© 2006 Veronica McLaughlin
I was thirty before I realised my family wasn’t any more interesting than anyone else’s. What I mean is, I hadn’t realised that other people’s families were interesting. Problem is, folks get so embarrassed by their family history they never discuss it. Or, if they do, they’re such lousy storytellers, it sounds no different than what they had for supper last night. Now my family – we got no skeletons in our closet. We got bones and carcasses laying all over the front yard, between them cars up on cinder blocks and that rusty washing machine my ex sister in law’s got parked out in front.
In my family you can get a divorce – but it’s just a piece of paper saying you can marry someone else. Fact is, you’re married for life in my family, sorta like polygamy, but without the sex. At least the sex isn’t mandatory. There might be sex. It’s really up to you. I been married twice and we had my ex over for supper just last week. I needed someone to patch that leak in the roof and the husband I been bedding down with ain’t no good at that sort of thing.
Maw’s been married seven times. A couple of them did hightail it when they got that little piece of paper. Some hung around for a good long while. One was doing short time for accessory to murder and tried to woo her back while he was in jail, but she knew that while he meant every word of it locked up, once he got back on the outside, he’d be chasing up some new skirt. He got three women preggers while they were married. And he already had four babies with three different women when he married Maw. Begged her to have one for him as well. Maw’d already had five and was cruising in on forty, so she wasn’t having a bar of it.
Daniel was a real yokel, missing front teeth, mangy long hair, never looked anyone in the eye. Maw thought he was handsome as all get out. Hey – I’m that age now and I can spot an ugly loser twenty-one year old as good now as I did then. But Maw was mostly interested in the sex and a twenty-one year old could go a lot longer than a man her own age – and he’d be firm and frisky. She cared more about his dick than his teeth. Only thing Maw complained about was that he didn’t know the nice words for the sex organs. Maw’d read some books and so she would only say breasts and vagina and penis and sexual intercourse. Daniel was a tit man who thought pussy was the nice word for c@#$ and dick and prick were all you needed to f#$%.
Anyway, the guy was butt stupid. Twenty one year old father of seven, quit school at thirteen, couldn’t hold a conversation, and thought Journey was the greatest band of all-time. I think he was husband number three, but to be honest, I’m not sure any more and I don’t want to ask Maw, because then she’ll talk about him, and I hate when she does that.
When he was in prison he found religion and became a preacher, which was why Maw considered taking him back when he got out. Anyway, I suppose I should tell you why he was in jail for accessory to murder. Maw’s version of events. Which means they’re completely biased, but then all stories are. Only God knows the truth and ain’t sharing it with us. The way Maw tells it he’d been running with a bad crowd for a while there and she was trying to break him of it.
Well, one night, he was with this bad crowd of his in the town park, drinking Jack Daniels and Southern Comfort. They’d drunk quite a lot when the local retard came up to them. Who knows why boys do these sorts of things, but they started hitting him and knocked him down and then started kicking him. Next thing he was dead. According to Maw, Daniel took the rap because he was the only one who was of legal age. The rest of them were all under eighteen. So the cops and the DA pinned it on hubby and off he went. I guess the others went to juvey for a while.
Maw divorced him and married Gerald, this old codger who’d had a stroke and was mostly crippled, not to mention the testicular cancer, which took his balls. His daughter was taking a ceramics class and made him a new set of rhinestone-encrusted balls, which she put into a small jewellery box labelled “The Family Jewels”. Before they got married, my sister and I used to go up to his apartment when we were in town and hungry. He always had cookies and sandwiches and was happy enough to feed us as long as he could show us his family jewels. And try to grope us, but we were too fast for him and always got away. We felt sorry for him even then. Poor old guy. There was a picture of him as a younger man on top of the TV, we thought he was old there; but he was probably in his thirties, full head of hair, looked sorta like Burt Lancaster standing in his swim trunks, all tanned and fit. With both eyes. One was glass now – and he liked to play with it, leave it on your saucer when he served you a cup of coffee.
Maw married the old coot and poor thing thought he was going to be getting some on his wedding night. As if Maw was going to swing from a twenty-one year old to a seventy-seven year old one eyed, ball-free stroke victim. Not on your life. We had the ceremony in their living room and the whole family hung out for a while, sipping pink champagne from tall plastic glasses. Everyone else left except my sister and me and Gerald. The old guy was seriously bummed when Maw went off to bed by herself, leaving the three of us watching “Emergency” on TV. Next thing there was banging on her window and the sound of someone climbing in. Then some hooting and hollering and judging by the sounds emanating through the door, some pornographic sex going on behind. Turned out the guy that came through the window was Turk, (for the t-shirt he always wore with a turkey on the front) Daniel’s best friend.
This went on for a few months, until Gerald upped and disappeared one day when Maw was off at work in the dress factory. Shortly after, Turk got picked up for public intoxication and was packed off to the funny farm. Daniel got out of jail and moved back in for a couple of months, but Maw got tired of him trying to bring her to God and when this pregnant girl turned up looking for him, she threw him out, swore she’d never have another man.
Of course she did, though Ronnie wasn’t actually a real husband on account it turned out he already had a wife and two kids. He told Maw how his wife had died of cancer and how he’d taken care of her through her last days, giving her shots and how she’d died in his arms. Maw fell for him like a tree for a chainsaw. He was forty-two and had a good job working for the county cutting down trees ’round the power lines. Looked like she’d finally found the right one.
At first this was the mushiest of all them, those two crooning ‘Sweet Love’ at each other all day and night, writing love letters on the napkins in their lunch boxes. And the lovemaking… my sister moved out and left me alone with them. She couldn’t take it any more. Moved in with a family that had thirteen kids already that didn’t seem to notice another skinny girl hanging around.
It all went bad when he didn’t pay on the mortgage. Maw’d always managed to get these husbands to pay the mortgage. After they were ‘married’ Ronnie told her he’d look after the bills and she shouldn’t worry her little head. Maw always got stupid the minute she fell in love. Any other time she’d have the good sense to think she’d been running through men, husbands, lovers and paying customers like water for the last twenty years or so, and it was always going to be up to her to take care of her bills. But no, every new man was Prince Charming or some such and if they were so inclined, she let them take care of everything. Fortunately few were inclined or she would have lost the house sooner. You’d think she would’ve cottoned on that Ronnie wasn’t paying the bills when the electric was turned off, which meant the water pump didn’t work and we had to fetch water from the creek behind the barn to flush the toilet. No, it took the bank manager calling her up at work for her to get the message. She was six months behind on the payments and they were starting foreclosure.
There wasn’t much sweet lovin’ that night. We lived out on a dirt road, and while the nearest neighbour was half a mile away, you know they got an earful. Ronnie swore up and down the bank had made some mistake and he’d straighten it out tomorrow blah blah blah, but of course he didn’t. That’s when Maw did a bit of checking and found out his wife was still alive. Don’t quite know what words to use to describe her rage. Murderous would cut it, except she didn’t kill him. They did get into a fistfight though, and she ended up with a broken nose. Never got to see what he looked like.
Maw started scheming just how she was going to get revenge, especially since she couldn’t make those mortgage payments herself and the bank made her move out. We moved into a fleabag hotel in Oneonta, just up the road from the dress factory, where I was working too by then. Me and Maw in a double bed with a mattress like a sack of stale marshmallows that stank of barf. I decided to sleep on the floor. Across the hall, there lived a scary looking dude named Mack, who’d killed his wife when he found her in bed with another man; just out on parole. He and Maw got together a few times, her trying to make Ronnie jealous.
After a month she found an apartment in a falling down old house, seventy-five dollars a month and started getting her life back on track. Except Ronnie just wouldn’t go away.
He was seriously in love with Maw, or else he was a glutton for punishment like no one I’d ever known. He kept coming around, swearing he’d left his wife for real this time and was going to make it all up to her, see about getting the house back. But just like she switched onto love and couldn’t see anything else, Maw switched on to hate and that was all she saw, hate and vengeance and plain old making him pay.
I’d be in my room with the music turned up so I couldn’t hear them, though of course I could. Either fighting or sexing. There was this newfangled version of sex where Maw would make love all sweet and warm and then, when just when he was about to blow, she’d shriek at the top of her voice ‘Go back to your wife! Go make love to your wife!’ He actually came back for this several times.
But Maw wanted to see him in jail. So she called the police and told them he was messing with her car. The police said there was nothing they could do unless they caught him in the act. She was outraged. She called them up the next day and told them he was messing with her car again. They told her the same thing. This went on for a few days, or a week. Then she went down to the car and under the hood and pulled some wires from the starter so it wouldn’t start. Then she called the husband who wasn’t really her husband but another woman’s husband and asked him to please come and see if he could fix her car.
As soon as Ronnie turned up, she called the police. They arrested him. And he went to jail for thirty days, which was reduced to seven and he had to pay a fine. I left right around then, figured it could get real ugly and dangerous and if Maw had a lick of sense about her, she’d be afraid for her life. Maw never really had a lick of sense.
But Ronnie finally got the idea and gave up on Maw. Last she heard, he’d gone back to his wife and kids, and then she threw him out and he was living in the Oneonta Hotel. That’s where they all ended up. Daniel and Turk, too. With Maw just up the way…