Authors: Tamar Myers
He backed away even as he flung his arms to show it was no big deal. “No, we're cool now. I meant what I said. But hey, I really do have to go. I forgot about ball practice. I'm in a church league.”
“Soccer?” I asked.
“Softball,” Andy said, and took off almost at a run.
“Well, look at that,” I said.
“Can't say as I blame him,” Mama said. “Soccer indeed. When are you going to stop stereotyping, Abby?”
“Not that, Mama. Look who walked in.”
o, don't look!”
was exactly the wrong thing to say. A card laid might be a card played to a serious participant in the game, but a “don't” to Mama is just so much doo-doo. Immediately she turned and stared.
“It's their graces,” she said in a voice loud enough to get even Daddy's attention. You can be sure, by the way, that he spends his days playing celestial golf.
There was no question that the fake nobles heard her. They stopped short, glanced around the crowded court, but then seemed to miss us on the first pass.
“Crouch,” I whispered to Mama.
“I most certainly will
,” she said. Having been issued an order, she had no choice but to disregard it.
This was not my intention, mind you, but the MSG in the teriyaki sauce
indeed muddied my thinking. “Mama, please,” I begged, “don't make a sceneâI mean, go ahead and make one. I dare you to.”
Unfortunately, the signal had long since been sent to Mama's brain. She responded to my dare by whipping out a flowered hankie from between her bosoms,
standing on her tiptoes and waving the brightly colored cloth about like a lure. “Over here, dears,” she called. “Yoo-hoo, Your Royal Highnies.”
Laughter ignited around us like spontaneous brushfires and I wanted to crawl into the nearest crack in the floor. But since I shun clichÃ©s, and even I would have a hard time fitting into most floor cracks, I just closed my eyes and waited for the awful moment to pass. It's at times like that when one needs to retreat inwardly to that “special place,” a concept popularized by self-help gurus. My special place is the old pavilion at Myrtle Beach, on a starry summer night, watching Mama and Daddy shag.
“What's the matter, dear? Why are your eyes closed? Did that cheap mascara you use flake again?”
I opened my peepers. Nobody was looking at me except Mama.
“Where did their graces go?”
“As soon as they saw it was us, they high-tailed it out of here like ducks after June bugs. The looks on their faces were priceless. Too bad you were blinded by flakes of cheap mascara.”
In retrospect I think it was frustration more than anything that caused me to behave so irresponsibly. I'm not a control freakâreally, I'm notâbut this was my investigation, and Mama was supposed to be along only for the ride. Why was it, then, that half the time I felt like she was doing the driving? I don't mean just driving me crazy either.
“Mama,” I said sternly, “if you want to go home now, say the word and I'll drive you. Better yet, I'll put you in a cab.”
That's when the woman who'd endured an undetermined number of painful hours to bring me into the world tucked her exquisite hankie back into the safety offered by her breasts. “I know what you're thinking, dear, and you just try and leave me behind.”
The stretch of Interstate 26 between Upchuck and I-95 is one long monument to mankind's need to get ahead. I do mean that literally. Although this four-lane highway is as flat as a ten-year-old boy's chest, with a woodsy median that divides it in half, judging by the number of wooden crosses planted along this stretch, the fatality rate is staggering. When I figure out why it is that so many people have needlessly died along such a benign strip of land, I'll set about to bringing peace to the Middle East. Sadly, Greg and I have taken to calling this eerie thoroughfare Death Row.
It is only a three hour drive to Rock Hill from North Charleston if one doesn't stop
follows the unwritten
nine miles above the speed limit
rule. However, I am a law abiding woman with a bladder the size of a walnut; I set my cruise control on exactly the speed limit and avail myself of every official restroom I come across. Suppose we should encounter the vestiges of a terrible accident and can't get to the next facility for hours. Then what?
As it happens, I also get the munchies when I drive, so even though we only recently had lunch, when we got to Orangeburg, Mama and I both voted to stop at McDonald's and get milk shakes. Suppose we encountered the vestiges of a terrible accidentâwell, you get the picture. I mean, just in case Mama's picnic had gone bad.
At any rate, Mama is a firm vanilla devotee, and I'm an aspiring chocoholic. So busy were we defending our favorite flavors that we missed the turn into McDonald's. Without even tapping the brake, I made a split-second decision to whip into the adjacent parking lot, that of Day's Inn. It was, perhaps, a rather sharp turn, and Mama did squeal a little, but neither the car nor our persons were injured. Nor anyone else for that matter.
“Mama, please. I know I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry. If you like, you can make a citizen's arrest and haul me off to the slammer. But then you'd have to drive back to Charleston alone. And since I'm almost out of gas, you'd have to pump that as well, and you know how much you hate that. Betty Anderson
“It's not that, dearâ”
“I know; we're in the wrong parking lot. But how much farther do we have to walk? Ten feetâif we cut across the grass. Look, I'll even carry you piggyback if that will make you happy. Better yet, why don't you just stay here with the AC running? Do you need a book to read? I think there's an old paperback under the seat.”
The Mama that roared certainly had my attention. “Yes, ma'am.”
“I think that was their graces behind us.”
“They just zoomed past us. There! They went through that light.”
what was I supposed to do? Chase after a car I hadn't seen in hopes of catching up to it, then somehow convincing the driver to pull over so I could ask a pair of fake aristocratsâassuming that was indeed themâif they were, in fact, following us? I wasn't questioning Mama's powers of recognition, but that old adage about a bird in the hand seemed to make a heck of a lot more sense, especially since the birdâat least in my caseâwas an ice cold chocolate milk shake.
“Hmm,” I said, pretending to think, even though I'd already made up my mind, “they could be really dangerous peopleâyou know, like spies or something. The best thing we can do is to go get our shakes and then hit the road. Preferably before they have a chance to turn around.”
Although she had to traverse both hot gravelly tarmac and turf in her pumps, I'd never seen Mama move so fast. Donna Reed, Betty Anderson, and June Cleaver would all have been proud of the way she handled her pumps.
What should have been a three and a half hour drive (including our stops) took an additional three hours, due to an overturned truck about ten miles south of Columbia. The cab was nose down in the left-hand-side drainage ditch, while the long cargo bed lay on its side, sprawling across both lanes. Upside down in the right-hand drainage ditch was an SUV limousine. Clearly the two vehicles had an unpleasant encounter.
We were the eighteenth to arrive on the scene. By then someone had called 911 and the sheriff, a fire
truck, and two ambulances had already been dispatchedâat least that's what I heard from driver number sixteen, a young man about to report to Fort Jackson for military training. Driver number seventeen, a woman in her fifties, remained locked in her car, staring straight ahead.
“There's a nurse up there,” the new recruit panted. “She's says the truck driver might have broken his back. Them folks in the SUV limo are all shook up. Can't say as how I blame them, but still, they ain't acting very decent about it. Ain't none of them asking about the truck driver. They say they ain't getting out of their limo until their lawyer comes and takes some pictures, on account of it was the truck driver's fault. Trouble is, their lawyer is all the way over in Atlanta.”
“Lord have mercy!” Mama said. I hadn't heard her get out of the car, but if there was a story to be heard, and of course embellished and repeated, you can bet that my minimadre would find her way there.
“Yes, ma'am, I agree; it ain't very neighborly, if you ask me. But even if their lawyer was to fly here in one of them helicopters (he pronounced it
-licopters), this here accident is gonna take one heck of a long time to get cleaned up. I reckon thatâ”
Mama gasped. “Guts and blood everywhere?”
“Yes' ma'am, butâ”
“Come on, Abby,” Mama said, and grabbed my arm. “Let's get there before the cops do and seal everything off.”
“Don't be such a prude, dear. How many chances do we get to see real gore?”
“Mama!” I said. Perhaps I said it too sharply, but I was genuinely shocked by her callousness.
“I'm supposed to report by six,” the young man said. “I don't know what to do.”
I checked my watch. “It's not even three o'clock, and Fort Jackson is fifteen minutes away. I'm sure you'll make it.”
“Maybeâmaybe not. The last time I was behind an overturned livestock truck, it took them seven hours to clean up the highway enough to let us through. But them being pigs is probably why it took so long.”
Mama and I asked in unison.
He nodded. “Chickens. Hundreds of themâcould be thousands. They're everywhere. Look out, here comes one now.”
Sure enough, a big white chicken came flying past us right at my ear level, only to crash-land into the windshield of the next car. With a great deal of fuss it hopped to the ground, but apart from rumpled feathers, it appeared otherwise unhurt.
“I didn't know chickens could fly,” I said.
“Sure they can,” Mama said just as calmly as could be. “At my great Uncle Harlan and Aunt Ida's farm the chickens used to roost in the trees come nightfall. It kept them safe from foxes and raccoons.”
“What about the cute little chicks? The ones with no feathers, just fuzz?”
“They weren't so lucky. Abby, now quit asking questions and let's help this young man figure out what he's going to do.”
As it turned out there wasn't much we could do except help the state troopers round up the live chick
ens. They refused to let anyone pass until every single known escapee was apprehended, on the grounds that confused chickens crisscrossing the highway could pose a danger to future motorists. You can be certain, therefore, that a lot of us got into the act of bird-catching. When we were through, we'd rounded up just over twelve hundred potential fryers. Using her full circle skirt as a corral, Mama managed to capture three of them all by herself. The part that boggles my mind is that every single one of them, even the healthiest looking chicken, had to be destroyed, in keeping with the Department of Health requirements.
Blood can be deceiving, so I was surprised to learn that there probably weren't more than three hundred dead fowl on the highway. As for the truck driver, he was unconscious by the time the ambulance arrived, and even though I bought a copy of
the next day, I never learned his fate. We were, however, still chasing chickens when the lawyer from Atlanta arrived, and sure enough, he did arrive in a helicopter. Whatever chickens remained on the loose were blown to kingdom come, ensuring that some foxes were going to eat well that night.
Mama and I got to witness a dramatic confrontation between tired troopers and a dandy in a three-piece seersucker suit, white buckskin shoes, and a polka dot bow tie. From what we could see and hear, law enforcement at least temporarily won the standoff. When the occupants of the limo stumbled out into the dwindling daylight, they appeared unharmed, but most annoyed to see us and the rest of the rubberneckers who'd gathered around to watch the free show.
“Oh my gawd!” shouted a girl, whose family car sported New York plates. “It's really him!”
“And her!” shouted the younger brother.
“Them,” the girl said, her lips pulling back into a sneer of derision. “Don't you know anything?” She edged away, trying to get closer to the limo. By then our fellow travelers, tired and covered in feathers and chicken poop, had begun to perk up as they took notice as well.
Meanwhile the brother, a boy about ten, held his hands to his chest, palms up. “Sorry,” he said. “I can't take Lynne anywhere; she's such a groupie.”
“That's all right,” Mama said. “But who are these people?”
“That's Sister Nash, the rock star,” the boy said. “Don't tell me you've never heard of him?”
“Nope,” said Mama, “I haven't.”
“Or me either,” I said.
“But he's the best. At his last concert in New York he swallowed a live frog. When he got to Dallas he started peeing little tadpoles. He did it right on stage. It was in all those magazine you see at the supermarket.”
“I don't read them,” I said quite honestly.
“I missed that issue,” Mama wailed.
“Why is he called âsister' if he is a man?” I asked.
The boy shrugged. “Why do I call my priest âfather' when he's not my dad? Maybe it's the same thing.”
It was my turn to shrug. “So then who is the woman?”
“That's Baby Nash.”
“But she looks old enough to be his mother,” Mama said.
“She is. Didn't you see that video,
Baby Gonna Rock Sister House Bleeds
“Celebrities,” Mama muttered.
“Hey, these just aren't
celebrities, lady. These are, like, bigger stars than Brittney or Paris. I mean like, they're really huge.”
“But you're only teâAbby.” It sounded like Mama was calling me a striped cat. I could see, however, that something, or someone, had caught her attention on the fringe of the group.