THE PARENTS WE DESERVE: IN SEARCH OF FILIAL CLOSURE (4)
Back in the humid pizza oven, their first stop was the mall, to pick up "a few household items to help us get settled in" (Myrna). Where were they living? How? In a small condo in the heart of Senility County, fifty miles and fifty K (not kilometers) south of M&M's last residence in the Sunshine (and how) State. This place, scruffy, cramped, and airless, was all the foursome could now afford. Their income consisted entirely of M&M's old-folks dole, P& P's puny remaining assets having been seized for payment of you name it, everything, when they took early checkout from the penthouse.
"Diminished circumstances" (Paul).
"We lived large; we live small" (Paula).
So they drove the sensible white sedan (five years old, thirty two K (000, not $000), eighty-eight hundred ($, bought from a widow) over to the mall where they parked in a sea of other sensible white sedans. A big red condom -- a novelty item purchased at a sex emporium near the condo, called (what else?) Condo Condoms, not even Paula was amused -- was tied to the antenna and served as breadcrumbs. People used all kinds of things, from hollow purple golf balls to little plastic pistols, presumably admonitory. Paul had cut a hole in the tip of the condom so that, as they cruised the boulevards, the thing did not tear off. It looked like an obscene windsock.
In they went, boys in front, yakking and capering, women behind, placid, in tandem, arm in arm. "No reruns of that French philosopher shopping pun now, P!" Paul admonished over his shoulder, secretly (if ambivalently) remembering it as one of her hits, and perhaps even not unwilling to have the admonition go unheeded. But his other raised her right hand, looked to the skies, and kept her pie hole shut.
Myron didn't (keep his shut). "Hi, ho, hi, ho, it's off to shop we go," he sang with convincing dwarfish tone and gesture.
They were inside the mall now, cruising the palm-lined, scent-and-sound infused aisles with the many others who had come in out of the oven. Paula was preoccupied with a sequel of her own. It involved, yes, the Descartes. The germ was donc je suis and something about a donkey, but the punch line was proving recalcitrant. Knowing by now exactly how her own nimble, if puerile brain worked, she put the complex nascent joke on hold and made do with mentally trashing the trash in the store windows and spinning a few quickies on the names: Victoria's Secretion, Fumingdales (Cartesian madeleine), and (this one a portmanteau, an imaginary merger, possibly even worth sharing), J. Crap.
Had suffering mellowed Paula? Chastised her? Made her wiser? Who (if not I) can say? Well, she was biding her time. What about Myrna? All meds. Myron? Paul?
Paul (mortified, sticker-shocked): "We'll get something started pronto, My. Pick up right where we left off in Heaven. No charity for me."
My(ron): "Go easy, Bro. You don't want to wind up in one of the state pens down here."
Paul: "Living hell, eh?"
Myron: "So they say in the novels. But they've got it backwards. If I was God, I'd scare people by calling Hell 'Raiford Two.'"
Paul: "Point taken. We'll scope out something that stays north of the law. Just north." His pinball brain was already whirring. Alligators, seniors, pensions, geriatric hedge funds, afterlife futures. He thought he could see something already, but he saw it as through a highball glass smokily.
* * *
Three asterisks (days) later, home from the supermarket, with her minder (#2, County employee) having been dispatched poolside for some yakkety-yak, Myrna dramatically removed her wraparounds and caught the P's by surprise.
"Guess who I ran into today?" She paused, not for effect, but trying to remember. Then she squinted at Paula and shrugged, denying responsibility. "They said they were your parents, dear. What were their ..?"
A fearful light flashed in Paula's eyes.
"Scott and Jacqui! Oh, shit!" ejaculated Paul, bent double with laughter, his first good one (laugh) since they had been deposited back up on Earth. His wheels turned. "Ha! They must have been recalled to so-called life, too!"
Had he been present, undoubtedly Myron would also have reacted to this news, but he was poolside (ugh, the chlorine, he could hardly see his cards), tormenting a (barely) living, retired fruit and nut importer who fancied himself (what else?) a gin rummy-ist. Now that he was back among the sentient, Myron had avowed to Paul one day, his one regret in life (or was it after-afterlife?) was not having had the opportunity in Heaven to go mano a mano with Billy "Trade" Smith, putative pinochle sharpie and brother to Judge Cough Drop.
"Oh, well," Paul, who cared not a whit, had mouthed. "Maybe next time."
"Yeah, right," riposted Myron, catching his fake son's drift, "and maybe next time you'll score with that heavenly hooter who blew you -- off. Remember her? The Mercurochrome dye job?"
Paul put his fingers to his lips. "Golden?" he said. 'Our oath?" Myron subsided.
Meanwhile, back at the condo (two plus two, tiny patio facing the parking lot) Myrna gave Paul a different squint, her shrewd one. "Not so fast, Mr. Smarty, Junior." Then, she gave Paula the wink of sisterhood. "Guess who else ..."
It was Paula's turn: "Biff and Gert! Ha! Ha! Oh, ha! Oh, my god, this is ..."
"... hell," Paul spluttered. "Coconuts! Three sets of parents! How did it happen? They weren't together, were they? Impossible! Not without carnage."
"Together. All four. Just like us," Myrna obliged.
"Hmm," Paula surmised, 'it must be some kind of sick retribution."
No one had a better explanation.
A dinner party (what else?) was soon arranged. How? Heard of phone books? Online listings? 411 (not 911)? And the two parental couples did live together. Why? And what were they doing back on Earth? Some complicated mumbo-jumbo codicil to an incomprehensible Furlough-from-Heaven contract.
Dinner at two. For eight. They ate. What did they eat? Don't ask.(As a writer, I no longer do fancy meals. Why should I? I don't like to read about other people eating scrumptious paper feasts any more than I like to read about scrumptious paper orgies. I want food? I eat. I want sex? Besides, if I were to lay on a salivating virtual banquet, I would probably be torturing my anorexic readers, not to mention enabling a few fatties.) So, as I said, the eight who came to table that day ... ate.
While they ate, of course, they talked, mostly with their mouths full. The exceptions were Paul and Myron, both of whom prided themselves on emulating the table manners of imaginary aristocrats. Paul was in survival mode during this dinner, wishing he were anywhere but here -- on the bench in Purgatory, say, instead of Chad Green, or even standing before the bench in Heaven of that consummate hypocrite whom Myron called Judge Drop.
Speaking of whom (Myron), as he was used to watching mush go through the spin cycle in Myrna's mouth, his sensibilities in this regard, like so many of his other faculties, had come untenured -- atrophied. Jabbing at his peas, he amused himself by hitting imaginary golf shots, fantasizing that he was trouncing Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson put together, although deep down he knew he could have been playing three-hole miniature golf his whole life and his score for one hole would still have been higher than those of the two aces on a real golf course for an entire tournament -- put together. Know thyself: Myron's hand-eye coordination ran only to small squares of pasteboard. Suddenly, just as he was about to sink a three hundred-yard putt backwards through his legs on the ninetieth hole using a tiny pastry whisk, he almost forgot himself.
"Fore!" he shouted. He caught himself. "For heaven's sake, Gert, Biff, Doug, Jacqui, it's really great to meet ..."
"Scott!" Scott corrected him, shoving home a forkful of mashed potatoes.
"It's Myron, Doug, not Scott. But never mind. Nice meat loaf. Don't let yours loaf, either. Yes, it's pretty good to see you all, especially you, Dou ..."
Paula intervened. "Allow me, Dads. Myron, remember? This is Scott. Scott, Myron. He thinks your name is Doug, Dad. He doesn't think your name is Scott, Myron."
"That really clears it up, P," said her grouchy spouse.
"The fish is excellent," observed Peacemaker Myrna, who had been chewing the same piece of meat loaf for several minutes.
"Glad you're enjoying it, dear," said Paula, the cook.
"Hey, Gert," said her tall husband Biff, "isn't Myron a corker! He reminds me of that short guy who used to live on our block up north. What was his ..."
"You mean the one who was arrested for the fonzi scheme?" Gert said helpfully. "Peabody Farnsworth. Or was it Farnsworth Peabody?" Ten vicious ripostes flashed though Myron's fertile mind. The problem was choosing; he couldn't.
A few more minutes passed, during which they all saved their breath to cool their decafs (the food was already cold), which Paula served with cobbler -- peach, not shoemaker, there being no shoemakers left in Florida in this, the athletic shoe era. Not that anyone would have eaten a shoemaker.
"Everybody finished?" Paul asked rhetorically, hustling the afternoon along. "Good. Let's put down the tools, then, and try the living room. Or maybe some of you would like a little postprandial? Lots of extra beds. How about it? Scott? Jacqui? You two look like you could use a quick forty. (Lashes.)," he added, sotto voce.
Paula, who had heard, and who was like most people in not liking anyone but herself to insult her parents, gave him the stink-eye, and since she knew he had grown to hate puns more than anything else in any of the three worlds through which they had by now passed (which was saying a mouthful), she zinged him with one of her specials.
"It's kind of you to suggest that, dear." Acid drip. "And if there are any takers ..." Dagger look, slowing down to make the impending thrust more painful. "I'll be the first to wish them Bon napetit." A puff of molar dust slipped through Paul's clenched lips.
By now they were in the living room. Without prompting, and perhaps with some vague idea of keeping, restoring, or creating harmony, Myrna smiled, winked at everyone in turn (seven winks), popped without preamble onto the piano bench, and launched into her locally renowned Victor Borgia impersonation. In excellent form this afternoon, she glided up and down the bench like a glider, played cross-handed, played with one hand while pretending to eat a sandwich with the other, and finally, aiming her left forefinger like a gun at each of the seven onlookers in turn, and blew them away, meanwhile keeping up a difficult treble trill with (or is it "in"?) the right hand.
Gert, Scott, and Jacqui, all delighted, applauded. Myron, alas, had dozed off. Paul and Paula, of course, had already caught this act (sixty or seventy times by now), but still thought it was fairly cute, and Paula was glad Myrna could still do it. Which was, in fact, remarkable, what with creeping (and sometimes galloping) senility, and what with the interludes in Heaven where (you remember) there were nothing but harps, and in Purgatory where everyone got to listen to whatever they liked, as much as they liked (Borgia being on no one's play-list, not even Myrna's), except they quickly got so tired of music that they "voluntarily" signed a binding agreement never again to listen to any at all.
Unless, of course, you sinned and chose the Earth option, in which case you could go back to enjoying our planet's musical bounty, which was exactly what the P's and M's had been doing in the two months since their return to Florida. But this time around they were taking precautions. Since whoever said "After the first death, there is no other" was so obviously wrong, and since M&M had reverted to type (no more Grateful Floyd), the foursome availed themselves of four knock-off iPods, thereby making use of the most advanced technology in order to avert re-murder by coronary, or possibly by something (God, god, or somebody else forbid) even worse.
But does everyone love music? Does everyone love anything?
"What's that supposed to be?" Biff, a vitriolic sort and music hater to boot (and you'd have wanted to boot him), asked his son, who had hardly fallen far from the tree. "An imitation or something?" Paul explained. "Oh, right, Victor Borgia? That's who it's supposed to be?" Nasty Biff! "Sure I've heard of him, but if you ask me ..." (which, of course, no one had), "she looks more like Lucretia Borgia!" Wink wink, chortle chortle at his own joke, the pig, plus he may even have been hoping someone would compliment his erudition. Myrna fired off a second round at him with her forefinger, this time meaning it. It took a lot to make Myrna your enemy, but Biff had managed.
"After this, Dad, don't step off any curbs when she's behind you," Paul suggested.
"Very funny, Biffer. As in, 'I Love Lucretia'?" added Paula, breaking her self-imposed "not in front of the parents" pun ban, because she had become a little hysterical as the unpleasant visit dragged on (As for "Bon napetit," the provocation had been extreme). Why the ban? Scott and Jacqui hated puns, the propensity having descended through an uncle.
When, ten metaphorical years later, the four "real" parents finally muttered their crocodile thanks and left, Paula ran over to her adopted ones for a warm group hug. "Thank God we have you two!" she enthused. After a little groping, Myron broke the clinch. Paul slapped fives with him, nodding vigorously in rare agreement with his mostly alienated spouse (who had, after all, and not that long ago, murdered him). For a few more moments, the women soldiered on in the clinches, then stepped back and, still holding hands, smiled at each other. After that the P's and the M's attacked the dishes as a team.
To be concluded ...