Chasing the blues away is a talent Delaney women are still trying to acquire. Perhaps our melancholy is a sign, as Jitty insists, of some obscure womb disorder. Regrettus Wombus, a medical term for the regretful womb, resulting in the deep-dark, down-and-ugly blues.
Historically, Delaney women have been known to wallow in that place where loss takes up more space than any other organ. I fear I'm no exception to the family tradition.
There wasn't a radio station in the small Mississippi town of Zinnia that wasn't playing "I'll Be Home for Christmas." It is my belief that any song mentioning chestnuts, toasty fires, or sleigh rides for two should be banned
from the airwaves. It's a fact, documented in my psychology journals, that suicide rates increase during the holidays. Due, no doubt, to the sadistic disc jockeys playing these songs.
With the conclusion of my first case, I'd received payment in full from Tinkie for my investigative services. Dahlia House had been saved, for the moment, from my creditors. I should have been on top of the world. Instead, I was in the front parlor, knotted in a tangle of tinsel, and with a Christmas
tree that looked as if residents of Bedlam had put up the lights.
Turning off the radio, I tossed the tinsel in the fire and was rewarded with a multihued flame. I picked up all the magnolia leaves, holly, and cedar that I'd cut and brought in to use as decorations. With a mighty heave, I burned them, too.
As the last of the Delaneys, I'd inherited my mother's incredible collection of great albums, and I sat down on the carpet and began to go through them. I couldn't control the radio stations, but I could find my own
As my fingers closed over Denise LaSalle, I felt a surge of renewed spirit. The album was a little scratched, but there was no denying the feminist power of the Delta-born blueswoman. It was perfect--fight the blues with the
blues. And Denise was putting it on her no-good man. She had her Crown Royal, her car, and a juke-joint band to dance to. She'd also given me a new motto--"If you can't be with the one you love, love the one you're with."
There were plenty of fish in the ocean. All I had to do was find me a pole and throw in my line.
With my energy renewed, I crawled behind Aunt LouLane's horsehair sofa, found the electrical outlet, and jammed the prongs of the extension plug into the holes. Maybe I wasn't the best with traditional Christmas decorating, but I'd found something even better. Something that spoke to me. And I'd gotten it at a bargain-basement price.
Peering over the back of the sofa at the mantel, I smiled with satisfaction at what I had wrought. The neon tubing slid to hot green with liquid light, creating the perfect outline of a Christmas wreath. Mingled in the green curlicues that made the body of the wreath were red ornaments that blinked on and off. It was a masterpiece, a real find in Rudy's Junk Shop.
I picked up the second extension cord and poked it home. The reds, greens, blues, and yellows of old-fashioned Christmas lights flickered to life, creating a series of fascinating shadows on the high ceilings of the front parlor. Neon meets tradition! A successful Delaney moment.
Before I could stand up to see the fruits of my labors, I heard the harrumph that warned me Jitty was in the room.
"You've got this place lookin' like a Chinese whorehouse," Jitty said. "And you not much better. I didn't know they made such a thing as a flannel muumuu. Girl, it's late afternoon. You been wearin' that getup all day? And look at those socks. Just 'cause they red and it's Christmas don't mean you should wear 'em."
Bracing against the sofa, I rose to my knees and traced her voice to the brocade wingback. She was sitting there, dark eyes reflecting the multihued Christmas lights that she disdained. Behind her, the neon wreath pulsed and throbbed, seeming to pick up the singer's declaration of freedom and at the same time give Jitty a hellish halo.
"Merry Christmas, Jitty," I said, brushing the dust off my knees as I stood. "I've been decorating."
"Honey, you need some serious help," she replied. "This ain't decoratin', this is vandalism."
I walked across the wide, polished oak planks of the parlor and viewed my handiwork from her vantage point. The thirteen-foot fir tree, trimmed with about a million lights, at least five hundred ornaments, some red-velvet bows, a few wooden toys and trinkets, and five packages of the real old-timey silver icicles looked pretty good to me. Not to mention the stockings hung by the fireplace with care, or the thorn branch that I'd laboriously studded with rainbow gumdrops. I turned back to Jitty. "I think it looks great."
"Don't get that hurt look on your face, Sarah Booth," she said coldly. "Some women got the touch when it comes to decoratin', some don't. You could improve yourself a little bit, though, if you'd take a few hints from--"
"Stop!" I would not allow the name of the decorating maven from hell to be spoken in my home. My home. The phrase gave me a moment of pleasure. I, Sarah Booth Delaney, had single-handedly redeemed Dahlia House. I still had debts aplenty, but I no longer had to peek from behind closed curtains whenever a car drove up to make sure it wasn't the sheriff and a repo crew.
"What you lookin' so self-satisfied for?" Jitty asked with tiny little snake rattles in her voice.
I looked at her. Really looked at her, for the first time today. Gone were the glitz and gaudiness of the seventies. Jitty had reinvented herself yet again.
"Where in the hell did you get those clothes?" I asked, pointing at her and moving my finger up and down to indicate the entire package. From the tight curls bound back by a turban-style scarf to the waist-cinched blue gingham dress and high-heeled pumps, Jitty looked like a negative image of Jane Wyatt on a rerun of Father Knows Best. My horrified gaze roved back up to her waist. My Lord, it had to be under twenty-three inches.
"Somebody around here's got to put a halt to moral decay. No more of this "free love, if it feels good do it' bull. What we need are some family values." Jitty looked like a rod had been rammed up her spine. "Once we get us some family values, maybe a family will follow."
Her smug tone should have been a warning.
From the Paperback edition.