THE PARENTS WE DESERVE
EPILOGUE: THE LETTER
Just when everyone was showing redemptive qualities, Atropos stepped in. First, though, time passed. (How much? Who cares?) The end grew (grows) near. M&M were suffering from just about every ill to which octogenarian flesh is heir (to). About eleven (ills), total, between them. "Which particular ills?" you ask. Fill in the blanks: ________, __________, _________ _____________, ________________, __________, _____________, _______________, etc. As for P&P, although they were in their prime (as in rate, as in meat), they were once again beginning to tire of a life of empty mammonism, tiresome one-ups-person-ship, and diminished income. But weren't the spirits of the foursome buoyed by their new-found amity? As if.
At this juncture, crossroads, or watershed, a timely letter arrived. It was like the commandments and plagues (sort of), except it came in a #10 envelope. Was this (the letter, the envelope) Chance? Fate? Destiny? It was not just any letter or envelope. Myrna, who slept worst, was the one who found it one morning, sitting by itself on the mat right in front of the locked screen door in a pool of furious (hot) sunshine that threatened to ignite it.
This letter's own Chance, Fate, or Destiny would have been either the dumbwaiter at the end of the catwalk or, if she remembered, the recycling bin -- except for two things, the address and the return address. To start with the latter (since it was at the top), the letter ostensibly came from:
Deity Enterprises, Un-Ltd
1 Celestial Drive
Heaven (no zip)
"Nuts," she thought, "it's probably from California! But that return address is, well, sort of cute." Next she read the "To," which, after a few moments' ratiocination, popped her mouth wide open. Without even remembering not to slam the screen door, let alone re-lock it, she ran into their bedroom where Myron, still asleep, sort of, had almost hanged himself (accidentally) among the knotted, sweat-soaked sheets. Awakening him in the usual manner, a vicious twist of whichever big toe was out (the left one today), she thrust the letter in the direction of his rheumy, fluttering eyes.
"Look," she said, "it's to all four of us. I think it's something special."
Since they never got any real mail, Myron, too, was faintly interested, although he would have died again before admitting it. He was also dubious. Casting a glance at the envelope, he broke into a sour grin. Yes, this day was going to begin with one of his favorite activities, making fun of Myrna.
"Are you kidding, kiddo!" he sneered. "'Special?' It looks like one of those camouflaged credit card offers, zero percent for the first two minutes. Yeah, it's 'special' all right, a 'special offer.' What, were you re-born yesterday? Ha! 'Deity Enterprises,' my pedal extremity!"
"Yeah, yeah, Mr. Omniscience," Myrna struck back, flashing her sly grin. "I thought that, too, for the first three seconds. But read who it's addressed to, Mr. Hyperactive Dyslexic." Myrna was sharp; it was early.
He eyeballed the addressees. "It's to the four of us. So? What's the big ..."
"Read it carefully, My-My." She hadn't called him that in dog years. He reread the address, carefully. Twice. Then, as if someone had pulled his chain (mental), the light bulb went on (an old fashioned light bulb). Since hers was already on, the wattage in the normally dingy apartment became brilliant, even celestial. Here, reader, is exactly how the envelope was addressed:
Mr. and Mrs. Myron W. Mann/
P& P Person
... followed by the correct address (omitted here, owing to a perhaps exaggerated fear of Florida lawyers, the writer having no wish to be a party-of-the-second part to some condo-manager shark and his retainered shyster).
God is in the details. The point was that all four recipients had been addressed with perfect generational correctness and, what's more, in exact accordance with their personal addressee preference. In the usual scheme of things, this might have happened maybe once in a thousand times. What "scheme?" Since their return to Earth, the M's and P's had received no more than a few dozen pieces of mail, total, most of these addressed to generic abominations such as "Resident" or "Favored Customer;" or to one or more of the four by name, but with typos (Paul's favorite was "Mr. and Mrs. Moron Man"); or to prior owners of their two-by-two; or to a person or persons completely unknown to the foursome; or, yes, to them, and with literal correctness but mindless political incorrectness: "Mr. and Mrs. Myron Mann," "Mr. and Mrs. Paul Person."
Ergo, this address constituted an unprecedented bull's eye. Both of them having by now grasped the point, the old couple, holding on to it (the point), ran, sort of, into the master/mistress bedroom (generational bone of contention) and thrust the still unopened missive at the P's, who were rooting around on a loaded breakfast tray prepared by Chef Paul, whose turn it was.
"Look!" Myron announced. "A real letter." Which got him (what else?) two stink eyes. Resisting the impulse to play favorites (her), he thrust the envelope forward and held it in the air above the tray, which Paula carefully lowered to the tiled floor next to her side of the bed. Taking the envelope, she held it up between her and her "better one-sixteenth" so they could read it together.
"Hmm," she said, as always the quick (er?) study. "Hmm! This is the real deal." Paul was still scrutinizing the addresses, wearing the same suspicious expression Myron so often wore. (Had they cohabited too long?)
"Nah," Paul finally ventured, "I bet that return address is just a joke from your wise-a ... er, your parents or someone. Probably a belated and jocular thank-you note for the dinner party. And they probably figured out how we like to be addressed. Very shrewd of S&J."
"Yeah, right! I don't mean to deride your decoding skills, Sweetie, but you've neglected to Marshal (throat clearing) your Derrida." Although the reference was lost on her, Myrna nodded in solidarity.
"Close your mouth, Paulie," Myron advised, "that was an allusion to Marshall McLuhan and Jacques Derrida. But let it go. Pun-itis, she's got, incurable. Anyway, you wouldn't want to swallow a Florida mosquito."
Pedantically triumphal, Paula proceeded: "Yes, think about it, just deconstruct your text, P. Gert and Biff might get our address right," she lectured, "but they would never make a God joke in the return address."
"That's right, dear, that's exactly what I thought," Myrna agreed. "Gert and Biff are observant, aren't they?"
"Hey," Myron protested, "what about me? I got the point about God, too."
Kindly, Myrna gave him a pass on that one, thinking but not saying, "Yes, dear, after about two hours, you did."
"Precisely, Myrn." Paula again. "Therefore? Paul?" Was she giving him a second chance, or just rubbing it in? If the latter, too bad, for his, the final, light bulb finally came on.
"Yep, it's genuine," he pronounced, his confident tone a transparent attempt to regain face. "You're right, ladies, women, whatever. The combination of address and return address compels us to open the letter: it's from Him, all right. Her? It? Shall I?"
Three heads nodded. Taking control, he thought, he finally opened the letter, then cleared his throat. "Shall I?" he repeated. Neither to foreshadow nor aft-shadow too blatantly, but note that Paul's pomposity was still growing exponentially in relation to his age.
"Dear Manns and Persons (he/it read),
"As the end approaches, we must prepar e ...(Myrna: Jeez, he sounds like an undertaker) for closure commensurate with the way of life we have chosen. (Myron: Beg the question much, Big Guy?) (Paul: Shit, he's going to send us to Hell, after all! I mean, but, but, what would be the point?) (Paula: I don't think He's that stupid, P. Keep reading.) In your cases I have come up with what I consider to be quite the tidy solutions. (Myrna: Isn't it a sin to be so smug?) First, the young couple. Since you have lived your lives as if there were no tomorrow, wallowing in empty materialism, you will now get your implied wish. And I wonder if you thought of this during those foolish moments when you started flinging Mings and chugalugging discount sleeping pills. (Myron: 'Flinging Mings'? 'Chugalugging'? He sounds like me.) (Myrna: Not the Mings, dear. Maybe the ... other one.) In conclusion, you, Paul and Paula Person, will have no conclusion. You will die. Your remains will be disposed of according to your wishes. And that will be that. In other words, your only remaining choice ... (Paula: Was that a "remains" pun! Oh, no, not Him, Her, It!) ... now that you have made so many wrong ones, will be, as my erstwhile favorite son has already told you, 'fast or slow ashes.'" (Paula: He's making an ash of himself, too, if you ash ...) (Paul: Stop it! I can't take it, anymore! At a time like this, you idiot?!) (Myrna: Now, now, children, 'at a time like this' you should both really try to behave in a more seemly manner. But what does He say about us, Paul? Read on, please, dear.) (Narrator: And, also please, also notice Myrna's own solemn tone, which to some readers may seem suited to the solemn occasion.)
He (Paul) did (read on).
"Turning now to the Manns, Myron and Myrna (Myron: I'm all ears, oh, Master) or, if you prefer, since times are changing -- under my direction, of course -- Myrna and Myron, you have made a life of sorts together, albeit a life of endless bickering. (Myrna: Uh, oh, he's got a new rabbit up his sleeve.) You two have, if I may be permitted a bit of levity, become crazy-glued together in discord. Accordingly, when you pass, which will, alas, be soon, always remembering that it is not just I -- Me? -- who controls time, you will be interred in soundproofed, separate but contiguous graves or urns. (Myron: Here it comes.) (Myrna: Shh.) Unlike your 'children,' you will not then completely lose your earthly essence. What you will retain is your present infinite capacity to generate vicious insults and ripostes. But there will be no one to listen to these barbs. (Myron: 'Barbs'? Hey, I think he's alluding to that cousin of yours in Massapequa, Myrn, the one with the big ...) (Myrna: Oh, stop it!) For you two, if I may indulge in a somewhat fanciful metaphor, the afterlife will be like playing handball without the wall. Mixed singles."
Myrna: "That's funny. You know, when we met him at the nice party up there, I thought he looked just like one of those handball playing seniors we used to watch in the playground near Brighton Beach. Down here. I mean, up north."
Paula: "Since death is fast approaching, I shall refrain from making any altitudinal-latitudinal jokes."
Paul: "Smart move, P. Why rush the imminent? Hmm. 'Handball without the wall.' Not bad. But ... well ... that's it. That's how the letter ends, the writer's exit line, so to speak."
Paul took his wife's hand and looked deep into her eyes, wearing the same expression he had worn in the French restaurant on that big (I won't say "fatal") day so long ago.
Myron: "Not to call God unoriginal, or anything, but that handball joke is a Rodney Dangerfield knock-off. The real joke goes like this: having sex with your wife is like playing handball against the drapes. No offense, Myrn, I've never felt that doing it, you know, the deed, with you was anything like drapes -- more like Venetian blinds. Just kidding, kid!" (Pause. Sigh.) "That's it? Not a single closing word of comfort?"
Paul: Nope. Not a word. Except for the salutation. 'Yours, etc., God.'
Myron: Yours, maybe, not mine, though. (Hand to brow.) Not any longer, alas.
Paula (cheerily): That's all? Oh, tempura, oh, calamaris! Well, then, what next? Shall we plan our day?
Myron: Good idea. I'm not inclined to recline in the fetal position sobbing my way through a big box of Kleenex ™.
Paul: I'll ignore the seafood quip, P, in a spirit of forgiveness appropriate to the occasion. Here, here, my friends! So. What'll it be? Tennis? Swimming? Cards?
Myrna: I mean, who really knows what will happen to any of us? And who knows when it will (happen)?
And so Myrna (who is based upon my own late mother) got (gets) to have the last, half-true word.
And so they did. (Plan their day.)
"The Parents We Deserve has appeared previously in --Ellipsis, 2006 (print), & nth position, 2009, online (Part One only); The Second Kingdom, three novellas, Cantarabooks, 2009; jukepopserials,com, 2013. Of these, only Part One, in nth position, is currently available outside the Piker Press.
Cover art: Gustav Doré The Burden of Pride.