P C Boomerang
Outside a small building that doubles for an ice cream stand, four customers wait in line and simultaneously peer up at the posted menu. In no hurry, a lethargic teenager, sits below the window’s opening. She could easily be half a person, visible only from waist up as she leans her elbows on the shelf, her palms flat against her cheeks. Since her oversized eyeglasses are perched on the lower part of her nose, there’s little space to discern her copious freckles.
First in line, a woman in her early fifties, wearing flashy, iridescent yoga pants, hurriedly adjusts her ponytail to collect the stubborn strands. Next in line, side by side, are two guys, both in their twenties, with contrasting skin tones: one is black and the other white, each wearing long shorts that hang over their knees. Reggie, the muscular white guy, exhibits a tight Philadelphia Eagles football jersey with matching hat, and John, the black guy, dons a short sleeved Phillies baseball team shirt, exposing a plethora of snake tattoos on his long dark arms. The brim of John‘s cap is pointing backwards, the reverse of his friend’s forward-pointing hat.
The first woman in line, Lucy, shifts aside and turns to the two cohorts behind her, “You know what? You boys can go ahead of me, I can’t decide what I want.” She weaves herself behind them and ushers them forward.
John, the black man, edges up. “Thanks, Ma’am,” he obediently announces, with a hint of mockery.
Lucy’s hand darts to her mouth as if aiming to muzzle her next words. “Oh, I didn’t mean…I only said ‘Boys’ because I’m old enough to be your mother!”
Reggie fist-bumps John and exclaims, “That’s right. You are definitely old enough to be our mother.”
As Lucy quickly removes her ponytail holder and rearranges her hair yet again, she blurts, “Do you really think so?” She yanks out the portable cosmetic mirror from her fanny pack, starts to apply her red lipstick, and pleads, “Do you think I look that old?”
Reggie regards his buddy and retorts, “Well, that’s what you said. The reason you called us ‘Boys.”
“I didn’t think I looked that old.” She hesitates. “I just felt bad like maybe you thought I was prejudiced or something cause I called you, ‘Boys’. Well, you know, people sometimes call African Americans, ‘Boys’. I didn’t want your friend here to be offended. But I did call both of you ‘Boys’, right?”
John smirks, “Right, politically incorrect people do refer to us blacks as ‘Boy’. Just like you did. And you pulled off your alibi because you’re so old.”
Lucy rustles into her purse, jerks out a pink, polkadot piece of cloth from the tangled mess. She clenches the ribbon between her teeth, which causes her muffled voice to weaken her case, “Well I —”
Reggie, jumps into the fray. “But you don’t think you look old enough to be our mother, do you? An obvious coverup.”
Lucy takes the ribbon from her mouth, ties it on her ponytail into a gigantic bow. “No, I just — wanted to spare your friend any hard feelings. I didn’t want you to think —”
John’s voice escalates. “Well, I do. I do think… So you lied about why you called us Boys. Or rather, why you called me, Boy.”
“No, that’s not fair. And anyway, it’s not nice to tell someone they look old!”
Both young men exclaim in unison. “Sorree,” and then slap each other a high five. With a satirical smirk, Reggie declares,” John here, will take that under advisement, right John?”
Another high five.
Now the woman in the business pantsuit behind the two guys pokes her head around to face the first three customers. She barges in. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation.”
John, instinctively responds with a southern drawl. “What’s it to you, Ma’am?”
“Well, I think the problem is that this woman here, what’s your name, honey?”
“Lucy here was just trying to right a possible wrong by explaining why she used that term — I won’t repeat it.” She looks at John. “You see, she just wanted to do the right thing by you.”
“So, I’m black,” answers John. “What’s it to you? Why are you getting involved?”
“Well, I’m a social worker and I help families of color, maybe like your family. I guide them to find housing and jobs and bring them out of poverty. I imagine that might have been what happened to you.”
“Now, why would you assume that about my brother?’ asks Reggie, as if he’s been in this dialogue many times before.
“Well, he, John, is it? Seems to be at a loss for words like so many of my clients who are trying to make it in a white world.”
“That’s a racist assumption, don’t you think?” protests Reggie.
“Well, now that you call attention to it, yes, maybe you’re right, I heard John here call you Reggie, right?”
“Yep, I’m white with a black name. Like the baseball player, Reggie Jackson. But I’m white. Hmmm…”
The social worker glances at Lucy and says, “It appears I’ve taken your place. Wanting to do right by these b— guys.” She turns toward Reggie. “But I’m just trying to be sympathetic without hurting your black friend, John. Nowadays we have to be careful what we say.”
Lucy, in an apparent attempt to return a favor, rescues the social worker. “See, it happened to you, too. You saw John here, a black man, and you put all kinds of stuff on the meeting rather than just seeing him as a regular man. But that’s because you were trying too hard to not fall into saying the wrong thing. Just like me.”
The Social Worker dabs her perspiring lip with a linen handkerchief, then slips off her suit jacket. “I was trying to smooth things over. See, I work with families that want to adopt babies. And we try to place them into white families so they will get all the advantages. So John, if you were one of my assignments, you might have been adopted into a white family.”
“What you don’t get,” says John, “is that just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’m the one who was adopted. My brother here has that claim.” John puts up his two fingers and points to his eyes the way people do to get kids to pay attention. “I’m the black guy. When my parents adopted Reggie before I was even born, they wanted him to have a name to go with our family, like Reggie Jackson even though he’s white.”
Noting the Social Worker’s confused expression, Reggie continues as if he is John’s extension. “What’s your problem, lady? I’m Reggie. I’m the white one who was adopted by John’s black family!”
“Oh I get it now. Sorry. That is a bit of a twist,” says the social worker with a bit of a guffaw.
With a loud moan, the logy girl at the counter finally stops moving her head as if following a string of sing-a-long dots. Freckle Face, as her friends call her, commands, “Next in line? I’m ready for your order!”
Ignoring the command, Reggie persists, “See. John and I are practically twins. White and black twins!”
The young girl raises up her arms as if ready to make a karate chop, then slams down the counter shutter so hard, her customers instinctively duck as if having just heard a gunshot. They are now staring at a blank wall..
Lucy moves in front of John and Reggie. She knocks belligerently on the closed window shutter. “Hey, in there. I finally figured out what I want to order. Please open up.”
The yawning girl lifts the shutter. “Well, it’s about time. What do you want, old lady?”
The social worker sighs deeply.“That wasn’t nice, Girl. Who taught you your manners? You can hurt all kinds of people with bad language, not just with racial slurs.”
“Who are you calling, ‘Girl?”
Speechless, Lucy looks pleadingly at the others.
“So, Madame,” with emphasis on the Madame, “what do you want to order already?”
“I’ll take the chocolate/vanilla twist.”
‘Girl’ perks up on that one. “Well, aren’t you clever! Do you think putting chocolate and vanilla together will undo your racial prejudice?”
The social worker vigorously shakes her head. “Look, Lucy here, made a perfectly understandable faux pas by calling this young man, “Boy”.
“I called both of them “Boys”. Doesn’t that clear me?”
“Let’s ask the Boys. What do you say, Boys?”
“You just looked at my brother when you said Boys, at my black brother.”
“I keep forgetting. Right. John’s your brother.” She swings her pantsuit jacket over her shoulder, and with her index finger, she holds it behind her back.
Exasperated, Lucy resumes her tete-a-tete with Freckle Face at the counter. “Like I said, I’ll take the chocolate/vanilla twist.”
“Are you sure you don’t want a black-and-white milkshake?”
“Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you should be a wiseass with me, young lady. You got it right the first time: the chocolate-vanilla twist.”
On the other side of the counter, the belligerent girl saunters toward the ice cream machines as silence reigns. A few seconds later, a middle aged, corpulent woman, puffing from her trek, scurries along the sidewalk, her flip flops exposing her grimy feet. She positions herself at the end of the line behind the social worker.
Reggie points to the overweight woman. “Hey, we should let her in. She looks like she needs her ice cream more than we do.”
“Are you trying to say I’m fat?”
“No, I just saw you running to get in line and I figured you were in a hurry. I wasn’t trying to —”
Social Worker to the rescue: “No, I don’t think he was —”
Lucy clears her throat with panache.“Well, maybe he was. Typical man. Thinks he can put down a woman’s body like it belongs to him.”
Reggie throws up his hands. “Whoa. That’s going too far. Suppose I didn’t accept your explanation about calling me “Boy”?
She points to Reggie, “I didn’t call you, Boy. I called him, Boy.”
If John had been sitting, he would’ve abruptly popped up like a prosecuting attorney. “Aha. You see. You are a racist!”
During the trial, the speechless Counter Girl continues to hold up Lucy’s ice cream like a trophy, awaiting recognition.
“You’ve been trying to trap me the whole time. I won’t have it.” Lucy turns around to face the counter girl. “Like I said, I’ll have the chocolate/vanilla twist.”
“That won’t get you out of it, you Old Bitch.”
Taking the now melting ice cream cone, in a loud whisper, Lucy refrains, “At least I didn’t call the woman, Fat.”
“Neither did I!” defends Reggie. “She called herself fat.”
Toward the empty counter, in a dramatic aha, Miss Social Worker exclaims, “Make that two. I’ll have the chocolate/vanilla twist too. I want the smallest size.” Turning to the others as if in a curtain call, she announces, “That’s how I keep my figure; I let myself have treats but only in small quantities.”
“Are you insinuating that I should order a small size ice cream, Miss Do-Gooder?”
Everyone fixates on the overweight woman, including Freckle Face.
“No, I was just —”
“You, in your business suit, don’t try to back out with your liberal, socialist bull shit!”
“Now, where did you get that from? I never said I was a socialist!”
“But you are, aren’t you?” retorts the overweight woman.
“I’m a Democrat. That doesn’t make me a socialist. And now who’s labelling whom? Is it politically correct to call a person a socialist?”
“If you can call me fat, I can call you a socialist. I’ll bet you’re a Social Worker.”
“Well, yes I am. You are very astute. Surprising. Obviously, you’ve been around. I falsely assumed you were younger than you look.”
“Right. All of us fat-faced, middle aged women look older than our real age. Next thing, you’re gonna tell me — I have such a pretty face! And we know what that means about the rest of me!”
In true counselor fashion, the social worker admonishes the crowd. “I think we’re all in over our heads. This conversation is like the Tar Baby. We’re getting stuck every time one of us tries to right a possible wrong.”
“Who are you calling Tar Baby?”
“Okay. So, John, now you have a perfect excuse to call me racist. I, a person who works with all races and respects everyone. Everything I try to fix boomerangs and I get hit back with my own good intentions. When I try to exonerate myself, something else sticks. Uncle Remus knew what he was talking about.”
“Never heard of him, Uncle Whooziwatt. Was he a racist?” asks Reggie.
“Who knows. Those were different times.”
John marches in place as if in a military parade. “That’s what you whites always say. Perfect excuse.”
Prodded to speak, Lucy scolds, “Oh. so now you blacks are discriminating against us whites!”
An unshaven man in a manual wheelchair startles the group by grunting his way to the last spot at the end. The disabled man doesn’t miss the nasty look from the overweight woman in front of him. “What? You have a problem?”
“No, I just didn’t want you to step on my — I mean, roll over my --
“Oh, you’re afraid I’ll crush your pudgy toes?” Looking down at her feet, he asks, “Where have you been? To a pig sty?”
“No, I was just—”
“She was just —-”
“Right. She was just—-”
In unison, Reggie and John chant, “We’re all just—”
Defiantly, the wheelchair man rolls his chair up to the beginning of the line nearly bumping into the social worker.
As if being let out of a cage, the social worker deliberately budges in front of the interloping unshaven man who shouts, “Hey, I’m disabled. You have to let me go first!”
Stooping to eye level to highlight her able-bodied position, the social worker shouts, “Who gave you the right to —”
“Where’s your decency woman? You can’t discriminate against cripples!”
“Oh really?” She gives the chair a little nudge out of her way and beelines toward the Counter Girl. “I’m glad you didn’t set up my order yet. Get me the chocolate/vanilla twist. Make it a child’s size, extra small.”
Without taking her eyes off the social worker, the “fat” woman smugly plunges in. “I’ll have the same. Make mine extra large.”
Daisy Mae Patchett’s Fairy Godmother
Daisy Mae Patchett, having recently been thrust into the most spiritually hollow valley of her life, was visited one day by a fairy godmother. It wasn't necessarily Daisy’s personal godmother but more likely a generic one who, for a reason godmothers never question, was assigned to Daisy Mae on that historic occasion.
For a few months now, ever since her beloved husband, Abner, had passed on to the next dimension, Daisy Mae had been grappling with an unrelenting depression. No wonder the overwhelmingly melancholic vibes from Daisy Mae’s splintered heart emanated toward the Godmother Enclave of Greater Scents who had no choice but to go where summoned.
On the day in question, Daisy Mae had reluctantly forced herself to swallow some semblance of breakfast and was now robotically washing her meager dishes. Casually, as she slipped the last of the thickened porridge into the garbage disposal, she glanced into the living room to see if maybe the sun had risen today. Not that it would have made any difference since, as usual, she had no plans to leave her house. Blocking Daisy’s view of the partially blinded window, stood the statuesque fairy godmother although at the time, Daisy Mae didn't know who this uninvited figure was.
As Daisy ambled cautiously into the next room, while murmuring to herself that she must be losing her mind, she almost collided into the figurine. The godmother looked more like a god-father but couldn’t have been the real, honest-to-goodness true God, because his name wasn’t spelled with an upper case “G” as would have been a clue to the real Lord’s honest-to-goodness identity. But then again, at that moment, other than the fairy tales that were read to her as a child as well as her devouring of all those mafia books and movies, Daisy Mae, didn’t know anything about godmothers or godfathers.
Wearing a white, flowing evening gown, and preening with pride, the rigidly upright cinderfella maintained his unflinching position in front of her. Using his copiously hairy, muscle-bound arm, like a priest, he swung his sparkling lantern in pendulous fashion. A smokey vapor emanated from the lamp’s peepholes, its lavender potpourri pervaded the entire first floor of the house.
Startled, Daisy Mae yelped so loudly, she didn't hear the godmother's plea to calm down, that everything was going to be okay.
Calm down, Daisy Mae, everything is going to be okay.
This godmother was newly minted and hadn’t learned the ways of diplomacy. The impatience in his voice didn’t calm Daisy Mae but this novice caretaker hadn’t actually intended for his words to soothe her. With his tunnel vision, he had a job to do and by god, or by godmother, he was going to do it!
Whaaaat? What do you want? bellowed the newly minted widow, Daisy Mae.
I am your Fairy Godmother.
You can’t be my Fairy Godmother. You are a man.
Why Daisy Mae would question a man about his gender, a man with a body settled comfortably inside traditional godmother garb, is anyone’s guess. There were so many more important things to settle such as why this stranger reverently posed before her, the crinolined bottom of the gown spreading across most of Daisy’s living room.
Nevertheless, seventy-year-old Daisy Mae wasn’t functioning too well these days. She missed Abner so much. What made the longing more exquisite was the reality that she had never really had her own life; her whole existence had been to serve him. Deep down, without openly admitting it even to herself, she maintained her selfless loyalty as her underlying moral pledge. Since Abner’s passing, she scarcely remembered her given name, but Mrs. Patchett never lost sight of her last name, because that was the surname she had acquired when she was wafted out of her family’s house and into Abner’s arms at age seventeen. Come to think of it, the gown her Fairy Godmother wore at this moment looked miraculously similar to the one Daisy Mae had adorned at her very own wedding.
Godmother was speaking:
We are very progressive where I come from; if you are a Fairy Godmother, male or female, it doesn’t matter what you wear. We are liberals and we don’t feel compelled to identify as one race or another.
No matter. Why are you here?
We got word that you were in a bad way, that you had prayed more than once for your husband to return and fill the vacuum he left when he forsook you. We surmised we could help.
Are you saying you could bring him back to me?
Either that or we can take you to him.
You mean you could kill me so I would go to his dead place?
Yep, something like that. Unless, you want him to come to you instead.
Right. I may be miserable but I’m not ready to die just yet, if you don’t mind.
Fairy Godmother was heartened by this statement because it had been drummed into his head that, "A life without purpose is a life of emptiness." His elders would say that given her will to live even without Abner, there was still a glimmer of hope for Daisy Mae Patchett. Amidst the dragging of her feet to get on with her life and all her previous tearless tears and her yes-sir-yes-maam head nodding behaviors and the masking of it’s-not-fair laments buried deep inside, all Daisy Mae needed now was simply some redirection. Godmothers wanted Daisy to live a golden life of self-awareness partnered alongside a cherished mission, instead of this life that had been pasted in place — with temporary cement, it appears -- on her wedding day. But the godmother agent of change needed Abner’s help since Abner, had not intentionally caused Daisy's dutiful demise. At any rate, he had been a willing but essentially unconscious collaborator in the diminishing of Daisy Mae Patchett's soul, yet it was believed he had the wherewithal to be a catalyst in reversing the damage.
Okay, I’ll go get Abner, announced the oxymoronic character in the evening gown with newly dangling, diamond earrings that were so elongated, they grazed his shoulder blades. (When had these crystalline additions magically appeared?)
Cinderfella — yes it turned out that Cinderfella was Fairy Godmother's moniker assigned just yesterday by the head master — swung his lantern in a familiar, circular pattern, causing a renewed rosy aroma to permeate the air. It was just a faint scent, nothing that would overwhelm a person, particularly someone like Daisy Mae who experienced the narrowing of her throat whenever she inhaled pungent odors.
Or perhaps she handled this aromatic intrusion so well because godmothers, who are sympathetic to their constituents, use allergy-free solutions in their brew. Daisy Mae had never pressured Abner to give up perfume though, for he originated from the fifties era when men and red-faced fuzzy-cheeked teenagers slapped on oodles of Aqua Velva and Old Spice and wore leisure suits. They had only just given up shiny hair shellac a few years prior to the after-shave revolution. Abner knew of her discomfort because she had mentioned it once or twice and she coughed or wheezed in his presence most of the time but he soon forgot the cause and reacquired his allegiance to his adolescent accoutrements. Abner felt naked without his aftershave. His wife’s reaction couldn’t be that big a deal. Consequently, during the last few months, given Abner’s absence, for more reasons than just her fragrance dilemma, Daisy Mae had been breathing easier.
When the rosy signal quickly reached it’s potential, within a flash, a few feet from Daisy Mae and scrunched vertically against the floral area rug, Abner appeared before her wearing his polka dot pajamas. In a squatted position with his upper body shaped like Rodin’s Thinker, his semi-bald head was tilted as if in prayer. With the patience of a snail, he peered up at her, a miffed expression on his face. He brought his veiny left hand to join the chubby right one and rubbed his eyes. Both hands transformed into tight fists, a novel feat since his advanced arthritis had always prevented such actions in the past. With these instruments, he circled his eye sockets the way an infant does, twisting round and round as if to sharpen or to blur — it appeared he wasn’t sure which he favored — the bewildered image above him.
Finally, while Daisy Mae folded her arms across her chest and bobbed her head in synch with her bedroom slippered foot now tapping against the hard wood floor, Abner unhurriedly used his palms to support himself as he got off his haunches and arose from his crouched spot on the area rug. He gradually stood at attention. This homecoming scene had taken less than sixty seconds while all three characters sustained stunned and silent countenances, yes, even the open-mouthed godmother had not heretofore witnessed such a paranormal return at any time during his evolution to godmothership.
Abner, the returnee from The Haven only after two months absence, obviously considered it his responsibility to utter the first words. Yet, he hadn’t expressed an earthly vocal word since the day he abandoned Daisy. He now croaked out the following communique:
Oh my, Daisy Mae, I thought I’d never see you again.
Nor I, Abner. Nor I.
After a pause, she upped her volume:
So why aren’t you hugging me now? You always hold back the hugs. That’s all I ever wanted from you. Why do I have to beg you?
Startled, and still in a dreamy state, Abner, stopped short and then relented as he approached her, his head bowed like a delinquent but recalcitrant school boy:
I’m sorry, Daisy Mae. It’s just that I’m busy trying to figure out how I got here and how I ever left? The last thing I remember is you slobbering all over and squeezing my hand real hard, like right on my IV spot — man did that hurt — and me trying to keep my eyes open and finding a way to get you to stop blubbering. Have I been away?
With his arms outstretched and his wiggling fingers beckoning, Abner moved closer to her. She flung herself into him and planted her arms around his neck, clasping her hands and locking them in place at the spot where a few grey tufts lingered behind his head just under his disappearing hair line. She leaned against him causing his back to arch awkwardly. He lost balance. His body followed the trajectory and he almost landed on his head but he was able to maneuver both Daisy and himself onto the sofa with her landing on top of him, heart to heart — but the sound of her beats the only ones heard (was he heartless?) — while her legs splayed every which way and the feathers of one bedroom slipper plopped just inches from his parched lips and danced rhythmically in the breeze that travelled outward from Abner's mouth as he craved precious air and huffed heavily.
The godmother giggled like a school girl.
Who the hell are you? Abner demanded while accidentally pushing Daisy Mae onto the floor.
Oh, I am Daisy’s Mae’s Fairy Godmother.
You can’t be! You are a man!
Oh, we at the Godmother Enclave of Greater Scents do not discriminate across gender lines.
What? What are you talking about? Daisy Mae, what is going on here?
It was difficult for Abner’s wife to address Abner’s question as she was focusing on getting up off the floor using her rusty old knees that had not improved at all since Abner’s absence so what did he expect?
So, it came to be that Abner returned to the unpracticed arms of Daisy Mae and they did their best to maintain peacekeeping management as they had done throughout their entire fifty-two year marriage but this time they were unable to pretend that their methods had actually succeeded in the past.
During these limited days and nights of the unwieldy reunion, the Fairy Godmother slept in the guest room and tried to remain scarce so that the fiery couple could have their privacy. They stopped asking questions about the origin of the godmother’s drop-by and pretended Cinderfella wasn’t even there. It helped that Cinderfella required no sustenance so they didn’t have to feed him. He didn’t even drink water. Gratefully, Daisy Mae refused to share her washing machine. (Daisy Mae’s possessiveness of her laundry room could not be unhinged as these headquarters were very sacred to her.) Without a way to clean her gown, even though Cinderfella presumably wore the same evening gown even for sleep, it never showed signs of soiling. Since Cinderfella did not perspire, he consistently emerged unwrinkled from the guest room at a moment’s notice, his scented lantern in readiness, and always appearing fresh as Daisy.
As much as they tried to forget about Cinderfella, they couldn’t pretend he wasn’t in their home. Many scents trickled out of his room in a timely fashion as the bouquets coordinated with what was going on in the Patchetts' struggle to redefine their joint endeavor. Furthermore, whenever their voices became strained, as occurred mostly in the mornings, when they opened their eyes and realized the two of them were still alive in the same world, the more they became disillusioned, the more they could detect the scents of: apple, cinnamon, clove, copal, gardenia, jasmine, musk, orange, patchouli, peppermint, rain, rose, vanilla, white jasmine and ylang ylang.
Cinderfella later told them that these fragrances signified the many facets of relationships, such as love and companionship. When they asked if he were trying to manipulate them into loving each other better, Cinderfella said, why, of course. Wasn’t that why he was here?
I studied for four years before becoming an Apprentice Godmother. In fact, you can’t even be admitted to the missionary program for certification until you learn all there is to know about aromatherapy.
One day, Daisy Mae and Abner banded together to protest:
Stop trying to intrude on our relationship. This is the way it always was. We just figured it out. We never really liked each other. We never understood each other. Stay out of it.
Was the Fairy Godmother’s over zealous response a matter of sour grapes over not being able to make this couple achieve mutual respect that was never there in the first place? In what appeared to be an inappropriate temper (for a godmother, that is) he gathered up all the vapors that promote Harmony — angelica, basil, bay, bayberry, carnation, cinnamon, clove, coconut, dill, dragon's blood, eucalyptus, frankincense, gardenia, geranium, heather, juniper, lilac, myrrh, narcissis, sandalwood and violet and concocted them into one giant thick steamy soup that was so dense, the mist hardly worked it’s way through the gaps in his lantern. This time, the overworked flavors made Daisy Mae’s skin prickle. Her throat narrowed more than ever and nausea threatened to push her over the edge and give way to the release of her pent up animus toward her husband. The Harmony solution had just backfired!
One time, when Daisy Mae was being particularly unreasonable, Cinderfella remonstrated her:
Miss Daisy Mae, if you are not nicer to him, I'm sending him back.
To Abner, he threatened, You must learn to respect her and if you don’t, I will turn you into a pumpkin!
Cinderfella privately admitted that this omen went well beyond his skills. He scolded himself accordingly. You see how frustrated this godmother apprentice became, so much so, he had to sniff lavender throughout the night, not realizing that the haze didn’t work on him, only on humans, because ethereal servants such as he were devoid of olfactory senses. But when you get to your wits end like this, you try anything.
Abner was shrieking now, the sounds from his utterances were like those from a giant cat in heat:
Daisy Mae, face it! You miss my criticism. I know you do. And you know it, too. I kept you alive all those years when I told you what to do. See. Look how you are wasting away without me! I never laid a hand on you but I should have. That’s what the guys at The Haven keep telling me. And they have a real point.
With one hand, he pinched his long lost wife on her emaciated overly-rouged cheek cushions. With the other hand, he smacked her on her vanishing behind but due to her weight loss, he couldn’t get a grip when he tried to hold on.
That did it for Daisy Mae. With strength and courage she didn’t know she possessed, she pushed his hand away and glared at him:
You are a pompous ass.
Daisy Mae didn’t know it just yet but this last expression from Abner and her rightful answer had brought her swiftly to a tipping point.
A few days later, Daisy Mae accused Abner of holding her back, of not allowing or encouraging her to be her own person. Abner, in touch with his new roots at The Haven and resenting how he was so rudely returned to his wife against his will, lit up with burning indignation:
Get me outta here!!
In Abner’s defense, as was probably true of the husbands who had recently advised him, he just didn’t have a clue. What he saw was a wife who was a cold-fish, a henpecker and he never did anything right by her standards. Because everything was seen from his perspective, he had no idea where she was coming from. Who needs her?
Daisy Mae’s response:
Right. Get outta here! Why should you stay and pester me all day? Why did I put up with you all those years? Because umpteen years ago, my mother told me I should? That’s it! I’m going out to learn how to play Mah Jongg! What have I been waiting for? What have I been missing? Certainly, not you. I’ve been missing life. Instead of pining away for you in death, I should have been playing bridge! I’m leaving this house right this minute. I’m starting to live my life right now.
Daisy Mae stormed out of the house.
So, having decked himself back into his polka dot pajamas, the uniform of the remedial group to which he had been assigned, Abner returned to the Alliance for Erstwhile, Egomaniacal, Husbands Escaping from Nagging Widows. When he showed up on the ground floor of the Lifetime Review Building where they met daily, they welcomed him back. At The Haven, once assigned, people rarely moved up any floors but there was always a chance, especially after a man was returned from his revisit and was open to learning the error of his ways. After all, husbands aren’t born knowing. Most of the time, they operate on what they were taught or what they think they know. The problem was, by pooling all these egocentric men together, some of them being reluctant or willing wife-beaters, the influence on men like Abner was powerful. Compared to these participants, he was more like a babyspouse-in-training and his recent comeback with Daisy hardened him and made him more ripe for sadism. If you are a real man, you don’t take crap from your wife. Period.
The Haven is a very cool place. They even have a spot reserved for Daisy Mae for when it is her time. After official orientation, she would be invited into the Late Bloomers Widow Ward, which meets on the enclosed rooftop of the same building as the Alliance for Erstwhile, Egomaniacal, Husbands Escaping from Nagging Widows. They convene at sunset so they can observe the brilliant colors in the artificial sky available for viewing from any angle since the frameless always-sparkling glass windows surround the entire floor.
Before Abner had departed, Daisy Mae had already begun her mah jongg and bridge lessons and eventually became chairwoman of the social committee at the retirement community to which she moved just three months after Abner walked out -- the second time. There might have even been a chance Daisy would go to college and get that degree she always craved. Now that she affirmed her freedom, age not a limiting factor, there was no end to her accomplishments.
She acquired a lovely dog from the rescue center who went everywhere with her. She thought of naming him Abner but realized that she would be holding onto old fantasies that had nothing to do with him but more about her teenage, Brides Magazine reveries. So Daisy Mae Patchett’s cuddly new puppy was named, DogPatch.
And Cinderfella? What happened to him? After he escorted Abner back up the path to his cherished oblivion, The Haven, Cinderfella didn't stick around. Even though he had helped to facilitate a true human success story, dejectedly, he believed he had failed. Downtrodden, he returned to headquarters. At first he was admonished for inferior work; then after the report was reviewed by the Efficacy Committee who said it was a marvelous result, he was redeemed. After all, both Daisy and Abner each got what they wanted (Abner escaped from and Daisy Mae immersed herself into real life).
Subsequently, Cinderfella’s reputation was gloriously restored. It had taken Abner's provocation to spur Daisy on to greater heights. From the beginning, she had been awaiting his permission to thrive when all along, she had only to examine what was inside herself for the answers. The journey to resolute autonomy didn't look pretty but her resulting steadfastness was a thing of beauty.
By the time Cinderfella was publicly given his award for Best Beginner’s Assignment of the Year, since he had initially been convinced that his failure was due to unnecessary gender confusion inflicted on his clients, he had already subjected himself to a sex change operation.
Having recuperated from the surgery, Cinderfella the Godmother was awaiting instructions for her next assignment.
The Football on the Lawn
The slightly deflated football stuck out of the grassy soil as if the lower point had been glued into a carved-out gravesite. I don’t remember how many years it remained there on my front yard until the decaying leather released its last dying gasp of entrapped air. Throughout snowstorms and grass cuttings and for months after we lost Sammy, no one dared to touch or remove Sammy’s smashed up football as it lay embedded in the bitter earth.
Sammy was my best friend, and he liked me even though I was a girl. I could throw a football farther than he, but he ran faster than I did. All these years later, I remain grateful to Sammy for never making fun of me like the other kids — cause I was a girl playing boys’ games.
It was the summer of 1952. Sammy had just died from Scarlet Fever, and all the parents were beside themselves with worry. Sammy’s mom had taken to her bed. At any moment, she might appear at the open window to sneak an ambivalent peek at us kids shamefacedly playing in the middle of the street, the same games Sammy used to play with us: Stick-Ball, Baby in the Air, and of course, Touch Football.
We kids would never lay a hand on Sammy’s football again, so Bobby Gillespie volunteered his, the one he got last Christmas that his parents wouldn’t let him bring to our scrimmages because for sure, he was gonna lose it down the flood drain. They didn’t dare complain this time, not under these circumstances. Bobby rejoiced: This was his chance to gloat over the unblemished, shiny cowhide - even though he felt sheepish about it — since Sammy just died and all.
From her window, two doors from my house, Sammy’s mother’s swollen eyes flittered back and forth from the football on my lawn to Sammy’s boisterous pals in the street. Sometimes we would see Sammy’s dad cautiously approach his wife as she stood there like a sacred shrine. He would lean right up against Mrs. Gibson, his arm around her, coaxing her to withdraw to a more shielded part of the house. Apparently, Dr. Gibson’s words had little influence because many times, he forcefully grabbed her elbow and tugged her from the window.
One day, Tommy Cornwall, who had returned from overnight camp, yelled up to Mrs. Gibson before any of the kids could stop him. Sammy’s mother perked up when she saw Tommy and two other kids frantically waving at her:
“Hey, Mrs. Gibson, Sammy left his football on Rosalie’s lawn. Peter, Billy and I just got off the bus. We came straight here. Tell Sammy to meet us in front of Rosalie’s. We’ll bring his ball.”
Dr. Gibson shoved her away from the window. just as Mrs. Gibson’s shrieks wafted through the neighborhood. Those screams still echo in my mind as if they’re coming from deep inside my body, not hers. In contrast, sometimes, like when I’m doubting if I’ll ever cross the finish line in one of my marathon runs, I can’t decipher which sound is actually louder in my ears: Mrs. Gibson’s or Sammy’s encouragement: “You got this, Rosalie!”
I was going to marry Sammy. In all my pretend play-weddings with my girlfriends, I secretly imagined Sammy as my handsome groom. I hadn’t decided how to tell him yet. One thing for sure though, after I lost Sammy, I never engaged in bridal games again, even though my girlfriends picked on me for declining. Despite hearing my protestations, they called me a tomboy as if that’s why I wouldn’t play. The worst of it was that before he so abruptly deserted me and his football, I didn’t get to tell Sammy my plans for us.
After my girlfriends blew me off as a playmate, I began to wonder if I would or could marry anyone else. Later on, I did look for Sammy in every man I met — to no avail. I know it sounds silly that the loss of Sammy, my first love, is the reason I never married. I didn’t tell anyone that, not even my therapist. Silly girl. I was only twelve years old! Sammy is probably looking down on me and laughing his head off. But, I think, he knows how much he meant to me.
I’m sure he knows.
I wanted to tell Mrs. Gibson that I loved him. After a few weeks when she wasn’t at the window as much, I gingerly walked to her house. Maybe she was better now… Crazy. I wasn’t any better; how could she be? But I rang her doorbell and stood there stuttering. She stretched her arms out to me. We had been close when Sammy was alive. Now we both renewed our bond as if we had become mother and daughter.
Mrs. Gibson, smiled and told me how pretty I looked and that she was glad I came by and would I like some chocolate chip cookies, the ones Sammy and I used to dunk into our milk. Still fresh in my memory was the picture of my best buddy and me sitting with our chairs hugged up tight against the kitchen table on opposite sides, but both able to reach the treats on the lazy-suzan in the middle.
I marveled over the gigantic uneaten, still warm batch of cookies. Sammy and I were the only ones who ever partook. I wanted to but didn’t dare ask Mrs. Gibson who did you bake these for anyway?
As I slowly picked up one cookie at a time, Mrs. Gibson asked me if I had bought my supplies yet for school, which was due to start the next day. Maybe that’s why I chose this time to visit her. For sure, she would be grieving: Sammy’s mother would never go shopping with Sammy again.
Mrs. Gibson chatted on and on about Sammy’s older brother who had just started college the week before and how he wanted to become a doctor like his father. She told me all about Arthur, as a baby, as a high school football star, and on and on. It was as if Sammy and Arthur were all rolled into one…
I can’t pinpoint when the deadened football on my lawn eventually disintegrated just like the sound of Sammy’s obsolete whooping and hollering whenever our team scored. Long after Sammy’s football disappeared from my lawn, Mrs. Gibson and I stayed in touch. Neither of us ever mentioned how the ball, a marker of our mutual yearnings, had morphed into dust that vanished into the heavenly atmosphere. Most of the neighbors had gone into emotional hiding, with time having graciously provided them the comfort of forgetting. This seemed to be true for Mrs. Gibson, but certainly not for me. Our scant discussions about Sammy had essentially vaporized along with Sammy’s precious football, and now most of our talk had to do with Arthur.
So, later, after Arthur graduated from Dartmouth, and had returned home for the summer, Mrs. Gibson tried everything in her power to assure that Arthur and I would become good friends. I remember Mrs. Gibson’ face whenever she saw us together, especially, years later on my graduation day: After the ceremony, when the graduates informally gathered in the middle of the high school football field with our diplomas, she clutched onto my hands with both of hers and shook me so hard, I nearly dropped the bouquet my parents had given me. Then Arthur, now Dr. Arther Gibson, embraced me and said, “Great job, Rosalie!” Over Arthur’s shoulder, I noticed Sammy’s beaming, teary-eyed mother adoringly put her hand over her heart…
I did eventually fall in love with Arthur.
At least, I thought I did.
Well, my love affair with Arthur is a long story. Let’s just say it ended with a broken engagement, Arthur’s broken heart, and Mrs. Gibson’s broken memory. Shortly before the wedding day, I had kind of a breakdown and tried to take my own life. I was a college kid, so much younger than Arthur, and I couldn’t fathom how I had been thrust into a dream-like adult world. It felt to me like I was caught up in the ending to a preordained, hypnotic fantasy designed by someone else…
After I got out of the hospital, I wandered around from job to job and man to man but it was clear I was never going to settle down. Instead, I became a physical education teacher in a private girls’ school where I didn’t need a degree. In my spare time, I remained obsessed with running…
It’s now forty years since Sammy released the grip on his football, but not his grip on me. I want to ask him: Did you catch a final glimpse of your epitaph, with your gold initials, SG, having faded over time, while the remains of the ball submerged underground forever?
And while you’re at it, do you recall the day, which neither of us knew was to be our last? You could have photographed my nightmare as I paced back and forth until I nearly wore out my sneakers. With both hands, I parted the curtains as if the drama was about to begin.You probably sensed me there, the girl waving to you from my bedroom window, because you slowly turned around and feverishly grimaced in your feeble, desperate attempt to reciprocate. You tried to raise your weighty arm and gift me your smile, not your usual toothy grin but you made a compassionate effort nonetheless. Then, practically comatose, you about-faced and barely stumbled home to die.
Do you ever think back to our game plan? We fit together like two well-practiced ballet dancers: You turn around; your back to me; you bend and pitch the football from under your legs as our fingers brush lightly against each other. You run like a cheetah to the other end of the street where I spiral the ball to you. Remember? Can’t you just feel my body heat instantly absorbed into that ball? You catch it and tuck the ball into your chest, scoring yet another touchdown. Remember? What about the feel of my hands against your sweaty and roughened ones as we rush to each other for high-fives and fist bumps? Does your hooting over our grandiose victory still ring in your ears?
Or, just like your mom tried to do, Sammy, do you completely forget everything?