A little girl with dimples skips up to her grandmother, “Big Mama tell me what life was like when you were younger?”
The older woman gazes out the window with a faraway look in her eye. She pats the open space on the couch near her and says, “Come here baby. My story isn’t pretty. In fact, I never revealed this to my children.”
“Not even my daddy?” The little girl climbs off the couch, and fidgets into a cross- leg position on the floor in front of her grandmother.
“Not even him,” The grandmother says.
“I grew up on the Southside of Chicago back in the days when the lions in front of the Art Institute on Michigan Avenue walked the streets at midnight and the statues in front of the Museum of Science and Industry climbed off their perches to swim naked in Lake Michigan.”
The little girl’s eyes widen as her grandmother continues.
“What year was that?”
“1940-60-70,” Big Mama answers.
“What year was my father born?” The little girl inquires.
“I told him 1961, but actually the date is unknown,” Big Mama glances at the full moon.
“But Big Mama, you should know when he was born. You’re his mother,” The little girl gives her grandmother the side eye.
“Listen little girl, back in my day we didn’t question our elders. Just listen to the story, I will answer that question by the end.” Reaching for a tissue, Big Mama continues.
“In those days, air conditioners were more valuable than silver or gold. Summers in Chicago have always been unbearable. The closer you live to the lake, the better to get a cool breeze on a scorching hot day, except when you can’t. On that kind of day, it’s just best to pack up a picnic basket, a beach towel, a radio and head to the lakefront.
“Big Mama, can I have a cookie.”
“Yes baby. You know where to find them?” She calls after the retreating little girl. When the little girl is out of sight, Big Mama waves her diamond-ringed finger in a circular motion in front of the window. In moments, a beacon returns a signal to her via several stars appearing in the sky brighter than usual, informing her that tonight would be the night.
The little girl runs in the room suddenly, and plops on the couch, fidgeting, “Big Mama, dad says we shouldn’t tell fibs.”
“I’m not fibbing. Now would someone that can make a cookie taste so good, tell a lie?”
“I don’t know Big Mama…it’s just that your stories get me into trouble when I retell them to my parents.”
“Well, don’t tell my stories. Tell your own.”
“But your stories are funnier.”
“Your stories can be funny too.”
“Tell me the secret to telling a good story.”
“Practice is all it takes. Try making yourself laugh first.”
“Okay. Please finish the story.”
“Well let’s see….” The chime of the doorbell interrupts the moment.
The little girl pops off the couch and run, slides to the window, “It’s dad!”
“Okay, gather up your stuff and I will see you later.”
The little girl kisses her grandmother goodbye, and hurries to unlatch the door, while putting on her shoes and grabbing more cookies. She leaves in a hurry, running down the stairs to leap into her father’s arms. They get into his car and drive away.
The older woman enters her bedroom, her eyes glancing over the photographs and artwork. She kicks off her sandals, unzips her housedress and walks into the bathroom, shutting the door behind her. As the water from her shower runs, three points of light enter her bedroom, circling each other until a man emerges. He sits on the bed, but not before tossing his hat onto the hook on the wall. The man picks up the framed photo of a younger version of himself beside the bed, saying, “Ghost,” He replaces the photograph back onto the side table. “I don’t know why she insists on keeping these out. They’re creepy even to someone like me.” The gentleman takes his clothes off, carefully folding each piece onto a chair. As he opens the bathroom door, the steam hits him in the face. He climbs in with the woman, chuckling as he sings, “Then I saw her face. I’m a believer.”
Big Mama freezes beneath the flow of water, as she feels his presence before she sees or hears him. Her head beneath the showerhead, she repeats, “Not ready, not ready.”
He steadies her, as she tries to bolt from the shower. “No. You’ve had me waiting for nearly three decades. Do you know how cold it is at home? The kids ask, “When is Mom coming back? So I looked into my magic eight ball, and guess what it showed me?”
“Made in China?” She replied with a hint of a shiver.
“I’ve been watching for signs of your progress. Watching to see what you’d become down here. First there was that gangster. Then you were a singer, but I could never find you backstage after the show. It’s like all the blacks got on busses and trains headed out of town after their shifts ended. Then you pretended to be someone’s maid. That one hurt me. That’s when I packed the kids up and sent them to my mother’s and came down to see what was the hold up.” He gently turned her to face him. “A maid,” A tear rolled down his face, “Baby, a maid? I sent you down to deliver a message, a very specific message.”
Big Mama wanted to crumble into his arms. His touch offered more than mere comfort. It was the comforting balm of recognition from someone who knew her from before, from way back in the day.
The gentleman continues, “This isn’t your body. This isn’t your hair. Everything is changed. What have they done to you? Tell me what happened.”
Until the moment he touches her, she did not remember the sequence of events. “When I arrived, I wasn’t sure who would be best to give the warning. I stood on a corner in DC and read an Archie comic book, when the answer presented itself: Go to the top.”
“Where did you get the comic book? They weren’t printing Archie in those days,” He says intensely.
“It was the same one I always read. It’s the issue where Jughead gets the girl and Archie has to watch them make sandwiches all the time.”
“That’s an episode of Dobie Gillis. You’re on very thin ice. Try again.”
“I was watching I Love Lucy, when Ricky came home with his friend J.J. and Lucy and Ethel were drinking all the ripple, and Fred was stinking up the house with a pot of chitlins.”
“That’s I Love Lucy, Good Times and Sanford & Son. Again to whom did you deliver the message? This time, look me in the eye.”
“I told the owner of Ben’s Chili Bowl, who gave me a free lunch. He said he knew all the powerful people. So I asked for the phone number of the man who was running things. So, he gave me the address of the cook over on Transylvania Avenue.”
“I think you mean Pennsylvania Avenue. Go on.”
“Well, I walked in with the other folks. I just kind of blended in during a tour.”
“You used the invisibility agent that I made for you?”
“Yes,” Big Mama flinched a bit as she knew he would be furious in a moment, “I also used the Super-Silky-Soul-Power costume that you had custom made for me.”
“You did what?” Big Daddy inquires.
“Uh, it was free love and social unrest and shit was just fucked up.” Big Mama stood up straight and stopped cowering. I wanted to walk in there, say what I came to say, and be out, like a light switch.
“The year when I sent you down, there wasn’t any free love going on. Who started that?”
Big Mama’s hand goes up, “The way things were going. I thought it was the end of the world. I figured, let’s all just go happy.”
Climbing out of the shower, the gentleman grabs a towel and holds it open for Big Mama. “C’mon let’s dry you off. Now tell me all of it. I know you’re leaving something out.”
“Well, when I first arrived. I thought this place is really small. I mean compared to how it’s filmed on television. I was expecting a spacious spread and lots of acreage behind it, and rolling hills and horses galloping by.”
“Wrong country, wrong house and maybe a different century. Wait, are you talking about the planet?” Big Daddy seems confused.
“Yes, what else?” Big Mama answers.
“Go on.” Big Daddy tosses the towel to the floor.
Big Mama continues, “A group of men were walking in a hall, a few feet from me. I waved, and someone said, “Yes, hurry up the President hasn’t arrived yet.” That person walked down the hall in a quick clip, unlatched a rope and allowed me access to the rest of the home.”
“Just like that?” Big Daddy questions.
“Yeah, pretty much…like that,” Big Mama hesitates, and then continues, “You don’t believe me do you?”
“Well, it’s a lot to take in. What happened next?” Big Daddy rests in a side chair.
Big Mama continues, “I was still invisible, and hungry. So, I followed a marine onto an elevator. I wandered around, found what appeared to be a refrigerator, opened it and took out a platter of chicken, a container of scalloped potatoes and a gallon of what looked like punch. You see, I was so hungry, that my stomach began to growl at the very moment that someone walked into the kitchen. I think it was a chef, because he grabbed a really big knife and hopped onto a counter, then looked under the cabinets saying, I’ll find you one day you dirty little piece of filth!”
“Hmm, so what else happened?” Big Daddy, helps Big Mama into a silk robe.
Big Mama continues, “I grabbed a coke and looked around for the bar. I wandered the halls and found a bedroom, flopped onto the bed with the Raggedy Ann doll nearby, but it wasn’t right. So, I looked for another room further down. There was a bed there that seemed like it wasn’t being used. Now, knowing that this wasn’t the Motel 6, I really didn’t want to sleep on someone else’s dirty sheets. So, I grabbed a couple of pillows and a chenille comforter and crawled into a corner to sleep.”
Big Daddy reacts to the news, “Wait. You mean to tell me you finessed your way into the White House undetected by Secret Service, Marines and the President and you chose to sleep on the floor?”
“Yes.” Big Mama answers.
“But why? The people pay for that house. It’s yours to use. Well, let me be clear, you should have an invitation and clearance,” Says Big Daddy.
“But I’m your girl, remember. I don’t need clearance. You told me to tell anyone that gets in my way, to clear the ______ out the way!”
“Yes, but you were to remain at home until I let you know when the time would be right for your debut,” Big Daddy reminds her.
“I was tired of waiting. Besides, I saw something occur and I wanted to warn the people on that planet,” Big Mama answers.
“What did you see?”
“I saw human beings transform into the most despicable vermin, and then transform back again.”
“You saw what? You’re making that up.”
“No, I wish I didn’t see it. I heard them talking about invading the planet.”
Big Daddy sits down unexpectedly, then stands up, grabs his hat, drops it, and then puts on his clothes.
“Where are you going?” Big Mama says.
“I have to tell someone,” Big Daddy answers.
“It’s too late. They have completed their mission.”
“What? Who are they?” Big Daddy inquires.
Big Mama takes a deep breath, and then checks the room, but it is too late for that. “They’re calling themselves the Republican Presidential Candidates of 2012.”
“But they’re here now! You have to tell someone. The timeline is all screwy. Who did you warn when you first arrived?”
“JFK,” Big Mama says with one eye squeezed closed and the other on Big Daddy, “I was dressed like a blonde. You know, I was wearing my Hot-n-Holly costume,” She explains.
Big Daddy narrows his eyes as he smiles. “I remember that costume. I special ordered it for our little rendezvous in that sector run by the Martians.”
Big Mama smiles a big, knowing smile. “I had it going on, until I met this girl named Norma Jean. She asked me who did my hair, so I took her to my hairdresser, loaned her a dress and next thing I know, the whole world is clamoring for Marilyn Monroe,” Big Mama sucks her teeth.
“So what happened with JFK? What did you talk about?”
“I made him and his brother a sandwich.”
The gentleman stutters, “You what?”
“I made them a sandwich,” A far away look crosses her face, “I made them the Dagwood.”
The gentleman stands, as Big Mama says, “Uh oh,” and runs to a corner.
“You said that was my special sandwich,” The gentleman’s chin begins to quiver a bit, as he walks to the closet, pulling out dresses, hats and boots. He begins jumping up and down on all of it, and then he runs into the bathroom, returning with a cup of water and pours it all over the “clothes.” Then he grabs his portable notebook, turning it around to show her the photograph of an original costume, “You see this? I guess you won’t need this. I was planning on having one these made for you,” He says, pointing to a photograph of a Video Vixen.
“Big Daddy….” Big Mama cries.
Big Daddy snaps his fingers, and the original owner of that particular Video Vixen costume saunters into the room, and stands close to him. “Hello darling.”
Big Daddy practically purrs, “Ready to go to my villa on Capricorn Copernicus 6.12?”
The Vixen responds, “But I don’t have anything to wear Big Daddy?”
“Just so happens that is the current fashion,” Big Daddy closes his eyes briefly, while allowing the Vixen to exit the room ahead of him, as he peeks at her retreating posterior. “Yes, there is a Santa.”
THE NEXT AFTERNOON:
The dimpled cheek little girl skips up to her grandmother, “Big Mama, please finish the story that you began yesterday?”
Big Mama bends low to tie her sneakers, then attachs an iPod to her arm. “I try not to repeat myself. Tell you what, why don’t we grab our bikes, and go for a long ride?”
The little girl smiles, “Great!”
“I’ll tell you about the time I stood up People’s Sexiest Man Alive, for a date.”
“Big Mama, you’re fibbing again.” The little girl laughs.
“You don’t believe me? Okay, look in the closet on the top shelf, you’ll find a pair of satin bunny ears. I was wearing them on a photo shoot for Jet magazine, back when I had my figure and ate air and water for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Which reminds me, did you know that Big Mama learned everything she knows about Barbecue from an Iron Chef and that I once fed a cookie to the Cookie Monster?”
“Big Mama, you’re full of it.”
Both the little girl and the older woman laugh as they ride off down the street on their bikes.
Music Suggestion: (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher, Jackie Wilson
Copyright © 2012 Kimberly Yarbrough Carpenter