by Jessica Locke Del Greco
me," Thelma said, before her car window was even open all the way. She patted
the side of her new perm with her free hand, "if it isn't Peter Pitt." She
giggled, toying with the bleached mound of curls. "Haven't seen you in eons.
Figures we'd meet this way. You always were chasing after me." She
dropped her hand to cover her scarlet lips, stifling another giggle.
"It has been ages, hasn't it? Years, in fact... Just look
at you," he whistled softly through the space between his front teeth.
"Every bit as pretty as you were the night you got the standing 'O' for your
performance in Antigone." He sighed, "Seems like just yesterday we were
meeting in the lighting booth for... I'll never forget your husband's
face the night..."
"My ex-husband. . .You still doing lighting over at the
community center?" she wrinkled her nose.
"Not since they asked you not to come back, Thelma.
Lost the best actress and technician they ever had over there. You should
see the pitiful audiences they get now. Why, in our day, the parking
lot overflowed every Saturday night. "You remember? How's that
acting troop you joined up with?"
"I got sick of Shakespeare," Thelma tossed her perm.
"You'd think they'd want to produce something by a living playwright once
in a while, but no. I've decided to retire. Gettin' to old for
all that gallivanting anyway, and, just between you and me, these young actresses
nowadays, at least the ones in my troop, don't know the meaning of the word
'respect.' I wish some of those floozies could have seen me in my hey
day," she scowled then giggled then scowled again. "Can we hurry this
up, Pete? I've got somewhere to be."
"If you'd just get out your license and registration, I'll
move this process right along for you, Thelma." Peter adjusted his hat
and yanked up his pants . "Heard 'bout your son," he cleared his throat.
"Was on the accident scene as a matter of fact. How you holdin' up?
I s'ppose you must be headin' for the church now. Wouldn't have pulled
you over if I'd recognized your car." His hairy fingers trembled
towards Thelma's license. "Getting harder every year to keep track of
who drives what, not that you and your car have been around much with the
traveling and all."
"I'll be out and about town more often... now that I'm
retiring from my acting career. I'm giving up
my waitressing job over in Concord, too. Got a little insurance money
coming to me. Was I speeding, Pete?" Thelma asked, examining her white
washed teeth in the rearview mirror.
"Like a bat outta hell," Peter chuckled, looking from Thelma
to her license picture. "Clocked you at seventy-five back there on that
"That's nothing," Thelma scoffed, readjusting the mirror.
"Gabe was doing ninety-two when he hit that tree on Winslow. Always
did drive like a maniac. 'Course the drink and drugs couldn't have helped
much. He was racing towards his death from the moment he was born."
Thelma shrugged, "C'est la vie... ou la morte...?" she tapped one of her red
nails against her protruding chin. "Can we get this rolling, Pete.
I'd like to get to the church early, make sure my flowers arrived. People
these days just aren't as dependable as. . ."
"Thelma, if you don't mind, I'd like to head over to the
church with you," Peter interrupted, scanning the back seat of Thelma's Escort.
"Won't be any trouble at all. I'm the chief now you know." Peter
pulled his shoulders back and sucked in his stomach. Thelma looked him
up and down, considering his proposition.
"Peter, you sly thing," Thelma giggled, "asking me on a
date to my only son's funeral. Just 'cause you're still handsome after
all these years doesn't give you the right to still be so...so shameless.
I'll make it there on my own. Thank-you very much." She patted
her perm again.
"Thelma, I'm afraid that leaves me with no other choice
but to arrest you," Peter said in the gruff voice that made all the
local teenagers tremble in their Doc Martin's. Thelma's eyes widened
and she brought her hand to her heart.
"Why...whatever for, Peter? I was just speeding."
"Don't play dumb with me, Thelma. I know you ain't
dumb. That's a hemp plant you got there on your backseat, marijuana,
pot, weed, reefer. . .We certainly smoked enough in our time, remember?
Were you going to try to pass it off as a petunia or something?"
Thelma unbuckled her seat belt, and swiveled around to
examine the plant. "My god," She gripped a bud between two of
her red fingernails. "It's been so long. I didn't even consider
the possibility that I might be transporting such an evil, dangerous, menacing
plant in my car." She turned around again to face Peter, replacing her
smirk with a coy smile. "Your car or mine, Sweetie?" She dug her
red sunglasses out of her sequined handbag and moved the rearview mirror again
so she could watch herself put them on. She grinned at her reflection,
examined her teeth and patted her perm. "How 'bout mine. I don't
want to show up at my son's funeral in a cop car of all things. Climb
on in," she reached across the passenger seat and opened the door a crack
to unlock it. "Move the plant to the trunk if it bothers you, Peter."
"We're gonna have to get rid of that plant, Thelma.
Lord knows, I don't begrudge you any comfort you can find at a time like this,"
he dragged a leaf across the white line of the breakdown lane with his left
foot, "but. . .I am the chief of police, goddamn it." He attempted to
kick the red leaf under the car, but it stuck to the tip of his black boot.
"Show a little respect." He shuffled his foot, skimming the wet tar
until the leaf was flattened against the highway.
"The plant stays." Thelma gripped the steering wheel.
"You coming or not?" she asked.
Peter's weight shifted with his eyes as he glanced back
and forth from Thelma's Ford to his. "I never could say no to you...
my sweet Juliet. Just let me radio into the station," he said handing
her license and registration back to her.
you get the plant?" Peter Pitt asked, stretching the seat belt across his
chest. "You grow it?"
"I refuse to answer any questions without my lawyer present,"
Thelma replied with a half-hearted laugh, shifting the escort into second.
"If you don't mind, I'd like to be silent for awhile, Peter. No offense
to you. We got a lot of catching up to do, you and me. For instance, I heard
your wife passed away two years ago. I'd sure like to hear about that
sometime, and what you've been doing with yourself since," she patted her
perm. "But right now, I'd just like to prepare myself...mentally
for the funeral." Thelma dropped her chin. The needle on the speedometer
had risen to seventy miles per hour. She shifted into fifth.
"The plant belong to Gabe?"
"You are such a... a cop!" Thelma struck the dashboard
with her fist, then instantly regained her composure. "Yes, Peter, the
plant belonged to Gabe. I found it in his apartment yesterday, and I
plan to keep it. Now, for heaven sakes, show some sensitivity, please."
"But, of course, my fair lady." He removed his hat
with a flourish and rested it on his wide lap. "I thought talking
might keep your spirits up, but, come to think of it, you always did prefer
"Peter Perry Pitt, that is quite enough. I can't
think with you babbling away like that."
Peter nodded and turned his shiny head to face the window.
It took Thelma a moment to adjust to the sudden lack of attention. She
repositioned the rearview mirror and switched on the radio. Her hand
froze for a moment, then fluttered towards the ignition. She fondled
the key to Gabe's apartment. Then leaned back in her seat, allowing
the gas pedal to sink closer to the floor under the pressure of her black
Gabe's stepmother, Jake's new wife, her replacement had
given her the key. Thelma reached over again to feel it dangling
from her chain. She didn't plan to give it back. Her ex husband
and his homely wife could get another copy from Gabe's landlord if they wanted
to get into the apartment. If there was anything Thelma refused to tolerate,
it was a lack of respect, and Jake's wife had certainly been very rude to
her the day before.
Thelma sighed recalling how she had pounded on that door
for a full five minutes before the new wife answered. And then,
the old hag wasn't even apologetic. Instead, she guarded the entrance
with folded arms, refusing to let Thelma in. Thelma hadn't blamed
her, at first. Jake always did have a roving eye, and the frumpy, aproned
woman dripping dishwater on the doormat was obviously no match for her, a
glamorous actress. Thelma smiled politely at the woman and patted her
perm. "If you could just give me the key I'll be on my way."
Nothing offensive in that. Jake's wife had been completely
out of line. Thelma almost fainted on the cement steps when the
woman hurled the key at her and growled in her Marlboro Man voice,"I figured
only family and close friends would be allowed in Gabe's apartment...but Jake
said I had to give you the key." She snickered then. "Seems to think
you were Gabe's mama, when everyone in town knows I was. I raised the
boy, for Chist's sake." Her voice rose on "Christ" and broke in a sob
on "sake." She slammed the door. She wasn't getting that key back.
Peter glanced over at Thelma, "Almost there, speed racer. Say,
that's some high color on your cheeks, my dear. Getting stage fright?"
Thelma answered with a disdainful sniff, and Peter returned his attention
to the window.
Gabe's apartment was number five. Thelma stood outside
the door for ten minutes staring at the number. Five pieces of masking
tape to make the number five. Gabe was five when she sent him off to
live with his father. What a terrible job Jake's fat wife had done raising
her son, Thelma thought with a sigh, glancing back and forth down the
long hallway. What a dumpy building, she wrinkled her powdered nose.
What kind of person would live in a place like this? Thelma peeled
off the number five, balled it up, and stuck it back on the flimsy door.
Thelma fought back tears now. She didn't want to
smudge her mascara right before the funeral. She had done her crying
already in Gabe's apartment. The first thing she had seen when she walked
through that banged up door was the plant, squatting on the end table next
to the open window. Then she had sniffled. She saw her son, four
years old, helping her in the garden, clutching fist fulls of soil that spewed
from his coiled pinkies like the salt in the plastic timer that came with
his game of Pictionary. She had wept. The plant was
full, healthy, with emerging buds. Gage had inherited her green thumb.
She had sobbed. Thelma took the plant and left, just the plant.
She hadn't wanted anything else.
Thelma parked her Escort across the street from the church,
shoved it into first, and cut the engine. "This is it, Peter."
Her stomach felt the way it used to feel just before a performance, as if
it were a bottle of shaken champagne, bubbles banding together against the
cork. "People are sure going to have something to talk about when they
see us walk in together."
"Arm and arm?" Peter asked.
"Yes, Peter, arm and arm. I don't care what those
old gossips say about us. If they're still waggin' their tongues over
a twenty year old scandal, then they're not worth worrying over."
lip jutted out from the second row, where she had been ushered, nearly reaching
the first row of pews, where she should have been seated. She glared
at the back of the new wife's head, taking note of the first traces of female
patterned baldness. Peter Pitt clutched her hand to prevent her from
reaching out and yanking on one of the greasy, gray strings that dangled temptingly
over the edge of the wounded wood. Thelma resisted the urge to dig her
red claws into his skin. He hadn't defended her when the usher placed
her, the mother of the deceased, behind the evil stepmother. Instead,
he had smiled politely at the new wife's lackey and whispered in Thelma's
ear, "Don't make a scene, my star. This isn't a play...Look, we can
see Gabe just fine from here." Thelma shifted her glare back to
Peter's placid face now.
"Look up front there Peter. Do you see my flowers?
They're right behind those hideous carnations. See them? I went
to great lengths to pick the perfect arrangement. It's the one with
the white tulips. Gabe and I planted white tulips one year. I
think he was three. See them?"
Peter rose an inch above his seat, straining his neck to
find Thelma's tulips. "Sorry, sweetie," he eased back down. "That's
a big bunch of carnations. Can't see much past it."
"Exactly," Thelma's shrill voice hovered above the gentle
hum of the murmuring mourners, "That's precisely my point. Not only
do they have the nerve to shuffle me, the mother of the deceased into the
second row, but on top of that, they hide my flowers. Such nerve, I
A mournful wail in the first row cut Thelma's voice off
at that moment. "Look up there, Jake," the new wife moaned, pointing
at the stained glass window above the altar then down at Gabe's open casket.
"Tell me our boy doesn't look exactly like Jesus Christ. Just look at
that," she sobbed. Her finger wagged up and down.
"Our boy," Thelma mocked. "Our, boy..."
The minister saved Thelma from a scene this time.
Her voice was lost in the opening hymn. The desire to project her trained
singing voice over the amateur lilt of the crowd replaced her outrage.
Peter nodded his approval, and Thelma's face softened. By the time she
sat back down, she was fuming, rather than seething. She had the
presence of mind to cork her temper, but was unable to pay attention to the
minister's eulogy. Her eyes darted around the room, surveying the array
of sniffling mourners, mostly friends of the new wife, people from the sewing
circle, the garden club, local business owners. That woman sure had
the whole town resting in her dish dirty palm. Gabe would have been
appalled if he could have seen all the old biddies the evil stepmother had
stocked his service with.
Thelma turned her attention to Gabe's corpse. He
looked so pretty laying in his coffin, nothing like Jesus Christ, put pretty
nonetheless. Thelma wondered if his body had needed a lot of repairing
to make it presentable for the funeral. It had probably required a lot
of cleaning, if nothing else. Thelma wished Gabe had showered
more often when he was alive. She noticed for the first time in
years how blond his long hair was, how fair his skin was. Too bad they
hadn't had the sense to shave his beard off. He would have looked like
a life-sized porcelain doll if he didn't have his father's hooked nose.
Thelma had always been grateful for that hooked nose though.
Nothing else would have convinced her ex-husband that Gabe was his son and
not Peter's, not even a blood test. Jake never did put much stock
in hospitals. Thelma glared at the back of his gray jacket. He
never did put much stock in anything, not even theater. She wondered
how anyone could really blame her for cheating on the old lump, but people
had. Even now, twenty years after the fact, she couldn't show her face
in town without people whispering behind their hands. The new wife certainly
didn't help matters. Thelma grabbed Peter's hand again to keep from
pulling her hair.
The service was over in an instant. When the crowd
rose for the final time, Peter took Thelma's arm and attempted to lead
her through the reception line. Thelma shook herself free and stopped
at the end of the first row, next to her exhusband. She was the mother.
She would receive condolences. Peter went through the line quickly shaking
hands, squeezing shoulders, murmuring in ears, then returned to the head of
the line to join Thelma, who held her head high and her shoulders back as
people passed by her with equal disdain. A few of the mourners shook
Peter's hand, "Nice to see you Chief, too bad it's under such bad circumstances."
A few people even acknowledged Thelma with a nod and a kind word, but
never with the hugs that they were lavishing on the new wife. Red blotches
appeared on Thelma's face, then melded together to form a scarlet afghan,
but she stood her ground until the very last mourner passed her by.
Then, calmly, she leaned over and whispered in Peter's
hairy ear, "I'm going to make a scene now, dear." Before Peter could
respond, she glided over to the casket and knelt by the head, by Gabe's unchristly
head. The ushers looked away: into the air, at the red industrial carpet,
at the Chief of police, wringing his hands and shuffling his feet. Thelma
hunched over the coffin for a moment, searching Gabe's face for a sign of
life, then bent further and kissed each of Gabe's cheeks, Mafia style.
She made the sign of the cross, inspite of the fact that she was a Scientologist
(like John Travolta) in a Presbyterian church. Thelma rose in slow-mo,
until her perm was where her shoulders should be. She paused.
She winked at Peter. She extended her arms. People were looking
now. The ushers were looking concerned. The new wife was looking
pleased. Peter looked aghast.
Thelma had a plan. An Indian war cry; she directed
it at the stained glass window. And a lid on death; she brought her
arms down over the top of the casket, punctuating the smack of the wooden
lips with another shriek.
That's where the plan ended. It all seemed
kind of anti-climactic now, though. Thelma felt unfulfilled, unsatisfied.
She stood for a moment, tense, with her back to the crowd, then, issuing her
final war cry, leapt up on top of the coffin with more grace than anyone
could have expected from someone wearing women's shoes. She turned to
face her audience, smiling down at the new wife's shocked followers.
"I don't hate you, not a single one of you," she threw her voice at the back
wall. "But I will not tolerate disrespect," she winked at Peter again.
"And," she paused to allow the bubbles in her stomach to push the cork out
of her throat. "I WILL NOT BE IGNORED AT MY SON'S FUNERAL! MY
SON!" she screeched. She stifled a sob with a giggle.
Satisfied, fulfilled, she stepped down onto the red carpet,
with even more grace than before, a queenly tilt to her head, and left
the church with Peter close behind her.
"Could you arrest
me for what I just did?" Thelma asked, turning Gabe's key over in her hand
before starting the Escort's engine. "Did I disturb the peace?" she
giggled, patting her perm.
"A stellar performance, darling," Peter drawled, ignoring
her question. "Fabulous, fabulous... Are we going to beat the crowd
to the cemetery... to prepare for the final act?"
"The cemetery? Are you crazy...Well, okay, so maybe
you are," she giggled champagne giggles. "But we're not going to the
"Yes, yes, I see," Peter rubbed his silver stubble.
"The symbolism would be all wrong." Thelma shrieked again, this time
with laughter. "Any actress worth her salt recognizes the symbolism
of her actions. Now tell me, Ms. Dubois, wher're we goin'?"
"Elementary my dear, Watson, a simple deduction."
"I don't think you were ever in that play," Peter scratched
his head. Thelma covered her mouth with her fingers, then patted
"Oh, my dear, you're still just a cop after all.
Not a very good one though, I'm afraid. For," her hand fluttered away
from her perm into the air, "you have not yet guessed our secret destination."
"I give up, Thelma. Wher're you taking me?"
He looked around nervously at the shops on Main Street, as if he had never
seen them before.
"Your place, Peter. Of course, we have to go to your
me do it." Thelma took the shovel from Peter's hand and drove it into
the ground. "I have a green thumb you know."
"A thumb to grow some green?" Peter asked, "some buds,
some weed, some..."
"Peter!" Thelma barked, then paused to rebalance her voice.
"Life is as solemn as death. Now, please, just watch me plant this thing.
Don't talk," she added, recovering a bit of her sharpness.
Peter shifted his weight, dug away a perfect sphere of
dirt in the pine needles with his steel toe, and cleared his throat.
"My grandaddy used to say that these woods were just burstin' with spirits.
Why I just bet..."
"Hush, Peter. I told you to stick to the topic."
Thelma kneeled on the ground, raised the potted plant in the air, and then
brought it back down to rest on her knees. "I will tell the stories."
A crow cawed from the closest treetop. Thelma half squinted and half
glared up at the sky.
"Time for harvestin', not plantin'." Peter squatted
to pick a bud up off the ground. He examined it for a moment then flicked
it into the underbrush and stood up with a groan, brushing his hands against
his blue slacks.
Thelma lowered the plant into the hole. "I'm afraid
I'm going to have to ask you to leave if you don't start behaving, Peter"
she said, sacrificing her nails to the clumps of soil that surrounded the
hole. "You're spoiling the moment."
"You're asking me to leave my property? The Chief
of police is ruining your pot planting moment?" Peter's nostrils flared
beneath his pin-prick pupils. "You crazy old witch. I shoulda
arrested you hours ago...Woulda if I could afford the money for a real whore."
The birds fell silent and the wind stood still. Thelma withdrew her
red nails from the dirt.
"I'm going to ignore that comment, Peter," Thelma said,
her eyes riveted to the base of the plant. "I know that the intensity
of this moment must be difficult for a brainless oaf like you...hard to comprehend,"
she continued, still squatting above her motionless hands. "Let me explain
it to you Chief, you see, Peter, pot is the reason I sent Gabe to live with
"Doesn't surprise me, why, I bet..."
"Listen, Peter. I came home from the restaurant late
one night, a few days before Gabe's fifth birthday, my back aching, my feet
burning..." she motioned towards her black pumps, scrunching up her face to
demonstrate her pain. "Couldn't afford a babysitter too often in those days,
had a lot of travel expenses and I didn't have time to work more than twenty..twenty-five
hours a week...So anyway," Thelma shoveled dirt into the hole with her cracked
hands. Peter fiddled with a dry twig. "I came home that night,
and what do you think was the first thing I saw? I'll tell you.
I saw Gabe sitting on the couch, an empty sandwich bag next to him, an empty
pipe next to that...You rember...my little glass one? He wasn't even
five years old remember, not five years old. Poor boy was screaming
like a banshee, thought his throat was gonna close up if he didn't keep making
noise. Well, I just..."
Peter snapped the twig in half. "Thelma, I gotta
tell you." He glanced at his watch. "All your symbolism and melodrama
were just fine and dandy in the lighting booth days, but that was a hell of
a long time ago. You think I'm just the same, dopey Peter, ready to
listen to any nonsense under the sun in exchange for a little..." he cleared
his throat, "attention. Sorry, sweetie, but if I had ever been
fond of your babble, I would have left my wife for you twenty years ago."
He glanced at his black Timex again. "My time's up. Muriel
said the reception'd be over by four. You're free to go now."
"Muriel?" Thelma stood up and wiped her dirty hands
on her gray skirt.
"Muriel...You know? Gabe's mama? Your exhusband's
wife? A fine woman, she is. We go way back, me and her...twelve...thirteen
years." Jake stuffed his hands in his pockets and leaned back on his
right heel. "Was her who fixed up my friendship with Jake after you
tore it to pieces with those come-hither looks of yours." He narrowed
his eyes. "You always were a seductive one. Worried 'bout that
when Muriel asked me to keep an eye on you today. When she ever said
to me, 'Peter, you do me a favor and make certain that old loony don't cause
too much trouble for us'." Peter mimicked new wife's entreating tone.
"When she ever said that to me, I thought to myself right away, 'Oh, Lord,'
I says to myself, 'sounds like trouble for me'." Peter chuckled, "Yeah,
a regular temptress." He winked, then turned to leave. "I'll be
up at the house if you want me," he called over his shoulder. "Naked,"
he hooted, and walked away without turning around again, still laughing
the door and dropped her sequined purse on the table. It fell against
the old fashioned telephone that didn't do anything but look good now, an
antique. "I'm back," she hollered into the hallway, patting her perm.
"You in there?" She approached the bedroom door, smoothing the creases
out of her long skirt. "Jerry, you in th...?" Her eyes fell on
her husband's tousled hair and rumpled clothes. Husband. She couldn't
believe that she was a wife again. She smiled. Jerry's lips twitched,
glistening corners rising and falling in response to a dream.
Thelma walked over to the side of the queen sized bed and
sat down pushing her left hip against Jerry's warm stomach. She leaned
forward and swept a wisp of gray hair from his damp temple, then kissed the
tip of his nose with a loud smack. Jerry moaned and muttered and shifted
his protruding stomach. Thelma brushed her hand across his forehead
again and Jerry opened his eyes. He smiled.
"How was the
show?" he yawned, stretching his arms, then allowing them to fall slowly,
placing a large hand on each of Thelma's hips.
"Fabulous," Thelma answered, " I wish you didn't have to
work tonight. You should have seen the costumes. All black, not
a single drop of color, not even on the actors' faces. Ah, the set though.
Now that's a different matter. Real as life, I tell you, every hue known
to man. You have to see it. Are we going to tomorrow night's production?"
"If you're up to it, darling," Jerry rubbed the sleep from
his eyes and turned to look at the digital clock. "I'd sure like to
see if you don't mind...Big crowd tonight?"
"Yeah," Thelma dismissed the issue with her hand.
"I know sweetie,"
"I know...three years don't do much to dull the pain, do
"No...no they don't." Thelma's chin dropped to her
chest. Jerry patted her permanent then opened his arms.
"Come lie with me, Thelma." He pulled her shoulders towards
his chest. "That's it," he said, running his hand lightly down her back.
Thelma nuzzled his drooping earlobe. "That's right, darling. Now
tell me a story..."
Jessica Locke Del Greco was born in New Hampshire and holds a B.A. in Psychology from UNH. In addition to writing for the Mind Mined Public Library, she has contributed many illustrations and graphics to the collection. She lives in Alton, NH.