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If you look closely at the photo above… you will see one little shoe.
That is because just outside of the frame… just outside of the observer’s view… is my little broken leg.
Look at that baby.
The perfect Gerber Cupie Doll mix right?
How could anyone break the leg of such a nice, sweet, little baby girl?
Well… you’d have to ask my sister.
The practically perfect person pictured here:
Only, if you did go to ask my sister, she would probably throttle you. In fact… she would probably throttle me.
I used to tell the story of how “Sissy Broke My Leg” in my classroom each year and when I got to the good part… I would call her on the cell phone, press “speaker,” and let her tell the whole class how she damaged me for life.
She hated it.
I don’t do it anymore.
Because she verbally throttled me.
She waited until she was at my house, vis-a-vis and shouted as she bordered on slapping me, “Why the hell do you have to call me and make me relive something I feel terrible about? Can’t you see you’re causing me pain?”
“I’m the baby,” I said smugly. “You broke my leg… I think you should have to pay for that the rest of my life.”
She gave me “theeeeee” big sister look… the I will kill you right now look… and I never, ever called her during class time again.
My students beg me to…
They do I swear…
But I stop them and shout, “Listen! She won’t let me… and you know how big sister’s are.”
Many of them nod their heads in silent solidarity. (Obviously, having been throttled by big sisters too.)
I don’t know what my sister was thinking that day back in 1966 when she broke my leg… She was seventeen… one of the most popular girl’s at Millikan High School. TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE IN EVERY WAY. Or so I thought… all of these years even AFTER the leg breaking incident but when I told my sister that I was writing this story she said, “Me? Practically perfect? Get real. I used to run around Millikan in my head cheerleader outfit, show all of the teachers the “forged” note from my mom and say, “I have to leave school immediately” before I’d flash them my all-American smile as I exited campus to ditch class with my friends.”
I was actually stunned for a moment when hearing this.
After years of taking the wrap as the “bad sister” the “bad seed” it was interesting to find out that the “good sister” the one who was always “so wonderful” was actually quite a bit of a naughty.
My sister has always been like a mother to me, so I don’t doubt that she had the best intentions when she hopped on her Schwinn Cruiser that day and propped me on the handle bars. I’m sure she thought I would giggle and squeal and love her all the more for it… but unfortunately the short ride went terribly wrong.
She lost her grip on my petite baby body and watched in horror as I slid off the front of the bike, where my small leg entered the turning spokes of the wheel, and snapped in several places before I landed helpless on the ground, caught as if a small animal in a snare, with my tiny leg twisted like delicate ribbon between the rough metal spokes of the rim.
My sister was beyond distraught and ran, frantic for help, to our neighbor: Mrs. O’Grady.
And though they both tried to free my leg, they actually had to remove the wheel from the bike, my leg still ensnared in it, and bundle “us” off to the hospital where the doctors could release me from it’s cruel grip.
The worst part, according to my sister, was not the break in my leg, but the break in her heart, as she held me in the backseat of the car, my little arms raised up to her, my hands opening and closing as I begged for understanding and a hug saying only three of the ten words I knew at the time:
“Sissy, Sissy sweet. Why? Why?”
“I would have preferred you to cry,” she said. “At least that would have been normal. But for you to lie there, like a little Buddha, not one tear on your face, as you asked me to explain in your tiny baby voice why this happened to you… was unbearable.”
The evil baby in me always smiles when she tells me this… I like that I was a master manipulator even at the age of one… assigning guilt and blame a talent passed down effortlessly in my genes.
My leg was “casted” from toe to hip, and my mother was enraged when she found out what my sister had done. It was weeks, no months, a constant barrage of angry words, that my sister had to endure from her parents for that “one” fatal mistake.
But oh… the story gets worse.
When the time came for the cast to finally be removed, I was beyond ecstatic.
They were taking me to see Santa that day for being such a brave girl through the months I had suffered my casted leg.
My sister said she was full of joy, so relieved that finally the day had come when she would no longer look at my cast as the “albatross” around her neck.
They took me from the hospital, straight to my grandmother’s, who was anxiously awaiting my arrival, just one of the many relatives who wanted to witness my full recovery and my visit with Santa.
I remember climbing from the car.
I remember skipping towards her house.
I remember tripping into a giant sprinkler hole and hearing a loud “SNAP” as my leg completely re-broke for the second time.
My sister said that I laid on my back, disbelief engulfing my pretty baby face, before I threw my arms outstretched over my head and WAILED, tossing my body from side to side screaming, “WHY? WHY!!!!!!!!”
Before my father picked me up, a writhing wild animal of a child, a snake ready to bite and hiss at anyone who tried to get close to me.
The next photo you see of me as a child is not a pretty one.
And if I could find it and post it here, I swear I would… but I have a feeling my sister has already burned it.
It’s me, a red corduroy jumpsuit, full leg cast, crooked bangs, a doll wedged tightly under my arm with no head, and a look in my eye that clearly shows that I have changed from a sweet little doll to a demon seed.
A look that seems to imply that I have already suffered the weight of the world and LORD HELP YOU if you try to cross me.
Today… I still limp when tired, the only reminder of that fateful ride… other than my yearly classroom story of how “Sissy Broke My Leg.”
I don’t ask for much from my substitute teacher.
You can ask any of my students: Stroosma’s job is cake.
Silent Reading for 30 to 40 minutes… followed by a nice “book to movie” dvd and his day is done.
So when I left for four weeks in the early spring of 2008 for a Writer’s fellowship in Vermont, I assumed, stupidly, that I could somehow trust that my classroom would run smoothly for the entire time I was gone… as long as I had Stroosma at the helm of the ship.
Stroosma is definitely one of the “beloved.”
A small group of teachers, substitutes, and staff members at Millikan High School that students actually really do enjoy being with…
The kids would be super stoked to have him as their substitute teacher for four weeks.
He’s good looking…
A very talented musician (former fantabulous bass player for the Sea Monsters) and…
My Facebook husband; which earns him TOTAL cool points in my book.
Girls have crushes on him… (and boys too)
Boys want to be like him… (and girls too)
He is “Thee” substitute and the kids know, when walking into the classroom, that “YES! STROOSMA’S HERE TODAY!” and that they are going to have a lovely day of respite from their regularly scheduled teacher.
Now, I’m sure you have already duly noted that I did not mention academics in the above description and this is why…
Don’t get me wrong… academics are important and Stroosma can teach…
But when you’re going to be 1,500 miles away from your students for four weeks… academics runs a FAR distant second to CLASS CONTROL.
You don’t want the Principal rolling around to your classroom every day, amped up because your substitute teacher can’t keep 180 high school students entertained for a 90 minute period… SERIOUSLY… you just don’t.
You need a “show” man…
You need A HEADLINER…
You need a man with a plan that can handle your clan.
And that’s Stroosma.
Sinatra would have wanted him in the “Rat Pack” every day of the week.
So… I spoke to him WAY in advance… because a substitute like Stroosma is always in high demand… and said:
“I’m going to be gone four weeks, and I need you to take my class. All I ask… (and I paused here for emphasis) is that you and the kids don’t burn the room down while I’m gone. Okay?”
Stroosma smiled his little Stroosma smile…
Winked his little Stroosma wink…
And gave me the thumbs up.
“No problem,” he said.
And like a FOOL… I believed him.
Two weeks later I was in Vermont… sitting in a beautiful Victorian house, content in my warm room, looking out the large bay window at the snow falling gently all around me, as I typed out the first full draft of my novel.
The view… serene…
The icy river… crystal crisp.
The rolling snowy hills… the water wheel of the old red mill.
I couldn’t ask for more of a picture postcard moment if I had planned it with God himself when suddenly… it was like a text bomb went off on my phone.
There must have been 30 alerts within 10 seconds and I am not exaggerating.
My students were bombarding me with messages all of which read: STROOSMA JUST ALMOST BURNED OUR ROOM DOWN. COME BACK.
Oh funny… I thought… look how much they miss me… I smiled to myself… they just love to tease me… such a funny game… Aren’t they silly children…. like I can just magically get back to Long Beach in a blink of an eye…. aren’t they just so cute…
I was sure Stroosma must have put them up to this and I’m telling you, I thought that right up until message number 31 which was from Stroosma himself and that’s when my little warm and fuzzy moment fled my little writer’s room and my brain almost exploded from my head:
HEY D, THE ROOM WAS ON FIRE BUT EVERYTHING IS OKAY.
Now… “WTF” was not even being used in text vocabulary at this time… but if I had been in my right mind at that moment… I would have made it up on the spot and typed it to him.
I called immediately.
I started to panic and dialed again.
I dialed again.
My mind was racing…
I could imagine my students, scared to death after their classroom burned down, all lined up next to the chain link fence… out on the field in a School Wide Fire Drill all because I had left to go to the Writer’s Colony in Vermont.
I was a bad teacher.
I had abandoned my flock.
I dialed again.
Stroosma picked up the phone and I heard all of my students shouting and frolicking in the background… their voices not full of terror and pain but ringing with complete and total joy and ecstasy that they had just had a memorable “event” in their English classroom…
“What the hell?” I shouted at Stroosma. “It was the one thing… the ONE thing I told you not to let happen! Shit… Stroosma!”
My students were suddenly silent… my voice can cut through a classroom even when I’m on a cell phone across the Great Divide and though they couldn’t hear the words… they most definitely heard the tone… and like the well-trained students they are… they knew that when Ms. Wood was going “insane” you better shut the fuck up.
Stroosma was silent as well.
“Well?” I snapped. “What the hell happened?”
“We put a pad thai box in the microwave and then forgot about it.”
I waited… unwilling to give him one inch without more description.
“It caught on fire and the smoke started to billow throughout the classroom,” he tried not to stumble on his words.
“IT WAS TURNING AND BURNING” I heard a wise-heimer shout with glee somewhere in the background, followed by a long barrage of slap sounds and shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhs… vigilantly justice being handed down by the “citizens” while the Sheriff was out of town.
“Nothing happened,” Stroosma said. “Not even the fire alarm.”
I let out a huge sigh of relief knowing that my students were safe, my room was still standing, and my Principal would not be signing my pink slip out of Millikan when I returned to Long Beach.
“Miriam was the one who told me,” Stroosma said.
Miriam… my German foreign exchange student… who could barely hold a basic conversation in English had raised her sweet little hand, pointed her militant little German finger at the microwave, and in heavily accented broken English said… Summ theeeeng ES burn ING!”
I could have had a God damn international incident on my hands because of him.
“You having fun?” He asked.
“Oh yeah…” I said sarcastically. “Great time… getting a lot of good writing done.”
“Okay then,” he said. “Talk to you later.”
I hung up the phone and spent about another 45 minutes retrieving text messages from students who wanted me to know that they loved me, missed me, and thought everything that had just happened was super funny…
I sat back in my chair and watched the clock… as I pictured my classroom back home… sad that I was minutes away from the actual Vermont Ben and Jerry’s factory… and I had none of the children I loved with me….or Stroosma… to go eat some ice cream with and enjoy a good laugh over the day’s event.
When my X and I were dating, he was in the middle of a meteoric rise to what I considered at 21 to be “fame” in a former punk band turned heavy metal riot rock band.
Tours went from playing with local Orange County and Los Angeles punk favorites to playing with Guns and Roses in venues that held well over a thousand spectators as GNR was about to reach their peak in the late 80’s … early 90’s.
When I tell my students the stories of these days, they look on with a sort of adoration mixed with total disbelief. They can’t imagine me in THAT setting. It’s not exactly that they can’t believe that I ever had a life… I’m pretty open, as a teacher, about sharing stories on living that I believe may help to educate or inspire “better choices than I made” decisions in my students.
But… they picture me now: no make-up on, hair pulled back in a pony tail, conservative clothing, a picture of maternal warmth, and find it hard to believe there was ever a: nightclub make-up, big haired vixen, scantily dressed, sex kitten hidden somewhere inside of THAT teacher’s body… and you know what?
That’s really a good thing.
You don’t NEED high school students thinking of you that way. You need high school students to see you as Mrs. Stay-Puff Marshmallow and keep the lines drawn firmly in the sand, wait strike that… CEMENT… as you grade their essays with a bright red marker and give them demerits for chewing gum or sleeping in class.
SUCH a meany!
I do however, like to shock them with my past every now and then… and watch as they cock their little heads to the side, their confusion just so palpable and adorable as they try to make meaning from the oxymoron they are actually looking at: The Cool Rocker Stay-Puff Marshmallow Teacher known as…Ms. Wood.
You can hear their little brains ticking…
It doesn’t fit…
That just doesn’t make sense…
I smile just to think of it.
I was in my early 20’s when my X’s band was moving it’s way through the Los Angeles Rock Scene… my X was very handsome… in an animalistic sort of way… dark, beautiful gold eyes, growling voice, women loved him or should I say, fantasized about him, and although I was very street smart at the time, I was very naive when it came to love… I honestly believed that I would be the only woman he would have eyes for as he rose to stardom.
He tried… don’t get me wrong… X did love me.
But if you know anything about Guns and Roses in the late 80’s early 90’s then you know that women… at the shows and on the road… were abundant and that ANY band touring with them would be sharing in that “abundance.”
I’d like to tell you that I enjoyed this “behind the scenes” rock and roll period of time in my life, but really… I didn’t much.
And I still have a hard time reconciling myself to that past today.
On this particular occasion though… it was not X’s women or X’s drug addiction getting under my skin… it was Axl Rose.
Yes… Mr. Axl Rose.
Mr. Slithery snake dancer, bandana wearing, ginger haired, 80’s bad boy.
What… a piece of work.
I was in college at the time and had gotten in the habit of bringing my books with me to shows.
That way… when X was in the middle of sound check, I could sit in the auditorium seats, study for my classes, and not get behind in my work.
I was alone that day, sitting in the theater watching Guns and Roses sound check when Axl took the stage.
Now, the guys in Guns and Roses had already shown some interest in my looks. Probably because I was a baby, barely of age, had jet black hair, white skin, dark purple lipstick lips, and tried to never speak in their presence… what a perfect 80’s girl: attractive and mute.
They would often walk by and smile or wave at me and I always waved back, but other than that… I had given them little attention, having grown up in a world of music where most of my friends and family were already Punk Rock Legends or just “notrious.”
I was mid-way through a textbook chapter on God knows what subject… when I realized that Axl was saying some really dirty words from the stage. At first, I thought it was just some part of a song he was singing… but a few seconds later… when I heard, “And she sits in the auditorium in front of me, reading her books, as I imagine myself naked on top of…”
I looked up and watched as he slithered his way back and forth across the stage, microphone stand in his hand, his mouth seductively moaning out sexual innuendoes to his “chosen” and supposedly so “adoring” audience and I thought… Jesus… fuck… Where the hell is X?”
I closed my books, gathered my things, and exited my way out the side entrance as Axl stopped mid sex-rap and looked at me just as my students look at me today…. head cocked to one side… a bit of disbelief… his confusion palpable and adorable as he watched the oxymoron that was once sitting in front of him exit the building: An 80’s rock chick that didn’t want to have ANY thing to do with Axl Rose.
And there goes Axl’s little brain ticking:
This isn’t happening.
She’s just pretending…
She has to like me…
I wandered off to find X who was eating some tacos with the guys in the band around the corner from the venue.
Of course, when I told him what Axl had done… he wanted to go beat him… this was nothing new (see story about the time I brushed Anthony Kiedis’s hair for confirmation if needed)
But X calmed down and we went on with our evening and enjoyed the show.
I was still out front after the performance, thanking some friends and family who had come to the event before heading back stage to be with X when, I said my goodbyes, flashed my backstage pass, and headed down the narrow hallway to the Green room.
Unfortunately, as I rounded the first corner, I came face to face with not only Axl Rose but David Lee Roth.
My first thought was one of shock.
David Lee Roth always looked so sexy in his videos but I had never seen Van Halen perform live… never seen David live.
He was shorter than I had imagined… a bit chubby at the time… and his hair, though still long, was thinning on the top giving the appearance of a balding mullet.
I wasn’t sure how to react.
Here were two internationally known sex symbols standing in the hallway of this venue, and I felt like I was in the Ozarks about to hear the theme song of, Deliverance, begin to rise in the background as I was begged to play the “little piggy” game with both of them.
It was horrible.
Axl was leaning into the corner of the turn… sweaty from his set and smirking at the fact that I was going to have to make my way past both of them by squeezing through the middle of their conversation.
I knew that either way I turned… I was in trouble…
If I was face to face with Axl as I passed by… he would just say a bunch of dirty things and try to get me to want him… and if I was face to face with David Lee Roth… Axl would grab my ass while I had to think of something nice to say to David about my admiration for his talent… while trying to ignore the thin, balding mullet and Axl’s creepy little hands on my butt.
It was definitely a rock and roll gauntlet.
I thought about just turning around and going out the way I came in but if I didn’t find X… he would probably come to the conclusion that I was with Axl and then there really WOULD be a brawl… and David Lee Roth would lose ALL of his hair… and it would be ALL MY FAULT when he had to accept his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame TOTALLY bald.
I was trapped.
I decided it was best to face Axl head on and leave my butt for David Lee Roth.
I strided forward with purpose before wiggling my way through the two of them.
Axl locked eyes with me as if he thought that he could somehow “voodoo spell” me into wanting him.
“Like the show?” he whispered in his most seductive voice.
I rolled my eyes as I felt David Lee Roth put his hands on either side of my hips and say in his “comic” goofy stage voice, “Excuse me..”
I almost ran down the last third of the hallway turning back only once to see them both admiring the jiggle and the shake.
I felt flushed with embarassment as I turned the last corner and ran right into X who was talking to Slash.
My face must have registered shock at being confronted with yet another “Gun,” since I was barely recovered from my brush with Axl, and Slash looked amused by my entrance.
“This is D.D.,” X said.
“Hey,” I said as I reached out my hand to shake his, still a bit breathless from the incident. “It’s nice to meet you.”
“Oh man,” Slash said. “We all thought you were Russian.”
“Russian?” I said.
“Yeah, the way you look and all.”
Suddenly… it clicked.
I bet Axl thought I couldn’t understand a word he was saying at sound check.
“Ty che blyad?”
X of course was just pleased that GNR thought that he was dating the hot foreign chick and I wondered if I might be able to keep the farce going by practicing a thick Russian accent and learning a good selection of Russian vocabulary. That way, I could basically make my way through the Rock World without talking to any of the key players if I didn’t want to… the thought of it was quite enticing…
“Ready to go?” X asked as he wrapped his arm around my waist.
“Nice to meet you,” I said to Slash as X grabbed his guitar case.
He lead me back down the small hallway and I watched as both Axl and David stepped aside for him.
“Good show,” X said as we walked by.
David shook his hand, Axl gave him a nod… and I just kept stepping… no turning around…. no looking back….
You would have thought I had asked to have dinner with the President of the United States.
You would have thought that I had asked to be the first woman to go on the Mission to Mars.
I don’t really understand why Lexi seemed so bent… my daughter who once burned past my house, a dead body in the back of the hearse and Ozzie Osbourne blasting from the speakers.
It was Ray Charles for Christ’s sake.
Look at the photo of Ray that I posted above.
Does he seem like a man that would have a problem coming over to our house and having a little visit and photo-op with mom?
I don’t think so.
From what I know about Ray Charles he was quite the ladies man… I’m sure Lexi with her playboy body and quick wit could entice him to come to the house.
Okay… so yeah… he was dead.
I know that.
I’m not being disrespectful here.
I just wanted to pay homage to Ray and Lexi was about to be his driver.
“I don’t know if I’m going to be taking him to his final resting place mom,” she whispered into the phone. “I think I’m the one… but I don’t know for sure yet.”
“Well, you have to get Ray,” I demanded. “He’s one of my all time favorites and I never got a chance to meet him.”
“I thought you did,” Lexi said.
“No, that was B.B. King.”
At this point I became annoyed. “It doesn’t matter who I’ve met bring Ray by the house.”
“Jesus,” Lexi said. “It’s not like I can just swing by with Ray and open up the casket so you can take a photo with him.”
“Why not?” I asked. “Ray won’t mind and if you put on his glasses, it will look like we were just having a lovely little chat while he was still alive.”
“You’re out of your mind,” she said, her tone full of disbelief.
“Bring Ray to me,” I shouted. “You bring Ray Charles to our house or you don’t come home.”
She mumbled under her breath… something that sounded like “Totally out of your fucking mind…” before she hung up on me.
I ran to the bathroom and freshened up.
I wanted to look my best for Ray.
I brushed my hair and put on my favorite dress before sitting out on the porch steps with my camera and imagining my time with Ray.
I wondered if Lexi would let me prop him up on the piano bench.
I could put a lit cigarette in the ashtray and a highball glass next to it.
I could stand behind the piano… leaning over it casually… sharing a private moment with Ray… a bit of a giggle really as he played me one last song.
“What are you doing?” Dylan asked as he looked out the door and saw me daydreaming.
“Waiting for Ray Charles to drop by,” I said.
“Didn’t he just die today?” Dylan asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Lexi’s going to bring him over… just for a short visit.”
“You’re out of your mind.”
“That’s what Lexi just said,” I told him.
“You know they’re making a movie about his life,” he said. “Why don’t you just go watch that when it comes out.”
“That’s not the same as having Ray over,” I fussed. “I mean really Dylan. You know that.”
At this point… Dylan rolled his eyes and walked away.
Every time I heard an engine come close to our house I sat up straight, excited that I was about to be with Ray and each time it wasn’t him… my hope would fade.
Then… the phone rang.
“Listen,” Lexi said. “I know how much you wanted to meet him… but you can’t meet Ray. I’m sorry,” she said. “But he won’t be coming over.”
It was horrible.
Forever kept from me by my own child.
“Fine,” I said and hung up the phone in a huff.
I sat there for a moment… my hopes crushed… my heart…broken.
I pictured Ray in heaven, stopping mid-song, disappointed that our visit never happened. I mean really… why wouldn’t Ray want to meet me?
Thanks for Reading!!!! : )
Let me start by saying Steve Soto swears he coined this phrase… and I’m okay with giving the sassypants credit but, if someone has a “beef” with it… take it up with Soto… he’s somewhere in Europe right now hosting a “sausage fest” (his words…. not mine) as Punk Rock’s favorite nice guy in his band The Adolescents.
I wish I had coined that phrase…
NOT “sausage fest…”
I really do.
Steve was brilliant to think of it and now… it is one of my favorite non-words, that HAS become a word, and I pray that someone will add it to Webster’s Dictionary next to GIANORMOUS… and SWAG.
Now… I’m sure we can agree, that we have all been guilty of being a “Dramatacus” at some time in our lives… yes that’s right people…. each and every one of us… don’t even try to deny it.
And…anyone that knows me… knows… that I can definitely be the BIGGEST “gladiator” of dramatic play when provoked…
or sometimes… just because I’m bored.
Being a high school teacher alone cranks the drama-meter off the chart on a daily basis:
“Ms. Wood, so-and-so… told so-and-so… that I was pregnant with so-and-so’s baby.”
“Ms. Wood, so-and-so… likes so-and-so… but I’m SO in love with so-and-so… I don’t know what to do.”
“Ms. Wood, so-and-so… told so-and-so… that I was the one that crapped on the floor in the locker room and now so-and-so won’t ask me to Prom.”
See what I mean?
Now, add in a daughter that likes to pick up dead bodies for a living…
A son who is a cross between Phil Spector and Brian Eno…
An X who is working on years of recovery… (a Dramatacus in his own right) that’s at the house once a week playing music in the garage…
Throw in a couple of band projects, book projects, and a few sober bad boys in need of reform… and you’ve basically got yourself a “Circus Maximus” of Dramatacus fun.
Now at times… I really like being a Dramatcus… it amps up life…. and adds to the excitement…. but when you are in a relationship with someone… it’s really not a good thing.
You basically go from being their beautiful statue on a pedestal, their reason for living…. to a ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS in a matter of minutes.
And the worst thing is… you just can’t stop yourself…
It’s like you’re possessed…
You know you are acting like a total idiot…
That you are making the situation worse…
That you are the engineer of your own train wreck….
But you just keep going…
People could be running from you… screaming in terror… looking back over their shoulder at you as if you are GODZILLA about to destroy them… and yet you will still chase them on and INSIST that you MUST EXPLAIN WHY YOU ARE BEING A DRAMATACUS… which only makes them run faster and further as they pray to God that he will “EXIT” you from their life FOREVER.
So it was while Steve and I were both dealing with major emotional upheavals in our worlds…. and trying VERY hard not to both go into Dramatacus mode at the same time… that we started having our “late night” phone conversations.
Problem is… “late night” to me is around 9 pm, especially on a school night…
And “late night” to Steve Soto is somewhere around 3 am.
We fixed the problem by meeting somewhere in the middle with Steve texting around 11 pm with an “Are you up?” message and if I was… I would call and we would chat.
Now I have known Steve for years… and he has always been able to make me laugh… but one night when I was on the phone howling over someone who I felt had “wronged” me and reading him an email from this person that had caused me to be terribly upset… he stopped and asked,
“Wait… was their sex involved in this relationship?”
“No,” I said quietly.
“You guys weren’t like going out right?”
“No,” I said quietly again.
“Well, that seems like a LOT of drama for a non-sexual relationship.” He paused for a moment and then said, “What a Dramatacus.”
It stunned me…
He stunned me…
What a wordsmith.
I was impressed.
I knew that he was speaking about the person in the email… that they were being a Dramatacus in writing… but it stopped me long enough to recognize how DRAMATIC I was being about the entire situation as well.
I was being totally ridiculous.
Someone expressed their feelings to me in writing… That’s it.
I didn’t need to get all bent about it.
Maybe I could for once just bring it down a notch… which I did… waited to respond… and the friendship survived the episode.
The next day I was out walking with my friend Margie when I told her about Steve’s word and the event that lead up to it.
The day after… I was a bit late arriving to her house for our daily walk…. and as I pulled up…. the text alert beeped on my phone and I saw “McLate-acus” flash across the screen.
I looked up to see Margie… giggling from her front porch.
Steve and Margie really know how to make a point when they want to… in the best artistic sense of the matter.
I hope they add McLate-acus to Webster’s as well.
A good friend of our family, Bobby Sepulveda, worked as a Removal Driver for several years.
What is a Removal Driver you may ask?
Well… it’s a person who picks up dead bodies.
From Nursing homes.
From the hospital.
From the beach.
From the store.
From parked cars at the football stadium.
Really… wherever you decide you want to punch your final ticket you’ve got someone to take you on that “last call” cab ride home: A Removal Driver.
Now… if you have a problem with dead people or removal drivers… please don’t read any farther.
You won’t like it because it’s about to get good… in a really, really bad way.
Bobby always had great stories about people he picked up.
He called me once from the morgue… and I said, “Where are you? The phone connection is really echoing.”
and Bobby said, “I’m with Donna Reed.”
“Donna Reed?” I asked… a bit confused… not “getting” the big picture…
“Yeah,” Bobby said. “She passed away today and I’m with her at the morgue.”
I felt my face drop.
I had always really liked Donna Reed… ever since she played Jimmy Stewart’s sweetheart in It’s a Wonderful Life, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted my last memory of Donna Reed to be “hanging out” with Bobby Sepulveda in the morgue.
If you knew Bobby Sepulveda… you would understand… I swear you would…. but since you don’t… just picture this…. one of the guys from Jackass in the morgue with Donna Reed.
See what I mean?
It doesn’t really seem right now does it?
Sorry Bobby… but you KNOW it’s true.
Lexi, my daughter, was very interested in working in the medical profession when she graduated high school.
She wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do at that time… and so she decided to talk to Bobby about becoming a Removal Driver.
“Why the hell do you want to do that?” I snapped at her, my own fear of being a Removal Driver getting in the way of my child’s one true dream.
“Because I want to know if I can handle being around dead bodies,” Lex said. “I don’t want to go all the way through medical school and find out I don’t have the stomach for that type of work.”
It was a good answer… A reasonable answer and so… I backed her choice.
Our friend Bobby was happy to get her a job… in fact, I’m sure he was amused… he probably thought an 18-year-old who looked like a Victoria’s Secret model and was often mistaken as a show girl when we went to VEGAS… probably wouldn’t last a day picking up dead bodies… but he was wrong.
Lexi got the job, and reported to her first day of duty wearing a nice tailored black suit.
She looked stunning… a TOTAL GLAMAZON on a mission to care for the dead.
I waved goodbye to her, proud as I watched my daughter drive off to her first job… so excited to meet her “Removal Driver Trainer.”
But later that afternoon… Lexi called me on the phone and sounded a bit emotionally distraught.
“Mommy?” she said.
“Yeahhhh?” I said a bit hesitantly.
“I want to come home and see you for a minute is that okay?” She asked.
“Yeah, sure,” I said even though inside I was really saying, “Oh Jesus God please don’t come home because you’re gonna smell like a dead body or something and I’m gonna freak out.”
But… when you are a parent… you have to make sacrifices and if that means you have to support your child by smelling dead bodies all over their clothing… then so be it.
She rolled in about 5 pm with a good looking young man named Tom, from Boston, and his accent killed me.
I love that South Boston accent… I’m a PUSH OVER for a “Southie” I really am… a guy could be the biggest tattooed criminal from the East Coast and walk up and say something to me all flirty like “Ah Dee…. you’re wicked smaaaart.” And I would probably BEG him to marry me… and run off to be a little toonie… living with my townie… somewhere down around Charlestown or maybe Dorchester hiding assault rifles in my dresser drawer and wildly in LOVE. (East Coast Irish boys being my fatal weakness of course)
Tom and Lexi were just adorable together you could absolutely feel the “spark.”
Their conversation popped back and forth with witty banter that could’ve given Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy a run for their money back in the day… and I couldn’t help but pray that these two would end up together just so I could tell people how they met….
Tom, sweetheart that he is, had brought Lexi home to see me because unfortunately… the first dead body Lexi ever saw… was a pretty bad one.
Now… maybe you think all dead bodies are pretty bad… but I think I would prefer someone who was fresh and had died in their bed over what Lex had to witness.
She walked in to meet Tom, her trainer and soon to be “love” interest, and found him in the morgue with an old guy they had just brought in…who had been dead… for over a month.
He had died about 30 days prior, had been laying out in the backyard naked decomposing… until one of the neighbors peeked over the fence and got quite a bit of a shock… and so when Lexi got her first look at him she said that she actually thought he was wearing a plaid bath robe and then felt like she wanted to vomit.
“He was naked,” she said….
(and I wondered what the hell he was doing out in the backyard naked… but I didn’t ask)
“but his body was all red, blue, and green… with these weird patterns on him from where the blood pooled,” she cried before running over to me, begging for a hug.
I swear to GOD I almost pushed her away.
I wanted to run to my bedroom door and shout, “It was nice meeting you Tom… but Lex is ALL yours now! You two have fun with your dead bodies! Mama needs a nap and a valium!”
But I gave in… holding my breath the entire time… before she pulled back and smiled at Tom while I tried to get a good gulp of air… hoping that their little flirtation would keep my antics from being obvious…
And then watched as she batted her eyes at him and said, “Thanks for bringing me to see my mom.” And I loved it.
I knew right then and there… that Tom was a good man.
Later that night, Lexi returned home… excited and chattering on about how she couldn’t stop looking at Tom… how even over the dead guy’s body she couldn’t help but flirt with him…
and that after their shift was over, he had taken her upstairs to his apartment, which was of course, over the morgue, and they had shared their first kiss.
It was SO romantic.
The two of them… over the dead bodies and the refrigerated body drawers… having a moment while everyone lay there…. waiting… doing nothing really.
And I thought…Ahhhhhhhh…. young love… Nothing can distract it. Not even dead bodies.
Tom and Lex became quite the “serious item” for awhile and I can only imagine how many fond memories they’ve shared retrieving dead bodies together…
But… young love is young love…. and often doesn’t last…
Tom is back on the East Coast now… running his own funeral parlor… while Lexi of course is still out here working on her medical training…
And though Lex claims they are both now “just good friends” I pray often that someday they will end up back together… working as a team… Lex helping people to live… Tom taking care of all the ones that got away…
And me…. sitting on the front porch swing… their children on my lap…. telling them the story of how their parents “Meet Cute.”
Today’s guest writer is award winning Long Beach writer and USC film school graduate, Patrick Tobin.
D: Pat thanks for being here today.
Patrick: Thank you, I was hoping I would be on your blog.
D: It seems to be a pretty exciting place these days.
Patrick: If it’s anything like your household… I can imagine.
D: Funny….So Pat… I have admired you as a writer for years and of course, CAKE was the first story I read. I was just amazed with the idea of it and since I teach high school and write young adult literature, I was impressed with how such an adult story featured a teen so prominently. How did you come up with the idea for your story?
Patrick: Well, one of my Swedish friends was running an all woman’s support group and he was telling me how wonderful all of these women were and how supportive they were of each other and suddenly, this idea popped into my mind and I heard… “Yeah… but what if one of the women wasn’t?” and I thought, “Oooooh this could be good.”
D: That would change the group dynamic now wouldn’t it…
Patrick: Ummm yeah… my lead character is a bit of a… well… bitch and it was really hard to find a way to keep her like-able to the reader.
D: I loved her….. she is hard… but when you find out the place she is coming from… you get it… we’ve all been in those places where we come off like we are being a total jerk and then someone finds out the back story and goes…. “Oh”
D: So no teen in the beginning?
Patrick: No, it was really weird… this is the first short story I ever wrote where I had no idea what was going to happen at the end. The part with the teenage girl and the bus ride came to me after many different adaptations.
D: Speaking of adaptations… how easy was it to adapt “CAKE” the short story to the new screen play that has been receiving RAVES across America… I mean… I think you’ve been a finalist in six prestigious film festivals including the Beverly Hills Film Festival.
D: You aren’t going to make me spout off about all of your awards are you? Do you want me to start with the Pushcart?
Patrick: It wasn’t easy at all… to adapt a short story to a screen play you basically have to write a three act play. A short story is basically the “last act” of a three act, so I had to go back and write the first two acts and keep my character, as I said before, a bitch but STILL like-able.
D: Well you did a great job. I saw CAKE performed live during the New Short Fiction Series in Beverly Hills and it was really made for film.
Patrick: Thank you.
D: And you make a really great cake by the way. Do you think you might share your recipe with our readers sometime?
D: Alright then, tell me how it felt to be selected by Dave Eggers for the Best Required NonFiction Reading 2008 anthology?
Patrick: That was great.
D: Did a lot of new opportunities come to you after you were featured?
Patrick: Yes. I had a great response from young adults, college students, and agents…
D: We’ll get back to agents later but first… how did it feel to have young adults and college students validate your work? You’ve always been an adult fiction writer and of course Dave Eggers uses a panel of young adults to help him select stories for BRNR. In my experience, young people tend to be really picky and very genuine about what they like… did you feel honored? And did it open you up to the possibility of writing for a larger audience?
Patrick: Yes I did feel honored and yes it actually did open up the possibility of writing for a larger audience. Suddenly I had a lot of young students writing to me and telling me how much they admired my work, asking for writing advice or critiques, and my story was then used as a teaching tool in colleges across America. The response was fantastic and I have thought of writing for the young adult audience now.
D: Well I thought your teen character was very realistic and quite complex. I’ve read the story to my students and they love the ending which I won’t share here since everyone is about to read it!
Patrick: Thank you.
D: Pat, you’ve been a serious professional writer now for almost 20 years… any advice you’d like to share with other writers?
Patrick: Ummmmm just write what YOU LOVE… not what you think will sell… I know everyone says it but it’s true…. and don’t give up….. you’re gonna have to live with a LOT of rejection and just know that you are a good writer and keep going… Oh… And get a lot of feed back from other writers….
By Patrick Tobin
First Appeared in Kenyon Review
Included in Dave Eggers Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008
Annette the facilitator pretended to be Kate, a woman in our chronic pain support group who killed herself. We went around the circle, Annette in the middle, each of us given the opportunity to tell “Kate” what we were feeling.
Gail with fibromyaglia: “How could you give up?”
Stephanie with the botched spinal fusion: “You should have reached out for help!”
Liz with diabetes-related neuropathy: “What about your children?”
There were a lot of tears. A lot of hugging. Then it was my turn.
“I have a question,” I said.
“For Kate?” Annette asked. “Or for me, Annette.”
“Makes no difference,” I said. “Is it true she jumped off the San Pedro Bridge?”
“Is it also true that she landed on a Maersk cargo ship headed out to sea?”
Annette shifted uncomfortably. “Claire, we should focus on our feelings—”
“And is it also true that Maersk sent back what was left of her body in a Rubbermaid cooler, that the cooler was stuck in customs for a week before Kate’s husband could take custody of it, that the cooler was stolen on the way to the funeral home because a homeless guy thought it contained a picnic?”
Annette looked around the circle at the horrified faces. When she looked back at me, she nodded.
I started applauding.
“Why are you clapping?” Annette asked, her big fat cow eyes filled with confusion.
“For a job well done. Personally, I hate it when suicides make it easy on the survivors.”
When I got home there were two messages. On the first one, Annette said the group had stayed late after I left, that it had been a difficult session for everyone and she didn’t want to minimize my feelings, but—
She and the others feel it’s in everyone’s best interest if I find another support group—perhaps one specifically to deal with my “anger issues.”
The second message was from my ex-husband Jason. He said he wanted to come by and pick up the last of his things. He asked me to call his assistant with a time when I won’t be home, because he feels it’s prudent that we don’t see each other right now.
I’m sure his mother told him exactly what to say on the message because he never used to say things like “prudent.” He always was a big mama’s boy.
With all the excitement it was no wonder I was experiencing breakthrough pain. Breakthrough pain is my worst nightmare because it means the meds aren’t working right.
Imagine the most excruciating thing you ever experienced. A migraine. A kidney stone. Giving birth. All of these I’ve experienced, by the way.
Now try to imagine that the nerves involved in that pain are being pulled out by a sadistic fuck, one by one. No matter what you scream to make the sadistic fuck stop, he won’t. The sadistic fuck just keeps laughing at you because he’s enjoying your agony.
That, in a nutshell, is breakthrough pain.
Guess who got a private room at Cedars with her very own morphine drip?
Morphine is like being wrapped up in warm towels fresh from the dryer. Morphine is like your mother rubbing your back when you have the flu. Morphine is like drinking cold water from a hose on the hottest day of the summer.
Who am I kidding? Morphine’s even better than all that.
Thank you morphine.
Drug Induced Hallucination #1:
There was a boa constrictor slithering under my sheets. The snake tried to convince me that As You Like It is Shakespeare’s most unjustly criticized play. I stared at the mound under my sheets and didn’t move a muscle for hours. I knew if I made any movement the snake was going to stop arguing literary theory and devour me.
Drug Induced Hallucination #2:
A group of young kids was standing outside my room, talking loudly. They didn’t go away. I got angrier and angrier.
I finally rang the nurse and told her to tell those fucking brats to move it somewhere else, if that wasn’t too much fucking trouble. Or was I interrupting her goddamned fucking break?
That’s when the kids started throwing a basketball against my door.
“Don’t you hear that?” I asked the nurse.
She pulled the drip out of my arm and started jabbing the needle in her eyes. “I can’t hear a thing.”
Drug Induced Hallucination #3:
Kate walked into my hospital room carrying a cake with a bunch of candles on it. I told her I liked her new look.
“Thanks,” she said. “I wish I could say the same about you.”
“The morphine makes it kind of hard to fix myself up.”
“You’re probably wondering about the cake.”
“I didn’t want to be rude, but yes.”
“Remember that time when Annette asked us what our dream would be if we didn’t have chronic pain?”
“I always hated her drippy little exercises.”
“You said your dream involved the Brazilian soccer team.” Kate crinkled her nose in disapproval.
“And you said you wished you could bake your kids a birthday cake.”
Kate lit the candles. “Everyone in the group cried after I said that. You didn’t though.”
“I had my reasons.”
“I know that now.”
“To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the whole Saint Kate thing.”
“Saints don’t jump off the San Pedro Bridge onto a Maersk cargo ship.”
“I thought you’d like it.”
Kate brought the cake over to me. “Make a wish,” she said.
I closed my eyes and blew out the candles, even though I couldn’t think of anything to wish for. When I opened my eyes, Kate threw the cake out the window and jumped out after it. There was a sickening thud and someone started screaming from the street below. A nurse ran into my room.
It took me awhile before I realized that the person screaming was actually me.
The remote didn’t work so my TV had been stuck on the Discovery channel the whole time. No wonder I was having nightmares about fucking boa constrictors. I told the mousy Filipina nurse to change the channel manually.
“No problem your highness,” she said.
“Ooh,” I said, “somebody developed a spine while I was out of it.”
She left the TV on the History Channel after I told her to turn it to HBO. Touché, Imelda.
I watched a documentary about the demise of drive-in theaters in America. Apparently there aren’t any left in California except for one in Barstow.
Jason took me to a drive-in theater when we were dating, back when we were both in law school at UCLA. He’d been mortified when I found the Carpenters: Greatest Hits in his glove compartment. I teased him about it, until he cued the tape up to “Close To You.” He held me in his arms while we listened to the song—I’d never felt as safe as I did at that particular moment.
It was only the second time I’d ever gotten drunk. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum and Coke, on top of a large carton of buttered popcorn. After I threw up his car smelled like sour cinnamon toast. He gently stroked my hair and told me everything would be okay.
I was stupid enough to believe him.
When I got home I made two phone calls. First I called Rosalva, my cleaning lady, and asked if she had a driver’s license. When I found out she did, I asked her if she wanted to make an extra couple hundred bucks.
Then I called Jason’s office. I told his assistant to tell him I was going to be out of town tomorrow, so he could come by the house then.
I told her to tell Mama’s Boy I’d changed all the locks, but I’d leave a key in the bottom of the deep end of the pool for him.
For the road trip:
4. A nasal opiate from Glaxo that’s still in the trial phase.
5. The phone number and Mapquest directions for a pharmacy in Barstow. Just in case.
6. A fifty-dollar ergonomic travel pillow I bought at Sharper Image.
7. A two hundred dollar lumbar support pillow I bought off the Internet.
8. Orange juice.
10. My sunglasses.
11. A change of clothes. Just in case.
12. A bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum.
13. A six pack of Coke.
The drive to Barstow should normally take two hours, not five. I had to get out every twenty minutes to stretch. I felt like my breaks were starting to get on Rosalva’s nerves.
“No, no, no, Mrs. Fine. Is okay,” she said.
I told her I was still freaked out by the crow we killed near San Bernardino, the way it dived head-on into our car like a kamikaze pilot.
Rosalva acted like she was about to cross herself. “No more please.”
“Sorry. We don’t have to talk about the crow.” I offered her some chips and a Coke and that seemed to improve her mood.
The pain got bad near Apple Valley. That annoyed me. It also annoyed me the way Rosalva looked at me when I took my pills.
“Could you do me a favor?” I asked.
“Yes, ask me what you need.”
“Don’t call me Mrs. Fine,” I said. “I’m divorced now so I don’t want to be called Mrs. Fine.”
“But what to call you?”
“How about Claire. That’s my name.”
“Okay Mrs. Claire,” she said.
With a sweet smile. Oh fuck it. She’ll get it right one of these days.
Rosalva loved The Passion Of The Christ. I found it kind of weird to listen to all the torture through the small, tinny speaker. I started chipping off the polish on my toenails.
“You must be seeing this,” Rosalva said, her eyes filled with tears.
“I am seeing this,” I told her, as chunk number forty-five flew off Jesus’ body. “I’m also seeing we’re out of Coke.”
She seemed relieved when I offered to go to the concession stand so she could keep watching the movie. It’s okay, I get it: The Jews killed Jesus, so we should have to go to the concession stand during The Passion of The Christ.
The desert night sky is dreamy this time of year—a deep purplish blue and stars that look like Christmas lights. The cold air hurt my lungs, but in a good way.
I crawled under the low wire fence behind the concession stand and walked through shrubs and gravel down to the train tracks.
What would Jesus do? I think if he were in my shoes he would lie down and wait for the next Union Pacific freight train.
When you think you’re going to die imminently, you choose your final thoughts carefully. I tried to think of beautiful things, like Michelangelo’s David. A Bach cantata.
That got me thinking about the Nutcracker Suite. When I was a little girl I danced as a mouse two years in a row. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of music.
My thoughts turned to Jason.
I hated to admit it, but I did understand what he meant when he said I wasn’t the only one suffering—right before he handed me the divorce papers he’d personally drawn up. It was hard at the time to react graciously to what he said, because, after all, he’d walked away from the accident with only a sprained shoulder.
But now—I can see.
I can see that we were both the wrong kind of people to deal with this kind of situation. Problems that could be solved by money: that’s the most we could handle. Not the loss. Not the pain. Not all the thousands and thousands and thousands of pills.
Too bad Jason’s such a mama’s boy that he’d never take methadone, because it really does help take the edge off life.
I felt the low rumble of a train. Then I heard a voice, getting closer and closer.
“Mrs. Claire! Ay Dios mío! Mrs. Claire!”
I struggled to sit up and saw Rosalva scrambling towards the tracks. I tried to gauge how far the train was in relation to her distance from me.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said, “I just got tired and needed a rest.”
During the drive back Rosalva kept looking at me like I was going to jump out of the car.
“Knock it off with the attitude already,” I said.
She scolded me in Spanish. I think she said something about how it was a good thing Jesus told her I went “loca.”
I was thinking of the most profane thing I could say when the car started making a grinding noise. Right before the “service engine” light went on.
The guy at the garage in Barstow said it was going to take at least three days to fix the car. He tried to explain the problem to me.
“I don’t need to understand what a head gasket is,” I said. “Just make the arrangements for a rental car.”
“Okay,” I said, “maybe you don’t understand Triple A. I have the platinum coverage that gets me a free mid-size rental if repairs are going to take more than twenty-four hours.”
“There’s nothing open now,” he said.
“Why? Is it a holiday?”
“It’s nearly midnight. People have to sleep.”
Now it was my turn for a blank stare.
Inside a dark Greyhound bus, strung out on opiates, traveling through the high desert in the middle of the night, I started to feel like I was in a rocket flying through outer space. I stared at Rosalva while she slept next to me. She opened her eyes.
“Gracias,” I said.
“Why?” she asked.
“For putting up with me,” I said. “I wish I knew how to say that in Spanish.”
“Sleep Mrs. Claire.” Rosalva closed her eyes again.
I heard muffled laughter from the back of the bus. I turned around and saw a group of teenagers passing around a joint. Everyone else on the bus was asleep. I waited a few minutes, the smell of pot becoming stronger.
I made my way to the back. The leader of the group, a girl with a bad tattoo of a python on her arm, glared at me.
“Toilet’s broke, bitch.”
Her friends laughed.
“I don’t need to use the toilet.”
She sneered. “Then beat it.”
Her friends were enjoying the show. I leaned down into her face.
“I used to be married to a federal prosecutor in LA. Even though I hate his guts, I have no problem getting on my cell phone and asking him to send a marshal to the bus station.”
The sneer disappeared.
I pointed to the joint in her hand. “Is that just pot or did you morons cut it with something else?”
I’d hoped the girl—Becky, a runaway from Idaho—wouldn’t want to talk, but once we started on the second joint she wouldn’t shut up.
“I want to be an actress,” Becky said.
“Can I give you some unsolicited feedback?”
“You’re going to end up doing porn. Or worse. That’s what happens to girls from Idaho like you.”
“Gross! I won’t do porn!”
“Right. Do any of these stars ever say in an interview, ‘I ran away from Idaho when I was sixteen and ended up doing Hollywood movies’? No. That’s what porn actresses say. Not Scarlett Johansson.”
“I hate Scarlett Johansson,” she said.
“If I had your body I would too.”
“At least I don’t look like you.” She pointed at my face and arms with a vicious little smile.
“Give it time honey. You’ll get your own scars some day.”
I asked if she had another joint.
“I hope you know these weren’t free,” she pouted.
I pulled out a hundred dollar bill. “Let’s skip the soul baring. It’s starting to get on my nerves.”
Becky finally passed out. The bus was absolutely quiet as we went down the Cajon pass. The sun was just coming up. The San Gabriel valley glowed from under an ozone shroud.
Rosalva woke up. She panicked when she didn’t find me next to her. I waved from my seat next to Becky.
“Who is this?” she asked, eyeing Becky’s tattoo.
“I’m starved. I want a yellow cake with lots of fudge frosting.”
“I make one tomorrow.”
“I want one the minute we get home.”
“Mrs. Claire, I must go to my home. Later I come to your home.”
I realized I had no idea where Rosalva lived.
“Downey,” she answered. “You do not know this place I am sure.”
“Isn’t that where the Carpenters were from?”
“I have not met them.”
When we sat down in our seats Rosalva pulled out a brush and started combing my hair. I began to sing.
“Why do birds…suddenly appear…”
Rosalva smiled. “This is very pretty song.”
“Every time…you are near? Just like me…they long to be…close to you.”
At the L.A. bus station I sent Rosalva to Downey in a cab. While I waited for my own cab I noticed Becky’s friends had deserted her. She walked up to me with a shy look on her face.
“What are your big plans?” I asked. “Oh that’s right, you’re going to be a star.”
“Want to make an easy hundred?”
She gave me a look of disgust. “I knew you were a dyke.”
“I don’t want to fuck you. I just want you to bake me a cake.”
“You’re a freak. You know that, right?”
“Can you follow directions on a package, or are you illiterate?”
“Am I what?”
“Jesus. Can you read? Do they still teach that in Idaho?”
A cab pulled up. I opened the door and waited for Becky. She studied my face, trying to decide if I was a good risk or not. I felt bad for her until my legs started killing me again.
I sighed. “Do I look like someone who could hurt you?”
“You’re mean enough.”
“You outweigh me by at least fifty pounds.”
I got inside and gave the cabbie my address. We were driving off when I heard Becky’s voice.
“Wait!” she yelled, running after the cab.
I didn’t look at her when she got in the car. “Offer’s fifty now.”
“You heard me.”
“That’s not fair.”
“Life’s not fair. Any more lip and it goes down to twenty five.”
Becky decided to make the cake from scratch. We were at the grocery store right by my house, in the baking section. I’d become distracted by the Disney-themed birthday candles.
“Do you have baking powder?” Becky asked.
“I’m not sure.” I was starting to lose focus. “Is that the stuff you put in the fridge to keep it from smelling?”
Becky rolled her eyes. “That’s baking soda.”
“Then I don’t think I have baking powder.”
“Who doesn’t have baking powder?”
“People who order out, that’s who.”
“You’re pathetic,” Becky said while were standing in the checkout line.
“You’re only just now realizing that? God you are stupid.”
“What about booze?” Becky asked.
“Can you handle liquor? I don’t want green puke all over my carpet after you drink a whole bottle of Midori.”
“Why are you such a cunt?” she hissed.
“Paper or plastic?” the clerk nervously asked.
While Becky made the cake, I went through the house. The last of Jason’s clothes was gone. All the tools were missing—not that I’d ever use them. All his books were out of the den. With his collection gone it really exposed my intellectual laziness—Clive Cussler no longer propped up by The Collected Works of Shakespeare.
I found the picture on the desk, the framed photo of Jason and me and the twins. We’d hired an expensive photographer, a guy who does fashion spreads for Los Angeles magazine. The year before the accident, for our holiday greeting card.
I picked it up and studied our faces, until none of us was recognizable. I thought I’d made it clear to Jason he could keep the picture.
I called his office.
“Mr. Fine’s not in. Would you like to leave a message?” his assistant asked.
“Tell him he won.”
“Won what?” The assistant sounded nervous.
“He’ll know,” I said, before I hung up the phone.
I took so much methadone I just barely made it to my bed. Becky yelled from the kitchen.
“Where’s the fucking booze?”
“Be resourceful!” I yelled back. “You need to be resourceful!”
My last thought before I passed out was that maybe primitive cultures are right—I think the camera did steal my soul.
When I woke up, Rosalva was wiping my face with a cold washcloth.
“What time is it?” I asked.
“Too many hours,” she said.
“Is the girl still here?”
“No. I think she stealed.”
Rosalva helped me get up. We discovered that Becky had taken my purse, all of my jewelry, all of the liquor, and the entire stash of pain medication, including the methadone.
How did she find the methadone? I’d completely underestimated her.
“I call the police,” Rosalva said.
I stared at the frosted cake on the kitchen counter, covered in plastic wrap. “No.”
“She does wrong when you are sick! This is bad girl!”
I dabbed my finger on the top of the cake and tasted it. Homemade fudge frosting. A little on the sweet side, but definitely homemade.
It’s impossible in L.A. to find out where someone lives if they haven’t given you the information. The white pages are useless; 411 is a fucking joke. I needed to talk to a human being and not Verizon’s annoying computer, so I called Annette.
“And how are we doing Claire?”
“We’re doing great.”
“Well, that’s super. Did you find another support group?”
“Funny you should mention that. Ever hear of Gloria Allred?”
“Uh, well, yes I have.”
“Because I’ve decided to sue you for discrimination.”
“Goodness. A lawsuit?”
“Just kidding. I’m calling to get Kate’s address.”
“I don’t think I’m allowed to give out that information. Was there something I could help you with?”
“That’s hardly possible.”
“Well I’m certain I can’t give you that information. I’m sorry.”
“Remember when I said I was kidding about the lawsuit?”
“Now I’m not kidding.”
The address was in Palos Verdes, for a house that looked like the bastard child of a mansion and a small hotel. Rosalva, bless her heart, drove me there in the mid-size rental. I told her to wait for me in the car.
“I help you Mrs. Claire.”
“Thanks, but I need to do this by myself.”
I wonder what Kate’s husband will say. I have to remember his name before I ring the doorbell. Ken? Ben?
Fuck it. I’ll just mumble something.
I hope he doesn’t freak out and think I’m a crazy person for bringing a cake with cheap Disney-themed candles. Will I actually tell him it was something Kate had wanted to do for the kids? Jesus, I hope he doesn’t start crying, or worse, ask me to come in to meet the family.
I stand outside the front door, my hand ready to press the bell. I hear children’s voices inside. Lots of children.
I take a deep breath.