Authors: Laurel Dewey
Tags: #FICTION/Contemporary Women
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
The Story Plant
The Aronica-Miller Publishing Project, LLC
P.O. Box 4331
Stamford, CT 06907
Copyright Â© 2012 by Laurel Dewey
Cover design by Barbara Aronica-Buck
Print ISBN-13: 978-1-61188-038-0
E-book ISBN-13: 978-1-61188-039-7
Visit our website at
All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever, except as provided by US Copyright Law.
For information, address The Story Plant.
First Story Plant Printing: June 2012
Printed in The United States of America
After great pain, a formal feeling comes â
The Nerves sit ceremonious, like Tombs â
The stiff Heart questions was it He, that bore,
And Yesterday, or Centuries before?
The Feet, mechanical, go round â
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought â
A Wooden way
A Quartz contentment, like a stone
This is the Hour of Lead â
Remembered, if outlived,
As Freezing persons, recollect the Snow â
First â Chill â then Stupor â then the letting go
â Emily Dickinson
Everything was perfect.
Well, okay, as close to perfect as Betty Craven could conceive. And
was always above and beyond what the average person ever achieved. But as Betty so often lectured herself, perfection was an elusive bitch; just when she thought she'd manipulated all the pieces into place, some goddamned force of nature with a chaotic agenda took control, vanquishing her precise plans. Perfection wasn't easy, but it was what kept Betty motivated. Sure, it also kept her jaw unusually tight and even popping at times from the extreme tension. And that neck pain that often paralyzed her range of motion? Yes, that was also a health casualty in her quest for excellence. Oh, and the syncopated flutter that occasionally rose up in her right inner ear that not a single doctor could diagnose, except for citing “stress” as a factor? Yes, that too was just another consequence of what it took to
But no one saw the struggle under the polished veneer. People only see what they are shown and believe the tale they are sold. Her dearest, closest friends admired her strength and willpower. She was solid and dependable, but she was also beautiful. A former beauty queen with classic features, Betty's curvaceous, five-foot-ten-inch frame was envied by other women, who suffered silently as they stood within her stunning orbit. Her hips, sculpted by gourmet cuisine and decadent desserts, were in suitable proportion to her voluptuous breasts that she reined in with custom brassieres. To Betty, exercise was not about cavorting on gym equipment; rather, exercise was a rousing few hours of weeding and digging in her prize-winning garden.
At the age of fifty-eight, she carried herself well. Her blond hair â touched up every twenty-eight days like clockwork â was the same shade as on the day she stood on the stage in the middle of the football field and was crowned Homecoming Queen of Spring Woods High School in Houston, Texas. The same, suitable coif adorned her smiling face on that perfect June day in 1974 when she married Frank Craven, her military beau, at the age of twenty-three in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And nary a hair was out of place in the photos six years later, as she held Frank Jr. in her arms and gazed at the camera in an appropriate manner.
And now, at this moment, her wavy, blond locks were still flawless as they skimmed just below her porcelain ears with their pearl stud earrings. Except for the infuriating fifteen pounds she couldn't lose around her waist and stomach, Betty Craven still had that indefinable “it” factor. To anyone who knew her longer than five minutes, Betty was the personification of perfection. She was the woman every other woman wanted to be.
And if she could just hold it together for three more hours â
just three more goddamn hours
â another day would finally expire and she could retreat into the claws of regret and her beleaguered memories.
best described Betty Craven lately. The undercurrent of grief had never abated since the day he died. After a few strong drinks at night, she'd often see him in her dreams. But then she wondered if they were really dreams, or if he was stuck between the worlds and destined to spend eternity navigating the tortuous maze of purgatory. From the moment he passed from this world, her body felt weighted by lead. Betty could keep up a good front, because she'd done it for so damn long. She'd trained her body to move and react with such precision that nobody would ever know the acute disconnect beneath the facade. “
The Feet, mechanical, go round
,” wrote Emily Dickinson, a favorite of Betty's. “
Of Ground, or Air, or Ought, a wooden way, regardless grown, a quartz contentment, like a stone
This is the Hour of Lead
.” Yes, that was an ode to Betty Craven. She closed her eyes and took another anxious breath.
The doorbell rang. Smoothing her freshly ironed, creamy yellow dress across her hips, she re-adjusted the elbow-length sleeves. If Betty ran the world, no one over the age of forty would be caught dead in a sleeveless dress or shirt. There are things you do and there are things you
do, and dammit, sleeveless numbers are
. Betty quickly swept the living room with her steely blue eyes, programmed to root out any un-fluffed pillow, a chocolate candy or delicate cucumber sandwich askew on the hand painted platters, or an errant carpet fiber that had resisted the domination of the vacuum. She adjusted one of the large featured flowers in the vase she'd grown from heirloom seeds in her immaculate garden. It was a magnificent bloom with bold orange and crimson striations. But was it
bold? Betty's jaw clenched. Did it overpower the presentation?
The doorbell rang again, this time with more urgency. They'd all arrived nearly simultaneously, parking their cars in her circular driveway and issuing a penetrating, humming natter outside her spotless cherry-red front door with the spring wreath on it. A wave of apprehension overwhelmed her. Would their expectations be met? Would the food be as impressive as the last get-together she hosted? But far worse, would she fail? Failure wasn't an unknown visitor in Betty Craven's house. In fact, failure was sitting thirty-five feet outside the kitchen door, down a short, brick path and slowly decaying in the empty, 600-square-foot, sunny space above her garage.
And there was always Frankie, her greatest failure.
! She shook off the chatter in her head, let out a deep, authoritative breath and cheerfully opened the door.
!” Betty exclaimed, beaming that trademark pageant smile she still knew how to skillfully manufacture on cue.
A stream of well-dressed women entered, loudly talking amongst themselves and greeting Betty with effervescence and accolades.
“Your house looks
at the table!”
“What smells so
Betty counted heads, instantly vexed that she hadn't made enough food. There were twenty-five women, three more than expected. Her gut compressed.
. She still had a large pineapple in the refrigerator. Yes, she could cut that up if necessary.
, she fumed,
why do people show up uninvited and not have the decency to give her advance warning
? Spontaneity was fine, as long as it was well-planned in advance.
But Betty kept smiling like a pro. Judi Hancock, a wiry, fifty-two-year-old high school art teacher, and one of Betty's three closest friends, strode closer, air-kissing Betty's cheek. As always, her red, polka-dot-rimmed eyeglasses, strung with a decorative necklace, hung around her neck. “Oh, Betty! You didn't have to go all out for us.
What a spread
“It's nothing,” Betty assured.
, maybe. You always make everything look so easy!” Judi exclaimed.
RenÃ©e Holder brushed against Betty's back. “A few extra gals asked to come to the meeting,” RenÃ©e stated, her tanned, fifty-five-year-old face still rosy from a game of tennis on that May Day afternoon. “It's such an important issue, and we need to get more people involved, so I
you'd be on board.”
“Of course!” Betty replied with an agreeable tilt of her head. “We've got to get the word out, don't we?”
. That was always filling. She could whip up a bowl of guacamole during the break and serve it with the bag of corn chips she'd stuffed in the back of the pantry.
Wait, what was the expiration date on those damn chips
? Betty suddenly looked around the room. “Where's Helen?”
“Bringing up the rear!” Judi said, pointing to the last few women entering the front door.
Helen Wheeler steadily made her way into the living room, carefully closing the door behind her. At sixty-nine and widowed for fifteen years, she was the oldest member of Betty's tribe and the one she could always count on to be the most pessimistic. She moved slowly and ate slowly and listened more than she spoke, but Helen was like an old couch in Betty's eyes â usually comfortable to be around but always with the possibility of a rusty spring erupting suddenly and catching her off guard. If that rusty spring did poke through Helen's demeanor though, any rancor was usually subdued. Anger took energy away from Helen's preoccupation with everything that can, and does, go wrong. Helen didn't the see the glass half empty. No, it was full all right; full to overflowing with whatever poison could kill you.
Helen, Judi and RenÃ©e may have occasionally gotten on Betty's nerves, but they were there for her when Frank learned he needed a liver transplant four years ago. They were still there while Betty and Frank waited for the call that never came. And finally, they were an impenetrable force field that stood by her when Frank died thirteen agonizing months after his first diagnosis. Helen, Judi and RenÃ©e were three rocks in Betty's life and cornerstones of her faith in the power of unwavering friendship.
“Where's Ronald?” Judi enquired as she secured a seat on the exquisite, rose-colored love seat with the fleur-de-lis pattern.
“Upstairs on the master bed watching television,” Betty replied, directing a quartet of chattering women to the seats.
, no doubt!” Judi exclaimed.
Betty smiled. She would never force her fourteen-year-old, black and white cat to watch
. It was too predictable. Ronald was upstairs at that moment enjoying
The Discovery Channel
while classical sonatas played softly in the background.
RenÃ©e nervously waved to Betty from across the room and motioned her to corral the women.
“Everyone! Please take your seat,” Betty announced in her trained hostess tenor. “I promise you, there will be plenty of time for conversation and food at the break!” She adjusted the sleeves on her yellow dress once again and patted the back of her blond locks as she moved in front of the crowd. “Before I begin, I want to apologize for the mess at the corner of the house. I've got a gentleman working piecemeal on roof repair, and I know it's unsightly.” The group regarded Betty with uncertainty.
Judi piped up, “I didn't see a thing, but I'll make a point to look later.”
Betty was flummoxed. It was an eyesore. At least it was to her, putting another damper on her bid for perfection. “Well,” she continued, “moving along. I want to thank you all for giving up a few hours on this beautiful, early-spring Saturday to listen to this timely presentation. I'm cheered to see so many people who care about our community.” She took a deep breath, hoping to tamp down any hint of her Texas lilt that tended to surface whenever she spoke in a front of a crowd. “I know as members of the
publican Women's Group
, we all share a growing concern â no pun intended, of course â regarding the upsurge of medical marijuana dispensaries and grow operations in our tightly knit neighborhood. Like you, I amâ¦” she searched for the proper word, “disheartened whenever I see another one of these
,” Betty rolled her eyes, “establishments taking over an empty storefront that used to house a favorite gift shop or coffee house. We are all concerned as to where this undeterred expansion of drug dens, albeit
according to our liberal state constitution, could lead â”
!” RenÃ©e interrupted from her perch near the front of the attentive group. “None of
voted for this insanity!”
The group softly chuckled.
“And with that deft interjection,” Betty continued, “I would like to introduce RenÃ©e Holder, who will help us navigate through these uncharted waters, and hopefully propose a few gems of action we can use to regain our comfortable foothold in this conventional, but oh-so-charming, enclave we call home.” With that, Betty motioned for RenÃ©e to take the helm.
Like an impatient tigress, RenÃ©e leapt forward, and arranging her stack of notes with a nervous edge, she spoke. “Well, as always, Betty, you are blessed with a poetic command of the English language. While I might lean toward the prosaic, I more than make up for it with the real life, âbeen there and done that' reality.”
Betty quietly took a seat on the last available chair, a French provincial with a stunning, polished-pecan frame. RenÃ©e was right, when she admitted to not being poetic. While they were coming up with names for their Republican women's group, RenÃ©e seriously wanted to call the group the
Colorado Republican Association Political Society
. Not only was the name long-winded and difficult to fit on the stationary, but Betty noted that the acronym spelled CRAPS. It was tough enough to hold your head high as a dyed-in-the-wool Republican in their modest but upscale city just thirty-five minutes south of Denver. If they were known as CRAPS, Betty knew the liberals would have a field day. Thus, Betty's simple but effective proposal of the
Paradox Republican Women's Group
moniker was chosen. As hard as the liberals tried, they couldn't make any word out of PRWG, except possibly the word
. But since Webster's defined a
as someone who took pride in behaving in a correct and proper way, and who felt morally superior to people with more relaxed standards, the aberration of their group's name by some liberal malcontent didn't concern Betty. Even three years after their inception, she still wasn't sure if RenÃ©e held the name change against her.
“For all the newcomers here today,” RenÃ©e continued, “I think it's important to mention a little bit about my personal background and what I bring to this discussion.”
Betty's tight jaw clamped down.
, she thought, RenÃ©e was about to voluntarily dig up her personal dirt once again. How many times would she have to hear about the Twelve-Step Program? It was becoming tedious.
“As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict,” RenÃ©e zealously announced, “I
the lifestyle better than most of you. I started down
rocky road of addiction
and I can tell you, as I approach my thirty second year of sobriety, that potâ¦marijuanaâ¦dopeâ¦grassâ¦weedâ¦doobieâ¦ganjaâ¦a big fat bluntâ¦whatever you want to call it,
a gateway drug.”
Betty felt herself disconnecting. That familiar sensation always happened when the emotional pain started churning in her gut. She pressed her hand against the dip in the arm of her chair, finding momentary solace in the tactile connection.
is the opening of my letter to the editor of the
It's a letter I'm reading to all of you in the hopes you will sign your name to it, so we can create a lot of attention and buzz in our community.”
Judi chuckled. “Buzz? Isn't the point to
“You know what I mean!” RenÃ©e replied, looking down at her notes and getting back on message. “The Democrats choose to ignore it, the Libertarians opt to dismiss it and even some in our own Grand Old Party choose to believe marijuana is not harmful. Some of them even refer to this green menace as â
. I find that word insulting when it's connected to a Federally confirmed Schedule I drug that has torn apart and destroyed so many families in our nation. Penicillin, morphine, cortisone, insulin, digitalis â
are medicines and serve a purpose in society.
save lives and aid in relieving discomfort, whereas marijuana does not. Marijuana, as I can sadly attest, creates a lack of initiative in people. A sense of
what's the use?
And when that occurs, motivation ceases to exist. The need for a stronger, more potent high is sought out, and with that, the increased need for hardcore drugs begins.” RenÃ©e hesitated before continuing. “And as some of us have personally experienced,” she cleared her throat, “the graduation to cocaine and heroin often ends in death, and those left behind are consumed with grief.”
Judi glanced toward Betty but quickly turned away. Betty swallowed hard. She wasn't prepared for the reaction, especially not in front of strangers. Remaining stoic was a gift and a necessity. One didn't allow others to chafe that well-honed surface. Betty took a shallow breath. Her right inner ear began that damn syncopated flutter that came from nowhere and ended when it felt like it.
“Have you seen the fine citizens who run and operate these medical marijuana dispensaries?” RenÃ©e continued with derision. “Sources tell me that a criminal element â i.e., former street drug dealers â might own and operate many of these dens of iniquity. And possibly over seventy percent of the people working in these drug establishments are more than familiar with the long arm of the law. Are they not laughing at us right now? Have the liberal laws of our venerable state finally gone too far?
! A resounding YES!” RenÃ©e looked at the audience. “I put that in caps for effect.” She resumed reading her letter. “With this information, ask yourself: Are these the types of people you want in
neighborhood? And don't get us started on the whole caregiver and patient fiasco! Since when is an unemployed twenty-year-old high school drop-out with a green thumb and an empty basement considered worthy of being given the moniker of a healthcare professional
with patients under his care?!
Don't insult our intelligence! These stoners are not âcaregivers,' because the plant they are pushing is
!” She let out a meaningful breath. “Marijuana equals death. Death to our communities. Death to our collective integrity. Death to our way of life. Death to the family. Death to the children.” She paused for dramatic effect. “Death to the country.” RenÃ©e waited. “That's it. That's the end of the letter.”
“Well done,” Helen said. “I'll be happy to add my name to your letter.”
Considering that she rationed her words so carefully, this was high praise coming from Helen.
“Well, thank you, Helen,” RenÃ©e replied. “That means a lot to me. I bet you could give us insight into what your generation would tell these young people and others who use, grow or dispense this drug.”
Helen pursed her lips. “That's simple. First we'd tell them to âsmarten up.' Then we'd tell them to toughen up, if they don't want to end up being a leech on society. Weakness. That's what it is. Plain and simple.”
, Betty mused, Helen was on a roll.
, she stated. Where had she heard that gem before?
“Would anyone else like to share their thoughts?” RenÃ©e asked the group.
Judi raised her hand and leaned her lithe body forward. “Hi, everyone. I'm an art teacher over at Paradox High School. This one student of mine is nineteen. He had to make up a grade, so he's the âwise sage' who puts the
in our dysfunctional motley crew. He's really popular because he got his dope cardâ¦” she feigned embarrassment, “uh, excuse meâ¦
medical marijuana card
because of a bad back. Seriously, I never knew until recently there were so many nineteen-year-old kids with bad backs.” Judi used air quotes with her fingers to stress
. The women chuckled softly. “So, numb nuts has his pot card, and he brazenly goes to the marijuana dispensary, located exactly one thousand and one feet away from the school â so it's, you know, in
state limits â to get his âmedicine.'
he meets his buddies, all around sixteen years old, and doles out the treats to them in his beater car. I saw it with my own eyes! Oh, and they don't call it âgetting high' anymore. They call it
. I mean,
classification is, excuse my language ladies,
! I am married to a doctor. I
what real medicine is. Medicine is for people who need to manage their physical problems. Marijuana is for brain-dead losers who move their lips when they read or watch television.”