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These Are the People in Your Neighborhood (Chapter Four)

These Are the People in Your Neighborhood (Chapter Four)

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Opal hangs out with Tamara, a neighbor who fascinates her with her glamorous wardrobe which includes wigs, being the only person she's ever met with two color TV's, the fact that she works at night and is often picked up by a dark skinned man in a pink pearl Cadillac. Clayton and Leo leave Flagstaff. Dharma goes into labor and Mrs. Mintz confirms her suspicions at Thanksgiving dinner...
Opal hangs out with Tamara, a neighbor who fascinates her with her glamorous wardrobe which includes wigs, being the only person she's ever met with two color TV's, the fact that she works at night and is often picked up by a dark skinned man in a pink pearl Cadillac. Clayton and Leo leave Flagstaff. Dharma goes into labor and Mrs. Mintz confirms her suspicions at Thanksgiving dinner...

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Published by: mary allison tierney on Mar 30, 2010
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These are the people in your neighborhood in your neighborhood in your nei – bor- hood.

They’re the people that you meet when you’re walkin’ down the street they’re the people that you meet each daaaaay. Opal was singing the Sesame Street song to herself as she walked back to her apartment after visiting with Tamara. Tamara was just pulling into her parking spot, her big loud car sounding worse than usual, as Opal was stepping out of the laundry room. Each parking spot had a corresponding storage closet facing it, except Tamara’s – hers had a modified storage closet with two stacked coin-op washer dryers. Opal set down the laundry basket of clean warm clothes and rubbed Rommel’s ears as she lunged from the window – the dog was sweet to kids and the other moms in the complex but barked ferociously at any man, even those she knew well. Tamara was what Bea called colorful. She wore very flashy clothes and the first time Opal had been in her apartment she discovered that her closets were like a theater dressing room. There were sequined and velvet clothes that looked more like costumes for a baton twirler or one of those mardi gras dancers. One closet was just shelves of shoes and boots One of the two bathrooms in Tamara’s apartment was a make-up and wig room. The small counter mushroomed with overflowing containers of lipstick tubes, ointment viles and powder brushes of all sizes. In one large basket nested multi hue pots of glitter shadows and out of a yellow smiley face mug spiked a dozen eye pencils. A clear plastic crate housed hot rollers and curling irons and a blow dryer. The drawers yawned open spilling hair clips and ornaments and ribbons. Above the towel bar was a mounted magnifying mirror with a row of bright light bulbs and on a hook a hand

mirror hung by its handle. All around on the large mirrored wall over the sink were taped up photos of models torn from magazines. Wigs were perched on foam heads on a row of shelves that ascended from the back of the toilet. She let Opal try on the long red wig once. It squeezed her scalp but she was amazed at how different it made her feel to have thick straight raspberry red hair with bangs. Tamara suggested a blush and painted her lips bright pink. It was astonishing. She made sure there was not a trace of pigment left on her lips when she left Tamara’s apartment. Tamara was one of the few adults who was home during the day. Opal knew she worked nights, and had assumed she was a nightclub performer. There had been evenings when Opal had seen Tamara get picked up by a large Cadillac. The car looked white from a distance, but once when it pulled up to Tamara’s door when Opal was near, the paint looked more pink, like a pearly pink nail polish her mother sometimes wore. The man driving was very dark skinned and wore sunglasses and a hat. He didn’t get out of the car, just sit there with the engine running. Rommel ran from window to window barking like crazy. Tamara would emerge with all her sparkles and spangles on and very high heels. Sometimes she was blonde, sometimes brunette and occasionally she had on the red wig Opal had tried on. She locked her door and said something calming to Rommel and then she’d get into the big pink pearl Cadillac. Opal had not lived in the apartment long before she had overheard some adults speculating about Tamara. The things she heard the adults saying didn’t tarnish her opinion, or make her want to stay away from her. If anything it made Tamara that much more interesting. Opal could never bring herself to ask Tamara why she dressed the way she did. If she were doing something Opal didn’t want to talk about, and it seemed to her that nobody ever really knew for sure, it would ruin the fun of visiting her. Still, Opal wasn’t going to advertise that she had hung out with Tamara and tried on

wigs. She knew enough that that wasn’t going to be a popular decision. Plus, most impressive of all, she had two large color TV’s: one in the living room and one in her bedroom. Opal knew very few people with one color TV, and none with a TV in both the living room and the bedroom. “Laundry day, huh?” Tamara asked. She was smoking, which was the one thing Opal didn’t approve of. “Lucky for me nothing I own can go in the machines.” “Why not?” Opal was constantly learning things from Tamara. “Most of my wardrobe is dry clean only. Or spot clean as needed.” Tamara made kissing noises to Rommel and caught her by the rhinestone collar. Opal nodded at that. She picked up her laundry basket and hugged it to one hip while she shut the laundry room door. “Come by if you want to watch Bewitched later. I got some Fresca!” she clamped her bright berry lips together to hold on to the cigarette while she wrangled Rommel and hip bumped her car door to squeal shut. Opal liked to watch reruns of Bewitched on Tamara’s big color TV. Tamara once sat behind her on the couch and French braided her hair. Whatever Tamara did to her hair or face had to be erased by the time Bea came home from work or she would have to explain how and who and it was best not to provoke questions. Opal learned that Rommel’s aversion to men originated with the man in the fancy Cadillac, who was called Allen. “Enough said,” was all Tamara was telling her about that. “He’s my boss.” “So he picks you up and drives you to work?” Opal asked,

feigning innocence. “My car wouldn’t make such a good impression where I get dropped off to work,” Said Tamara matter of factly. “Well, you save on gas.” Was all Opal could think to say. Tamara laughed a smoky laugh. It was just last summer when her dad had dropped her off after her tumbling class and Opal had seen Tamara chatting with him in a flirty way. Opal spied through the ornamental lattice of cinderblocks that formed the front wall of the apartment breezeway. They talked for much longer than Opal was comfortable and Tamara had written something down on an envelope he had handed her. The whole scene had made Opal kind of queasy. Her dad had been wearing his most phony salesman smile.

Things weren’t always as they appeared. Tamara’s looks indicated to strangers that she would know how to accommodate their cravings. It was no different with Clayton Gage. After saying goodbye to his daughter Clayton was on his way towards his second hand black Lincoln, when he caught sight of Tamara. They exchanged pleasantries and moments later he had a number to call which led to Clayton forming the supply side of the business partnership with Ben. Now, just as quickly it disintegrated to Clayton hitchhiking from Albuquerque back to Phoenix in a VW van with his new pal Leo. Leo as it turned out was not a morning person. As they pulled out of the hotel parking lot and headed towards the highway, Leo suggested they get breakfast before they settled in for the drive South. He was squinting and hunched over the steering wheel.

“No offence chief but you are not looking your brightest this morning,” Clayton tried to keep the edge out of his tone but failed. He wanted to get to Phoenix and head off whatever shitstorm might have followed him from Albuquerque. “I am not at my best in the morning. This morning my head and belly are punishing me for way too much red wine. Usually I just need coffee to ….and then my eyes will,” Leo made an incomprehensible pinching gesture with one hand in front of his face, “ willingly focus. Coffee is my friend. My indulgences last night made mere coffee, not enough. I’m going to need all the breakfast soldiers to do their part this morning. Toast, eggs, bacon, hash browns, orange juice and maybe even a waffle. I need the entire brigade.” Leo was rocking a little and pulled off the highway and into the IHOP parking lot. Clayton scowled. “Alright, hell.” Inside the hostess smiled and walked ahead of the men, her white lace up shoes squeaking on the linoleum. Her hair was pinned and sprayed into a stiff steel grey cone. They sat opposite each other in a turquoise vinyl booth and took the plastic menus she handed them. “Coffee?” she asked. Both men nodded. Leo researched the combo meals and was trying to decide between pancakes and waffles when she returned with the coffee. Clayton tapped his menu and suggested sharply that they order while she was pouring. “Full breakfast combo with waffles, and a small orange juice,” Leo decided and refolded the menu and handed it to her. The waitress pulled a pen from behind her ear and the pad from her apron and wrote. “How you like your eggs?” “Oh, over easy. Thank you.” Said Leo.

She turned to Clayton without looking up from her writing, “And what’ll you be having Mr. ‘I’m in a hurry’?” she didn’t crack a smile and looked down at Clayton over her glasses, which were attached with a white plastic chain. Clayton was irritated with her but wouldn’t let her know she had gotten to him. “I’ll have raisin bran and cinnamon toast.” He smiled the smile of a predator who wasn’t all that hungry, just bored. She snatched the menu from Clayton’s grip and tucked it under her arm with the other one, picked up the coffee carafe and walked away. It was not a memorable meal, but both men were better off having eaten. Clayton paid at the cashier and even left a tip for the waitress despite having mentally decided not to before he’d eaten. Leo ran out to the van to get his thermos so they could fill it up for the ride down to Phoenix. While he waited, Clayton tried to catch the waitress’s eye and get her to return a smile, with no success. She’d had too many Claytons in her life to play along.

Ben needed to get to the VA clinic. His back was hurting more and more and the Tylenol wasn’t helping. Sitting on the airplane and stressing out about what had happened with Clayton didn’t help. He called and made an appointment and planned to take the bus downtown to swing by the library and then meet with a doc and see what they’d give him. Phoenix was an easy city to navigate, laid out on a grid and the bus system was fairly reliable. Ben caught a bus on Central and headed south. It was a straight shot to the library. He had an hour to spend looking for a follow up to the Milagro novel. He settled on a new hardback, the Onion Field, which had a positive review on a handwritten note

card featured on the New & Notable display, and spent the rest of the time roaming the stacks looking at art and photography books in the reference section. He read for a while about Jackson Pollack and tried to feel something other than baffled at what he had been trying to accomplish with his paintings. Ben left the library with the new book under his arm and walked north on Central Avenue for several blocks. He passed the Heard Museum where he would have enjoyed spending the rest of the afternoon looking at Indian artifacts if his back wasn’t in such agony. Walking actually helped and he continued north until he hit Thomas Road and turned east towards the Country Club. He was taking a more scenic route, and turned north again on 7th Street until he found a 7-11 and stopped inside to get a cup of coffee. He bought a package of beer nuts and continued walking. The buildings were all one and two story stucco and housed auto repair and accountants. Many of the windows were darkened glass or peeling some reflective material. Landscaping consisted of lava rock, trash and the occasional lone palm. He finally arrived at the corner of Indian School and 7th, across from the VA medical center. The white washed cinder block building did not exude warmth, even in the desert. The entrance was gravel, larger lava boulders and what looked like live tumble weeds. It didn’t look like a place anyone would go for help, which was the only reason anyone ever went there. The light changed and Ben walked, careful not to spill his coffee and headed toward the entrance. Inside he set his coffee and the book down and took out his wallet to get his card, and signed in. The receptionist was as lively as one could expect in this place. He only waited a little over an hour, which gave him a chance to start his book. When a nurse appeared and called his name, he followed her down a hall. Somewhere in an office he could hear Linda Ronstadt singing “Silver Threads and Golden Needles” a song he liked and he hummed along.

He entered the exam room and sat on the table crinkling the paper. The nurse started with the basics and made notes on Ben’s chart. She took his blood pressure and the asked him why he was there. He told her about his original injury and what he was doing for it but that he had been in more pain than usual and the Tylenol wasn’t helping. She wrote everything down and said the doctor would be in as soon as he was available. He was able to read two long chapters of the Onion field before there was a knock and a very young looking doctor appeared. “So your back is giving you problems?’ he smiled. “It has been for a few years, but it’s been fairly intolerable for the last few days.” “Tell me about your injury.” The doctor sat down and had a pen that he tapped on his knee. “I pulled something out of whack helping a buddy who’d stumbled on a land mine. I got him to the chopper and we made it out, but he didn’t make it home. Bled out. I got the back pain to remind me.” Ben was very quiet with the memory. He tried not to think about how the injury happened but there wasn’t really any way around it. “I see. I’m sorry about your buddy. You are a hero for getting him out of there.” “Got the medal to prove it,” Ben snarled. He hadn’t meant to be rough, it just came out that way sometimes with the pain. “Well, I can give you a muscle relaxer for the pain. Have you had a diagnosis? Is there a disc problem or …: “Just give me something for the pain. Then I can sleep and then it’ll get better. I don’t want to waste your time. I’m sure there’s someone in the waiting room who needs you

more than I do.” “I’d like to help you get to the bottom of your pain and do what we can to fix it. But that’s up to you.” “Thanks. I can get over to the YMCA this weekend and use their whirlpool, that will help.” “OK.” The doctor wrote out a scrip and handed to Ben. “I’ll be here if you change your mind.” He wrote a few notes on Ben’s chart and hung it up on the back of the door in the Lucite slot. “Take care.” Ben stood slowly and made his way back down the hall. Sitting always made it worse for a while and then his hips and legs loosened up enough that his back wasn’t feeling frozen. He bookmarked his spot in the library book with the paper the doctor had given him and walked out into the parking lot and headed down Indian School Road back towards Central Avenue to catch the bus back north back to his apartment. He was walking west with the residential Indian Boarding School on his right. Kids were taken off reservations and educated and housed on this government land in the center of down town Phoenix. Then what did they do with them? Most recently the boys were recruited to Viet Nam. Out of the desert and into the jungle. On Central Avenue Ben waited for the bus. Phoenix had recently held a public contest to name the bus mascot, a smiling sun in a sombrero. A kid had won with the name Tico. Ben was glad it was a kid that won, but was baffled what Tico was supposed to mean and why they would have awarded it as the winning name. His Tico bus arrived, belching exhaust and he got on and

walked to the back. The hard molded plastic seats were the worst for his back, so he stood and held the hand rail above his head. After several intersections he hit the rope that was strung over the windows and rang the chime. At the next stop he got off and walked a block to Walgreens and filled his scrip, showing his VA Vet card and therefore didn’t need to pay. He bought some saltine crackers and several cans of Campbell’s tomato soup, and a box of Ding Dongs. Ben loved frozen Ding Dongs. They really had no flavor and very little to offer by way of texture. He liked to peel off the plasticy vinyl chocolate flavored coating and dissect them as he ate them. He also got a bag of sunflower seeds and a bottle of Jose Cuervo silver. He was able to make it back home by six o’clock and watch Jeopardy. Ben heated two cans of the tomato soup, which he mixed with milk instead of water to make it more like a bisque. He added pressed garlic and dried basil to give it some flavor. He poured the soup into a large double handled chili mug and crumpled a handful of saltines over the soup. He had put the box of Ding Dongs into the freezer for later, and removed a metal ice cube tray and set it in the sink. He lifted the lever and rocked it back and forth to release the cubes with a screech and then poured them into a bowl. He took a long handled utensil from the drawer that ended in a stainless steel ball. He whacked the ice cubes until they were mostly crushed and then scooped a glass full and poured the tequila to the brim. Ben then sliced one of the limes that he’d filled his pockets with when he took a short cut from the bus stop through a back alley. One of the large homes that sat back from the road and had a huge front lawn had a small citrus orchard in the back. Several of the trees had limbs that hung over in to the alley and today he noticed all the limes. He unburdened the limb of a many as he could stuff into his pockets. Ben sat at the table with the tiny black and white television fuzzing in and out of tune. Alex Trebeck was reminding the audience of the categories: ‘in other words’ ‘feline qualities’

‘because I said so’ ‘ the more the merrier’ “last dance’ and ‘Asian forests’ “Asian Forests? What the hell Alex?” Ben swallowed his meds and took a long sip of the icy tequila. When his soup was gone he added the bowl and spoon to the dishes in the sink. The little fuzzy TV was more in than out so Ben turned it off and unplugged it and wound the cord up and stuck it into the cabinet next to the phone books. He refreshed his drink and realized he hadn’t refilled the ice trays. He repositioned the insert and pressed the handle down then set the tray into the slot in the freezer. There was at least three inches of frost on all four sides of the freezer with the available storage space becoming smaller and smaller. He palmed a silver Ding Dong and shut the plastic door, which was also becoming difficult. The day it wouldn’t shut would become the day the freezer was defrosted. Drink in hand and frozen Ding Dong balanced on his library book Ben headed back to his bed room. He was now deep in two books, one fiction and one non fiction. He took up where he had left off in the Onion Field and when he had finished his drink and peeled and dissected his Ding Dong he got up to reload his drink and snack arsenal and then spent an hour with The Milagro book. This went on back and forth until the Ding Dongs ran out and Ben was beyond drunk. His back felt miraculously pain free. He figured it must have been the Ding Dongs.

Mela heard her daughter moaning and her body was instantly tense, adrenalin surging. She hopped out of bed and tip toed quickly into the office where Dharma was curled on her side on the futon and doing deep breathing.

“How long?” Mela asked rubbing her lower back. “Just started getting heated. I was a little crampy earlier but I was able to sleep. My back was aching but that isn’t anything new. They aren’t very close together. Like twenty minutes or more. Irregular.” Dharma sucked her breath through her teeth and blew out slowly. “Ok, I’m going to make some tea and get my bag packed. You want tea?” Mela stood up. “No. Cold water.” She tried to relax and made a mental checklist of what she’d packed for the birth and what she needed to put in the bag. Mela put the kettle on and turned on the light over the sink. Roofus was not amused at being woken up at this hour and rubbed the back door. Mela opened it and let her out. “Have fun.” Then she went back to her bedroom and put her slippers on and put on a sweater. She got her book from her bedside table. It was a horror story a friend had loaned her. Carrie, about a messed up teenaged girl who is hazed at school and has telekinetic powers and a jesus freak mother. Pretty entertaining. “Do you want to call the dula and let her know or wait a few hours?” Mela called out. “Wait.” Dharma breathed loudly. “I could go on like this for a while. Or so I’ve read. First babies take their time.” “You didn’t. And birth patterns are hereditary. Don’t second guess this guy.” Mela opened a teabag and put it in the cup and poured the water. She walked back to the office with the tea and a glass of cold tap water. She sat at the desk and looked at the designs Dharma had doodled for the blankets. They were really striking and Mela thought they would be very successful. “I

love these. We should do some proto-types for the New York market. I really think these would sell. What kind of bug is this? Mela held up the pad. “That’s what the baby feels like when it’s kicking. Let’s just say it’s an alien and leave it at that.” Dharma was rocking side to side with her knees pulled up on either side of her belly. It made her back feel better. “What is today? If the baby is born this morning what day is it’s birthday?” Mela looked for her calendar and shuffled some things around on her desk. She found it. “November 21. So that would make the baby a Libra? No, what’s after Libra? Scorpio?” “Scorpios are very sensuous, right? Oh man this hurts.” Dharma started moaning and breathing. Mela stood up and leaned over her daughter and rubbed her lower back and then her feet with their toes curled tight. The contraction peaked and Dharma was flushed. “That was no twenty minutes. I’m going to call the dula and just let her know.” “Fine. Good. Do that. Uh.” Dharma wanted to sleep but she also wanted to go outside and breathe some cold fresh air. She pushed herself up to a sitting position then lurched forward to a stand. She held the counter as she shuffled to the door then stood in the open door and enjoyed the cold on her skin. Roofus returned and rubbed her legs mewing for attention or food. “I woke her up – hazard of the trade – and she said to call again when the contractions are at five minutes apart. So that one was right at three am, I looked at my watch because I knew it hadn’t been twenty minutes since I first heard you moaning. I’m guessing this was a nine minute interval, unscientifically speaking.”

“Great. You keep score, I’ll have the baby. Or we could switch.” Dharma rested her head on the counter and kept the bulk of her body in the doorway to cool off. “No I’m very content with the scorekeeper role. I did the birth thing. You get that honor this morning.” Mela patted and rubbed her daughter on the back. Dharma moaned and moved side to side, and Mela realized it wasn’t a moan of relief from her back rub, but another mounting contraction. “Whoa, ok that was um. Huh. I’m calling the dula again. When you’re done.” Dharma waved wildly at her mother, keeping her head on the cool tile of the counter, “Call! Go Call!” Mela called and within thirty five minutes the dula was jogging up the path to the door. Dharma was still in the doorframe, not willing to leave the cool air. “You’re on your feet! That’s good, gravity is your friend!” the dula was a teensy hippie pixie. Her grey hair stuck out in all directions, a tiedyed silk scarf wrapped around her head and little bells dangled from her ears. “We are going to meet your baby this morning.”

Mrs. Mintz sat in her sunny breakfast nook with her thick Thanksgiving file and a legal pad and went over her list. The turkey, pies and flowers were all ordered and the linens had been delivered that morning. Her event staff that she employed for functions was busy polishing service pieces, dusting and vacuuming. Next to her legal pad she had a small box of cream colored Crane’s place cards with a gold bevel edge. She shook two blank cards from the bottom of the box and with her calligraphy pen she expertly scripted “Bea” and “Opal” and blew on each to dry. She then flipped over a page on her legal pad and penciled the same names in on the seating chart.

There was little that Mrs. Mintz was more familiar with than orchestrating a function in her home. She had hosted more charity luncheons and school fundraisers than she could have counted. She could tell you in accurate detail the date, fundraiser, amount of money raised after expenses, who attended, where they sat and who didn’t pay. She had very accurate files on caterers, florists and rental companies for linens, dishes and glassware and even a per head cost for salmon salad versus curry shrimp. Thanksgiving dinner was no different, just minus the sales pitch. The whole meal from cocktails and appetizers to dessert and coffee was choreographed and the template had been drawn over twenty years ago.

Bea was growing impatient with Opal. This was becoming more their routine than a rare occurrence. Opal had nothing appropriate to wear to Pablo’s mother’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. Every dress she owned was a hand me down Sunday School dress that had been through at least three of her older cousins before it arrived in a box wrapped in newspaper from her aunt. Each dress was just out of style enough to be a total embarrassment and thankfully at least two sizes too big. Most were high neck with shoulder ruffles and a big sash that tied in the back. They were handmade and often she received two that were identical just a couple sizes off. There was liberal use of rick rack. Opal had been dragged to Bob Fox, a children’s clothes boutique in the mall. They had narrowed the pile down to a ribbed turtleneck bodysuit matched with an A line calico quilted maxi skirt. Bea thought the turtle neck was too bland and wanted her to wear a blouse. Opal hated the word ‘blouse’ and refused to try one on. They were at an impasse until the saleswoman sided with Opal. Opal liked her tiny kachina dangling earrings and told her so when she was at the register. The saleswoman’s nametag said “Inez”

and Opal wondered if that was a real name or not. Bea was in a grumpy mood after losing the wardrobe battle with Inez and Opal. Opal wanted to get an Orange Julius out in the mall, but Bea just wanted to go home. She was nervous about the ‘meet Mother’ aspect of the Thanksgiving dinner. When Bea had asked Pablo what to expect at his mother’s house, he described a familiar setting that matched her own upbringing. When she had married and become a mother her lifestyle was more carefree, and not constricted to the rigid social rules of the church. Unfortunately Clayton, once he had moved away from his mother and the frat house, had become a person she couldn’t stand. He found her conventional, even without the couples bible group or a bra for that matter, and the idea of fidelity constricting. Bea found his total total lack of a moral compass incorrigible. But now she had found a man with a moral compass, but somehow felt she’d landed right back where she had started. Dinner with mother, complete with catered turkey and wait staff. She wasn’t sure this was the direction she wanted to go. “Is ‘Inez’ a real name?” Opal asked as they got into the car. “Yeah, why not? Whatever you are named is a real name.” Bea was trying to not be grumpy. “Is Pablo’s real name Pablo?” Opal was needling her on purpose. “It is now. He had it legally changed. His name before was Simon. He didn’t like it so when he became an adult he had it changed.” “You can do that? Cool. Was his mom mad?” Opal pretty much knew the answer would be yes. She had overheard Pablo talking about how ‘straight’ and proper his mom is and she could bet having her blond son change his name to

‘Pablo’ was not her best day. “Yeah, I think so. Well, I shouldn’t say that. I really have no idea. I’ve never met her so I shouldn’t assume that. But, yes, I think she was not too excited about it. Plus he was named Simon after her brother I think. Her brother died in world war 2, so it was an honorary name. In the Jewish faith you don’t name a baby after a living relative, so there’s no “Frank Jr.” or whatever with Jews. You’re only ‘Jr.’ if the person you’re named after is alive. “So if you’re ‘Franklin Winston Winthrop the 3rd’ both your dad, Franklin Winston Winthrop, Jr. and your grandfather Franklin Winston Winthrop the original have to be alive?” Opal was enjoying this. “I think that’s how it works. When your grandfather dies then you become Franklin Winston Winthrop Jr. but if he’s alive and heaven forbid you dad dies you are still Franklin Winston Winthrop the 3rd.” “Whoa. So many rules. Confusing.” Opal loved this kind of stuff. “Tell me about it. So Pablo named himself.” Bea was not certain all that she had said was even true, but that was how she understood that it worked. She hated all that crap. ‘Cool.’ Opal bet that Pablo’s mother was mortified by his self chosen name. She probably thought it sounded like the gardener and was embarrassed when her friends found out at the country club. Bea was less nervous now. Talking in circles with Opal was helping. She had decided that she would wear a hybrid outfit herself. A little from her stilted past and a little from her contemporary wardrobe. It would be a careful balance of ‘yes I get the rules’ and a subtle subtext of ‘and while I

respect them I reject them on my own terms’. That could be accomplished she thought with a combination of a tweed blazer over a black shiny leotard top and an emerald silk peasant skirt with her Frye boots. Maybe a beret? She was shuffling the wardrobe combos in her head as sat at the light. Out the back window Opal was watching two men in green coveralls and dustmasks slowly walking backwards in the strip of dead grass that surrounded the mall’s parking lot. They each had tanks on their backs and long spray-nozzled hoses that they pointed down, swaying back and forth like an elephant’s trunk and transforming the grass from golden brown to dull green.

Mrs. Mintz’s spread was traditional Thanksgiving fare right out of Sunset magazine. There were silver chafing dishes perched on warmers filled with whipped potatoes, green beans with tiny onions in a cream sauce, stuffing with and without oysters, homemade cranberry sauce and both blended yams with teensy marshmallows baked on top and whole baked yams to dress with butter. The Turkey nested in a wreath of rosemary sprigs on a huge carving platter. Before they sat for dinner there were drinks served in the family room. It was a very cozy room with a large floral sofa and two big soft chairs. There were several lit candles and little bowls of spiced nuts on several coffee and end tables. A waiter walked through with a tray and passed out little snacks. ‘OR-dervz’ Bea whispered to Opal. The first was a small spear of asparagus wrapped in a buttered piece of toast. Opal thought it wasn’t bad for asparagus. Mrs. Mintz was intimidating at first glance. Her hair was sleek white and caught at the back of her neck in a ornate silver and turquoise barrette. She was wearing a black velvet long coat embroidered with curling vines and bird in

deep jewel tones, over a deep crimson silk shell and black velvet slacks. On her feet were red velvet ballet flats. But when she smiled her bright red lipstick and perfect white teeth were not bitter or cold. She had a warm smile and was very welcoming to both Bea and Opal. She introduced herself to Pablo’s guests and chatted with Bea for a few minutes but spent most of her time getting to know Opal. They had a shared passion for cactus and reading. “I collect prints and paintings of cactus. My backyard is filled with them. I’m trying to arrange to buy two mature saguaros for the back gate. They are protected you know, it’s hard to buy large ones.” There were only four other people in the living room enjoying cocktails before dinner. Pablo took Bea on a tour of the house and Opal started snooping around the room looking at the collection of glass paper weights on the table and studying the framed family photos. The doorbell chimed the arrival of another guest who entered the room handing her coat to the housekeeper. Opal was surprised to see Mrs. Womack. She was wearing another loud floral suit, this time brown with a thin turquoise abstract floral print that looked like very loose and sloppy handwriting. She was also wearing brown patent leather knee high boots. She’d had her hair colored a vibrant and ambitious orange. Opal was still completely sure it was her, and she approached Mrs. Womack, “Hi. Do you remember me?” Mrs. Womack looked at Opal and opened her mouth in confusion. She furrowed her brow and said, “Well, yes! What on earth? How are you here? Opal how do you know Mrs. Mintz?” Opal started to laugh and said, “I don’t. I just met her.” Mrs. Mintz came to greet Mrs. Womack. “You’re here and don’t you look wonderful?” Mrs. Mintz held Mrs. Womack by

the shoulders and looked pointedly at her new hair color. “I think it’s great.” “This is my new friend Opal,” Mrs. Mintz introduced Mrs. Womack, “She is a cactus fan, too.” “I know Opal, we’re old friends.” Smiled Mrs. Womack. “Really?” Mrs. Mintz beamed with the confirmation of her hunch. “Now how can that be? I only just met her myself minutes ago?” “Get me a vodka tonic and I’ll tell you the whole story.” Mrs. Womack smiled at Opal. Opal was having much more fun than she ever thought possible. She wasn’t clear on how she would explain all this to her mother, but her mother was touring the house so that wasn’t an issue yet. Mrs. Mintz sent the waiter to the bar for Mrs. Womack’s vodka tonic and waited for the story she already knew. “Well, you remember my telling you all at book club the other day, about my tumble? Remember how Mrs. Greenburg was so ugly to me about my scraped chin?” she jutted her chin out and pointed. “it’s much better now, the scab came off and I’ve been putting some salve on it that I picked up at that health food store. The one by the shoe repair place at the Park Central Mall? Anyway, this is the sweet girl who helped me back to my apartment. This my Opal.” She patted Opal’s arm and smiled. She’d been claimed. “Your Opal? Well we will see about that Mrs. Womack. Opal and I share some passions for reading and like I mentioned, cactus. Opal is the daughter of Pablo’s lady friend, Bea. She came as Pablo’s guest. We have been enjoying getting to know one another this afternoon, haven’t we dear?” Mrs. Mintz was teasing Mrs. Womack, but to Opal it seemed there

was an undercurrent of competition and a slight edge to her voice. Mrs. Womack blew air through her pursed lips and rolled her eyes. “Oh refresh my drink, will you?” Mrs. Minz laughed and took the empty glass and walked towards the waiter. She took up the thread of another conversation with another couple who had just arrived. “Your chin looks better. How is snowball?” Opal was learning how to make small talk. “I am so pleasantly surprised to see you! Yes I’m quite happy with how quickly that salve did the trick. Snowball is still a bad dog, but that won’t change. I’m stuck with her I’m afraid. I do hope we are seated together at dinner. I’m going to go look at the table. Want to come and peek? It drives Mrs. Mintz nuts if people sneak in and look before she’s ready to reveal it.” “I’m right behind you.” Said Opal. They walked slowly to the hallway and after checking to see that no staff was watching, Mrs. Womack quietly and carefully slid open the pocket door to the formal dining room. The candelabras had been lit and the silver serving dishes were on the table and covered. Mrs. Womack tip toed in and quickly read the calligraphied place cards. “A Ha! “ she whispered in victory and reached out and plucked a card out of it’s holder and pranced around seat to seat until she found the one she wanted and switched it. Then she quickly tip toed back to the empty holder and put the switched card in the slot. “Let’s get out of here before we’re caught!” she grabbed Opal by the hand and the two of them hurried out the door and Mrs. Womack turned and closed it very quietly behind them. Opal was in heaven. Mrs. Womack was flushed and fighting the giggles. The waiter looked exasperated when he found

her and handed her the vodka tonic. “I know you’re up to something. Don’t get her mad, she’s been in a mood all day,” he whispered to her. Opal was very surprised that the waiter would be so informal with Mrs. Womack. Mrs. Womack got defensive, “Leonard, Mrs. Mintz has been in a mood for thirty years. You’ve worked here almost that long you should know.” Leonard nodded and raised his eyebrows then continued his rounds of taking empty glasses and refreshing drinks. “Well, that was a success,” Mrs. Womack smiled and raised her glass to the room. “Let the games begin.”

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