By O. Lucio d’Arc
THE REAL SHOW that night starts after her last set. Max, the mustachioed manager of Rambo, summons her from behind the bar with a flick of his pudgy fingers.
“Someone wants you on the phone in my office,” Max tells her, hoisting his pants up over his belly. “Don’t make a habit of it.”
She always turns off her cell phone when she’s on stage. In fact, most of the time. She hates it, but you have to have one, ya know.
She puts on her shoes and saunters to the door in the rear wall, thanking her fans and pulling sticky beer mitts off her denim ass.
She opens the door to Max’s office. One desk. One chair. One audition couch. Cheesecake and Georgia Okeeffe clits side by side on the walls. Hey, this is San Francisco. On the desk is an ancient dial phone, its receiver lying beside it off the hook, and a bottle of Old Overholt rye and a glass. She picks up the receiver.
“This is Rhowna,” says the voice on the phone.
“Hold on a minute.” Carole takes a long swig from the bottle of whiskey.
Rhowna is her dad’s live-in caretaker, a black middle-aged drummed-out ex-stewardess who thinks she looks better in her mirror than her mirror does.
It must have been about 4 a.m. back in Pennsylvania, where Carole can only presumes Rhowna is.
She takes another swig of Old Over Coat, as they used to call it when she was a teenager.
“He’s gone,” says Rhowna.
“About two hours ago. In his sleep,” she says.
“OK. Good. Thanks.”
“You need to come home,” says Rhowna.
“You’re his only kin, probably the X-Eck-U-Tor of his estate. He’s your dad. I can’t do anything,” she whines.
“Well, I never found them … never saw them, but your father told me he had a lot of stocks and bonds and stuff that he somehow hung onto even after Trump became president,” Rhowna says. “And there’s this safe deposit box key.”
“And there are funeral arrangements, and such. That’s not in my job description,” she adds with a huff.
“Ok, Ok. I can’t leave tonight. I have gigs, you know? What funeral home do you want to use?”
“That’s not my decision …” mumbles Rhowna.
“Oh, fuck off. Pick one. And give me the phone number.”
She does. As if she had already decided. It was in a black neighborhood, and where her brother-in-law Raul works.
“Will you be staying here at the house?” Rhowna asks.
She doesn’t seem disappointed.
OVER BLACK COFFEE, no sugar,at the Starbuck’s near her studio apartment – she’s a barista’s nightmare – Carole calls the Bianco Funeral Home and arranges for her father’s cremation in two days time.
Maybe he wanted to be buried, not cremated. Who the fuck knows? There might be a will, but she was three time zones away.
She books a flight to Bethlehem, Pa., on her cell phone and plans to taker Uber to and from the airports.
She had lied to Rhowna about the gigs. She has none worth talking about. Pass-the-hat performances mostly.
Frankly, “Pot Is The New Baby Ruth” and “I Love My Plants Because They’re Female” and “Woody’s Weed” were just not Grammy material.
Scott Free is aghast when she tells him over coffees that she was taking off East for a week or so.
“Carole, Carole, Carole, you can’t, you can’t, you can’t,” he whines.
She tells him she is going.
“Then I will go with you. There is nothing here for me if you are not.”
Scott Free’s eternal love – for the last three weeks anyway – has for some queer reason just dumped him for a skinny teenage Asian waiter in Chinatown.
Why not let him come with me? she thinks. Scott Free is smart, tough and knows a lot of things she doesn’t – like country music pot songs are the next Big Thing.
And he would be a little piece of home while she’s a stranger in a strange land.
No, not that kind of piece.
Oreste P. D’Arconte, who writes fiction under the name O. Lucio d’Arc, is a retired newspaper publisher and a weekly newspaper columnist. His short stories have appeared in the Murder Inc. trilogy of anthologies and he has had his poetry published in several literary magazines. A resident of Attleboro, Mass., he also wrote a hardback history of the Attleboro YMCA in 2017.