Yesterday, as I read the paper, I felt her fleeced little hand on my face, and I looked up to see her smiling at me, proudly sporting her mittens. "My 'love," she said sweetly.
After that I knew I wouldn't be going to Nicaragua to help tend to my mother's best friend Bill, who, if he had any strength left, would probably use it to beat me with a fireplace poker. It turns out the hotel he runs down there does not double as a brothel after all, which is a big surprise. In Costa Rica, where he owned a bar that was as profitable as a huge hemorrhage inside his wallet, he used to complain that prostitution was the only way to make money in Central America, and was about to go into business with a Nigerian woman who ran a hotel/whorehouse on the beach up the street. When I last visited he gave me a tour of the place, careful to point out the laundry facilities.
The arrangement was to have been that the African madam would populate Bill's bar with high-end whores every night, thus attracting an increase in patronage to his establishment. I don't know how Bill planned to compensate the madam, or perhaps he didn't, as they never did become business partners, though Bill left Costa Rica insisting his next business venture would be a facsimile of hers. I believed him; Bill usually does what he says he will.
Except die. He's been threatening to die for a decade now, and recently had a heart attack to prove he's serious about it. My sister Cheryl is bereft and dropped everything to be by his side. She loves Bill like a musty old bedtime toy treasured since her infancy. They've spent countless hours together since my mother's death; drinking, chain smoking, bitching about life in general and me in particular. I've changed, they complain. I used to be fun. I used to be brazen and braless, booze-addled, boy-crazy and adventurous. Another one lost to the establishment, they toast, promising that they themselves will never sell out. And they never will.
Occasionally Bill tries to shake Cheryl free. It's nothing personal, it's just that Bill is unaccustomed to lasting attachments, even if you count my mother. When he met my mother she only had four years left to live, but through, her Bill acquired Cheryl and, spiky old acid vat that he is, Bill has become Cheryl's token of comfort in life. He can't shake her free. If he is lost she will find him, even in a jungle in Central America.
I made plans to go, too, and got Lary to commit as well. "We can fly into San Jose," I told him, "rent a car and drive seven hours over bad highways and unsettled political terrain until we get to Granada. Sound good?" It sounded great to Lary, who immediately started honing his duck-and-jab maneuvers in the event of an attempted kidnapping. In Central America, Lary and I would stand out like purple rhinos at a wedding reception. He has hair like a curly halo of albino tarantulas, and I myself was loudly referred to as "Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch" by a crack addict once, so by virtue of our unLatin-ness alone we would make decent criminal targets.
"This'll be a great story," said Lary, who actually welcomed the prospect of living in a freshly dug dirt hole for a few months while demands for our ransom undoubtedly went ignored in Atlanta. "We'll escape by climbing a rope we make out of our own hair," he mused, excitedly. It started to sound fun even to me.
But then Mae's mittens went missing. I hovered helplessly as she toddled to every corner of our house. "My 'ove! My 'love," she sobbed with those big, uninhibited tears I sometimes wish I can still muster myself. It's difficult to describe the effect such a sight had on me, except to say that right then, for a second, I saw with clarity what was in store for me and my daughter. I realized we will lose each other one day, Mae and I, possibly more than once, but eventually for good. It's a reality as inescapable as it is unbearable to think about. She will long for me one day, and I will be out of her grasp, and she will have to make do with a token of comfort. What is life, after all, if not a succession of searches like this? Bill knows this better than anyone.
"You pussy," Lary chided when I bailed on our trip. I would have argued with him, but Mae was crying, and I was aching to help her find her lost 'love.
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