Betty diverted herself. She had bought the cheap third-hand piano for forty bucks and her old vacuum cleaner, and now spent her evenings covertly practicing “Alley Cat”. Decades after the fact, she realized the frog puppet in the cowboy hat had been a serious mistake, after all. The Miss Texas title stolen from her by a malfunctioning amphibian.
Betty and Matty Sue memorized four-handed duets, and a year passed and another, the girls spending every evening playing and laughing at the keyboard. Matty Sue had just headed home one evening after a last “Stardust” duet, around 10:30pm, when Betty’s phone rang.
“Mrs Baskin?” asked the phone.
“I say,” replied Betty.
“I am sorry to have to bother you, maam, but this is Detective Sergeant Slocum, of the Longview Police Department, and we just pulled a man we have confirmed to be your husband, one Pontiac Baskin, out of Caddo Lake. ‘Fraid he’s dead, maam. Got drunk with some boys out of Marshall and went night-fishin’ in one of ‘em’s leaky old motorboat. No lights out there atall at night. Hit a snag. Your husband and one other man fell in and got drowned less than fifty feet from the bank. Sorry to have to tell you this, maam.”
The sympathetic Detective Sergeant paused delicately before asking, “What would you like me to do with the body, maam?”
Betty heard the question plainly. A brilliant flash lit the new widow Baskin’s mind, just for a split second, allowing two words, and two words only, to escape the impenetrable jungle constructed by her stroke ten years before.
“Keep it,” she said.
Betty hadn’t known Pontiac was that close. Longview. Matty might have even spotted him on her way to work, if she wasn’t always so concerned with driving. Betty had thought all along that Pontiac had high-tailed it out of the state and was shacked up across the border with some godless Louisiana bimbo. The last couple of years she had half-expected a deputy sheriff with a divorce decree in hand to show up on her doorstep at any time. God knows she didn’t have enough money herself to get the legal process going.
Then Pontiac up and dies.
Not an altogether bad deal. She didn’t need much to get along.
Not that she got any real help. A deserted widow with half an active face and seven words.
Betty didn’t give a good goddamn about what other people thought, not any more, and seeing as how she and the late Pontiac had still been officially married at the time of his death, Betty Daniels-Baskin filed for federal surviving spouse benefits. Tri-Larry Daigle down at the pharmacy showed her how to do it. Betty was finally on the government dole, the possessor of an independent source of income and substantial pharmacological endorsements. Tri-Larry was content. So was Betty, who began meeting Wilomena Whitsell’s public contempt with one remaining philosophical comment.
“Well, hellooo, Missus Daniels-Baskin. Heard from that lewd son of yours and his filthy little tramp?” Wilomena would say at the cold cut counter.
“Bing-bong,” Betty would reply, waving a pound tube of unsliced baloney with ill intent.
Betty was content that she had done her duty for the family name on such occasions, though she did miss Buick.
It wasn’t long before Matty Sue had her free money coming in, too. She retired from the sausage factory after doing her time counting weenie profits, and gleefully started cashing pension checks without having to drive to and from work. It was about then that the two girls realized they both possessed big houses that neither wanted to clean for the rest of the century. They realized that, family-wise, they were alone in town. Except for each other. And of course the postcards that arrived monthly from the prodigal young master of dementia, Buick Roadmaster Baskin, whom they both loved and worried over.
They had long lives still ahead of them, but they both half-seriously considered death as a long-term goal. Betty figured she’d go first, since she was two months and six days older. That was the only plan for down the road now.
Good enough. Betty and Matty Sue sold their houses and invested the proceeds in slow-moving but dependable bonds. They got themselves side-by-side efficiency apartments in the first public housing project to be built in their neck of the woods. Over on the slightly seedy western side of town. Handicapped widows on a fixed income ought to be getting that kind of help, said the Texan in the White House. Rent fifty-eight bucks a month, utilities included. Thank you, LBJ.
They were only forty-six years old, but the girls figured it was about time they got what was coming to them. They only wished that Buick was coming to them. Right on back.
They knew it would take a few more years for him to realize that they were still his home. Alright, they could stand that. One way or another, they knew he would come. He was the only one of the Baskin Daniels children who had ever talked to the two of them, much less told them he loved them.
Buick Roadmaster Baskin. A sweet boy. But mad as a hatter.
And let me tell you, honey, hats are no small thing in Texas.