Freedom Lane: A Stone’s Throw
“Guess what day it is!” Rose nearly sang as she entered the kitchen where her life-mate, Helen, sat, eating dry toast and drinking strong tea. Her adopted son, Da’Quarius, came in right behind Rose.
Helen looked down at her pill caddy and noticed that she just took the pills in the “W” compartment. “It’s Wednesday,” she grunted.
“It’s actually Tuesday,” Rose said. “Did you just take two days worth of pills?”
“No,” Helen said, putting her pill caddy into her robe pocket. “Are you going to tell me what today is, or am I going to die not knowing?”
“It’s yo’ berfday!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. He brought a small wrapped package from behind his back and laid it on the table in front of Helen.
“Happy seventy ninth!” Rose said throwing her arms around Helen. “You’ve never looked more youthful!”
“Get off me!” Helen snapped. “You know I’m not frisky until after my prune juice!”
“Oh, come on,” Rose said, beaming. “It’s your big day!”
“Happy berfday!” Da’Quarius repeated.
“Listen to me, both of you,” Helen said, standing. “I don’t want to be wished a happy birthday. I don’t want presents. I don’t want cake. I just want a quiet day like any other where I’m not reminded of my slow descent into the cold, black arms of death!”
Rose and Da’Quarius looked at each other, not daring to break the uncomfortable silence.
“Where’s that big sis of mine!” Paulie said entering the kitchen with balloons, presents, and a cake covered in candles. “Happy birthday, ya old battle axe! I got ya enough candles to burn this place to the ground!”
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
Episode 3: A Stone’s Throw
It was typical afternoon at Paulie’s Pizza on State Street in New Haven. Paulie was reading the paper in a booth while his nephew, Da’Quarius, cleaned up to prove that he was worthy of the pizzeria that will be his inheritance someday.
“You ready to go home, Da’Quarius?” Paulie asked.
“Almost,” Da’Quarius said as he scrubbed the grill. “I almost smell like pizza grease an’ feet. Another minute and I’ll be good.”
“You did good today, kid,” Paulie said. “That’s the smell of a hard day’s work. Take pride in that.”
“Fuck dat,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma take a shower!”
“Don’t look now, boss,” Tony said, looking out the main window. “Here comes Luca.”
“Shit,” Paulie said folding his paper and tossing it into a trash pail.
“Who dat?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Luca DiGennovese,” Paulie said. “He’s an old associate of mine. I would hope he’d have the common curtesy to die before showing his face in here again.”
“You gonna get your gun?” Da’Quarius asked.
“He isn’t worth the price of a bullet,” Paulie replied.
“Well look who it is,” Luca said walking in the door with a swagger. “Little Paulie Ventriglio!” He wore a tight white shirt so that his big stomach preceded him in the door, inches before his pointed nose did. What little hair he had left was dyed and styled in a bad combover.
“You came to my restaurant, stunad!” Paulie said. “Who else would be here, the friggin’ Pope?!”
“Maybe if the Pope forgot to wear deodorant!” Luca said, snorting with laughter.
“You sure you don’t wan’cho gun, Unca Paulie?” Da’Quarius asked, moving toward the counter. “I can get it an’ make sure da’ safety’s off.”
“Oh!” Luca said. “Who’s the midget?”
“That’s my nephew,” Paulie said. “Better take a hike before I have him turn the hose on ya!”
“Your nephew?” Luca asked. “Looks like an african Pygmy to me!”
“Ah fongool!” Paulie said, moving towards Luca. “Outside. Right now!”
“Whoa!” Tony said, restraining Paulie. “Let it go, Paulie. He ain’t worth it.”
“You don’t know that!” Paulie said, trying to push through Tony.
“You wanna fight?” Luca said, pointing at Paulie’s face. “Settle it on the street. Monday. Midnight. You know where, Drag King!”
Luca left before Paulie could break free of Tony’s hold.
“What a lovely meal,” Rose said as she cleared the dishes from the table.
“Yes,” Helen said. “Will you wash the dishes for us, Da’Quarius?”
“I washed dishes all day for Paulie!” Da’Quarius replied. “You biddies don’t work. You wash them.”
“Don’t you sass me!” Helen said. “We worked for the first sixty five years of our lives! You worked at Paulie’s for three hours. I think you can manage.”
“Can you two not fight?” Rose said, clutching her stomach.
“Is something the matter, dear?” Helen asked with a worried tone.
“It’s nothing,” Rose said. “Just a little indigestion.”
“Let me help you to lie down,” Helen said. “Dishes, boy.”
“Yes’m, miss Helen,” Da’Quarius said under his breath.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” Helen asked as Rose eased herself onto the couch. “At our age -”
“It’s fine,” Rose said. “It’s probably just some gas. It’ll pass.”
Helen sat next to Rose on the couch and put her hand on her knee. “Alright, dear,” she said. “I’ll be here if you need me.”
Rose smiled and put her head on Helen’s shoulder. “I know,” she said.
“Helen,” Rose said, hours later. She shook Helen out of a sound sleep. Helen put her glasses on and squinted at the clock. It was a little before midnight. “Helen, get the phone.”
“What’s wrong?” Helen asked.
“Call an ambulance,” Rose said. “The pain’s getting worse.”
Helen did as Rose asked, and the ambulance came to bring Rose to the hospital. Helen got in the back and rode with Rose all the way to Yale hospital holding Rose’s hand.
Rose’s eyes opened, and she looked into Helen’s concerned face. They were doing all kinds of tests on her to figure out what was wrong.
“Helen,” Rose said in a daze. “Is everything OK?”
“Everything’s fine, dear,” Helen said. “Everything’s fine.”
“Good,” Rose said closing her eyes again. “How’s Da’Quarius holding up?”
Helen didn’t say anything for a moment while she thought. “Fine,” she finally said. “He’s fine. I’ll be right back. I have to make a phone call.”
Da’Quarius woke up at ten in the morning. He didn’t know where Helen and Rose were. They were usually up around six, and they normally spent the better part of the morning trying to goad him out of bed. This morning, however, they were nowhere to be found.
The front door opened, and Paulie walked in. “Mornin’, D!” he said. “I came over late because I figured you’d like to sleep in for a change.”
“Where are Rose an’ Helen?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Helen didn’t tell you?” Paulie asked.
“She didn’t tell me shit,” Da’Quarius answered. “I woke up an’ nobody’s home!”
“Well, um,” Paulie said, sitting down on the couch. “Sit down, kid. Rose went to the hospital last night.”
“She alright?” Da’Quarius asked.
“She’s fine,” Paulie said. “Turned out she was just passing a stone. They are going to keep her until tomorrow to be safe. Helen will be home sometime today.”
“Da fuck is a stone doin’ in Rose?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Sometimes your body makes stones, and you have to pass them,” Paulie replied.
“From where?” Da’Quarius asked.
“From your pee hole,” answered Paulie.
“Damn!” Da’Quarius said holding his crotch, as if it was about to happen to him. “Dat some shit!”
“Sure is, kid,” Paulie said. “Come on. I want to show you something.”
Paulie drove Da’Quarius to his house that was a few blocks over by Willow Street. It was Da’Quarius’s fist time to his home, but they didn’t go right inside. Whatever Paulie wanted to show him was in the garage.
“I’ve been tooling around with this bad boy for years,” Paulie said, pulling the dusty tarp off his hot rod.
Da’Quarius stared in disbelief. The chrome was polished to a shine. The paint looked new. It was as if Paulie hadn’t driven it in years.
“Dat’s amazing!” Da’Quarius said. “You race dis?”
“I did,” Paulie said. “Back in my younger days. We’d race down East Street. All the way from State to Water Street and back. It still runs too!”
Da’Quarius looked at the photos on the wall. There were a lot of him with his hot rod and is now dead fiancé, Shronda. Da’Quarius spotted a familiar pointed nose above a dark mustache. “Is dat Luca from da other day?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Paulie replied. “That’s the rat bastard. He comes and messes with me every few months or so. He’s still trying for one more race after all these years. He still thinks I cheated him the last time we raced.”
“Did you?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Oh yeah,” Paulie said. “Sugar in the gas tank. He never made it to the end. That bozo shouldn’t have been off trying to impress the local tramps. I retired after that night as the Drag King of State Street.”
“Dat’s cool,” Da’Quarius said. “I betcha coulda beat him. Without da’ sugar, I mean.”
“Maybe,” Paulie said shrugging. “I guess we’ll never know.”
“Why don’t you race him again?” Da’Quarius asked. “What do you have to lose?”
“I dunno, kid,” Paulie sighed. He was looking at a photo of Shronda sitting atop a Camaro. Da’Quarius remembered that Paulie had lost her to a drunk driver and did the math in his head to understand why Paulie had decided to quit racing.
“It might be fun,” Da’Quarius said. “Plus it’ll shut dat asshole up once and for all.”
Paulie laughed. “Alright, kid,” Paulie said. “It’s been too long since I took ol’ Betsy out for a drive. If you can sneak out, you should come.”
“You kiddin’?” Da’Quarius asked. “Dem biddies would sleep through nine-eleven.”
Helen came home later that afternoon and relieved Paulie of his babysitting duty. He winked at Da’Quarius as he left and made a motion to his watch. Da’Quarius nodded.
“I suppose you’d like some dinner,” Helen said, looking at the clock as if she was annoyed to be home.
“If you don’t wanna eat,” Da’Quarius said, “I can make myself -”
“Nonsense,” Helen said. “And have you trash my clean kitchen? I’ll make us some penne and sauce. You can set the table.”
Helen and Da’Quarius had a quiet meal. Without Rose as a buffer, the two didn’t have much to talk about. The only sound at the table was the clang of the silverware on their plates.
“How’s Rose doin’?” Da’Quarius asked when he couldn’t stand the silence any longer.
“She’ll be fine,” Helen said, not looking at Da’Quarius. “All things considered.”
“What’s dat mean?” Da’Quarius asked.
Helen sighed and put her fork and knife down next to her plate. “I mean that Rose and I are old. Hell, I’m a year away from being in my eighties, if I make it that long.”
“You’ll be fine,” Da’Quarius said.
“Are you so sure?” Helen asked. “At our age anything can spell the end. You can leave a small puddle of water on the floor for one of us to slip on. I can choke on a piece of food when nobody is here to help me cough it up. A hard fart could finish me off. The only thing keeping Rose in the hospital is a stone that is even too small to even see.
“That’s part of the reason why I was so apprehensive about taking you in. How old are you? Seven? Eight?”
“I’m almost thirteen,” Da’Quarius said.
“Still,” Helen continued. “That means it will be more than five years until you’re legally an adult. In five years I’ll be well into my eighties if I’m still around, and Rose won’t be doing much better as she gets older. I know she acts younger than she is, but that doesn’t mean she’s invincible! Sometimes she acts like she’s still in her sixties, or, to my chagrin, her late fifties!
“We have to face the facts. Rose and I won’t live long enough to see you into adulthood. There are just too many things that could go wrong. We took on a big responsibility when we took you in, and my biggest fear is that we won’t be alive to fulfill that responsibility. Dying is what old ladies do, and it breaks my heart to do that to you.”
The two were silent once again. Da’Quarius looked down at his plate. He looked up to tell Helen something reassuring, but she was snoring by the time he did. He went over to her and gently woke her up. He then led her to bed and turned on the TV so she could sleep peacefully.
When he was done he went downstairs, cleaned up the kitchen, watched some TV, and waited for midnight.
“It’s almost midnight!” Luca DiGennovese shouted to the small crowd of his friends that showed up to watch him gloat about how Paulie was once again a chicken shit. He’d been carrying on this charade for decades now, but they still went along to watch him.
“You gonna do the countdown?” Vinny shouted with a smile.
“Maybe,” Luca said looking at his watch. “It’s almost midnight. Paulie must be home with his stinky feet up.”
Paulie came driving around the corner from State Street. He pulled up next to Luca’s car and got out. Everyone stared in disbelief.
“You finally showed up!” Luca said. “What the hell took you so long?”
“Shut you ugly, hooked-nosed trap,” Paulie said. “We gonna race or not?”
“Yeah,” Luca said a little too nervous. “Let’s do this. I can’t wait to be Drag King once and for all!”
“Get in your car,” Pauie said turning back and getting in his own. He sat in the driver seat and noticed Da’Quarius sitting next to him. “Holy shit!” he exclaimed. “Where the hell did you come from?”
“You didn’t think I’d miss dis?” Da’Quarius asked. “I wanna see you beat that sucka from da’ front row!”
“Buckle up, kid,” Paulie said.
A woman got between the two cars and held up a bandana up in her liver-spotted hand. She dropped it and the cars belted off past her. Paulie and Luca were neck and neck for a few blocks. They drove up East Street, avoiding the cars on the side of the road and each other. Paulie thought they were evenly matched until he saw Luca in his rearview mirror.
“Ha!” Paulie yelled. “I guess he ain’t got it in him to beat the Drag King after all!”
“That damn sucka!” Da’Quarius said. “I let the air out of his back tires while he was talkin’ shit!”
“Did you really?” Paulie asked, turning around at Water Street.
“Hell yeah,” Da’Quarius said. “I ain’t letting that mutha fucka beat’chu.”
Paulie drove past Luca as he looked at his deflated back tires. “Hey, Luca!” he yelled. “Check your tires next time, you stunad!”
Rose and Helen finally came home from the hospital. Rose eased herself into the sofa. “It’s good to be home,” she said.
“It sure is,” Helen said, sitting next to her.
“Da’Quarius will be out for a few hours,” Rose said.
“Is that so?” Helen said. “I’ve already had my prune juice.”
“What do you say to heading up to bed and doing something against doctor’s orders?” Rose said with a small smirk.
“I’d like to see you try and stop me,” Helen said.
Rose took Helen’s hand, they got up from the couch, and walked up to their bedroom.