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A Case Of Bad Taste
By Lori Copeland
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2003 Lori Copeland
All right reserved.
Chapter OneI rolled to my side and punched the pillows into shape. Getting old is like sucking peanut butter through a straw. Difficult. Sleep comes in snatches, and if a body part doesn't hurt, it isn't working.
Herb, how could you leave me to face old age alone?
Not that I'd welcome the alternative. Sixty wasn't ancient, but since Herb died, I'd started to go downhill. It was only a matter of time until I turned sixty-five, then-Lord willing-seventy. There would be no way I could look in the mirror and tell myself, "Hey, Maude, you don't look so bad," when my mirror told me different. Short-cropped gray hair, wrinkles-and the sand in my hourglass figure had shifted to the south.
Sighing, I rolled onto my back and stared up at the slit of light dancing across the ceiling. Wind rattled the spruce outside the window and jangled the wind chime Herb had hung from its branches. Sounds I wouldn't have noticed in the light of day at night became as jarring as a calypso band at a church social. When Herb died a year ago, all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and stay there. My attitude hasn't changed much since then.
My problem is acceptance. I'm having a hard time accepting my life now. I need Herb lying here beside me. I'm too conscious of the emptiness of this bed, of the loneliness. Even his snoring would be welcome.
I never wanted to live alone. Writing is the only thing that's familiar to me, and creativity has turned on me.
My eyes flew open and I sat up straight in bed.
Gunshots! Gunshots? At-I squinted at the alarm clock, fumbling for my glasses-2 A.M.?
Street light streamed through the venetian blind, picking out the four posts of my bed, the ruffled muslin curtains, the robe I had tossed over the cane-bottomed rocker. A car, probably Hargus Conley's old truck, rattled down the street. Pansy Conley's boy, Morning Shade's Barney Fife, was up till all hours drinking Chocolate Cow soda and swapping tall tales with Finley Priest, a local stock-car driver.
I lay back, fighting annoyance. I'd taken two Advil PMs before going to bed and had just dozed off when-
Bolting upright, I tried to clear sleep from my brain.
I listened, but couldn't hear anything other than the ticking clock next to my bed. I must've dreamed the gunshot. Maybe I'd been thinking about the book I was writing: a mystery ... with no plot. A lackluster, dull whodunit with second-rate characters even I didn't care about.
I was getting nowhere with my forty-second book. Zilch. Everything I wrote was bland and totally uninspiring. The characters were wooden, and the plot was as predictable as summer road construction.
What I needed was a good, uninterrupted night's sleep. Maybe if I was fresh in the morning ...
A dog? I slowly opened my eyes when I heard a low, menacing growl.
I sat up again, clutching the end of the sheet to my chest.
A very big, mean dog.
Breaking out in a cold sweat, I wondered if an animal was in the house-then I wondered who had a dog that sounds like a junkyard rottweiler? Certainly not old Mrs. Post, the ninety-year-old retired postmistress. For a deacon's wife, she talks pretty tough and drives stray animals out of her yard with a rake. Maybe the dog belongs to my next-door neighbor, Victor Johnson. He's deaf in one ear and can't hear out of the other. Could be he's bought a mastiff or one of those big breeds you have to follow around with a shovel.
I thought about my mother-in-law sleeping two doors away. If she hears the barking she'll be upset. Herb's mother had moved in the week before, and she was uneasy with her new surroundings. Gunshots and barking dogs were not a soothing combination. Stella wasn't the type to pull the covers over her head and ignore strange noises. I'd be lucky if she didn't come barreling out with a flashlight in one hand and a poker in the other.
Having Stella in my home wasn't anything either of us wanted, but after Herb died, there wasn't enough money to keep her in the residential-care facility any longer. I worked myself into a blue funk over whether to bring her here to live. I finally moved Stella into the spare bedroom.
She hadn't wanted to leave the retirement home, and I hadn't wanted her to either, but finances had stripped us both of our privacy. I'd always gotten along with my mother-in-law, but getting along and living together are two different things. I knew Stella probably felt the same way. Stella was here, probably awake by now. I settled back and drew a breath of resignation.
What had happened to my sane life-the one I'd shared with Herb and a close circle of friends? I'd never realized how much death could impact the ones left behind. Losing Herb had derailed my world, and I couldn't get it back on track.
And now CeeCee had problems. Newly widowed, my thirty-one-year-old daughter had called to ask if she could come home for a while. Cee said she would only stay "until I can put my life together." But I wasn't so sure three women with such different personalities could coexist under the same roof.
No, I know we can't-not without inviting a bunch of trouble.
Still, I didn't have the heart to tell my daughter she wasn't welcome. I couldn't look the other way and ignore what was happening in Stella's and Cee's lives.
But what about my life? Has anyone thought about my needs?
Herb sure hadn't. He never thought much beyond the end of his nose. Still, he was a decent sort-and an attentive father. He wasn't as social as I am, but maybe our differences balanced each other, which accounted for why we'd stayed married for thirty-two years.
Life isn't supposed to be this way: widowed at sixty, burned out on writing, short on money, and living with my mother-in-law and my widowed daughter. Herb and I were supposed to retire together. But that's not going to happen. Not now.
According to the ambulance attendant, Herb had had a freak fall, hitting his head on the side of the bathtub. A hotel maid found him the next morning when she came to clean the room. As sudden as that, my life had taken a nosedive, followed by a landslide.
Stella was supposed to have lived out her remaining years in the company of her peers, comfortable and content at Shady Acres.
Cee's husband, Jake "Touchdown" Tamaris, wasn't supposed to die from a blood clot when he was only thirty-three, and I wasn't supposed to be responsible for everyone's welfare. How did I get elected to be the strong one?
When I got my AARP card at fifty, I thought I'd reached the time when life got easier. But three months into sixty, my solitude had been disrupted by both my mother-in-law and my daughter.
I had an October deadline for my book, and my creative juices were as dry as beef jerky. In five months, I had to send off a manuscript that was currently going nowhere. In fact, I'd hardly started on the story. With all the interruptions, I'd deleted more than I'd written. I'd have to buckle down and make headway.
I sighed and closed my eyes. Face it, Maude, you're burned out. Fresh out of ideas.
I thrust my fingers through my thick, gray hair. What a mess my life was. I needed regeneration and quiet, and neither was going to happen.
I scrunched my pillow beneath my cheek and willed sleep to come.
My eyes popped open.
Another gunshot? What was going on? This time I wasn't taking any chances. My fingers groped for the aluminum bat Herb had kept handy. Morning Shade wasn't New York, but we had a few teenagers who liked to keep Hargus Conley hopping.
After a moment, I eased out of bed, clutching the bat to my chest. Moving carefully, I crept downstairs into the living room. Avoiding the moonlight streaming through the front window, I moved stealthily to the side pane and looked out. The street was empty. None of the lights were on at the Peacocks'. Maury Peacock went to bed with the birds and got up with the chickens. What the man did with his time was a mystery to me.
I threw myself flat on the floor-not an easy job for a woman my age. I listened for sounds of movement outside. I couldn't hear anything except that crazy Hargus roaring down the street with that silly Confederate flag waving from a pole on the bed of his truck. Maybe some transplanted Yankee was taking potshots at the flag, fighting the Civil War all over again.
I suddenly sat straight up, slapping my hand to my forehead. What an idiot I am!
Rolling to my knees, I pushed up with the help of the bat.
The sound of the barking, growling dog was coming from my computer. It was my new program.
The "dog" had detected a virus. A gunshot meant the program was "killing" the unwanted or virus-laden message.
"My nerves are shot," I told myself as I went to my office to shut the thing down.
Isn't technology wonderful?
The next morning, Stella was rattling the paper when I walked into the kitchen, yawning. She looked as fresh as you can look at her age, which isn't saying much. Evidently it took more than dogs and gunshots to keep her awake. Maury Peacock, my next-door neighbor, had cranked up his lawn mower at sunrise, and I couldn't hear myself think over the sound of the blade chewing up rocks and sticks.
Stella had the paper turned to the obituary page, the section she always read first. My mother-in-law would be doing well to top the scale at a hundred and ten pounds. On her bad days she looked frail, on her good days she was as belligerent as an ill-tempered rooster, and on any day she was a threat to my sanity.
I wondered if Stella read the obits because she expected to find her own name there someday.
"Do you know Mary Grace Hodson?" she asked.
"No, I don't." Morning Shade is small, but I don't know everybody.
"She died," Stella said. "She was only seventy-nine. Eight years younger than me. Says here contributions should be sent to the American Cancer Society. Must've died of cancer."
I dumped Raisin Bran into my bowl and poured milk over it. I had a million things to do today: run to the post office, address the last of my publicity mailings, call my agent and ask about the status of my new proposal, get bread and milk, and then come home to write at least twenty-five hundred words.
Wouldn't it be nice if I could buy words like I bought groceries? I'll take sixty-five hundred words, a dozen catchy phrases, and, let's see, how about two best-sellers? And throw in a blockbuster. Yes, plastic sacks are fine.
My toast popped up, charred. "Did you change the settings?" I asked Stella.
"Yes, I can't chew tough toast. Do you know Harry Beauford?"
I switched the setting on the toaster back to where I liked it. "No Stella, I don't."
I stirred creamer into my coffee. A roast. I'll buy a roast at the store and put it in the Crock-Pot for supper. Quick and easy. As long as Stella could chew the meat. Her dentures were bothering her. I'd found her bottom plate on the coffee table last night. When I asked her why she didn't put her teeth in the denture case, she said she'd forgotten. Forgotten? Forgotten her teeth?
Was this my future?
"Harry was only seventy-one. Sixteen years younger than me. My, my, my." She shook her head. "We just never know, do we?"
I didn't mind her reading the obits, if only she wouldn't read them out loud. The ritual was depressing, and I had enough gloom in my life right now.
I knew she resented having to leave her friends. She had flourished under the camaraderie she'd found at Shady Acres Residential Care. She loved the weekly bridge and bingo games held every Saturday night in the rec room, and she went to the occasional funeral of an old friend to break the monotony. Maybe that's why she reads the obits, planning her social calendar.
That wasn't nice. I needed to get a grip. Stella had her life, and I had mine, and neither was anything to shout about, but that wasn't any reason to get snippy, even if I never said the thought out loud.
There was nothing, according to the eighty-seven-year-old, she didn't like about Shady Acres. But, in truth, I knew there wasn't much Stella was happy about-including the fact that the good Lord had overlooked her and she was still alive. With every breath, she made it clear she didn't expect to be around long enough to be a bother to me. Sometimes it sounded like she was looking forward to the trip.
"Well, it seems that I've outlived my usefulness, just like these folks. I'm not here for much longer, that's for certain."
"That's morbid, Stella. None of us knows from one day to the next how long we'll be here. We just have to be ready to go."
Stella looked at me, her eyes wide. "What? Has the doctor told you something he hasn't told me?"
"Of course not." For someone who made a habit of predicting her own demise, she seemed startled at the thought that it might be around the corner.
I pressed a finger to my temple. It was too early in the morning to be discussing death. I wanted to slip carefully into the day, not be slapped in the face with mortality.
Stella rattled the paper, folding it in the middle, I assumed to better read the rest of the obituaries.
"My, my, my," she said. "Richard Peaks died in a wreck on the highway. Pulled in front of a truckload of fertilizer. He was eighty-three, four years younger than me." She shook the paper again. "Humph! Look at this. They have a whole article about testing old folks more closely to make sure they have all the faculties they need to drive. The way some of these young folks tear around ..."
I felt a headache blooming. "Did you take your pill?"
"Yes," Stella said sharply. "I took my pill, for what good it does."
Stella took half a pill a day for her blood pressure and was certain the diagnosis signaled the end of her life. She was so sure she wasn't long for this earth that she refused to buy green bananas. Evidently I had irritated her by asking about her medicine. Being irritating seems to be one of the things I do best. A brand-new talent just discovered since Stella came to live with me.
"I'm going to watch my program," Stella announced, leaving the pillaged newspaper on the table for me to sort out.
Her "program" was a morning talk show that centered around two women fighting over some poor miscreant that I would've shot. I can't understand Stella's fascination with these kinds of programs.
Other than Herb, we had nothing in common. Stella hated crowds, and I loved to socialize. She reads the obits; I read the society pages. She hated malls, and I thrived on shopping.
Wal-Mart was my obsession.
Excerpted from A Case Of Bad Taste by Lori Copeland Copyright ©2003 by Lori Copeland. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
this book is hysterical! from the first paragragh I was laughing till it hurt! The plot is great. It's a silly mystery, but a great one. Love Maude and Stella. Have felt like CeeCee! Pass the salt and vinegar chips, please! Then there's the self-made lawman that's useless! And the thief is a shocker! never guessed it was that person till the end! must read.
I enjoyed the book A Case of Bad Taste. It had some good christian-ralated things in it that could teach you a lesson. The bulk of the story was about a middle aged woman that lived alone until financial trouble forced her to house her mother-in-law,Stella, and her newly widowed daughter, Cee. The main character, Maude Diamond, is a writer that is having trouble with a book that she has to have written in a very few months. She couldn't think of anything interesting to pop into her book until the her tiny hometown of Morning Shade starts to get a little more interesting. There had a been a reported break-in at a friends home, but this wasn't just any ordinary break-in, this turned out for the better! The 'criminal' had re-arranged all the furniture and even had added a few accessories to the living room! This really got Maude going in her book. She could write and write! She used everyday things that went on in Morning Shade in her book and even some things about her mourning daughter and curious mother-in-law. Then she gets a call from her agent about an offer to ghost-write a book for a well-known preacher, Jake. She didn't really want to do it, but still considered it. Over the next few weeks, more break-ins happen, her daughters life starts looking for the better, but the mystery is still unsolved. Maude needs the mystery to be solved before she can finish her book, and with the dead-line creeping up on her, she pushes Stella more and more into solving the mystery. Will she finish her book, and still not feel guilty about using Morning Shades and Cee's problems?
I smiled through this entire book. I could totally identify with the characters, one a writer, the other a fiesty senior, the third who likes to bury her troubles in her furry babies, in addition to potato chips. The mystery begins when someone house is anonymously redecorated. And, that is the premise of the book. Full of chuckles and tender moments, I loved it. Can't wait for number two in the series!