“Wake up Oh-Donna.” Tammy demanded as she whapped me with the magazine.
I swatted her back. “I wasn’t sleeping.”
“Good. Don’t you pull another Twilight Zone thingy on us. We need you to get us to Mom.”
Perry said, “Chloe is being autopsied as we speak.” He turned his head and threw his arm over the back of the front seat. Waiting for our or more likely my response.
I challenged, “So you made sure that Momma’s mortal body was violated, but you wouldn’t let Daddy be autopsied. And you accused her of murdering him. Which she did not, could not do. And then Tammy went and had him turned and burned.”
Perry said, “Chloe did so murder Dad—”
Tammy interrupted, “Whaddaya mean I had Dad turned and burned?”
“That’s what the lady at the mortuary told me. He wanted a military Christian burial, but you told her to cremate him ASAP.”
“It was cheaper that way.” She twisted her face toward her window as her voice cracked.
“You never even gave her contact information where to send the ashes.”
I noticed something odd in Perry’s expression. I hated when he got that look. Something sinister was going on in his head. I shivered.
The driver stopped at a public park on Duck Key. He opened the doors for us. The boat captain stuck his head in the front door. “I’m sorry, I don’t have a wheelchair. Jimmy will carry the lady to the dock.”
Oh just great. I had to keep up this stupid charade. Wait until I had a private word with Perry. Of all things to have to lie about. I’ll probably rot in purgatory for pretending to be disabled.
Norma Jean licked my face. I closed my eyes and sucked in my lips so she couldn’t lick them. Okay. This is for you honey. I’ll keep it up, so long as you are by my side. I won’t let anyone treat you bad. Never again. Your first life must’ve been a lonesome miserable existence.
Well, Jimmy turned out to be about six foot four, two hundred pounds of muscles and sun streaked hair. Just the right amount of five o’clock shadow. And he sported a playful smile. I wrapped my arms around his neck and he effortlessly carried me to the small speed boat. He handed me off to Perry, all ready onboard.
“Ouch!” I said as Perry plopped me down on the rear padded bench seat. Norma Jean leapt on and proceeded to sniff the motor housing and everyone’s feet.
I grabbed on to the beige seat as the boat lurched forward. It was so hot. I knew we’d be burnt red before we arrived at the shore. Me and Perry anyhow. Tammy was lucky to have so much mocha melanin in her flawless skin. We sailed southeastward, past scatterings of little islands, some lush and thickly wooded, with mangrove and palm trees. Others were inhabited.
The captain pointed and said, “There’s Virginia Key and there is Key Biscayne.” as he propelled us between them. Penetrating the Atlantic Ocean, the water became deeper teal. More small islands dotted the mauve shrouded horizon.
Within an hour, we arrived at a dilapidated dock. My hair was a dried windblown nest. The captain tied the boat off on a piling.
Perry climbed off first, displaying his big fat butt in blue poplin shorts, bright white legs, covered in thick black fur. I worried I was gonna be sick over the side, but I kept it in as Tammy stuck her little firm behind out cat-like as she turned her head and smiled demurely at the captain and Jimmy. They of course weren’t missing one iota of her perfectly toned cocoa skinned cheeks peeking out of her hot pants and her barely there halter top. She didn’t need to wear a bra, since her high dollar boobs stayed up high and mighty all on their own, even when she laid down, not an uncommon position for my sister the slut.
Yeah, I know that’s not nice. She couldn’t help it that her genes and Daddy’s money for cosmetic surgeons made her so susceptible to the men. And she sure has had her share. Six ex-husbands and she’s only forty-one.
Jimmy lifted me into Perry’s arms. Perry farted as he leaned down to collect me. As soon as the boat sprayed its wake on us, Perry dropped me.
“You’re heavy Oh-Donna. I’ve got a cramp in my pinky.”
I reclined on the splintery dilapidated dock until the boat was out site. Norma Jean was sniffing her way down the narrow white sandy shoreline, barking as she chased a brown pelican.
Perry said, “Let’s get this over with. Meet and greet this asshole Mike, offer condolences, find out where and when the service will be held, then get back to the hotel. While we were in the security office, I saw on the hotel information channel they serve hot hors d'oeuvres every night, free in the lounge at happy hour.”
I asked, “Don’t you even feel in the least bit grieved that your step-mother died? The woman who lovingly raised you as her own from your teen years on? The one who had to go back to school to train for a second career, after she’d retired from the secret service, so she could put you through law school?
Tammy said, “Eww! Is that their house? It’s a little crap shack. They’d better have plumbing in there.”
I squinted at the turquoise bungalow with a fretwork laced porch. “Yes there is plumbing. And electricity and even satellite T.V. It’s not Gilligan’s Island. It’s called ‘Make Believe Island...’” I cooed, remembering my dream of being on the other side of this island with my dream weaver, Ashley.
We climbed the three wooden steps onto the porch. Perry banged on the orange door. Norma Jean leapt onto the porch and circled three times in front of a rocking chair. She plopped down and groaned.
Perry said, “The asshole’s not here. Let’s go. Frickin’ wild goose chase. Again.”
I shoved my brother aside and tried the knob. It turned. I opened the door and said, “Mike? Mike its Donna. We’re here.”
He didn’t respond so I stepped inside. I roamed through the tiny twenty-five foot by twenty-five foot shotgun style carpenter’s house. The whitewashed bead board walls were adorned with botanical prints and candle sconces. A curtainless window overlooked the Atlantic Ocean. Wide, pine plank floors were immaculate. Seating for four was provided by an oxblood leather sofa with gold nail heads and a matching round tub chair. My gaze drifted around the perimeter, to a globe on a wooden stand, a green two-level end table, a square coffee table and a short bookcase, filled with colorful leather bound books.
There was a small bedroom situated in the front of the house. The kitchen was caddy cornered to the living room. Between the front bedroom and the kitchen, there was an access door to the cistern. The rear bedroom was a little larger than the one in the front of the house. Mike wasn’t home.
I walked back onto the porch. “He’s not here.”
Tammy asked, “How much do ya think this place would go for? I mean rent out a private island to tourists?”
Perry said, “You wanna buy this rocky jungle? It’s probably full of snakes and water rats and sharks and crocodiles.”
“Alligators,” I said. “Florida has alligators. You need to go to the Nile or Australia for crocodiles.”
“Or Peter Pan.” Tammy said and started singing the never-smile-at-a-crocodile song like Captain Hook.
I giggled. Big smarty pants Judge Perry Payne didn’t know the difference between crocs and gators.
Perry flipped his little black cellular phone open and fumbled in his pocket.
“Who’re you calling?” Tammy asked.
“The captain to bring the boat back, before we all get sunburned.”
“I’ve never sunburned a day in my life.”
“Because you’re a black girl Tammy.” Perry rolled his eyes.
She smiled smugly.
I thrust my hand up and asked, “Wait, do you hear that?”
“Hear what?” Perry asked irritatedly. “Oh Donna, what the hell are we listening for?”
I started down the steps. Norma Jean ran past me, nearly knocking me down. My legs were still a little wobbly, but I was feeling much better. I kicked my shoes off and tiptoed through the hot sand. I followed my Great Dane into the woods.
Perry demanded, “Where do you think you’re going Oh-Donna? You wanna get eaten by a croc? There are snakes dangling from those trees.”
I gasped and glanced around. I didn’t see any snakes. I picked up on a rhythmic noise and couldn’t resist following. Maybe it was my dream weaver, on the other side of the island. Maybe Ashley was working with a percussion instrument on a new song. Butterflies fluttered in my tummy and around the wild white hibiscus. Marsh mallows.
Perry and Tammy followed, complaining the whole way.
We reached the clearing where I recollected finding momma at the graves of her long ago stillborn babies. I pondered our last conversation.
Momma had been arranging small sunflowers on two graves.
"What are you doing here?"
"I came to see you—get you."
"To take you home."
"This is my home."
"Momma why didn't you tell me about Mike?"
"None of your business."
"My momma living a double life is none of my business?” I huffed in exasperation.
"Don't you judge me, young lady. Don't you judge another until you walk a mile in her moccasins. Your great grandmother was a Cherokee, you know."
"No I don't. How could I? You never told me."
I read the headstones. Baby Girl Lambert
- May 5,
Born too soon. The other was etched Baby Boy Lambert May 5, 1945 - May 5, 1945 Born too soon May
"Oh my God Momma. I'm so sorry. Stillborn twins. How did you ever go on?"
"The little girl in my soul died with them."
"Why don't they say Taurus?"
"We weren't married yet."
"Oh.” Wow, that must've been rough.
"They weren't his blood anyhow. But he wanted to raise them as his own."
What kinda floozy was my mother? Oh my gosh. "Who are you? You acted like this prim and proper lady all my life, looking down on any boy I brought home. How dare you to have judged me so sternly.” Oh no. Boy did I regret saying that. "No— What I meant was— ."
Momma grabbed onto her baby girl's headstone and rose to her bunioned feet. She shook her finger at me. "Don't you dare judge me. You have no idea what I've been through. I am not a loose woman. I was raped in the line of duty.” She crossed her arms and veered toward the sea.
My hands flew over my mouth. Tear drops spilled. I tried to reach out to her. She trudged away.
I followed. "I'm so sorry Momma. Of course. I should of known. Please forgive me, Momma?"
She flinched when I wrapped my arm around her and walked beside her down the path, back to the beach. Of course my curiosity wouldn't let me let it go.
"Momma, do you know—did they catch the guy that did that to you?"
"Mike took care of Hundred Dollar Bill.”
"Blandings. Bill Blandings. He's dead. My babies are dead. Okay? Drop it Oh-Donna."
I did. We shuffled speechlessly toward the sea. I supported her arm. Or rather, Momma grabbed onto me, for steadiness. She'd developed a palsy since I had last visited her on Christmas Eve. Her head shook. Poor Momma.
So Bill Blandings, the pirate in my dream, Vera's ex-husband raped Momma. And her husband, Mike killed him. Hundred Dollar Bill? That must tie into the counterfeit money. It must be his.
We began walking toward the bungalow.
"Momma, why don't you sit in one of the rockers on the porch and I'll go in and make you a drink?"
"That would be nice."
I left her on the porch and dashed into the kitchen. I spun around. No refrigerator. I spotted a cooler in the corner. I opened it and removed a bottle of water. The ice had all melted around it, but it felt slightly chilled. I twisted the top off as I returned to the porch and offered it to Momma.
"Momma, I want you to come and live with me."
She guzzled a long pull. Water dribbled down her chin. She wiped it with the back of her gnarled hand. "No you don't."
"Yes, I do. Come on and live with me. It'll be fun. We can play rummy and watch Jeopardy and you can make big pots of your famous vegetable soup."
"Because my place is here. With Mike. We don't have that much time left in this world. I should never have wasted my mortality. I didn't do anything to change the course of the world. I could've made him happy though."
"Wow. My life would've been so different. If you hadn't divorced Mike, I would've grown up in Florida. On this island? Sweet. And Perry wouldn't have been my half-brother and you never would have adopted Tammy. I would have been a spoiled only child. Oh wait. No— I wouldn't be me."
"Sure you would."
"No, 'cause I'm only half your girl. I'm half Daddy's girl."
"If only it were that simple."
I looked at her, confused. Wait a minute. Momma spent the first week of every August with Mike Taurus. I was born in May. I counted on my fingers. August to September is one, October, November, December, January, February, March, April, May—? "Momma, Nathan Payne wasn't my father was he?"
"Of course he's your father. He adored you."
“But you were conceived in love. Mike doesn't know. I couldn't tell him."
"Mike doesn't know what?"
"That he created you."
"But you just said—”
"Nathan loved you as his own. He gave you a good life. You should be proud to have had such a brilliant man to call your father."
"As genes go, no.” She gulped another long pull of water and wiped her chin.
"My marriage to Nathan is what we called a marriage of convenience. It was nineteen sixty-three. I was pregnant and unmarried. I would have lost my job. He offered, I accepted."
Wow. Daddy was that big of a man to marry a woman pregnant by another man and raise her child. Oh Daddy... I felt a tear start. "How come you didn't like him?"
Momma rolled her teary eyes. "Because Nathan was a constant reminder of what I could have done, should have done. Every day I longed for Mike. But I was too deep into the mission. Into our blended family. I couldn't walk away from his children. They needed a mother. I never actually hated Nathan, not until I found out…he used me as a guinea pig."
I waited. She didn't continue. I pressed her. "How did you meet anyhow?"
"Originally? He delivered my twins. Years later, I ended up in the ER with bilateral ovarian cysts, gangrene had set in on one side. He was the gynecologist on duty that night. He saved my life."
"So how does that make you a guinea pig?"
"He didn't tell me that while he was in there, he transplanted another woman's ovary into me."
"Momma! In the freezer—down in the basement—I found a Tupperware container with an ovary in it!”
"He was a weird one."
"Well, how'd you find out about the transplant? Your body must've rejected it immediately. Oh that must've hurt?"
"No, the old genius was extremely brilliant and lucky. I didn't reject it. Don't ask me how. My blood type must've matched the donor's perfectly. We must’ve been distantly related or something."
"This is like science fiction Momma. Transplants in the sixties?"
"He'd been practicing on Rhesus monkeys. Your daddy really was a genius you know. It's too bad he went blind. Nathan Payne, now he would have changed the world for the better. Had he the chance."
"But Momma you hate—hated him."
"Fine line between love and hate daughter. Fine line."
"How'd you find out?"
"Last month, after my hysterectomy. The surgeon told me. You know, I told you about my uterus prolapsing? It was hanging down nearly outside of my vagina. I couldn't get used to the pessary they gave me to keep it shoved up. It hurt. I wanted the darn womb yanked out. So he talked it over with me and we agreed to go ahead and take it all out, the ovaries and tubes too. He did leave the cervix though, since I'm still active."
"Is that why you got mad at Daddy? He called and told me you were trying to kill him."
"Kill him? No. But I was mad as Hell."
We watched Mike tying the boat off. We hurried down to meet him. "Momma, come with me. Come and move in with me. You and Mike."
Mike asked, "What's this?"
Momma said, "No, child. Thank you, but we're where we need to be. You go. Live your life. Be happy. And don't let your career stand in the way of your destiny of love."
"Career? What career? I have no education, because there was no money for my college because Tammy and Perry needed it.” I stopped. I sensed an epiphany coming on. "Momma. You did that on purpose, didn't you? You didn't want me to have an education and a career, didn't want me to make the same mistakes you made..."
"You'd better get back to Miami dear. We generally have a right bad thunderstorm every afternoon. Thanks for coming to see me. I love you, Oh-Donna. Always. I've lived my life for you."
We embraced and wept. Mike started up the boat. I stepped in. "Oh, Momma. I forgot. The Miami cops are lookin' for you. Umm...arson and counterfeiting."
Mike laughed. So did Momma.
I hollered over the engine, "What?"
Mike shouted, "Change the charges to murder and counterfeiting and it's déjà vu from when we first came to Make Believe Island in ."
Momma said, "Go on, little doll. Don't worry about me. I'm where I need to be, with the man I love. Now you go to your man. And forget about your job. No job is worth a man."
I had waved to Momma and blew kisses as we sailed into the wind. That was to be the last visit I ever had with my mother.
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