“You boys ain’t said a word since we sat down,” said Vera. “Where ya’ll from?”
“Ohio,” I said. Cronic grunted.
“Ain’t nothing you need to know about these two boys,” said Doe. “Why, just look at ‘em. That’ll tell you everything you ever need to know. They’s just road trash lookin’ for they’s mamma.”
“Great balls of fire,” sang Doe. “Big brother Cronic and bigger brother Scoobie, lookin’ for they Mamma. Sound like a Patsy song, don’t it? ‘Crazy… crazy for bein’ with two road kills.’ But, God bless ‘em, they’re like family to me now. They’re hungry for their Mamma’s tit and I’m hungry for my Mamma to sing me to sleep. Why, just look at ‘em. Little mamma’s boy and big, skinny mamma’s boy needin’ reassurance. They’re sadder than ya’ll.” She took a petite bite from her chicken leg and declared herself full. “But we’re still havin’ pie, right? Big ole slice of cherry pie like you promised?”
The sisters-in-law looked shocked, and who could blame them? I wanted to slap Doe, slap her hard, but instead just pushed my dinner plate aside, chicken bones gleaming under the fluorescent lights.
Cronic said nothing. I’m not sure he was even in the same room with us.
Estelle laughed, tentatively. “You young folks are all the same. Joshing each other all the time, I’ll bet, tryin’ to get a rise out of each other.”
Doe laughed loudly, her singer’s voice rich with amusement. “You bet,” she said, and winked.
“Oh, of course,” said Vera. “You play more cruelly than we’re used to, but I suppose it’s the age we live in. Elvis is gone and all this disco music is makin’ ya’ll meaner to each other. It’s all those loud beatin’ sounds. No wonder the poor girl wanted to get away from you. She’s all jittery.”
“Though she’s got a mean tongue on her, that one,” said Estelle.
“Oh, yes,” said Vera with some degree of approval. “She does at that.”
“No wonder the boys don’t talk,” said Estelle. “That one would cut them both down with that sharp tongue of hers.”
“Yes, of course she would.”
For a moment, I thought I was in the middle of a Looney Tunes cartoon: the two congenial chipmunks grown to outlandish proportions. Was this still college, and was I tripping on some wild, exotic strain of acid? God, I hoped so. Oh yes, yes. Indubitably.
“My Mamma didn’t raise no fools, but my Daddy might have. That’s why I’m lookin’ for my Mamma, and these two… kin of mine… are helping me. What’s a well-made bed without your mamma to tuck you in and kiss you good night? Right, Cronic?”
“Cronic? What an unusual name. Is that short for something?”
“Cronic-logically, which this boy ain’t.”
“He does look ill,” said Estelle. “Maybe he needs a tonic.”
“Yes, a tonic, just like… well, do you remember Kitty Cahill, Estelle?”
“Is she the one who grows those roses for the State Fair every year? I swear she buys them from her brother Mac’s florist shop.”
“No, that’s Cybil Danbury. And I think you’re right. No one grows roses that well year after year without some professional help. No, I’m talking about Kitty Cahill. Bingo every Thursday night, same old faded orange sundress and that white straw bonnet? Always smokes them filter-tipped cigars?”
“Oh yes, I know who you mean. Had a big cyst under her arm back last fall? Did she ever have that removed?”
“Well, I don’t know. She stopped going to bingo around April time and I see her in the Shop and Save every two-three weeks.”
“Uh huh. What about her?”
“Hmmm. Well, you know something? I forgot what I was gonna say.”
“You were talkin’ about Kitty Cahill.”
“Yes. What about her, now? Where was I going with that?”
Cronic suddenly stood up, sweeping his dinner plate to the floor. Everyone at the table jumped, it was so sudden. It was like seeing a stroke of lightning hit your fence on a clear, innocent day. I thought he was going to reach for his snub and start blasting away at us. In a way, that would have been a relief. It’s probably best to die when you’re least aware of the dying involved.
Instead, he ran for the door, ran in a blind rage. He had had enough, and he was the only one brave enough, or frightened enough, to let his feeling be known.
I looked out the side window of the restaurant, alarmed at how the sky had hemorrhaged terrible gray clouds. I saw Cronic’s diminished, scrawny shape reach for the handle of his T-Bird. And I prayed as deeply and devoutly and as loudly in my mind as I could that he would just fire up the engine and drive into whatever hell he was destined to arrive in.
I prayed, but in my heart of hearts, I did not believe.
from Cronic – Coming May 1, 2015