Excerpt from Immaculate Deception

by Sherry Morris


Crying in a curled-up ball on the brown leather couch in the living room, choking on my own mucus, I had to get some toilet paper from the bathroom to blow my nose on. I’d used up many plies when the telephone rang. Oh Momma. What will I say to you? I stumbled into the living room and picked up the princess rotary dial phone. “Payne residence.”


“Who’s this?” my half-brother Perry gruffly demanded.


“Perry, it’s Donna.”


“Where the frick have you been? I’ve been trying to call you since Thursday.”


I had to swallow the wad in my throat. “Perry, Daddy died today.”


“What?”


“He’d fallen, the freezer toppled over on him. I don’t know how long before I got here. He had a heart attack. They tried to revive him but the paramedics arrived too late. He’s dead. Our daddy is dead, Perry.”


“She escaped and killed him.”


“What?”


“Your mother murdered him.”


“How dare you? She’s not even here!” Escaped? What was he talking about? Escaped from where?


“You have no idea what’s been going on these past few months.”


“Momma is not a murderess!”


“I’ll be over in a little while. We need to go over some things. Have you notified Tammy?”


“No. We’re not on speaking terms,” I growled.


“I’ll call her on the way. Stay put.” He hung up on me.


I dropped the heavy ivory receiver onto the gaudy faux-gold filigree phone. I felt wetness oozing through my bandaged shoulder onto the teal scrub shirt. I wandered down the hallway and found some bandages and hydrogen peroxide under the blue bathroom sink. I peeled off the shirt and yanked the tape off the dressing. Raw, hairless skin screamed from the cruel adhesive the hospital had used. It hurt so bad.


I poured hydrogen peroxide on the sutured puncture wound. It bubbled into a cold white and pink fizz. I dabbed it dry with toilet paper and squeezed treatment solution on. I patched it up with a large Band-Aid. Topless and braless, I left the shirt and bloody dressing on the floor and trudged to Momma’s bedroom. I removed one of her lavender floral blouses from the closet and gingerly slipped it on.


“Oh-Donna? Where are you?” I heard Perry’s voice summoning me.


Oh-Donna. I hated my nickname. My full name was Orpha Donna Payne. Momma named me after her lifelong friend, Secret Service agent and registered nurse Orpha Livingston Blair. My family nicknamed me “Oh-Donna” after the late Ritchie Valens song “Donna” from the fifties. To me, it had always been a faux term of endearment, more like a snide little inside joke to all of them. Even Momma. They all knew it bothered me. So that’s why it stuck. It wouldn’t be fun to tease me if I wouldn’t get my feathers poked sideways.


Of course, the “Donna” song, about searching for the girl that got away, was beautiful. But it embarrassed me when they called me Oh-Donna in front of outsiders. And it also made me feel like the outsider. Like I didn’t really belong to this family but by some ridiculous blunder of nature, my spirit plopped down in their sticky glue.


I plodded back into the living room where my over seven-foot-tall and seemingly seven-foot-wide half-brother Perry stood, dressed in his black judge’s robe. He was holding a briefcase.


“You okay? Jeeze, it must have been horrific finding the body.”


“He wasn’t dead when I got here.”


“Why didn’t you do CPR then?”


“I…I called for an ambulance.”


Perry opened his black briefcase and removed a legal type document. “Well, here’s the old boy’s will. Everything is in order. He named you as executrix. You need to put the house on the market, get the tax assessor in, arrange an estate sale and close out their bank accounts. Insert just a tiny ad in the legal notices section of the Post to notify his creditors. When the year is up, whatever is left gets split evenly. Between me and Tammy.”


Of course it would be. I was nobody. I snatched the will from him.


He grabbed it back before I could read it. “Don’t goof it up, Oh-Donna.”


“Goof it up?”


Hot tears streamed down my face. “Why are you always humiliating me? How could I goof it up by just holding it to read? Why do you treat me like a retard?” He didn’t love me at all. I had only fooled myself all of my life thinking my brother really did love me deep down. I wiped my nose on the hem of the blouse I was wearing. “Daddy didn’t leave everything to you and Tammy. What about Momma?”


“Don’t worry about her. I had her admitted to Saint Christopher’s for a psych evaluation on Thursday. They’ll take her on as a charity case if she doesn’t go to jail.”


“You did what?”


“I received a message from Dad that she was trying to kill him. When I arrived here, she had chased him outside. He was shaking. She was inside with his aluminum cane in her hand and it was bent where she’d beat him upside the head with it.”


I remembered Mrs. Meddlestein claiming she saw Daddy run outside and Momma cussing at him and waving his cane. “Did you actually see her hit him with it?”


“That’s irrelevant.”


“If you really thought she’d hit him, then why did you have Momma locked up and leave Daddy home alone with a head injury?”


“I had to get back to court. I gave him a couple of aspirins and made an ice pack for him to put on the goose egg bump on his head.”


“So in other words, you didn’t think he was seriously injured.” I didn’t buy the ice pack bit for one minute. Perry wouldn’t even know how to make one. Daddy didn’t have a head injury.


“Not at that time. I made sure to lock up Chloe before she had a chance to do him in. A fat lot of good that did. She escaped and finished the job.”


“Escaped? A little old lady escaped from the mental ward? You’re being ridiculous, Perry. Come up with a better fairy tale.”


“Keep living in never-never land, Oh-Donna. Just watch your back before she kills you too.” Perry stashed the papers in his briefcase. “I’ve called the Metropolitan Police. They’ll send technicians over to process the crime scene. Let ’em in, will ya?”


“Crime scene? It was an accident! The freezer toppled over on him and he had a heart attack.”


Perry looked incredulously at me. “Oh-Donna, open your eyes and see the truth. Dad was murdered.”


I panted, trying to catch my breath. I would not accept that Daddy had been murdered. Especially not by his own wife. And there was absolutely no evidence or witnesses to make me believe otherwise. I couldn’t believe Perry had talked the cops into accepting there was a crime. Surely the autopsy would clear everything up. I had never been so angry in my entire life.


Perry grumbled, “Tammy said she’d do the funeral arrangements. You wanna give me one of your credit cards so she can charge it to?”


“What?”


“Where’s your purse?”


“Get out!”

“Don’t you talk to me that way, Oh-Donna.”


“Why do you and Tammy always assume I am rich? You are the ones with the college educations and high-paying jobs. Get out!” I shoved him down the three stairs. He clunked his shaved bald head on the white wrought iron railing.
“What the devil got into you?” He took off.


I locked the door tight and rushed down the basement stairs. I flung open the big wide door to the walk-in closet under the stairs. I reached in the dark for the shoestring and yanked the light on. I shut the door. It wasn’t quiet like I needed. A melody faintly emanated from around the switchback corner underneath the stairs. It sounded like Perry Como’s “Some Enchanted Evening”, a beautiful love song from the forties.


The walk-in closet was immense as far as closets go. Since the house was a split foyer, the stairs were turned in an L-shape. Three down from the living room, a wide landing at the front door and then a turn and nine stairs down to the basement. Daddy extended the width of the closet so it made a U-shape with a switchback under the basement stairs. There was an overhead storage area with a hatch underneath the foyer landing and the stairs that led up to the living room.


Daddy’s eight-sided Dracula coffin was in there. Not that he was a vampire but his family had weird burial rituals. He came from a poor Irish-American family that was among the first settlers in Sacramento, California, during the gold rush. They were known to pack a pistol while standing guard with their loved one to prevent an autopsy, the body was never to be left alone, someone had to stay inside the open grave all night, an Irish wake thrown at the house…things like that.


The back of the closet was stuffed with boxes full of Daddy’s old medical files and research papers. Neatly lining the walnut-paneled closet walls were two dozen plastic grocery bags filled with used novels. Momma read when she couldn’t sleep. She’d told me she liked books with a little mystery, a little danger and a little sex. So here was the New York Times bestseller list for the past few years. She preferred the thick ones. Daddy always whispered it was an obsessive-compulsive disorder, Momma reading so much.


There was one bag stuffed with photo albums. I rooted out the white one. Beautiful sepia prints were displayed in little gold corner mounts on heavy black paper. Momma in a bathing suit, on the beach, with palm trees. Must’ve been in the forties sometime. In one, she was cuddled up to a very handsome bearded man. Definitely not Daddy. In another, she wore a full-length fur. I remembered that fur. She always kept it in the big black steamer trunk that I was leaning on. I eased off it, undid the latches and opened the lid. There it was, along with the aroma of mothballs. I slipped the full-length sable on and drew it tight.


The melody became louder. I crept back and peeked around the corner under the basement stairs. I moved some boxes. Blackness swirled. Wind whipped. The music had laughter. I felt an irresistible forward force propelling me deeper.



~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I blinked. Sparkles. Rainbow-colored sparkles dazzled my eyes. People danced cheek to cheek. Lots of soldiers in old-fashioned uniform. The women were wearing white gloves and fancy hats. I found the exit and escaped outside into the night.


A chilling wind stung my cheeks. Something was very not right. The cars were all jalopies. Really old ones, older than the ones at the classic car nights at the fast food restaurant I always went to. The kind of cars you had to turn a big crank on the front to start. I proceeded along. Passing a newsstand, I picked up a paper. The headline read President Roosevelt’s New Strategy For the Philippines. The date was February 16, 1945. I dropped it and ran. All right, this was spooky. Where the hell was I?


Freezing rain pummeled my face. I stumbled in a grate, breaking a heel off my blue stiletto shoe. Blue stiletto shoe? What happened to my hospital slippers? I must be dreaming. Midway across the Fourteenth Street Bridge, gateway back to Virginia, I stopped. I leaned over the concrete railing and gasped for breath. I stuck my right hand into the deep silk-lined coat pocket and extracted a pearl-handled pistol. I screamed and dropped it over the rail. I watched it slide on the surface of the frozen Potomac River.


Frozen river? This was July! I stuck my hand into the left pocket and pulled out a hundred-dollar bill. An icicle fell from the lamppost above me. I examined the note in my hand. Benjamin Franklin’s portrait adorned both sides. It was bloody. I felt a tap on my right shoulder. It didn’t hurt.
I turned…and saw a man.




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7 comments

  1. Nightingale // January 9, 2008 at 6:25 PM  

    Congratulations and my compliments on some super writing. Enjoyed!

  2. Sherry Morris // January 9, 2008 at 9:12 PM  

    Thank you so much, Linda :)

  3. Beth Trissel // January 10, 2008 at 11:56 AM  

    I second that! And I'm so excited for you in getting the Reviewer's Choice Nominee! Woo Hoo!

  4. Sherry Morris // January 10, 2008 at 2:04 PM  

    Thanks, Beth. If only that translated into getting it into print sooner.

    Sehrry

  5. Mary Marvella // January 10, 2008 at 10:56 PM  

    I knew you were good but Day-um!

    Mary

  6. Sherry Morris // January 12, 2008 at 10:12 AM  

    Right back at ya, Mary!

  7. Sandra Cox // January 12, 2008 at 12:43 PM  

    Love your detail, Sherry Pie. This is a keeper.
    Sandra