January 21, 2018 | Rome, Italy | °C

The Last Stand of Ms. Betty J. Washington

By Jenna Leigh Evans
Published: 2015-12-31

"Excuse me," Betty began, and paused to formulate a rebuttal. Admittedly her face looked bumpy; and the whites of her eyes were wrong. "I don't need any candyman," she concluded.

"Earth to Betty! You got a job? No. You got a husband? No. Savings? No. So let me help you get a boyfriend." Vida had abandoned the dating profiles and was toggling between three shopping sites. "Keep your eye on that black negligee," she advised. "There's an annual sale. Make an effort! Then we'll be like two great big gorgeous sexy sisters! But maybe we got different daddies, though, right?" At this she laughed so uproariously that she began to cough.

"A person in my condition needs rest," Betty reproved; but Vida, having seized on the image of Betty as a diamond in the rough, produced a sticky basket crammed with half-used beauty products. Once Vida was on one of her kicks it was easier to ride it out than to resist, and shortly Betty had her feet in Vida's lap while her roommate kneaded Jergens' Lotion into her cracked heels and knuckles. To keep it interesting, Vida described some exciting fistfights she had instigated. "You know how it is when you're pregnant," she said. "Your hormones go crazy and you just have to punch somebody!"

With a sudden tingling sensation Betty saw herself setting the mobile to spin above Clarice's crib; but as Vida's hands slithered around on her hands, the image fuzzed over and then winked out, leaving her free to relax and pretend she was at a spa where rich white ladies went to get cucumber slices put on their eyelids. Her mind afloat, a refracting soap bubble. Getting babied, that's what they called it.

Her thoughts drifted around. There was her father in his suit and tie, shouting from the pulpit. Her childhood slouched by with a hangdog air and a sense-memory of braids bound too tightly. A recollection intruded of visiting Clarice in the foster home. That caseworker with the pinchy face, who refused to understand a single word Betty said yet demanded that Betty listen to her never-ending judgments.

She dismissed that whole sorry business with a regal shake of her head. For later in life had come triumph after triumph over every kind of fool and liar.

•

The next morning Betty found her roommate pacing the kitchen and sucking furiously at a cigarette.

"Betty, listen to me. That sonofabitch landlord. He keeps saying I'm not paying the rent. What is he, crazy? That maricon, I'm telling you — one of these days I'm going to kick his scarecrow ass from here to Kingdom Come."

"Quit fussing. I'll make us some coffee."

"Shut up, Betty. You shut up. Your coffee's no good, I already made us coffee." Vida turned her back and began cracking eggs into a pan. "Listen to me, Betty. I care about you like a sister, so I'm going to find you a rich boyfriend right away. Betty, listen, I'm going to tell you a story. My honeymoon was spent in Haiti. This was my second husband I'm talking about. We got all rattan furniture for our wedding registry, because I love rattan."

Gracie was prancing with anticipation for her breakfast. "I'm from a very good family, you know. His mother begged me to marry him," Vida continued. "On her knees."

With concentration, Betty was applying margarine to a slice of bread. "Baloney," she pronounced.

"Baloney? What, you mean, like, cold cuts baloney?"

"Baloney," Betty repeated definitively; but she couldn't recall what they had been talking about.

"Baloney. Now there's something I haven't eaten in ages," mused Vida. "Not in ages. But Betty, I'm telling you about my honeymoon. It was in Haiti and I got in so many altercations with men with guns, men with machetes — you know? But God always protects me. Even from men with big weapons — ooh, that sounds sexy!"

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