Larry’s ageing momma-in-law’s got herself a boyfriend, and ain’t nobody’s gonna stand in her way; by Fred McGavran.
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“Momma’s dating Wags Fackman,” Larry says right after we popped open our first beers of the day at our favorite fishing spot along the river. “He took her to the ball game last night.”
“What was the score?” was all I could think to say and started poking around in the weeds for something I thought the fish would like.
“Don’t know if he’s scored yet,” Larry says.
Maybe I better back up. Hi. I’m Bill Bob. Larry usually does the talking for us, but he gets all screwed up talking about Momma, his mother-in-law, like thinking I’d asked if Wags had scored on her when I was asking for the score at the ball game.
“The warning signs are there,” Larry goes on, sounding like a father who’d caught his teenage daughter screwing her boyfriend on the basement couch. “Like bringing the mail up two flights of stairs when our box is on the ground floor. No mailman in the country does that unless he’s getting something for it.”
“Sounds serious,” I says, still a little puzzled by Wags as a ladies’ man. He didn’t wear those shorts that make mailmen look like they’re playing hooky from kindergarten. He even wore a belt so his pants didn’t slide off his ass and kept his shirt tucked in. In our neighborhood he didn’t have much competition, because all the other men his age were either dead, in jail, or in a nursing home.
“What the hell’s he see in her?” I wondered. Every mailman I ever met was so busy counting the days to retirement he hardly had time to deliver the mail. I found something wiggly with a bunch of legs that went on the hook real easy, and tossed one to Larry.
“He’s after her money,” Larry says, baiting his hook and throwing hook, bait, bobber, and sinker out into the river. I did the same and settled back to watch the day pass by.
After doing thirty years for shooting her husband nineteen times, Momma came up with a line of tonic made with genuine Peruvian quinine for Second Chance Babes, her start up. The jury found her guilty because she reloaded three times. What the jury didn’t know was that Darlene, her daughter and Larry’s wife, did all the shooting and was reloading again until Momma snatched the gun away. That’s when the cops came in. Like a momma bear protecting her cubs, Momma took the rap for her little girl. Thirty years later, Momma was rich and the envy of every pissed off and frustrated woman in town.
“Who was playing last night?” I asks to keep him talking.
“They didn’t seem to care when he brought her home,” Larry says. “They sat in the kitchen drinking gin and tonics until their words got so slurred I couldn’t follow them.”
“What did you hear?”
“Wags was talking about retirement,” Larry says. “He’s still got a few years to go.”
“I’m surprised he’s not retired already,” I says. “I heard Darlene say he’s in his sixties.”
Just then something yanked at my bait. The rod bent double, I knocked over my beer and damn near lost my rod and everything on it.
“Looks like we’re not having tacos tonight,” Larry says.
He was right.
When we got back to Larry’s apartment, the place smelled like somebody had dropped a bottle of perfume, the expensive kind they keep behind the counter at the carry out.
“Wags is coming to dinner,” Darlene announces as I laid the catfish we caught in the kitchen sink.
Doris, that’s my wife, was standing beside her with a look that says Momma had hooked something bigger than anything we’d ever catch.
“Don’t know if we got enough beer for Wags,” Larry says, not sounding very welcoming. We’d only bought one twelve pack on the way home.
“He and Momma drink G&Ts,” Lois says with that superior tone women use when they think they know everything. “And Wags is bringing the gin.”
Just then we heard heavy breathing from the stairwell and in comes Wags, all out of breath, carrying a quart of gin.
“Let’s save the twelve pack for tomorrow,” I says to Larry.
“Hello, Wags,” Darlene and Lois titter.
“Don’t know if we got room for you in here,” Larry says.
The kitchen is hardly big enough for me and Doris, not to mention Larry, Darlene and Momma, without everybody damn near sitting on somebody else’s lap.
“You and Bill Bob can eat in the other room,” Darlene says with that pasted on smile women wear before they hit you with an ax.
“I’ll make us all some G&Ts,” Wags says to smooth things over.
So he starts knocking the ice out of the trays and pouring the gin halfway up the glasses. You don’t get many miles per gallon out of these old girls. For a while it looked like an ordinary neighborhood party with Lois and Darlene skinning and breading the catfish. Then the smell of that perfume got stronger, and in comes Momma.
Like a girl showing off at the prom, she spun around in the door so her skirt flared out (I didn’t even know she had one). And damn, it worked! Her legs were tighter than a stripper’s, she still had a bust, and her hair was pinned up over her neck. Wags’ jaw dropped and the girls gasped and clasped their hands like a rock star had dropped down from heaven. If you were looking for the model of a seventy-year-old woman on the make, you’d a picked her. Larry was beside himself. That’s when I began to wonder who was chasing who.
“Looks like it was your lucky day, boys,” she says to Larry and me looking at the catfish, but she was really speaking to Wags. “Sit down, Wags. You must be tired after all that walking.”
So Momma and Wags sit down at the table, leaving Larry to finish making the drinks and the girls to fry up the catfish. I hadn’t noticed it before, but they’d put potatoes in the oven and were even boiling up some beans on the stove. It’d been years since we’d had a meal like this.
“How long you got ’til retirement, Wags?” I says to make polite conversation on the only subject mailmen ever talk about.
“Another two years,” he says, not taking his eyes off Momma.
“Must have gotten a late start,” Larry says.
“Tell him, Wags,” Momma says looking at Wags like he’d just won the lottery.
“I did twenty years for manslaughter before I got started,” says Wags. “That kinda set me back.”
“What happened?” Larry croaks.
“Some asshole made a move on my woman.”
Larry about shit. Darlene and Doris damn near swooned, like it was a romance made in heaven. Women love a man who will stand up for them.
“Let’s give Momma and Wags some space,” Darlene says when the fish was done and moved everybody except our two love birds into the other room. Pretty good meal, too. We didn’t talk much, didn’t even turn on the TV, because we wanted to listen to what was happening in the kitchen. All we heard were ice cubes tinkling and Momma giggling. After a while Momma sticks her head in and says, “We’re going.”
The girls looked like they were going to applaud.
“Where’re you going?” Larry asks, seeing Momma’s money slipping away from him and Darlene.
“Del Shepherd’s,” Wags says from the doorway, throwing us a look like a kid throws his mother after he’s been sentenced to 10 years for armed robbery.
Momma blushed right through the makeup she used to even out the wrinkles. Del Shepherd’s is a bar on the far side of town near Wag’s place where they charge five dollars for a beer, way too expensive for Larry and me.
“When will you be home?” Larry says like the anguished father again.
“Not sure, Larry,” Momma says over her shoulder as they go down the stairs. “We’re both making up for lost time.”
So off they go in Wags’ Ford 150. I never seen the girls so excited. Of course, Darlene and Lois hadn’t been out on a date in decades, so Momma was like one of those celebrities you can see but never touch. I was sure glad Wags brought that quart of gin. Larry was still working on it waiting up for Momma when Lois and I went downstairs to our place. Momma didn’t come home.
Next morning, we were eating eggs and some other stuff the girls had fried up, when the smell of perfume wafts into the kitchen again. It’s Momma come home, her hair down and her clothes looking like she’d been in and out of them in a hostile environment. Without saying a word, she goes through the kitchen to her room. I thought I could hear her crying. Larry was happier than I’d ever seen him. The romance was over. The family fortune was saved. Wags was gone. That’s when Darlene and Doris told us to take our damn twelve pack and go back to the river. They’d take care of Momma. And they sure did.
Took quite a while to find out what had happened. Larry and I had never heard the girls whisper so much or cut off so quick when they saw us coming. And Momma, she’d got herself one of these phones that knows everything (you can even talk to it and it talks back), and she spent all her time hunched over it, so we couldn’t see a damn thing on its tiny little screen. Finally she showed something to the girls, and they all tittered and nodded and said, “That’s just what the doctor ordered.”
Wags himself didn’t come back upstairs with the mail ’til the end of the week, and then Momma grabbed him before he could set down his mail sack and says, “Let’s go to Del Shepherd’s place tonight. We need to talk.”
“I’m real tired,” Wags says. He sounded like he’d been up drinking all night.
“So take a nap when you get home,” Momma says. “And stay off the gin until we get to Del’s.”
Momma’s got a tone of voice that works real well with men who are trying to mess with her. Took us a little longer to figure out the problem was that Wags wasn’t messing. So right at seven, after we’d finished the Colonel Sanders we’d had for dinner, we hear Wags dragging his sorry ass up the stairs again, and Momma springing up for him in jeans and a cowgirl shirt like she was off to ride the bull in a rodeo. As for Wags, well, I seen some guys intimidated by a woman, but he was so pale and shaking I wondered how he got through twenty years in the state pen. When Momma wants something she gets it, and Wags was what she wanted.
“He can’t say no,” Darlene says as soon as they’re gone.
“Of course he can’t,” Doris says.
Now that was enough to start us wondering what the hell “it” was. The girls weren’t talking, so the only way to find out was to get it from Wags. Problem was Wags wasn’t talking because he knew Momma would bust his ass. I didn’t know what to do, but one afternoon down by the river Larry says, “I got it.”
We were on our last beers and hadn’t caught any fish, but I could tell Larry had been thinking hard all day. Thinking is where he shines. Last time he got busted for selling stolen property, he was able to talk the prosecutor down in a plea deal where he only got two years and everybody else was getting three to five. Come to think of it, some information must have changed hands on that one. Larry’s damn good at getting the goods on other people.
“Wags hasn’t been coming up for dinner until after six,” he says. “You get my point?”
“Keep going, partner,” I says. I’d noticed Wags was running late and it pissed me off, because I was always hungry when we got back from the river.
“That means he’s going somewhere else before he comes upstairs. We got to find where.”
“How we gonna do that?” I wonders.
“We follow him.”
So next afternoon after Wags finished his route and got into his truck at the postal station, Larry and I were there waiting. I let him stay a few cars ahead and followed him to a strip center in the suburbs. Lucky I was behind a Silverado because Wags looked all around after he got out of his truck like he’s afraid somebody’d see him. Then he stoops over and damn near runs to a door where I couldn’t see the name. The blinds in the windows were down.
“Maybe he’s buying pornography,” I says.
Larry’s not saying anything.
So I parked beside a conversion van where Wags couldn’t see us when he came out. Just then another guy comes out of the place all hunched over like he doesn’t want anyone to recognize him, either. Then another guy goes in smiling like he’d won the lottery.
“Damn,” I says. “What the hell’s in there?”
We sat there for a half hour while a steady stream of men went in and out, some smiling and some looking real worried, until Wags finally comes out, gets in his truck and drives away.
“I gotta find out what’s going on in there,” Larry says getting out of the truck.
“Be careful,” I says. “It might be one of those massage places. You get caught in there and your parole officer will bust your ass.”
Larry, he’s really got balls. He went right up to the door and went in. I about shit. Ten minutes later he comes out carrying a pamphlet.
“Look at this,” he says, handing me a pamphlet from Urology Delights Salon. “Wags is being treated for ED.”
“You got me, partner,” I says.
“Erectile dysfunction,” he says.
“Beats hell out of me, partner,” I says. “That what happens when a bridge falls down?”
“It’s what happens when your cock won’t stand up.”
“They gave me something at the VA for that,” I says. “It didn’t work so well with Lois.”
“They use ultrasound at Urology Delights,” Larry goes on.
“They play music?”
“They zap your cock with sound waves to open up the blood vessels so you can screw like a kid again.”
“What do blood vessels have to do with it?” I asks. “I thought it was all a matter of having the right piece of ass.”
“Says right here if your vessels ain’t clear, you ain’t got a shot at anything.”
“Bet having your cock zapped hurts,” I says. “He must really be hot on Momma to do that.”
“They told me it costs two thousand dollars,” Larry says. “I figure Wags sees it as an investment to get her money.”
“What do we do now?” I asks.
“We gotta have a man-to-man talk with Wags.”
So next time Wags didn’t come by for dinner, Larry and I tell the girls we’re going out for another twelve pack and drive over to Wags place. He wasn’t home.
“Where the hell you think he is?” I asks.
“Let’s try Del Shepherd’s,” Larry says. “If that’s where he’s taking Momma, that’s where he drinks alone.”
And that’s where we found him, hunched over a G&T at the bar. So I sat down on one side of him and Larry on the other. Wags didn’t look up.
“You running a tab?” the bartender asks after giving each of us a five dollar beer.
“Won’t be here that long,” Larry says.
Larry sets the Urology Delights pamphlet beside Wags’ glass, and he looks up with that “Oh, shit” look guilty people get when the cops put the handcuffs on them.
“What’s it like to get your cock zapped?” I asks to break the tension.
Wags ordered another G&T for himself, and another round for Larry and me.
“It’s the damnedest thing,” he says. “You go in this little room with soft music and the lights down low and drop your pants.”
“I been in places like that,” Larry says.
“You wrap a couple towels around you, lie down on this little table, and in comes a woman.”
“Who the hell’s she?” I says.
“Says she’s a nurse,” Wags goes on. “She asks if you’re comfortable, and then she unwraps the towels and starts zapping your cock with this little wand.”
“What’s she look like?” I says.
“Cute little blond with a big grin.”
“That would do it for me,” I says.
“Did it work?” Larry asks.
“I got two more treatments to go, but it’s working,” Wags says. “Last time she kinda brushes against me, and up it goes.”
“Damn,” Larry and I both say.
Then Larry crushes the can of his second beer and leans toward Wags.
“You trying to screw Momma?” Larry asks in a tone of voice I never heard before.
“She’s trying to screw me,” Wags says looking like he’s ready to shit. “I can’t afford Urology Delights on a mailman’s pay. Momma’s paying for it.”
Now it was Larry’s turn to just about shit. We both knew Wags was telling the truth, because when Momma wants something bad enough, she’ll do anything to get it.
“What’s next for you and Momma?” Larry finally says.
Our beers were about gone, and Wags was waving at the bartender for another round.
“She’s on my ass damn near every day of the week,” Wags says like he’s just been sentenced to another twenty years. “I can’t get away from her. She’s taking over my place. Decorating, she calls it: new towels and sheets, bath mat in the shower, couch in the living room, big screen TV, all the stuff women like.”
“So you’re getting married?” Larry asks so soft I could hardly hear him.
“No way!” Wags exclaims. “She says she’s through marrying. Considering what happened to her last husband, I wouldn’t want to go there, either.”
“So what’s all the decorating for?” Larry says.
“She wants a place to shack up when she feels like it,” Wags says. From the look on his face, he was farther from retirement than he’d ever been.
Wags waved to the bartender for the check. He paid it, too. All of it. Even left a tip.
“She’s hooked me, boys,” Wags says. “I can’t get away.”
This guy is sounding more and more like family, I thought.
“Guess you don’t have nothing to worry about, Larry,” I says when we’re back in the truck.
“Guess not,” he says.
But he did. A few days later, we came home early because it was raining so hard we got soaked. Figured we’d dry off and finish our twelve pack in the kitchen and maybe find something to eat, but the refrigerator was empty and the girls were gone. Lucky I had some beef jerky in my cargo pants. We were down to our last three beers when I smelled perfume and in comes Momma from the living room.
“I gave Darlene and Lois cab fare to the supermarket,” she says. “We live in a food desert.”
“Like some beef jerky?” Larry asks, breaking off a piece of his and offering it to her.
“What I’d like is to have a talk with you two,” she says.
Oh, shit, I thought. Now it’s coming.
“Heard you two had a little talk with Wags over at Del Shepherd’s place,” she says. “What you boys doing all the way across town?”
Larry looked at me like I was supposed to know.
“Wags is damn near family,” I says. “Thought we’d drop by and say hi.”
“Bullshit,” she says. “You even made him pay for your beers.”
“Couldn’t turn down a friendly offer,” Larry says. His voice was quivering.
“Let me make you a friendly offer, Larry,” Momma says. “Lay off Wags. He’s all mine. And I’ll give you the same deal I gave him.”
Larry was shaking so bad his beer was sloshing out of the can.
“I’ll pay your tab at Urology Delights,” says Momma.
“No need to do that,” Larry whispers.
“Darlene says you got the same problem Wags had. I think you ought to try it.”
Now when Momma wants to do something for her little girl, she does it in a big way. And you better go along with it, too.
“I suppose it won’t hurt to try it,” he croaks.
“And how about you, Bill Bob?” she says, turning to me. “Drinking all that beer hasn’t improved your performance, or so I hear.”
I about shit.
“I’ll treat you to it, too,” she says all sweet and nice.
It always gets me the way women stick together. Once one of them gets something, all the others want it, too.
“Worth a try, Momma,” I says.
“Good. I’m glad you boys are on board. Now how about one of those beers?”
So I give her the last one, and the three of us sat there drinking beer and eating beef jerky until the girls got back with four bags of groceries.
“Any beer in there?” Larry asks.
“You two better go and get us some,” Momma says, handing him a twenty. “The girls and I have some catching up to do.”