Tuesday, November 04, 2014

It's all Relative


(A Study in Contradiction)

     I snaked down the highway late that early morning like a slug on slippery ice. I kept my eyes peeled for danger as they hung at half mast in a dog-tired stupor. My mother, who was healthy as a horse, called (again) to say she was cavorting on her deathbed. I was awake even though I’d been sound asleep when she rang, so I threw on the flowered muumuu that Mother had bestowed upon me some years ago.
In a hurry, I jogged around the park several times in order to go directly to my pukely green Studebaker that everyone either adores or abhors. It took me several attempts before I realized I was trying to insert the trunk key into the ignition. Correcting my error, I swiftly cranked the engine and slammed the car in gear. In a billowing cloud of acrid, sweet oily smoke, I roared away from the curb at a dangerous fifteen miles per hour. At the last moment, I thought to scan the empty street for cruising cops on the prowl for unsuspecting speedsters such as myself.
As I stared into the headlights of the retreating eighteen wheelers, I wondered what it would be this time. Mother has a way of over embellishing. I’m her only son, though she calls me her daughter, and she takes morbid pleasure in getting me agitated. Maybe that’s because she’s really my father and hasn’t figured it out yet.
     The last time she’d called in a panic had been when she nearly decapitated her huge miniature poodle, Trixi, with the electric hedge clippers. Well, at least that was her rendition of the not-quite catastrophic events that she left on my answering machine.
As always, I dropped everything, including the dozen eggs I was putting in the fridge to race to her side at the vet’s office. I should have known better. Mother had amputated Trixi’s tail, not her head. Messy, but not lethal.
     At the hospital, I drove around the lot five times before I found a place to sequester the Studebaker in the empty parking garage. Leave it to Mother to pick the most inconvenient time to stage one of her deathbed charades. Then the elevator jammed on the sixteenth floor and I had to walk all the way to her room on the first.
As I approached Mother’s room, the expensive aroma of her cheap perfume wafted down the hall toward me. I have no idea why she squanders her fortune for it at the most expensive department stores in town. The scent sparked nostalgic, bittersweet memories of brainless evenings spent at home with Mother. Needless to say, I was plenty riled when I stormed quietly through her door.
     “Mother, what is it now,” I demanded in a huff.
     Dressed in a chartreuse and magenta negligee, she had her back turned to me as I entered. Her radiant face slowly spun toward me to reveal a cigarette flopping from her ruby red, pink lips. An emaciated ribbon of smoke curled up through what should have been her eyelashes except she’d singed them off with that blasted Zippo torch (lighter) of hers. “Checkers, I knew you’d come,” she breathed in a roar.
“Checkers was your dog, Mother. You know? The one you ran over with the car. I’m Sebastian, your son. Or have you cured your brain with too much rancid cranberry juice? You called and said you were dying. So what has your overgrown pea brain concocted this time?”
“Jerusha, is that you? Come closer dear, my eyes fail me.” She beamed like a radioactive lighthouse on steroids.
“I’m Sebastian, Mother.”
“Martha, are you there?”
“Sebastian, Mother. Get it right, or I’m leaving this very minute.” I couldn’t help but notice that she’d also managed to burn off most of her eyebrows and black bangs. I guess that was all right since she’s a blond. “Mother, they don’t allow smoking in the hospital. Put out that cigarette immediately. Besides, I thought I took your Zippo away the last time I saw you.”
“You did, Gloria, but your father gave me a lifetime supply.” She flipped the top of the lighter open and shut, open and shut with a calculated, bovine look on her face.”
“You are my father,” I snapped. “And for the last time, my name is Sebastian.”
The lighter went swish, pop, swish, pop nearly driving me to a violently mild act of inhuman kindness. “Yes, I suppose you’re correct, Lyman. About your father that is. So, I suppose I gave myself a gift, but I simply can’t remember for sure.”
“Oh, what is it, Sebastian?” She gave me a shrewd gaze through her muzzy eyes. “You’re becoming a grade ‘A’, No.1 pain in the butt these days. Why don’t you toddle off home like a good girl, and I’ll call you again. Then, we can start this conversation all over.”
That blasted lighter went swish, pop, swish, pop without a moment’s pause. She knew how the sound irritated me and was just trying to get a rise out of me. I bit down hard on my right hand to keep from leaping wildly on her and burning off the remainder of her hair. “Give me that thing, Mother. You’re driving me insane!”
“Who’s insane, dear? Surely, you’re not calling me insane.” Her eyes widened to barely a slit, daring me to say more.
Suddenly, she looked at me like I was a complete stranger, “Why, Althea, what are you doing here? I have to tell you, the service is intolerable. And the food is absolutely barbaric. I should have checked in at the Ritz Carlton.”
And the lighter went, swish, pop, swish, pop. I serenely ran my fingers through the hair on my bald head in frustration. Count to ten, I told myself. She is your mother, after all. Be patient with her, she’s not in her right mind. Of course, she hasn’t been in her right mind for the past twenty years. Not since the sex change operation.
“Lila, can I light you a cigarette?” she asked with a morose little smirk and an impossible flourish of the Zippo. This time it went swish, rrrr as she rolled the little wheel against the flint and then…WHOOSH! Deliberately, she moved it closer to the privacy curtain surrounding her bed.
“Put that thing away before someone calls the fire department,” I screamed. “Mother, will you please tell me why it was necessary for me to risk life and limb to race down here just to watch you play with that flipping Zippo.”
“Now, Ethel…”
“Mildred, I...”
“That’s it mother, I’m leaving.” With a swish of my pink and orange flowered muumuu, I whirled smartly on my heel and ran smack dab into the door.
“Goodbye, Sebastian. What a lovely chat we’ve had. See you tomorrow?”