A Mother in Her Cadillac ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
He heard her voice downstairs and recognized her tread across the floor. She’d be up but it would take a while, she had grown so fat. He smelled her awful perfume already; it smelled like trouble. He heard her pulling herself up by the banister, heard her huffing and grunting. He pretended to be asleep but he knew it wouldn’t do any good. Before he was ready, she burst into the room like a bull out of a chute.
“Can’t you knock?” he said, raising his head from the bed.
“Family don’t have to knock!” she screamed.
She approached the bed and gave him a kiss on the forehead. Thank goodness she wasn’t a mouth kisser!
“Uncle Pell!” she said. “How in the heck are you?”
He managed a weak smile. “How do you think? Now that you’re here, I’m worse than ever. I think I might die.”
“Hah-hah-hah! Always the joker! You’ll be cracking jokes right up until the very end, won’t you?”
“What can I do for you today, Thelma?” he asked. “You must want something or you wouldn’t be here.”
“Well, can’t a gal pay her old uncle a visit?”
She plopped herself down in the bedside chair and placed her patent leather pocketbook over her broad thighs.
“I swear!” Pell said, looking down at her feet. “You just get fatter all the time. You must have put on fifty pounds since the last time I saw you. Your ankles are as thick as logs.”
“It’s just the age I am,” she said. “I’m at the age where my body retains liquids. My ankles is swollen.”
“If you’d lose some weight, maybe they wouldn’t swell so bad.”
“I didn’t come here to talk about my weight, uncle.”
“What did you come here to talk about?”
“How in the world have you been?”
“I already told you. I’m terrible and worse now that you’re here.”
“I’m worried, uncle Pell,” Thelma said.
“I’m worried that you’re not taking good enough care of yourself. There’s a lovely new nursing home out by the park. I heard almost all the beds is taken already. One phone call and we could get your name on the list and you’d be all set.”
“I’ve told you a million times already. I will not go into a nursing home. I will take my revolver and blow my head off first.”
“You will go into the nursing home, you old coot, when you don’t have no other choice.”
“I bet I’ll outlast you, you old harridan, with your fat legs.”
Thelma laughed but it was a pretend laugh. “Let’s not quarrel,” she said. “That’s not what family ought to be doing.”
“You keep throwing that word up in my face. Family. You’re here for a reason and I know it!”
“My goodness! You are a grumpy old bear today, aren’t you?”
“Where’s Alveda? I want her in the room.”
“Because if she’s in the room, plopping up the pillows and taking my temperature every few minutes, you won’t be inclined to stay so long.”
“I left her downstairs,” Thelma said. “I told her she didn’t need to show me up.”
“Well, I want her here, or you’re going to have to leave.”
“I want my nurse with me, that’s why.”
“She ain’t a nurse, uncle Pell. She’s nobody.”
She heaved herself up from the chair and went to the top of the steps and screamed down: “Alveda! Come right up here this minute! This old bastard wants you in the room with him, like you was a teddy bear or somethin’.”
“A voice like that ought to win first place in a hog-callin’ contest,” Pell said.
“You told me to call her and I did. You don’t think I’m going to haul ass all the way back down those stairs, do you?”
Alveda came into the room. “Did you want something, Mr. Pell?” she asked.
“I just want you to be here so I have a witness in case I happen to murder my niece.”
Eyes averted, Alveda went about straightening the room, putting some clean laundry in the dresser drawers.
Thelma sighed. “Good help is certainly hard to find nowadays.”
“Which brings me back to the original question,” Pell said. “What are you doing here?”
“Well, to put it bluntly, we need your help.”
“If you say ‘family’ again, I’m going to throw my bedpan at you.”
“David’s in trouble again. We need to get him a lawyer.”
“What is it this time?”
“Well, the kids was drinkin’ and havin’ a barbecue at the river. There was five or six boys and one girl. The boys took turns takin’ the girl into the woods. The girl was willing—she was whoopin’ it up and drinkin’ same as everybody else—but after she got back to town she wasn’t so willing no more. She went straight to the sheriff’s office and said these fellas raped her against her will.”
“And David is innocent, I suppose?”
“He says he didn’t do nothing. He was there and he saw it, he said, but he thought it was just all in fun.”
“Of course, that’s the story he would tell everybody to try to keep himself out of jail.”
“I believe him, uncle Pell. We need to get him a good lawyer and no mistake. No mother wants to see her child in prison. That’s why my ankles is swollen. I need eighteen thousand dollars and I need it bad.”
“Good God! Is that how much it takes to retain a lawyer these days?”
“It’s not just for a lawyer. I have other expenses, too.”
“What other expenses?”
“I have doctor bills.”
“You’ve seen a doctor?”
The tears started flowing; she dabbed at each eye with her handkerchief. “I wasn’t going to tell you this, but I’m dying.”
“What is it this time?”
“I have a terribly weak heart.”
“Too many cigarettes.”
“I gave up smoking long ago.”
“If you’d lose a couple hundred pounds of blubber,” he said, “your heart would be able to function normally.”
“Please stop joking for one moment and listen to me,” she said. “The doctor has given me no more than six months to live.”
“I don’t believe it.”
“It’s not so much myself that I care about. It’s David. I’m all he has in the world. I’m afraid I’ll die while he’s in this rape mess and there won’t be nobody to help him through it.”
“How old is David now?”
“You know how old. He’s thirty-nine.”
“Most men of thirty-nine years no longer rely on their mothers to pull them along through life.”
“David isn’t like the others,” she said. “He weighed less than four pounds when he was born and he came out yellow. Can you imagine? He was always so sickly. The doctors thought he’d die right away but he didn’t and I think the only reason he survived was because he had me for a mother.”
“And he’s been nothing but trouble ever since.”
“Having children is a gamble. You take the bad with the good.”
“In David’s case, it’s been all bad.”
“You think so because you’ve never had a chance to know him. He has a very sweet nature. There’s a lot in him that’s good.”
“I know him well enough. He tormented the cats and he tormented the chickens and he tormented his cousins and in school he tormented the teachers and the other kids. He probably should have been locked up from the time he was seven years old.”
“I know,” Thelma said, sniffling. “He was always a little off somehow. What was I gonna do? A mother can only do so much.”
“Very sad, I’m sure,” Pell said, “but I’m not going to give you eighteen thousand dollars.”
“Oh, my god!” she cried, bringing her handkerchief to her eyes. “Oh, my god! Oh, my god! Oh, my god! What am I going to do? What’s going to become of my David?”
“Forget the expensive lawyer,” Pell said. “If David is innocent, a court-appointed attorney will be good enough.”
“I’m afraid that’s too risky! I abhor the thought of dying with my son in the penitentiary and not even being able to stand beside my grave as they lower my body into the cold ground.”
“Find out who the girl is,” Pell said. “The girl who said she was, uh, violated.”
“I already know who she is. Her name is Willie Walls.”
“A trashy girl, I imagine.”
“You would think that, wouldn’t you?” Thelma said. “At a wild drinkin’ party at the river with five or six men. The only girl there.”
“Offer her a thousand dollars to drop the case. I’ll bet that’s more money than she ever dreamed of owning in her life.”
“Drop the case? Why would she do that?”
“If it goes to trial, her character will be impugned. They’ll dig up all the dirt on her they can find; every low character she’s ever associated herself with. She’ll be humiliated and made to look like a fool. She’ll lose the case and end up with nothing. A sure thousand dollars would spare her all that.”
“I don’t know if I would want to try that or not,” Thelma said.
“So you want to throw away thousands of my money on a lawyer when you don’t have to?”
“I just don’t know what’s best! I’m at the end of my tether!”
“I’ve given you what I consider sound advice. That’s the best I can do.”
“I didn’t come here for advice, uncle.”
“I know. You came here for money.”
“You’ll the only family that David and I have left.”
“That’s not true.”
“Isn’t it only natural that families help each other out in time of need? I know you can afford it. I don’t know what all you have because you’re so secretive about money, but I’ll bet this big house is worth plenty. You could sell it and we could get you moved into the nursing home out by the park and you’d be so happy and you’d have all your needs taken care of.”
“Thelma, I’m just a hair’s breadth away from ordering you out of my house.”
“If you were to die tomorrow, what would happen to this house? Who would get it?”
“Wouldn’t you like to know?”
“Are you planning on takin’ it with you when you die?”
“Maybe. If I can figure out a way.”
“Are you sayin’ that David and I mean nothing to you?”
“Thelma, I’m saying that you’ve given me a terrible headache and if you don’t leave now, I’m going to get out of this bed and drag you by the hair of your head down the stairs and out the front door.”
“I don’t know how you dare talk to me that way! After all I’ve done for you!”
“Hah-hah! What have you ever done for me?”
“I’ve helped you out in a number of unseen ways!”
“Alveda, show my niece to the door. And make sure she doesn’t steal anything on her way out.”
“Don’t bother yourself! I think I can manage to get myself out the damned door, thank you!” She pulled herself out of the chair and stood unsteadily, grabbing the bedpost for support.
“Good bye, dear!” Pell said. “Drive carefully on your way home. Make sure your heart doesn’t fail you while you’re driving in traffic.”
“You know what, you old son of a bitch? I can have you declared incompetent and get control of your assets as your next of kin. How would you like that? And don’t think I’ll put you in the new nursing home out by the park, neither. I’ll find one that’s a regular shithole where they tie you to the bed and let you lay in your own filth all day!”
“Oh, my goodness! That does sound dreadful, doesn’t it?”
Thelma went out of the room like a charging rhinoceros and down the stairs. When she slammed the front door, it sounded a like a gunshot.
“Alveda, go to the window and watch her,” Pell said. “Make sure she gets into her car and drives away.”
Alveda went and stood at the window and looked down into the street.
“Tell me what she’s doing,” Pell said.
“She’s going down the walk. She’s stopping and looking back at the house. She’s taking a cigarette out of her purse and lighting it.”
“Gave up smoking! Bah!”
“Now she’s opening the door of her car.”
“What kind of car is it?”
“It’s a big shiny car. It looks new. I think it’s a Cadillac.”
“Does that sound like a woman desperately in need of money to you?”
“She’s not getting in yet, though. She’s just standing there, smoking her cigarette, looking up at the house.”
“Probably plotting her next move.”
“She’s dropping her cigarette to the ground and reaching into the car for something.”
“Probably a gun.”
“No, it’s a jacket. She’s putting it on. Looks like fur, maybe mink. That woman has got herself a new mink fur jacket. She’s getting in now, slamming the door and starting the engine. She’s looking at herself in the mirror and now she’s putting the car in gear and now she’s driving off.”
“Out of my life forever,” he said.
“Do you want some aspirin for your headache?”
“Not now. I’m going to get up and get dressed and after lunch I want you to take me downtown to see my lawyer.”
“Are you sure you’re up to it?”
“Yes, I’m up to it. I have no familial relations now, so I’m going to change my will. Can you see yourself living in this house with your family after I’m dead?”
“Your niece would kill me before she’d let that happen.”
“There’s nothing she can do about it.”
Alveda went downstairs to fix lunch and the old man got out of bed and began pulling the clothes out of the closet that he planned on wearing for his afternoon outing. He’d wear a sports jacket and his green-and-yellow tie—nothing like bright colors. He would show people he was still in the game and wasn’t ready to leave the sad old world behind. Not just yet. Maybe never.
Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp