Freedom Lane: RIP Paulie

 
Rose paced back and forth in the den, holding the newspaper in her left hand. Helen was having her morning bowel movement, and Rose only had minutes to figure out how to tell her the tragic news: her “baby brother” and son, Paulie, had died in a car accident the night before.
 
Da’Quarius came downstairs before Helen. Still wearing his pajamas. “Mornin’ Rose,” Da’Quarius said. “E’rythin’ OK? You look upset.”
 
Rose was hoping to tell Helen first, but there was no helping it. She just couldn’t lie to Da’Quarius about his uncle’s death. “Sit down,” Rose said.
 
Da’Quarius did as she asked, not saying anything due to the dire look on her face.
 
“This isn’t easy to say,” Rose said, “but Paulie… Paulie is…”
 
“What?” Da’Quarius asked. “Is Paulie alright?”
 
Rose couldn’t say the words. She handed Da’Quarius the paper, and he read the article they printed about his death. “No,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis can’t be fo’ real.”
 
Rose nodded. “I’m sorry,” was all she could say.
 
“How’d Helen take it?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
“She doesn’t know,” Rose replied. “Yet.”
 
Da’Quarius wanted to ask more, but Helen finally shuffled downstairs from the bathroom. “Might want to give that an hour,” she said. “I opened the window, but the stench is almost solid.” She looked from Rose to Da’Quarius. “What’s with those faces? Who croaked?”
 
Rose and Da’Quarius looked at each other. They were both waiting for the other to tell Helen. With a shaking hand, Da’Quarius handed her the paper.
 
“What’s this for?” Helen asked. “I already wiped my ass.”
 
“Just read it,” Rose said.
 
Helen sighed and put on her reading glasses. “Fatal accident on route fifteen,” she read. “On Saturday night, a driver was side-swiped and forced off the road, where he struck a tree and -“
 
“Oh!” Paulie exclaimed, coming in the front door with a box of pastries. “I didn’t expect to find you all up yet.”
 
Dutchie jumped excitedly around Paulie as he held the white box out of his reach. Rose and Da’Quarius looked at him in disbelief. “Paulie,” Rose said, “you’re supposed to be…”
 
“Madon,” Paulie said. “Don’t tell me you read the paper. Stunad cops released the wrong name. The guy who swiped me was the one who drove off the road and killed himself. I’m obviously fine.”
 
“Thank God for that,” Helen said indifferently, throwing the paper down. “What did you bring us?”
 
***
 
Freedom Lane 
 
Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow
Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness
 
Season 9, Episode 3: RIP Paulie
 
***
 
“Why do I have to go to this stupid lesbian federation meeting?” Helen asked as Rose drove toward her alma mater, Whitney Magus U.
 
“That’s not what it’s called,” Rose said. “And we’re going because you need a refresher on feminism.”
 
Helen sighed. “How’s putting me in an auditorium full of rug-munchers going to help me learn feminism?”
 
“It’ll do you some good to be around some strong feminine figures,” Rose said.
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “Most of the lesbos I knew in prison were oozing feminism.”
 
Rose parked and led Helen into the auditorium with no more conversation. They mingled, mostly staying silent, until they met a couple Rose knew.
 
“Opal,” Rose said, kissing the cheek of a chubby black woman with short hair.
 
“Hello, Rose,” Opal said. “You remember Winifred.”
 
“Hi,” Rose said, smiling. Winifred was shorter and darker than Opal. She wore lots of gold jewelry. “It’s been so long, how have the two of you been?”
 
“How did you guys meet?” Helen asked, interrupting Opal before she spoke. “Were you in the same prison gang?”
 
“Helen!” gasped Rose.
 
Opal and Winifred turned to glare at Helen.
 
“I’m just kidding,” Helen said. “I can say these things now, you know, Oprah and Winfrey. We adopted a black son.”
 
“So we’ve heard,” Winifred said. “I have friends in the New Haven Child Welfare offices, and I asked about your adoption. They seem to think something fishy happened there.”
 
Rose looked worried. “No -“
 
“Oh yeah,” Helen interrupted with a cackle. “There was all sorts of under-the-table shenanigans going on there. They didn’t just end with the adoption. But Da’Quarius is ours, and we’re very happy with him. Don’t tell him I said that.”
 
“Why wouldn’t you tell him that?” Opal asked.
 
“I think he should be removed from your care,” Winifred said.
 
“What?” Rose said, taken aback by the comment.
 
“You’re lucky I don’t have my shiv with me,” Helen said.
 
“Look,” Rose said, coming between the two. “Why don’t you two come over for dinner one night. You’ll see that our home is the best place for Da’Quarius. We’re all very happy together.”
 
Opal and Winifred looked at each other. “Fine,” Opal said. “Let’s set the date, shall we? Saturday night work.”
 
“Perfect,” Rose said. “We’ll see you then.”
 
***
 
Tony came into Paulie’s office from the front area. “Another call came in to offer condolences for your death,” he said. “I’ve been telling everyone you came back from the dead all day.”
 
“Oh,” Paulie said. “Don’t tell people I came back from the dead.”
 
“What am I supposed to tell them?” Tony asked.
 
“You tell them the stunads at the paper got their facts wrong,” Paulie said. “This whole falsified death thing is becoming a real hassle.”
 
“It’s not all bad,” Tony said. “My cousin Claudette sent over a fruit basket for me. It was pretty good.”
 
“You told her I’m still alive, right?” Paulie asked.
 
Tony shrugged. “I’ll get around to it,” he said. “Probably start telling people you’re still alive after the memorial.”
 
“What memorial?” Paulie asked. “Didn’t you just tell me that you’ve been telling people I returned from the dead?”
 
“Just the important people,” Tony said. “Besides, I started planning the memorial when I thought you died. Nearly a hundred people wanted to come.
 
“You only thought I died for an hour or so,” Paulie said. “That’s not enough time to organize a memorial.”
 
“I had the idea for it,” Tony said, shrugging. “Hey. I was very upset when I heard you died. I was in mourning, Paulie. I was inconsolable. Don’t I get a little sympathy over here?”
 
“Don’t do the memorial, you gagootz,” Paulie said, getting up. “It’s in bad taste, and I don’t need that kind of karma.”
 
“But -“
 
“No memorial,” Paulie said, leaving his office with his newspaper tucked under his arm, signaling to Tony that he was done talking until after he’s taken the coming dump. “Capeesh?”
 
“Yeah, yeah,” Tony muttered as Paulie walked past him. “I’ll get around to it.”
 
“By the way,” Paulie said, turning around. “I’ll be at Helen’s for dinner on Saturday night. It’s real important, so I won’t be around. Can you close up?”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said, brightening up. “You know I can.”
 
“Good,” Paulie said, “because it’s real important I be at Helen’s.”
 
“I heard you,” Tony said.
 
“OK,” Paulie said. He turned to head to the bathroom once more.
 
“What a coincidence,” Tony said to himself with a smile. “That’s the same night as the memorial.”
 
***
 
“Is everything ready?” Rose asked as late Saturday afternoon came upon their Freedom Lane home.
 
“As ready as it’s going to be,” Helen said.
 
“Where’s Da’Quarius?” Rose asked.
 
“He was at Paulie’s today,” Helen replied, “so they’ll be coming together.”
 
The door opened, and Paulie and Da’Quarius entered. “Sorry we’re late,” Paulie said. “Your guests haven’t arrived yet, have they?”
 
“Not yet,” Rose replied.
 
“Good,” Da’Quarius said. “I need a shower.”
 
“No time,” Rose said, shaking her head.
 
“But I smell like a pizzeria,” Da’Quarius said, “an’ I got shit on me.”
 
“Just go put on a clean shirt,” Helen said. “Don’t be a little fuck.”
 
“Don’t talk to him like that when Opal and Winifred get here,” Rose said.
 
“So it’s OK for her to talk to me like on da’ regular?” Da’Quarius asked.
 
Rose sighed as Da’Quarius ran upstairs to change his shirt. “Let’s just get through tonight without giving Opal or Winifred any ammo to try and petition them removing Da’Quarius,” she said. “I don’t even know why you offered up any information at all. You’re usually so secretive.”
 
Helen shrugged. “I thought I could trust them because they did time,” she said.
 
“They did not do time,” Rose said. “I told you they didn’t. Why do you keep saying that?”
 
“Where else are two black lezzies going to hook up?” Helen asked.
 
“I don’t know,” Rose said, “cafe, book store, supermarket.”
 
“Yeah,” Helen said. “How many black lesbos do you know that met in any of those places?”
 
“None!” Rose said, exasperated.
 
“My point exactly!” Helen said.
 
“Stop it, you two,” Paulie said. “You brought me over here because you’re worried about these two broads. Calm down and put on the family charm. You’ll get through this.”
 
“Ok,” Rose said.
 
The doorbell rang, and the three of them turned towardthe door.
 
***
 
Tony greeted the guests as they walked into Paulie’s Pizza to celebrate the life of the late Paulie Ventriglio. They thought Paulie was deceased anyway, since Tony never bothered to call and tell anyone otherwise. Manny and Antonio Garcia enter, wailing.
 
“Paulie’s Pizza is gone!” Manny wailed. “GONE!”
 
“His last name wasn’t Pizza,” Tony said, taking the envelope Antonio handed him.
 
“I hope I handle Manny’s death as well as you’re handling Paulie’s,” Antonio said.
 
“Who said I’m dying first!” Manny shouted. “Fuck you, bro!”
 
“You guys reek of weed,” Tony said. “It’s a friggin’ memorial, you mooks.”
 
The Garcia brothers passed into the crowd, and Alice the waitress, a former girlfriend of Tony’s, came in next. “I’m so sorry,” Alice said, pulling Tony into a tight hug. “Is there anything I can do?”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “Stick around after the party. I can probably think of a thing or two.”
 
“Alright,” Alice said, putting a hand on Tony’s stubbly cheek. “Anything you need.”
 
“Damn,” Tony said. “The papers should’ve reported Paulie as dead years ago.”
 
The door opened with the sound of jingling bells again, and this time Luca DiGenovese walked in, his huge gut in front of him. His bald head shone as if he polished it earlier that day. He had a crooked nose and a goatee. He was also least likely person to be upset to hear that Paulie had died.
 
“Hello, Tony,” Luca said. 
 
“Luca,” Tony said. “I know just what Paulie would say if he knew you were here for his memorial: ‘get the fuck out’.”
 
***
 
“Welcome,” Rose said, letting Opal and Winifred in and taking their coats. She hung them on the coat tree and walked back over to Helen and Paulie. “You already know Helen. This is her brother, Paulie.”
 
“Nice to meet you,” Paulie said, shaking Opal and Winifred’s hands one after another.
 
“This is Orville and Winnie the Pooh,” Helen said.
 
“Opal and Winifred,” Rose corrected.
 
“I’ve heard so much about you,” Paulie said. Rose shot him a look. “All good things.”
 
“Check it out,” Da’Quarius said, coming down the stairs from his room. “Biddies, dark style.”
 
“What did he just say?” Winifred asked.
 
“This is our son, Da’Quarius,” Rose said.
 
“What have you been doing to this boy?!” Opal said. “You need to get him some lotion.”
 
“What on earth are you talking about?” Helen said, shooting a stink-eye to Opal.
 
“Some of our kind get ashy,” Opal said. “Look at those elbows. He really needs to be lotioned up.”
 
“I don’t need no lotion,” Da’Quarius said. “Dis is just flour. I was workin’ at Paulie’s today.”
 
“Excuse me?” Opal said. “Are you working at thirteen years old?”
 
“It’s my pizzeria,” Paulie said. “And the kid doesn’t work there. He just does a few chores around the place to learn the business. It’ll be his one day.”
 
“Sounds like you’re using him for free labor,” Winifred muttered.
 
“Oh!” Paulie said, getting agitated. “Did you miss the part where I said the pizzeria will be his one day?”
 
“Sure,” Winifred said, passing Paulie without another glance. “If you’re good to your word to at least. Wouldn’t be the first time the white man reneged on a promise to us.”
 
“I’ll show you to the dining room,” Rose said, giving Paulie a dirty look as the guests led the way.
 
“Holy shit,” Paulie said softly. “These two are nuts.”
 
“See what I mean?” Helen asked, watching the trio walk to the table. “I don’t even know why Rose wants to be mixed up with these two morons.”
 
***
 
Luca handed Tony a bottle of Sambuca. “We can toast the late Paulie Ventriglio if you have two glasses,” he said.
 
“And why should I?” Tony asked. “Paulie hated you.”
 
“I’m not going to hold any past grudges with a dead man,” Luca said. “It’s bad karma. Paulie wouldn’t either. You know what a big believer in karma he was.”
 
“Yeah,” Tony said. “I know that.”
 
“Then toast to the guy with me,” Luca said.
 
“Fine,” Tony said, rummaging for glasses. “Just one toast to Paulie, and I really need to mingle.”
 
“Sure,” Luca said, screwing of the cap of the Sambuca. “Maybe I can throw a proposal or two past you too.”
 
“What the hell are you talking about?” Tony asked.
 
“To Paulie!” Luca said, holding up his glass.
 
***
 
“I just don’t see anyway you should be allowed to keep Da’Quarius,” Opal said, soon after dinner was served. “We’ve been showed nothing but rudeness since we entered your home.”
 
“You got what you received,” Helen muttered.
 
“Look,” Winifred said. “Thank you for having us, but I see no real reason not to make my case to the child welfare division.”
 
“What about how the kid feels?” Paulie asked.
 
“Sure,” Winifred said. “He’s just comfortable here. He needs black role models on top of being removed from a non-functional homosexual couple.”
 
“Hold on!” Helen said, slamming a fist on the table. “Do not come into my home and describe me and Rose like that!”
 
“Non-functional?” Winifred asked.
 
“No,” Helen replied. “That other thing.”
 
Winifred stared at Helen. “But aren’t you -“
 
“Look,” Rose interrupted. “I don’t know what you think you heard about us, but there is nothing wrong with how we’re raising Da’Quarius. Paulie will tell you -“
 
“I need to run,” Paulie said, getting up and Holding his phone. “My stunad of a best friend is holding a memorial in my honor apparently. Carlos, my employee, just texted me.”
 
Rose looked flustered. “Can’t you stay just a little longer?” she pleaded.
 
“No can do,” Paulie said. “I have to go stop the bleeding Tony’s causing. Who knows what’s going on there right now.”
 
***
 
“I can’t believe he’s gone,” Angie, Paulie’s former fiancé said. “We broke up on such bad terms.”
 
“Yeah,” Tony replied. “Life sucks, then you’re worm food. Leave your gift by the register. I’m busy over here.”
 
“Look,” Luca said as Tony turned back toward him. “This place belongs to you without Paulie. You know his secrets, and I have the funds to keep it afloat. I’m just suggesting a partnership.”
 
“No dice,” Tony replied, pouring another shot from the now half-empty bottle of Sambuca. “Paulie’s leaving this place to Da’Quarius.”
 
“That black kid his sister adopted?” Luca asked. “Isn’t he ten?”
 
“Thirteen,” Tony said, pouring another shot.
 
“Still,” Luca said. “You can contest that if it’s actually in a will. He’s a minor! You’ve been here all along, pouring your heart and soul into this place. Let me set you up with my lawyer.”
 
“Why?” Tony asked. “Is she cute?”
 
Luca forced a polite laugh. “I’m serious,” he said. “You and I can make some serious scratch off this place. I tried with Paulie, God rest his soul.”
 
“You really are a rat-fuck,” Tony said. “Let me tell you about Paulie.” He turned and raised his voice. “Let me tell you all about Paulie. He’s not even -“
 
The door flew open, and Paulie walked in. The crowd went silent as he walked over to Tony. “I can’t believe you,” he said.
 
“Paulie!” Tony said, faking shock. “You’re alive?!”
 
“It’s really sad that you’d do this,” Luca said, taking his bottle and leaving. He turned back toward Tony. “I was really going to help you secure this place as your own too.”
 
“This is low,” Angie said, passing as she moved toward the door. “I’d have never have thought you’d do something like this just to fill your restaurant.”
 
“We’re leaving,” Antonio Garcia said, passing just behind Angie with his brother.
 
“Yeah,” Manny added. “We’re going to call for delivery instead!”
 
“We knew he wasn’t dead the whole time anyway!” Antonio added.
 
Paulie let the place empty until it was just him and Tony left in the main area. “I told you not to do this,” Paulie said, seething. “Didn’t I tell you about karma? And what were you doing, plotting with Luca?”
 
“Come on, boss,” Tony said. “I was about to tell them you were alive, and I was going to tell Luca to fuck himself!”
 
“Do you have any idea how long it’s going to take to fix this?” Paulie asked. “Angie was here… Never mind. I can’t do this.”
 
“Come on, boss,” Tony called as Paulie went to his office. “We’ll get over it. We always do.”
 
“Not this time,” Paulie said, slamming his office door. Tony looked at it, unable to move from where he stood.
 
***
 
“I can’t believe Paulie left us,” Rose said in the kitchen with Helen.
 
“You can’t blame him,” Helen said. “Not with what Tony did. He crossed the line this time.”
 
“Well, we better go back to dinner either way,” Rose sighed. “I just don’t see how we’ll convince Opal and Winifred that we’re good parents.”
 
“Anyone want coffee with desert?” Helen asked, walking back into the dining room with the store-bought came.
 
“I think we’ll pass on both,” Winifred said. “Thanks for the meal.”
 
“Fuck dat,” Da’Quarius said. “You ain’t leavin’ til I had my say.”
 
“Excuse me?” Opal said.
 
“Look,” Da’Quarius said. “I know you two dogs get off on startin’ trouble, but you’re barkin’ up da’ wrong tree. It’s really none of yo’ business what goes on here. You think cuz you black, a white couple cain’t raise one of your own. Guess what? I don’t remember you showin’ up to adopt my black ass da’ twelve years I was at dat orphanage, but dese two biddies took me in.”
 
Winifred looked offended. “But…”
 
“I ain’t done,” Da’Quarius said. “Rose an’ Helen an’ me are perfect for each other, even if we don’t look it. So go ahead and file yo’ complaint, cuz you’ll lose. You ain’t the first big-mouth who got involved in our shit, an’ we’ll come out on top as always.”
 
Opal pushed her chair away from the table and stood up with Winifred. “I guess you really are suited for this family,” she said.
 
“Fuckin’ right I am,” Da’Quarius said. “So go peddle your privileged, power-couple shit somewhere else, cuz Helen an’ Rose are blacker den you biddies.”
 
“Want me to make sure the door doesn’t hit you?” Helen asked.
 
“We’re good,” Winifred said. “Come on, Opal. Let’s go.”
 
“Bye!” Rose called, waving. “Thanks for coming by.”
 
“Damn,” Da’Quarius said as the door closed behind Opal and Winifred. “That’s the closest I’ve ever heard Rose come to talkin’ shit!”
 
***
 
Paulie closed up his pizzeria with a sigh. He couldn’t remember a worse day. He still had another ahead of him where he’d be calling all of Tony’s guests, apologizing for being alive.
 
“Paulie?” a voice said behind him. He tuned to the voice’s source. It was a woman in her mid-forties. She had dark hair and a slim figure with perky breasts.
 
“That’s me,” Paulie said. He only wanted to get home and put the day behind him.
 
“You’re alive,” she said, staring.
 
“Yeah,” Paulie said. “The news got something wrong. Go figure.”
 
“Look,” the woman said. “I felt horrible when I heard you died. We never really finished on a high note.”
 
“No,” Paulie said, still unsure if who the woman was. “We can fix that now, though.”
 
“Sure,” the woman said, smiling. “I’d like that.”
 
“Let’s go then,” Paulie said. “My place or yours?”
 
 
The End
 
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