Mama just wanted to
look pretty for high-stakes bingo night at the Seminole Casino.
But her beautician left the peroxide on too long, and she's been shedding like an Angora sweater ever since. Now, it turns out a patchy dye job is the least of my mother's worries.
It all started with a phone call. I was just about to plop down in front of the TV, wanting to see if I could spot any of my ex-boyfriends on Cops, when the damned thing rang.
"Mace, honey, you've got to come down here and help me. I'm in a lot of trouble."
Mama's voice was shaking. She sounded scared, like the time the raccoon came crashing from the attic through the bathroom ceiling while my little sister, Marty, was in a bubble bath.
"Slow down, Mama," I told her. "Now, take a deep breath."
My mother is excitable. I'm used to such calls. Maybe she needed me to solve a romantic crisis, or come pluck a snake out of the engine of her vintage turquoise convertible. I work outdoors in Himmarshee, Florida, in the wild regions north of Lake Okeechobee. I'm accustomed to snakes.
"Start at the beginning, and tell me what's wrong."
I heard a shuddery sigh, and then silence. She cleared her throat. Finally, she spoke.
"They've got me down here at the police station, Mace. They think I've killed a man."
If the kitchen counter hadn't been there for me to grab a hold of, I'd have fallen out flat on the checkerboard pattern of my linoleum floor. I leaned my back against the wall and slid down slowly until my butt hit the baseboard. There I sat, clutching the receiver and searching for the proper response when your mother announces she's got one foot behind bars for murder.
"Just sit tight and don't say another word. I'll be there as soon as I can."
I knew my advice would go untaken. The only time Mama's mouth is shut is when she's chewing on something.
"There was a man's body in my trunk, Mace."
A strangled sob came through the phone. Then the story started pouring out.
"There was an accident." All her words began to run together. "Everything started at the Dairy Queen. Or maybe at bingo. I'd ordered me a butterscotch dip. Then, two police cars came. I couldn't even get a second cone. A pretty young girl hit me. The man had a diamond pinky ring." She stopped for a breath. "You'd better call your sisters, Mace."
The ability to make sense deserts Mama under stress. That doesn't mean she stops trying. I needed to get to her before she conversated herself right into a correctional facility . . ."