Freedom Lane: Everything Changes

“Come on,” Paulie said, walking through the Fairfield restaurant with Helen and Rose in tow. “We’re late. I was supposed to meet Angie’s parents last week, but I was held up.”

“Yeah yeah,” Helen said. “I didn’t have to go then, and I don’t understand why I have to go now. It took an hour to drive here.”

“Angie insisted,” Paulie said. “We were talking the other night and… Let’s just say we were talking about our families.”

“Oh God,” Helen said. “What did you tell her?”

“I kind of mentioned how you’re actually my mother,” Paulie said.

“Paulie!” Helen snapped. “How could you?!”

“I don’t see the problem,” Rose said. “You actually are his mother. It doesn’t matter that you covered it up for over sixty-three years.”

“Stay out of this, toots,” Helen said.

“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” Rose said.

“I’m not ashamed,” Helen said. “I just didn’t want them to know my business.”

“It’s my business too,” Paulie said. “After all, I’m the dirty, little secret you guys hid away.”

“Come off it,” Helen said. “You had a pretty good life as my baby brother.”

“There they are,” Paulie said, leading them to the table with the waving Angie. “Can you promise me to be on your best behavior.”

“Aren’t I always?” Helen asked.

“Madon,” Paulie said, pulling out a chair for Helen.


***

Freedom Lane

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

Season 8 Finale: Everything Changes

***

“So Angie says you’re sixty-four,” Angie’s father, Aaron said. He was bald, had a trimmed, black beard, and was darker than his wife and daughter.

“Yeah,” Paulie said. “It happens.”

“Two years older than me,” Aaron added.

“Aaron,” Susan, Angie’s mother said, giving an odd look to her husband. She was a just as robust as her daughter is with dark brown skin.

“What?” Aaron asked. “I’m just wondering how a man older than me could happen to become engaged to my daughter.”

“It happens,” Angie said, smiling as she put her hand on top of Paulie’s. Paulie smiled back.

“Some women like a man with experience in the sack,” Helen muttered behind her water glass.

“Helen,” Rose whispered, lightly elbowing her.

“I know a fun game we can play to get to know each other,” Susan said before Aaron could make another comment. “We can go around the table and talk about a celebrity or historical figure we’d like to meet.”

“Please, Susan,” Aaron said. “Is this the same dribble you tell your students? We aren’t third graders, you know.”

“It’s just a way to break the ice,” Susan said, a little ashamed for bringing it up.

“I’ve always wanted to meet the guy who did the theme to Ghostbusters,” Rose said, not wanting Aaron to embarrass Susan into ditching her idea.

“Why?” Susan asked.

“I’d love to talk to him about that song,” Rose said “I’ve just always wanted to do it.”

Paulie smiled. He had rehearsed with Rose to take over most of the conversation so Helen couldn’t butt in with anything too crazy. So far there was only the one comment that seemed to have gone unnoticed by Angie’s parents.

“That was Ray Parker Jr,” Aaron said. “Right?”

“Yeah,” Rose said. “That’s him.”

“The guy who played the black Ghostbuster in the movie did the song,” Helen said. “Everyone knows that.”

“No he did not,” Rose said, turning to Helen. “Aaron just said his name: Ray Parker Jr.”

“I’m not arguing his name,” Helen said. “I’m just saying the guy who played the black Ghostbuster also did the theme song for the film.”

“And I’m telling you he didn’t,” Rose said, getting agitated. “You’re thinking of two completely different black men.”

“Don’t argue with me in public,”. Helen said. “It’s common knowledge. The black Ghostbuster did the theme song. Ask anyone.”

“It is not common knowledge,” Rose said. “The actor and the singer were two completely different black men. They did not hire one black man to act in the movie and do the song.”

“They did it all the time in eighties,” Helen said. “He was also the black guy from Star Wars.”

“No he wasn’t!” Rose said as the people around them started to turn to watch.

“Rose,” Paulie said.

“He did that song too,” Helen said. “How’d it go… ‘Hello. Is it me you’re looking for?’.”

“Helen,” Paulie said.

“That’s Lionel Richie,” Rose said, her voice rising in her annoyance. “You just took four black men and combined them into one black man in your head. You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“It’s all the same black guy,” Helen said. “I’d put money on it.”

“Well you’d lose your money,” Rose said. “You just think all blacks look…”

Paulie cleared his throat loudly. Helen and Rose turned to see Angie and her parents staring in disbelief. “Sorry,” Rose said, looking away.

“I know a way to settle this,” Helen said.

“Please stop,” Paulie said.

“Bah,” Helen said, waving a hand at Paulie. She leaned on the table, facing Aaron and Susan. “Do you two know the guy who played the black Ghostbuster by chance?”

***

“That dinner was a complete fiasco,” Paulie said, turning the lights on in his house as he came in with Angie. “My sister doesn’t always know when not to say these things.”

“It’s alright,” Angie said, sitting on Paulie’s couch. She was visibly more upset by it than what she was letting on. “I’m just sorry my father kept bringing up our age difference so much.”

“I figured he would,” Pauile said, sitting next to Angie on the couch. “I was too mortified by my sister to really let anything else register.”

“Can you believe we’re just two weeks away from being married?” Angie asked, eager to change the subject.

“Madon, the wedding,” Paulie said with a groan. “What the hell is Helen going to do there?”

“Let me take your mind off of dinner,” Angie said, leaning into Paulie and kissing his neck.

“Already forgetting it,” Paulie said and turning the light off.

When the two were done with the act of love making, they laid in Paulie’s bed. “That was wonderful,” Angie said.

“Yes I was,” Paulie said.

Angie laughed. “I love you,” she said.

“I love you too,” Paulie said.

“Two more weeks,” Angie whispered, putting an arm across Paulie’s chest as he drifted off.

“Two more weeks,” Paulie said. “Then everything changes.”

***

Eighteen Months Later


Paulie woke up to the wailing of the baby. “Baby Paulie’s up,” Angie said, stirring.

Paulie groaned. “Friggin’ kid,” he said.

“You know the rules,” Angie said. “I pumped last night, so there’s plenty of milk in the fridge.”

“You getting up?” Paulie asked.

“I’ll be up in a half hour for work,” Angie said. “Go take care of our kid.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Paulie said, getting up. He walked down the hallway in the direction of the screaming baby. He entered the room with the light blue walls and the Disney character decals. The six-month old Paulie Junior lay on his back in his white crib, screaming his head off. He had mocha-colored skin and a puff of black, curly hair on his head.

“Sixty-five years old, and doing this shit,” Paulie muttered, half-asleep, getting a fresh diaper from the drawer. He picked his son up, placed him on the changing pad four feet from the crib, and started undressing him to change his diaper.

Once the shit-covered diaper was in the trash and Baby Paulie was clean and redressed, Paulie took him downstairs. He took one of the bottles of breast milk from the refrigerator and microwaved it for fifteen seconds. Once it was warm, he sat down in his favorite chair, held Baby Pauile like a football, and let him suck down the bottle of his wife’s bodily fluids while he fell in and out of sleep.

“What are my boys doing today?” Angie said, coming downstairs once she was showered and dressed for work.

“I’m getting some friggin’ coffee in me,” Paulie said, hoping Angie didn’t notice he was fast asleep while holding the cooing baby and an empty bottle. He put Baby Paulie on his shoulder, and patted his back. “Maybe I’ll go check in on Tony. See how he’s holding up.”

“Don’t bring the baby there,” Angie said.

“Why not?” Paulie asked. “His name’s on the sign after all.”

Angie gave Paulie a sideways glance. “Just don’t tell me you plan on bringing him over your sister’s house,” she said.

Paulie rolled his eyes. He didn’t want to argue with her about Helen again. Helen had every right to see her grandchild (even though she argued tooth and nail that it was her nephew), but Angie was weary of any interaction with her ever since the incident at the wedding.

“I barely see them anymore,” Paulie said, deciding to argue anyway. He knew she wouldn’t yell while he was holding the baby at least. “I used to go there every Sunday for dinner and sometimes during the week. They’d come see my at my pizzeria too. Hell, the kid mopped the floors every Saturday.”

“Helen insisted I had a ‘moulignon in the oven’ while I was pregnant,” Angie said. “I don’t want the baby around that kind of talk.”

“She meant nothing by it,” Paulie said. “The old Italians use it all the time. They don’t even think it’s racist.”

“Well it is,” Angie said.

“This from the girl who makes me use the n-word in bed,” Paulie said, rolling his eyes. “Madon.”

Angie sighed. “We’ll talk when I get home,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you not to take Baby Paulie out. Just be careful. Do what I would do.”

“Right,” Paulie groaned, willing himself not to fall asleep again until Angie’s car was safely out of the driveway.

“I’ll see you later,” Angie said, giving Paulie a peck on the lips. “Love you.”

“Love you too,” Paulie said as she grabbed her keys from the counter and left.

“It’s just you and me now, kid,” Paulie said to the baby as he put him back in the crook of his arm. “Just like every other friggin’ day.”

***

Hours later, Paulie walked into Paulie’s Pizza on State Street, carrying Baby Paulie in his carrier and a blue and white diaper bag. Tony was at the counter, wearing his normal white wife-beater and torn jeans. Running the place so Paulie could retire didn’t change the fact that he dressed like he was sitting at the table and eating a microwaved grilled cheese for dinner.

“Here you go,” Tony said, handing a man a box. “Enjoy your pie.”

The customer thanked Tony and left as Paulie put the carrier on a booth table and the diaper bag on the seat. “Look at this,” Tony said, coming from behind the counter. “Baby Paulie came all the way here to visit his Uncle Tony!”

“We came for a little lunch,” Paulie said. “And don’t call him Baby Paulie. It’s bad enough Angie does it.”

“Why not?” Tony asked.

“Remember Baby Johnny?” Paulie asked.

“Yeah,” Tony said. “John Junior.”

“Only he was called ‘Baby Johnny’ until the day he died at eighty-seven years old,” Paulie said. “He always hated that name, and his asshole kids put it in his friggin’ obituary.”

“Hi,” Tony said, putting an affect on his voice that gave Paulie chills. “You happy to see your uncle, Baby Paulie?”

Paulie smilied at Tony poking at his son’s tummy and making silly noises. He took the opportunity to look around his pizzeria. He had spent nearly every day there since he bought the place, but now he was lucky if he got to come in once a week. Angie and he agreed that one of them should stop working to raise the baby, and Paulie didn’t think she meant it be him. It was him retiring versus her becoming a stay-at-home mom, and he ended up drawing the short straw. He couldn’t argue that she was way too young to quit working when he was already in his mid-sixties.

Paulie still owned the pizzeria, but Tony was now running the show. He did the books, ordering, and schedule for the small staff (calling Paulie often when he got stumped), and he seemed to excel at it now that he was in charge. Paulie still got a pit in his stomach whenever he thought of Tony running the place on his own. He waited for the day for the police to shut it down for some kind of scheme.

“So how’s life as a housewife?” Tony asked, letting Baby Paulie blow raspberries and giggle.

“Do you have to do that?” Paulie asked.

“Sorry,” Tony said. “How’s ‘kept man’?”

“That’s only slightly better,” Paulie said.

“Seriously,” Tony said. “I feel we don’t talk that often any more. How is everything?”

“Good,” Paulie said. “I mean I miss this place, but this little mook comes first. Besides, I’ll come back once he’s in school full time.”

“Yeah,” Tony said, “but that’s eight or nine years from now.”

“What age do you think kids start school?” Paulie asked.

“You know what I mean,” Tony said, going back behind the counter to make lunch. “You’ll be in your seventies when that happens. Are you really going to be able to come back to work at that age after taking so much time off? It only seems like you’re aging slowly. It’ll catch up with you quick.”

Paulie sat down in the booth, thinking as Tony threw together a couple of sandwiches. He would never admit it out loud, but he knew Tony was right. He had even had those own thoughts in his head as he fantasized about returning to the pizzeria and slinging dough.

“What’s the kid want?” Tony called from the kitchen.

“His mom’s tit-milk,” Paulie called back, getting the usual laugh out of Tony.

“Fresh squeezed?” Tony asked, coming out with two small grinders.

“Come on!” Paulie said. “I’m about to eat over here!”

“Sorry boss,” Tony said, sitting across from Paulie. He took a large bite out of his sandwich. “You should go see Helen. They still set a plate out for you on Sunday nights, you know.”

“What?” Paulie asked, swallowing. “How do you know that?”

“I’ve been going there for dinner,” Tony said. “They got plenty of food without you showing up.”

“So you’ve usurped my Sunday dinners too,” Paulie said. “Madon.”

“Hey,” Tony said. “You rarely show up anymore.”

Paulie sighed. “Angie is still mad at Helen,” he said. “It’s hard to talk her into anything involving her, even if she doesn’t have to go.”

“Over the wedding?” Tony asked. “Still?”

“Angie tried to get along with her when she was pregnant,” Paulie said.

“Oh,” Tony said. “The ‘moulignon’ thing.”

“Yeah,” Paulie said. “That too.”

“What’s that smell?” Tony asked.

Paulie smelt the air near Baby Paulie. “It’s this kid,” he said. “He does nothing but shit all day long.”

“He takes after his father,” Tony said, chuckling.

“I’m going to change him in the office,” Paulie said, getting up and grabbing the handle to the baby carrier.

“Oh no you’re not,” Tony said. “You keep that kid’s shit away from my office.”

“You’re office?” Paulie said. “I still own this place, Tony. It’s my office.”

“OK,” Tony said, crossing his arms. “I do the payroll, I do the books, I do the ordering, and I do all the paperwork. Where am I supposed to do it if that’s not my office? Want me to lay out all that stuff on my toilet tank upstairs?!”

Baby Paulie started to wail.

“Alright,” Paulie said, frantically taking stuff out of the diaper bag. “I’ll change him out here. Madon, you whine worse than this baby.”

“You sound as bad as that woman I kicked out of here for breastfeeding,” Tony said. “Nobody wants to see that.”

“You’re joking, right?” Paulie said, looking up from his son, who was crying and kicking his feet from his travel changing pad. “Tell me that your’e joking about kicking a woman out for breastfeeding.”

Tony shrugged. “I got work to do, Mr. Mom,” he said, going back into the kitchen.

“He’s joking,” Paulie said, changing Baby Paulie’s diaper. When he was done putting sprinkling the powder and taping on the fresh diaper, he looked up at the crowd of women outside. They were holding signs and shouting. They were pointing at the Pizzeria. 

“He wasn’t joking,” Paulie said. He heard something behind him, and he turned to see two rats running along the wall. 

“Holy shit, Tony!” Paulie yelled. “What’s with the rats?!”

“You wouldn’t believe what that exterminator was charging to clean out and replace those traps around the building!” Tony said.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” Paulie said. “I used to run this place, you know.”

“Well I told him to screw himself,” Tony said.

“Those traps are a state mandate,” Paulie said. “You can get us shut down!”

“It’s fine,” Tony said. “I’ve been clubbing the hell out of them.” He disappeared into the back again.

“Madon,” Paulie said, putting the baby’s onesie back on. “I’ll call the friggin’ exterminator myself later. Now let’s get you out of here before you need a rabies shot.”

“Where’d those little fuckers go,” Tony said, coming from the back room, wielding a wooden club over his head.

“Oh my god!” A woman yelled, pointing in the window as the others were taking pictures of Tony holding a club over his head as Paulie held his baby. “He’s going to club the baby!”

***

Paulie went to open the door to Helen and Rose’s house, but he remembered that he hadn’t been there much lately, and he rang the doorbell. He felt weird not letting himself in, but he didn’t want to startle them with his unannounced appearance.

Paulie waited there, listening to the unintelligible shouting of Helen through the door. A moment later the door was opened by Rose. “Paulie,” Rose said. “It’s so nice to see you!”

“Who’s that?!” Helen shouted. “Don’t tell me it’s my long lost brother!”

“He brought the baby!” Rose exclaimed, looking toward the baby carrier with a huge smile on her face.

“Well what are you waiting for, Rose?!” Helen shouted, getting up from her seat. “Let them in! I haven’t seen that little nephew of mine in forever.”

Paulie walked and placed the baby carrier on the coffee table. Helen immediately picked him up. “How’s my little moulie?” she asked, smiling at the cooing baby.

“Don’t call him that,” Paulie said. “Angie will kill me if she knows I brought him here and let you call him a little moulie.”

“But he’s so cute,” Helen said. “Look at that face. Oh my. He has his mother’s lips. Poor kid. He’ll be able to suck-start a leaf blower.”

“Come on,” Paulie said. “This is why it’s so hard to bring him over here. Angie gets offended by this stuff, you know.”

“Well I don’t see the woman of your dreams here,” Helen said, shaking her medicine caddy in Baby Paulie’s face to make him smile. “You must have woken up and found your nuts if you were allowed to come here today.”

“I just got sick of staying in my house all day, every day,” Paulie said. “I’ll be too old to enjoy it when I can finally take this kid to the park.”

“Nobody told you to reverse your vasectomy a month into your wedding,” Rose said, taking Helen’s pill caddy away and replacing it when a rattle from the diaper bag.

“What a bonehead move,” Helen said, “but we got this little guy out of the deal. Didn’t we, Baby Paulie? Yes we did.”

The door opened, and Da’Quarius came in, home from school. “Unca Paulie!” He exclaimed. “How’s my little nephew?”

“Cousin,” Helen corrected.

“So we still doin’ dat?” Da’Quarius asked. “Da’ other night you were complainin’ ’bout never seein’ your grand-“

“That’s enough,” Helen said. “I think you need to have a talk with Rose about why your principal called home earlier today.”

“Dat dirty snitch called?!” Da’Quarius said.

“He calls two times a week now,” Rose said. “We need to meet him on Friday to discuss whether or not you’re going to continue going to that school.”

“Early summer,” Da’Quarius said, shrugging. “Cool.”

“No,” Rose said. “It is not cool. Go walk your dog, and we’ll talk when you get back.”

“Come on, Dutchie,” Da’Quarius said, grabbing his dog’s leash. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Paulie waited for Da’Quarius to leave. “What’s up with him?” Paulie asked. “He’s been getting in trouble at school?”

“It’s getting worse and worse,” Rose said. “He was such a good kid. It’s as if he has no guidance anymore, no moral compass. Do you know what I’m talking about, Paulie?”

Paulie pretended like he didn’t see Helen’s sideways glance. He’d always been there for Da’Quarius, but he just didn’t have time to give him the advice like he had the moment he came into their lives. “I can talk to him,” he said.

“Can you?” Helen said. “You mean you’ll take time out of your busy housewife schedule to help out your nephew?”

“It’s hard to get over here when my wife holds a grudge against my older sister,” Paulie said, getting annoyed. “Did you think what you said at my wedding was going to go unpunished? No. I’ve been punished for it for the last year and a half!”

“Well if she let you have a stag, I would’ve made my toast there,” Helen said.

“That wasn’t a toast,” Paulie said. “It was a rant about race-mixing and marrying someone thirty years older than you. You called her ‘grampa-fucker’ for god’s sake.”

“It was a joke!” Helen said.

“Angie and her family didn’t find it funny,” Paulie said. “You accused me of having jungle fever, and you accused Angie of having an old man fetish because of a sexual attraction to her own father. Then you called Angie’s parents George and Wheezy. That’s why I can’t come over here as much as I should.”

“You’re sixty-four years old,” Helen said. “You can come and go as you please. There’s no literal ball and chain!”

“I’m sixty-five,” Paulie said, “and that’s not the point.”

“You not coming to see us was your choice,” Helen said. “You reversed your vasectomy because the woman of your dreams wanted a brat, you retired from your pizzeria so she can stay at work, and you stopped coming here because she’s all of a sudden offended by us as soon as a ring’s on her finger. You’re your own man, Paulie. It sickens me to see you controlled by a thirty-five year old cooze!”

“Don’t talk about Angie that way,” Paulie said, more out of obligation than anger.

“You made a mistake marrying her,” Helen said, showing no hint of mirth to the comment. “A huge friggin’ mistake.”

Paulie was ready to make another retort when the door opened. Da’Quarius was back form his walk. He was glad he hadn’t said what he almost had. It gave him a couple of seconds to think, and he realized that Helen was right, despite her crassness.

“I can hear you guys yellin’ down the street,” Da’Quarius said. “E’rything OK?”

“Yeah,” Paulie said, nodding, “and you’re going to be seeing a lot more of me. Now why don’t you tell me why you’re in trouble at school, and we can figure out how to make it right. I’m sure it can’t be that bad.”

“I got a teacher pregnant,” Da’Quarius said. “Bitch didn’t even tell me until her white-ass husband found the notes she was tryin’ to write to me. Now she’s fired an’ the principal wants my ass.”

“Holy shit,” Paulie said. “You shittin’ me right now?”

“I wish he was,” Rose said, crossing her arms. “He’s just been so misguided lately.”

“Looks like we gonna be raisin’ our half-white kids together,” Da’Quarius said.

“Bitch refuses to get that abortion,” Helen said.

“We did not ask her for an abortion,” Rose said. “It was too late when we found out anyway.”

“Funny,” Helen said. “She said the same thing.”

“You have to do the right thing here, kid,” Paulie said. “You know that, right?”

“Da’ fuck do you care?” Da’Quarius asked. “You barely come over any more. I don’t even get a call or a text from you to see how I’m doin’.”

“Well that’s going to change,” Paulie said. “I’m going to help you thought this thing like I should have been doing all along. I’ll be here for my Sunday night dinner every week, and you’ll be working with me every Saturday at Paulie’s again… If Tony doesn’t get my pizzeria shut down, that is.”

The door opened, and Tony ran in, slamming it behind him. “I need a place to hide out,” he said. “Oh, hi Paulie. I didn’t know you were going to be here.”

“What did you do now?” Paulie asked.

“It was those damn breastfeeding protestors,” Tony said. “They were getting really annoying, so I dumped a bucket of old marinara and meatballs on them from the roof.”

“Oh, Tony,” Rose said.

“They really flipped out when the rats all came out to eat it,” Tony said.

Paulie’s cell phone rang, and he took it from his pocket. “Oh shit,” he said. “Nobody say a word.”

“This’ll be good,” Tony said, sitting down on the couch.

“Angie,” Paulie said, answering the phone. “How’s work?”

“I’m home,” Angie said, sounding annoying. “Did you forget we were going out with my parents tonight? You were supposed to be ready with the baby when I came home.”

“No,” Paulie said. “We aren’t doing that until Friday.”

“It is Friday!” Angie exclaimed. “Where are you?”

“I took the baby out for a bit,” Paulie said. “I’m so cooped up all the time. I just needed to stretch my legs.”

“I asked where you were,” Angie said.

“Is that Wheezy Junior?” Helen asked. “How is that sister-in-law of mine?”

“You’re at Helen’s?” Angie asked. “I can’t believe it. Have you been sneaking the baby there without me?” 

“No,” Paulie said. “Why would I sneak anywhere? I can go where I want.”

“Come home and get ready to go out,” Angie said. “We can have this conversation after dinner with my parents.” She hung up.

“Shit,” Paulie said. “She’s pissed.”

“Better take the baby back,” Helen said, passing Baby Paulie back to Paulie.

“You’re going to let me go just like that?” Paulie asked.

“No,” Helen said. “He just took a huge shit.”

***

Paulie drove home with his freshly-changed son in the back. “I can’t believe this,” he said, turning off Freedom Lane. “Every fucking day! What the hell does she want of me?! I’m just supposed to sit around with this baby, making sure the shit’s cleaned out of his little crack?”

Baby Paulie started to cry in the back, and the smell of baby shit filled the Cadillac. “Again?!” Paulie shouted. “What the hell is in that friggin’ tit milk?”

Baby Paulie screamed louder, and a stream of vomit spewed from his mouth, and the stench of partially digested breastmilk mingled with the smell of baby shit.

“In my caddy?!” Paulie shouted, turning around. Baby Paulie wailed, vomit all over him. Paulie reached back, grabbed a towel from the top of the diaper bag, and started to wipe as much vomit up as possible while he steered with his left hand. 

Baby Paulie threw up again, getting the milk on Pauile’s sleeve. “Shit!” He shouted. He pulled his arm back, dripping in baby puke. His phone rang from his coat pocket. He wiped his sleeve with the towel quickly and picked up the phone. “Hello?” he said, holding the phone between his ear and shoulder.

“Where are you?!” Angie snapped.

“I’m on my way,” Paulie said. “I’m right around the corner.”

“Get here now!” Angie said. “We need to get Baby Paulie ready.”

“I don’t think that’s going to work,” Paulie said. “He’s been shitting all day, and he just threw up in my car.”

“What have you been feeding him?” Angie asked.

“The milk from your tits!” Paulie snapped. “What do you think, I took him out for chicken wings at his favorite strip club?! I don’t appreciate the accusation that I’d feed a six-month-old baby anything else.”

Angie sighed. “Just get him home,” she said. “We’ll cancel with my parents. Thanks, Paulie.”

“Oh!” Paulie snapped. “This isn’t my fault. He’s a baby. They piss and shit and puke. Trust me, I’m cleaning it up all friggin’ day.”

“I’m not having this argument,” Angie said.

“That’s right,” Paulie said. “We’re not.” He unrolled his window and tossed his phone out. “Bitch.”

Paulie grasped his chest as he felt it tightening. “Shit,” he said. “What’s this fresh hell.” He tried to get his body back under his control as he blew past a stop sign. Someone screamed from the window of an SUV.

“GO FUCK YOUR SISTER’S ASS!” Paulie shouted from his own window, holding his chest.

Baby Paulie let loose another wail. “Shaddup back there,” Paulie said, turning toward the baby. “Can’t you just give me a three minute drive where you’re not screaming or shitting?!”

There was the blare of a horn, and Paulie turned to see oncoming truck. He screamed as he slammed on the breaks, sending the sound of screeching tires into the quiet afternoon, only a half a block from his home.

***

Paulie sat up, a scream coming from his mouth. He braced for the collision, but he realized he was sitting up in his bed. “You OK?” Angie asked from next to him. He turned to see her lying in her stomach, her arm draped over her pillow.

“It was a dream,” Paulie said, wiping sweat from his forehead. “That whole fucked up day was just a dream!”

“You want to talk about it?” Angie asked.

“It was the future,” Paulie said. “I retired from my pizzeria, and Tony was running it into the ground. There were breastfeeding mothers and rats. It was exactly what would happen if I actually left the stunad in charge too.

“Then my nephew got a teacher pregnant. I know he’s gotten into some crazy shit, but that’s too far for him. I wasn’t around to guide him, and he went off the deep end.

“It’s all over now,” Angie said. “Was there anything else?”

“Yeah,” Paulie replied. “Helen and I were at odds. She made some off color remarks at our wedding, so we weren’t really speaking. Then she said I had made a…. No. It was my dream. My mind was talking through her.

“Then there was the baby,” Paulie said. “Friggin’ thing did nothing but shit and puke. I think it had ecoli or something.”

“A baby?” Angie asked. “We had a baby?”

“Only in the dream,” Paulie said, “obviously. It seemed to be the source of everything. I had to retire to raise him so you could work, so I let Tony destroy my business. I couldn’t bring the kid around Helen; so she was pissed at me, and Daq knocked up his teacher because I wasn’t around to guide him. It was a friggin’ disaster.”

“Your mind is just playing tricks on you,” Angie said. “Sure, a baby means sacrifices; and you retiring to help out is the most likely scenario, but it wouldn’t be that bad.”

“Well I guess we’ll never know,” Paulie said. “Thank God I got that vasectomy.”

“You’ve had a vasectomy?” Angie asked.

“Yeah,” Paulie replied. “A while back. I’m not chasing kids and changing diapers at my age.”

“Paulie,” Angie said, “I’m thirty-five. I want to have kids before I’m too old to do it.”

“I’m too old to have kids,” Paulie said.

“I’m too young not to,” Angie said.

“Maybe this is something we should’ve talked about,” Paulie said.

“Yeah,” Angie said. “It would’ve been a good idea.”

***

“So we talked for a bit,” Paulie said, sitting on Helen’s couch with Helen, Rose, and Da’Quarius listening to his short, sad tale. “It turns out she really wants kids, and I’m too old to start thinking about becoming a father. It was a deal-breaker, and we decided to call off the marriage.”

“I’m so sorry,” Rose said, placing her hand on Paulie’s shoulder. “We really liked her.”

“Either way for me,” Helen said with a shrug.

“Helen!” Rose exclaimed.

“It’s OK,” Paulie said. “That’s a compliment coming from her. It’d be a lot worse if she actually didn’t like Angie.”

“Bitches come and bitches go,” Helen said, “but the stench their bullshit leaves behind will reek forever. Amen.”

“Dat was beautiful,” Da’Quarius said, sitting across from them. He was texting on his phone.

“Oh!” Paulie said. “I came over here, pouring my heart out, and you can’t put that phone down for eleven seconds?”

“I’ll be done in a minute,” Da’Quarius said.

Paulie sighed. “You’re gonna go cross-eyed staring at that thing,” he said.

“What are you and Angie going to do now?” Rose asked.

“She getting her stuff out of my house now,” Paulie said. “I figured I’d get out of her face and let her do it. We’ll call our respective families and tell them the wedding is off. Nothing else to do.”

“Oh shit!” Da’Quarius said, looking at his phone.

“Put that thing away already!” Helen snapped.

“Wait,” Da’Quarius said. “You an’ Rose are gonna want to hear ’bout dis.”

***

Rose walked through the mall with Da’Quarius, Helen, and Paulie. They saw the tables set up near the big water fountain. “Are you OK coming along today?” Rose asked. “Today was supposed to be your big day after all.”

“I’ll get over it,” Paulie said. “Besides, it’s not every day a famous singer is signing autographs within driving distance.”

“Aren’t you glad I found out ’bout dis?” Da’Quarius asked.

“At least the lines aren’t long,” Rose said.

“So you’re really going to do it?” Paulie asked.

“She has to,” Helen said. “She’s not going to talk about the black Ghostbuster for thirty years and not meet him.”

“That’s not the black Ghostbuster,” Rose said, looking at the man signing autographs under the banner with the Ghostbusters emblem. “That’s Ray Parker Jr. He did the theme song.” She walked to toward the table where Ray Parker Jr was signing autographs, not looking back.

“She’s going to do it,” Da’Quarius said. “I don’t believe it.”

“She’s talked about this for years,” Paulie said.

“Remember this moment, kid,” Helen said. “Never let it be said that Rose Masters isn’t a woman of her word.”

“Let’s get closer,” Paulie said. “I need to hear this.”

Rose walked up to the table, and Ray Parker Jr smiled at her. “Hi,” he said.

“I’m not afraid of any ghosts,” Rose said.

“Good for you,” Ray Parker Jr said, keeping his polite smile. “Would you like an autograph?”

“No,” Rose said. “I’m not trying to quote your song. I’m correcting it. The lyric should be: ‘I’m not afraid of any ghosts’, not ‘I ain’t afraid of no ghosts’.”

Ray Parker Jr sighed and looked away for a moment. “Look…”

“It’s a double negative,” Rose said. “Unless you meant that you are afraid of ghosts, in which case you’d be right. Are you afraid of ghosts?”

“No,” Ray Parker Jr sighed.

“Really?” Rose asked, crossing her arms, “because your deceitful lyrics say otherwise.”

“That’s just how people talk,” Ray Parker Jr said.

“They talk that way because of people like you,” Rose said, “perpetuating this kind of bad grammar in popular song lyrics. Also, ‘ain’t’ isn’t a word.”

“Do you want an autograph or not?” Ray Parker Jr asked.

“No,” Rose said. “I’d hate to have to correct it and make you do it over.” She turned and walked off.

“There’s one in every crowd,” Ray Parker JR said, shaking his head. “Fuckin’ grammar Nazis don’t give me no breaks.”


The End

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