You gave me quite the fright! But I did say any time, and I meant it. Yes, yes, come in, come in! Leave your boots on the mat and let me take your coat. Funny, the only person ringing my bell these days is the mailman! Highlight of my day’s the sound of the utility bills dropping through my mail slot. Doesn’t hurt that he’s got spectacular calves, if you know what I mean! All summer long, he wore his shorts uniform—weee-oooo! Just between you and me, I’ve been having fantasies ever since. Now, when the doorbell goes, I’ve gotta catch my breath before I open the door.
To be completely honest, it’s a relief you’ve popped by—I was just numbing the old brain with some Netflix, trying to keep my nose clean. I know I’ve mentioned my pledge to sobriety at our Saturday morning staff meetings, but I had a feeling I should put a bottle of white in the fridge. Every once in a while, a girl’s gotta let her hair down, right? Let’s just keep this whole Desiree’s-got-wine-chilling-in-the-fridge thing between the two of us. One teensy glass won’t send me tumbling too far from the wagon! After all, Barney’s not around to lead me down the boozer’s path anymore. In fact, these days, thanks to my late-night scrolls through Amazon, I usually forget I’m missing last call. I’ve gone from clinking beer bottles to clicking my mouse. But there’s nothing quite like the promise of a free delivery that brings my man in blue trotting up my steps. Who’d of thought a woman in her forties could still get crushes?
Sometimes I feel as giddy as those teeny-boppers hanging out at the skate park giggling and watching them boys doing tricks. Kinda like I felt when I met Barney—Lord knows he was no good for me, but the heart wants what the heart wants. But that’s a whole other story.
When I see the mailman walking up the block, I peep through the living room curtains like Old Lady Watts, the widow down the street. I could watch that man reaching into his canvas bag to pull out everyone’s good news from here come eternity! By the time he gets to my house, the tension’s like a volcano about to erupt! Like my ovaries are pumping out an extra dose of lust hormones trying to fertilize the last of my eggs before they shrivel up. Doesn’t help that my mother’s always saying, “Desiree, if you’d stop looking so hard your dream man would come banging down your door.” Oh goodness—there I go spinning off again. No more nattering. Let’s take our drinks and head to my room. Not much else to do around here now that I’m staying away from the bar.
TV’s in the bedroom. Might seem odd, but our living room has always been for orders and makeovers. You’ll see how much cozier it is watching Netflix in bed. Unless there’s a lot of heavy petting on the screen to remind you that you’re lying in bed all alone.
Good eye—those are Avon collector’s plates! My mother’s been buying them since before I was born. She’s the town’s one and only Avon Lady. I like to joke that I’ve been sweating the scent of Skin So Soft ™ since birth. Here, take a copy of the Christmas catalogue. Maybe later I could give you a makeover. Voilà, my bedroom since I was thigh high to a bumblebee. It’s a bit embarrassing, but I still love this pink canopy. Makes me feel like a princess. Wanna hop in with me? We could stay on top of the covers—Tell you what, I’ll just clear the parcels from the chair. You take the chair, and I’ll sit on the bed.
Another of my many vices is watching Shameless, but I swear binge-watching a few episodes will make anyone feel better about their sorry situation. Earlier in this episode, Ian finds out that Frank isn’t his father. Turns out his uncle, Frank’s brother, diddled his mother and Ian was the result.
I don’t care how old you are—things like that sting to the core. I should know. When you don’t have a sniff who your father is, kids love to joke around with you. They say things like, “I bet your daddy was the milkman!” Well, in my case, it’s almost true. When I was about thirteen, my mother and I were getting ready to bag Avon orders in the living room. I was in a salty mood because Anna-Lise Schroeder was spreading rumours. The only person in town with hair as frizzy as mine was the school janitor. Well, by this point I was sick of people talking about who they thought my father might be. Tired of wondering if they could be right, so I turned to my mother demanding, “I want to know who my father is.” Well, she just held out this miniature tube of lipstick, saying something like, “I’m not so sure about this shade.” (See, we always try out the samples before we bag the orders.) But I shook my head and jutted out my chin. “Tell me who he is.” My mother smeared on coral lipstick. “What do you think? Does this bring out my copper tones?” She smacked the god-awful colour onto a tissue. “I’m not sure I like it.” And even though I knew it wasn’t nice to keep insisting, what with my latest “uncle” up and leaving, I’d had enough with my daddy’s secret identity, I couldn’t help myself. I said, “Mother, I need to know . . . or I’m running away to Saskatoon. And I’m never coming back!” In the vanity mirror, my mother’s eyes caught mine. After a long pause she said, “Well, Desiree, I need to know what you think of this colour.” I kept my eyes locked steady with hers, saying, “Well, it’s not the best I’ve seen, but I can’t imagine it looking good on anyone. You are always exquisite, Mother. (I’d looked up this word after reading it in a perfume description.) If only I’d gotten more of your genes and less of my father’s. Whoever he is.”
See, I was tricking her at her own game. At a young age, I learned that flattery gets you everywhere. My mother got her Avon business off the ground by painting up the old farmers’ wives and making them smell real nice. They needed my mother’s generous words, and she needed a paycheque. At night when I was supposed to be sound asleep, I’d sneak into the hall and watch her practice her act in the living room. She’d toss her hair and laugh with her mouth so wide her teeth reflected the bright lights in the makeup mirror. Her eyes bulging wide, she’d talk to her reflection saying things like, “Oh Eleanor! That shade is just the bees knees! When you gaze over the pot-roast and he sees how it softens your eyes, Elmer will be tickled pink.” Eleanor’s eyelids drooped so much my mother joked it would be best just to scotch tape them to her eyebrows! Or she’d demo how to spray eau de toilette, saying “One spritz at each wrist, behind your earlobes and at the backs of your knees and you’ll smell as fresh as a spring bouquet even after you’ve been out mucking the barn!” Dousing Old Widow Jenkins in a bottle of Imari would have done little to mask the stench of her pig barns! In no time, those wrinkled up prunes became my mother’s top customers.
So, my mother took a deep breath and said, “Thank you, Desiree, but I think it’s a little uncomplimentary. Now help me sort through these orders. Let’s save the cerise for the under 50s, and we’ll gift this colour sample to the elderly. They’ll never know the difference.” But I was determined to get her to spill the beans, so I insisted, “Mother, I need to know.” There was hardly a pause before she laughed and said, “Alright, suit yourself. But help me sort the orders while we talk.”
And that’s when the Avon lady confessed the mailman from the summer of ’76 was my daddy. Said that’s where I get my mess of carrot red curls and double-jointed elbows. The mystery of my father was somewhat solved. Though it was sort of liberating, the truth hurt. Who knows—they might’ve had a common bond. Maybe they both took their deliveries seriously. Yep—that’s right! The mailman. Apple didn’t fall far from the tree, eh? Honestly, though, it’s likely part of my genetic code.
So, after an excruciating amount of time, whipping open bag after bag, she said to me, “Do you know why I named you Desiree?” I shrugged and stapled an order to the bag she handed me. “Because even when everyone else said I was off my rocker, even though it meant life would be a struggle, I never considered not keeping you. I wanted to go to Hollywood to do the movie stars’ makeup. And I still got it in me, young lady. Someday, when you’re all grown up, I just might still do it. Also, your daddy’s name was Desmond.” I kept filling orders, afraid that if I spoke, she’d stop talking. I tell ya, the lump in my throat pretty near choked me. My mother kept talking. “Des, there are two basic reasons I’ve never regretted getting knocked up that summer. First—you are a part of me. Without you, I would be incomplete. Even when you’re being a pain in my fanny. Second—you are all I have left of the only man I ever really loved. Sure, you think it’ll be easy to find a man who fits you completely, but it isn’t. The mailman was the one. Had I known, I’d have clung to him. But from the get-go, we agreed it was a summer fling. He landed a job here through a hire-a-student program and then he was off to university in the fall. He wanted to be an architect. Oh honey, you shoulda seen the hotels that man wanted to build.” She bit the lipstick off one corner of her frown and blushed. I didn’t know what to say and I wasn’t sure if I might cry, so I just gathered the filled orders and arranged them in an empty box like my mother had taught me to do when I was learning the alphabet. She said, “That summer, it all seemed mysterious and kind of romantic. I never asked Desmond his last name, and now it seems plain old silly. I never meant to fall in love or to get pregnant. It just sorta happened. Keep your legs crossed, young lady.” Did I turn red.
When you’re thirteen, it’s pretty unpleasant imagining your mother and mystery father making out. I was hoping the conversation wouldn’t transition into a talk about the birds and the bees. In those days, I hung out with these older girls. We used to sneak our mothers’ cigarettes, and they snuck their fathers’ booze and Playboy magazines and practised kissing and petting so we’d be ready for when we fell in love. They shared with me because I was the only kid in town without a father. But we ended up having the talk right after. Two conversations I’ll never forget. One ’cause I was mesmerized and the other ’cause I was mortified!
That character? The one checking her phone? Yeah, that’s Ian’s sister—err half-sister now I suppose. She’s a bit of a floozy. Definitely not the type to keep her legs crossed! She’s probably gonna get all hot and bothered with her boyfriend on the washing machine again.
I hear you! It’s been a while for me, too. Remember that dating site—the one I told you I signed up for the other night? I keep forgetting to check if I’ve gotten any winks. Who knows, maybe my dream man is messaging me right now. I need a new distraction so I stop blowing my paycheques online. I’m like a hamster in a wheel, trading one addiction for another. Wheeee! Desiree keeps running in circles.
Lordy, this wine’s going straight to my head. I deserve a treat, haven’t bought anything in days. We could even share the cigarette I bummed off a buddy a few nights ago. Nope . . . nope, silly me. Nicotine’s a hard one to kick. Slipped my mind—you mentioned quitting at last week’s staff meeting. I wouldn’t want to be responsible for getting you hooked again. Might as well have another glass since the bottle’s open, right? How about I step outside for a minute before I grab that wine?
You gotta meet my old drinking buddies some night. They might not be a great influence, but Lord knows it’s hard fitting into this town even when you were born here. They look pretty rough around the seams ’cause they pretty much smoke and drink their days away. Plus, like Shameless that gang will do wonders for your self-esteem. Ha! They’re even worse than Fiona—the floozy on the phone—what with swapping partners every six or seven months. Everyone but me eventually winds up with the person they started out with. But my guy Barney died of liver cancer a few years back, so now I’m the odd woman out. Being with him was kinda like being with Frank on Shameless. Barney even sorta looked like him.
Barney drove the septic truck, and some afternoons he’d stop at the LB for a mickey or a 26 on his way home. Thank God he never crashed into Old Widow Jenkins with her walker on those bad days when he couldn’t stop himself from cracking the bottle open and drinking it straight from the brown bag before he made it home. That woulda made quite the stink, huh? Anywho, not really anything to chuckle at. Barney’s predicaments made my being a washed-up gas jockey and unpaid assistant to my mother’s Avon empire seem less like a failure. But after Barney died, I got the blues. I was forty years old and still lived with my mother. I had no lover, no father and no career. I was drinking and smoking too much and not sleeping enough.
One morning my mother hands me two Tylenol and says, “Desiree, you can only attract what you invite. No prince in shining armour is going to snatch you up onto his white horse when you’re wasting your time hanging around people who collect cigarette butts from the sidewalk and pick bottles from dumpsters so they can buy more beer. Without personal standards you’re never gonna bring home anyone worth keeping.” That hurt but it woke me up. It was plain common sense. Maybe it’s because, like my mother, I never left home, always hoping my mailman daddy would come back. Silly, huh? Well, after Barney died, I finally told my mother why I’d stayed here. She says to me, “Desiree, this is ridiculous. If you want something from life, you damn well better get off your fanny and take it!” That’s when I realized my mother is a hypocrite. I say to her, “So, what happened to Hollywood? I don’t see you chasing your dreams.” She started reading the beauty tips in Women’s World, begging to let her tweeze my eyebrows, practising messy updos fit for the red carpet.
And then I started cleaning up my act. I was tired of being windblown and smelling like gas, so I applied for my job at Walmart’s beauty counter. Otherwise, we might never have met! Then, I pretty much quit smoking and drinking. Now, I’m working on not being such a hypocrite. Things are starting to look up around here. Last week I bought my mother a ticket to Hollywood, an early Christmas gift. I pick her up at the airport in the morning.
Hey, you should sleep over and we could go into the city together in the morning! We could hit up the Costco on the way back. Another glass? I’ll also grab those Belgian chocolates I’ve got stashed in the hall closet. It was the last delivery from my man in blue. Whew! My heart fluttered something fierce there. You know, even though it’s winter now and he’s all bundled up, I can still see him in his shorts. Makes my mouth water more than the thought of those Belgian chocolates. Maybe it’s in my genes to salivate over navy uniforms. Back in a jiff!
What a nice surprise! Let me set down our wine down here on the nightstand. Brrrr! If I knew you better, I’d make you scooch. You left me the cold side. Oh, and guess what? My mother left a message on the machine. Says she splurged on a four-star hotel tonight. Kept talking about the architecture of the place. Says she’s ran into an old friend and has unbelievably good news. Get this—I’m supposed to clear out the back seat before I pick her up because she’s not flying back alone! Thank goodness you’re here so I can share this good news!
Of course, you can join me. There’s nothing I can think of that could make this night any better.
Rachel Laverdiere writes, pots and teaches in Saskatoon. She is CNF co-editor at Barren Magazine and the creator of the creative writing program Hone & Polish Your Writing. Find Rachel’s essays in journals such as Lunch Ticket, The Common, CutBank and Pithead Chapel. In 2020, her CNF was shortlisted for CutBank’s Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, made The Wigleaf Top 50 and has been nominated for Best of the Net. For more, find her on Twitter or visit her website.