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Authors: Tamar Myers

Baroque and Desperate

BOOK: Baroque and Desperate
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I dreamed the plane was hijacked by Yankee terrorists. It…


I stared at what remained of my shop. The Den…


Mama picked up before the phone could even ring. “Abby,…


The Latham estate was built by slaves. It began as…


The door to the parlor opened and in flounced Flora,…


“Aw, come on,” I wailed, “it isn't that bad.”


Mrs. Latham stood slowly, with almost exaggerated care. She was eighty-nine,…


The last thing I remember was Doris Day slapping Rock…


I felt faint, just like the night Buford announced he…


“Wynnell's Wooden Wonders,” the voice said cheerily, and then accepted…


“We're sorry,” Rhett rasped.


Edith answered the door. She made a poor substitute for…


“Shhh! You'll wake Grandmother Latham.”


“Are you


I could tell that the sheriff was a loving family…


“So what? It was clearly a setup. You saw what…


“You're sure?”


“Hey, good-looking,” Tradd said, and I stopped in midprance. It…


“He just left,” the waitress said. She paused. “I guess…




There was no one to blame but myself. It was…


“It's the most elaborate Swiss clock I've ever seen,” I…


“And then what happened?” Mama asked.

dreamed the plane was hijacked by Yankee terrorists. It was horrible. They held guns to our heads and made us say the pledge of allegiance in under one minute. They took away our glasses of tea, and forced us to gulp gallons of diet soda. Then, just when I thought it couldn't get any worse, they tried to make us eat cornbread baked with sugar. Mercifully, I woke up before a crumb could pass my lips.

“You had a nightmare,” the young man beside me said. “I didn't know what to do, so I poked you with my magazine.”

I stared at him. He was handsome, too handsome for me to have missed when I boarded the plane. That's what happens when your cruise ship docks in San Juan on its final night, and you suddenly discover you have a taste for Puerto Rican rum.

“My name is Tradd Burton,” he said, and gave me an easy, good-old-boy grin. “Tradd Maxwell Burton.”

“Abigail Timberlake,” I grunted. I do not dispense my middle name to strangers.

“You from Charlotte?” he asked.

I nodded, and my seatmate became a blur. There
was no need to ask where he was from. Tradd Maxwell Burton couldn't say the pledge in under a minute, even if he taped it and played it on fast-forward.

“You been on a cruise?” he asked.

“How'd you guess?”

“I saw the name of your cruise line on your bag when you put it in the overhead.”

“You're very observant,” I said, and closed my eyes. The young man had a right to be flattered. Usually I reserve sarcasm for close relatives and other people I care about.

“Hey, it wasn't one of those singles cruises, was it? I bet it was. A pretty woman like you…”

I said nothing. My head felt like a nut in a squirrel's jaws. I certainly wasn't up to flirting, even with someone as young and attractive as Tradd.

He droned while I drowsed. My best estimate is that I slept about an hour. When I awoke he was poking me again.

“You can stop it,” I said. “I'm awake.”

“Then put your seat forward in its normal, upright position. We're about to land in Charlotte.”

I struggled to open my eyes. At some point my eyes had teared, running my mascara, and fusing my lashes together.

“Miss, I mean

I pried my right eye open with index finger and thumb. For my effort I was rewarded with a close-up of our stewardess, a battle-ax named Brenda.

You owe me six dollars for the drinks,” she barked.

“I what?”

“When we hit that turbulence the captain asked us to take our seats, so I told your husband I'd collect later.”

I glanced over at the seat beside me. It was empty.


I am vertically challenged—four feet nine inches, if you must know—so I didn't see Mama until the next-to-last passenger, a horizontally enhanced man, cleared my line of vision. Thanks to bellicose Brenda, who got another stewardess to swear she was a witness to the husband I never had, I had no choice but to pay for two phantom drinks. At any rate, Mama looked every bit as grim as Brenda.

“Oh, Abby, there you are!” Mama wailed and flung herself at my laden arms.

I hugged her as best I could. “There, there, I was only gone ten days.”

“Abby, it was just awful.”

“It couldn't have been that bad, Mama. You had bridge on Monday, church supper on Wednesday, and weren't you thinking of taking that karate class on Thursday? You said something about going for your black belt.”

Mama struggled free from my embrace, almost knocking a bottle of golden rum from my hand. “You seem to be taking this awfully calmly, dear.”

I pecked her cheek. “There. Is that better?”

“Is that all you have to say?”

I gave her the once-over. She is just four inches taller than I, so it didn't take long. Same full-skirted, fifties-style dress, pouffed up by a crinoline that she's worn for the last forty years. Matching pumps and handbag. Same permed bob, but with a slight blue tint now that she's in her seventies. No, there was nothing new to compliment.

“Mama, I really am glad to see you. Look, I brought you a gift.”

Mama blinked. “A gift?”

“Well, nothing really expensive.” I shoved a shopping bag at her. “The shawl is for you, the conch shell is for Charlie, and the
T-shirt is for Susan. But since neither of them is here, you can have first pick.”

Mama recoiled in horror. “How can you stand there and talk about souvenirs when you've been ruined.”

“Mama! I thought we agreed not to talk about my sex life. But if you must know, I didn't even
a man that appealed to me. I certainly didn't sleep with one.”

“You didn't get my message, did you?”

I felt my newly acquired tan drain from my face. “Is it the children?”

Charlie, nineteen and invincible, is fond of speeding in the Corvette my ex-husband gave him. Susan, twenty, is fond of older men. Twice she has given herself to the “only guy I'll ever love.” Both my children are just a hormone or two away from disaster.

“Charlie and Susan are fine. It's your shop, dear.”

“My shop? Was there a fire?”

The Den of Antiquity is my life, now that I'm divorced and the children are grown. Five years ago antiquing was just a hobby. Then one day Buford “the Timbersnake” Timberlake announced that he was trading in my forty-plus years for the forty-plus bosom of a twit named Tweetie who was all of twenty. Buford is Charlotte, North Carolina's most famous divorce lawyer, and has more connections than a telephone switchboard. There was no way I was going to get alimony, much less custody of my children.

So, I threw myself into my avocation and made
it my vocation. Some of it was luck, but frankly, most of it was just plain old hard work. Sweat equity, my friends call it. At any rate, the day I left for my much-needed Caribbean vacation, the Den of Antiquity on Selwyn Avenue was one of Charlotte's most prosperous antique stores, and I say that with all modesty.

Mama's fingers dug into my elbow as she steered me to a molded plastic seat. “Sit,” she ordered.

My knees had no trouble cooperating with her command.

“You were burgled, dear.”

“Burgled? What did they take?”


“The eighteenth-century soft-paste porcelain collection I got just before I left?”

Mama looked away. She didn't need to say anything; she was patting her pearls. Those pearls were Daddy's last gift to Mama before he died. She never takes them off, even to shower. Whenever Mama's nervous, she fingers those gems like they were worry beads. It's a wonder she hasn't worn through the nacre.

“Not the mahogany highboy from Philadelphia! Or the Jacobean buffet. They're both far too big—”

“Abby, dear, the thieves must have used a van or a truck. Even the cash register is gone.”

“No, it's not, Mama. I locked it up in the storeroom. Of course, I don't keep cash in it when I'm away, but—”

“Abby, listen to me! They took
—even your wastebasket.”

I felt dizzy. I needed to lie down. I slumped lower in the hard plastic seat, but it wasn't the same.

“Did you say

Mama is a fixer. “Pull yourself together, Abby. You've started at the bottom before. You can do it again.”

I fought back the tears. I hate making a public spectacle of myself, and Gate B19 at the Charlotte-Douglas International Airport was beginning to fill for a flight to Raleigh.

“You're right, Mama. I can do it again. Only this time I won't be starting from scratch. Thank God I remembered to give Susan the insurance check before I left.”

Mama was shaking her head.

“Yes, Mama, I did. I was running late, but when Susan came over to say goodbye, I asked her to drop the check in the mail.”

“Oh, Abby, if only it were that simple.”

“Okay, so I forgot to send in the payment on time, and that was second warning. But all's well, that ends well, right?”

“Don't hate your daughter,” Mama sobbed.

My hair stood on end. Fortunately, I keep it on the short side.

“Why would I hate her?”

“Remember, dear, that she's really not much more than a child. And she is sorry. She really is. She would be here right now telling you herself, but—”

“Mama, out with it!” I shrieked. Half the folks in B19 turned to stare at me, but I no longer cared. There comes a time when one must choose between decorum and sanity.

“Susan forgot to mail the check,” Mama wailed, her face the color of marshmallow. “Your policy was canceled.”

Mercifully I fainted.


I wasn't out long enough. Unfortunately, Mama is somewhat of an expert when it comes to swooning, and carries smelling salts in her handbag wherever she goes. She claims to have revived President Reagan when he passed out in Tokyo, but I say that's absurd. Since Mama has never been east of Myrtle Beach nor west of the Biltmore, I rest my case. At any rate, Mama thrust her vial of vile vapors beneath my nose and brought me rudely back to reality.

“What happened?” I purportedly moaned.

“Get a grip on yourself, Abby,” Mama said, slapping my cheek, like it was a slab of yeast dough.

“What for? You were right, Mama, I'm ruined.”

“Not necessarily. Perhaps I spoke too soon.”

I sat bolt upright, causing a bolt of pain to shoot through my crowded cranium. “You mean this has all been some kind of sick joke? You mean I wasn't burgled?”

Mama's hand flew to her pearls, her one constant source of comfort. “Oh, no, you were burgled, all right. Picked clean. But who knows, Abby, some good may come out of this.”

I stared at the woman who had gone through thirty-six hours of painful labor to bring me into this cruel world. She would have saved us both a lot of trouble if she and Daddy had never—well, never mind. Mama, I am sure of it, has never had sex. I am the product of a virgin birth, which just goes to show you history can repeat itself.

“What good can possibly come out of being burgled? Is Oprah doing a show on middle-aged businesswomen failures?”

“Oprah!” Mama clapped her hands. “I hadn't thought of her. That might be just the ticket!”

“Mama, I was just kidding. Oprah only does positive, inspirational stuff now.”

“But, Abby, that's exactly what this is.”

“For whom, the burglars?”

“Oh, Abby, you don't understand. This has nothing to do with the burglars. This has to do with your shop.”

“Hmm, let me see. You want me to rent it to Oprah to use as a studio? Mama, it's a little small for that, don't you think?”

Mama had begun to twirl her pearls, always a dangerous sign. “Abby, are you going to stop being sarcastic and let me explain?”

Unfortunately fainting is not something I can do at will, and Mama's mind is like quicksand, the more you resist it, the deeper you flounder.

“Okay, Mama, tell me your plan.”

“It's really very simple, dear. We charge admission—say, ten dollars a head. Although we might consider giving a discount to church groups and bus tours. The real money will come when we sell the book and movie rights.”

I shook my head sadly. That's what I deserved for going on a cruise in July. Sure, Mama had always been a mite eccentric, but this was the first real sign of senile dementia. And to think I wasn't here when she might have needed me.

“Mama, it's you who needs to get a grip on it,” I said gently. “People aren't going to pay ten bucks to gawk at nothing.”

My dear mother was so far gone she laughed. “But they won't be gawking at nothing, silly. They'll be gawking at the…” Her voice trailed off and she pretended to look at a passenger with an ivory-topped walking stick.

will they be gawking at, Mama?”

“Oh, didn't I tell you?”

I grabbed her by the shoulders. “Tell me

“Oh, nothing,” she said, just to get my goat. It works every time. By now Mama must have pastures full of frolicking kids.

My right hand crept threateningly close to her beloved pearls. “Mama, don't force me to do something I really don't want to do.”

Mama gasped. “You wouldn't!”

“Oh, wouldn't I?” Of course, I wouldn't! Not in a million years! But then neither did Mama mean those threats when I wouldn't eat my spinach forty years ago.

“There's an angel on the back wall of your shop,” she said quickly. “It's the most astonishing thing I've ever seen. When you open and close the door, it flaps its wings.”

I sniffed her face. “Mama, have you been nipping at the cooking sherry again?”

Instead of getting angry, Mama snatched up the shopping bag. “Just hush up, Abby, until you've seen it for yourself. Seeing is believing.”

BOOK: Baroque and Desperate
4.85Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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