Authors: Frank Juliano
By Frank Juliano
© 2007 by Frank Juliano.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.
All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
At the specific preference of the author, PublishAmerica allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended, verbatim, without editorial input.
PUBLISHED BY PUBLISHAMERICA, LLLP
Printed in the United States of America For Nancy, my wife and my muse.
“Pay attention, I’m trying to impress you.”
I also wish to dedicate this book to my late mother, Anne J.
DePalma, a writer herself, who shared with me her love of books; and my niece, Jenni L. Brown, who read the manuscript and offered several valuable suggestions and a young person’s perspective.
“Your great-aunt was murdered in New York.”
Joyce rolled her eyes in exasperation. Her father apparently felt this was the ultimate closer to the argument; that because of this untimely death 68 years ago, members of her family were constitutionally barred from ever living in that city again.
“You don’t understand,” she started again. “I have to go. I can’t be happy here until I’ve had my chance, gotten it out of my system, taken my shot.”
Joyce almost giggled into her hand. What clichés! What bullshit!
But this test of wills between her and her parents had been going on for days, and she had already used up all of her best points.
“We just don’t feel that is a good move for you,” Mrs.
Waszlewski said patiently, for at least the tenth time that morning.
Why did her mother have to take that damn assertiveness class? Joyce thought. This broken-record business was going to make her scream.
“Look, it’s not like I’m dropping out of college on a whim,”
Joyce said. “I’m a theater arts major. I’m going to New York to be an actress. I will be taking classes there too. I will be studying with the best.
“And I will be actually working in my field. If you are going to be a sailor, you have to go to the sea, don’t you?” She tried to sound reasonable.
“This is not the way to do it, Joyce,” her father sighed. “You have plenty of time. If, after you are finished at Bates, if you still want to go to New York and pursue this wild dream of yours, well we’ll just…”
At that point Mr. Waszlewski felt his wife’s eyes boring holes into his temple, and he allowed his voice to trail off. “…have to see,” he finished noncommittally.
“Grandma would have understood,” Joyce said. That, they could all agree, was the truth. Muriel Pettit Waszlewski had been a Broadway dancer, a member of the chorus of several late ’30s musicals.
Last week at her grandmother’s funeral, two friends from her New York days had spoken about Muriel’s love of the theater, of the pace of the city, and of the electric feeling performers get when the curtain is about to rise.
Her family had shuffled in their pews, and Joyce’s father looked positively embarrassed to be confronted with his mother’s past. He would rather remember her as a solid citizen, a Cub Scout den mother.
Joyce’s parents got up and began clearing the breakfast dishes, marking another cease-fire in the family battle. Joyce squirted the liquid detergent in the sink, and began washing dishes, her mind not following her hands.
Muriel and her sister Connie Pettit had been the town beauties of Waldoboro, Maine. They had gone to New York together with just enough money to get by for a week. But they managed to stick it out for a few years with a variety of part-time jobs and bit parts.
Muriel had even been heard on the radio, as the grieving widow in an overwrought soap opera.
Joyce’s grandmother had been cast as a swing dancer in an Ethel Merman musical when Connie disappeared in early June, 1939. She went on with her life at first—Connie tended to flit in and out like bad radio reception.
But in the late fall, when they fished the body of a slim, blonde female out of the Hudson River, Muriel left the show during its New Haven tryout and fled back to Maine.
Although the case was never solved, it was widely assumed that the body in the river was Connie’s, and that she had been killed by a jealous suitor.
Muriel, two years older, had darker hair and brown eyes.
Connie was fairer, with blonde hair and green eyes. Except for the differences in coloring, they were nearly identical.
Just as acting ambition had skipped a generation in her family, so had looks and personality. Joyce resembled her grandmother and great-aunt more than she did either of her parents.
And this battle over whether she could move to New York was only the most recent Joyce had had with her parents. They tended to overprotect their only child, but also they coddled themselves.
Joyce’s parents didn’t like to travel; too much uncertainty. And they tended to be fearful, anxious people, always braced for the worst.
When Joyce was 13, she had been diagnosed with a mild seizure disorder, and had to take Depakote daily from then on.
The drug controlled the periods when the teenager would become vague and disoriented, with her judgment impaired.
The Depakote tablets she carried everywhere and the annual trips to the neurologist became another reason for her parents to hover.
At about the time the seizures were diagnosed, Joyce had wanted to join the Air Force and pilot jets; it was a teenage fantasy 7
her father had wasted no time in dispelling. “Guess you’re grounded,” he had said.
For Joyce’s first year at Bates, her parents had insisted she drive the 50 miles to Lewiston and back each day. Only when her grades dropped off precipitously did they agree she could move into a dorm, coming back to Waldoboro most weekends.
Muriel had no patience with her stuffy son and his wife. “Eat more fruit!” she would shout at them when the younger couple was particularly exasperating.
This wasn’t motherly advice, Joyce knew, but ’30s slang, like
“go take a good crap and clear out your head.”
Her father broke into her reverie. “Grandma would want you to be sensible,” he said.
* * * *
She had thought about the last time she saw her grandmother, the day before the old woman died in that Spartan nursing home on busy Route 1.
Joyce and an aide had helped Muriel into a wheelchair and brought her down to the dayroom, and the aide had placed two bowls of watery cherry Jell-O on the tray holding Muriel in the chair.
Although Muriel hadn’t been able to walk very far without assistance for a long time, she wore a $200 pair of Nike basketball shoes on her feet. She’d even gotten a doctor to prescribe them and Medicare to pay for them because they gave her arches support.
For awhile, both women watched the traffic roar through the intersection; then Muriel began to cry.
“What’s the matter, Grandma?” Joyce sprang to her side.
“Don’t ever lose your teeth,” the older woman said, nodding at the Jell-O. “Don’t end up in a place like this. In fact, don’t hang around this town at all if you can help it, unless that’s your choice.
Think about the decisions you make, and what they mean.”
Joyce nodded, dumbly.
“I’ve had a good life, and I’ve been happy most of the time, which is more than most people can say, I guess,” Muriel said.
Her granddaughter didn’t like the tone the conversation was taking and tried to break in, but Muriel shushed her with a wave of the hand.
“The thing is, if you’re not careful, the precious time you’ve been given rushes by without you noticing, slips through your fingers like sand, to coin a metaphor.” The old woman smiled crookedly.
“I’m dying Joyce,” she said, and as her granddaughter started to shake her head she continued on more forcefully—“Goddamn it! I am! Why do you want to sit around and pretend it’s a complete surprise when it happens? I’m 89 years old and I’ve got a bunch of things wrong with me. I’ve got sugar and I’ve had two strokes.
“Every morning the staff is amazed to find I’m still among the living,” she said. “So I don’t know how many more chances we’ll have to talk like this.
“Here is what I want to tell you: know what you want and have a plan. Don’t settle or give up options. And realize that every decision you make affects every decision to come.
“Got all that?” the old woman said testily. She was winded from her long speech. “Now down to business.” Muriel lowered her voice conspiratorially.
“When you come into a place like this, you have to give them everything,” she said. “I enjoyed living with you and your parents but my problems got to be a lot to deal with.
“Before I got signed in here I had Earl draw up a trust. He is holding some money in his name for you. It’s called the Joyce Waszlewski Trust, like you’re some kind of heiress,” Muriel giggled.
“It’s all legal, but it’s on the Q.T. When I’m gone, go see Earl.
He’ll have your money,” the old woman said, touching Joyce’s face. “It’s not much, but it’s yours. Have a wonderful time.”
Joyce was overwhelmed, and tears welled up in her eyes. She covered her grandmother’s dry, crinkly skin with light kisses and murmured “Thank you.”
Then, as had been the tradition for the year that Muriel had been in the nursing home, Joyce sat at the bench of the dayroom piano and asked for requests.
Many of the patients, who had filled up the bright room in anticipation of a show, called out for standard sing-a-long songs, like “Shine On, Harvest Moon.”
Others wanted to hear wistful ballads, but Muriel, who put in every second or third request, always asked for show tunes. “Play
“Send in the Clowns’, she had called out. “For your parents.”
Joyce had glanced at her grandmother’s face during that last performance, and saw the love and pride that was always there. But, looking back now, she realized the old woman was staring at her intently, too, as if she was trying to burn Joyce’s image on her mind.
* * * *
He was trying to sound friendly and casual.
Joyce pushed past him into the hall, then turned back to face him. “I’m going in, Dad, working lunch and then quitting. I’m taking the money Grandma left me and I’m leaving for New York.”
Her father make a noise like a tire with a slow leak. “Joyce, this again? I thought we decided.”
“We didn’t decide anything Dad. You told me what you want me to do, but this time I can’t go along with you. It’s my life, I’m over 18 and I’m going.”
Mr. Waszlewski put his arm on his daughter’s shoulder, and guided her back inside the room. Both of them sat on the bed.
Joyce’s father opened a new front.
“What makes you think you are ready for something like this?
What training have you had?” he asked.
“I took classes with grandma—jazz, tap, voice and acting—
for 10 years,” Joyce reminded him. “I was in the senior group and I was in every recital.”
“She was your grandmother for God sake,” Mr. Waszlewski said. “That was a little studio in Camden, not New York. She ran that more for her own amusement than for anything else.”
“That was important experience, from someone qualified to teach,” Joyce said. “Besides that I had the lead in the spring musical all four years in high school. And I’ve completed two years of college as a drama major…”