Read an Excerpt
Patty Bigelow hated surprises and did her best to avoid them. God had other ideas.
Patty’s concept of a supreme being wavered between Ho-Ho-Ho Santa and a Fire-Eyed Odin thrusting thunderbolts.
Either way, a white-bearded guy bunking down in the clouds. Depending on his mood, dispensing goodies or playing marbles with the planets.
If pressed, Patty would’ve called herself an agnostic. But when life went haywire why not be like everyone else and blame A Greater Power?
The night Lydia surprised her, Patty had been home for a couple of hours, trying to wind down after a tough day in the E.R. Mellowing out with a beer, then another, and when that didn’t work, giving in to The Urge.
First, she straightened the apartment, doing stuff that didn’t need doing. She ended up using a toothbrush on the kitchen counter grout, cleaned the toothbrush with a wire brush that she washed under hot water and picked clean. Still tense, she saved the best for last: arranging her shoes—wiping each loafer, sneaker, and sandal clean with a chamois, sorting and re-sorting by color, making sure everything pointed outward at precisely the same angle.
Time for blouses and sweaters . . . the doorbell rang.
One twenty a.m. in Hollywood, who the heck would be drop- ping in?
Patty got irritated, then nervous. Should’ve bought that gun. She took a carving knife to the door, made sure to use the peephole.
Saw black sky, no one out there . . . oh, yes there was.
When she realized what Lydia had done, she stood there, too stunned to blame anyone.
Lydia Bigelow Nardulli Soames Biefenbach was Patty’s baby sister but she’d crammed a lot more living into her thirty-five years than Patty wanted to think about.
Dropout years, groupie years, barmaid years, sitting-on-back-of-the-Harley years. Vegas, Miami, San Antonio, Fresno, Mexico, New Mexico, Wyoming, Montana. No time for postcards or sisterly calls, the only time Patty heard from Liddie had to do with money.
Lydia was quick to point out that the arrests were chickenshit, nothing that ever stuck. Responding to Patty’s silence when she collect-called from some backcountry lockup and wheedled bail money.
She always paid the money back, Patty granted her that. Always the same schedule: six months later, to the day.
Liddie could be efficient when she wanted to, but not when it came to men. Before, in between, and after the three stupid marriages flowed an endless parade of pierced, inked, dirty-fingernailed, vacant-eyed losers who Liddie insisted on calling her “honeys.”
All that fooling around, but miraculously only one kid.
Three years ago, Lydia taking twenty-three hours to push the baby out, alone in some osteopathic hospital outside of Missoula. Tanya Marie, five pounds, six ounces. Liddie sent Patty a newborn picture and Patty sent money. Most newborns were red and monkeylike but this kid looked pretty cute. Two years later, Lydia and Tanya showed up at Patty’s door, dropping in on the way to Alaska.
No talk about why Juneau, were they meeting anyone, was Liddie clean. No hints about who the father was. Patty wondered if Lydia even knew.
Patty was no kid person and her neck got tight when she saw the toddler holding Liddie’s hand. Expecting some wild little brat, given the circumstances. Her niece turned out to be sweet and quiet, kind of pretty with wispy white-blond hair, searching green eyes that would’ve fit a middle-aged woman, and restless hands.
“Drop-in” stretched to a ten-day stay. Patty ended up deciding Tanya was real cute, not much of a pain, if you didn’t count the stink of dirty diapers.
Just as suddenly as she’d shown up, Liddie announced they were leaving.
Patty was relieved but also disappointed. “You did okay, Lid, she’s a real little lady.” Standing in her front door, watching as Lydia dragged the kid out with one hand, toted a battered suitcase with the other. A Yellow Cab idled at the curb, belching smog. Noise rose from down on the boulevard. Across the street a bum slouched past.
Lydia flipped her hair and grinned. Her once-gorgeous smile was insulted by two seriously chipped front teeth.
“A lady? Meaning not like me, Pats?”
“Oh, stop, take it for what it was,” said Patty.
“Hey,” said Lydia, “I’m a slut and proud of it.” Shaking her chest and wiggling her butt. Laughing loud enough for the cabbie to turn his head.
Tanya was two but she must’ve known Mommy was being inappropriate because she winced. Patty was sure of it.
Patty wanted to protect her. “All I meant to say was she’s great, you can bring her anytime.” Smiling at Tanya but the kid was looking at the sidewalk.
Liddie laughed. “Even with all those shitty diapers?”
Now the kid stared off into the distance. Patty walked over to her and touched the top of her little head. Tanya started to recoil, then froze.
Patty bent a bit and talked softly. “You’re a good girl, a real little lady.”
Tanya laced her hands in front of her and mustered up the most painful little smile Patty had ever seen.
As if some inner voice was coaching her in the fine points of niece-to-aunt etiquette.
Lydia said, “Shitty diapers are okay? Cool, I’ll remember that, Pats, on the off chance we ever roll around here again.”
“What’s in Juneau?”
“Snow.” Lydia laughed and her boobs bounced, barely restrained by a hot-pink halter top. She had tattoos now, too many of them. Her hair looked dry and coarse, her eyes were getting grainy around the edges, and those long dancer’s legs were getting jiggly around the inner thighs. All that and the broken teeth shouted Racing Over the Hill! Patty wondered what would happen when all of Lydia’s looks went south.
“Stay warm,” she said.
“Oh, yeah,” said Lydia. “I got my ways for that.” Taking hold of the little girl’s wrist and pulling her toward the car.
Patty went after them. Bent to get eye-level with the kid as Lydia handed the suitcase off to the cabbie. “Nice to meet you, little Tanya.”
That sounded awkward. What did she know about kids?
Tanya bit her lip, chewed hard.
Now here it was, thirteen months later, a hot night in June, the air stinking of Patty didn’t know what, and the kid was back at her door, tiny as ever, wearing saggy jeans and a frayed white top, her hair curlier, more yellow than white.
Biting and gnawing exactly the same way. Holding a stuffed orca that was coming apart at the seams.
This time, she stared straight up at Patty.
A rumbling red Firebird was parked exactly where the cab had been. One of those souped-up numbers with a spoiler and fat tires and wire dealies clamping down the hood. The hood thumped like a fibrillating heart.
As Patty hurried toward the car the Firebird peeled out, Lydia’s platinum shag barely visible through the tinted glass on the passenger side.
Patty thought her sister had waved, but she was never really sure.
The kid hadn’t moved.
When Patty got back to her, Tanya reached in a pocket and held out a note.
Cheap white paper, red letterhead from the Crazy Eight Motor Hotel, Holcomb, Nevada.
Below that, Lydia’s handwriting, way too pretty for someone with only junior high. Lydia had never put any effort into learning penmanship or anything else during those nine years but things came easy to her.
The kid started to whimper.
Patty took her hand—cold and teeny and soft—and read the note.
Dear Big Sis,
You said she was a lady.
Maybe with you she can really turn out to be one.