I've changed directions because I got hopelessly bogged down in the YA non-fantasy I have been working on. Everyone says what they want to read is a sequel to MURDER BY THE MARFA LIGHTS. So I already had the opening, and now I've got five chapters of it and a good idea what's going to happen. I think I am finally in a good place to write (the depression is still here but not as heavy, and I've gotten the cataracts fixed).
Here's the opening.
Porpoises have sonar. RuPaul has gaydar. My sister Zoë has Zodar.
"Something's about to happen." Zoë handed me one of the Pink Thing ice cream treats she'd just bought. Who'd have thought a thirty-two-year-old would be hooked on a kiddie treat? But she loves them, and I often suspect we seek out roadside carnivals just to find them. Sometimes I eat one to be nice.
"Please. Not in the mood. We're here to have fun." Standing in the midst of the crowd on the parking lot of the old east Renner mall with the music from the carousel drowning out the screams of the teens on the Barf-a-Whirl was no place hear predictions of doom and gloom. "Let's ride something. How about that?" I pointed at The Spyder, a large and menacing-looking contraption in which each car spun horizontally as the spider's arms rotated vertically, just to irritate her.
"I do not ride things that go around and around." She glared at me under the Spyder's flashing colored lights. "I like to keep the contents of my stomach from reversing back up. But mark my words. Something's afoot. Something not good."
On cue, my cell phone trilled.
She frowned. "Did you forward your stupid work phone again?"
I peeked at the Caller ID. Unavailable. "I had to. Remember, I cover evenings on Tuesdays."
She waved me away. "They won't be able to hear you."
I stepped under the awning of a cotton candy vendor where it was somewhat quieter, plugged my free ear with one finger, and picked up. "Aqualife Tech Support, The Fishes' Lifeline. This is Ari French. How may I help you?" I recited mindlessly.
"Yes," said a strained voice. "Are you"--the voice consulted a rustling page--"um, Arnelle. . . ."
The voice trailed off, unsure, as most do when they encounter my full name. I go by Ari, but it's actually Ariadne, pronounced "R. E. Oddney" and straight out of Greek mythology.
"Ariadne Diane French?" I prompted.
"Yes. The niece of Agatha Suzette French of Pacific Grove, California?"
A spider eight-footed its way up my backbone. "I am, at least one of them, I mean."
"I'm sorry to have to be the bearer of ill tidings." The voice went on for a minute or so, but I could barely comprehend it. When it quieted, I thanked it and poked at the screen to terminate the call.
Zoe wandered back over to me as the teens on the parachute ride shrieked in freefall. "What?" She eyed my Pink Thing, now dripping all over my hand.
I handed her my melting treat, not having taken a single lick. "Aunt Suzette. She's dead."
"She had a good run." Zoë tipped back her bottle of Bubble Tea and drained it before settling back into one of her rattan dinette chairs. "You know Mother's family doesn't make it far past seventy. Eighty, max."
"But sixty-eight. That's still young." I looked down at the information the voice had given me. "It doesn't make any sense that she'd have an aneurysm. It runs in families, but not in Mother's. I can't accept it."
"This person gave you the date and time for the service?" She stood, apparently unable to stop pacing for long. My legs were too heavy to walk around just now.
I nodded. "Auntie had a pre-arranged plan. Her sisters in Eastern Star are taking care of a lot of the other things."
"I don't know why they called YOU when Suzette is my middle name." Her lower lip threatened to push out.
"They got my number somehow. I don’t know. Maybe off her cell phone. I call every year on her birthday and at Christmas."
Before she could look up sharply at me (I wasn't implying she should be doing the same, merely explaining), I add, "Someone has to keep the family in touch because you know Mother certainly won't."
"You know they won't go."
Meaning our parents.
"Probably won't even send a 'floral tribute.'" My sister put the phrase into air quotes.
"I know." Mother had been estranged from her sister for years after a nasty fight over our grandparents' estate. It had been worse because of that crazy extremist church they'd joined soon after. They weren't as devout about it now as they had been back when Zoë was sixteen and pregnant and they threw her out of the house to survive on her wits, but they hadn't gone back to mend any fences or un-burn any bridges or whatever it was, either. "I kind of want to go anyway. I want to pack up Auntie's photographs and family stuff that I know she'll still have. There's nobody else who'll care, but I don't want to see her and Mama's baby pictures hit a flea market. And just to see her house again. I love that area so much."
Zoë held up both palms. "We know, we know. The world has heard it over and over every day."
"Maybe not every day."
"Trust me, we know that the Pacific Grove area is beloved of monarch butterflies, sea lions, and my sister." Zoe hit her freezer and took something out, then loaded it into her microwave. She and I both have this comfort eating thing, but I haven't settled into being zaftig yet, or at least not as zaftig as she is. After all these years I'm still stuck with the fifteen pounds I gained as a freshman at Southern Methodist University, but men seem to like me with a bit of pinchable flesh on my hips, go figure.
Zoë calls herself "statuesque" or "Rubenesque." She's not only two years older than I am at thirty-and-a-half, but also three inches taller and quite a bit wider. No one will ever hear me say that aloud.
Her hair isn't naturally red, either, but a sort of chestnut with auburn highlights like mine. You can bet your bippie nobody'll ever say THAT aloud, either.
The microwave buzzed, and she handed me a Twinkie. She buys them in bulk when they're on sale., then freezes them. When she wants a snack, she microwaves a Twinkie and garnishes it with chocolate syrup out of a bottle. I sometimes eat one to be nice.
"God, I hope she didn't have some smarmy Holy Joe in her church that we have to deal with like we did with Aaron." Zoë rolled her eyes. Privately I think she had sort of a crush on Gil, Aaron's neighbor and pastor who led us through the circumstances of Aaron's death. But of course she'd rather have her toenails pulled off by a team of rabid pit bulls than admit to it.
"No, like I say, the Eastern Star ladies are doing most of the stuff. I don't think you have to worry."
"Maybe we should just send a nice floral tribute."
"We have a moral obligation to go as the representatives of the family. And the butterflies will be returning to Pacific Grove next month."
"Who can afford to lollygag around out there for a month?" She could, that's who. Me, that's a different story. "You can get a color postcard from the Chamber of Commerce." She squirted the chocolate syrup on a plate. "I found out it's better to dip the Twinkies so they don't get soggy."
I made a noncommittal noise. She was just making the requisite protest. I waited.
Zoe adjusted her half-moon reading glasses (she's far too vain to admit she needs them, so she won't wear bifocals, just gets Wally World cheapies with purple frames) and looked down at the folded newspaper in front of her. She does the crossword puzzle every day. In ink, naturally.
Today she had filled in less than a third of the blanks.
She pointed her Twinkie at me. "Of course you understand I will not fly." She'd made an exception for me when my ex-fiance Aaron died last year, and she never let me forget it.
"It's only a three-day road trip from here. We'll get to drive all the way across Texas"--Renner is one of the northern suburbs of Dallas--"and New Mexico and Arizona as well as California." I made my voice happy. "We need a road trip."
Her glasses slipped a few millimeters down her nose. "We can't afford that. My old Mercedes would never make it."
"We can take the Navigator."
"You still making those payments?"
"Well . . . mostly." I had "inherited" Aaron's Lincoln Navigator along with the payments. They were a little steep. I might be behind one or two months.
"Get real, Airhead. You're going to get a call to surrender that any day."
"They're working with me. I might be able to catch it up." Unspoken between us was, "If she left me any money."
Zoë shook her head. "Forget it. Auntie always said she'd be leaving her entire estate to the Cat Rescue Crew of Greater Carmel. I believe her."
"Well, maybe. Let's wait and see." I searched my denim hobo bag for a scrunchie and pulled my long hair back into a ponytail. "That's not why I want to go, though."
Aunt Agatha had been the only family member who was willing to help Zoë and shelter her until Ricky was born. She'd paid for Zoë's plane ticket to Pacific Grove and then another to get her and the baby back here and settled. She even helped her get work at a day care center here in Renner through a lady in the Eastern Star who'd moved here when California became too expensive for her on her retirement income. Zoë had made good on her own and now she was the owner of two day care emporiums nearby. She checked on them now and then, but she had others to manage them. She didn't like to go inside because since Ricky died she gets sort of sick whenever she sees little kids, especially six-year-old boys for some reason. If Ricky had survived the leukemia, he would have turned fourteen last month.
She squinted. "You going to eat that Twinkie?"
I handed it to her.
This is going pretty well. Yay?