Rocky, Mr. Monster, and Bethel
Bethel was watching television, from outward appearances drowsily engaged. Her arms were extended onto the arms of her recliner like she was the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. She was a captain, of sorts, to her two cats, Rocky and Mr. Monster. Mr. Monster was named ironically, having shown little defiance since his kittenhood, but Bethel had a long memory. “You’re Mr. Monster!” she had accused him, lifting him into the air above her head like Rafiki lifting Simba over the cliff.
The phone buzzed. Bethel took the time to silence the t.v., which took some time, and the caller hung up. Then Bethel had to find the phone, which took more time. In all, the caller hung and dialed three times more before Bethel located her smartphone, found out how to answer, coughed and cleared her throat, and managed a shaky hello.
“Grandma!” The voice declared.
Outwardly, Bethel showed no response to this greeting, other than a tightening of the lips.
“Grandma, I’m in jail!” It was a male voice.
The lips tightened further.
“Grandma, can you hear me? You have to help me! I need bail money. I don’t want my parents to know!”
“But she sitting right beside you, isn’t she?” Bethel found that she was quite cool, like a police investigator, and she congratulated herself.
“What? No-she-Mom wouldn’t want you to know-”
Bethel switched the phone to her other hand and leaned forward.
“How old are you now?”
Grandma-I only have three more minutes. This is Brian.”
“Brian. That’s what she named you?”
“Yes, Grandma, you know me, Brian.”
“She named you Brian.”
“Grandma there isn’t much time, now. Can you…I don’t want Mom to find out.”
“How old are you now, Brrriiiannnn,” Bethel drawled.
“27 last week.”
“Mmmhmmm. Just as I thought. September 1994.”
“September 1994. Lisa home from college. Always in that oversized sweatshirt. I said, what are you doing in that hoodie, Sylvia Plath, you got a baby under that thing? Lisa said, no Momma, I’m focused on my career.”
Brian was silent on the phone.
“Focused on her career. Working at the bank, driving that POS Suzuki Swift that they don’t make no more because it’s such a POS.”
“Grandma, I miss you,” the caller whimpered. “I need help.”
“October, 1996. I hadn’t seen Lisa in two years, I just sent the checks to the college. She came back around. She had her hair in a perm. Lipstick on. Leggings and another hoodie. Orange this time. I said, what’s up, nice orange hoodie, you and your crew heading out to the hospital in a few to watch a baby pop out from underneath that hoodie like Charlie Brown and his friends watching the Great Pumpkin pop out over the horizon?”
Brian was silent.
“She said, ‘Momma, that doesn’t even make sense.’”
“I haven’t seen Mom in a bit,” volunteered Brian.”
“Oh, you’ll see her when she needs money. She’s ok for now. You just wait. You’ll see her.”
Bethel seemed to have forgotten her earlier jibe that Lisa was in jail with her offspring.
“She does good for a while. Sometimes for a long while. Sometimes, twenty five years or more. But those crows, they come home to roost. That man walks out. That car breaks down. Then you see another Lisa. Now let me ask you a question. Where were you on July 8, 2002?”
“You would have been about eight.”
“Now were you, or were you not, locked in a motel room in Orlando, Florida, or thereabouts, with two or three other children younger than yourself?”
“Because July 8, 2002, I saw Lisa. The woman I now recognize as your Aunt Cheryl, after this here important phone call we’re having, where it’s all coming out, your Aunt Cheryl rented a beach house in Orlando. Cheryl is not like Lisa, with those degrees. Cheryl works hard, and you know she is the manager at that Burger King now. Cheryl rented a beach house for us. I saw Lisa. I guess Cheryl invited her. I was sitting on my Disney World beach blanket, when Lisa ran up. She was in a black one piece bathing suit. I hadn’t seen here in a while. She was thinner than I remembered. I visualized a flat abdomen in the black swimsuit. She said to me ‘Momma, you can stop calling me pregnant, because you can see that I am not’, and I said, ‘I know, Lisa, looks like you lost some weight, but meth will do that. I hope you don’t have baby now, because what a jittery little eel that poor, puny mite will be. That’s how they are, shaking and crying, and they have cerebral palsy. I saw it on Montel Williams. Montel has CP, too, but I don’t know how he got it.”
“He has MS. I think.”
“I said to Lisa, you know, you have completely wrecked July 8 for me, because now, every July 8, every year, I am going to have to relive this conversation, and think about them babies of yours, that you probably locked up in a hotel room, so you could run around on the beach. They’re probably hungry right now. They probably have one box of fruit roll ups to split between them, the only food in the house.”
“Listen, Grandma, you’re a little busy right now, sounds like.”
“No, I got time to talk.”
“Yes, but I don’t. My time…my time is up.”
“Everyone’s time is up, preacher says.”
Brian hung up.
Bethel hung up the phone. She reached for her remote, turned the volume up on the television, and continued watching. If there was alarm, or suspicion, or realization in the brown eyes underneath the sagging eyelids, it was hard to tell.