The doorbell rang, and Helen’s wife and life-partner, the seventy-ywo year old Rose, came in from the kitchen. “That’ll be the nurse,” she said. “Please don’t scare this one off like the others.”
“Bah!” Helen snapped, waving a hand at Rose. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“We’re lucky they’re even coming to help you,” Rose said. “This saves us trips to the doctor you know.”
“They just don’t want me to come down there and tell them they’re a bunch of quacks to their faces,” Helen said.
Rose didn’t disagree with the statement. She just opened the door. “Hi,” Rose said with a wide smile. “Come on in. Helen is just watching a little TV.”
The male nurse in pale blue scrubs came inside with a bag and a clipboard. “You have a lovely home,” he said, looking around. He approached Helen’s seat. “You must be Helen.”
“And you must be my fairy god-nurse,” Helen said, giving her nurse the stink-eye.
“My name is actually Steve,” Steve said. “Are you excited for your surgery?”
“Is a turkey excited for Thanksgiving?” Helen said, rolling her eyes. “Madon.”
“I’m going to bring some tea in for Helen,” Rose said. “Would you like a cup?”
“Please,” Steve said. “I’ll just get started here.”
Helen ignored Steve and continued watching TV. The commercial for Arby’s was ending, and Helen turned the volume up in anticipation of her soap opera starting again. “Arby’s,” the voiceover guy with the deep voice said. “We have the meats.”
“That’s disgusting,” Steve said.
Helen turned the sound off. “Excuse me?” she asked.
“That commercial slogan,” Steve replied. “‘We have the meats’. Millions of animals are killed for those sandwiches, and they have the audacity to brag about it in their commercial, mocking the lost lives of all of those poor animals. It’s sickening.”
Helen stared at Steve for a moment. She took a deep breath, parted her lips, and spoke.
Season 7, Episode 1: Lotasha Returns
“There’s another that won’t be coming back,” Rose said after the irate nurse left. She had walked him out moments before, and she returned with the days’ mail. There was still a few hours until their thirteen-year-old adopted son, Da’Qaurius, returned home from school. “Sometimes I think you don’t even want your hip fixed.”
“They’ll fix it if they want to bleed my insurance company,” Helen said. “They should know better than to keep sending male nurses. Get a man’s job for God’s sake.”
“You’re just as bad to the women,” Rose said flipping through the mail. She grabbed something that made her drop the rest of the envelopes to the floor. “Oh God,” she said.
“What?” Helen said, growing concerned. “Don’t tell me the insurance is dropping me before my surgery.”
“No,” Rose said, holding a post card. “It’s from Lotasha, Da’Quarius’s mother. She’ll be here tonight, and she has a surprise for us.”
“I have a surprise for her too,” Helen said. “The business end of my sawed-off shotgun.”
“You don’t have a sawed-off shotgun,” Rose said. “We better sit Da’Quarius down as soon as he’s home.”
“And I’ll go find that sawed-off shotgun that may or may not be imaginary,” Helen added, getting up with a grunt.
Da’Quarius arrived home after school to find Rose and Helen waiting for him in the den. They booth looked worried. “Somethin’ big goin’ down, ain’t it?” he asked.
“Why are you home so late?!” Helen exclaimed.
“I been tryin’ to call all day,” Daquarius said. “Some fucked up shit went down for me too you know.”
“I unplugged the phones,” Helen said. “Damn telemarketers.”
“What happened at school?” Rose asked.
“Flounder and I brought in dis clock he made at home to show our science teacher for extra credit,” Da’Quarius said. “Den dey had the police show up, cuz dey said it looked like a bomb. Den Flounder got accused of bein’ a North Korean terrorist spy. Den it erupted all over Twitter and Facebook. Tony and Paulie showed up in time for our news interview and protest, because of some money-makin’ scheme dat Tony thought up. I can tell the whole story in around an hour with the Tony part.”
“Anything else?” Helen asked with a bored sigh.
“Hashtag: stand with Flounder,” Da’Quarius replied. “What’s goin’ on with you biddies today? You look worried.”
“Your mother is coming by for a visit,” Rose said.
“What?!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “Lotasha?!”
“That’s the one,” Helen said. “Unless you have another mother you haven’t been telling us about.”
“When she comin’?” Da’Quarius asked.
The front door slowly swung open, and Lotasha Venison Sherman stood just outside. She was tall, dark-skinned, and had a small afro and a large gap between her two front teeth. She walked into the Freedom Lane home with a half-smile on her face. “Hi, Daq,” she said. “Mamma’s back.”
“So what do you want this time?” Helen asked. She was suspicious since a visit from Lotasha usually meant there was some kind of scam involved. In the past, she had tried to scam Paulie out of five thousand dollars, claim that Paulie had knocked her up with twins and dragged him Maury Polvitch, and leeched onto them for a talk show appearance. They also had a visit from a con-artist named D’Lo Marten, and they were never able to prove whether or not Lotasha had anything to do with his visit.
“Damn,” Lotasha said. “Cain’t a sista see the only child she actually delivered?”
“What do you want?” Da’Quarius asked. “I only see you when you a want something.”
“I do want something,” Lotasha said, looking serious. “I want to take the three of you on a twelve-day cruise.”
“Bullshit,” Helen said as soon as Lotasha’s sentence had left her mouth.
“Yeah,” Da’Quarius agreed. “Last time you claimed you wanted to take me to Disney World, but dat turned out to be a ploy to get me outta here after you tried to rob Unca Paulie blind. Where’d you get da money for a cruise anyway?”
“Lotto,” Lotasha said. “I know it sounds like a lie…”
“Because it probably is one,” Helen said.
“Look,” Lotasha said, digging in her pockets. She took a crumpled up envelope and handed it to Rose. “Dis should show you how serious I am ’bout dis.”
Rose opened the envelope and read the letter inside. “What is this?” she asked.
“You been served, biddies,” Lotasha said, snapping her fingers.
“You’re sending us to state mandated parenting classes?!” Rose said. “Saturday?! That’s tomorrow!”
“You can’t do that!” Helen added. “Can she do that, Rose?”
“Sho can, honey,” Lotasha said. “Had my cousin Jolene Jolie hook a sista up. If you wanna go on my cruise, den you gotta prove you a good parent to my son.”
“They’re better parents den you ever was!” Da’Quarius said. “At least dey didn’t leave my ass in a bathroom.”
“I’m sorry fo’ dat,” Lotasha said. “Dat’s why I wanna do dis. Dis is real. Dere’s no scam. I’ll see you Saturday while dese biddies at dey parenting class.” Lotasha left into the afternoon, closing the door behind her.
“There’s a scam,” Helen said. “I know it.”
“I don’t know,” Rose said, looking over the papers in the envelope. “These letters saying that we have to attend this class look pretty official.”
“Get in the car,” Helen said. “Both of you.”
“For what?” Rose asked.
“We’re going to Paulie’s,” Helen replied. “I’m getting a large broccoli rabe pizza, and then I’m borrowing some things from him. Lotasha wants us out of the house for some reason on Saturday, and I’m booby-trapping the hell out of this place.” She grabbed her cane and left, walking toward Rose’s car.
Da’Quarius watched her go. “You think she’s right?” he asked. “Is dere a scam?”
Rose sighed. “I don’t know,” she said, “but Lotasha left the booking confirmation from the travel agent in this envelope too.”
“So then this black broad tells me to check my privilege!” Tony exclaimed, telling Da’Quarius about his date the night before as he worked his Saturday afternoon shift at Paulie’s Pizza on State Street while Helen and Rose went to their mandatory parenting class. “This is why I don’t date out of my race.”
“You don’t usually date outta yo cracka-ass family,” Da’Quarius said under his breath.
“She told you to check your privilege?” Paulie asked from behind his newspaper at the counter. “What the hell does that even mean?”
“We learned ’bout dat in school,” Da’Quarius said. “Every time you talk to someone of a different minority, sexuality, or gender you have to check yo privilege before you offend dem.”
“Explain this nonsense to me,” Paulie said, putting down his paper and coming out to where Da’Quarius and Tony were talking. “Please.”
“OK,” Da’Quarius said. “You both white, straight, and male. So you on da top of da privilege chain. You talk to me: a black male. You have privilege over me because yo’ white, so you have to keep dat in mind, and keep yo privilege in check. I go to talk to a gay male. I have privilege over him ‘cuz I’m straight, so I have to keep dat in check when I talk to him. You get it?”
“No,” Tony replied.
Da’Quarius sighed. “Look,” he said. “You go out to dinner with a girl. Da check comes, an’ you grab it before you have da chance to discuss who’s payin’. You just exercised male privilege over dat woman.”
“This is nutty,” Paulie said.
“Wait a second,” Tony said. “You’re saying that being a straight, white male is a privilege? You’re saying I’m better than you and anyone who isn’t as ‘privileged’ as I am? And I need to correct my actions because of this?! It sounds like your own language is flawed to me.”
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “Shouldn’t we all be equals? I never inferred that I was privileged over anyone. Madon.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I didn’t invent dis shit. I’m just telling you how I was taught it by Hessman in Social Studies class.”
“So what’s up with your muddah?” Paulie asked, evidently done with the discussion on privilege. “Helen and Rose seem worried.”
“Dey should be,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen spent all night after we left here setting traps all around the house for her. Looks like Home Alone up in dere. Rose said they probably won’t do anything, but we both walkin’ around real careful.”
“And what do you think?” Paulie asked.
“I want to believe dat my moms wants to do better,” Da’Quarius said, “but she burned me so many times. I really don’t know, Unca Paulie.”
“Better figure it out quick,” Tony said, looking out the window. “She’s on her way here right now.”
“Shit,” Da’Quarius said, walking toward the back. “Umma sneak outta here. I can’t deal with her right now.”
“Come on, kid!” Paulie said. “Don’t run away. What kind of mook does that?”
“Fuck it,” Da’Quarius said. “Tell her I ran out. I don’t care.” Da’Quarius tossed his apron on the counter before leaving through the back door as his mother came in through the front.
Helen and Rose sat in their small desks in their parenting class. They were only a couple of hours into their eight hour day. “This desk is killing my friggin’ hip!” Helen whispered to Rose.
“We have to take this class,” Rose whispered back. “I don’t want any trouble with Jolene Jolie and the Department of Child Welfare again.”
Helen looked around at the other parents forced to take this class. Most of them looked to her as if they belonged there. She looked over at the three hundred pound tattooed woman picking her nose and decided that she had had enough of sitting on her sore hip.
“Class is about to be cancelled,” Helen said. “It’s time for my secret weapon.” She reached in her pocket and left two cotton balls on Rose’s desk.
Rose looked down. “Helen,” she said. “What on earth are you…. The broccoli rabe! Oh, Helen.”
“Is there a problem back there?” the instructor, Mr. Ito, asked, looking back toward Helen and Rose.
“No,” Helen and Rose said in unison.
“Good,” Mr. Ito said, “because you will not get credit if I eject you from class.”
Rose tore the cotton balls into strips and put them up her nose to block her nostrils. She then started breathing exclusively from her mouth.
“Ready?” Helen whispered.
Rose nodded, looking down.
Helen lifted her leg slightly and let loose a large fart. “Green farts,” Helen said with a smile. “We’ll be home for lunchtime.”
“God I hope you’re right,” Rose said.
“What was that noise?” Mr. Ito asked.
“May I use the ladies room?” Helen asked, raising her hand.
Da’Quarius sat on a bench just around the corner from Paulie’s Pizza, thinking about his mother and whatever her agenda may be. He wondered if it was really worth it to be mad at her for something she hadn’t done yet. Rose did find a confirmation for a trip for four on the cruise she had talked about. Maybe she was finally going legit.
There was a screech of tires, and Da’Quarius suddenly looked up. An electric company van had slammed on its breaks about fifty feet in front of him. It started backing up as the other cars on the street drove around it. The window rolled down and a head came out.
“Daq!” Eddard yelled. “I knew it was you!” He got out of the van, dressed in an electric company uniform. Da’quarius looked passed him to see the large body of Kevern in the driver’s seat. He had known Eddard and Vern since his days in the orphanage. The two late-teenage boys hung around outside at night, selling weed.
“Eddard,” Da’Quarius said. “What are you doin’ wit dat van?”
“We went legit, mo’ fucker,” Eddard said, smiling. “We applied for jobs, and dey hired us on da spot. We workin’ for da power company now!”
“No,” Eddard replied, taken aback. “I’m shocked you’d insinuate dat shit.”
“Sorry,” Da’Quarius said. “Just sounds like what you guys would do.”
“You wanna come on a ride along?” Vern asked.
“You guys won’t get in trouble?” Da’Quarius asked.
“Fuck the bosses!” Eddard exclaimed. “We do what we want!”
“You comin’ or not, lil’ mo’ fucker?” Vern asked. “Time is mo’ fuckin’ money.”
Da’Quarius thought it was a bad idea, but then he thought of his mother looking for him at Paulie’s right now. “Fuck it,” he said. “Let’s go.”
“I’m sorry you just missed Daq,” Paulie said.
“Shit,” Lotasha sighed, sitting down in a booth. “Did he slip out da back when he saw me comin’? Am I dat bad of a mother?”
“Tony,” Paulie said, sitting in the booth across from Lotasha. “Give us some privacy.”
“Sure, boss,” Tony said, walking towards the kitchen. “Make sure you check your privilege.”
“Da fuck dat mo’ fucker just say?!” Lotasha said, ready to get up and go after Tony.
“Nothing,” Paulie said. “What’s wrong? You never seemed this distraught before.”
“What’s dat mean?” Lotasha asked.
“You seem sad,” Paulie said. “You’re not yelling and bragging and trying to get free food for a large group of bums.”
Lotasha laughed. “Dat was fucked up of me,” she said. “Wish dat was me at my lowest.”
“So what’s going on?” Paulie asked. “You can tell me.”
“I just wanna do da right thing,” Lotasha said. “Like you said when we were together. But Daq thinks I’m scammin’ him. I don’t care if da biddies he lives with don’t like me, but I was hoping he’d give me one more chance. Little nigga even changed his name behind my back.”
“What did you expect?” Paulie asked. “His middle name was an insult to his deformed hand. I’d have changed it too if I got it fixed like he did.”
“Lobsterclaw?” Lotasha asked. “His hand didn’t swell up like dat til he was two. Lobsterclaw was his father’s name.”
“Madon,” Paulie said. “You should tell him.”
“I cain’t,” Lotasha said. “You don’t know Lobsterclaw.” She looked up, realizing what she had just said. “And you better not say a gotdam word.”
“At least talk to him like you’re talking to me now,” Paulie said. “You don’t have to be a good mother to be a good person.”
Tears spilt from Lotasha’s eyes. “I should have gotten those damn headaches checked,” she said. “I just thought it was a constant hangover! Even if I knew six months ago. I could have made time. I could have…”
Lotasha suddenly noticed Paulie watching her with a worried look on his face. “You better not say a gotdam word,” she said, sneering angrily. “‘Bout any of dis.”
“Cross my heart,” Paulie said. “You have my word.” The door opened and a young couple came in for lunch.
Lotasha wiped her tears with her sleeve. “I gotta jet,” she said. “Peace out.” She got up and quickly left through the front door.
“Goodbye, doll,” Paulie said as the door closed with the sound of jingling bells.
Helen came back from the restroom for the second time. “I’m sorry,” she said, leaving the door open. She winked at Mr. Ito. “I’m an old lady. You know how it is.” Helen sat back in her seat with another fart. Rose tried her best to inch away.
“Alright,” Mr. Ito said, nearly turning green. “I’m calling it. You can all leave. Go home. This has to be a biohazard or something.”
“I’m not going anywhere!” Helen shouted, slamming her first on her desk with another small fart to accentuate her anger. “I’m finishing this state-mandated class!”
“You’ll get full credit,” Mr. Ito said, gagging as he walked towards the door. “Go home, and be good to your children!”
“Wow,” Rose said. “I have to hand it to you, Helen. You got us out before lunchtime – not that I’m even remotely hungry after that.”
“Let’s go home,” Helen said. “I’m dying to see if Lotasha fell for any of my booby traps.”
“You remembered to leave the dog outside so he wouldn’t get tripped up in any of your traps, right?” Rose asked.
Helen looked at Rose. A slow fart emanated from her rump.
“I can’t believe you guys went legit,” Da’Quarius said, hanging on while he rode in the back of Eddard and Vern’s electric company van. “Uniforms an’ everything. I’m impressed.”
“We livin’ large, Daq,” Eddard said. “We haven’t seen you in forever. What’s goin’ on wit’chu, dude.”
“Long story,” Da’Quarius said. “Short version is dat my moms is back, and she tryin’ to scam my new family.”
“Dat’s some bullshit,” Vern said, taking a corner with a screech of the van’s tires. “Yo own moms an’ shit.”
“She’s tryin’ to say dat she takin’ us on a cruise, but I know dere ain’t none,” Da’Quarius said. “Helen’s probably right. Lotasha ain’t tryin’ to better herself. She probably just wants us outta da house so she can rob it.”
“Daq!” Eddard exclaimed. “Dat’s yo’ moms! Maybe she really wants to make shit up to you. Black people don’t fuck around with no cruises neither, so you know she wouldn’t just make dat shit up.”
“You don’t think there’s an angle?” Da’Quarius asked.
“I don’t know,” Eddard said. “But look at me and Vern. We was a couple ‘a low lifes, and now we ridin’ dirty in da electric company van.”
Da’Quarius nodded. “You right,” he said. “Maybe I should give her a chance. You guys went legit after all, an’ I never thought you’d…”
“Hey!” Vern said, leaning over the steering wheel. “Check out those to old dudes up dere!”
“Shit,” Eddard said, looking up ahead. “I see ’em.”
“I know dem,” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s Harold an’ Lee Fuchs.”
“Harold and Lee Fuchs,” Eddard repeated. “You on it, Vern?”
“I’m on it, Eddard,” Vern said, slamming on the breaks and driving on the curb. “Let’s get dis shit done!”
Eddard and Vern left the van and approached a frighten-looking Harold and Lee. Da’Quarius shrank back, not wanting to be recognized. “Shit,” he whispered to himself. “Da fuck you guys up to now?”
Helen and Rose walked into their front door, stepping over the trip wires Helen had set up the night before. “Can you start taking these traps down now?” Rose asked. Dutchie, Da’Quarius’ pitbull terrier was jumping frantically from under a net.
“Only if you call them what they are,” Helen replied. “Booby traps.”
Rose sighed. “Fine,” she said, untangling the excited Dutchie from the rope net (Rose still couldn’t figure out where Helen had gotten it). “Can you starting taking these booby traps down now?”
“If you think they aren’t necessary,” Helen said with a shrug. “Lotasha hasn’t gone away yet, you know. We probably have a few more days of her skulking about with this cruise scam.”
Rose finally freed Dutchie from the net, and he nearly knocked her down with a grateful leap of licks to her face. “I know,” she said. “But trip wires and rope nets aren’t going to stop her.”
“Fine,” Helen said, snipping her trip wires with a pair of scissors. The doorbell rang and Helen rose to peek out the window. Dutchie was now jumping about with a renewed frevor. “Speak of the crab-infested devil. Right after I cut my wires too.”
“Just let her in,” Rose said. “I need to let this dog out back before he wets the carpet. We’ll get this talk with her over with and move on. Come on, boy. You wanna go outside?”
Helen opened the door as Rose let Dutchie through the kitchen and out the back door. Lotasha came in, sucking air through the gap in her front teeth. “You da only one here?” she asked. “Where da nice one at?”
“She’ll be right here,” Helen replied. “Just so you know, we’re not buying anything you’re selling.”
“I ain’t sellin’ you shit,” Lotasha said as Rose came back into the den. “What I’m doin’ is legit. You see da papers I left about da cruise, right?”
“I saw them,” Rose replied. “It doesn’t explain why you put us in that ridiculous class though.”
“Shit,” Lotasha said. “I even got da nice one mad.”
“Just talk,” Helen said, sitting in her favorite chair, “and hurry it up. I still have booby traps to dismantle.”
“I think I know what’s going on,” Rose said before Lotasha could speak. “The confirmation letter still says the cruise isn’t paid for. You only put down a deposit. You’re going to ask us to pay the rest, aren’t you?”
“My brains must be rubbing off on you,” Helen said. “That sounds like a con if I ever heard one. Is D’Lo involved?”
“Who da fuck is D’Lo?” Lotasha said. “Dis just me, and I ain’t askin’ for a dime of yo money. And, for yo information, I sent you to dat class so I can be sure my son is bein’ raised by parents who know what da fuck dey doin’.”
“Look,” Rose said. “We appreciate the gesture if it’s genuine; but after all we’ve dealt with in the past, I don’t know if we can fully ever trust you.”
“Where Daq?” Lotasha asked. “Maybe he wants to hear what I have to say.”
“He’s out,” Rose said.
“Probably hiding from you,” Helen added.
“I really done dat boy wrong,” Lotasha said, looking down. “I’ll come back tomorrow one last time. Da trip will be paid for before I come. Den you’ll see dat I’m serious. Please make sure Daq is here.” she turned and left through the front door without another word.
“You think she’s being genuine?” Rose asked Helen after a moment.
“Don’t fall for those alligator tears,” Helen said. “The kid’s not a dummy either. He’ll see through her game tomorrow. Let him make the decision on whether or not to trust her when he sees what she comes back with.”
“OK,” Rose said, looking towards the door. She felt a mixture of anxiety and guilt when she thought about Lotasha and Da’Quarius meeting the following morning.
“Yo, bitches!” Eddard shouted, approaching Harold and Lee.
“What is it,” the balding Harold asked as Lee hid behind him.
“Ya’ll owe us for yo power bill, mo’ fuckers!” Eddard exclaimed. “Pay up!”
“Lee?” Harold asked. “You were supposed to pay the bill.”
“We don’t owe anything!” Lee exclaimed in his lispy voice. “I pay that bill in full every month.”
“According to my boss, you owe us five hundred dollars,” Eddard said. “You Harold an’ Lee Fuchs, right? My homie and I are from the collections department, and we here to collect.”
“You can’t just show up and demand money,” Lee said. “We’ve paid you every month since we’ve lived here!”
“Maybe you’re starting to forget things,” Harold said.
“I think it’s time we cut these mo’ fuckers off,” Eddard said, smiling at the frightened couple. “Start climbin’ da pole.”
“Sho thing,” Vern said. He put a large pair of bolt cutters under his arm and starting bear-hugging the wood utility pole as if he was really going to climb it.
“Wait!” Harold said. “Lee, go get the box under my side of the bed, and get five hundred dollars.”
“Dere a fifty dollar pole-climbin’ fee too,” Eddard said.
“He hasn’t climbed the pole!” Lee pleaded.
“I started!” Vern exclaimed from the pole. “An’ I got a sliver in my arm to prove it, bitch!”
“Fine,” Harold said. “Get him five fifty, Lee. Make it snappy.”
Lee sighed, looked from Eddard to Harold, and quickly went inside.
Moments later, Vern drove the van once again while Eddard counted the money. “I cain’t believe dey actually paid us.”
“Dis was a good idea,” Vern said. “Let’s find some more people to collect from. We gonna be rich!”
“You guys don’t work for da power company!” Da’Quarius exclaimed. “You guys stole dis shit!”
“What gave it away?” Eddard asked, smiling as the hundred dollar bills sat in his hands.
“You guys are assholes,” Da’Quarius said. “You told me dat you were workin’. Dammit, I asked you guys for advice ’bout my moms goin’ legit too. I thought… You know what… Thank you. You showed me how gullible I really am! I cain’t trust any of you! Can you let me out over here at da corner?”
“Come on, Daq,” Eddard said. “We were just havin’ fun!”
“Yeah,” Vern said, pulling over. “We gonna give you a cut for givin’ us der names.”
“Keep it,” Da’Quarius, getting out of the side of the van. “You know dey probably got GPS in dese vans, right?”
“Dat’s just a myth!” Vern said.
“Later, Daq,” Eddard said.
“Yeah yeah,” Da’Quarius said, walking away from the van in the direction of Freedom Lane. The van made it half a block before two police cars came charging from the side streets. Vern tried to floor it, but he ended up driving over a fire hydrant and flooding the street as the police surrounded the van with their guns drawn.
“Looks like I dumped dose fools just in time,” Da’Quarius said to himself. “I told ’em dat van had GPS.”
Lotasha walked into her hotel room and shut the door behind her. She started to feel another headache coming on, and decided it was best to smoke a little weed before she tried to get some sleep. She had quit drinking and doing all other drugs, but the weed seemed to help the headaches. She walked over to the bed when a voice from the corner startled her.
“Hello, Lotasha,” a man sitting in the hotel room’s chair said. He was full figured and muscular. He had a shaved head and a nearly trimmed goatee. It was the man whose visit she had been dreading.
“Gonzolo,” Lotasha said, turning on the lamp on the desk. He sat on the chair, smoking a cigarillo. A large black man was standing by the bed near a pile of cash. She knew it was a matter of time before Gonzolo heard she was back in New Haven, but she hoped she’d be gone by the time he did.
“Let me tell you a story of a lost little girl named Lotasha,” Gonzolo said, leaning forward. “You see, this little girl used to work for a man just like myself. In fact, his name was Gonzolo too. She did whatever he asked. She’d sell dope, hook… ANYTHING! So he saw lending her some money as an investment. He lent her that money, and she disappeared with it. That was two years ago.”
“Then a man named Brewster shows up at Gonzolo’s house,” Gonzolo continued, interupting Lotasha. “Brewster says he not only knows that Lotasha moved from squatting in some Bridgeport project back to New Haven, but she won some money from a scratch ticket. How did he know this, Lotasha?”
Lotasha sighed. She knew she couldn’t trust Brewster, but he was the only one she knew with no record, and she knew he could cash a lotto ticket without being flagged for tax evasion. He brought back forty-five thousand of the hundred thousand she won, stating that it was mostly taxes, but she knew he had taken a bigger cut than what they discussed. Guys like Brewster always snuck an extra cut. They also snitched you out when they knew more money could come their way from it.
“He cashed my ticket,” Lotasha said.
“He cashed your ticket!” Gonzolo said with the fervor of a game show host. “Then you hid it from me like I wouldn’t find out!”
“Dis still a fairy tale?” Lotasha asked.
“I’m taking your money,” Gonzolo said, tossing a canvas bag onto the bed. His associate started loading the cash into the bag. Lotasha sneered. He had waited so she could see him do it. “I’d beat some sense into you for trying to hide it from me, but we go way back.”
“You read the doctor’s letter that was in the bag with da cash,” Lotasha said. It wasn’t a question.
“I did,” Gonzolo said. “That’s why I want to recoup my losses while I can.”
“Dat money is for my son,” Lotasha said. “Please let me keep it. At least enough to pay for dis cruise. You know I don’t have long.”
“I’m not a bad man,” Gonzolo said, standing up, “and you’re not a dumb woman. Sure, you may not not know math or how to speak properly, but you’re street smart. You were good for business until you weren’t.”
“But my son…”
“I don’t care about your son,” Gonzolo said, letting his anger show in his voice. “I care about money, and you shouldn’t be using it to buy him anything before I’m paid back. You understand?”
Lotasha stared daggers into Gonzolo.
“Nod so I know you understand,” Gonzolo said.
Lotasha nodded once.
“Good,” Gonzolo said, taking the bag from his associate. “For what it’s worth; I’m truly sorry we have to part this way.”
“Fuck you,” Lotasha breathed.
Gonzolo ignored Lotasha’s statement and opened the door so his associate could leave ahead of him. “Goodbye Lotasha,” he said. He closed the door, leaving Lotasha to fall to the floor on her knees and sob to the empty hotel room. She wished Gonzolo had killed her after all. At least then, she wouldn’t have to face her son in the morning.
Da’Quarius sat in the den with Rose and Helen, waiting for his mother to return. He still felt betrayed by Eddard and Vern from the day before, and he hoped she wouldn’t show up. He was still letting his ill feelings fester when Helen said one of the things he was thinking.
“She’s not coming,” Helen said. “She doesn’t have the balls to lie to our faces again.”
“I really hope she does the right thing,” Rose said.
Da’Quarius didn’t join in the conversation. He just sat until the doorbell rang and Rose let her in. “Hi guys,” she said. “I have some news.”
“Here we go,” Helen said, rolling her eyes.
Lotasha sighed, choosing to ignore Helen’s taunt. “I don’t have da money for the cruise anymore,” she said.
“And you want us to pay for the cruise since all our hopes are up about it,” Helen said, adding a heavy amount of sarcasm to her voice. “Your pal D’Lo already used this con, honey.”
“An’ I told you I don’t know no D’Lo,” Lotasha retorted. “I’m not askin’ you to pay for da cruise. I’m just tellin’ you dat it’s off.”
“Is this the game?” Rose ask. “Now you’re going to guilt us, knowing that I a have the confirmation paperwork?”
“No!” Lotasha said, throwing her hands up. “I’m not trying to guilt anyone. I fucked up. I know. Daq…”
Lotasha, Helen, and Rose all looked at Da’Quarius, who had been quiet during the entire exchange. He had an indifferent look on his face. “Lotasha,” he said. “You woulda shocked me more if you weren’t tryin’ to scam us wit dis cruise,” he said. “Just go. I don’t wanna play dese games any more.” He turned and walked up to his room.
“Daq,” Lotasha said.
Da’Quarius turned around and looked at his mother’s face. “I’m done, Lotasha,” he said. “Real mothers don’t scam their sons.”
Lotasha put her head down as Da’Quarius went into his room and closed the door. “I fucked up bad,” she said.
“We know,” Helen said. “Now leave so we can pick up the pieces like we did the last time and the time before that.”
Lotasha nodded once and left, not making a comment or retort. Silence passed in Rose and Helen’s den.
“Did we do the right thing?” Rose asked.
“There is no right thing with her,” Helen said. “Trust me.”
“I know,” Rose said. “I just feel guilty for not hearing her out.”
“How we dealt with her was the kid’s decision,” Helen said. “That’s what we said, and we stuck to it. Don’t worry. She’s like the herpes. She’s annoying, will always be there, and return whenever you think you’re done. Maybe she’ll wise up and do the right thing the next time we see her.”
“Maybe,” Rose said.
Helen flipped through the channels on TV as Rose read on the couch. Da’Quarius came downstairs after spending hours in his room alone. “Hey, guys,” he said, sitting on the couch near Rose. “Sorry ’bout dat.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Rose said, putting her book down. “I know how you must feel. I went through a lot with my father too.”
“Well it’s over,” Da’Quarius said. “For now, I just want to relax a bit. Maybe watch a movie and get some popcorn.”
“Dropping hints loud enough?” Helen asked. “Can’t you see I’m watching TV?”
“Oh you’re just flipping through the channels,” Rose said. “Find a movie for the three of us, and I’ll microwave us some popcorn. Deal?”
“Yeah yeah,” Helen said. “Just none of these fast car movies with the loud rap music. I’ll die a happy broad if I never see another one of those abortions.”
“Oh!” Rose exclaimed as she tripped on a small wire. There was a blast from behind the couch cushions, and the front of the TV exploded in a shower of glass and sparks.
“Da fuck was dat?!” Da’Quarius shouted as he helped Rose from the ground. She moved the smoldering cushions of the couch to find a sawed-off shotgun concealed behind it with a wire wrapped around the trigger.
“Oh my, Helen!” Rose said. “We almost got killed! I thought you got rid of your ridiculous booby traps!”
“Oops,” Helen said. “Guess I forgot about that one.”
Da’Quarius looked at the smoking heap of electronics and rubble that used to be their TV. “Looks like we ain’t watchin’ dat movie after all,” he said.