This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
the birds were awake. She was out walking to be walking. Up ahead on the back asphalt, that would soften underfoot by noon, an old woman in an orange flowered pantsuit was walking a tiny white dog. She was scolding the dog for taking too long. The tags on the dog’s collar jingled while it skipped around each palm tree and sniffed but apparently wouldn’t pee. The round woman bent over the dog with audible effort and snapped on the leash. She tugged to keep moving. Opal focused on the silhouette of the mountain in front of her and had decided to turn around and head back when she was startled by the woman’s loud shriek. Opal looked over at the row of palm trees and saw the woman lying on her stomach, her arm outstretched and the dog racing away with the leash attached. “Oh, oh, oh!” the old woman moaned. Opal wanted to slink away but found that she was immobile. She approached the prone woman slowly and put her hand out. “Here, are you ok?” Opal asked in a whisper of a voice. The birds were increasing their morning chatter. Opal saw the woman’s palm and chin were embedding with the gravel from the asphalt and her chin was bleeding. The little jingling dog skippered by and Opal stomped on the leash, jerking the dog to a stop. “Oh, Snowdrop! Oh you bad, bad dog.” Snowdrop was obviously used to this talk or deaf. Or maybe it was a bad, bad dog. The dogs Opal knew would be hanging their heads and looking very remorseful
right now. Not Snowdrop, who sat and panted and would have bolted again had Opal not been standing on the leash, which Opal picked up and not knowing why, took the old woman’s arm and said, “I’ll walk you back to your house.” The fabric of her top was thick and the large white geometric flowers stood in relief. Opal wondered why anyone would wear something that must have been so uncomfortable. “You’re a sweet girl. Thank you. I’m in the apartment right here, on the first floor. What are you doing out by yourself so early?” The old woman took slow tentative steps toward an iron gate. “I don’t know.” Opal couldn’t sleep any later and the morning air was so nice before the sun came up. Opal had no idea that was why, plus, she was restless. “My name is Mrs. Womack. Snowdrop you’ve met. She’s my bad dog.” She laughed a deep laugh that came from somewhere else. They were through the iron gate and the interior of the complex was thick with palms and banana plants and hibiscus. Mrs. Womack was unlocking a door. On the right side of her doorframe was an ornate little ornament shaped like a crayon on a slant, that Mrs. Womack touched with her undamaged hand and then kissed her hand. Opal leaned close on tiptoe and tried to read symbol on it but couldn’t make it out. “That’s a mezuzah.” She informed Opal. “In the
Jewish faith it is placed on the doorpost as a reminder of god’s presence and god’s mizvah. Inside is a tiny scroll of parchment with Hebrew prayers.” She moved inside and Opal waited on the stoop. “Come in, come in. I want to give you something for your trouble.” Opal hesitated. She wasn’t supposed to be out at all, and her mother had no idea where she was. As harmless as this old woman appeared, she was still a stranger and Opal knew better than to go into a stranger’s apartment. “Shut the door behind you so this bad, bad dog doesn’t make more trouble. It’s all trouble with you. You are a bad, bad dog.” Mrs. Womack was feeding the bad dog treats now. No wonder the dog was so messed up. Opal stepped inside. The apartment was very different than any she’d seen. The furniture all seemed to match and there were pictures on the wall and sleek lamps on end tables. Everything seemed to have been put in it’s place with a plan, but it wasn’t fake or stuffy. Mrs. Womack had disappeared down the hall then came back out to the entry and set a solid navy patent leather handbag on the table. It stood open and Mrs. Womack pulled out Kleenex and keys and a needlepoint glasses case and set them down. Then she pulled out an unopened roll of ButterRum Lifesavers and handed them to Opal.
“There. That’s for your help. Thank you for helping an old woman and her,” she turned and scowled toward the kitchen, “bad, bad dog.” Above the entry table was a mirror and Mrs. Womack looked at her chin and scowled again. She started dabbing her chin with some of the Kleenex on the table, licked it and dabbed some more. Opal smiled and said, “You’re welcome.” She slipped quickly back out through the door and down the sidewalk lined with towering banana leafs and palms. She was deliberately quiet opening and shutting the heavy iron gate and walked back out onto the asphalt and toward her apartment. The sun was just now peeking around the edge of Squaw Peak and a mourning dove was calling. A few more cars were now out on the road and a lawn mower started, drowning out the early morning birdsong. Opal’s legs felt rubbery and she was trembling all over. She jogged slowly until she reached her apartment and very quietly opened the sliding glass door. In the dark kitchen she took a bowl off the shelf and filled it with grape*nuts, adding two spoons of sugar and powdered milk then held it under the tap for a second and brought it into the living room. Opal turned on the TV at it’s lowest volume – she was careful not to wake her mother up - and sat on the floor cross legged and watched the Banana Splits. Judging by the empty jug of red wine in the sink, her mother was going to be hung over and grumpy. This was the Saturday morning routine, and more often
the Friday morning routine as well now that her mother was going to Happy Hour with her work friends on Thursday nights. The food at Oscar Taylor’s happy hour was pretty good, so Opal didn’t mind. Thick cubes of taco casserole and stuffed cheesy tart things in warming dishes. Opal wasn’t sure what it was, but she filled a small plate and sat at the end of the bar with a novel while her mother and her co-workers ordered two-for-one margaritas and laughed and smoked. The bartender was funny and made jokes with her about the other customers. He made her virgin blended drinks and put fruit and umbrellas in them. Pizza night was the best and the bartender never charged her mother for the drinks he made for her, even when it was several sodas. Sometimes she finished her homework at the bar and the bartender would help her with the math. He knew a lot about math. He could also name all the oceans, which came in handy on one assignment, seeing as how there wasn’t an Atlas in the bar. Opal finished her cereal and rinsed the bowl and spoon and put them in the dry rack. She started emptying ashtrays into the trash and then put them in the sink and squirted some soap in and a little water. She put the empty wine jug in too and then carried can to the sliding door and slid it quietly open and shut it behind her. She walked to the carport to empty the trash and saw an unfamiliar car parked their spot. She didn’t see her mother’s car. She heard a skateboard behind her as she was walking back to the apartment. A few kids were up now and one was skating in loops on the sidewalk
that circled the complex. This would guarantee her mother would be up soon and she was thankful that she had cleaned the kitchen and emptied the trash before she was up. She quietly let herself back in through the sliding glass door and replaced the trash can with a new paper grocery sack in the pantry. She gently closed the door when she was in her room, pried off her shoes and lay down on her bed and started reading her novel. The skateboard kid went by her bedroom window and was calling to the other kids. She heard her mother groan and the bed squeak. Her body tensed and she took a deep breath. ‘Won’t be long now,’ she thought and tried to loose herself in The Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe. She’d read it before but didn’t have anything new and didn’t want to go to the library. The bed squeaked again and then she heard the bathroom door close. The toilet flushed and Opal anticipated the sound of the kettle being filled and the click of the stove lighting, but instead she heard a man’s voice, low and then her mother giggle. Opal was fascinated. The strange car in their spot was not the only anomaly in her morning. Her mother’s bedroom door opened, “I will make some coffee and get some eggs started,” her mother said in a light tone. The man’s voice answered low, “I’ll be right there to help.” More bed squeaks, the toilet flushed again and the sink on then off. Then kitchen sounds and small talk and giggles. Opal was paralyzed with confusion and knowing. She sat on the side of her bed holding her book, her thumb
stuck in where she left off reading. Why did she feel embarrassed? Opal stood and opened her door, listening. Coffee and melted butter smells made her hungry again. She inched toward the kitchen and stood out of sight on the sticky linoleum behind the fridge.
4 Chapter Three The wind had picked up but the snow was still just a threat. They had made it to the airport with little time to spare, and no weather delays had been issued. “Here, I’ll drop you at curbside and I’ll go return the rental car. You check the suitcase and I’ll meet you on the plane. Here, take my carryon. I’ve got my ticket in my small bag.” Clayton slowed and pulled over in front of the Frontier Airlines curbside check in. “Right, man. If the flight’s delayed for any reason I’ll meet you in the bar nearest the gate,” the partner got the suitcase and the carry on out of the trunk, pounded the roof of the car twice and waved. Clayton pulled away from the curb and the partner gripped the textured plastic handle of the big turquoise suitcase and shouldered the leather carry
on. He set the suitcase on the platform of the baggage check and started filling out a name tag and looping the tiny elastic onto the handle. “where are you flying today?” asked the older black man. “Phoenix. Back to the Valley of the Sun!” smiled the partner. “Lucky man. Just this bag? May I see your ticket?” the baggage handler quickly looked at his ticket and attached the appropriate tags to the suitcase and lugged it off the platform and onto a large trolley. “is the flight on time?” asked the partner. “Delayed just an hour. Plane’s here but I think they’re waiting to see what the weather will bring. You’re going to be departing from Gate 4. You have time to get lunch or a newspaper.” The handler nodded thank you as the partner put two one’s in his hand. The partner entered the airport and looked for the men’s room. It was across from the newsstand. The gleaming Mexican tile floor echoed the footsteps of the travelers and reflected the neon of the newsstand sign. A long carved wooden bench with leather seats sat outside the men’s room and the partner stopped there to tie his bootlace. He put his foot on the seat and dropped the carry on to the floor and retied the lace. Straightening he stretched his arms over head and turned his head this way and
that to stretch his neck. He ran his hands through his greasy shoulder length hair and rubbed his face and two day stubble. He wondered if Clayton had a razor in his dop kit, from when he was clean shaven? He sat down on the bench and pulled the carry on to his lap and opened it to search for a razor before going to the newsstand to buy one. He grasped the dop kit and then saw the leather gun case. The partner sighed deeply and shook his head. “That prick.” He opened the dop kit and found shaving supplies. Closed it again and stood up. He thought for a moment. He ran through the possible chain of events of what would have happened had he put that bag on the security conveyer belt and walked through the metal detector. He grimaced and stormed into the men’s room and into a stall. He put the lid down and sat the bag on the lid. Then very quietly he lifted the top off the tank and set it on the floor. He opened the carry on and removed the gun case. He unzipped it for no reason and saw the pearl handle and several fifties folded inside. He removed the cash, zipped the case and lowered it gently into the water of the tank and replaced the lid. He left the stall and went to the urinal on the wall opposite and relieved himself, finally. At the sink, after washing his hands, he took the dop kit out of the carry on and fished for the razor, shaving soap and brush and lathered his face. There was no hot water so he took his time and used paper towels to clean up. He was trying to decide if he should
confront Clayton immediately, waiting for him in the lobby before going through security, or see how surprised Clayton is when he boards the plane and the partner is there and not in jail. By the time his face was shaved clean, he was ready to go through security. He was going to get a paperback at the newsstand, but had found a copy of the Milagro Beanfield War in the carry on. He breezed through security without incident and went to the bar near gate 4 and ordered a beer and started the novel, which he enjoyed immediately. An hour and fifteen minutes later, after two beers and a plate of nachos, the partner was deep into the novel and the flight was announce to be boarding. The partner looked for Clayton, who was nowhere around the almost empty gate area. He dog eared the page where he stopped, pocketed his change from the second beer, unwrapped the complimentary peppermint and popped it into his mouth. He continued to turn and look for Clayton as he walked to the line of passengers, and gave one final searching glace after the flight attendant handed him the stub of his boarding pass, then proceeded down the ramp to the plane. The anger he felt at Clayton for setting him up like that had become less interesting than the itching curiosity he now felt as the doors closed and the plane took off, and the empty seat next to the partner was filled with questions. What the hell was going on? Was the gun an oversight? Clayton was the most anal person the partner had ever known. He felt it was impossible for Clayton to do anything
by accident. Every breath he took was orchestrated and calculated to be of personal benefit. The partner wanted to continue reading the novel, he opened it and could only get through a few words when his thoughts returned to the empty seat next to him. Clayton was so damned calculating that the gun could not have been in the carry on by accident. And knowing that he would certainly be arrested going through security, Clayton couldn’t risk being associated with him, ticketed together would spell guilt by association. So he must have just split, he didn’t return the rental car, and he never planned to. He’s probably driving back to phoenix right now. The partner decided that had to be it, and he was feeling more confident about his insisting that they split the cash back at the hotel before they had headed out to the airport. He had his split hidden in the lining of his jacket. He just didn’t have any clue as to why Clayton would shit on him like this. The business they had started was working fine, and as long as they kept it low key it would be a nice steady cash flow. He probably thought he could do it solo and double his profit, now that he’d met the partners crew contacts. Greedy bastard. The flight attendant began rolling the drink cart up the aisle. She stopped at the partner’s seat and handed him a small paper napkin with a tiny bag of peanuts. “What can I get you to drink?” “Tequila?” the partner asked hopefully
“Hmmmm. Yes, with orange juice or soda?” the fight attendant handed the partner a miniature bottle of Jose Cuervo. “how about two more of these teensy things and some lime wedges?” “No limes, sorry, I can only sell you two teensy things. Want to reconsider the juice or soda?” “Okay, orange juice. I’ll buy my two teensy things. How many are you allowed to give me gratis?” “Um.” The flight attendant laughed and dug a can of reconstituted orange juice out of the bottom of the cart. She put a cup of ice and the can of orange juice on his tray, and two more teensy things. “that’ll be six dollars.” “Pleasure doin’ business with ya.” The partner grinned and started pouring the teensy things over the ice and added a splash of orange juice. He looked down at the solid grey carpet of clouds mist and darkening sky and sipped his drink. He decided to think the worse of Clayton until he learned otherwise, and that combined with the drink let him concentrate on the novel again, which he very much enjoyed. By the time the flight attendant had announced their decent and cleared the snack and drink items, he was deep into the novel and wishing the flight were longer. He looked at the front of the book and
learned that it was a trilogy, and this seemed to be the best news he’d had all day. The last trilogy he had enjoyed was the Lord of the Rings, and he felt sure this was going to be as satisfying. The best vacation he’d recently enjoyed was a long weekend at his uncle’s cabin up in Prescott when he made a big pot of chili and had plenty of firewood and the Lord of the Rings. Once he put this pearl handled pistol bullshit with Clayton to rest he was going to the library and get the next two volumes of this Beanfield trilogy and head up to Prescott for a few days. The plan put him in a much better mood than he should have been, considering the potential shitstorm that could have been his life had been narrowly avoided. It was just a whim to shave. It could have easily waited until he was home. Clayton had grown his beard a year ago, there was no reason to think that he would have shaving gear in his dop kit. It’s so funny how the things add up. And finding this novel was just as much a fluke as all the rest. He could have lived his whole adult life never reading it, never even hearing of it. Life’s crazy. Back at the Albuquerque airport, a janitor was called fix a toilet that wasn’t flushing in lobby men’s room. Jesus pushed his cart into the men’s room and stopped to set up a ‘closed for cleaning’ cone outside. Inside the stall he closed the lid and rattled the handle, then took the lid off the tank and found the problem. 5
After eating their fill at La Cucaracha, the numbing effect of Clayton’s two beers, the hum of the tires and the darkening winter afternoon sky was making the both Leo and Clayton drowsy. They began taking turns filling and sipping the acidic coffee from the thermos cap. “We need new tunes. Where’s that hush puppies box?” Clayton reached behind his seat with his free hand to get the box and set it on his lap. “Try the Moody Blues. That fits the weather,” suggested Leo. Clayton found the tape and studied the front then the back. He then picked up another tape, “Ahh. Howzabout Tubular Bells? What do you say chief?” And waved the second tape. “that one’s a trip. Creepy. You’ll like it.” “I know, they used this music in the Excorcist.” “no shit?” “I shit you not. I read that in Esquire.” Clayton read a lot of magazines and felt being in the know of all cultural minutia was an important part of who he was. He loved current events and cultural trivia and was always quoting an article or culture piece on music or movies. “I meant moody creepy not possessed by demons
creepy,” clarified Leo. He was not a scary movie fan and would never have considered seeing the Exercist or reading the book, which he had heard was much more terrifying. “Not demons, the big guy. I saw that movie in an old theater in New Orleans. I don’t mind tellin’ ya, it did a number on me. Didn’t sleep a wink that night.” “Not my style of movie, too negative. I don’t like it when they use kids, or child actors to manipulate the audience, ya know? To make you feel more worked up about the problem or the melodrama. I like this tape though. I just don’t want to associated it with some little girl with a demon in her.” “OK, I hear you. Let’s just enjoy the tunes.” Clayton stared out at the darkening desert and thought about how he’d fucked up his day. What kind of mess was he going to have to clean up when he got to Phoenix? Clayton was now convinced that he had taken the gun out of the leather duffle bag where the dope had been before they sold it and the cash was after. He and the partner had divided up their shares, he had thought to put several fifties in the gun case and zippered it shut and tucked it into one of his prized kangaroo boots. His boots were zippered into a custom tooled leather boot bag that took up almost half of his side of the large suitcase. But maybe he hadn’t? He was trying to remember if he had put it back in the leather duffle with his dop kit and novel or into the boot in the suitcase.
The partner had kept yammering on about missing the flight and hurry up with the counting. Of course you count twice, it has to be accurate, right? That’s what had broken his concentration and led to this mess. There were dire consequences, for sure, if he had put it back into the leather duffle. The partner would be in police custody by the time he had hit the lobby and he was wise to have avoided making that plane. Conversely, if the gun was now in the belly of the plane, in the boot, in the suitcase, then the partner was now landing safely in Phoenix and wondering what the hell had happened to him. He needed to come up with a plan for both outcomes. If the partner is on that plane, then the simplest explanation would be that he was delayed in returning the car and missed the flight. He couldn’t book another because of the weather and hitched a ride instead It was flimsy, but the partner wasn’t going to be too worried if he has his share of the cut and he’s not in jail. He won’t question a lame story. On the other hand, if the worse case scenario presents itself and the partner gets one phone call, who would he call? Not him. And if he needs bail money who would he call? The partner’s wife has completely had it with him and his long weekends and going AWOL whenever he needs some space. Plus, she doesn’t have the money. He’s probably going to call Dolores, and then the shit will hit the fan. Dolores will post bail and then there will be hell
to pay. Clayton had been buying from Dolores since his ex wife and daughter had moved into a dump of an apartment after their separation and he spotted her in the carport after dropping off his daughter. She was either a pro or dressed for Mardi Gras. She was lifting a bag of groceries out of a convertible MG and had a large German Shepherd on a leash. He offered his assistance and ended up with her number, in case he got lonely or needed some party favors. She had been generous on both accounts and when he and the partner had started their business, she had put Clayton in touch with her boss, Marsales. If the partner calls Dolores for bail, and she goes to Marsales for the money and he is made aware of this fiasco, their business was dead and they might consider leaving the state for their own safety. Marsales was not one to give second chances and did not want to deal with amateurs who could be traced back to him. Clayton admired and feared him. Mostly feared. Leo stopped in Winslow for gas and pushed on to Flagstaff. It was dark now and the snow was starting to stick. “I’d planned on driving straight through, but the weather being like this, we could stop in Flagstaff for the night. I have a cousin who works at a hotel there who could cut us a deal.” Leo looked tired and was hoping Clayton wasn’t in too much of a hurry.
“Yeah, why not? I could use a good night’s sleep. We could start fresh with plowed roads in the morning.” Clayton liked this idea. “Alright. When we hit Flagstaff I’ll stop and give him a call. He always works nights. He’s a student at the University. Studying hotel and restaurant management. I never understood why you needed a college degree for that. Anyway, he’s always telling me to visit and how he’ll get me a package deal and all. Now’s his chance.” At the service station in Flagstaff Leo used the pay phone while Clayton went to the men’s room. Once they were both back in the van and had directions to the hotel Leo gave him the good news. “Seems there’s a big wedding party staying at the hotel and the reception is still going on. My cousin put us in one of the rooms reserved for the wedding party. He says they won’t ever know the difference, just we can’t order room service or movies. He even said we could stop by the kitchen with him and get one of the wedding guest meals. Nice, huh?” Clayton cracked up, “I forgot my tux in my other bag.” The cousin was barely nineteen and was working the graveyard shift at the desk. He took great pleasure in orchestrating this caper for the two men. He lead them up to their room, a large suite with two king sized beds and a balcony. Clayton glanced into the bathroom and noted there was a trimline phone on
the wall next to the toilet and towel warmer bars. “Remember, no ordering room service or movies. You guys hungry? Come down to the kitchen with me, this party is so coked up no body is eating their dinners.” Everone nodded. The kitchen staff was entirely Hispanic, with the exception of the head chef who was a towering six foot three and firmly held a grimace while flames shot up from the gas stove and he tested something he’d pulled from the Salamander broiler. “he’s pissed that no one is eating the food.” The cousin cautioned. “Let’s each take a plate and go in here.” The two men each took a plate from an assembly line of untouched meals that had been removed from the wedding party’s tables. Each contained a piece of steak or chicken, mashed potatoes and some French green beans. The cousin grabbed an open bottle of red wine and they sat in a small room adjacent to the ball room where the wedding band was grinding out cover tunes and the guests were making a mess of themselves on the dance floor. The three of them were seated at a table with a table cloth and crystal wine glasses. The near gourmet meal, for flagstaff, and the plan to stay the night in a suite with a phone in the john was so incongruous to anything Clayton could have anticipated when he first realized the gun problem, he laughed out loud.
“God Damn, what a day I’ve had. What a fuckin’ day,” and he refilled his wine glass and cleaned his plate. He continued to laugh softly to himself. “It’s true. When I first got sight of you kneeling on the side of the road in the freezing cold, well, I never would have thought we’d be enjoying such a fine meal together, and have such comfortable accommodations. Here’s to cousins!” Leo raised his glass and they all mirrored his toast. “My cousins are all assholes, so here’s to your cousin,” Clayton said with a snide grin, and they all laughed and clinked their crystal wine glasses again. “Here’s to the bride’s daddy not looking too closely at the bill,” said the cousin and again the clink and laughter. “This is great, but the portions are puny. Hey, can I get another one of these?” Clayton gestured at his clean plate. “Why not?” and the cousin stood and walked into the kitchen and returned with two more untouched plates and another open bottle under his arm. “It’s all going into the trash when we kick them out of the ballroom in an hour. Eat up!” The second bottle of red wine was gone before the band had stopped and the men were full but still thirsty. The cousin went back to the kitchen for another bottle and returned this time with some plates of cake as well.
The three of them were surprised that they liked the cake so much, but couldn’t agree on what flavor it was. “Definitely a lemon or citrus of some kind.” Said Leo. “Orange. I taste vanilla and orange.” Said Clayton. “You are both right, sort of. Each layer is a different flavor cake and the frosting between the layers is different. Some slices have raspberry filling, some lemon, some a blood orange frosting. It’s quite a piece of work this cake.” The cousin felt proud of himself for remembering all this. “The cake itself is a vanilla chiffon on one layer and lemon on the others.” “and no body eats it after all that. That’s a shame. If I were the chef I’d be steamed too.” Said Leo sadly. “Well, we’re eating it. I’m enjoying the hell out of it. I’ll tell the chef it’s the best damned cake I’ve ever had, confused flavors and all.” Said Clayton. “The chef didn’t make the cake. It was brought up from a bakery in Phoenix. They’ll never know it wasn’t eaten. Or that it’s intended recipients were too tweaked on blow to be hungry.” The cousin was enjoying this diversion but was due back at the front desk. “Okay, you guys need to finish and head back to your room. I’ve got to go back to work.” The three men walked back through the kitchen and
thanked the chef, who ignored them. The cousin said good night at the elevator and headed back to his post behind the front desk. The two men found their room and barely had time to remove their shoes before sleep overcame them. Clayton thought briefly about he phone in the john and couldn’t think of a single person he could call who might be of help to him now.
6. The steam from Dharma’s mug of tea was fogging the window. Her hands and feet were freezing and she held the mug for warmth as she considered her list and rubbed her wool socked feet together under her chair. On the kitchen table she had arranged her address book and a calendar and her list. She only had a couple weeks before this baby was due and she had started to panic about time. She was hardly ever able to sleep more that a few hours a night, so tonight’s tea at two ritual included making her list.
She was living in her mother’s tiny bungalow and sleeping on the office futon. She had borrowed a bassinette and had hand me downs of everything she could need. What little money she had been making as a nightclub singer was over, because a big old pregnant single singer just ain’t sexy. “No hard feelings,” said the owner, “it’s just business. My customers want to be entertained and forget their troubles. Right now you would just remind them of their troubles.” He’d smiled sympathetically and shook his head. “One of your customers got me into this trouble,” she thought. But she got it, and put her last paycheck into her purse and went to have lunch with her mom. ** “Well, I’m officially a cliché. A statistic. A poor, unemployed, single knocked up black chick with barely a high school education. Should I start drinking now? Or shooting smack? Maybe Mick Jagger will write a hit song about me.” Dharma dropped her purse on the kitchen table in her mother’s bungalow and lowered herself heavily into a chair. “You’re pregnant?” her mother shrieked in mock horror. Her mother, Mela, was the original rebel in the family. She came from good stock, was well breed, attended the country club functions and had a coming out at cotillion. But during her sophomore
year at SMU she had to drop out because she was pregnant, and she refused to get married. And if that weren’t enough, then her parents learned that her boyfriend, Eli, and the father of the baby was from New York. They were stunned into silence. Mela (she was Pamela then, Pammy since she was an infant.) explained that her boyfriend’s parents were very into the arts. His mother was a poet and his father was a jazz pianist. “if you open your mind to what’s outside of Dallas, you will see how special they are and how much I love him.” She pleaded. She probably should have told them earlier that Eli (now Elijah) was black. And so, Mela and Elijah moved to Taos to have their baby, and named her Dharma. “shut up.” Dharma folded her arms on the table and buried her head. Her long curls splayed out in all directions like seaweed. “you hungry? Stupid question. I’ll heat up some soup and how about a grilled cheese?” “it’s going to be a race to the finish.” Dharma took an apple from the carved wooden bowl on the table and bit into it. “my semester is over in two weeks and this little bastard baby is due in ten days. What do you bet the bastard will win?” Mela sliced cheese while the butter melted in the large cast iron skillet. She laid the bread in the butter and layered the cheese slices. She stirred the soup. “your studies will always be there to pick up again later. Right now you need to not stress and
know this baby will come when he wants to and not on anybody else’s schedule. Let go of trying to control this. Breathe. Have you done that today? Taken a deep cleansing breath?” “no. I stopped breathing eight months ago when the stick turned blue. I haven’t exhailed since.” Dharma threw the apple core into the paper sack lined garbage can across the kitchen. “yes!” “compost.” Said Mela, flipping the sandwiches to brown the other side. The smell of butter and melting cheese and the sweet curry smell of the lentil soup had turned her mild hunger to a ravenous ache. “oh my god I’m so starving. What is wrong with me? I think I have a serious problem. How can someone be painfully hungry, then painfully full and then starving again in 40 minutes? This kid better weigh at least 35 pounds or I am going to be in double digit sized jeans for a very long time.” Dharma lurched up and shuffled over to the refrigerator and took out a pitcher of bright orange juice. “this isn’t orange juice is it?” “Carrot. Fresh squeezed last night.” “really? How does one squeeze a carrot?” “smart ass. The carrots were squeezed with a juicer. Fresh juiced? It’s fresh and good for you. And you know enough about childbirth to want a very sensibly
sized six-pound baby. Remember what your midwife said about the third trimester: Whatever you pack in now you push out later.’ Don’t over think it. Here sit down and eat.” Mela set her plate and bowl on a woven placemat of her own making and handed Dharma a matching napkin. Mela had been weaving home and kitchen textiles for twenty years. She had developed a following and many boutiques in artist communities in the South West like Scottsdale, Sedona, Taos, and now some tonier shops in Dallas and San Francisco carried her work. She had recently sold some of her designs to a large designer business and had them reproduced for the Crate and Barrel crowd. Now she was global. So she bought a juicer. This impending baby inspired her to start a baby blanket line. Pastel alpaca yarns with geometric and Hopi and Navajo motifs. The first batch sold out and she was going to need help to keep up with the orders that were coming in. Mela had offered Dharma the opportunity to stay home and help her with the weaving and while it wasn’t her dream to operate a loom, she agreed it was a good idea. She needed an income and couldn’t afford a place of her own or child care. “all baby stuff doesn’t need to be pastel. Can we do some bright colored baby blankets? Purple, bright aqua, hot pink and orange. And how about some with dragons and rockets and wizards or bugs” “Let’s fill the orders for what’s flying off the shelves
and then we can branch out a bit. We can put in a teaser with the next big order we fill and see if it sparks interest. I like your ideas though. Bugs. Lightning bugs. Praying mantis.” “a headless praying mantis would sell.” She tried not to sound bitter. “in New York maybe.” Mela felt like keeping Dharma from looking at everything from the most negative perspective was becoming a full time job. She tried to keep things darkly humorous or food oriented to keep her pregnant unwed daughter’s spirits up. “This is the best grilled cheese I have ever eaten. The bad news is it has already been eaten. Can I have three more?” “Ah, no. go lay down and rest a bit while I clean this up. Sketch some blanket ideas. There are some colored pencils on my desk.” Mela took her daughter’s plate and shook out the place mat and napkin over the sink. Mela washed the lunch plates and the skillet and set them on the drain board and reached for a dish towel and began to dry the plates and put them away. She watered the three potted violets in the window over the big white cottage sink. “Granny Mela.” She thought. She giggled. Dharma leaned carefully over her mother’s desk to get the pencils. She had to reach and stretch and finally side step around the desk to reach them. She
was suddenly short of breath and felt her whole torso tighten like a drum. The Braxton Hicks contractions took her breath away for a moment and the full stomach didn’t help. The indegestion would kick in soon if she didn’t chew a few tums now. Lying down would make it worse so she took the pad of sketch paper and the colored pencils to the couch and propped pillows all around her and under her knees. She opened the sketch pad and began testing color combinations, and then almost immediately fell asleep. Mela lifted the paper bag out of the garbage can and rolled it down she opened the back door to take it to the big trash can outside and met Roofus. He had been waiting and rubbed her leg quickly and slipped in the door. Mela filled his bowl but he had already found Dharma and curled up in what tiny space remained between her belly and her thighs. Dharma had named him Roofus because they had found him on their roof. No one claimed him and he had claimed Dharma. His purr could be heard across the room. Mela finished drying the lunch dishes and decided that her next major extravagance was going to be a dishwasher. She had managed all this time without one, but now she wanted one and could finally afford a little creature comfort. Some country club housewife appliance. What next? Would she start waxing her legs or plucking her eyebrows?
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.