Big Sam is waiting for me in his orange chair.
“Your Aunt Lucille called.”
Oops. Before I can b.s. as to how calling her slipped my mind, how I’d decided not to call, how I didn’t get an answer, Sam says:
“I guess the old bitch caught wind on the family grapevine that we were looking for your mama.”
Lucille is Rose’s mother’s sister. She could smell family trouble across the continental divide, and the Central West End is a lot closer than that. There’s been bad blood between her and Sam ever since she floor-showed at the big wedding. I understand that names such as “heathen” and “dried up old heifer” were exchanged, and that Rose herself fainted dead away—organdy, orange blossoms, and all.
“Let’s get our stories straight,” Sam says. “I told her you were upset and confused and that everything is fine.”
“Sure thing,” I say, nodding, sealing the pact.
“You cover the phone. You know when to come get me.”
“Yes, sir.” More nodding.
He calls me a good boy and rubs me on the head before ushering a six pack to his room. I won’t see him again today.
About eleven the phone rings. I turn from Johnny Carson, and there Sam is. His eyes are bleary red and he is halfway into a rumpled pair of pajamas. He nods at the phone. I just look at it. It rings some more; Sam nods again.
“Hello,” I say.
“Marshall. Is that you, Marshall?”
Lying with my eyes, I shake my head at Big Sam. I say hello again.
“Please put your daddy on the phone. Please.”
“No, I think you have the wrong number.”
Big Sam crumples his fists in disappointment.
“Marshall.” Rose’s voice sounds distant and vague.
“That’s quite all right,” I say, and I hang up. I put a hand on Big Sam’s shoulder and walk him to bed. The phone rings again.
“Go on to bed. I’m sure it’s that same wrong number. Let it ring. She’ll give up sooner or later.”
Copyright © 2023 by David Haynes. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.