Grenadine McGunkle’s Double-Wide Christmas, Chapter 8:
Dance of the Sugar Plum Tarts
If you read the arrest reports in Hogwalla Weekly, you are no doubt familiar with the names Crystal and China Pitts. In the past year alone, they’ve been cited five times for disturbing the peace (they said they was having a “band rehearsal”, but it sounded more like they was hosting a cat-breeding convention in the middle of a fireworks festival); three times for disorderly conduct (they was probably drunk, too, but the county’s only breathalyzer has been broken since before Reagan took office); and one time for impersonating a passel of hogs (which is apparently something that somebody did once back in olden times and caused a whole lot of commotion, leading to a law that had never been enforced until Crystal and China came along).
For those who don’t subscribe to Hogwalla Weekly–and I don’t recommend you do, seeing as how they stopped running Paul Harvey about six months back–I’ll fill you in real quick.
But first, you ought to know a bit about my family tree.
Crystal and China were born to my daddy, Donald Berry, and his first wife, Cherry Shows. Daddy and Cherry didn’t last more than a year on account of Cherry didn’t like the fact that her married name had become Cherry Berry, which just sounded too cutesy for her tastes. You’d think she might’ve seen that one coming before walking down the aisle.
Anyway, Cherry moved on and landed in the arms of Randall Pitts, making her Cherry Pitts. It sounds awful to me, too, but since our town of Pittsville is named for Randall’s great-grandfather, she was willing to overlook it. Between you and me, Cherry’s always been a little uppity like that. Cherry changed the twins’ last name to Pitts “to give them the best possible start in life,” she says. Can you believe?
Cherry and my daddy didn’t speak none after the divorce, but Randall and him had been good friends since they was in diapers. So, about a year after Randall and Cherry were wedded down at the county courthouse, he set up a blind date between his sister, Maxine, and my father.
Maxine and daddy hit it off like a house on fire, and eight-and-a-half months later I was born: Grenadine Maybelline Ernestine Berry. Mama was still in her wedding dress when the contractions started.
If you ain’t familiar with geneaology and whatnot, that makes China and Crystal my cousins (since they’re my uncle Randall’s kids) and my step-sisters (on account of they’re my daddy Donald’s first children). It also means that, courtesy of my mama, I am also a direct descendant of Hezekiah Pitts, who founded this here town. Unlike some people I could mention though, I ain’t never put on airs about it.
But believe you me: though I share half a gene pool with Crystal and China, we’re as different as night and day.
I have always loved Hogwalla County. I was born here, I’ve raised a family here, and unless I get swept up in some kind of Old Testament exodus due to global warming like them TV experts talk about all the time, I’ll probably die here, too.
Crystal and China, though? Aunt-Mama Cherry done filled their heads with all kind of thoughts, and unfortunately, they ain’t never been able to settle on one thought for long.
First, they had their hearts set on marrying a couple of millionaires, like them blond ladies do on them bachelor shows nowadays. But in home economics class back in junior high, Miss Clovis let slip that there ain’t a single millionaire in the whole of Hogwalla county, so they set that dream aside for a while.
Next, they was going to be business moguls or some such. They put up a lemonade stand out on Route 4 between the Church of Christ and Hogwalla Hardware, and their mama made ‘em a big ol’ sign for it out of Elmer’s Glue and glitter. Wouldn’t you know, two days later, Carole Ann Landrum was coming out of the hardware store with a cooler she’d got for a picnic, and she bought every last drop of Crystal and China’s lemonade.
Crystal and China were tickled pink. They took Carole Ann’s ten dollar bill and showed it off to their mama, proud as could be. But instead of getting their butts out on Route 4 the next day and the next and the next and selling more lemonade–which, by the way, was straight out of a can and was in no way, shape, or form “homemade” like they had advertised–Crystal and China pranced down to the TG&Y and bought $9.99 worth of Dum Dums. They don’t make irony like that no more.
Meanwhile, Carole Ann Landrum took that lemonade, put it in the cooler she done bought, went over to London, and sold it in front of the Amoco station for twice what Crystal and China were selling it for. Started a whole cottage industry in beverage distribution that’s turning a profit to this day.
Since then, Crystal and China have been a lot of things–supermodels, architects, and something called “venture capitalists”–but for the past five years or so, they’ve been pop stars. In their head, anyway. They couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, but they done convinced their mama to buy ‘em instruments, and they let that poor Helen Highwater tote their stuff around like some kind of halfwit roadie. Hearing all the garbage youngun’s listen to these days, I suppose there’s a chance they’ll strike it big, but I ain’t betting none of my own money on that.
* * * * *
I force a big ol’ smile onto my face, trying like the dickens to hold on to the Christmas spirit that’s slipping out of me like air from a day-old balloon. “Crystal and China Pitts, what a nice surprise! Y’all get on over here and give me some sugar.”
Almost immediately, I regret my hospitable impulses. You see, before they was pop stars, Crystal and China were selling perfume door to door–not the good kind of perfume mind you, but them knockoffs you see in gas stations sometimes. They used to call ‘em “Impostor Fragrances”, I think. You remember them commercials that said, “If you like such-and-such, you’ll love our so-and-so”? That’s the stuff. It was cheap, and it smelled like it.
Unfortunately, that so-called perfume caused Vera McAllister to break out in hives, and she done told all her customers about it when they come into the beauty shop, and now don’t nobody want it. Every year, Crystal and China give them spray bottles as Christmas gifts to everyone in sight, but last I heard, they still had half a trailer full of ‘em. And let me tell you, they ain’t about to let it go to waste. If you’re downwind, you can smell ‘em coming five miles up the road.
All of which is to say that, after hugging them, I’m gonna smell like a truck stop hussy ‘til New Year’s Eve.
“Oh, Grenadine,” Crystal says, “we hadn’t seen you in so long!”
“Ain’t that the truth,” says China. “I bet you don’t even recognize us since we’re redheads now!”
If you could see what I see, you’d know “redhead” ain’t the word. A redhead is like Lucille Ball or that cute little Prince Harry over in England. Crystal and China, on the other hand, look like they done dunked their heads in a bathtub full of cherry Kool-Aid for about a day-and-a-half. Which, knowing them, is more likely than not.
“Well, no, I suppose I didn’t,” I say, scrunching up my nose and trying to get the scent of fake White Shoulders out of there before I start a sneezing fit. “But it’s a nice surprise nonetheless. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to see y’all at all tonight. I thought y’all were supposed to be in some holiday show over in Branson.”
“We was, we was,” China says. “But we got there and discovered that Yodeling Yuletide wasn’t a match for our refined aesthetic sensibilities.”
“China Louise Maybelle Pitts!” Crystal says all prissy-like with her mouth open like she done been scandalized. “I cannot believe that you’re going to stand here on the birthday of Jesus himself and lie to our very own flesh and blood.”
“I ain’t lying about a thing,” China says to her twin sister, then looks at me. “Don’t you listen to her none. She’s just mad ‘cause I have standards.”
“If by ‘standards’ you mean a raging libido that caused you to tackle the show’s musical director in the middle of a corn maze—”
“We had gone to that maze as a team-building exercise, Crystal. I left little dabs of mascara on the stalks to point the way back, and he was heading in the wrong direction. What kind of teammate would I be if I’d let him wander off, never to be seen again?”
“Well if that’s the case,” Crystal says, “why’d you try to undress him right in front of god and everybody?”
“I did no such thing!”
“China,” says Crystal, “you know they got an observation deck. That’s how most people get out of that maze, by taking directions from the folks up there.”
“I know that!” China says, clearly not knowing it at all.
“There was a video of you jumping his bones. It was all over Facebook the next day.”
“It most certainly was not!”
“There was, too. You reposted it yourself five times.”
By this point, Tater, Sally Ann, and Sierra Britney have all stopped their bickering and are watching China and Crystal go at it. I’m still standing between the twins like a damn fool, holding my groceries. It will come as no surprise that Earl hasn’t moved an inch.
There’s a long pause that starts to feel downright uncomfortable. Then Helen drops the two guitars she’s toting, unhooks herself from a dogsled contraption full of Crystal and China’s luggage, and comes running over to me.
“Merry Christmas, Grenadine!” she says, latching onto me like a tick in July. It takes me, China, and Crystal a solid minute to pry her off.
“Well it don’t matter noway,” China says, trying to catch her breath. (Helen has one heck of a grip, I tell you what.) “The show was a dud. And besides, we got something better up our sleeve, ain’t we, Crystal?”
Crystal perks up at that. “We sure do! It’s a historical hip-hop musical based on the life of Dolly Madison. It’s kinda like that show Hamilton, but ours is all about fruit pies.”
“Uh huh,” says China. “We got a song about peeling apples and coring apples and frying apples–the whole thing’s about apples mostly. We gonna sell apples and pies in the lobby, too!”
“It’s an immersive, apple-themed historical experience!” Crystal says. I don’t have the first idea what she’s talking about, but I like apples, so I just nod my head and smile.
“The working title was originally Hello, Dolly!, but someone told us there was already a show by that name,” says China. “We’d talked about renaming it Our Lady of the Fruits, but some folks in our target demographic might think it’s a religious show. For now, we’re just calling it Apple Tart.”
“Who don’t love a good tart, right?” says Crystal.
I should point out that Sierra Britney is mesmerized by all this. She’s looking at Crystal and China like they done hung the moon, and every now and then, she takes a half-step in their direction, kinda shy like. I can’t tell if she’s gonna hug ‘em or start praying to them.
“Y’all wanna hear the opening number?” Crystal asks us.
“It’s a real show-stopper!” says China.
“No, China,” says Crystal, “it’s a show opener. Why would we want to stop the show just as it’s getting started? That’s dumb.”
“Don’t you call me dumb! You’re the dumb one!” says China. I can feel a fistfight coming on.
“Simmer down y’all,” I say, as polite as can be. “Ain’t nobody here dumb, except maybe me, on account of I’ve put off cooking for tonight’s dinner and have almost no time to finish up. Now, I would love to see what y’all have been working on, but—”
“Well then, have yourself a seat, Grenadine,” Crystal says. “We ain’t got more than a verse or two, anyway.”
“But I know that once our agent hears it, he’s gonna get us booked on one of them Carnival Cruises, and we’ll be living the high life! Shrimp cocktail and margaritas all year round!” China says all that as she’s putting me back in my chair, despite my best efforts to resist. I ain’t never been able to get a word in edgewise when Crystal and China are on a roll.
Tater and Sally Ann see what’s coming and lean against the station wagon to watch. Sally Ann’s got her arms folded, and I can tell from the way she’s pursing her lips, she’s worried that Crystal and China are gonna outdo her daughter’s performance. Meanwhile, Sierra Britney has perched on the toilet planter next to me, squirming with so much excitement, I’m worried she’s gonna mess up her drawers or kill the last of my pansies. Maybe both.
Crystal barks a couple of orders to Helen, who pulls out a little boom box thingamajig and hits a couple of buttons. One of them karaoke tracks comes warbling out of the speakers, and it’s the theme song to Gilligan’s Island. I have no idea what a tropical island might have to do with desserts you can get at the corner store, but at this point, I’m just going along for the ride.
China takes a few steps toward me and starts a little rap, waving her arms like them girls on TV with the booty-shorts. She does a verse, then has a little echo-type thing afterward. I hate to admit it, but it’s kinda cute. “Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale–a tale of a classy dame! She made the world’s best fruit pies, and that’s an honest claim. Do you know her name?”
Next, Crystal steps out in front of her sister. Apparently, they’re gonna take turns with the verses. I hope there ain’t that many. “Apple, cherry, lemon, plum: so many tasty treats! Our heroine took sour things and made ‘em extra sweet. Her prices can’t be beat!”
Then, back to China. With a key change, no less: “Way down south in Dixie, this fine lady met her man. They went off to the White House, which was where it all began. It’s where she hatched her plan!”
Crystal pops up, and somehow, she’s done made a costume change. She’s wearing a sparkly apron on top of her Christmas sweater, with a big ol’ cooking hat like that Chef Boyardee fella. “Night and day she worked on pies to make sure they were great. She tasted every one of them but didn’t gain no weight. She had good genes–don’t hate!”
Then China comes out from behind her sister, and she ain’t wearing nothing but her bra, a pair of reindeer suspenders, and a tree skirt from the world’s tee-nineciest Christmas tree. If they end up doing this thing on a cruise ship, it’s gonna have to start after midnight when all the kids have gone to bed. Heck, I’m sitting at least 15 feet away, and even I can tell that China has done got one of them Brazilian waxes. “Her name was Dolly Madison and on her we will snitch! With hand pies and her fritters, that chick got freakin’ rich! You best respect the bitch!”
Then all holy hell breaks loose. The music turns into some kind of satanic drum solo that sounds like a goat head-butting a sewing machine. China starts doing one of them dances like she got a case of the panty crickets and can’t use her hands to scratch. Crystal stands up from behind China wearing the same thing as her sister–how either of them switched outfits out in the open I’ll never know–and she’s dancing up a storm, too.
They start wiggling their butts in my direction, scooching toward me like two ladies of the evening wanting me to put dollar bills down their drawers, which I wouldn’t dream of doing, even if I hadn’t given Tater the last of my money. Since they’re coming at me backwards, though, they can’t see where they’re going, and China trips over Earl’s cooler. The poor thing lands on her back with her legs spread in the air like a half-dead cockroach, giving most of Hogwalla County a free show.
China starts hollering for Crystal to help her up, but then Crystal trips, too, and then they’re both rolling around on the ground like Pittsville’s most uncoordinated, overdressed wrestlers. Around the same time, Sally Ann runs for Sierra Britney and covers her eyes, while Tater’s are about to pop out of his skull.
While Sally Ann’s back is turned, Helen hikes up her mama’s old housecoat (which she insists on wearing, even though it’s about five sizes too dang big) and starts rutting on Tater’s leg like Buford does when we have company. Sally Ann shoots Tater a look like a loaded 12-gauge, so he pushes Helen off his thigh, and in the process of falling, Helen manages to spin around and land face-first on top of Crystal.
I won’t bore you all with the details of how this rigamarole gets resolved. I’ll just say that ten minutes later, order has been mostly restored, though China has twisted an ankle, and Helen’s braces have gotten so wrapped up in Crystal’s hat that she’s begging Tater to drive her to the orthodontist. Tater looks like he’s halfway to obliging when Sally Ann walks over with a pair of wire-cutters she done pulled from who-knows-where and snips the hat free quick as you please.
And in case you were wondering, no, Earl hasn’t budged an inch, the lucky so-and-so.
“Merry Christmas, y’all!” someone says behind me. Then somebody else asks, “Did we miss the party?”, sounding as lonesome as a loon.
I turn around, and there stand the Everlasting Arms’ oddest pair: Punkin Pickins, still in his work overalls, and Lurleen Scoggins, the saddest crossing guard this side of Bugswallow Hollow.