Poof! They Were Gone
By Jim Jolly, Christmas 2012
Because of prison overcrowding, the authorities had no choice but to release my sister, Margaret, in time for the Christmas holidays that year. Despite a deeper scowl and a new pair of Popeye-like forearms from time in the workout yard, she still looked pretty much the same, shoving her way toward us through the other parolees fresh off the bus from the state pen.
Flicking away her crudely rolled jailhouse Camel, Margaret flashed a lewd hand gesture toward a harsh group of brown-toothed tigresses also being disgorged from the justice system. These uncaged beauties launched a series of wild cackles as Margaret punched the hood and yanked Memaw, our aged little grandmother, out of the window seat shouting, I call shotgun!
While I helped Memaw off the ground and into the back seat, mom hosed Margaret down with hornet spray, a gift from the women at church. They knew all too well that transition from prison life was never a smooth prospect regarding my sister. This was not her first rodeo, as they say.
Our old Chevy blew out a nauseous cloud and we were on our way, leaving the gang of hooting ex-cons in a mighty contrail of exhaust, soot, gravel, and burning rubber. (Mom got the hotfoot whenever she was mortified or angered and right now, she was plenty of both.)
After a bit of driving, Margaret returned to her old self, banging the glove compartment lid until the hinges were sufficiently twisted and mangled, rendering it useless. When Mom slapped her, she just shrugged and defiantly tossed a handful of maps and registration papers onto the highway. I would have dealt with her myself but I was holding a compress to Memaws forehead, which was still bleeding from the incident at the bus stop.
Mom was up to her neck in Margarets lawless ways. Our estranged dad was no help, buried in misery of his own. He had run off several months earlier with a naughty chemist, who had successfully converted sows milk into a powdered form for poor people to drink. The result was a ham-smelling concoction they called Sowder. Just add water! the instructions said. Catchy ad words like oink-o-lishous and a great PIGme up did nothing to bolster sagging sales. The whole project eventually went belly up. Later they recouped some of their losses when rock bands began experimenting with stage fog. Sowder tossed into a fan equals fog. However, the fog left a heavy residue everywhere it settled, particularly in the hairdos of the performers. One critic noted that a nights exposure to Swine Fog reduced even the most vigorous pompadour into a droopy mass resembling a sweaty bear made of lard. Lard Bear, Not Good! became a popular slogan among the youth of the day.
As if things were not bad enough, we were now heading to Ballet Camp to retrieve my brothers, Robert and Mark. They were living their dream semester, studying classical dance under the great LeWayne DuMond. DuMond was a ballroom dancer of note with a passion for ballet. He felt like modernists had emasculated the dance. In reaction, he cast males into traditional feminine roles to stem what he perceived as a growing tide of girly-fied portrayals of women.
Ever eager to please their master, Robert and Mark donned the tutu for the roles of Harods wife, Clovis, and John the Baptists on-again off-again love interest, Ola Dean, in DuMonds Christmas Dance Extravaganza, The Real Housewives of Bethlehem. Mom would have to step on it if we were going to see the boys in this semester-ending recital before Christmas break.
The fall session at DuMonds dance camp was brutal for my two brothers. Mom sent them a pitiful bit of support, not from stinginess but because she was crushed beneath the steady avalanche of Margarets legal bills. Even with Moms home fortune telling business, she was just scraped by, posing as Madam Fifi. Once we learned that women like to be told they were Jezebel or Cleopatra in another life, the tip jar would bulge after these flattering sessions. For the men it was Hercules or Bolo, the masked wrestler, but she had to be careful because it encouraged many of them to run their mouths, often leading to civil unrest. For effect, I would perch in the attic making otherworldly noises whenever Mom would reach across to the realms of the dead. Actually, I was singing the theme to the hit TV series Bonanza but Mom said it seemed to set the tone. She was so proud of me for my cheerful willingness and help in keeping the ship afloat, no matter what. I might add that the unwise destructive choices the other children made took a terrible a toll on her health.
MID STORY INVOCATION:
Oh, powers of the universe, coursing through eternity, sustaining the elements, binding all that is seen and unseen, that which sends forth great rivers of light throughout the vast emptiness, smashing galaxies together, destroying and reforming stars, performing mysteries beyond our stubborn comprehension, if you cannot spare me from the telling of what transpires next then please, I beg that my words will flow with temperance and light. Let them descend gently upon the ear of those in attention now. Cause this message to burrow softly, just as the docile mite nests against a follicle, safe and invisible, rendering harm to none!
The dance campers quickly used up the scarce few coins they had, purchasing eyeliners, blushes, and poofy materials necessary for their stage ensemble, leaving them no money for food or hygienic supplies. Here is an excerpt from a correspondence between Robert and Dad regarding their plight.
Daddy, we are so hungry here. I am afraid that Mark has reverted to cannibalism and now, I am gazing at the other troupe members legs in an unhealthy and demeaning way. I fantasize them doused in pepper sauce and onions. Please help!
Dads reply: You sissy! Once, I was not even hungry and ate an entire human hair wig. You aint no better than me! Right now, I have a thousand dollars in my pocket and you are not about to waste any of it on food. Besides, I am saving up for some rather expensive armadillo boots and cannot be bothered with your whiny nonsense. However, I am enclosing three packets of nutritious Sowder to show I no longer hold a grudge, just because yall survived your births. Love, F.C.
It is now with some reluctance that I reveal this heartbreaking exchange from letters between Mark and our dad. Those of a tender stature may wish to depart at this point. Poor Mark wrote, Daddy, me git so hungry. Me eat small dance teacher and others! Everyone thinks I weird now except Xerses, my imaginary she-goat!
Dads reply: Now I suppose you want a packet of Sowder too! Make your stingy brother share! Love Cleveland.
Our sad journey to the Dance Camp was fraught with numerous delays. We missed the pre-recital luncheon, which was our first piece of real luck all day. The recent salmonella outbreak decimated the menu down to a few sprigs of something splotched with sauce. In order to stretch the program, camp boss DuMond removed his shirt and went around showing off the scars on his underarms he acquired scaling barbed wire from the first time he escaped state custody. Swoons of delight rang out through the cafeteria for an uncomfortable duration.
Soon, it was time to disperse to the outdoor amphitheater for The Real Housewives of Bethlehem. We grew even tardier due to an incident at a gas station. While Mom was paying, Margaret spied some Egyptian children milling around next to the building. Her primal instincts took over. Breaking off the radio antenna she started after the startled youngsters, administering a number of frenzied blows before they disappeared into a wooded area, their shrieks fading somewhere in the distance. Margaret never liked the Sphinx for some reason and therefore hated the ancestors of the people who built it. That was just one of the little quirks that set Margaret apart from the rest of polite society.
We arrived an hour after the recital began only to find a scene slathered in hateful chaos. Hundreds of family members were there to watch their offspring leaping about in curious costumes and regale in the pitter-patter of their now not-so-little feet. Zestfully giddy at first, they now stared in palpable horror at the spectacle at center stage. A giant ogre of a man in a security uniform was tossing their beloved children about like limp rag dolls into the orchestra pit and beyond. One boy in a porcupine suit was flung a good thirty-nine feet by that meaty-armed catapult. Fortunately, his fall was broken by an artificial sheep. The focus of the behemoths rage however, was my two brothers upon whom he stood.
You like drugs do ye? he cried in some forgotten backwoods dialect. Well, how about I just squirt some more of this here embalming fluid in your eyeballs agin and teach ye a lesson?! Then another leotarded cast member would slip up and try to rescue them, only to get flung off to some distant and agonizing location where the cast members formed a pile of discarded humanity.
I figger Ill just keep on squirtin til I decide what to do with you boys! he said while emptying another squeeze bottle onto their squealing faces.
You might say it was an honest mistake, taking the white powdery substance, stuck to the boys faces to be an illicit drug of some sort. They admittedly looked buggy-eyed and out of it. Yes, as you have guessed, the boys had been eating dry Sowder from the bags Dad had sent in order to subsidize the miserable luncheon. They seemed to like it dry, without water. Still, it was an upgrade from their afore-noted ghoulish diet.
Margaret saved Mark and Robert further torture when she recognized the giant security guard as her long lost flame, Loather Hoots, whom she likely would have married out of high school, had Dad not forced her into work at the animal testing lab to supplement his burgeoning nightlife.
Loather! Margaret called to the now bewildered guard.
Lois? he replied, not quite sure to whom he spoke.
Not that witch, you big ape!
Ugh, Doylene?, still unsure.
No! Im Margaret, you sorry sack of nuts!
With that, they embraced and vanished in a fog of love and Sowder.
We started to help the boys up and take them home when Mr. DuMond, deeming it safe, stepped out of hiding and spoke. He addressed Mom.
Mrs. June, if you dont mind, Id like to take Robert and Mark over to Branson. Im doing a little theatre dance project called The Resurrection of Thelma and Louise and I want these two for the starring roles. He then produced adoption papers, which Mom readily signed.
With Margaret subdued by her hulky hunk o burnin love and Robert and Mark (with their beloved dance master) rolling down the highway to Branson, the land of glitter and promise, Mom, Memaw, and I were on the road, headed for what we would always remember as our first perfect Christmas.