I will tell you what gets me about this situation. It is is not the fact that Kevin is going through a phase of acting out and seeking attention. I figure that comes with the territory. After all, my little boy has just turned thirteen, and according to all the experts those hormones are just raging through his system, making him do things that are not really part of his personality and his upbringing. So, all right, he locks himself in his room and drags his chest of drawers across the floor to barricade the door. And he won’t let us in until his father breaks through the door and pushes the chest out of the way. He’s done that twice now in the last week, and it is getting old. Why even fix the lock any more if it has to be broken every third day?
He will not do his English homework. He has singled the subject of English out for failure. Why that, I do not know. He will, however, do all his assignments in the rest of his eighth grade classes, he’s turned vegetarian, and he wears sunglasses morning, noon, and night and even when he’s sleeping. I’ve seen that when I sneak into his room after I can tell he’s gone to bed. He has made a little arrangement with a rubber band to keep his glasses on even when he might turn over and flop around in the bed. He always was a restless child, even back when he was a baby, knocking his head against the crib when he was asleep and later when he had graduated to his own bed, he would just hammer his little head against the wall where the bed was shoved up against it.
So he’s asserting his independence and marking out territorial limits for his sense of self. What’s wrong with that, pray tell me? It’s simply something Kevin is going through, medicated though he is, and we need to give it room to work its way out. That’s the way I see it, anyway, and I’m an educated and experienced woman. The other day I counted up how many jobs I have held, full and part time, starting as a teenager in high school, then in college, and then after Bertram and I got married in Little Rock, then moved to Texas and then to Salt Lake when he got transferred. Thirteen was the number I came up with.
That is not a small number, in anybody’s book. And some of them lasted almost as long as a year, too, I’ll have any busy-body know, especially Bertram’s father and that step-mother he’s married to. Even now with the excellent salary Bertram makes, though it doesn’t go far enough, I would be the first to admit, I am presently on permanent call for a small firm as executive assistant. Sometimes I will work as much as nine hours a week when Suzanne has need for me, and if she ever gets a client again, there’ll be a lot more than that she’ll be requiring from me.
What I’m really doing is waiting for that to happen, her client list growing from where it is now to at least one signed on, and then I’ll just tell her I’ve got to have a promotion if she expects me to continue contributing my insights and expertise. The problem with her now, as I see it, is that she’s not motivated to get ahead, to do something, to dream of what might be and make it happen. She has just let herself go physically, to the point now where she wears big smocks and mu mus most of the day. Of course when she rides that horse she keeps in the paddock behind her and her husband’s place there in the valley, she puts on a blue overall outfit, but even that looks like it’s about to burst at the seams when she mounts up on Thunder Girl for a canter.
I’m waiting my time on that new client business, and I’m not about to let my investment of commitment and mental energy on behalf of Blue Doll, Inc just slip away through impatience. I can wait out anybody or anything when I put my mind to it. I am the soul of biding my time. And I’m not about to look for other employment while things at Blue Doll, Inc keep wallowing along. What if I took a job elsewhere and then Suzanne found that client we’ve been waiting for? There I’d be doing prep at Godfather’s Pizza, chopping onions and peppers and sausage rolls and being on my feet all day when I could be sitting in an air conditioned office talking on the phone to business reps making pitches to Blue Doll.
Nope. Not this girl. Nuh uh. I will wait and reap the benefits of patience, and Bertram can heave long sighs until he turns blue in the face in the meantime. I will not be badgered and bluffed into taking a job beneath me. I am a college graduate, and I am owed big time for the work I’ve put in to get to where I am. I will above all things not betray the trust and confidence of my poor mother, recently deceased, in me and what she knew I could do.
She was a Southern lady, a person of style and elegance and grace, and my boys did get to know her for the first several years of their lives before she was taken from us. I am eternally grateful for that blessing which will color all their lives, whether they realize it or not.
Of course, she loved her wine and cocktails, and she was drunk most every night that rolled, and sometimes even in the middle of the day, considering the time of the year it happened to be. Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Derby Day, her birthday and mine and the boys, to list a few. I’ve left some out, I’m sure. Not Bertram’s birthday, though. Birthdays for men don’t mean much, and he doesn’t even know how old he is. If I were to walk up to him today and ask how long he’d been in this world, he’d be likely to be off by a year or two either direction.
Now, Mother, or as I taught Kevin and Roland to call her, Grand MaMa, with equal emphasis on both syllables of MaMa and a continental value to the vowel a in Grand, she knew always to the minute how old she was, how old I was, events such as what dates she went to the Peabody Hotel Roof Terrace in Memphis to a fraternity ball with Townsend Daughball or Luke Lanier when she was a student at Millsaps and dating boys from Ole Miss every weekend of the school year, the date when she was installed in the Kappa Kappa Gamma chapter at Millsaps, and any other occasion of significance in her life. It was a full one, her life, and she lived it to the limit. She documented in her diaries all of it that she could remember or was aware of.
She even renamed herself, as a girl not ten years old, changing it from the family one her mother gave her, Mattie Lou, if you can believe that, to Maureen Louise. She went by the nickname Mo when she was in college.
She would act out, though, when she had had a little too much to handle of an evening or afternoon. I must admit that, and I am not embarrassed to do so. She came of a class and a time when attractive, talented, vivacious Southern women had a good time and led all around them to do the same. Alcohol was the depressant of choice in those days, and she remained loyal to that drug.
“Roseanne,” she would tell me when the topic of drink arose, “when you’re feeling a little uncertain as a woman, challenged in some way because maybe you think you’re getting a little older than you want to admit to, or some other female in the room has the edge on you in years or looks or dress or quality of the man she’s with, I have found over the years, and I’ll swear to its merits, that a little sip or two of wine or the harder stuff will be a great enabler.”
“An enabler?” I’d say, knowing what she meant but pretending I didn’t because I loved my mother and wanted to give her every opportunity to perform, which she always did so well, “what do you mean by enabler, MaMa?”
“I mean a little help, dear,” she would say, “in allowing you to lose the restraint of a dangerous lack of self confidence. When you doubt yourself, how can you expect others to do anything but dismiss or ignore you? So that little boost in esteem which a drink or two gives you is a blessing. It says directly to that old reptile part of the brain, that old naysayer, that it’s time to let you strut your stuff. Speak up, be playful, be assertive, be witty, be charming, be what you’re capable of being. Let’s do it, lady.”
Then she would smile, showing that wonderful expression of friendly self assurance she possessed in such abundance, turning her head to the side in that cute way she had, and anyone watching would know she was thinking positive thoughts as she sat there, her drink held so gracefully in her hand with her rings and bracelets sparkling in concert with her perfect nail job. “But,” she would add, “you must be careful not to let the power of the drink take you too far. Control, control, control, that’s the ticket.”
I wished she had listened to her advice to me and taken it to heart more than she did, I’ve got to say. As she got further along in life’s career - that’s the way she would speak of what gross people call getting old - she did tend to let the drink take her further than was wise at times. You could always tell when she’d reached that point, of course, by the way she’d begin blinking too much and opening her mouth too wide when she’d talk. I hated to witness that, particularly when I’d be sitting at an angle which allowed me to see into her mouth, sometimes so far I could spot that little lump of flesh, that little organ that hangs down in the back of the oral cavity. When it started dangling in full view, my mother was either about to say something embarrassing or laugh too loud and long or start leaning up too tight against whichever man was close and convenient, no matter his age or his marital status or who he was with.
And after reaching that point of enablement, she would demand that music be put on or if it was already coming from a speaker in the room that it be turned up louder. “Let there be harmony,” she’d say. “Put on something we can dance to, somebody. Let’s have some fun.” And then she’d grab some man’s hand and lead him out into the middle of the room and start doing her dance thing in front of him, whether he was willing to move or not. I hated that.
But she’s gone now, to a better place, I guess, according to what Christian teachings tell us, and I don’t have to worry about what my mother might do next when she reaches her limit and gladly goes over it. Which she would do almost every time she got near the stuff.
No, now my problems don’t include her, and I don’t have to try to keep up with her any more. She was better looking than I am, as she always would tell anybody who was in range, whether they were listening or not. She was petite and well shaped and graceful, when she hadn’t had too much to handle. And she was musically talented, she would say, to a degree that I’m not. “Roseanne,” she would announce, “has not got one speck of musical talent. Oh, she’s studied all right, and she’s learned to play the piano the way a high school girl can who practices two hours a day. But it’s all mechanical for her. I’ve got the spontaneous sense of rhythm and musicality, and she just hammers along one note at the time. But bless her heart, she does try. I don’t have to try, on the contrary. It’s a gift, and I’ve got it. Come on, somebody, get out on that floor with me. Let’s dance!”
No, my problem now is with my sweet little love bug of a son, my second one, my baby, and my last one I’ll ever have, I fear. I have just the two, both boys, and I love them to death, of course, and who wouldn’t? But I’ve got to admit, I do wish I had a little girl, a sweetheart I could dress up in frills and lace and, as MaMa always called it, buttons and bows.
I say I don’t have a daughter, and the situation argues that I never will have now, given my age and my and Bertram’s financial and family situation, but I mean that in the physical sense only, what could be called the literal, the earthbound, the here and now as lived on the ground, which is to say where it’s all rocks and desert vegetation and dry high mountain climate as we have in Salt Lake. All that’s true. There is no daughter of mine in the sense of a being who has to be fed and have her diapers changed and baby teeth saved and her sent to school dressed real cute and all that day to day activity which just eats up a woman’s time in her role as a mother.
But I will say this, and I know it is a truth, as real as that Play Station game the boys spend all their time on. I do have a daughter in another sense, a more real sense in a manner of speaking, and she is always with me. How do I know? How did it come to me that I do have a baby daughter in spite of what the literal minded among us would have us believe? How can I make that statement with such certainty? I will give the credit where it’s due.
Ramona Spatts told me. She did more than that, I’ll confess. She showed me that truth, and I’ll believe it as long as I live on this earth, and I’ll reap the benefits when I enter the world that comes after this one, this old flat earthly one where all the problems exist every hour of the day and night and just take up all your energy and strength.
I met Ramona at the first gathering of a bunch of people devoted to the realm of music, specifically to chamber groups. I am a flautist of some ability, no matter what my mother always said about my lack of talent, and I was sought out by a girl at church, just a real cute person, to meet with some people in Salt Lake who were interested in forming a group to play together, just for fun and fellowship, and if the chance arose, maybe some gigs at Christian churches, not LDS certainly, and weddings and what have you.
When I arrived at the home of Betsy Flummerfelt, a pretty blonde but with legs too big for her torso, that night I was a little late, and they were all off in the den already. So I was greeted at the door by a stranger, Ramona, a woman who I knew I had never encountered before, how could I have? Yet when she reached out her hand to me, I felt a spark of communication between us that seemed a memory rather than an introduction. Ramona felt it, too, need I say.
“You have a deep soul,” she said to me, fixing me with that wonderful expression she possesses, that look which invites confidence and open sharing. “I feel it in the aura of your blood flow.”
“My blood flow?” I said, looking down to see if I had a scratch on my hand or a bug bite or a wound or something. High mountain or not, Salt Lake is just full of biting insects except in the dead of winter, and it’s a constant struggle to keep your hands nice. I have the bills for hand care to prove it.
“The pulse of your heartbeat,” this wonderful and mysterious woman said. “What loss have you experienced recently? Has there been a death in your family?”
That was well before MaMa was taken from me, so I couldn’t think of anybody who’d died that meant a thing to me, just Bertram’s grandfather but I didn’t really know him, as old as he was and in a nursing home and all. So let me tell you, I was at a loss. “No,” I said, not meaning to go any further with this weirdly exciting conversation, but then the words just burst out of me.
“I’ve lost no one, but I’ve recently realized I’ll never have a baby girl to call my own.” I felt like breaking into tears when I admitted that to a stranger, but I was strong and didn’t.
“Oh, you do have a baby girl,” Ramona said, still holding my hand in hers and then turning my arm to look at my wrist. I had just had a manicure, so my nails looked at their best. Not to brag, but I have been complimented all my life on the appearance of my hands, all parts of them, not just the nails. “See the pattern of the vein from your heart? That is a certain sign of the fact.”
“Yes, the fact that you have a baby girl, a spirit child not yet embodied to you, but as real as that lovely ring on your index finger.”
I looked down at the vein Ramona was studying so closely, and I swear I could see it pulsing as she spoke. “Where is my baby girl?” I asked. “Where is she? Can you tell me?”
“She is with the spirits yet, and she wants her mother. She wants to come to you. She wants to be at home in your arms.”
Naturally, I burst into tears at that revelation and had to be led to a sofa to sit down and have my cry out, but the tears were joyful and fulfilling, not like the ones that come with marital spats and the ups and downs of raising two boys. Everyone there in Betsy Flummerfelt’s den was perfectly sweet and nice to me as I sat there just bawling my eyes out, and in a few minutes I calmed down and we started the meeting and eventually got out our instruments and began to play. I don’t remember what piece I played on the flute, but people there told me later that it sounded perfectly inspired. I think that was true because I was playing from the heart and not my mind.
And then to cap that first meeting with Ramona Spatts and the message she had given to me, you’ll never guess what happened next. A knock came on my door not two days later, at about ten in the morning when the boys were in school and Bertram was at work and I was watching the food channel for want of something better to do. Besides, since I’ve become a vegetarian, I do find a good reason to watch food shows on the chance I’ll find something tasty to cook which is not bought at the price of the death of some harmless imprisoned animal. I do not consider that time on the tube wasted, and those that would are meat-eaters whose opinions mean less than nothing to me.
But the doorbell rang right in the middle of a talk on tofu I wanted to hear, and I peeped through the side window to see who it could be, not expecting anybody that morning and certainly not wanting to be the victim of some LDS missionary practicing at home before he took off for Guatemala or Peru or somewhere to peddle that philosophy they teach in their temples. They are entitled to freedom of speech and religion and all the Bill of Rights stuff we have in this great nation, I understand, but they do not have the right to try to sell good Christians that bill of goods called the Book of Mormon. I mean, for goodness sake. I admit I did flirt with the idea of the Mormon worldview when we first moved here from Houston, being unconnected and alone, but I learned soon enough it was nothing but a cult which denies women the right to be fun loving and live independent lives. The only thing I had found about the LDS when I first arrived in Salt Lake, I concede, is that they will talk to you and pay attention to you as an individual the way some so-called Christians won’t.
The Mormons don’t like to look you in the eye, though, aiming their gaze just a little above the brow line, I noticed as soon as that first young woman to talk to me, Sister Sarah she called herself, began her series of sessions designed supposedly to inform, but really meant to indoctrinate and seduce. Yes, I use the sexual term, because that’s what it came to feel like to me as they kept sending different people to come to my house for those little friendly talks which they’ve got down to a science. I won’t say any more about that, the seduction analogy, thank you. They know what they’re doing, the LDS. They hold seminars to polish their pitches.
So I’m always leery of unwanted solicitations at the door of my house. I swear these LDS missionaries wear out people’s yards all over Salt Lake and Sandy and Harriman walking from one house to the other trying to get you to sign up for a one-way ticket to a place no Christian wants to visit, much less spend eternity in. But that morning, it wasn’t two young guys in black trousers and short-sleeved white shirts with dark ties and real short haircuts knocking on my door. That would’ve been a dead giveaway. No, it was a guy in brown shorts and a brown shirt and a baseball style cap, and he had a UPS package for me.
After I signed for it, puzzled as I could be because I didn’t remember ordering anything online in the last several weeks, I tore into the box to see what I had and who it had come from. What I discovered made me drop to my knees in surprise and if there had been somebody there in my house that morning besides me I would have burst into tears. There wasn’t, though, so I didn’t waste the time or effort to convince myself that I was overwhelmed, touched, overjoyed, and simply transfixed by what I found in that UPS package addressed to me. I knew that already and nobody was there to share the moment with me and that I’d have to demonstrate my emotions in front of. I have saved the package itself that the gift came in, given what it contained and what it conveyed to me. It was this.
A precious pink outfit for a newborn baby girl, of high quality material, and it was accompanied by a note signed by Ramona Spatts. From your spirit baby to her mother, it said in green ink on a pink sheet of stationery. I’m wanting and needing my mama, and I want to be in your arms.
I was totally knocked over, and I just ran in circles through every downstairs room of my house, holding to my breast the simply precious outfit, sized for infant wear, with the cutest little red lady bug appliqué against the pink background, and I felt the palpable presence of my baby girl moving with me with each step I took.
After I calmed down enough to talk on the phone, I called the cell that Ramona had given me the number to, knowing she’d be out and about and not likely at her home phone. She does maintain an office of sorts, as she calls it, but she spends most of the daytime hours here and there, meeting with people individually at their homes for the conclaves, her term, which she conducts. I’ve learned all this as time’s gone by, but when I got the gift of a garment for my spirit baby I had no idea that Ramona has devoted her life for the last several years to ministering to women like me, women who to all appearances have a settled and fulfilling life but who inside and not for public consumption feel the want of connection with a child unborn.
Some of these women she helps are completely childless currently, at least in this visible world, while others like me have real children already but are in want of that precious little being, their spirit baby, floating out there in the darkness, alone and not arrived and craving the earthly connection with their mother.
What I’m talking about is not creepy, as some call it, including my own husband who, when I first told him of what Ramona Spatts had revealed to me about my spirit baby, said it sounded “weird and icky,” his words. He doesn’t use that kind of language now, I assure you. If we do nothing else, Bertram and I communicate. We hold nothing back from the mate we are bound to, and I make it my duty to keep him aware of that fact. Given the nature of his job, which is both real and abstract, he does tend to drift off into his own little world, but I keep yanking him back into reality when I see that he’s lost touch. Yes, we need the income from the real world, but that’s a given, I tell him. What we are dying to have is not countable and can’t be programmed.
Here is what he does, reduced to an explanation which is communicable to ordinary people who live in the real world. He writes code. That’s what he calls it, and what the other nerds and geeks like him call it, too. Once when I just forced him to try to explain it to me so I could tell people what it was that my husband did for a living, Bertram got a yellow pad out and began marking on it to show me what he spends all his time doing. If this, then that, he wrote down on one line. Then on the line after that, he wrote if that, then this.
“See?” he said, looking at me with his eyes all bright and eager. “Do you get it?”
“Let’s have something a little more specific, Buster,” I said. “That does not communicate.” So what he did then was start writing a bunch of little symbols, I guess you’d call it, squiggly marks and reversed b’s and d’s and t’s and g’s, sprinkled in with some regular words, but you could tell they didn’t mean in his little world what they mean in the real one where I live with my children and my dogs and my role as mother and human being.
“What does that do?” I asked, in a calm and receptive tone designed not to get him flustered. “How does the computer deal with that line of marks when you enter them into it? How does it know what to do with all that stuff?” Then he made this statement to me, and after he did, I just simply gave up any hope of his ever being able to explain to a reasonable person what he spent all his hours at work and at home at night and on the weekends doing.
“See, Roseanne,” he said. “The computer doesn’t know anything. It does not ever do what you want it to do. It does what you tell it to do. That’s all it knows and all it needs to know.”
“Even a Mac?” I said, having myself always preferred a machine which is friendly and comes in attractive colors, at least in the newer models.
“All of them are the same,” Bertram said. “They are stupid.”
“Tell me about it,” I said, and since then I have never asked him a single thing about what he’s up to. I get the shivers and shakes and the creeps enough from trying to live in the real world of 1815 Mountain Mist Road without bothering my head with that kind of spooky nonsense.
Anyway, when Ramona answered her cell that day, and said hello in that wonderful tone of intimate communication she possesses to such a degree, I began by saying, “Thank you, thank you, Ramona.” I tried to go on to let her know who I was and what I was thanking her for, but I couldn’t continue, naturally, as I couldn’t speak further through my tears of gratitude and joy. I would have sounded like a duck quacking. She knew who I was without my having to tell her, calling my name in a soothing yet firm tone, full of a deep promise of communication and connection to come between us.
At the time, I didn’t wonder about how she knew it was me, Roseanne Pausewell, instinctively believing she sensed my identity through a means far beyond a simple statement expressed by me over an electronic instrument. Later, Bertram in his cool scientific way responded to my telling him this part of the story by saying Ramona had just read my number off her cell phone, but I did not accept that explanation then and I don’t now. Could she have? Yes. Did she? No.
“Roseanne, Roseanne,” she said. “I’ve done nothing for you but convey a message from another. You needn’t thank me for that. Thank your spirit child, your precious daughter, for letting you know she’s waiting and yearning for her mother. I’m only the messenger, and I sent you the little garment in the same way any friend brings a gift to a baby shower in anticipation of a happy arrival on its way.”
My tears at hearing that from Ramona were the most satisfying of my life, up to this moment. I’d always considered that when Bertram announced his agreement to marry me those years ago in our senior year in college that my tears then had set the standard for me in expressing joy, elation, satisfaction, and anticipation of coming fulfillment of the highest order. I was wrong. What has meant the most to me to date is a realization not of this world but of the other, the insubstantial, that realm where my spirit baby waits.
I have not told Bertram of the displacement of feeling which has taken place in me, and I’m afraid to. I’m not afraid of hurting his feelings. I don’t mean that. He can get over anything. He’s proved that a thousand times. No, I don’t fear he’ll be hurt by the revelation I’ve undergone or that he’ll be in danger of feeling second best. What I’m afraid of is that he’ll not even remember that scene in that old car he always drove on that night after we had left the fraternity party and when I just simply laid down the law to him about obligation and trust and responsibility. What happened did happen, though, whether he remembers it or not and whether he honors that memory or not. Bottom line, he finally just gave it up and said yes he’d marry me. That I don’t want to think about right now.
What I would like to think about is my spirit baby, but two things stand in my way. Number one is Bertram’s reluctance, even refusal, to entertain the notion of our adding another child to our family. Two kids are plenty, he says, and then he starts writing down numbers on one of his damned old yellow pads to show how we could afford it technically but that we’d have to undergo a lifestyle change to let that happen.
“Do you want that?” he had the nerve to ask me the first time I brought up the subject of my spirit baby, my sweet little insubstantial doll, floating out there in limbo. “Do you want to have to keep both cars several years longer? Do you want the boys to go to school when the time comes not at a four year university but at some community junior college? Do you want to have to find a fulltime job yourself? Do you want at your age to chance what a birth might bring? How do you know if it’s a good one, it won’t be just another boy?”
“No, Bertram,” I said in a controlled voice and manner. “I want all those good things to go unchanged, but I want my spirit baby, too. She is female, and she’s perfectly sound physically, if she gets the chance to be. She’s out there, and I must accept her or suffer the consequences of eternal loss.”
“How can you lose something you don’t have?” Mr. Logical said. “That’s not the way having babies works, and you ought to know that, the way you carried on when you gave birth to Kevin and Roland. They couldn’t find a drug strong enough to shut up your hollering.”
“Do you think I fear the physical task I would face in bringing my spirit baby into the light from out of the darkness? If you think that, Buster, you don’t know the girl you’re married to.” That shut him up, but nothing’s happened to change things since Ramona let me know about my spirit baby. I’m still just drifting in the fog and mourning in the shadows. I am a female alone with three males in this household, and until I find a way to let my spirit girl come to me, I’ll remain lost and outnumbered.
That’s number one on my list of obstacles, the way Bertram has taken a misguided and stubborn stand. Number two is the acting out that my love bug of a baby boy has decided to adopt. Locking himself in his room, refusing to talk to me or his father. Screaming in anger at nothing. Making threats he’s much too young to carry out. Keeping a ball peen hammer stuck down between his bed stead and his mattress. He doesn’t know that I know that, and I haven’t even let his father in on that little secret I discovered. Another thing: Kevin being a real little jerk in the psychologist’s office after I’d taken him in for a little tune-up, just a mini-session to let him express his frustrations with what those awful old strong hormones are making him do. Picking up a ceramic paperweight shaped like a nun at prayer and throwing it against the wall hard enough to leave a terrible dent in the sheetrock. After that stunt, my therapist said she would never meet with him again, and I had to practically beg her to keep letting me come in for our weekly talks. Kevin doing all that, mind you, just to assert himself and say no to reason.
What I really want to do is have Bertram realize his responsibility to our spirit baby, have Kevin act like an ordinary thirteen year old and play with his video games, take his medication every day and do his homework, have Roland keep on being the perfect older brother he is – knock on wood. Don’t let him get ideas – and give me a chance to follow that recipe for spirit cake that Ramona has given me. The recipe does not purport to be magic, it’s not occult, and it’s not nutty. It’s a symbolic action that the baking of the spirit cake represents, and if it puts into substantial form an idea, a manifestation of the world beyond this one I’m living in here in this old high desert landscape, what’s the harm?
Here are the ingredients for the recipe, and no, it is not for an angel food cake, as cute as that idea might sound to some. It is not silly like that would be, even though it intends to honor an infant existing only in the spiritual realm. You will need one egg. So it’s not really a rich dessert. You’ll want sugar and cake flour, of course, you’ll want butter and cream, you’ll need a bundt pan, and a spice the identity of which I’m not at liberty to announce. Ramona Spatts hasn’t even revealed that to me yet, saying she’ll be here in my kitchen to furnish me with that ingredient when I commit to putting the recipe into action. I am patient when I need to be, and this is one of those occasions. I don’t have to know everything immediately each instant of the day.
I have a little secret of my own I’m going to spring on Ramona when she comes by this afternoon to reveal the special ingredient for the spirit cake and we launch into the project. I think it will delight her, and I just know it will surprise her. First, I’m not going to keep calling this wonderful creation a spirit cake, although it is that, without a doubt. No, I’m christening our gateau something a little different and a lot more to the point. It will be named “My Daughter’s Unbirthday Cake,” and it will be dedicated to her by name and I will speak that name for the first time. So that’s the first surprise I’ll announce to Ramona Spatts, my wonderful guide to the spirit world, the godmother of my infant-in-waiting.
Here’s the other surprise, and it’s the biggie. My dear mother, Maureen Louise, will be in the kitchen with us, supervising the mixing, the baking, and the creation of My Daughter’s Unbirthday Cake. That’s the announcement I’ll hit Ramona with.
Do not get me wrong. I don’t mean MaMa will be there hovering as a ghostly presence, some kind of half visible woman wearing an apron as transparent as she is. No, I mean she will be spiritually sensible to us, just as much as my daughter, my sweet spirit baby, will be. How do I know that? I’ll tell you.
I dreamed it last night, after I had gotten off the phone with Prissy, my dearest and best friend from the time we were children in Little Rock and grew up next door to each other. We have kept up ever since then. We had talked for over an hour – God bless cell phones with unlimited minutes on specified days of the week – and when I fell asleep alone in the bed, since Bertram was in his office writing some more damned old code, I guess, I fell into the deepest and most profound sleep I had ever experienced.
Then the dream started, and I knew it was a dream, but it was realer to me than most events I go through every day here in the high desert. MaMa was in the kitchen in the dream, and it was the old one I grew up in from the time I was five until I went off to college. All the old kitchen furniture was there, oak chairs around the table, the same old bronze refrigerator, the bric a brac on the walls and shelves, the bookcase full of cookbooks, all that was there just as it used to be.
What was different was the range. It wasn’t the old bronze electric one we had, the mate to the refrigerator, the one I saw so many meals coming from on the days when MaMa was not too far gone into the cocktail hour to cook, but instead it was a silver gas stove in the exact center of the kitchen. In my dream I knew it was gas because it was making a loud roaring sound and flames were licking out of the door of the oven. It wasn’t scary, though, since in the dream that was the way it was supposed to operate when you were doing some baking. MaMa was there, dressed in a wonderful outfit, sparkling with sequins and a silver thread design worked through the material. It was spelling out some words I couldn’t read, and I was puzzling over that until MaMa spoke to me.
“Roseanne,” she said to me, “do you want to lick the mixing bowl before I put the cake in the oven?”
I did, of course, as I always had as a child, and when I did, the taste was exquisite. I couldn’t get enough of the batter to satisfy me, and I begged my mother for more. She told me I’d have to wait until the cake was baked and frosted and then I could have all I wanted, and I began to cry like a baby even though in the dream I was a grown woman. When I began crying, MaMa started getting smaller and smaller, and the more I begged for the raw batter, the littler she got.
“Don’t leave, MaMa,” I said. “Stay big.”
“I have to go, but I’ll be back tomorrow and we’ll bake a cake for the baby girl. I promise,” she said.
Then I woke up, my face just covered with tears. I was alone, and Bertram was still downstairs, I guess, saying to himself inside his head where I can never reach, “if this, then that. If that, then this.”
But all in all, I felt good. I felt great, in fact. I wasn’t worried about a thing. I knew MaMa would be in the kitchen in the afternoon of the next day and she would guide me and Ramona as we mixed up the spirit cake, added the special spice, and put it in the oven to bake. When it came out, I knew it would be perfect, and I’d tell Ramona the true name for it.
So here I am, bathed and dressed and made up and my hair in place, only a little over two hours to go until Ramona Spatts is scheduled to arrive with the secret spice in her bag. MaMa, wherever she is in the other world waiting for the moment, will be on time as well, never having been late for an appointment close to five o’clock in the afternoon in her life.
Roland, my perfect older son is in school, Bertram’s at work, and my little love bug of a boy is in his room making some kind of huge banging noise. I’m not worried about that, though, knowing as I do about the ball peen hammer he’s got secreted in his room. I know what it’s coming from. He’s probably pounding on something, knocking bits and pieces off of it, making a class project for tomorrow if he decides to go to school that day. It’s a booming racket, and it is loud, and he’s yelling some word or combination of words over and over. I’m not going to worry about that, though. I may get out my flute and play a few pieces or I might put a favorite CD on the player, maybe The Best of Queen, and turn it high enough to drown out the noise from Kevin’s room. I have always loved Freddie Mercury. I can’t get enough of him. The Bohemian Rhapsody just does it to me, every time I put it on. How can that get old?
All the ingredients for My Daughter’s Unbirthday Cake are ready, except for the last special spice, and that’s on the way. Ramona’s bringing it. MaMa is ready to take charge of the baking. Freddie Mercury may be gone in body, but he’s always here in spirit. Nothing’s lost. It’s all coming together this afternoon, all rising to be baked to perfection, here in the valley where I sit thinking of the truly wonderful name I’ve chosen for my daughter, here in Salt Lake, here in this high desert where I live.
Gerald Duff has been published fiction in Ploughshares, Missouri Review, Kenyon Review, Southwest Review, Clapboard House, and other magazines. His most recent book is a collection of short stories, Fire Ants, published by New South Press.