The next morning I open one eye and immediately wish I had died overnight. Pain radiates through my ribs, through my upper back, through my neck, up to my head, and down one leg. I lurch to the bathroom. Time for some old-fashioned relief. I carry a good supply of pain pills, see. I get a few from Grandma Barlowe. She says at her age she only has to stroll into the doctor’s office and he’s writing her prescriptions: sedatives, stool softeners, morphine, you name it. I asked her how she got him to prescribe morphine. Simple, she said. She uses a wheelchair on her ‘bad days’, then fakes pain noises; you know the kind, you’re seated in the dentist’s office and suddenly hear all kinds of shrieks coming from the torture chamber. Grandma’s real good at shrieking. I learned that recently. Not many things make me shiver, see. One of them is walking into a freezer finding a dead body. Her shrieks remind me of those frosty moments.After swallowing two codeine tablets, I stumble into the kitchen to make coffee: black, no sugar, no cream. Forget the cappuccino expresso stuff. Crap like that will hurl me to Italy and back in sixty seconds.
Crash! Boom! Bang! My vintage half-a-cup coffee mug goes flying, my head hits the cabinet, and my hand falls hard onto my new marbleized formica countertop. I turn around, but I’m unleashing a thunder full of cursing in my mind, see. It feels like my lips are forming words that begin with the letters, f, s, d, g, and any combination thereof, but nothing comes out. Good thing. Mother Barlowe in all her glory stands near the door, her arms folded across her upper body like an oversize pretzel super-glued to the bosom area of a red sweater. The expression on her face is twisted into a mixture of sardonic and demonic amusement. One eyebrow is cocked near the ceiling. Chill’s right. My psychic powers may have temporarily taken a powder. I usually know when Mother Barlowe is within shooting distance. Problem is, I’ve never had my glock nearby, see. “A phone call before coming over would be nice, Mother.”
“I tried. Your phone is dead, Mamie.”
I groan. “It died. I’ll replace it today.” I refill a styrofoam cup, and offer Mother Barlowe coffee. She shakes her head, but continues to glare at me. I stare back. “Ok, your eyes are shooting javelins at me. Problem?”
“You mean besides the fact you left me stranded in the hospital parking lot?”
“Was that you? I thought you looked familiar. I wasn’t sure.”
“Listen Mamie, it’s bad enough your Grandmother pulled that stunt in the hospital, but don’t let her draw you into her orbit of crazy.” Mother Barlowe walks over to the broken pieces of coffee cup, bends down and picks them up before throwing them in the trash. Too bad. A set of vintage four cups are now down to three. “And frankly, I’ve had enough of her shenanigans.” She plants herself in front of me, like she’s daring me to shoot her or something.
I almost throw my cup against the wall. There are days when Mother Barlowe makes me wish I had never owned a bulletproof vest; I’d be dead by now. “What do you mean?”
“I mean, once she’s out of the hospital she’s going into a retirement home. There are some really nice ones nearby. I’ve already put the papers in.”
“You mean nursing home. Isn’t that a little drastic, even for you, Mother?”
“Even for me? What? You’re insulting me now?” She takes a small step forward narrowing the distance between us. That’s a bad sign. Time to run. If I could. But she’s got me boxed in.
Uh oh, now the pointy finger starts to wave. Won’t be long before it touches wounded flesh. Mine. “Grandma Barlowe is as sane as you or me. Putting her in a home is just wrong.”
“I see. So, I’m the one that puts up with her crap day in day out, but you’re the expert?”
“No, I’m just—”
“You, who never stops by; you, who never calls; and you, who has basically checked out of this family!” Forefinger scores a hit right below my neck line. I glide sideways by a foot. Mother Barlowe moves with me. Getting ready for the killshot. “Your grandmother assaulted a nurse, she assaulted my car, and now she’s in the hospital on psychiatric hold. What is your definition of the word sane, Mamie? I’d really like to know.”
My tookus finds a cozy, secure spot up against my 1956 Fabulous Foodarama Refrigerator by Kelvinator, the kind of refrigerator that says, Look Ma, I can stuff Joey, Suzy, and baby Dumpling in it like one big happy turkey! Well, it’s time for me to fight back, or die. Looks can kill, see. “She went a little off base, Mother. Temporary insanity, they call it. She was just trying to help me.”
“Help you? Great dane in the house that’s exactly what I wanted to hear!” Mother Barlowe does sarcasm well. I’m in for a rough ride down the rapids without a raft. “Do you know what’s cluttering my desk right now, Mamie? . . . I’ll tell you. A box of anonymous complaint letters. Addressed to me. About your grandmother. By concerned adult children. I get a few every month. Sometimes, I even get phone calls. Would you like to know why?”
I’m experiencing the sensation of nodding, then shaking my head all at the same time. It gives me a headache.
“Well, I’ll tell you anyway. Take the case of Miss Dotty Traxel. All of 86 years old, and happily single her entire life. Then, she met your grandmother. Your grandmother introduced her to a much younger church-going man: looks, age, mental state, not important to your grandmother. You know why? Because he was a Deacon. Then, Miss Dotty Traxel became Mrs. Dotty Furnell practically a week after meeting him. Then, a week after the reception, this so-called deacon left her flat, cleaning out her checking and savings account. Then guess what happened, Mamie?”
The pressure of having to answer right away is very high. I throw my head back. Away from the heat, see. But my head takes a bounce off a vintage freezer door magnet that reads, “I haven’t had my coffee yet. Don’t make me kill you!” Mother Barlowe leans in further. If my face were a sign it would read, DEAD END.
“I’ll you what happened. Funeral services for Miss Traxel are this weekend. She dropped dead from the shock. Now, I can give you more examples. Would you like to hear them?” She finally leans back as if she needs relief from the breath of her hot air boomeranging off my face.
I blink. This time I’m going to answer. “Some other time, Mother. I don’t mean to be rude, but I’ve got to get to the office.” Weak, weak, weak! But it’s my mother, see.
“Ok, Mamie, just so you understand why I finally had to do something about your grandmother, capiche?” She heads for the door, carrying a purse that could hide a 1978 Rossi Overland sawed-off 12 gauge shotgun. At the last minute, when I think I’m in the all clear, she turns back around. “Goodbye, darling . . . Oh, I almost forgot, you’ll be the one to sign your grandmother out of the hospital. Then break the news to her.” The door shuts quietly behind her. My life just took a turn for the worse. Where is Sable Mink when you really need her? Just finish me off now, see!
I walk into the office several minutes late for my appointment with Mr. COB III. I’m not looking forward to this meeting. For all I know, there may be a fourth Mr. COB III out there. But I am cheered by the sight of my secretary back in the office. “Good to see you, Vera. Where’s my client?”
Vera has a smile that would empty a monastery full of monks. “No one has come in today, Ms. Barlowe.”
“Any special packages left by you-know-who?”
She shakes her beehive blonde hair do. That’s not all that shakes, either, which makes Vera a really big asset in the office. Distractions are an important part of my business, see. Evasive action is required alotta of the time.
“Oh wait, Miss Barlowe. I almost forgot. Your aunt Flo called. She’s been trying to reach you since last night.” There’s that smile again. If heaven promised to be full of blonde bimbos with buxom hour glass figures and glittering smiles, there’d be less crime from the male population, see. Not that Vera's a bimbo. Far from it.
“Your hair looks good, Vera. Was it a painful reconstruction?”
She blushes too. Like a Rubens painting. “A little. But I’m sure it’s nowhere near as painful as getting shot in the uh . . . chest area.” She looks at the ceiling. Vera’s never been married, see. Doesn’t date. Still lives at home. Still sleeps in the bed she grew up in. God help her if she ever sees a naked body other than her own.
“Yeah, all that pain and I’m still hauling two giant pumpkins around in my uh . . . chest area.” Didn’t stick around to see the blooming bright red of Vera’s cream complexion. From a Rubens painting to a can of red porch paint I bet. My secretary has more brains than an MIT graduate. It doesn’t make her a stimulating conversationalist. I plump into my leather chair and take out my new phone. Before I can reach my aunt Flo, Vera pokes her head in. “Your client, Mr. Clarence Oberon Binghorton III is here.
“Thanks, Vera. Send him in.” This should be good. But I’m not in the mood, good or otherwise. It’s about time for my annual vacation by the shores of Gitche Gumee. Mr. COB III walks into my office. I take one look and wish I was staring at Billy the Chimp again. Only this time, without a bulletproof vest. Maybe I should pack my replacement Glock for this “vacation.” Go “bird” hunting. Yeah, that sounds about right.