“You are the bargain queen, my friend,” LeHump yelled, helping herself to more wine in a box. “Oh shit, I forgot to tell you guys . . . I’m getting divorced,” she announced, holding up her blue plastic coffee cup of merlot.
“Congratulations!” Poppy Harriet squealed. “Did Kevin meet someone?”
“He did,” Shoshanna said proudly. “A nice young man named Steve. Steve has a job and doesn’t seem to be a man-whore.”
“Will the divorce take long?” Joanne asked, with a mouth full of snickerdoodle. “Maybe you should go to Mexico. I hear they can do one in twenty minutes.”
“Shoshanna, you must be so proud. He’s such a good boy. Do you think they’ll adopt?” Nancy inquired as she spooned a heaping pile of Tuna Surprise onto my plate. It looked suspiciously like my earlier gift to Evangeline.
“No clue, but Kevin would make such a good daddy and I’d love to be a grandma. God knows Sue Junior doesn’t want kids. Last week she told me she didn’t think our DNA should be passed on. She’s such a bullheaded bitch.”
“Like mother, like daughter,” Poppy Harriet laughed.
“Yeah,” Shoshanna chuckled, “but I think she’s a lot more like her daddy, Herm. Talk about a great lay . . . In his day that man could go six times in one night! He would be so damn happy for Kevin.”
“Are you positive Steve isn’t a man-whore?” Joanne nervously ran her fingers over her nonexistent eyebrows.
“Kevin feels quite confident, and they’ve been dating for nine months.”
“That’s all well and good, but his last boyfriend, Timothy, turned out to be a stripper and a hooker,” Joanne huffed. “Do you want me to do a background check on this Steve character?”
“That’s not a bad idea.” LeHump nodded to Joanne.
“All I can say is thank God! That’s one less thing the Botox Bitch has on us!” Poppy Harriet trilled.
“Harriet!” Joanne hissed.
They all froze. It was like Joanne had thrown ice water on all of them. No one would make eye contact with me . . . then they all started talking at once.
What the fuck is going on? Am I in the twilight zone? I am confused and grossed out and . . . confused. I have absolutely no idea what my insane gal pals are talking about and I’m afraid to ask . . . but asking questions I don’t want the answers to is a talent of mine.
“All of you need to stop talking,” I said, standing up and moving away from the lump of tuna bile on my plate. “I am so fucking confused, I’m dizzy. First I mistakenly think Nancy paid an obscene amount of money for plastic dishes, then I think I just heard that Shoshanna is married to a gay man named Kevin who found himself a non-man-whore named Steve, so he wants a divorce. And her baby-daddy Herm sounds like he might have erectile dysfunction like Pirate Dave. Why on earth did you kick someone who can get it up six times a night to the curb for a gay man who’s looking for a non-man-whore? And why did Kevin date a stripper-hooker while he was married to LeHump? And why in the hell was he or is he married to LeHump? And what does the viper bitch from hell have to do with any of this?”
“Oh dear,” Nancy giggled, tucking her neat gray bob behind her ears, “I suppose this conversation does sound a little odd to someone without the backstory.”
“You think?” I shook my head in disbelief.
“May I?” LeHump asked, clearly offering to explain.
“Please do.” I sat back down. Nancy handed me my plate and a fork. Shit, I couldn’t eat Tasty Tuna Surprise, no matter how sweet Nancy was.
“Herm, or Mr. Wonder Pecker, as I used to call him, died about six years ago,” she said.
Did she just say Mr. Wonder Pecker? My Pirate Dave stories were beginning to sound tame compared to LeHump’s real life.
“Of gallbladder complications,” Nancy chimed in. “He was the love of Shoshanna’s life.”
“He was. We were married forty-four years”—LeHump smiled fondly—“and I miss him every day.” She paused and looked to the heavens. As cheesy as the moment was, my eyes welled with tears. “So anyway, our gay neighbor Kevin was going to get deported back to Canada because his work visa had expired. Herm, besides being Superman in the sack, was slightly psychic and had a feeling he was going to die. He suggested Kevin and I get married when he kicked the bucket. I told him he was full of shit, not about marrying Kevin—I had no problem marrying a gay man as lovely as Kevin so he could get a green card. Herm was full of shit about dying.”
“Unfortunately, he wasn’t,” Poppy Harriet whispered.
“He wasn’t,” Shoshanna agreed. “So after Herm’s funeral, Kevin and I got married.”
“Oh my God, do a lot of people know about this?” I was so shocked, I mindlessly took a bite of Tasty Tuna Surprise. It was pretty good.
“Hell no,” Shoshanna laughed, “only the women in this room and Kevin. And I suppose Steve knows.”
“That’s not exactly accurate,” Joanne huffed.
“Accurate enough,” Shoshanna cut her off.
A confusing awkward silence filled the room, broken abruptly by Poppy Harriet’s sobs. The gals surrounded her quickly, stroking and cooing.
“What’s wrong?” I asked, momentarily forgetting LeHump was married to a homosexual as I wedged my way over to Poppy Harriet.
“It’s her taxes,” Nancy whispered.
“The IRS is after her. She wouldn’t do well in jail,” Nancy explained.
I wasn’t sure why the IRS was after Poppy Harriet, but I was fairly sure I could help.
“Don’t cry,” I told her, taking her rather large hands in my own. “I’m an accountant. I can fix it for you.”
“Oh my God,” Joanne yelled. “You don’t have to go to prison. Let Rena help you.”
“I can’t,” Poppy wailed. “You know why I can’t,” she cried, pointing an accusing finger at Joanne.
My bruised ego had now been beaten to a pulp. Did these crazy old ladies think because I sucked as a writer I sucked at everything? I might not ever be the Sunshine Weather Girl and I was positive I would never be a
New York Times
best-selling author, but I sure as hell was an excellent number-crunching nerd with a CPA license to show for it.
“Look.” I put on my brook-no-bullshit voice. “Clearly you all think I’m mentally challenged because of the disgusting stories I tell, and I may be, however I’m a damn good CPA and I insist on helping you. I will not take no for an answer.”
A round of eyeballing began and I watched in fascination as they seemed to communicate telepathically with each other. WTF?
“You have no choice,” Shoshanna said to Poppy Harriet.
“But . . .” Poppy’s tears continued to flow.
“No choice,” Joanne echoed.
Poppy Harriet’s shoulders fell, and she quickly and neatly popped every knuckle in her big hands, including her wrists. Gross. A sinking feeling whizzed through me briefly as I pondered the possible financial trouble she’d gotten herself into, but short of her never having paid taxes in her seventy-some-odd years, I was confident I could help.
“Have you ever paid taxes?” I asked, praying she’d say yes.
“Um, yes, but I’ve changed my name quite a few times, and they won’t believe I am who I am,” she sniffed.
“That will be easy.” I smiled. “I’ll come over Saturday morning and we’ll work it out.”
A silent round of telepathy replayed between the gals, and I wondered what part of the story they’d left out. No one was talking. I assumed I’d unravel the mystery Saturday morning.
There was no way out of an explanation of the day’s earlier activities, so I lied. After a brief and totally untrue version of the vomit story centering on some bad cheese, I conned Shoshanna into driving me back to my aunt’s alien-infested car and went on my merry, lying-sack-of-shit way.
sat forward on the floral, plastic-covered couch, careful not to squash any aliens or gremlins. Being unable to actually see the magical beings put me at a slight disadvantage, but I figured if I perched on the edge of the cushion and sat very still, there was a fine chance I wouldn’t kill or maim anything.
“So, um, Aunt Phyllis, thank you for loaning me your car these past three days. It drives like a dream and the little green men didn’t give me any trouble.” God, I sounded as crazy as she did. I swallowed my pride and decided to get right to the point. “I’m in a bit of a financial bind, or deficit, if you will.” I sat up straighter and put on my CPA voice. I figured a little professional speak might be a good idea. “And I was wondering if it would be okay if I, you know, um, borrowed a couple thousand dollars for a down payment on a car. I’ll sign a loan agreement and pay interest. We can put a time frame on the repayment and . . .”
“Stop right there.” She smiled, while arranging cookies along the outer edges of her antique coffee table. For the Martians, I presumed. “The answer is no. Would you care for a cookie? They’re gingersnaps.”
My heart sank to my stomach and I slumped back, uncaring if I squashed an invisible troll or two. Aunt Phyllis was my only shot besides my parents. And the folks were beyond a last resort. Their disappointment in me and the fact that perfect, pregnant Doctor Jenny would be sure to find out made that choice a very bad one. I’d rather chew glass and swallow it before I gave my sister an opportunity to hang my shitty personal financial skills over my head. My being an accountant would only intensify her joy to the point I might have to kill her.
Of course killing her could result in my being arrested by Jack again . . . Damn, just thinking about him set my panties on fire and made my heart hurt. I needed to block him out, the same way I did the scale after a date with ice cream and French fries, or Kristy, when she watched Housewives of Whatever marathons.
I picked up a gingersnap and shoved it in my mouth, hoping the chewing would disguise the crying that was sure to burst forth any moment.
“I like chocolate chip cookies,” Aunt Phyllis mused, “but the little people in the TV prefer the gingersnaps or macaroons.”
“That’s interesting.” I nodded, biting back the snarky reply that hovered on my lips. Normally I adored my aunt, but right now the selfish, desperate part of me hated her.
As a child, I loved listening to the stories about all the oddities inhabiting her home. Now, I worried if someone outside the family actually listened to her for more than ten minutes, they’d have her committed.
“So anyway, dear, there will be no contract or interest or time frame. I’ll just give you the money. You and your sister will get it all when I die, so I may as well enjoy watching you spend it while I’m alive.”
Now I did start to cry. “Oh my God, I can’t just take your money. I’ll pay you back.”
“Don’t be silly. I have several hundred thousand sewn into my mattress, not to mention the half million your late Uncle Carlton forced me to put in the bank. God rest that son of a bitch’s nonbelieving, womanizing soul.”
“Wait, what?” I gasped.
“Oh, you know I never trusted banks. They’re full of money-grubbing cyborgs, and if you believe the Internet, zombies are running Wall Street.”
“I’m pretty sure there’s a lot of misinformation on the Internet, Aunt Phyllis.”
“Of course there is. People like me know how to weed out the truth from the lies. Come with me, sweetheart.”
I followed her to the guest bedroom, via the kitchen, where she selected a large, sharp carving knife from the butcher block on her peach Formica countertop. I felt quite sure she wouldn’t murder me, so I continued to trail her.
“Would you be a dear and remove the quilt from the bed? I’m rather fond of it,” Aunt Phyllis requested as she flexed her muscles and bent over to touch her toes. WTF?
“Sure. Do you want me to take the sheets off, too?” I asked, removing the Daisy Star quilt from the bed. Aunt Phyllis was a Minnesota State Fair quilting winner, and that’s no small thing. Quilting is serious business in the Midwest. I had one of her rosebud quilts on my bed. I wouldn’t trade it for all the money in the world. Although if someone offered me a car . . .
“No, they’re old, and I think I may have had these when your cheating bastard uncle was still alive. In fact, I believe I’ll pretend I just caught your uncle screwing the neighbor on the bed. This will be fun.”
This was getting weird and disturbing. Aunt Phyllis seemed delighted to playact mortally wounding my long-dead uncle and his concubine from down the street.
“Stand back,” she warned. “This could get messy.”
“Right.” I moved to the doorway, in case I needed to make a run for it.
My Aunt Phyllis, who must have been a ninja warrior in a prior life, pirouetted, arched back, and hurled the carving knife toward the bed. With a bizarre and alarming grunt that sounded vaguely like “take that you unfaithful bastard ass-wipe,” she split the mattress clean in half. Money exploded from the feathers that flew around the room. I walked to the bed in a daze.
“Holy shit, Aunt Phyllis.” I held up a hunk of hundred-dollar bills that she had chopped in two. “I think you just destroyed a couple thousand bucks.”
“No, you can tape it. It’ll still work. Besides, there’s more. Every mattress in the house is loaded. Here.”
She handed me an obscene wad of cash, far more than a down payment. She then pulled an old purse down from the top of the closet and filled it to the brim.
“I can’t take all this,” I stammered, trying to hand it back to her. “There’s got to be twenty or thirty thousand dollars here.”
“You can and you will,” she said, shoving it back into my hands. “I earned that money by keeping my mouth shut while your Uncle Fucker gigoloed his way through the cul-de-sac. I want you to have a new car and if it makes you feel any better, you can start accompanying me to my Bigfoot Is Alive and Well in Minnesota meetings. You can drive me.”
“Okay.” I was in shock. Shock that she was giving me all this money . . . shock that she’d renamed my Uncle Carlton Uncle Fucker . . . shock that she had hundreds of thousands of dollars in all the mattresses in her house . . . shock that my long-deceased uncle had fornicated his way through the neighborhood . . . shock that I was going to become an active participant in the Bigfoot subculture.
“Come on, dear, let’s go have some cookies before the people in the TV eat them all.”
Re-perched on the sofa, I tried to find a polite way to decline the disgusting little gingersnaps that lined the coffee table.
“What do you think of Evangeline O’Hara?” Aunt Phyllis asked, pouring lemonade into mismatched Twins baseball mugs.
My mom must have told her I was working for Evangeline. Crap, the color drained from my face. “Well . . .” I decided to be diplomatic. I didn’t want to tell her that the past three days of my life had been some of the worst I’d ever had. Or that I’d cleaned seven of her bathrooms on my hands and knees. Or that without my friend Shoshanna, I would be in jail right now because I would have choked Evangeline to death. I didn’t want my aunt to worry or, God forbid, show up at the mansion to give Evangeline a piece of her questionable mind. The only good part of the week was that the Viper had loved the appalling story I’d been feeding Cecil daily. “She’s okay.”
“Hmmm.” Phyllis pursed her lips. “Last time I saw her at the bridge tournament, she looked like a reality show contestant for plastic surgery addiction.”
I choked on my lemonade.
“Not to mention,” my aunt went on, “she was a royal bitch.”
“I didn’t know you knew her.” I busied myself rearranging the gingersnaps into a new formation.
“Oh, I know her all right, known her for years. She was there for salmonella-gate.”
Salmonella-gate had been a big deal. A couple of years ago, two hundred ladies playing bridge had been poisoned by spoiled Turkey Noodle Dooda Surprise at their annual Christmas party. It actually made the national news. Thank God no one died. The caterer disappeared, never to be heard from again.
“I have to say, as sick as I was, it was wonderful to watch that bag of bones throw up all over her mink coat,” Aunt Phyllis chuckled fondly. “She actually tried to fuck your uncle, but he declined. That’s one of my only good memories of that bastard.”
Of all the random things . . . It shouldn’t surprise me that Aunt Phyllis played bridge with the Viper Bitch. Thank Jesus, Phyllis’s last name was different from mine. I wanted no connections made. It was a bit difficult to wrap my head around Evangeline hitting on Uncle Fucker. The visuals were too alarming to process. I’d pretend I’d never heard it, like that was going to work. Everything was starting to connect, and that was a bad thing. My family did not need to know anything more than what I chose to tell them about my life, and that was going to be nothing.
“I forgot to tell you,” Phyllis giggled. “Your mom and I stopped by your apartment building yesterday and met your boyfriend. He’s quite the looker.”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“Jack. We met your new boyfriend Jack the Communicator.”
Oh my God. Jack was at my apartment building? What in the hell was he doing there? Was he investigating me? I bet he thought I was a jewel thief. That son of a bitch.
“He’s a lovely man,” my aunt gushed. “He asked all kinds of questions about you once we told him who we were. I told him all about the time when you tried to be a Cirque du Soleil performer and ended up in traction in the emergency room.”
“Did you mention I was nine years old at the time?” I felt the heat creep up my neck and land squarely on my face.
She looked confused for a moment. “I’m not sure I remembered that part.”
That’s just fucking great. The hottest man alive is snooping around, trying to build a case against me so I can live out the rest of my pathetic life in the slammer. I am so glad I ate his card. He doesn’t like me . . . he wants a promotion. He wants to nail the perp, and not the way I want to nail him. If I ever see him again, I will rip him a new one. One that will impede sitting.
“Rena, I want to have a heart-to-heart. I don’t want to see you ho your life away like your uncle did. I don’t know how many men you’re juggling at the moment, but Jack is not a communicator. He’s a cop. And his last name is not Snuffleupagus. You really must keep your male suitors straight.”
“Right,” I muttered, making a gingersnap pyramid. “We actually broke up before I came here today.”
“Oh my God, that’s terrible. He has an ass you could melt butter on.”
I stared hard at the cookies, trying to let go of the knowledge that my aunt had seriously scoped my ex-not-really-boyfriend’s butt.
“Don’t worry your pretty little head,” she continued. “You two lovebirds can work it out Saturday night.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your mom invited him over to their house for family dinner on Saturday,” she bubbled, swatting at imaginary people flying through the air.
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me,” I gasped. That was awful. Was he pretending to be my boyfriend so he could take me into custody in front of my entire family? I had judged him so wrong. I was flabbergasted that I’d considered letting him father my children. He was probably married, for Christ’s sake.
“Rena, watch your language,” Phyllis admonished.
“Why? You just renamed Uncle Carlton Uncle Fucker.”
“I did, didn’t I?” she laughed. “Well, he was. I have at least six slutty neighbors that can back me up. Or maybe it’s five . . . Hilda died of something random last spring.”
“Natural causes?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t from a carving knife wound. My aunt is a little kooky, but I’m fairly sure she’s not a killer.
I wanted no more of an explanation than that. Explosive gas was good enough for me. Saturday was two days away . . . I needed to go home and plan Jack’s demise, preferably before he showed up at my parents’ house. I kissed my aunt, thanked her profusely for the money, and headed home to look at cars online, praying the rest of the evening would be boring.