Once upon a New Year's Eve-y, while
you polished shoes . . . what? "With sleeve-y?"-"on
Bleak December, anyway.
Skeeter's stock of footgear
consisted of one pair slippersocks, one pair boots, two pair
dressy-up shoes (one light, one dark) and one pair exhausted
Adidases coming apart at the seams. Leaky
sneakers! The very thing you'd want for trudging through
the winter streets. Bright new laces on them, though.
Nearly new, anyway.
Here we are on Corbel Terrace, on
the top floor front of the Mark Twain, one of several rooming houses
like old wrecked steamboats that overlook Corbel
Square. (Which, thanks to the slant of Corbel Road, was
actually a parallelogram. Coming home late at night from
the Four Deuces, you could estimate just how many you'd had by how
much the Square seemed to straighten out.)
Skeeter, flannel-jammied, was
staying put tonight, having turned down all party
invitations. ("All"-a couple, and both from
ne'er-do-wells. Near dowels, all
right.) The ceiling stain she'd dubbed "Santa's Little
Mistake" had been spreading for a week now, and Skeeter wanted to be
on hand for the final breakthrough in order to position her
So here it was New Year's
Eve: no confetti, no balloons, no noisemakers or funny
hats, no lava lamp, no champagne. But there was
a bottle of Two Fingers Gold within reach, still half
full. Or half empty-"One Finger Go." Should we
go ahead, then, and finish it off? Considering that after
paying the rent we'll have a whole eight dollars to last us till
Let's let the outside world
decide. Check on the Square, see what shape it is by
now: if it's still square, we drink
on. Rhomboid, we rhumba. Circular, we hit the
The front window showed her only
darkness and, against it, her own indistinct
self. There I am-I
think. Therefore, I. . . .
Somebody in one of the old
storybooks had gone so far in such circumstances as to pal around
with her own reflection. Not looking-glass Alice, but
Anne Frank or Annie Oakley or Orphan Annie or one of that
gang. So was this one here (that one there) supposed to
be Skeeter's kindred spirit? Blurred chin in blurred
hand, chewing on a phantom fingernail?
If so, she sure had a precious
And never the twain shall meet.
Well anyhoo, there wasn't any
Square out there right now. Neither rain nor snow nor
sleet to see, but a helluva lotta gloom of night. So long
then, Precious Littleface; the rest of us gotta turn back to our
crowded shabby rented room. (Make that our crowded shabby
"lodging," as in stick-in-my-throat.) At least our
dressy-up shoes are properly polished for once, even if they have no
place to go.
Whereupon Skeeter's heart gave a
great gomez-pugsley LURCH as a shadow leaped out of nowhere and onto
the bed. Settled itself down, stared obliquely at her,
and began licking its foreleg with a long pink tongue.
Yep-time to put away the
Among Skeeter's New Year's
resolutions, expressed in several forms, was "Less
liquor." Or, as one variant phrased
it: "Spend less on liquor" (leaving her free to
still have drinks bought for her). Make an honest effort,
anyway, to keep out of the Four Deuces and the Siamese Tavern and
Ditto's Lounge, all the haunts up and down Corbel
Road. Otherwise she'd have precious little face left
before long, getting it all raddled and callous. And
before you knew it she'd be forty, fat and feeble-minded, turning
tricks at some Ramada Inn.
They call me Ramada
The one all the near
dowels chose. . . .
There was her liver to think about,
too. Another bunch of resolutions promoted general
upkeep-exercise, better diet, using Lemon Pledge and so
on. Not to mention keeping up with
people: Skeeter had an especially hard time doing
that. And yet till now she'd always presumed this was
because people weren't able to keep up with
her. Their mail certainly couldn't, what with
her moving so often this past couple of years.
Should auld acquaintance
All those gone or going from her
life; all the various very best friends she'd lost track of somehow
along the way. Skeeter forever showing up late for
classes and appointments and rendezvouseses, neglecting to notify or
signify… especially to signify. Seldom did she write
anyone so much as a note, relying instead on Ma Bell and greeting
cards-from the Belated rack, too often. This Christmas
Sadie and Desi had sent her a Ziggy address book; listed in it so
far were a dozen or so phone numbers, but nary an
address. Not even her own.
Nor that of her mother in Marble
Orchard, bored silly and fidgeting around The House With All the
Porches like some frustrated poltergeist, while Arnold went Now
Carrie, now Carrie. . . .
Nor that of her father Gower, who'd
never gotten closer to outer space than DisneyWorld, and was still
down south someplace (the last Skeeter'd heard) raising gamecocks
for export to the Philippines.
And "Chicago" was all she wrote for
Uncle Buddy-Buzz, who'd been sickly all fall with flu-like symptoms,
and Lordy you knew what that implied nowadays.
"But never mind, darling, we're
still onstage," he'd coughed at Skeeter last week, calling to wish
her a Merry Noël. "I think it's nothing more nor
less than green-apple indigestion-just deserts, I suppose, after all
my eating 'not wisely but too well'-except that you can never eat
too well, of course. . . . You remember when you
were little (cough) excuse me, and came to town (cough
cough cough) and-oh, this is apropos-we got caught in the tear gas,
and you said This is what you call 'being
alive'-remember? Well (hawwwwggkh-hem!) just
keep in mind, darling, that into each life some slush must
And that which we fail to keep in
mind tends to seep right out again. (Where'd this fresh
shot of tequila come from?) Out of sight, out of mind, slipping out
of memories, away from consciousness; being lost to oblivion like a
blown-out candle or burned-out sparkler.
with the slushy doubletalk. (Lick the salt, throw back
the shot, bite the lime.) Take a good long look at your
own short self, as though from somebody else's point of view.
See Kelly Rebecca Kitefly as she
must have been originally envisioned, conceived on a vast Amazonian
scale, with proportionate appetites and capacities: a
great big amazing colossal girl!
See her the child of scrunchdown by
Jolly Dame Nature, abridged and condensed into a little ole bitty
Skeeter-type doll: the compact version that
could get high on an Eskimo pie, for awhile. (Lick, toss
Skeeter the Vital, Skeeter the
Intensely Alive, Skeeter With Bells On-no, make that Castanets,
clacking the ever-loving blue-eyed night away: everybody
seguidilla! Skeeter the Insistent that she'll dance
rings around the world at the age of ninety-four, so nyaah
to you, Carmen! and nyaah to all you near dowels! and an amazing
colossal NYAAH to Tanya Totalbitch for calling her "Mosquito Mouth,"
as if Skeeter were the sort to whine around crowded shabby rooms,
starved for contact and impact and the stinging taste of blood (lick
toss bite) and even if you did get a little dumbfounded now
and then, a little deepseated, a little engorged for per-pe-tu-i-ty,
your mainspring permanently all wound UP. . . .
. . .Why you could be happy as a
But things last forever only in
Real Life was more of a
(Well, that had to be the
cactus juice talking.)
And to cope with that, to come to
grips with it, joie de goddam vivre seemed hardly enough -
or the wrong kind of joie - or not really joie at
all but a rackety auto da fé, as your vivre stalled out and
you tried to eject without much in the way of a parachute or safety
net and therefore landed with a fracturing CRACK! as God took one
final flash-in-the-pants picture of you at The End.
And this was very soppy-sad and
heartrending, like something out of Hans Christian
Andersen: steadfast tin soldiers flung into ovens,
barefoot match girls left out to freeze in the snow. Any
wonder that it makes you want to drink like a fish?
Carry moonshine home in a
Gargle like you're
Or would you
rather be a pig. . . .
A sooey cider, in fact.
(Oh that's clever. Lick
toss bite-oops, outta lime. Yuggh.)
So what if she wasn't as tall as
other people, or as on-time as other people, or distinctive and
significant like other people. So what if she didn't pack
parachutes or safety nets or attention spans like everybody else in
the wide bright world. So maybe she did get bored and
restless, pudgy despite being so petite and that was probably due to
all the lime and salt and per-pe-tu-i-ty she couldn't hold as well
as other people, since she lacked the capacity of other
people-because she didn't have their precious little mincy-pincy
Well, she had a message for all
Sophie Tucker'd said it first,
Bette Midler'd said it best.Skeeter Kitefly echoed them both in
the here and now: THEY CAN KISS MY TATTOOED
TUCHIS AND PLANT A TREE FOR ISRAEL!
Makes no diff to me.
And to prove it she crawled into
bed, curled up in a ball and let the diff come pouring out, partly
into her pillowcase but mostly onto Mao the cat, who heaved an
. . .Whuh?
tears. Forcing their way back inside her
eyelids. Must be a dream.
She managed, after several eons, to
winch one eye open-and have it squarely spat into by the ceiling's
Bull's eye for Santa's Little
Bullsomething, anyway, as light
from the left-on overhead came pouring down and through her eyeball,
to sear and scald her unblinkable brain with a YAAAAA
"Hangover" was such a mild word,
too. Like nothing more amiss than, say, your shirttail
sticking out. Nothing to suggest this sort of
Clockwork Orange-style eye-opener, these spasmodic rivulets
of throbbing molten OOG. The third
degree: Chinese Communism followed by Chinese water
torture and then a peppery Szechwan fire drill.
Still and all: if it
hurts this much, we must still be alive.
And that which doesn't kill us,
makes us live longer. Or sing stronger. Or
Over the course of January 1st she
got her eye closed and wiped; herself off the bed (attagirl) and Mao
off the bed, which was more difficult (attacat). Handling
herself very carefully throughout, she put a bucket on the bed to
catch the ploops, and a bromo in her stomach to quell the
OOG. Moved gingerly into the tiny kitchen, fixing herself
a cup of Swiss Miss, adding the habitual jigger for clarity's sake,
filling Mao's food bowl to keep him momentarily out from
underfoot. Returning then to the front room, to the front
window, where Precious Littleface had been replaced by a fat black
crow on the windowsill. (No omen: simply one
of the neighbors. Corbel Square was a regular
The crow turned to glance at
Skeeter through the glass. Sized up her situation, Swiss
Miss and all; and took off into the morning mist without so much as
Somewhere the sun is shining, so
honey don't you cry.
Then again: why keep
waiting for your ship to come in, when you can go meet it halfway?
|O| Author's Bio |O|
P. S. Ehrlich was once reading
Jitterbug Perfume in a West Coast public cafeteria when Tom Robbins
himself walked by. “Hey!” said Tom, “is that a good
P. S.'S COMPLETE BIO