Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 2:
Grenadine, do not panic. You hear me, girl? Do. Not. PANIC!
All right, let’s breathe for a second. Breathe like them nurses taught you down at Hogwalla General when Tater was trying to drop-kick himself right out of you. Don’t think about the birthing part, though. Land of Goshen, that was pure-D awful. Just breathe.
Better? Okay, now where is that Judgement Day Emergency Kit you got from them Jehovah’s? I know it’s not in the car. I hope to high heavens it ain’t in the trailer, ‘cause I’ll never find it. Could I have loaned it to someone? Who on Earth would I have loaned it to? Are they even on Earth now? Oh, why couldn’t this have happened back in 2012 when the Aztecs said it would? I was prepared as all get out.
“Hey, Earl, have you seen my Judgement Day Kit? Earl, come on, now. Wake up! This is not a drill!’
That man could sleep through anything but a football game. Dagnabbit.
Well, I’m just gonna have to make do. I know I got a flashlight in the glove box and my travel-size New Testament. I reckon that’s all I need to send the good lord a message. Good thing I kept up on my Morse Code classes. Thank you, YWCA.
All right, let’s hope these batteries are good. Finger on the switch, aim at the sky, and…
“Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot. SOS, Jesus! Please come back, you forgot one! Well, two, counting Earl. I know he might seem a little borderline due to his current blood alcohol situation, but I can assure you, underneath all that beer, he’s a good man. SOS! Dot dot dot, dash dash dash, dot dot dot….”
Hold up a minute. Have I got that right? Is it dot, dash, dot or dash, dot, dash? Oh, Grenadine, of all the times for you to have a senior moment. Shit!
“I am so sorry, Jesus! The devil has done got ahold of my vocabulary. It won’t happen again, though! If it don’t come out of the Thorndike-Barnhart, it won’t come out of me. Dot, dot, dot–”
Suddenly, there’s a voice speaking to me, but it’s not coming from the sky, and it don’t sound like I was expecting. “What’s with the flashlight, Grenadine? It’s a little early in the day for a disco party, don’t ya think?”
I turn around, and there’s my neighbor, Madge, dressed in the cutest little two-piece Christmas sweater set I’ve ever laid eyes on. Given her downright prickly demeanor, I wouldn’t have pegged her to be the type for fuzzy snowmen and googly eyes, but I suppose that’s what you get for making assumptions about people. Then again, given the fact that I have just up and found myself in the midst of the Second Coming–completely unprepared, mind you– I could give a rat’s behind about being proven wrong. To tell you the truth, I’m happy as a clam to see one of my friends still roaming the Earth. I just can’t stop myself from giving her a big ol’ bear hug.
“Oh, Madge! Thank goodness! At least I won’t rotting in hades for all eternity by myself! I should’ve known they wouldn’t take you!”
She leans back away from me as best she can and gives me a funny look–the same look I give Tater when he comes home late, and I have a good hunch he’s been smoking some stuff he shouldn’t have. “You’re living out another Rapture fantasy, aren’t you, Grenadine?”
“Well…um, no,” I stammer, letting her go and smoothing the shoulders of her adorable little top. “I just thought, you know, that it was a distinct possibility that the Second Coming was upon us, seeing as how you and I are the only souls alive in the Everlastin’ Arms Motor Park.”
“Girl, this ain’t the Rapture, it’s just Christmas Eve. Everyone’s over at the Merle Norman.”
“Well, what in blue blazes is going on down there, and why didn’t I know about it?”
“They’re having a sale on makeovers. Somebody done left me a flier about it in my mailbox. I’m surprised you didn’t get one.” She pulls a wadded up piece of paper from her sleeve, and sure enough, it says “MAKEOVER SALE,” plain as day.
“You are pulling my right leg to make my left one jealous.”
“I swear on Paula Deen’s grave,” says Madge, holding up her right arm like she’s about to take an oath.
“Paula Deen ain’t dead, sugar,” I say, pretty sure I’m right.
“Well, god bless her…. Anyway, it’s a pretty good deal, as makeovers go. You pay full price for one half of your face, and the other half’s free.”
“Now, ain’t that sweet of ‘em?” I say. “Which half is the free half?”
“What’cha mean?” Madge’s right eyebrow shoots up to her mousey brown bangs in a sour look that makes that precious sweater look more out of place than ever. Honestly, if I were about five sizes smaller, I might ask to borrow it. (The sweater, not her eyebrow, of course.)
“Well, could you specify which half of your face you’re gonna pay for?” I ask. “My mama always said, ‘You get what you pay for’, and if they’re gonna skimp on one half of my face, I’d rather know in advance. My right side is my good side, so it don’t need as much attention.”
“I don’t know that you get to choose, since it’s a package deal,” Madge says kinda warily. “If you do, though, most people probably pick the left or the right. Me, I’d rather pony up for the lower half. Keeping this little moustache tidy is getting to be a problem.”
“You know they got them lasers that’ll take care of that for good, now. You can Buck Rogers it all away, to hear Vera McAllister talk about it. She had her nose hairs done about three years back–and a good thing, too. You could’ve braided all that nonsense. Rapunzel had nothing on Vera, and that’s the gospel truth.”
“Yeah, she told me about it, too. I even tried it once. Once,” Madge says, looking at me over the tops of her readers. “Turns out I got a fear of light. Don’t that beat all? Half the world terrified of the dark, and I can’t stand one space-age lightbulb. Couldn’t sit still after the first blast. They were worried they might take off my whole top lip, and I ain’t got much up there to begin with. Bleach and tweezers: that’s the best I’ve got to work with nowadays.”
“Well, you ought to go down to the Merle Norman yourself. Maybe they got something special to help women in your predicament.” I take a discreet a glance over at her moustache zone. It’s even thicker than usual. Burt Reynolds would be plum jealous.
“I plan on heading there in a bit, but first, I’ve gotta teach a piano lesson. Lord, I hope Ray didn’t finish off the tequila–I’m gonna need it for this one.”
“Who is it?” I ask.
“Sierra Britney Ainsworth”
“Oh, my word.” There is a long and very pregnant pause. Like, third-trimester-and-ready-to-pop pregnant. “You have my condolences, sugar.”
“I’m not sure which is gonna give out first with that girl,” Madge says. “My ears or my liver.”
“Too bad it ain’t her fingers.”
“Not on your life,” Madge says with a sigh. “She’s got coal miner’s hands, that one. I used to try smackin’ ‘em with a ruler every time she messed up on her scales. Zero effect. None. Don’t believe me? Take a good, long look next time you see her: she’s got these skinny, skinny, little ol’ wrists attached to big ol’ sweet potato hands. Practically no fingers at all. Looks like two toothpicks stuck in a couple of ham hocks.” Madge laughs and then catches herself, looking as sheepish as a Baptist caught doing the two-step. “Well, if that wasn’t the meanest thing I said today, I don’t know what is. I got a mouth on me that won’t quit sometimes. I apologize for my loquaciousness.”
“Don’t apologize on my account. I mean, I don’t really mind the girl, but I admit, bein’ around her sets my stomach on edge. And lord forbid Tater ever decides to settle down and make an honest woman out of Sally Ann. If he does, I’ll have that Sierra Britney for a grandbaby.”
“Step-grandbaby,” Madge corrects me. “You may have to buy her Christmas presents and such, but she didn’t do no swimming in your gene pool.”
Suddenly, I feel ashamed for trash-talking about a ten-year-old. “Bless her little heart. If her mama hadn’t convinced her she was such a dang special snowflake, I think she’d have wised up by now and realized that the entertainment business was not her calling.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Madge says, lighting up one of her Mistys and blowin’ a thin stream of smoke out of her nostrils. “I keep telling Sally Ann that the girl should take up volleyball. Hell, with them hands, I bet you ten whole dollars she could make the U.S. Olympic team tomorrow. But that woman just sighs and says as serious as a preacher on Sunday, ‘Oh no, Madge, Sierra Britney was made for the stage.”
“Too bad her face was made for radio.”
We both laugh and stand there a bit, watching the sun ease toward the horizon. Lord, it’s hot.
“You wanna drag of this before I put it out?” Madge offers me the cigarette, which is already halfway gone.
“No, thank you, darlin’. I done plenty in my life, believe you me, but I never developed a taste for cigarettes. Couldn’t afford ‘em these days, anyway.”
“You ain’t kidding. With the money I spend on these, I could pay to have some egghead down at the junior college find another way to get rid of my moustache.”
“Or build a robot to teach piano for you,” I say.
“Don’t I wish? The thought’s enough to make me stop smoking this very second,” she says, looking long and hard at the butt of her Misty. She takes another drag. “Maybe tomorrow.”
Then, I hear Tater’s car horn coming down the road. It used to play “Dixie”, but I asked him to change it on account of everyone in the world finally coming to grips with how thoroughly awful that song is. The lyrics don’t even make no sense: if you’re all fired up about Dixieland, why would you wanna look away from it?
Then he rigged up the car to play the American national anthem. The whole thing. It was too long, though, and kept draining his battery. Now, the horn just sounds like a pig squealing, which I don’t like neither, and I’m not entirely sure it’s legal, but I suppose it’s the lesser evil of the bunch.
“Oh, lord,” says Madge. “There’s Tater, and I’ll bet you half a dozen doughnuts he’s got Sally Ann and Sierra Britney riding shotgun.” She digs in her purse and pulls out a little white pill with sections like a Hershey bar. “God bless Xanax. You want half?” She looks at me and holds out the pill in the palm of her hand.
“Madge! Do I look like the sort of person who does drugs?” I whisper that last word, even though there’s no one within hearing distance. Well, no one sober, I think to myself as I look to Earl in his chair. Madge just stares at me over the rim of her glasses, that one eyebrow cocked real high, and says nothing.
I clarify: “In public, I mean?”
Madge gestures to the empty trailer park with her free hand, then splits the pill in two. I take my half of it, wash it down with some warm PBR, and offer her a sip, but she’s already chewed up her part of the pill and swallowed.
“Gets into my system faster that way. Alright, sugar, I got to run see what’s left in the liquor cabinet before Sierra Britney starts punching the ivories.”
“Best of luck,” I say, deciding once and for all that I’m gonna ask where she got that sweater set later on tonight. “See you at the barbecue!”
Just as Madge whips around the corner of her double-wide, I hear Tater speaking words that put a chill right down the middle of my spine: “Mama, I’m home! And I brought a surprise!”