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The Miracle of Myrtle

November 7, 2008 by · 2 comments

Donna Ison

Photo: FranUlloa

To read Chapter 1 click here


When Tancy Sloane heard the wobbly wail of the littlest Lawson, she flinched and gripped her grandmother’s hand tighter. The minute she’d heard that Clara Dean had gone into labor, she’d rushed to the hospital to be by Granny Pearl’s side. Not knowing of Critter Johnson’s demise, Tancy assumed the infant’s cry heralded her grandmother’s passing. She took a deep breath and waited.

The smell of sickness—a stifling mixture of chicken broth, floral greetings, antiseptic, and fear—hung heavy in the air. As Tancy picked at what little purple polish was left on her short fingernails, she watched the old woman’s sagging chest and prayed to whatever God might be listening, “Please, just let her make it until Monday. Just give her one more Happening.”

The coming weekend marked Steadfast’s fiftieth annual Ham Happening—a three day celebration of all things pork with greased pig catching contests, a Cook-Off with competitors from all across the state, and, of course, the Miss Ham Honey pageant. People drove in from miles around to sop up the array of homespun jollifications. And this year, Tancy was in charge of it all.

She continued to survey her grandmother for signs of life. When, after several minutes, Granny Pearl’s chest was still moving up and down…up and down…up and down, Tancy sighed and whispered to the powers that be, “Thank you.”

All of a sudden, Granny Pearl let out an anguished groan. Her body twitched and twisted, and her arm rushed to shield her face.

Tancy took her by the shoulders and shook gently. “Wake up, Granny, wake up.”
The old woman’s lids fluttered open revealing moist blue eyes clouded with cataracts.
“You were just having a bad dream. Everything’s alright now, Granny. I’m here.”

Granny Pearl’s eyes cleared and became a bit brighter when she spotted her granddaughter. “Fancy Tancy, my little wild child. Still giving them hell I hope.”
“You know it, Granny.”

On those many occasions when Tancy’s behavior had been deemed less then ladylike, her grandmother had been the first, and often only, to run to her rescue. When young Tancy stole the Mrs. Goodrich’s behemoth bloomers from the clothesline and put them on her pony, Granny Pearl was there. When Tancy streaked across the football field, protesting the school board’s decision to ban interracial couples at the homecoming dance, Granny was there.

And when Tancy celebrated her twentieth birthday by getting a tattoo, not only was her Granny there, but showed her solidarity by getting inked as well. Now, they both bore matching hearts with outspread wings on their left butt cheeks. And she always said the same thing in Tancy’s defense, “Leave the girl alone. She can’t help. She’s got the gypsy blood like me.”

Even in her current state, Pearl proved a rebel. Instead of wearing the standard flimsy, hospital-issued gown, she’d insisted on her favorite flannel pajamas emblazoned with Sponge Bob Square Pants. She’d rejected the requisite Jell-O and brought in her own stash of cherry cordial candy, salt and vinegar potato chips, and Slim Jim jerky. And instead of a plain white waffle-weave blanket, her bed was adorned with a faux mink coverlet from home.

Tancy resumed her grasp on her grandmother’s hand. The skin was pale and papery, like the outer layer of an onion. “Are you alright, Granny? You looked like you were having one hell of a dream.”

“I was. Lordy, child, I’ve been having the strangest visions. I’m a little girl wandering through the woods and it starts snowing. But it’s snowing feathers—white feathers pouring from the sky, swirling and twirling. I get all turned around. I’m lost and scared.

Then this woman in long red robes shows up riding on the back of a golden pig, and she gives me a warning. A warning to give to you about the festival. I repeat it and repeat it, but when I wake up, I can’t remember what she said. Fancy Tancy, I’m real worried about this weekend. And, I’m even more worried about you.”

“Don’t worry about me, Granny. I’m a badass.” Tancy jumped up and did a high roundhouse kick to illustrate. In the process, she knocked a stuffed bear holding a balloon bouquet off the metal bed stand.

Granny Pearl let out a giggle that turned into a cough. Tancy grabbed a plastic pitcher and cup from the table and poured. The smell of pine trees snaked up and singed her nostrils. “Granny, is this a batch of martinis?”

Her grandmother nodded and then hacked, “Add a little ice if you would. Granny likes her ‘tinis cold.”

Tancy scooped some crushed ice from a Styrofoam bucket with her hand and dumped it into the pitcher. She gave it a quick stir with a wooden tongue depressor and poured a plastic cup full. “Here, you old alky.”

The old woman wrapped her skeletal fingers around the potent drink. She slurped down the gin mixture and the coughing subsided. “Hit me, again,” Granny Pearl demanded and thrust out her empty cup.

Tancy refilled her cocktail. “There. Now, be honest. How are you feeling?”

“Child, I am thrilled as hell.”

Tancy tilted her head in confusion, like a dog who had just heard a high-pitched whistle.

“I can’t tell you how tickled I am that you busted up that boy’s club and got yourself elected festival president,” Granny Pearl explained. “I never thought I’d live to see the day that those old goats would change their ignorant ways.”

Granny Pearl had been the first woman to vie for festival president back in 1965, but despite a brilliant campaign, she lost. Pearl ran an additional fourteen times, but just couldn’t break through the glass ceiling, nor could any other female. Then Tancy, with her “Dare to be Different” slogan, managed to unite all the minorities in town—women, environmentalists, African-Americans, Democrats, those who drove foreign cars, Episcopalians, and Rosa Maria Gonzalez—and became the first Ham Happening President with a vagina.

Granny Pearl put down her drink and squeezed Tancy’s hand with surprising strength. “The first female president…and the youngest. I swear I’m so proud of you I could blow-up like a bullfrog.”

Tancy crawled onto the bed and put her head on her grandmother’s hollow shoulder. “Thirty-four ain’t that young, Granny. Besides, I feel about a hundred and fifty, like I’ve been rode hard and put up wet…whatever the hell that means.”

“Well, you sure don’t look it. You look fresh as a morning glory at dawn.”

Granny Pearl wasn’t lying. Thanks to good genes and a mother who had insisted on sunbonnets, Tancy boasted just a few laugh lines around her impish, Hershey Cocoa brown eyes.

And, Tancy’s sensibly-sized breasts still met the world head on, unlike those of other women whose boobs had grown weary and begun to droop. Plus, Tancy possessed the kind of kinetic energy normally found only in hyperactive children on a Halloween candy rush and hardcore cocaine addicts. It led to periodic tapping, squirming, drumming, and bouncing. The perpetual motion made it hard to capture her real age.

Tancy nestled further into the soft flannel pajamas until she was staring straight into the crotch of Sponge Bob’s square pants. “Thanks, Granny Pearl. You always know just what to say.”

Granny stroked Tancy’s preponderance of curls. “I just know you’re going to do me pretty and make this festival the best one ever, aren’t you, my wild child?”

“I sure am going to try like hell.” Tancy kissed her Granny’s chilled cheek.
“You have to. Those moldy old bastards are just waiting for you to make a mess of things, so they can say, ‘I told you so.’ Promise me, you won’t give those assholes the satisfaction.”

The weight of her office pressed down on Tancy like a circus elephant on a rubber ball. She could barely find the breath to say, “I promise.”

“I need you to make me a couple more promises, too.”
“Anything you want, Granny.” Tancy rolled out of the bed and stood beside it.
“First off, if I up and die before the festival finishes up, I don’t want anyone to know about it.

Shouldn’t be too hard. Just family knows I’m here. Now, I’ve made arrangements with the doctors to lock up this room and tell folks that I’m making peace with my maker and don’t want any visitors. With my past, nobody should question the necessity of me needing time to repent. So, swear you won’t tell anybody if I die. Pinkie swear.” Granny Pearl put her littlest finger in her mouth and saturated it with saliva.

Tancy did the same and then hooked hers around the older woman’s. “I swear.”
“The second thing,” Granny Pearl’s voice was growing raspy, and her breath came in ragged gasps.
“Granny, take it easy,” Tancy urged.

“I’ve got the rest of eternity to take it easy.” She snatched the pitcher of martinis and drank straight from the spout. Momentarily renewed, she went on. “Second thing I want you to promise is that after the festival, you’ll get the hell out Steadfast.”

For a moment, Tancy stood stunned, but then started shifting her weight from one foot to the other in a shuffling jig. “What? You want me to leave Steadfast? Seriously? What about Beau? What about…I don’t know…everything. Where do you want me to go? And, why?”

“Girlie, big dreams and small towns don’t mix. Remember what these tattoos we got symbolize? Freedom. The unfettered heart that flies forever toward its destiny. Those were your words.”

Misty with the memory, Tancy reached out and patted the only tuft of hair left on her grandmother’s head. It felt like the fluffy stuff left in the lint tray after a load of white towels. “I remember, but that was so long ago.”

“It’s never too late. You know what put me in this hospital bed?”
“Cardiac arrest,” Tancy said with a one-shouldered shrug.

“No. Disappointment. That’s how a heart attack starts, as disappointment that grows into regret then calcifies into resentment then hardens into hatred, filling your arteries with anger and remorse, and stopping the blood flow. I don’t want you to end up like me. And the only way to keep that from happening is to shoot down disappointment in its tracks.” Granny Pearl touched Tancy’s cheek. “I haven’t forgot the fearless girl that was full of silly schemes and giant dreams. Don’t you forget her either.”

“But what about Beau?” Tancy asked.
“Screw Beau. That boy is an albatross.”
“But that albatross is my husband.”
“Then he’ll understand that you need to spread those wings on your ass and fly. After his accident, you gave up everything to come back here and be with him. Tell him it’s his turn to sacrifice.”

Tancy looked out the window at the tiny town beyond. It looked more like the set from a 1950’s sitcom than a twenty-first century community. Each storefront was painted a pretty pastel. The air was clean and crisp. Not a piece of trash littered the sidewalks. The boys wore their pants around their waists, not their asses. And, everyone said, “Good day,” whether they meant it or not. Tancy loved it and hated it in equal measure. “So I have to leave Steadfast?”

“Either that or find a way to make your dreams come true from here.”

Suddenly, the overhead fluorescent lights began to flicker and took on an eerie green glow. Granny Pearl sat straight up in bed. Her previously milky marble eyes flashed a brilliant cerulean blue. She focused on the corner of the room where Myrtle stood in typical saint fashion, hands in prayer position, eyes uplifted.

“Well, I was wondering when you were going to make an appearance,” Granny said.
“Where’s your fancy pig limo?”
Myrtle dropped the pose and flipped her off.
Tancy peered into the empty corner. “Who are you talking to, Granny?”
“I don’t reckon I know her name. What’s your name, girlie?”

“Myrtle.” The women performed a deep bow, swooshing the sweeping sleeves of her scarlet robes. “At you service. You ready to go?”
“That depends. Where are we going?” Granny Pearl asked.
“To a place where the men are hot, the martinis are cold, and facelifts are free.”
“Hot damn, let’s go.”

“Granny, who’s here?” Tancy asked. “Who are you talking… .”
Before Tancy could finish, a second infant’s cry careened down the hospital hall. Granny Pearl crumpled back onto the bed. Her eyes closed and her breathing stopped. Tancy’s hesitant fingers crept to her wrist in search of a pulse. There was none.

“No. No, no, no. Not now,” Tancy whispered. “Shit. Damn, damn.”
Tancy Sloane hadn’t counted on Clara Dean Lawson having twins.

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