The Mouse and the Wolverine
Ava helped maneuver an uncooperative, intoxicated Elisabeth in the back seat of the long, red Cadillac. Ava pulled at her arm while Elisabeth stepped forward slowly, as unsteady on her feet as a great-grandmother. Gertie wadded up a University of South Carolina football blanket from the trunk to put beneath Elisabeth’s head to steady it from toppling over.
“Don’t get sick on my football blanket,” Gertie scolded. “Jonathan bought that blanket special for me last Christmas.”
Odin, already buckled in the back seat beside his owner, watched and barked when he thought the sisters might be getting too rough.
Out of breath, Gertie and Ava slid into the front seat. As soon as the car started, Ava turned on the air, full blast. They sat for a moment and put their faces to the air vents to cool down.
“Elisabeth’s right,” Ava said. “This car needs more coolant.”
“I’ll tell her later,” Gertie replied. “She won’t remember anything right now.”
In mere seconds later, Odin the canine Houdini leaped the seat and nestled beside Gertie to enjoy the AC. Ava put the car in drive and gave the car a little gas to get them on their way.
Odin put his nose up against the vent, and then looked at Ava reproachfully.
“I’m sorry, Odin,” Ava said. “The AC isn’t working.”
Ava wheeled toward town with a soft jazz coming through the car’s stereo. Odin took his paw and hit a different button on the radio. Willie Nelson singing “Whiskey River” came roaring from the speakers.
Gertie shook her head. “You can tell he rides with Elisabeth. Always County or elevator music. If that’s not a square peg fitting in a round hole, I don’t know what is. Oh, and I almost forgot, Ava. Can you cruise by the library and drop the stack of books in the back in the return depository? I don’t want them to be late.”
Ava was biting her lip, deep in thought.
“Ava, the library books?”
“Oh, yeah. Sure, I will. Gertie. Right after I drop you off.”
“I do enjoy a good book.”
Elisabeth’s head popped up from behind the back seat. “Why you be drivin’, Ava?” Her glassy eyes rolling around like a fast-spinning top.
Gertie turned around and looked at her. “Because you drank too much…again. Go back to sleep.”
Gertie turned back toward the front and tried to relax.
Elisabeth continued, “Now, Ava, when you get down to West Main, iffin’ ya see somebody ya don’t like, just give the car a quick turn to the right. Thata take care of ‘em.”
“No, Elisabeth,” Gertie said.
“And iffin’ you sees somebody I don’t like, pull up real slow like, and I’ll put my winder down and throw this here beer bottle at ‘em.”
Gertie turned around. “Give me that beer bottle, right now. It might be best all-around if you went back to sleep. And straighten your wig. I think it’s on backward.”
Ava looked at Elisabeth through the rearview mirror. “It sure is. I bet Odin’s been tugging at it.”
“Again?” Gertie said. “That dog. That dog. Pulled down and ran with the end of a whole roll of toilet paper in Ruby’s bathroom. He must have circled the entire upstairs. Shreds of toilet tissue everywhere.
“Took me forever and a day to get all of that cleaned up. Odin is a handful. The whole upstairs looked like a blizzard tore through it. Piled knee high.”
Gertie chopped at her knee to show Ava how high the toilet paper had been strown. She pushed another button on the radio. Four-part harmony Gospel music flowed into the car and the empty beer bottle tumbled into the front seat.
“Ah, that’s better.” Gertie sang, “’No more gol’ durn shackles on my feet. I’ll fly away…fly away.’ “
Odin growled. Gertie slapped him on the nose. “Be still.”
Odin jumped up, turned around, and looked at Elisabeth, alert and quizzical.
“Leave her be,” Elisabeth mumbled. “I like Gertie. We like Gertie. Remember the leftover lasagnee she gave you? Leave her be.”
“What is that supposed to mean?” Gertie asked.
“The Wrath of Odin,” Elisabeth replied as she stretched out to the entire length of the back seat. “You don’t want to know.”
Ava’s eyes were focused straight ahead, her head moving back and forth, deep in thought, fighting to keep her thoughts inside her head.
Gertie shrugged. “That dog needs a job. The money Elisabeth spends on him is unreal. Do you know Odin has a tan raincoat and a matching hat? The company is called ‘London Dog.’ Get it? Instead of ‘London Fog?’ It has a zip-in liner for cold, rainy days. Elisabeth doesn’t even have a raincoat. It’s a new world we live in, isn’t it, Ava?”
Elisabeth had fallen back asleep, snoring as loud as the radio.
“Ava, are you listening to me?” Gertie reached out and touched her arm.
Ava jumped. “What? Did you say something?”
“I’ve been talking up a storm. Where’s your mind?”
Ava looked at her hands on the steering wheel. Her knuckles were white, gripping that steering wheel like she had it in a choke hold.
“I guess I’m just a little nervous. Seeing Patrick and all. I’m sorry Gertie.”
Ava moved her hands from the steering wheel one at a time and flexed them until they relaxed. “I’m probably a little anxious, too.”
Gertie rubbed Ava’s shoulder. “You’ll be fine. Keep your eyes on the prize.”
Ava turned down Gertie’s street and glided to the front of her and Elisabeth’s house.
“If you get ahold of Odin, I’ll help Elisabeth in,” Ava said.
Gertie reached to the back and gave Elisabeth a hard slap on the shoulder. “Elisabeth,” she shouted. “You’re missing wrestling on television. You better wake up if you don’t want to miss it.”
Elisabeth jerked awake, now sober as a judge, jumped out of the car, and walked straight into the house. Not a wobble or a single stagger. Odin trotted after her, his leash dragging on the sidewalk behind him.
Ava looked at Gertie, amazed.
Gertie threw up her hands. “Like a trained seal. Be careful, Ava, and don’t forget to drop off my books. Elisabeth’s already had to pay a thirty-cent late fee. That wasn’t a pleasant conversation.”
Ava watched as they all entered the house. She got back into Elisabeth’s car and gave herself a moment. Her hands were trembling. She folded them together and took in a deep breath and exhaled slowly. She took in another large breath of air to clear her thoughts and gather all the courage she could. She was going to need it.
Ava pulled out of Gertie’s street, knowing the library and Patrick’s house was to her left. She made a quick right and headed toward Main. Her heart was pounding in her head, but she knew she had to fight for what she wanted. She couldn’t wither away, holed up inside the farm forever. Her destination? Patience.
Ava was feeling the rallying cry. She pulled the car in a parking spot across from Judge Holcombe old law office. She jumped out of the car and with steam coming from her nostrils, she charged up the stairs to Alvin and Patience’s apartment.
The musty air in the dark hallway made her gag, but she trudged onward. She slapped the door with an open hand several times to let Patience know she meant business, then put her finger over the peep hole so Patience’s couldn’t see who was at her door.
No answer. She banged again. Silence.
Ava reared back her leg and kicked at the door with three harsh kicks. Then jumped and almost fell over when she heard the voice behind her.
“Looking for me?” Patience said, rubbing her chin. “No one lives in the apartment you’re trying to break into.”
Ava felt her face redden, but she knew she couldn’t cower to Patience. “Yes, I was looking for you. I think we should talk.”
Patience stood back and held her door wide open. “Come in.”
Ava nervously stepped inside. She was overwhelmed with how dirty the apartment was. Dust covered even the walls and the kitchen efficiency smelled like a never-cleaned grease trap. Yellowed newspapers lined the floor, and the air was as stale as moldy bread.
Patience followed Ava in. “Would you like to sit down?”
Ava waved her manicured hands in the air and replied, “I don’t think so. What we have to say shouldn’t take long. Besides, I’ve always been fearful of failing into a sewer, now I’m standing in one. Who would raise a baby in this?”
Patience advanced her step to stand in front of Ava, pitting herself against her mousy, tiny sister. “You have that all wrong. I’m not living here. This is a temporary layover. My family is going back to D.C. That would be me, Patrick, and our son. You’ve never seen my apartment in Georgetown. Every modern convenience with a playground on the corner. The best schools in the District.”
Patience rubbed her belly, looking at Ava with a triumphant smirk.
Ava flinched. The very thing she had coaxed herself not to do. “P-Patrick doesn’t love you, Patience.”
Patience threw her head back and then forward, laughing her evil cackling laugh. “You lay awake at night wondering, don’t you? Will Patrick choose me or his baby? Well, Ava, I can answer that one for you. The baby will win every time. Every. Single. Time.”
Ava covered her face with her hands, fighting back tears.
Patience pushed her belly out more. “Do you want to touch it? It’s the only way you’ll ever feel what it’s like to carry Patrick’s baby.”
Trembling, now broken, Ava burst into tears. “You don’t deserve him. You surely don’t deserve a baby. You’re a tyrant, Patience. And me just knowing he’ll never love you makes me a better person than you’ll ever be. He loves me of his own freewill. You want to force him to love you by having a baby.”
Ava dropped her hands to her side.
Patience took a step closer toward her. “You can always be his mistress. His whore.”
Through anger, comes emotion. In a swift move, Ava raised her hand and slapped Patience square across the face. Patience reeled back and plopped into a chair, which promptly broke underneath her.
With a grunt like a feral hog, Patience was back on her feet, holding Ava in a headlock.
Ava slid out of Patience’s hold and the two sisters hunched over, their arms bent, walking in a circle like two sumo wrestlers feeling each other out, waiting for the other to make a move.
Patience tried to take a swing but missed. She was like a blob of bouncing fat.
Ava was smaller and more flexible. Unexpectedly, she pounced and grabbed Patience’s hair, pulling strings of it out by the root, watching them fall to the floor.
Patience used her weight to her advantage and pushed Ava to the wall, making her immobile.
Breathing hard, Ava pleaded to be released. Patience wouldn’t budge. She pushed her sister harder to the wall. Her pregnant belly was like a basketball shoved against Ava’s rib cage.
“Beg all you want, but I always win. Always. You came to see the wrong sister.”
“A loveless marriage is good enough for you? That’s doesn’t sound at all like you, Patience. That’s not winning.”
To Ava’s surprise, Patience looked started and, for a fleeting moment, vulnerable.
Neither of them saw the door open or heard the voice of Alvin Holcombe yelling at them. It wasn’t until Alvin managed to pull Patience away and separate them that Ava could take a large breath of air. She slid down the dirty wall to the even dirtier floor and could only weep in defeat.
“Patience, what are you doing? Your fat ass could have killed this small girl.” Alvin screamed. “And your face and head is bleeding. Go to the bathroom and clean yourself up and pull yourself together.”
“And you,” Alvin screamed to Ava. “You take yourself out of my apartment. Go back to your farm. What did you expect putting yourself, a tiny mouse, up against a wolverine? I’m surprised she didn’t eat you alive.”
Patience left the room holding her face where Ava slapped it. Alvin helped Ava to her feet.
Ava ran her fingers through her hair. She managed to straighten her dress and square her shoulders. With all the dignity she could muster, she looked at Alvin.
Her voice broke. “You know she’s trying to steal my Patrick. We love each other.”
“Ava,” Alvin said softly. “Have you ever heard of Yogi Berra? He was a coach for the New York Yankees, a long time ago. He once said, ‘It’s not over until it’s over.’ Go home.”
“Are…are you saying there’s hope?”
Alvin looked away. “I’m saying go home. Wait it out.”
“Please, thank Patience for the hospitality and the talk.”
With that, Ava grabbed her purse and left the apartment. The clack of her heels could be heard going down the stairwell.
Alvin was left scratching his head. “Talk? I’d hate to be around them when they fight.”