Queenie was still
a hundred percent bitch four years since I’d last seen her. Some hospital
worker called and told me she’d
fallen. Not seriously, but bad enough
that next-of-kin should be notified to bail them out of any legal hassles.
“They rifled my
pocketbook to get your phone number,” Queenie griped after I’d brought her home
to her all-white living room.
“I’m surprised you
had my number,” I said. “Getting
sentimental in your old age?” How sweet
and daughterly did she expect me to be, waltzing up after all that time?
“I’m fifty-one, Donna,”
“In dog years,” I
muttered. Queenie was as protective of
her private life as one of those CIA spooks.
She’d been an
actress in three films. Was even
nominated for a Golden Globe. Before Daddy
married Queenie, his father said he wouldn’t have his son marrying an actress.
Seeing Queenie in a play, he announced, “Go
ahead and marry her. She’s no actress.”
“So, I guess you
need to tell me all of the dramatic things you’ve been doing.” Queenie
snorted. “The wondrous men you’ve met, the amusing
“I came back to
see whether I’d have to bury you. Only
after you were dead, of course.” I eyed her
enormous living room, the dining room leading into a sunroom before opening
onto a terrace that led to an azure swimming pool. This Spanish-rococo pile
of bricks looked
like real estate porn on Sunday TV.
After Queenie inherited Daddy’s oil money, she’d become the regent of
Beverly Hills. Queenie no longer had to do
anything. She was a celebrity simply because she was
had achieved the waxy immortality of a Mae West, the svelte mummy of Rodeo
Drive with her size six figure and inflated breasts.
“Well, if you must
know, I’m seeing Emilio again. We have a
little place in Pasadena. And we’re.…”
“Emilio. Not Emilio Fortunata!”
same.” I think I was freaking her out.
refuse to allow you to throw your life away for that jailbird, that perverse
stalker and insipid twerp.”
one, we are in love. Number two, he’s a
published writer who never served time.
Number three, he was just interviewed on ABC-TV.”
“Number whatever —
“Stop with your
insults! Number four, he provides
financial support for an absolutely marvelous youngster. We’re going to
adopt her when we’re married.”
“Well, any man who
has an obscenity tattooed on his penis….”
“What did you
say?” My voice squeaked up an octave.
Yes, Emilio has a tat, but I’m the only
person who’s seen it. Well, maybe there
were others. But my mother?
realizing something inappropriate had popped out. “Never mind.
Change the topic.”
“Queenie, if you
know about that tat, you must have seen Emilio naked, which indicates the
likelihood you were also naked or close to going jaybird. For once, are
you going to tell the
truth? To stop being two-faced and deceitful
and making everyone crazy with your dramatic world?”
deeper into the lounger as years of facelifts dissolved into a roadmap of age.
“I guess I shot my
mouth off that time,” she whispered.
Queenie. Tell me what happened or I may
bury you before you’re dead.”
She exhaled like a
whale spouting. “Once. Just
one time! You were at school or something.
It just happened. Once!”
“That’s when you
walked out of my life.” Pieces of the
past were building into a hideous structure of lies. “Daddy was dead,
and you left me alone for
six months.” It was coming back.
I was a high school senior and Emilio was studying
at UCLA while becoming my first love.
“Do you know I had to pawn paintings from this house to buy food? That
I couldn’t afford school lunches, so I
called up people and invited myself to dinner?
It’s called child abandonment, Queenie!”
“I was shooting a
picture,” she shouted. “In
Australia. A commitment that couldn’t be
conditioning flowing over me signaled worse was to come. “You were supposed
to do that studio
picture,” I said, trying to line up my thoughts. “But you were fired. I read it in Variety. You stayed in
Australia while I scrounged for food!”
“I was pregnant,
goddammit! Don’t get uppity with me, Donna!”
“Pregnant? And that father was…Emilio?” It was becoming
clear. My mother was the mother of my fiancé’s
child. I began laughing insanely at the
irony of adopting my own half-sister.
“It’s not funny,
goddammit!” Queenie rose from the
lounger, tottering toward me. “Stop
laughing. We’ll figure things out.
My lawyer arranged for your boyfriend to be
the caregiver or whatever the hell you call it.
He’s a bleeding-heart schmuck
and he’ll be paid. Emilio doesn’t know Jennifer
is his child. Just that I gave up my
mistake at the orphanage. You didn’t know
either a minute ago.”
Is it easier to
face life when you’re blissfully ignorant?
Better to believe life is sweeter when you can clap your hands and make Tinker
Bell live? How would my life be
different if I hadn’t taken that call from the hospital? I felt my teeth
Queenie. I’ll see you in a decade or
so. Maybe when they notify me about your
“Don’t go, Donna,”
she pleaded. “Don’t leave me alone.
I’ve been alone so long.”
At the door, I
turned. “The truth hurts. We’re
just sharing the pain. But we can all get sentimental over it on
Mother’s Day.” Then I almost
smiled. If I couldn’t get rid of the
family skeletons, I might as well make them dance. Emilio and I would have little
waiting for us.
Queenie. “Jennifer can draw you a
picture of what a mother should look like.
I’ll teach her.”
# # #
Walt bounces between
writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance, with a
little historical nonfiction thrown in, for good measure. His work has
appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications. including Yellow
Mama. He’s also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts,
and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries. He now
lives in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn’t want to die there.
It's well known that an artist becomes
more popular by dying, so our pal Steve Cartwright is
typing his bio with one hand while pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel
with the other. Stop, Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He (Steve, not
the mackerel) has a collection of spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available
at Amazon.com. He's
done art for
several magazines, newspapers, websites, commercial and governmental clients,
books, and scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also
creates art pro bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004
James Award for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently illustrated
the Cimarron Review, Stories for Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers.
Take a gander ( or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with
your response - that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.