and there was hugging, and yes, there might’a been some jumping up and down but it was private, in the family.  David’s face turned white and then red, and he cried some, and so did Hank and me and Hank’s wife, Carlene, but pretty soon we all settled down and I told them about the cameras and microphones and the shined-up people with that giant check.  Hank seemed real glad for me and didn’t act ugly at all.

It was a good day, and it wasn’t over yet because it was Halloween night, which was always my favorite holiday.  I liked it so much as a young’un that Mama would laugh at me and call me her little Witch Hazel.  That night the children came to my door as usual and after I oohed and aahed over their get-ups, I give ‘em each ten dollars in their little trick or treat bags.  It was the best fun I’ve had in years, seeing how their eyes got big when they saw those tens.  I figured ten bucks was just right – enough to be exciting to a kid, but not so much that their parents would freak out.   A ghost and a mermaid came back three times, but I pretended I hadn’t seen them before.  Kids in my neighborhood don’t get much give to them, so let ‘em enjoy it.

I ain’t an educated woman, but I ain’t stupid, either.  I know I’ll need help to handle all that money, and tomorrow I’m going to see about getting me a lawyer and an accountant and I don’t know what all.  I don’t intend to blow the money, but I needed one day to spend it however I wanted so I could stop feeling poor and start feeling rich.  You know what?  It felt good to give money away and it felt good to spend it, too. It didn’t take no time at all to get my brother back and give my nephew a bright future.  The Publisher’s Clearing House folks were right:  I already was a winner.

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