Category: funny,story,family


CHAPTER ONE:

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM collybell@dmail.net
SUBJECT Hello!
 Hello! Just got back from a trip to Kelowna. Just went down with Lavelle to pick up some strawberries. We are going to make jam this weekend. It’s been really warm this week, and everything is in blossom. Keiko is doing fine. She’s such a cute dog, but gets into so much mischief. I will take her down when I go to visit Aunty Kat next week. Lucky will have a girlfriend!  Lucky him!  Haha. Hope you are doing well. Haven’t heard from you in a while, so I worry. Oh, I started that pilates class. I hate it. But, I already lost six pounds, so better keep on trucking!

 Love, Mom 

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM Nedbell21@goal.com
SUBJECT Happy birthday
 Happy birthday. You are old.

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM Oldjoe58@goal.com
SUBJECT Re: Back safe and sound
 How’s my favourite niece? We’re doing well. Headed down to the timeshare this weekend. Will be nice to get away. Tak-Sin got a new job at a textile company. He gets to travel back to Thailand a couple times a year, so he’s happy about that. And I get to have a break!  Can have a nice scotch in peace! Your mom was down a couple weeks back. She’s looking good. Got her hair done…a nice layered ‘do. Suits her. Even got her to drink a couple glasses of wine!  I think she’s a bit lonely, but seems to be handling things ok. Don’t be a stranger!  Keep in touch! 

Love,Uncle Joe

 

 TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM Tifferbell@goal.com
SUBJECT Happy birthday to you!
 Happy birthday auntie! Dad says you are realy old but I told him he is only one year younger so he is old to! Did you have a birthday party? I hope sombody got you a cake. I am on spring break now. I am staying with dad because my mom went to alberta and I didn’t want to go. When are you coming home again? We can play barbies again. I got a haircut and I have bangs like yours. My mom doesn’t like them but I like them so who cares.BYE!!!Love, Tiffany

 Ps Grandpa took me to the mall with his girlfriend. She bought me a orange joolius but I still don’t like her so don’t worry. 

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM rupabell@grandviewdental.com
SUBJECT Hey
 Do you know what your plans are for this Christmas? Ryan and I are thinking about going to Australia. But mom says you might be coming home. If you are, let me know. We can leave on Boxing Day if you are coming. If not, we’ll go a week earlier. Let me know!P.S. Ryan sends a BIG heart to you! P.S.S. No I didn’t. 

P.S.S. It appears my computer has been hijacked. He sends you much love and many kisses!

 

TO collybell@dmail.net, Nedbell21@goal.com, rupabell@grandviewdental.com, bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM texwes@dmail.com
SUBJECT Kathleen
 Hello all! Kathleen is in good spirits after her surgery. She had a bit of applesauce today and asked for a hairbrush…so that is a good sign!  The doctors here are absolutely fantastic. Her surgeon, some Middle Eastern fellow named Dr. Abdullah says she is doing very well and doesn’t foresee any complications. Lucky misses her like crazy, and I do as well. Thanks for all the prayers and wishes. 

Love, 

Wes, Lucky, and Kat 

 

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM collybell@dmail.net
SUBJECT Grandpa
 Just thought I’d let you know, your grandfather was rushed to hospital last night. Guess he was having trouble breathing. His friend Ruby called an ambulance. It looks like a stroke. Ned and I are heading down to the island in a couple hours. I’m taking my cell, so you can call me if you need to. Ryan and Rupa are going down tonight.  I don’t know if Kat will come, but says she will try. I will let you know when I find out more. Love, Mom 

  

TO bellaserata@dmail.net
FROM collybell@dmail.net
SUBJECT Re: Granpda
 Hi,Grandpa passed away last night at about 11. It was peaceful. I guess his body just gave out. We were all there. Kat managed to make it up just in time. I don’t know if you will get this email in time. Wes will pick you up from the airport. Glad you’re getting a flight to Victoria…saves time with the ferry and all. The funeral will be on Thursday. He took care of things in the will I guess, so there isn’t a whole lot we need to arrange. 

I’m doing ok…so don’t worry. He lived a good, long life. Kat is really taking it hard, and I am finding it really difficult to cope with her. Joe has been quite quiet about it all. But he had a nice talk with grandpa before he passed away. Tiffany’s mother will bring her down on Wednesday, so she will be here when you arrive. 

I told grandpa that you were coming. He tried waiting for you. But it just got too painful for him. So I told him you would understand. He left you grandma’s wedding ring. I have it for you. Just don’t let Kat or Selina know. Landon will be here too. We are all happy he got rid of that girlfriend of his.

See you soon. 

Love, Mom 

 

 _______________________________________________________________________

“Hello there stranger!” Uncle Wes grabbed her to his side. He smelled like wet dog.

“Hi there.”

“You must be plain tuckered out!”

“Oh, I popped a pill that knocked me out. Slept all the way here.”

“Good one!  Well, I’m parked just over there. This all you brought with you?” He grabbed Sara’s small suitcase and headed out the glass doors. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out and a slight breeze blew the scent of the sea and freshly cut grass up Sara’s nostrils. It was the perfect time of year for a visit to the island. Spring flowers were still out, everything was a bright green, and tourists swarmed about like clouds of foreign mosquitoes. Sara climbed into Wes’s “vintage” Lincoln Continental and was immediately jumped on by a heavily breathing, sweaty dog.

“Lucky!  Get the hell off of her!  You damn nuisance!” Wes swatted the dog into the back seat.

“Everyone is staying at the old house. Ned’s here. Joe should be there as well. Kat and I brought the motor home up, so I think there will be room enough for everyone to sleep. Still haven’t heard from April.”

April was grandpa’s sister. The two of them hadn’t spoken in nearly 20 years. Nobody really knew exactly why. Grandpa would just clam up any time anyone brought up the topic.

“Okay.”

“And your dad will be down as well. Isn’t staying, but is coming for the funeral service.”

“Oh.”

“I see you let your bangs grow out. Your mom will be happy about that.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

The old house had been painted since she’d last seen it. It was now a sea-foam colour, with dark grey trim. As always, the flowerbeds were in immaculate condition and the rose bushes were just starting to form small buds. New brass railing had been installed on the front steps leading up to the front door. The stained glass oval in the door was still there…two hummingbirds sipping nectar from open blossoms. The whole place reeked of Victorian ladies having tea. The motor home was pulled up into the carport on the side, and a skinny Yorkshire terrier was tied up to the RV’s steps.

“That’s your mom’s new, little, rat. Hardly can call that thing a dog. It’s quiet enough but dumb as a post. Strange. No cars here. Maybe they all went out somewhere. Anyway, just go ahead and head on in. Sure they’ll be back soon. I’m just gonna take these two mutts to the park and let them run around a bit.”

“Okay.”

The front door creaked open. The house smelled the same as always. Almost like almonds. The furniture hadn’t moved in decades. Pictures of dead people, in black and white, filled ornate frames on the left wall. The photographs of the living were delegated to the hallway in shiny, chrome frames. The curtains were fading floral and matched the covers of cushions that sat on two ancient sofas. Grandma’s letterbox still hung on the wall next to the 1960s telephone. The same mother-of-pearl letter opener rested on the coffee table. They boys had loved pretending it was a sword when they were kids…and always got yelled at and told it was “dangerous.”

The portrait of Nana Bell still hung next to the archway leading to the kitchen. She wore a large, white hat with ostrich feathers and cherries on it. Everyone always said Sara looked a lot like her. Nana Bell had a very small mouth, and thin lips. Apart from that, Sara could find no other similarities.

She set down her bag on the kitchen table. One it were several glass cases containing jewellery.  Grandma Bell’s jewels. A double strand of pearls. A coral, cameo brooch. A pair of silver and sapphire earrings. A ring with a small pearl and ruby…grandpa and April’s birthstones. An assortment of hair and hatpins. Some cocktail rings. A small note lay next to the case.

We have just run down to the mall. Needed to pick up some stockings and get hair done. Will bring supper home. Sara, you can stay in my old room at the back. Call my cell if you need anything.Mom

  

She left the note on the table and crossed over to the China cabinet. She took out a Waterford tumbler and then opened the bottom middle door and pulled out the mysterious bottle. It had been there since Sara could remember.  She’d always loved exploring all the nooks and crannies of the old house. Mom had gotten after her and the boys for it, but grandpa had always said “they’re just inquisitive Colleen. Better than being dull. Leave them be.” One day, she’d found the mysterious bottle and asked what it was.

“It was my brother’s. He was a medic in the Korean war. He survived the war and came back home, only to come down with leukemia a few months later. He bought that the day before he went into the hospice. Said we would share it together once he’d recovered. He never did…so it just sits there. Be careful with it, though. It’s worth quite a lot of money now.”

It was a 1956 Crown Royal Canadian Whisky 4/5 quart. Sara opened the seal, and poured some of the amber liquid into the tumbler.

“Here’s to you grandpa!” she said out loud, and then took a generous sip. It was poisonous Heaven. She walked down the hallway and out the back door into the backyard. As always, it was stunning. The rhododendrons were just beginning to lose their springtime lustre. The birdbath was filled to the brim. It looked like grandpa had used some of the leftover paint to give the two benches a new coat. Sara sat down on one and had another tickle of whisky. She let the rare, Victoria sunshine pet her skin and closed her eyes, taking a quick catnap, yet too wound up to fall asleep.

“She’s out back Colleen!” Kat’s screech shook her out of the daze.  Her plump aunt smiled, and slowly walked down the back steps. She didn’t bounce over with hugs and kisses as usual, but just ambled over slowly, sat down next to Sara, and put her hand on Sara’s knee.

“It’s so pretty out here!  I always said that this is what the Garden of Eden must’ve looked like.”

Sara quickly looked at her aunt’s face. The woman who cried at the death of a gnat, sat stone-faced to the world.

“I hope whoever buys this place keeps the garden up.”

Sara patted Aunty Kat’s hand.

“Hi there,” Colleen walked down the back steps. She wore a long, khaki skirt, a low-cut, orange top, a darker orange cardigan and a stunning, chunky necklace of agates. Her hair feathered the sides of a perfectly made-up face. Sara had never seen her mother looking so beautiful. She stood, and gave her mother an embrace.

“I’m so sorry mom. Are you doing okay?”

Her mother pulled back and smiled. “I’m fine. Really!  Oh, I like your hair!  It looks so much better when it’s long. Phew!  Gosh, you smell like a tavern! Have you been drinking?”

“Yeah. I opened grandpa’s scotch.”

“Uncle Roland’s Scotch?” Aunty Kat asked.

“Yep. And I don’t care if I am in trouble for it either.”

“In trouble? That sounds like the best idea anyone has had all day. Let’s go get some Colleen.” Sara stared at her aunt in amazement. The woman had always proudly proclaimed that “not a drop of alcohol has ever touched my lips!”

Mom laughed and followed her sister’s large ass up the back steps. Aunty Kat pushed Sara into a chair in the kitchen and she and Colleen started getting glasses, an ice-bucket, and washing off some strawberries they’d picked up “from this old guy selling them from his truck.”

“You’re looking really good mom.”

“Thank you!  Yes, I decided I’d had it with my old clothes. So I up and went to The Bay one day and spent nearly two-thousand bucks.”

“Wait’ll you see her fancy earrings,” Kat added.

“I’ve been selling a lot of stuff on E-Bay. I figure ‘why not’?  And there’s a lot more room in the house now. I still have tons of stuff to sell though. You know what your father is like…all that crap he collected.”

“She’s made the basement into her business!” Kat added.

“Yes, I have! I do all the packaging there and have it all set up. Your dad shops around for more crap and drops it off. Then I put it on E-Bay. We split things 40-60. I took 60 percent because I figure I’m doing more of the work. Plus, half the garbage your dad drags home can’t be sold, so it ends up going to the Sally Ann. But we’re making about $1800 a month,  so that’s good. And he’s going to set up a stand at that flea market in Enderby this summer. You know, the tourist one on the highway?”

“You’re doing this WITH dad?”

“Oh, it’s not like that Sara. I might see him for a total of a couple hours each week. He can’t do the computer stuff. He never even learned how to type.”

“Why can’t he get his girlfriend to do it?”

“I don’t mind. And I like the extra cash. Plus, the snooty woman won’t allow him to keep ANY of the stuff at her house. So, we don’t really have a choice.”

“Is she coming?”

“Who?”

“The girlfriend.”

“Where? Here? For the funeral?”

“Yeah.”

“I don’t really know. Maybe. It doesn’t matter. During times like these, those things don’t really matter.”

Kat and Colleen set everything on a silver tray then they all headed out back into the garden. They heard Uncle Wes yelling at the dogs.

“You leave the rat alone Lucky!  You’re gonna fuckin’ kill the damn thing!”

“Wesley!  Language!”

“Whadda ya got there? By God is that your dad’s whisky? Pour me one of those too woman.”

Kat poured her husband a drink without a second thought. They all settled down on the benches. Colleen picked up her new rat and held him on her lap while Lucky whined for his new playmate to come back down and continue being molested.

“Wesley, did you make reservations at the motel for Selina and the girls?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“I hope you did. I promised them we would do that for them.”

“I said ‘yes’ woman!”

“Good. I don’t hardly ever drink, ya know. But I guess this is a special occasion.” Sara watched as Aunty Kat nearly choked on her first gulp of whisky.

“Take it easy!  It’s not God damn Koolaid!”

“Oh!  It really burns!”

“That’s what it’s supposed to do!  Puts some hair on your tits!”

Kat continued to cough, then stood up and headed up the steps squealing “I just need to get some water!”

“Good grief,” Wes muttered.

“Give her a break Wes. She’s having a rough time,” mom whispered.

“Yeah, I know. Don’t think she slept a wink last night. Tossed and turned. I went and slept on the foldout. Strangest thing is that she hasn’t cried yet, Sara. Not a drop. And you KNOW that she knows how to turn on the waterworks.”

 Sara couldn’t help but smile.

“Maybe she’s just in shock?” Sara almost asked.

“Course. But mark my words…it’s a comin!  Those floodgates are not very strong. Lucky!  Fuck off!  Leave that poor rat alone!” Wes swatted the pug who went flying off the bench.

“The dog’s name is Keiko, Wes.” mom snapped.

“Yeah, your mom gave her little rat a Nip name. Guess cuz you live over there in Nipland. But nobody calls her that. We all call her ‘Rat!’” Wes laughed.

“And I wish you would stop it.” Mom stroked the poor, shivering rat.

Eventually Kat recovered and, much to Uncle Wes’s chagrin, found that mixing her whisky with Diet Coke made it more palatable. Sara got caught up on all the gossip about “that tramp Sherry,” Selina’s wonderful (but according to grandpa fat and dull) daughters, Lavelle’s trip to Honduras, Tak-Sin’s new job, Tiffany’s sudden interest in boys, and mom’s pilates instructor. They suddenly realized it was six, and that Kat and Colleen had failed to pick up anything for dinner. Wes said he would order some pizzas and went inside to make a call. Kat was on her third whisky and Diet Coke.

“Oh, where’s mom’s wedding ring?” Kat suddenly asked.

“Um, I have it.” Colleen replied.

“Oh good. I was scared it was lost. You can hold onto it for me.”

“Actually, dad asked me to give it to Sara,” mom shyly responded.

“He did WHAT?” Kat slammed down her glass on the bench, spilling her drink onto the lawn. “Tha horrible, old, awful, GOAT!  That ring was for me!  Mother said it wass s’posed to be mine! How can he be so mean even when he’sh dead!”

“Aunty Kat, you can have it. Really, I don’t mind.” Sara soothingly added.

“No. NO!  I don’t want it!  Orrible old man. We wans you to have it? Well, it’s yours!”

Colleen rolled her eyes, “Kat, just calm down. He probably didn’t even remember any of that. He was hardly himself at the end. You know that.”

“Oooooh. That jus burns me up. DAMMIT, DAMMIT, DAMMIT!  See? He’s even making me swear! He’s dead and he can still just make me feel like a pile of poop!  Yep…just like a big, ole turd!” Aunty Kat’s arms were now flailing. Then she suddenly stopped, and her body dropped limply. All the ruckus had caused Lucky to start barking, then the little rat jumped off the bench and joined in.

“He was an AWFUL man, Colleen. But boy oh boy do I miss him.”

As Wes had predicted, the floodgates weren’t that strong. Colleen put her arm around her sobbing sister and pulled her head toward her shoulder. Sara picked up the glass from the grass and set it on the tray. She never did know what to do with crying people. So, she just held fat Aunty Kat’s hand. Wes popped his head out the back door, said “What the Sam Hell?” and quickly disappeared back inside the house.

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The end of part 1…

A big “thanks” to everyone who has been reading. Thanks for your comments, etc. Chapter 11 marks the ending of part 1 of thebluebells. You can expect the first installment of part 2 later this week.

CHAPTER 11:

                                                   

“Who is it?” Sara asked as her mother handed her the phone.

“Your father.”

It was too late for her to say she didn’t want to speak to him. Sara took the phone and went upstairs and sat in the front room. It was dark but for the sparkling of lights on the tree.

“Yeah?”

“It’s dad.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Uh, so why don’t we…I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning. And uh, they got a flea market in Kelowna. Get there early for the good stuff. Real good pancake breakfast too.”

Sara wondered how anybody was able to make sense of what her father said. The family was all used to it by now, but she often imagined how he sounded to perfect strangers.

“Um, sure. Look, could you apologize to Mrs. Lowry for me? I really didn’t mean…”

“Don’t worry. She, uh…she’s OK.”

“Is she going to come to the flea market?”

“She has, uh, her daughter…probably not. Just the two of us. Haven’t got to spend much time with you. I know you’re leaving pretty soon.”

“OK. Well, maybe come by here around eight.”

“OK. See you later.”

Mom insisted Sara eat some cereal in the morning. Herb showed up precisely at 7:50 to pick her up. The drive to Kelowna was mostly the morning news on the radio. Sara pretended to fall asleep in the front seat. They arrived at the Rutland Centennial Hall. A few sellers had decided to fight the cold weather, and had tables of junk set up outside.  Herb jogged toward the building to use the restroom. Sara wandered over to where a big, fat guy with a grey, pioneer beard stood behind some tables. Old tools, 1960s dishes in mustard and avocado, McDonald’s Happy Meal toys, and boxes of cassette tapes were stacked in piles of nostalgia.

“Good morning!” the old guy said cheerfully, while puffing away on a smoke.

“Hello.”

She couldn’t believe that people would actually pay money for any of the “treasures” the old fart was selling.

“Could I interest you in some fine lookin’ silver earrings?” He held up a pair of blackened hoops.

“Uh, no thanks. Just looking around.”

“You related to Herb?”

“Hmm?”

“Saw you pull in with Herb!”

“Oh, yeah. I’m his daughter.”

“Thought so. You look a lot like him.”

What? Was the old fart going blind? How could he possibly think that she looked anything like that decaying version of Dan Aykroyd?

“Mm-hmm.”

“Well, have a nice day,” the old fart babbled as she headed toward the entrance of the hall.

As a white girl in Japan, she’d always felt like the odd-man-out. She got used to the uncontrollable stares, and the wary glances. She wasn’t one of them, looked different, sounded different…and never would be one of them. But it was strange how she also felt that way when she came home. She’d never admit it out loud, as it almost sounded a bit snotty, but these people were foreigners to her. The old fart’s highlight of the week was probably selling a pair of cheap earrings at the flea market. Everywhere she looked there were further reminders that she didn’t fit in. No piece of clothing on any person that morning seemed to have been designed before 1998. A group of old men huddled around a table near the pancake counter talking about the rising cost of housing. Nearby were their wives…chatting about their grandkids. A native family sat smiling around a table filled with jars of honey. The mom was knitting a bulky sweater and the kids’ faces were covered in sticky grime. An older couple was putting sugar in their coffee…dressed in their Sunday best. The woman had on a new winter jacket…probably a Christmas present from her frowning husband. An East Indian looking guy had a table filled with comic books, action figures, and sports cards. It looked like a brush hadn’t been through his hair in days. As she roamed through the hall, glancing at the assortment of goods for sale, bits of conversation assailed her ears…

“Oh yeah, they left for Mexico last week, eh.”

“Oh please, Paula Abdul is drunk half the time. That’s the only reason she says nice things. That Simon is ALWAYS on the money.”

“So I says, ‘Tanya, you can’t just let him help himself to food or he won’t eat his supper.’ But she never listens to me.”

“Buncha fruitcakes in Ottawa.”

“This is nothing. Shoulda been round for Winter in 1983. That was nuts.”

“Nah, all the good players get snapped up by the Yanks now. Got nothing good on the team this year.”

“Nope. The Pakkies bought the Olsen orchard.”

“Well, I turn off the engine at intersections now. Saves a few pennies on gas.”

“Yeah, I still got a few boxes of apples in the root cellar.”

Who were these people? Were their lives really so simple?  Sara walked by a table filled with antique glassware. She spied a pair of salt shakers in the shape of a yellow-faced Chinese boy and girl…squinty eyes and all. She shook her head in wonderment.

“Those are occupied Japan.” A 50-year-old woman with a pointy beak of a nose smiled at her.

“Hmm? I think they’re Chinese. They are wearing Chinese clothes,” Sara replied. The woman laughed.

“Guess you’re not a collector!  What I mean is that those were made in occupied Japan. Ya know, after the war, eh? That stuff is all highly collectable.” The woman picked up the boy of the pair and showed Sara where it was stamped on the bottom. Sure enough, it said “Occupied Japan.”

“Weird. I live there and have never seen such a thing.”

“Really? Well, if you ever see anything with that stamped on it…grab it. Some of ‘em are worth loads!”

“I’ll keep my eyes open.”

The next table was a table of dolls and bears. Hundreds of them. Suddenly, beak-nose appeared behind the table…only in different clothing. Sara looked at her quizzically.

“Hello!  I love your scarf!” She pointed to Sara’s rainbow scarf purchased somewhere off the street in Osaka.

“Thanks.” She looked back at the occupied Japan table and realized that there were indeed two different women. Twins.

“You, uh, ready? I’m done here,” a male voice boomed behind her.

“Oh!  Yeah. Sure. I’m done.” She looked down and spied a couple of bulky plastic bags in her father’s hand.

“Buy something?”

“Yeah, uh, got a couple…real good deal. Little People, real ones. Fisher Price. Got five of those, and a real good Lesney.”

She knew nothing of what he was talking about, but nodded her head…to avoid a lengthy explanation and display of purchases. They walked out together. The honey-seller’s youngest brat was screaming bloody murder as they left the building and headed toward the car.

“You buy anything?”

“Nope.”

“Yeah, uh…huh. Yeah, bunch of junk today,” Herb agreed. Strange…he’d still managed to make a couple of purchases in spite of it being a bunch of junk.

As they got into the car, he tossed the bags into the back seat and started up the engine.

“Yeah, uh, I’m gonna open a little shop to sell all the stuff we got in the house. Joanne and I will run it. Give your mom half of what we make. Only fair. Thinking maybe up in Enderby.”

“I thought you two were moving to Mexico.”

“Just in the winter and fall. We’ll come up here in the…uh, warmer months. Tourists, tourist season. Sell all our stuff.”

“I see.”

“Joanne will keep her place.”

“Mm-hm.”

“Yeah, uh, your mom wants me to get all my junk outta the house.”

“That’s a good idea.” And it was. The Bell house had boxes of the stuff stored in every nook and cranny. Not just that, there was an overflowing storage unit in town. Herb had never met a garage sale he could pass up.

“Not my cars though. Not gonna sell them. Save ‘em for you kids.”

Why on Earth any of the “kids” would want his collection of thousands of toy cars was beyond her. But Sara kept her mouth shut.

“Yeah, we’ll sell in the summer and, uh, use the…the money to live for the rest of the…”

They drove along for a couple minutes in silence.

“You hungry? Please up here serves breakfast. Makes their own jam.”

“No, I’m fine.”

“All kinds. Apricot, strawberry, apple.”

“I’m not really hungry.”

“Good French toast.”

“I don’t usually eat breakfast.”

“Oh yeah, me too. Well, sometimes a bagel. Coffee. Maybe some cereal. I only drink one cup though. Rest of the day, uh decaf. Want some coffee?”

Sara realized he wasn’t going to leave her alone until she agreed to ingest something.

“Sure. Maybe just go through the drive-thru at Tim’s.”

“Oh, I think it’s senior citizen day at A&W. I get a free coffee if I get a breakfast sandwich.”

“That’s fine.”

“But you want Tim Horton’s eh?”

“I don’t care.”

“Whatever you want.”

“Anything is fine.”

They pulled up at the A&W drive-thru. As the car approached the speaker box, Herb slowed the car.

“Welcome to A&W. May I take your order?”

“Yeah, uh, two coffees…uh, regular.”

“Cream or sugar?”

“What’s that?”

“Would you like cream or sugar?”

“Oh, yeah. Both. Oh…Sara, what do you…”

“Both,” Sara replied.

“Yeah, both.”

“OK. So, two regular coffees cream and sugar.”

“Yeah, double, double.”

“Just one in mine, dad.” Sara interrupted.

“Oh…just one double, double.”

“Got it. Would you like anything else this morning sir?”

“Yeah, I want two of those breakfast sandwiches.”

“Which ones? We have the bacon and ham muffin, the sausage and egg sandwich, and the breakfast croissant.”

“What’s that?”

“Sir, I think there’s a breakfast menu just above the speaker.”

“Oh, uh, yeah. Yeah. I see it. Oh, I’ll take that taco things.”

“Pardon me?”

“That taco things. Says they are 99 cents.”

“Oh, you mean our chicken wraps? Actually, those aren’t available until 11 o’clock sir.”

“Why’s that?”

“Well, they’re not on our breakfast menu.”

“Well, you shouldn’t put up a sign for them if you’re not going to sell them.”

“Sorry about that. Can I get you one of our breakfast sandwiches instead?”

“Yeah, I’ll take two of those croissants. Put some salsa in there.”

“Pardon me?”

“Salsa!  Salsa!”

“Uh….OK. Alright, your total is $7.48. Thanks.”

Herb pulled out a pocketful of change and handed it to Sara. “See if I, uh, got enough.”

They pulled up to the window. A chubby girl in a headset opened it.

“You got my senior discount, right?”

“Uh, no…you didn’t tell us. Um, so one of those coffees should be free. Hold on…”

“Nope. Two. Two free.”

“Um, the discount is only for senior citizens, sir.” The girl glanced at Sara in annoyance.

“They’re both for me.”

The girl scratched her head. “Both coffees and sandwiches are for you?”

“Yes.”

The girl shut the window and rolled her eyes.

“Dad, I think we can afford $1.29 for a coffee.”

“Ah, these places make tons of money. They throw out half their stuff.”

The girl returned. Herb gave her a fistful of coins and she handed him two cups and a small, brown bag. Herb drove the car forward and was about to turn out onto the street when the car came to a screeching halt.

“What?”

“I, uh…restroom.”

“Well, you can’t leave the car here dad! People have to…” Before she could finish Herb was already out of the car and jogging toward the restaurant. Sara set down her coffee, opened the passenger’s door and walked around to where her dad had left the driver’s door wide open. She sat down, put the car in gear and moved it to a handicapped spot. By the time she was back in her own seat Herb had returned.

“Sorry, uh, bout that. Oh…we might as well eat hear…can’t eat while I’m driving.”

To avoid any lengthy discussions, Sara accepted one of the croissants.

“I feel real bad about, uh, ya know. Christmas kind of got a bit ruined. I shoulda…oh well. It’s in the past now. I just wanted to, uh…well, you’re upset and I wanted to talk about this, uh…”

“I’m not the only one who’s upset, dad.”

“Yeah, but the boys will come through. Plus, they’re not going anywhere. You leave in just a couple days. Sure would be nice if you came by Joanne’s place. She’s a great…”

“It’s not going to happen dad.”

“I know you are upset with me. But Joanne…”

“Upset? Hardly. I am really pissed off. I do not understand you at all. This is just really fucked up!”

“It’s OK to be angry with me. I know I wasn’t always the best, uh dad…and also with your mom…”

“Oh, just SHUT UP! Really!” She threw her coffee out the window and tossed her sandwich on the floor, then turned to looked at Herb. “I’ve forgiven you for a LOT of shit, dad. But this is too much.”

“There’s no need to yell!”

“What? Why? Why can’t I yell at you? You certainly spent a good portion of your life yelling at me, so why can’t I yell? I’ll yell all I want!”

“You do NOT yell at your father!”

“Fuck YOU!”

The word instinctively caused Herb to raise his hand. She braced for the impact…but it never came.

“Go ahead dad!” She was screaming. The rage she so industriously tried to contain broke through.

“I don’t do that anymore!”

“Yeah? Well I do!”  She didn’t hesitate and slapped him hard across the cheek. His coffee cup flew from his other hand and splashed over the driver’s side window and his shoulder. His face was stunned. His bottom lip began to quiver.

“Well, now I know!” Herb screeched. His whole body shook and his eyes were brimming.

“You know WHAT?”

“You still hate me!”

“Take me the FUCK home!”

Herb didn’t bother turning off the engine at any of the intersections. He sped up the hill when they got to the house. Sara slammed the car door when she got out…not saying a word. A note on the fridge in the kitchen said that mom had taken grandpa down to the airport and she would be home later.

____________________________________________________________________________________

She called her airline to find out if she could change her ticket and fly home earlier. No luck. Then she tried checking if there were any available seats on flights to Vancouver. She figured she could kick around there for a couple days before heading back to Tokyo. Fully booked. Mom got home just as she had started looking at the Greyhound Web site.

“What are you doing?”

“I’ve gotta get out of here.”

Colleen set a bag of groceries on the floor then put her hands on her hips.

“What happened?”

“You people are all nuts!  Everyone in this fucking country is nuts!”

“What did he say?”

“You’re wrong mom. He hasn’t changed one bit!  Same asshole he always was.”

“Well, if you’re not going to tell me what happened then I can’t help you.”

Sara laughed!  “Mom, how did you ever help me when it came to him anyway? He is the same as ever!  A fucking control freak who lashes out when he doesn’t get his own way!”

“That’s not fair. I did everything I could to protect you kids.”

“Except to LEAVE the fucker!  But no. You wait until we’re all grown up for that.”

“You are really not being fair. He stopped any of that business long ago. You know that.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Are you saying he hit you?”

Sara turned to face her. “And what if he did, mom? What would you do about it? Nothing? Hope that he wouldn’t do it again? Be grateful he didn’t cause any serious physical injury?”

Colleen collapsed in defeat on the settee near the basement door.

“You think I’m a wimp, don’t you?”

“Oh please, mom. Don’t get all passive aggressive with me.”

“I don’t even know what that means! But I know I did the best that I could!  I was the one who stood up to him and told him to straighten up. I was the one who threatened to take away his kids. I got him to change his ways. I MADE him change. I stayed with him when he went through the cancer business. I raise his kids, bring in an income, clean his house…and you think I’m a wimp because of it.”

“And you still invite him to your house and to family dinners? After all you put up with, how can you be in the same room with him?”

“Because he is YOUR father.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN: 

Kat and Wes’s son Landon and his (crack whore) girlfriend Sherry hadn’t made it for Christmas dinner. With all the other excitement nobody had noticed. Ned’s friend Bernie had also been a no-show. He was a cameraman for the local news channel and called to say he had to cover a crash that had killed a father and child. Again, nobody had really noticed. Kat called her son to make sure he was OK and that he would show up for “the Christmas dinner sequel.” There was still enough uneaten food to feed “the German army” as Uncle Wes had put it, so mom and Kat packed everything up and took it over to Ryan and Rupa’s place. Rupa had the house decked out for Christmas in her catalogue-looking front room.

“What the heck kind of Christmas ornaments are those damn things?” Wes bellowed.

“Wesley!  Language!”

“Looks like she’s got a damn flock of peacocks makin’ nests in the tree.”

Rupa appeared from the kitchen wearing one of those aprons with the torso of Michelangelo’s David on it…making the wearer look like they had a tiny, marble penis.

“That’s what they are!  Those are real peacock feathers. I wanted something different!” she responded cheerily.

“And what the tar-nation are you wearing woman?  Look like a God damn idiot in that stupid apron.  Good God!”

Rupa blinked back hurt and astonishment and returned to the kitchen. Mom and Kat bustled by with boxes and Tupperware filled with food. Bernie sat like a lump on a couch next to the tree. He’d let his hair grow out since Sara had last seen him. His shit-eating grin also informed her that Ned had brought over some of the “good stuff.”

“I like her apron. Funny!” Tak-Sin whispered.

“Peacocks in a Christmas tree and a damn COCK on an apron. What the heck is the world comin’ to?” Wes muttered as he set Lucky down on the floor who immediately was attracted to Bernie’s feet.

Tak-Sin informed them that Joe was taking a nap, and Ryan, Tiffany, and Ned were in the basement playing with the Wii. He chattered away as he took grandpa’s coat and offered to bring him some tea. Still high off his big win, obviously. Soon Ryan and Ned clomped up the stairs with Tiffany in tow…who ran to hug Sara.

“Where’s Herbert?” grandpa hollered. Everyone was silent for a few moments until Ryan stepped in and said “I don’t think he’s comin’.”

“No, Colleen said he was coming and that I should be on my best behaviour,” grandpa replied. Ned shook his head in confusion and headed out the back door. Ryan looked to Sara.

“What? Don’t look at me,” she muttered.

“I’m lookin’. Is he coming?”

“Talk to mom about it.”

“I’m talking to you.”

“He-he…that’s totally Robert De Niro!” Bernie chuckled as only a stoner can do.

“I’ve got nothing to do with it,” Sara said as she pushed past Ryan and headed toward to kitchen. Ryan was in hot pursuit. The ladies were busy unpacking food.

“Mom, did you tell that man he was invited to my house?”

Colleen ignored him and started spooning stuffing into a large casserole.

“Mom!”

“Oh honestly!  Yes, he’s coming. He is still part of this family!”

“I don’t want him here!” Rupa put a finger up to her mouth to motion for Ryan to “shut up.” It had no effect.

“No, Rupa, it’s MY house and I do not want him in it!”

“It’s not up to you,” mom replied with just a tinge of annoyance in her voice.

“What are you talking about? I have every right to invite or not invite anyone into my home!  He is NOT setting one foot inside my front door!  I’ll sick Murdock on him!” Murdock was Ryan’s black boxer. She was a female, but Ryan had insisted on calling her “Murdock” and referring to her as “he/him” as he claimed “all dogs are boys.” Everyone joked about his “dyke-dog.”

“Oh stop it. We had a pretty miserable Christmas yesterday, so let’s do our best today.” Mom handed the empty stuffing container to Sara, who had no idea what to do with the damn thing.

“And Ryan?” Oh God no. Fat Aunty Kat had to get her two bits in. “Ryan, all God’s children make mistakes, and if Jesus can forgive even people like Hitler then I think we should forgive your dad for his mistakes too.”

“What the fu—-that doesn’t even make sense!  Mom, call him NOW and tell him not to come.”

“Well, he’s already gone to get Joanne…”

“He’s BRINGING that fucking woman with him!” Ryan’s arms flew into the air in a dramatic gesture knocking the Tupperware out of Sara’s hands. “I like how everybody seems to know but me!  My fucking house and nobody tells me!” He kicked the Tupperware across the floor as he stormed back down into the basement. Sara picked up the container. Rupa ran after him mumbling “for fuck sake” as she brushed past Sara.

“What the heck is goin’ on in there woman?” Wes hollered from the front room.

“Oooh…just mind your own beeswax Wesley!” Kat shouted back.

“Well, keep the ruckus down!” Lucky then started to bark.

“WESLEY!  Take the dog out!  He probably has to go poopies!”

“He does NOT have to take a shit!  He’s upset because of all the damn yelling!”

“Wesley!  Language!”

Mom was now trying to lift the turkey out of a cardboard box. Sara went to help her.

“When are they coming?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe in an hour or so.”

“It is just too soon mom.”

“I know. It’s soon for you guys. But we’ve gotten used to it, I guess. I’m actually quite fond of Joanne.”

“Your mom and Joanne actually went to school together in Alberta,” Aunty Kat interjected.

“Wow!  Even better. He cheats on you with a friend.”

“It’s not like that, Sara.” Mom started digging around in a cupboard box for a roasting pan.

“Your dad was friends with Mrs. Lowry even before I knew her.”

“What happened to Mr. Lowry? I mean, if she’s a ‘missus’ I’m assuming there must be a ‘mister’ somewhere.”

“He passed away three years ago. Lung cancer.”

“Does she have kids?”

“A daughter in Port Alberni.”

“Does she know?”

“Oh yes. Herb says she’s a potter.”

“A potter?”

“Yes. She makes pottery for these ritzy tourist traps in Victoria and Vancouver.”

Suddenly there was a loud slam of the front door and a “MERRY CHRISTMAS” shouted from downstairs.

“That’s my Landon!” Kat squealed!  “LANDON!  Merrrrry Christmas!!!  Ha-ha-ha!” Kat bounced out of the kitchen.

“I hope he forgot to bring that frightful girlfriend of his with him,” mom muttered as she began covering the turkey’s drumsticks with foil.

“I think that she’s going to be the least of your worries tonight, mom.”

“She stole your brother’s digital camera you know. Probably sold it for drugs.”

“What?”

“I’m serious. Wait until you see her.”

By the time the turkey was in the oven, Rupa, Kat, and the mysterious Sherry had all reappeared in the kitchen. Sara could see why everyone in the family hated Sherry…pink streaks in peroxide hair, three nose piercings, a tattoo on her neck of a fairy, and a lip ring.

“Sara!  Come meet Sherry!  This is Landon’s girlfriend!  See? She likes interesting hair-dos too!”

“Hey…” Sherry cooed. Well, mom was right about one thing. This girl was definitely on something. Landon then appeared in the doorway. He gave Sara a pat on the shoulder and she shuddered. She always shuddered when Landon’s body was near hers. He was an absolute stunner…from the dimple in his right cheek, to the cheeky grin on his face. His skin was dark…thanks to his native mother, and his hair was blonde…thanks to his unknown, Caucasian father. He’d been adopted by Kat and her first husband as an infant.

“Yuck!  You’re disgusting!” Sara screamed to herself in her mind when she suddenly realized she was lusting after her COUSIN. She blushed.

“He-he-he.  Sara, you’re like, totally red…that’s so weird!” Sherry oozed her words, not so much spoke them.  

“Oh? Really?  No, I’m just hot…maybe I’ll go outside for a…” she avoided any eye-contact with any part of Landon’s person and headed out the back, sliding doors. Mistake. Before she’d had even a moment to adjust to the darkness she heard a loud snarl and felt her own body flying through the air….then….

____________________________________________________________________________________

“She’s OK!  Look!” She opened her eyes to see Landon’s beautiful, brown eyes staring down at her. His lips were full and glistening with a hint of a morning-moustache on his top lip…an angel about to give her the kiss of life….”NO!” She bolted upright to a chorus of people shouting “No!” “Be careful!” and “Easy there!” She was laying on the couch next to the Christmas tree. She felt Lucky chewing on her sock.

“Are you OK? Sorry about that damn dog. I thought she was chained up!  RYAN!  I told you to chain her up!” Rupa wailed.

“Do you need some water? Kat, get her some water!” Mom’s cure-all for any bodily illness or injury was a glass of water. Are you coughing up blood? Why, have a glass of water!

“Here, here’s some, uh…” A familiar looking hand with fat, sausage fingers snaked around the front of her with a glass of red liquid.

“Herb, maybe it’s best not to give her wine.” Now THAT voice was not familiar at all.

“Maybe we should take her to the emergency room just in case?” Uncle Joe. The voice of reason.

“Nonsense. You young people go to hospital for a broken toenail these days. It’s just a bump on the head.” Grandpa. The voice of cantankerousness.

“Well, might be a good idea. When I was in the marines this one fellow bumped his head on a motorboat and dropped dead two days later!” Uncle Wes. The voice of exaggeration.

“Aunty? I think Murdock ripped your sweater.” Tiffany. The voice of journalism.

“What’s that smell? Is something burning?” Ryan. The voice of practicality.

“Shit!  The potatoes!” Rupa. The voice of profanity.

“I’m fine!  Really, I’m fine. I just really need a cigarette. Really!” The voice of truth. Sara pushed herself onto her feet.

“Hey, hey!  You need to lie down for a minute!” Herb bellowed. Sara ignored him and headed toward the stairs and the front door. She heard mom whisper to Ned too loudly “you’d better go with her.” Sara stared at the floor. She passed a pair of panty-hosed feet hiding beneath a pair of ivory, silk pants. At the bottom of the stairs were a pair of navy high-heels…the type of shoe mom would NEVER wear. She opened the front door and let the cold air hit her full on the face. Already she felt better.

 A few seconds later, Ned sat with her on the bench next to the front door and lit up a joint.

“Everyone thinks you’re crazy living so far away. Me? I think you got the right idea. Here…have some of this. That’ll make you REALLY see stars and birdies.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

She looked a bit like Kate Jackson. She was quite thin, and wore linen pants with a flowing, matching top along with a simple gold chain and an opal pendant. She had on make-up…but just enough to conceal the tiniest bit of blotchy skin. Her nails were perfectly manicured and held a glass of white wine. Nobody on God’s green Earth would have guessed that the frumpy man seated next to her with the top button of his jeans undone was her “lover.”  She spoke, but not too much. She laughed at all the appropriate times. She offered to help mom clean up, but didn’t push too much when her offer was declined. She even maintained her dignity when Bernie mentioned something about Mr. Lowry. Every man in the room was charmed. She had them all eating out of the palm of her hand…apart from Ryan who refused to come upstairs and sat down in the basement playing Guitar Hero in protest. She was so perfect that she even had an imperfection…excusing herself after two hours to have a smoke. Sara could find nothing wrong with her, well apart from her being a husband-stealing, black widow. The conversation lulled. It was silent except for the rattle of mom, Kat, and Rupa in the kitchen and a snoring Lucky on Uncle Wes’s lap.

“Are you sure you’re feeling all right, dear? That’s quite a bump you took.” Sara did a second take, and realized that Charlie’s Angel had spoken to her.

“Me? Oh, yeah…yes, uh…”

“Wow!  You sound just like your father. You have very similar speech patterns.”

Bitch. She smiled unconvincingly at the woman and didn’t respond.  The only other person in the room who did not seem amused at all was grandpa. He sat next to Bernie in stone-faced silence. Joe and Tak-Sin sat on the floor in front of the tree. Finally, Wes broke the silence.

“So tell me Joanne, what do you think of Rupa’s fancy Christmas decorations on that there tree?”

Sara watched as the Angel pushed her glasses back up onto the bridge of her nose then craned her neck to get a better view.

“Ah…I see. Peacocks. Well, they certainly are colourful.”

What the HELL? She even got that right!  Sara finally thought the woman had been trapped!  By simply saying they were ‘colourful’ the Angel both indicated to Rupa that they were attractive and to Wes that perhaps they were in poor taste. Could the woman do no wrong?

 “I think they’re awesome!  I’m totally going to do blue and green streaks in my hair now!” Sherry moaned from the corner where her head rested on Landon’s bulging shoulders and thick neck…”Aaaaah!” Sara again screamed inwardly.

“Uh, I just need to..uh…excuse me…sorry, gotta use the…huh!  Again. Geesh…three times tonight…” Dad hoisted himself off the couch and rushed down the hall towards the bathroom.

“Light a match when you’re done!” Wes hollered after him.

Everyone laughed at the lame joke politely, except Grandpa, who also rose from his feet and announced that he was going to “lie down. All this fun is not good for my heart!”

Suddenly Sara heard a soft voice from behind her say “Auntie? Uncle wants to know if you wanna come play Guitar Hero. We need a singer and Uncle really sucks.” She turned and saw Tiffany’s gap-toothed face staring up at her from the stairwell.

“What’s that?” Wes shouted.

“Nothing!” Tiffany hollered back and ran down the stairs.

“Thought she said something about ‘retards are here’ and I was about to agree with that!” Ned cackled at Wes and yet another “WESLEY!” echoed from the kitchen.

“She said ‘Guitar Hero.’ It’s a game.” Sara explained.

“A game? I wanna play a game…” Sherry slithered off of Landon and sat up.

“Um, yeah. Sure. They need singers.”

“Your Aunty Kat has a good voice,” Wes stated surprisingly seriously.

“Um, well, I don’t know…”

“KAT!  They’re playin’ a singing game downstairs!  They need ya!  Hurry up woman!”

Kat appeared from around the kitchen corner. “Really? Oh!  That sounds real fun! Colleen!  Colleen, you and I can do a duet!  Oh, we could do ‘Mr. Sandman’!”

“Aunty Kat, I don’t think…”

“Well, let’s head on down then! Come on everyone…let’s go see what this game is all about…”

“Um, you guys?” Nobody was listening. Everyone stood and started heading toward the stairs.

“Oh God,” Sara muttered.

“Don’t worry. I won’t go down there.” The voice startled her. The Angel had remained seated on the couch. Mom and Kat came out of the kitchen.

“Oh, come on girls!  This sounds like fun!” Kat squealed.

“Joanne, aren’t you going to come join us?” mom asked in her sweet telephone-voice.

“Oh, I’d better not. I have my daughter arriving tomorrow morning so I should be getting home. I’ll just wait until Herb is, uh, finished and have him give me a ride. But thanks so much for the lovely evening Colleen.”

“Are you sure? You’re more than welcome.”

“Unbelievable!  LET THE FUCKING BITCH GO!!!” Sara looked to her mother’s shocked face and then to Aunty Kat’s quivering second chin.

“What?”

“Sara. You need to apologize to Mrs. Lowry immediately!”

The sudden realization hit Sara that she had said the words aloud. She felt all the blood run to her cheeks.

“Oh…I…oh, I didn’t mean!  Shit!  I mean, I didn’t mean to say that out loud…uh…no, I didn’t mean that at…oh, I am so sorry!”

The Angel calmly picked up a scarf, said “thanks again Colleen. Tell Herb I’ll be in the car” and floated down the stairs and out the front door.

“Oh mom…I’m sorry. Maybe it was the bump on my head!  I didn’t mean to say that out loud. God, I’m so embarrassed.”

Mom started walking down the stairs, and quietly called back. “Don’t worry about it, honey. I’ve been wanting to call her that for years.”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Naturally, the plans for everyone playing Guitar Hero didn’t work out…as none of the old folks new any of the songs. They settled on Wii bowling. Aunty Kat thought she had to run toward the screen as one would have done in a bowling alley. Twice she fell on her plump bottom, much to the delight of a stoned Bernie and cackling Tiffany. Tak-Sin won nearly every game…continuing his winning streak for the day.

At around ten, they loaded a sleepy grandpa into mom’s car and mom drove the three of them home.

“Oh, the Heimans sold their ranch.” Mom pointed to a blue Victorian house surrounded by barns and pines. Sara had no idea who the Heimans were, so just said ‘Oh, yeah.”

“And I guess I told you that Donna left her husband.’

Who was Donna? Was she one of the Heimans? Again, she simply responded with “Oh, yeah.”

“She wanted to retire on the island, and he said he wasn’t moving. So, she just up and leaves him.”

“Good for her.”

“Well, not so good for poor, old Ed.”

Sara still had no idea who they were talking about, but played along.

“Yep, seems like everyone I know is getting divorced these days. Never thought I’d be a divorcee as well.”

“Well, at least you know that you’re not the only one.”

“Small comfort. I never thought I’d be 62 years old and alone.”

“You have the boys, mom. Your family is close.”

“I know. All I ever wanted was to get your dad out of the house so I could have a few moments of peace. Now that I know he won’t be coming home…well…”

“You’ll get used to it. And ya know, now you’re single!  You can always meet someone new.”

“No way.”

“Why not?”

“Do you know what men my age are like?  They all need mothers!  They have never done a darn thing for themselves in all their lives. Your dad couldn’t boil an egg. They all need a mother to scrub their poopy underpants, fold their socks in a particular way, make sure the fridge is stocked with their favourite drinks, book appointments for the doctor and dentist, get them to take their medication…no way. I am not about to do that again. I’ve had my fill of it. Did you know that I had to iron the damn pillow cases for your dad? I’m not kidding you. His mom did it so he expected me to do it too. Can you imagine?  Why would anyone iron a pillow case? But that is what men my age are like.”

“Well, there are also positives.”

“What, you mean sex? That’s all anyone thinks about these days. Sex, sex, sex. Well, let’s just say that what your father lacked in technique he made up for with speed!”

“I really don’t want to hear this.”

“And I am happy now that I haven’t had to put up with his ‘manly needs’ for a long time now. He uses Viagra ya know.”

“Mom!”

“Oh stop acting like such a 12 year old kid.”

“You really want to be talking about this stuff with your father in the back seat?”

“He’s dead to the wind. Besides, he took his hearing aid out.”

“Well, I don’t want to talk about this.”

“You’re not talking. I am. And all I’m saying is that I do not need another husband. But maybe a boyfriend. Something casual.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Why should you find that so shocking? Do you think I don’t know about you? I know you’ve slept with a lot of guys.”

“I have not!  What, do you think I’m some big whore?”

“No, but you’ve had your share.”

“How do you know that? You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“So, I’m just saying you shouldn’t judge me. I want one of those friends with benefits.”

“La-la-la-la-la…” Sara covered her ears.

“Oh how mature of you. Stop that!” Colleen batted at her daughter’s hands playfully.

“But isn’t that sinful? I mean, how many times did I hear the lecture about keeping myself pure as my body is the TEMPLE of GOD? When you found out I was no longer a virgin you cried for days!”

“Maybe I’ve changed.”

“Not that much.”

“You didn’t even notice I got my ears pierced.”

Sara reached over and pulled her mother’s hair back. Sure enough, there was a simple gold stud in her ear.

“Looks nice.”

“So I’ve changed too. And when Christmas is over I’m going on this diet Lavelle told me about. You don’t eat or drink anything but maple syrup, cayenne pepper, and lemons. And I am going to start one of those pilates classes. Maybe I’ll even come visit you in Japan.”

“Whatever you want, mom.”

“And so what if people think it’s a midlife crisis or something. I mean, your father did it, so why can’t I? And I want to go on a cruise too. Maybe a singles cruise.”

“So is all of this in response to what dad has done?”

“Don’t try to analyze me. For Pete’s sake…so what if it is? This may be the best thing that has ever happened to me.”

“Maybe you should see a counsellor.”

“No way. I am not going to share all my personal details with some stranger who thinks all my problems can be solved with a handful of pills.”

“Sometimes it is just good to talk these things through with someone.”

“Well, I’m talking to you. And I talk to your Aunty Kat.”

“I’ll bet that’s a LOT of help.”

“She’s smarter than anyone thinks.”

“Well, I think she’s retarded so I don’t know if that means much.”

“Sara!  That’s my sister you are talking about.”

 “Sorry. Just take your time mom. There’s no rush, eh?”

“Of course there is. You are young, so you don’t feel the pressures of time. I don’t have as much time as you.”

“You are hardly on death’s door.”

“You know what I mean! I have about ten more years before you kids try to put me in a home.”

“Mom, we are not going to put you in a home.”

“That’s what they all say. And then when push comes to shove, nobody wants to be bothered.”

“You didn’t put grandpa in a home”

“But it would probably make our lives all a lot easier if he was in one. We’ve been tempted.”

“Mom, we are not putting you in a home. Anyway, why are we even talking about this now? You’re not even old yet.”

“It is important to talk about these things. Oh, which reminds me…I want you to look through the house and choose a couple things you want. I’ve told the boys to do the same. We will write it into the will. The rest can be auctioned off.”

“Oh God.”

“Don’t swear.”

“Just choose something for me.”

“But we want you guys to have things that mean something to you.”

“OK. I’ll take grandma’s charm clock.”

“Oh…well, I think Ryan really had his eye on that.”

“OK, then I’ll take the war portrait of Grandpa Bell in his uniform.”

“Actually, Ned asked for that.”

“See?  That’s what I mean. Just choose something for me.”

“What about the wooden pelican from Guatemala?”

“Why would I want that?”

“You always liked it when you were a kid.”

“Exactly!  When I was a kid. I know…I’ll take that little leather-bound set of Shakespearean plays that you got from Nana when she died.”

“Oh that? Actually, I sold that on E-bay a couple years ago.”

“You did what? Mom!  I always loved that set. You know that!  Why are you selling stuff like that? Those are family heirlooms!”

“Exactly!  That’s why I want to know what stuff you kids want.”

Chapter 9: Slot Machines

CHAPTER NINE:

 “At Christmas-time I let myself have whatever I want for breakfast so I am having fruitcake this morning!” Kat bounced into the kitchen wearing a sweater with large, blue snowflakes on it. Sara was making some toast for grandpa and a cup of coffee for herself. She had gotten some REAL coffee in her stocking.

“Good morning dad!” Kat cheerfully said to a rather glum looking grandpa.

“I got some marmalade this morning,” grandpa grouched.

“Hmm…I WONDER who gave you that?” Kat smiled.

“Where’s the Yank?”

“He’s just walking Lucky…and you shouldn’t call him that.”

“I shouldn’t call your dog ‘Lucky’?”

“NO DAD…WESLEY! YOU SHOULDN’T CALL HIM THAT…IT IS A DOGORATORY WORD.”

“I can hear you just fine, dear.”

Sara set down a plate of toast in front of grandpa. There had been no sign of mom yet. Her bedroom door had remained closed.

Kat waddled to the kitchen and grabbed a plate, then started heaping it with fruitcake, Nanaimo bars, raspberry squares and butter tarts. She then filled up a glass with eggnog and sat down with grandpa.

“When are you expecting guests?” grandpa asked, looking at Aunty Kat’s plate.

“What’s that?”

“Well, from all the food on your dish I assume you must be expecting guests.”

“You are a terrible, old, man!” Kat once again burst into blubbering tears and started to storm out of the kitchen, then quickly turned back to grab her plate of breakfast before bounding down the hall and out the front door. From outside Sara heard Wes yell “What the HECK is it now, woman? You’re gonna get dehydrated from all your crocodile tears!”

Sara watched grandpa smear some marmalade on his toast while a little smirk crept across his face. He caught Sara staring at him.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Do you think I’m being mean?”

“Well, sort of.”

“Unbelievable. When she was young she was a cheerleader and was the spitting image of Bette Davis.”

“Wes says she used to look like Ann Margaret.”

“I just don’t understand. Why must she eat SO much?”

“I guess for the same reason some people drink, smoke, or take drugs.”

“Nonsense. These fat people just need to learn to eat less. All these ridiculous diets. I should write a diet book. It would be two pages long. Page one: “eat less.” Page two: “exercise more.” I could be a millionaire.”

“A million dollars doesn’t go that far these days.”

“I say. Quite true. You’re quite fortunate that you took after your mother…solid, trim figure.”

“Thanks. So, what do you want to do today?”

“Hmm. I suppose everyone will want to go to Boxing Day sales. I can’t imagine anything I’d like to do less than that. Perhaps I shall just relax at home. I can check my e-mail.”

“You have an e-mail account?”

“Of course. Just because I am 900 years old doesn’t mean I’ve let my brain switch off. In fact, I’ve met a rather nice lady-friend online.”

Sara smiled, then chuckled a bit.

“You don’t believe me? We’ve actually been out on several dates now. But she lives on the mainland, so we can’t meet that often.”

“Really?  Well, good for you grandpa. What’s her name?”

“Ruby.”

“Nice name.”

“No, it’s not. It’s an old, granny name. But she’s red hot just like a ruby. She’s got fiery red hair!  I always did have a thing for gingers.”

Sara patted grandpa’s hand. “Well, it’s nice that you have a friend.”

“Well, we’re also lovers.”

Sara did a double take.

“Don’t look so surprised.”

“Oh, no! I mean, no, I’m not surprised at all. I mean, that’s uh…great!”

“Well, it’s like this. Your grandmother, bless her heart, was a wonderful woman. She was a good housekeeper and an excellent mother. But she wasn’t really that forthcoming in the bedroom, if you know what I mean.”

“PLEASE STOP PLEASE STOP PLEASE STOP!” Sara screamed silently to herself.

“She believed that oral sex was perversion and that anything other than the missionary position was just something deviants did. She never got any joy from sex, and after Joe was born, it all but stopped. Never once did I stray from my wife. And now that she is gone, well, by God am I going to get some before I die!”

____________________________________________________________________________________

Grandpa went off to e-mail his girlfriend and Sara started cleaning up the kitchen. Mom walked in at about ten, looking none too pleased.

“I don’t know what you kids see in that stuff at all. I feel awful this morning. I think it gave me the flu.”

“It doesn’t cause the flu mom.”

“Well, I will never touch that garbage again. Where’s Kat?”

“Dunno. Grandpa said something and…”

“Yeah, I thought I heard someone crying. I think Rupa wants everyone to come over to her place tonight. I don’t know why they just can’t come over here. I mean, look at all of this food!  Nobody ate hardly a thing.”

“Well, we can just take some over there.”

“Yes, we’ll do that. The boys really like my meatballs in the mushroom sauce. What about the turkey? I think only Wes had a bit of it.”

“Is Rupa cooking?”

“Yeah, said something about fondue. About all she can do, the poor dear. Melt cheese and cut up stuff. Honestly, she tried making a tuna casserole one time and it tasted just wretched. Don’t understand why her mother never taught her how to cook. I even taught my SONS how to cook!”

Mom busied herself by re-doing all the kitchen work Sara had just done. Sara finally gave up and sat on the stool next to the phone.

“I guess you should call your father.”

“Why would I do that?”

“Oh come on Sara.”

“And what do I say?”

“Well, tell him about dinner at Ryan and Rupa’s.”

“Why the heck would I do that? Nobody wants him there.”

“Well, he has nowhere else to go.”

“What about Joanne’s?”

Mom was quiet for a moment. “Well, it might be a nice idea to invite her as well.”

Sara slapped her own forehead. “Ya know?  I can think of a lot of words to describe THAT idea, but ‘nice’ isn’t one of them.”

“Well, we hardly had Christmas dinner yesterday, so I think it IS a nice idea. You are going to have to meet the woman sooner or later.”

“How can you even be in the same room with them?”

Mom stopped wiping the decks with a rag, put a hand on one of her hips and glared at Sara.

“If I can do it, so can you!  If you don’t call him then I will.”

“Fine. Do whatever you want.” ____________________________________________________________________________________

Uncle Joe called and Sara answered.

“How are things over there?”

“I think you can guess. Mom is cleaning. Grandpa’s watching TV. Kat and Wes went to town.”

“Well, how but I swing by and you and I can take your grandfather to the casino? I think we should give Colleen some space.”

“Uh, OK. Is the casino even open on Boxing Day?”

“Sweetie, the casino is open every day.”

An hour later they had grandpa strapped into the back seat with Tak-Sin and they headed down the road. The casino parking lot was packed.  A group of ladies-of-a-certain-age wearing Santa hats waddled in front of them as they headed for the entrance. A couple of them had seemed to have had several servings of “festive” eggnog, and cackled loudly at an off-colour joke told to them by “Hilda,” the largest of them all.

Grandpa insisted on holding the door open for Sara as they entered. The typical sounds of tinkling slots, the smell of Christmas-present-perfume, and a sea of holiday colours assaulted them. A security guard wearing yet another Santa hat handed each of them a coupon for “A complimentary Gold Berry Cocktail” and greeted them with the now annoying “happy holidays!” bellow.

“So, where do you want to go dad?”

Grandpa turned and studied his son for a moment. “I’d like to win enough to move down to Puerto Vallarta with your idiot brother-in-law.”

Joe tried hiding his annoyance and replied “What about those Indiana Jones machines?”

“Ah…an amateur’s mistake son. One must tour the casino first and get a feel for things. There is a specific science to the placement of machines. The trick is to discover the elusive ‘loose’ slots. They are generally placed where they will catch the most attention. So we want to find out where the machines are which require the highest bets. The loose machines will be for smaller bets, but nearby…hence drawing players to that area with false hopes of winning. Come find me in an hour.”

And grandpa hobbled off on his tour. Sara looked to her uncle and grinned politely. Tak-Sin suddenly interrupted the silence with “Look. They have bar.” There was no need for further discussion. They headed to the bar and cashed in their coupons, ordering up three shots of tequila to go along with their “Gold Berry Cocktails” which turned out to be a mixture of cheap champagne, apple juice, some other type of alcohol, and a swizzle stick with a glittery, gold, Styrofoam ball attached. They sat at the bar in silence and quickly threw back their drinks. Uncle Joe ordered a white wine, stood up and looked to Tak-Sin.

“Can I get $100 from you?”

“Why so much? I give you $50.”

“Just give me $100.”

“No. You spend too fast. I give you fifty. If you need more later I can give.”

Tak-Sin removed a fifty from his wallet and handed it to Joe. Joe left on the tour as well. Sara smiled.

“What?”

“So now we know who controls the money in your household.”

“Yes. Joe is bad with money. I take care all the money. We save now. Joe not young boy. We need the money because soon we will be old man.”

“Let’s go play!” 

They took grandpa’s advice and walked around a bit. Tak-Sin pointed to a machine with some kind of Greek mythology theme.

“I think this one is good. You can play that one.” He pointed to the machine next to it which was covered with images of medieval royalty. Sara watched Tak-Sin put a twenty into the cash slot and did the same. He then pressed a button which said ‘bet one per line’ and another that said ‘play all lines’…and she copied him again.

A flurry of images stirred on the machine’s view-screen, along with some music that was allegedly medieval-sounding. Then everything stopped and there was a celebratory anthem of trumpets and three pictures of golden goblets lit up.

“Oh! Oh!  Look Tak-Sin!  What happened?  What is it?”

“You won!”

“YEEEESSSS!” The shout was a bit too loud as some old bat sitting two chairs down from her gave Sara a scornful glance.

“You win 50 cent.”

“Oh. Well, that’s good.”

“No good. You bet $2.”

“Oh. Well, then I didn’t win at all. Then why did it make all that noise?”

Tak-Sin ignored her idiotic query and kept playing his own machine. Sara sat there for about 3 more minutes hitting the “repeat bet” button.

“My machine isn’t working.”

“You got no money.”

“Oh.”

“Put in more. Maybe this machine don’t like you. You can try different one. Do this one.” He pointed to another Greek Mythology machine on the other side of him. Sara shrugged, and moved to the machine. She put in $10 and started playing again. Suddenly there was a loud blast from Tak-Sin’s machine.

“Oh!  What is it?  What happened?”

“I get bonus round.”

“Really?  Wow!  How do I get one of those?”

“You play more.”

Sara continued playing. There was no loud blast for her. She watched her $10 disappear. Tak-Sin won $36 on his bonus round.

“Lucky bastard.”

Tak-Sin smiled. “It only small money. Come on. We go find other machine.”

Sara spied the Wheel of Fortune machines. They sat down next to each other. A lady came by with a drinks cart and Sara got them each a beer. Sara put in her money, copied again what Tak-Sin did and hit “spin”.

“WHEEL….OF…..FORTUNE!!!” It sounded just like the TV show. Even better…no Skeletor in a Bob Mackie gown turning letters. Sara won $12 on her first spin. Then she won $23 on her fifth!  It was exciting!  She kept slapping Tak-Sin’s knee with excitement. Then she felt a tap on her shoulder.

“I need to borrow some money from you.” It was grandpa.

“Sure. How much do you need?”

“Fifty.”

No sooner had she handed the bill to him than it was snatched out of her hand and grandpa disappeared.

“I think your grandpa losing. Maybe Joe losing too. We take all the luck tonight! You and me are a good team!”

Take-Sin got a bonus round. They looked up and watched the wheel spin…winning him $72!  This time Tak-Sin whooped right along with Sara.

“Why can’t I get one of those bonus rounds?” Sara whined.

Time lost meaning and Sara watched her total hovering around the $30 mark…neither increasing or decreasing with any degree of severity. Tak-Sin got another bonus round. Sara stopped playing for a moment and watched. The spinner slowed down…getting closer and closer to the $500 slot.

“Go, go, go!  Come on…land on RED!” And just when it seemed that the spinner would stop on the purple $30 slot just in front of red, it jumped right into the red slot!  Bells, whistles and alarms. The two of them jumped up and down like little school girls.

“May I have your attention please? Could Joe Bell please come to the customer service desk at the main entrance? Once again, Joe Bell, please come to the front entrance. Thank you.”

Their joy was cut short by the polite voice on the intercom.

“You wait here and get your money. I’ll go see what the problem is.”

Sara rushed through the crowds and approached the front desk. Two security guards, and a woman in a black suit stood with their arms crossed listening to “Hilda” shout and gesture angrily to grandpa who stood nonchalantly with his back leaning on the reception desk. Hilda no longer appeared to be in a jolly mood. The positive effects of the eggnog had obviously been replaced with rage. As Sara approached grandpa looked at her and rolled his eyes. Hilda bounded toward her.

“Do you OWN this?” she screeched, gesturing towards grandpa.

“Um, uh, he’s my grand…”

“Yeah? Well, your GRANDFATHER is a thief!”

“There’s no need to resort to name-calling,” grandpa staunchly retorted. The woman in the black suit pulled Sara aside. She smiled, something obviously she learned in her 5-day training program about calming down angry gamblers.

“Apparently, from what I can gather, that lady had about $120 in her machine. She asked your grandfather to watch it for her while she went to use the restroom. When she returned, all the money was gone. Your grandfather claims she asked him to continue playing for her. Anyway, we’re checking our security videos.”

“Oh God.”

“Don’t worry. It happens all the time.”

“Are you serious?  THIS happens all the time?”

Their conversation was interrupted by Hilda screaming “How DARE you, you, you…fucking old coot!” The security guards were holding back a frothing Hilda whose makeup was now smeared with angry sweat.

“Just calm down ma’am!” one of the security guards stated firmly.

“He called me a WELFARE WHORE!”

“I did no such thing. I called you a ‘dullard on the dole.’ See?  That just shows what kind of woman you are. An uncouth liar. No manners whatsoever!” Sara yanked her grandfather’s arm and pulled him away from the now epileptic woman…who by the size of her, looked like she could snap grandpa like a breadstick.

 Uncle Joe finally appeared…his face flushed.

“What’s going on?”

“This animal of a woman has accused me of stealing,” grandpa replied. Hilda’s friends had now gathered around her. The security guard would not let go of her arm and her sweat had now started mixing with tears. In loud tones Hilda repeated her terrible adventures to her friends, who in turn began shooting eye-daggers at grandpa.

Joe took the woman in the suit aside for a few minutes, and then they returned. The woman suggested the friends take Hilda outside for some fresh air while they waited for the surveillance video. Joe, grandpa, and the woman headed through a doorway behind the reception desk. Sara was left alone with the security guards.

“Rough night?” the younger guard with a blonde crew-cut grinned at Sara.

“You could say that.”

“These old folks sometimes don’t understand. We get this a lot.” He smiled again as he stroked his goatee.

“So I’ve heard.”

“You from around here?”

Was he trying to flirt with her?

“No!”

“Didn’t think so. Not many girls round here within modern hair-dos like yours.”

A cute, native woman in a black suit approached them, said ‘got it’ and then walked behind the desk. She clicked on a few buttons on the computer then turned the monitor to the direction of Sara and the security guards. An image of grandpa and Hilda soon filled the screen. Hilda wiggled in her seat…obviously in desperate need of a ladies room. They watched as she leaned toward grandpa and spoke. He nodded his head. Hilda hoisted herself off the stool and was soon out of frame. Grandpa continued to play his machine. Then he started glancing towards Hilda’s machine. Then again. Then again. Then his head turned around to scan his surroundings. Then like a rat grabbing a piece of cheese, they watched as his hand shot out and hit the “maximum bet” button. The woman stopped the video.

“Unbelievable.” Sara shook her head.

“Yep. Well, the problem we have now is that it is her word against his,” said the blonde.

“Well, obviously she did not ask him to do that.”

“Problem is the sound quality is not good enough to pick up what the lady said to your grandpa.”

“Oh, believe me she is telling the truth. Look, I’ll just give the lady $120 and we can all just get out of here.”

“OK.  Let me just go outside and see if that will take care of the situation.”

The blonde went out the front doors, and the native woman turned and went through the doorway behind the desk. Soon Hilda and her swarm were escorted back inside by the blonde. Sara pulled her cash from her pocket and discreetly counted out $120, then made her way toward the now-calm Hilda. Hilda’s smudged mascara made her look like she’d just been in a losing fight. Sara slowly handed the money to the woman, who surprisingly took it with calm and grace.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Sara hung her head with shame.

“Don’t worry about it honey. It’s not your fault. Can’t help who you’re related to, eh?”

Sara nodded and turned to head to the smoking patio…in desperate need of a cigarette.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Thirty minutes later they were all back in the car headed home. Tak-Sin was still in the afterglow of his big win, up front with Uncle Joe. Sara was trapped in the back seat with a sulking grandpa.

“Did you give that horrid woman any money?” grandpa whispered.

“Well, I didn’t have much choice.”

“I did nothing wrong.”

“Grandpa, they have surveillance cameras. We saw everything.”

“Well, then you know exactly what transpired.”

“You played her machine. You lost all her money.”

“Really?  Did I? If that’s so, then what’s this?”

He pulled a crumpled white ticket out of his coat pocket. On it was printed “$438.”

“UNCLE JOE!  Turn around!”