The damned Donna song. Why did Ritchie Valens have to write a song with my name in it? Oh-Donna. That’s my miserable nickname. They always use it to pull me outta my happily ever after. I hate belonging to the Payne family. Ashley, promise you’ll be waiting for me when I come back? Don’t forget to send some music to pull me back to you. Keep Make Believe Island just for us, will ya lover boy?
My stomach burned with sourness rising up into indigestion. When I breathed in Bellissimo, Tammy’s perfume, I quoted a famous bear, “Oh bother!” and opened my eyes. There she was.
Tammy screeched, “Good! You’re back with us. Don’t do that to me again Oh-Donna. You scared me to death.”
I focused on my stereo system across the room. The amber clock blinked and winked. My song wasn’t playing. I’d set Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away” on repeat and was pulled into the best dream ever. Ashley and I had been consummating our love. That secret agent man freed my soul and beckoned me to the passageway of erotic delight.
Darn it. What had happened to the music that transported me to him this time? I groaned, “Did the power go out?”
The pitter-patter of four enormous paws announced the dog’s eminent return.
Tammy replied, “What? No. Well, I dunno, maybe. How long have you been sleeping? You ought to be ashamed of yourself. I shoveled out wall to wall poop in the kitchen. And scrubbed the nasty dried pee residue. Look at your poor dog. She’s starving.”
I felt her thick tongue licking my bare feet. Plenty of slobber. “Norma Jean” I said, weakly. I swung my legs off the sofa and thumped onto the floor, hitting my head on the glass topped coffee table. “Oww!”
I pushed myself up, shaky on my hands and knees. I tried to stand again.
Tammy gently helped me to my feet. “I’m sorry, Sis. You really are sick. I’ll make you some food. Sit back down.”
“No. Bathroom. Quick.”
Tammy got me there, just in time. She even helped me onto the seat and then she closed the door. That was scary. Tammy helping me.
“I’ll be right outside if you need me, Sis.”
I did what needed to be done and washed my hands. Oh did I look horrible in the oval mirror. I ran a brush through my tangled hair and washed my face with some liquid hand soap. When I flung open the door, my sister helped me stumble to the kitchen. I plopped down in a chair.
The grinder moaned as she dispensed crushed ice and then some water into a glass. She handed it to me.
I gulped it down and wiped my cracked lips with the back of my trembling hand. She refilled the cup. I shivered.
Tammy asked, “Where’s the thermostat?”
“The thermostat. I feel like Lucy Ricardo in the meat locker. It’s cold and raining outside. The air conditioner shouldn’t be set so low.”
“By the front door. Push the warmer button. Until you hit seventy-two.”
Tammy wiggled off on her mission.
Norma Jean laid on my feet. Her warm bony body felt comforting. I stroked her head with the tips of my fingers. “Oh poor girl. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to eat for...Tammy what’s today?”
My sister returned. “Monday.”
“Wait a minute. I paid the bills this morning. She couldn’t have pooped that much and lost weight in a few hours.” My head hurt. “Hey, you and Perry were leaving to go look for Momma today. I saw you.”
“You did not. And that was last Monday.”
We both gasped.
Tammy flipped a grilled cheese sandwich she was melting in a small skillet. She served it on one of my palm tree motif plates, with a dill pickle.
“I’m on a low carb diet. I can’t eat the bread.”
“Oh-Donna, you haven’t eaten in a week. And you’re not fat. Eat!”
“Cut it in half for me. Diagonally?” I gazed up at her pitifully.
She grabbed a steak knife from the block near the stove and slit the gooey sandwich.
I took a bite, huffing on the hotness, rolling it around on my tongue.
Norma Jean hurtled to the door, barking. The door bell chimed “Aura Lee”. I didn’t want any more company. Tammy sashayed down the hallway. I could see her open the door.
I chewed and swallowed. It tasted so good and creamy. It’d been so long since I’d eaten bread. Even this old stuff she’d found in the freezer tasted so buttery and comforting. And the gooey Swiss cheese was so yummy.
My stomach reeled taking in the residual doggy potty scent. The citrus disinfectant didn’t quite kill the odor. It stunk as if there was still a fresh pile. I leaned down and looked under the table. No wonder.
I overheard hushed whispers.
“We’ve got to do something about her. Have her institutionalized or something, Perry. You can sign a court order, like you did with Mom.”
“How bad is she? Crazy? Dying? Sick?”
“Yeah, yeah yeah. I feel sorry for her though. I mean, what a way to go, losing her mind and all. She was mumbling when I woke her up. It was as if she didn’t want to come back, she wanted to die.”
I sat up. The third bite of the sandwich did it. I was full. And angry. I light-headedly rushed down the hall, smack into my seven feet tall and seemingly seven feet wide fifty year old half-brother, with a shaved head. Perry was wearing his usual emergency visitation garb: his black judge’s robe. He was always such a show off, running around in it. Couldn’t he see how silly he looked out of the court room?
Perry steadied me. “How are you feeling Oh-Donna?”
“Like throwing the two of you out. How dare you come to my home, uninvited and unannounced and then talk about me like I’m retarded and can’t understand your evil hurtful words?” I cried.
Perry escorted me to my living room sofa. I didn’t have much of a choice but to comply, because of his size and my shaky state.
I said, “No! In the recliner.”
At least I’d be able to get myself up easier from the chair.
My half-brother squatted at my side. He brushed a stray curl from my eyes. “Oh-Donna. You have a brain injury. Remember when you collapsed at work and they rushed you to the hospital? The neurologist said it likely happened when you totaled your Suburban, after hitting the deer. Remember?”
Oh yeah, I remembered. I was moments from leaving home, to catch a flight to New York for the writers’ conference. I was up for an award and I had been assigned an eight minute appointment with the acquisitions editor of Charlatan Press. But Daddy telephoned me and said Momma was trying to kill him. He was a pathological liar. I’d only figured this out two years ago. My whole life had been smoke and mirrors, all orchestrated by the great puppeteer, Dr. Nathan Payne.
But my conscience made me check it out. I was driving to my parents’ house when Daddy called again, on my cell phone. I knew it was him because the distinctive ring tone I’d set for him was “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” I couldn’t unhook it from my belt. I remember the deer smashing through the windshield and pinning my shoulder with his antler. Then I woke up in the hospital.
I shuddered. “Yeah, I remember.”
“They wanted to run more tests and keep you under observation. You ran off against medical advice.”
“So your little narcoleptic-like incidents are getting worse. You need to get some medical help. Maybe a nice long rest away from all the stress you’ve been under, I know it was tough on you—” He cleared his throat, “When Dad died. You were his favorite and all.”
I was his favorite. Oh yeah, right. That’s why he named me executrix, but willed everything to you and Tammy. Greedy needy children that you are. That was in the will Perry produced. Roderick Meddlestein, Esquire, my parent’s across-the-street neighbor for thirty years, later revealed daddy had retained him to draw up a more recent will, leaving everything to Momma.
Perry stood up and said, “I’ll call Saint Christopher’s. They have a nice unit—”
I flipped him the bird. Poked him in his big floppy belly. “You sonofabitch, Perry Lucifer Payne! You’re trying to have me committed like you did Momma, so you can sell my house and things and split the money with Tammy and laugh all the way to Hell. That’s where you are both going. Go now! Get outta my house! You go to Hell! You couldn’t keep Momma in the nut house and you won’t stash me there either! I’ll go to Momma. You’ll never find us.”
Tammy said, “So you do know where Mom is. You sent us on that wild goose chase to Palm Springs on purpose, didn’t you?”
The phone rang. Tammy answered. She handed it to me. I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I sniffled and said, “Hello.”
“Donna? This is Mike Taurus...your mother’s friend...”
Something in his voice didn’t sound right.
“Yes Mike. How are you?”
I cleared my throat as I listened to him exhale.
“You’re mother died in her sleep this morning.”
I threw my head back onto the firm gold recliner. “No.” I choked out. “Are you sure?” What a stupid question. If he weren’t sure, he wouldn’t have called me.
“Yes sweetheart. She’s in a better place now.”
I swallowed hard. “I’ll fly down right away. Give me directions to the island.”
“Just go to the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach. Call me when you arrive and I’ll come and get you. Tell the concierge you’re my— You’re Chloe’s daughter. They’ll take care of you.”
The historic Fontainebleau. Where old Mike works as a bell hop. Love the place.
Mike coughed. “She wanted to be buried next to her babies. Is that all right with you?”
I closed my eyes. Remembering talking to Momma on the island, by the graves of her stillborn twins. “Of course. Yes. Yes.”
“I’ll see you some time tonight or tomorrow then?”
“Yes.” I clicked the off button.
Tammy asked, “Just where do you think you’re going? Have a date with a Starbucks barista? Can he hop you up on caffeine long enough to stay awake during dinner and dancing?”
I closed my eyes tight and then broke into a breathless round of tears. Oh it hurt. My whole body hurt. My soul hurt. The little girl in me was dying.
I finally blurted out “Momma died. Momma is dead. I’m an orphan.”
Tammy and Perry shot looks at one another.