Before my mother could say anything the waitress was back with a glass of water. She pretended not to know that she was interrupting. “Did either of you gals catch the special with Geraldo Rivera?”
“What special?” Mom who had opened her purse on the seat beside her turned to face the waitress, she kept her hand in the purse.
“That hippy Geraldo Rivera did a special about Elvis last night, heard about it while I was getting ready for work. Usually I watch CBS but they were doing some nonsense about the Panama Canal. So I popped over to NBC where that David Brinkley was talking about Elvis. Made a big deal that Geraldo was going to do a show tonight, I mean, last night.” She blinked hard. Aunt Arlene had taken Mary’s hand and that tears were caught in her false eyelashes. “But I couldn’t stay—had to get here and sling pie, right?” The waitress winked at Arlene, pressed her hand. Aunt Arlene’s broken thumbnail was filed down but the red polish looked chewed.
“Guess what, you gals are part of a mass exodus to Graceland.”
Mom laughed. “You can only exit from.”
“What?” Arlene shot her a look.
Mom raised the glass of water, ice tinkled against the sides. “You exit from, not to.”
The waitress shrugged. “It’s what NBC said not me. Anyway, sounds like you’re going to have a lot of company.”
Both sisters looked at each other, Arlene grinned, Mom returned the smile then cleared her throat, “So is there a hotel you’d recommend?”
My aunt sat up straight, she knocked her pie plate sending the fork tumbling loudly to the floor, “hotel?” The sound of the metal hitting the floor tile rang like a gong though the most empty dinning room, the man with the paper lowered the sheet to glare at them.
“Okay, motel then?”
The waitress looked up at the ceiling for a moment. Before she could answer Aunt Arlene chimed in, “We can sleep when we get to Memphis.”
“Phew, Hon. It’s still seven, eight hours to Memphis. You gonna make it that long?”
My aunt glared at both the waitress and my mother, she purposefully pushed her pie away knocking it into the ash tray. There was another loud clink. The man with the newspaper raised his white coffee cup to Mary. She nodded to him with a suddenly wide smile. “I’ll be right back ladies.” Mary sashayed toward the man with the paper.
My aunt leaned forward, “come on Ellen, we’re only seven hours out.”
“Eight,” Mom corrected. My aunt waved her hands in the air as if waving away smoke or a buzzing bee. But Mom would not be cowed. “Let’s sleep now. When we wake up we’ll drive straight. We’ll be there tonight. It’ll be harder to go to bed once we get to Memphis.” Mom pulled her hand out of her purse, She had two small brown medicine bottles with their dot matrix printed medical labels wrapped around them in her hand. Set them down, pulled out another. She held them so as not to rattle the contents. Mom methodically opened the bottles, put one of each in a small pile. A little green pill. A large round white one. An oblong red capsule. She carefully put the large white caps back on the bottles, put the bottles into the green make-up bag she used to carry medication. Mom held Arlene’s eyes as she put each pill in her mouth and took a drink from the water glass. When the last pill was gone, Mom added “I can’t put my contacts back-in until I’ve cleaned them and I just can’t bear them right now anyway.”
“So wear your glasses.”
“I don’t have them.”
“I put them in your overnight case. They’re out in the car.”
Mom put her green bag in her purse with a small rattle. Aunt Arlene could only see her profile as she seemed to be speaking to her purse. “I can’t go on without some rest, and neither can you. We’ll wreck the car.”
“You’re the one with a history of collusion.” My aunt knew she shouldn’t have said it. She didn’t even really mean it. When Mom set her jaw and focused hard on something in her bag, my aunt tried to soften her remark, “joke.”
Mom didn’t look at her. Instead she replied a little too loudly, “All the more reason to not take risks.”
Arlene leaned on the table toward my mother, her voice growing stern, it was the same voice she used to warn her children away from frosted cakes and wet fingernails. “Let me drink some more coffee, I’ll drive.”
“No you won’t. You’re on your last leg Arlene.”