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May 20, 2024

Talent Night

By Anna Sykora

"It's his show; he's the star," mousy Consuela muttered and her sister scowled. Their father whooped from the banquet table, his vague-eyed wife grinning at his side.

Carmen pushed away her plate. "I'd rather be sticking worms on hooks."

"Thanks."

"It's not you, sis." Carmen stroked her own chestnut hair, threaded with grey. "It's this reunion, with Bea's relatives."

"Daddy's 82. Is he going to change?" Consuela crossed her utensils on her picked-at salad. "It's so loud here I can't think."

"Don't think; it's Labor Day weekend."

Carmen's young son had slumped asleep. Grinning, Arthur bent and kissed Carmen's ear. "I didn't see you come in tonight, doll. You look great."

"We got stuck on the Garden State Parkway."

"Bea and I are so pleased. I'm sorry I couldn't seat everyone together. I'd like a big round table."

"Like King Arthur and his knights," said Consuela.

"Carmen, I'm so glad you could bring your sons." Arthur patted the sleeping boy.

"The older one's fishing with his friends."

"This is Jacob?"

"No, it's Benji!"

"Sorry, I'm getting as forgetful as old Bea." He flashed a dimpled smile, and a blue-rinsed lady cocked her head. Strikingly handsome, the silver-maned patriarch looked like a man you should recognize. "Carmen, did you bring your camera?"

"I always do."

"Good. We're counting on you for Talent Night." Beaming he retreated to the long table that divided the room.



"What are you doing, doll?" he asked as Consuela picked at trash in the dumpster behind the Pink Pelican Motel.

"Looking for a bottle of soap. The maids threw it away when they moved my stuff."

"Sorry about the mix-up with your room." She glared up at him. "Can't you buy more soap, dear?"

"This was prescription stuff."

"Well, please come over when you're done. And I hope you find it."



She didn't, and he flinched as she marched into the cluttered suite, where the Talent Night chairs stood stacked. Bea snored from the muddle of the king-sized bed.

"Can't we take a walk?" Wiry Consuela faced him like a fighter at a bout's start.

"You know I can't leave your step-mother." He patted the place on the sofa beside him.

Consuela didn't sit down. "Daddy, what's on your mind?"

"I wanted to thank you for flying all the way from Norway this year. It means a great deal to Bea and me." Consuela raised a fine-plucked eyebrow. "No, Bea knows," he said tenderly. "She has a loving heart."

"And I don't?"

"Dear; you seem so remote sometimes..."

"Daddy, how much longer can you carry old Bea without a nurse? This mix-up with my room -- and the ice-skating tickets --"

"We want to keep doing this," he quavered. "The reunion must go on. And you could be more attentive. You never call us in New York anymore -- which hurts."

"And when I needed you?

"I don't know what you mean." He studied a stain in the rug.

"You just won't face it."

"Oh Consuela -- so many years ago, with that doctor ..."

"I need a walk." She banged the door.



Carmen lounged in the motel's courtyard, watching Benji wade. "Find your soap?" she asked hopefully.

"No, but I had a run-in with Dad."

"Sit down. It's shady here."

Consuela sat down and straightened her black felt hat. Bikers on the Boardwalk peddled past, and Bea's son, his wife, and their two enormous daughters all packed into a surrey.

Carmen waved and they waved back. Then she asked, "What happened with Dear Old Dad?"

"He scolded me for not loving him right."

"Don't get angry. It's not worth it."

"I like to be angry." She cracked her knuckles.

"You need therapy."

"Too late."

"You're just lazy." Pushing back her hair, Carmen eyed two tanned men striding past.

"I'm set in my ways. I never even cry."

"Never?" she demanded, appalled.

"I'm all dried up. I'd cry salt crystals."

"Here, get your mind off our reunion blues."

Carmen offered her a day-old New York Times, which she soon tossed down: "Just what I need: more on JonBenet Ramsay."

"That child beauty queen?"

"They caught a guy -- a nice, quiet guy, who confessed to her murder."

"People are crazy."

"I've noticed. Take Dr. Chase."

"I'd rather leave him, to rot in prison."

"Six kids of his own, and he chooses me to abuse."

Carmen groaned. "So you never want to go to a shrink again?"

"I'm shrunk. He shrunk me good." Benji waved from the pool, and they waved back.

"Well I love you like you are." Carmen patted her hard, dry hand.

"Thanks."



"Wait, Benji!" Carmen cried, but he whacked his ball -- which bounded from the green into the shin of a dark-tanned man, who yelped.

"Sheesh," Arthur grumbled. Consuela smiled ruefully, leaning on an oversize treasure chest.

"Who did that?" squawked Bea, her grey pixie-cut mussed. A tag stuck out of her pants in back.

"I'm so sorry," Carmen soothed the handsome man, who rubbed his shin. "My son's getting tired of golf." Heroic music blared and with the crash of cannon, smoke blurted from the mini-golf course's pirate ship.

"Accidents happen." He held out the red ball.

Bea waddled up and grabbed it: "That's mine."

"No it isn't," Benji cried, and the man chuckling turned away.

"Arthur," said Bea importantly. "Tell that little girl this ball is mine."

"Bea, this is Benjamin -- my son."

"Why don't they just change balls?" suggested Consuela.

Carmen turned on Arthur: "Daddy, I told you this was all too much! Benji's tired; he needs lunch."

"But we always play golf, at the reunion."

"Gimme..." Benji reached for the ball as Bea held it higher:

"Who's this little girl?"

"We should stop while we're behind," said Consuela. "Daddy, I think we should go eat lunch."

"First, we'll finish." Sucking in his paunch, he stood up straight. "Then I'll take our photo again." His daughters exchanged glances as he tugged Bea towards a peg-legged pirate.

"We're just props," Consuela muttered, straightening her navy shorts. "Grin and bear it, I say."

"Don't you hate this game?" Carmen dragged Benji towards the l8th hole, where Arthur stood patting Bea's hair.

"Shh."

"You're worse than he is!"

"True. Come on, Carmen -- two more holes."



At the 19th hole (where you win a free game if you make the improbable hole-in-one), Bea shouted, "Who's the little girl?"

"This is my son." Carmen kicked a plaster cannonball and left a smudge. "He's got beautiful hair like his dad."

"Where's Sam?" bellowed Bea, and people gaped.

"We've been divorced for five wonderful years. Besides, his name is Alex, Bea. My younger son is Benjamin: Benji."

Consuela poked her sister's back as Arthur prompted Bea: "Take your last shot, honey, please."

"Where's Sam?" she demanded, peering around. From the Boardwalk her daughter Gloria waved a chocolate cone.

"Who the hell is Sam?" cried Carmen.

"Bea's first husband," said Arthur sharply.

"Let's go to lunch," Consuela pleaded.

"Girls, your stepmother can't help herself. We have to play along ... Oh, I didn't write down our score for the last two holes!"

"It's not important, Daddy."

"Yes it is, Consuela. For Chrissake!"

"Where's Benji?" cried Carmen. "Where's Bea?" Their clubs lay on the puckered green.

"Over there, with Gloria." Consuela pointed to them up on the Boardwalk, licking their cones.



"Labor Day's supposed to honor Labor." Carmen marched with her sister towards the Happy Days Dinette. Benji skipped ahead while Bea and Arthur dawdled, window-shopping. "Now it's a last chance at the beach."

"Look at this junk." Consuela waved at the double-fried donuts for sale, the cookies large as dinner plates. "Dieters of the world, unite."

"I want a cookie," Benji crowed.

"Sweetie, you just had ice cream," said Carmen. "Now we're eating lunch with Grandma and Grandpa."

"I want a cookie!" His tears flowed.

Arthur was eating one Bea bought. "Why are you eating my cookie?" she whined.

"Because you are allergic to nuts, my dear."

"I am not."

"Here." He tucked her inside the Dinette and waved to his daughters gaily.

Consuela's nostrils quivered. "I can smell the rancid oil from here."

"They have burgers, Benji." Carmen pushed him inside.

"I want a cookie ..."

"Look at the doggy." A fat dachshund lolled underneath a table.

"They shouldn't let dogs inside," blared Bea.

"Let's sit down." Before she could object, Carmen pulled Benji into a purple booth, and picked up a placemat printed with the menu. The others sat down, and Arthur suggested wistfully to Bea:

"You always like their BLTs."

"Sandwiches don't fill me up."

"I'll have the garden salad, please," Consuela told a skinny teen.

"Aren't you gonna order meat?" Bea challenged.

"I'm a vegetarian," she answered pleasantly, and old Bea gaped. "I haven't tasted meat in years."

"That's dumb! Your bones will melt like butter."

Consuela considered her placemat as Arthur announced resonantly: "My wife will have a BLT."

"Then you can eat it," Bea retorted.

While they squabbled, Carmen whispered to her sister: "Five more minutes and you can commit me too."

"You're stronger than Mother. Hang on, dear."

Arthur broke the impasse by resolving to eat whatever Bea happened to order. (He'd feed her the BLT she didn't want; she'd want it when it came.) Carmen ordered for herself and Benji, and the skinny waitress fled.

"I used to make you pork chops," Bea complained to Consuela.

"And I used to smother them with Dijon mustard."

"You never said you didn't like meat!"

"I didn't want to upset you, Bea."

Carmen rolled her eyes. Benji was building containers of creamer into a precarious tower.

"Who's the little girl?" Bea demanded, and Consuela sighed.

"If you ever visited, you might remember," Carmen blurted out, and Consuela kicked her. "Stop it, sis. Damn!"

"You shouldn't curse in front of your boy," Arthur chided.

"You never pay attention, and you're telling me what to do? We write you letters; I send you his drawings -- and all we get is a postcard back, from your latest cruise."

"He sends us all cards," said Consuela.

"I write the cards," said Bea.

"We shouldn't quarrel in front of your boy."

"You never visit us in Vermont." Carmen's lips trembled and her dark eyes flowed.

"But doll, you live so far away."

"When you've got time for all Bea's people!"

"Can't we talk about this another --"

"You never listen," Carmen sobbed, and Benji threw his tower over and joined in. For a minute Bea looked on helplessly, while Consuela studied the ceiling and Arthur wrung his hands.

"Shall we get the check?" Consuela offered her sister a tissue.

"I want some ice cream," Bea announced abruptly and stood up.

"Where are you going?" cried Arthur.

"To the bathroom, if you don't mind."

"I'll come along." He winked at Consuela.

"To the ladies room?" squealed Bea. "I still know the way to the toilet."

"I know," he soothed.

While he stalked her towards the door labeled "Ladys," Consuela plucked a bowl of creamers off another table and offered them to Benji: "Why don't you build us a pyramid?"

"I can't stand this," Carmen wailed. Consuela rubbed her back.

"At least you tell Dear Old Dad the truth. I gave up forty years ago."



This year Talent Night had seventeen acts. Children performed card tricks and garnered warm applause. Jauntily Bea's youngest daughter, gap-toothed Gloria, sang "Splish-splash, I was having a flash." Making eye contact with nobody, Consuela briefly stood on her head.

Then Ed, Fran and their two enormous daughters emerged from the bathroom in red-striped vests with pork-pie hats and handlebar moustaches. Ed tooted a pitch pipe, and they sang with gusto:

"M is for the mercy she possesses;
O is only that she's growing old;
T is for her tender sweet caresses;
H is for her hands that made a home ..."

Bea overflowed with happy tears. Looking jealous, Arthur led the applause.

"It's my turn now," he said. "I need a minute to change."

"What now?" Carmen asked, and Consuela shook her head, while Bea quenched her tears with the tissues Gloria offered one by one.

Arthur reappeared in a sheet knotted on his shoulder, a plastic wreath of ivy on his head: "Now I'm going to perform 'All the world's a stage.'"

"What's with the toga?" asked Gloria.

"My speech is from Julius Caesar."

"No, As You Like It," Consuela corrected.

"We like it as it is," Ed rumbled, who stood at the tripod.

"On with the show," cried Gloria.

"Indeed," Arthur crooned in his radio voice. "As I started to explain, I won first prize for this speech back in high school, on Founder's Day." Bea was snoring, and Gloria shook her.

"What time is it?" she croaked.

"Time for my act."

"Oh well, honey, you can start. You do look silly in that bed sheet."

"I'm Julius Caesar." Sweat pearled his brow. Ed, who was a surgeon, offered him a chair.

"The show must go on," Gloria repeated as Arthur placed his hands on its back.

He drew himself up and flashed his dimpled smile. "All the world's a stage," he began, raising one blue-veined arm.

"And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances ..."

When he paused Fran applauded. "I'm not done!" She bowed her head as he continued:

" At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms ... "

Somebody tittered, and Arthur smiled innocently. "And then ..." He searched for the line. "Time for a cue." He felt for the pocket that wasn't there. "Now where did I put my card?"

"Don't strain," warned Ed. "It isn't worth it."

"But I always perform. I go last."

"Let him go on," said Consuela darkly. "Let him try."

People murmured, and Carmen stared at her sister studying a stain on the yellow wallpaper. Her tight smile told of a life of quiet hate -- leading up to this knife in their father's back. Arthur had failed to protect her, and this she would never forgive.

Carmen sprang to her feet: "Daddy, you've delighted us long enough. Folks, let's give him a hand." They all joined in; except for slumped Bea.

"I must've been great," he said glumly. "I put old Bea to sleep." Sitting down, he pulled off his wreath and threw it on the floor.

"Who's going to close?" Gloria appealed. "Somebody, close our show."

"I'll do it," said Carmen quickly. "Thank you, Daddy, for making this weekend happen. Thank you, everyone, for gathering in Ocean City."

"The show must go on," said Gloria, wiping the spittle from her mother's chin.

"Amen," said Consuela bitterly, folding her dry hands in her lap.

Article © Anna Sykora. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-10-25
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