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PEPPER WELLINGTON AND THE CASE OF THE MISSING SAUSAGE
Introduced ~ Amy (formerly known as Sausage) Wellington
Pepper Wellington, according to her daughter, was cursed with being interesting. It was infuriating, really, because her mother seemed to be completely incapable of doing anything boring or normal—which resulted in Pepper naming her one and only daughter something truly horrendous and unforgivable. She named her daughter Sausage. Not only was Sausage donned with a horrible name, but she was also cursed with hair as bright as brushed copper. Both these things became a curse to her, although her mother seemed to only notice the issue with her name.
“Oh, have a sense of humor,” Pepper said time and again to her daughter as she grew up. “Sausage is a terrific name. You’ll never meet another Sausage, I guarantee you that.”
Pepper had been right, which was why, at the tender age of nine, Sausage (in bright red pigtails and a homemade tie-dyed t-shirt dress) had marched in to the local police station and demanded that her name forever be changed to Amy. There were Amy’s everywhere, and very few of them as far as she could tell, were interesting. They did not officially change her name; Sausage had to wait until she was eighteen for that, but she thought she’d made her point.
Now, at the tender age of twenty-nine, Amy had completely transformed herself. Gone were the Goodwill clothes and handmade sweaters. Gone were the hippy communes and artist retreats her mother had dragged her to. Gone was the red hair cascading down her back. It had grown into a nice dulled auburn, and she wore it up in a clip, securing most of its color and sheen from sight.
In the last decade since her escape from her mother’s abundant bosom, Amy had gone to a respectable college and taken all the suggested classes. She majored in Business Administration and wore clothes purchased from Talbots in an array of colors ranging from khaki to grey to black, which she accented with pink. Gradually, the pink took over her wardrobe, not least of all because it was a color her soon-to-be-mother-in-law hated. Amy didn’t really care for pink, but it seemed to her to be so wholly different from her childhood that it was now a color she found inexorably drawn to, the way diabetics were sometimes drawn to sweets. Sausage—or rather, Amy—now worked for a local hotel at the front desk where she managed not to be impressive or promoted…and she had just met the man of her dreams: the very boring, very predictable, Peter.
Peter did not know Amy’s true origins. He could not even guess at her genesis and relation to a woman who read auras and believed (even at the age of sixty-three) that sex should be enjoyed frequently, loudly, and with many different partners. Nor could Peter guess that his wife-to-bes true name was Sausage, so that together--married--they would be Peter and Sausage Johnson…the association with penises here so painful to Amy that she dared not think about it. And she dare not tell her beloved that she was not plain, dull Amy, but had a past much darker, much more interesting than he could ever dream.
Amy’s greatest fear was that he would find her out and decide he could not marry her. And if he could not marry her, then she would not be able to stick to her timeline of married by twenty-nine, pregnant by thirt, and first born by thirty-one. The earth would tilt off its axis! Amy needed, above anything, a life that was predictable. A life, then, without her mother.
Had the choice been left to her, Amy wouldn’t have invited her mother to their wedding at all. She’d even contemplated hiring someone to impersonate her mother so that her secret could be kept safe, but it was not to be.
Peter had seen the pictures kept at the bottom of her dresser drawer when he’d calmly been searching for the box of condoms she kept hidden there.
“Hey, there, Amy,” he said (he often addressed her with her name no matter the situation). “Who’s this lady with the crazy hair?”
She’d had to explain that the woman with the red Afro was her mother, and then quickly disguised the reason for the t-shirt that read “Cunt Is My Favorite Four-Letter Word” as a t-shirt protesting that very word and using irony as a tool.
“My mom,” she’d explained, “is a radical Christian.” He’d nodded once, pushed the photos back under her white cotton panties, and then slowly unrolled the condom over his penis that he then inserted into her with medical precision. Precisely four minutes later, they’d each used the facilities, pulled on their clothes, and gone to Red Lobster for their Friday night fish fry.
Amy thought he’d forgotten her mother entirely until they’d been drawing up the guest list. “Amy, dear,” Peter’s mother Melody said softly. “Why, we haven’t invited any of your family. Please don’t tell me that you’re separated from your family.” Peter’s mother said the word ‘separated’ the way one would say ‘cancer’, with a horrified whisper.
“Separated! Goodness, no!” Amy laughed shrilly. “Why, my mom is so excited to come to the wedding. And my father, rest his soul, died when I was two.”
Peter’s mother smiled a soft understanding smile, and clasped Amy’s hand, never realizing that Amy had told two lies: 1) her mother had no idea there was a wedding as Amy hadn’t spoken to her in nearly a decade and 2) her father was not dead, but was alive and only reliable in his heroin addiction. He was currently living in Prospect Park in New York City. And by saying living in Prospect Park, Amy didn’t mean he had an apartment there. No. He pretty much lived in the park. That was a sad tale and best left in the dark.
Peter rubbed Amy’s shoulders. He always rubbed them a bit too hard and always in the same place, one hand placed on each shoulder--squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. “Two months, Amy! Just two more months and I will finally meet your mother and we will be Peter and Amy Johnson.” Squeeze-squeeze.
Amy flinched not only at the squeezing, but the repetition of her name, which still, somehow, all these years later, felt as if it belonged to someone else.
~ * ~
Amy had hoped that in those intervening two months, Peter would forget about the existence of her mother. Sadly, he did not. In fact, he seemed to insert mention of her mother’s existence into every banal conversation they had. So much so that Amy began to look over her shoulder fearful that Pepper had somehow materialized in her living room. For the time, Amy was safe. And then, “Say, weren’t you going to invite your mother?” Peter asked. And, “Where’s the invitation to your mother,” and “Of course, with your mother coming and all we can have a fine family picture.” So after much hemming and hawing (internally only; externally she didn’t make a sound), Amy picked up the phone.
She held the phone in her hand, considered dialing the number, and then placed it gently on the receiver. She picked it up again, studied the earpiece and then noticed there was a bit of grey film over it. Peter had greasy hair. Or perhaps a greasy face. At any rate, grease was involved and it was disturbing. Deeply so.
She rummaged in her purse until she found one of the prepackaged wipes she used to clean everything from her glasses to the computer screen to the mirror to, now, a phone receiver. She scrubbed. Then put the phone back in the cradle. She picked it up again.
“You call your mother, yet, Amy?” Peter called from the living room. He was watching News Hour on PBS and eating popcorn. He always watched News Hour on PBS and ate popcorn; on the weekends, he was at a loss as to what to do until he’d started recording News Hour and then he’d simply watch his favorite segments. Amy found this two-hour fixation unbearable and would try to make herself busy. After fifteen or so minutes, though, Peter would call for her and she’d have to sit next to him and not listen to him crunching away and not forget to keep smiling and not, God help her, fall asleep. Tonight, she’d said she was calling her mother. And she was. Any moment now.
“Just left a message!” she called back. “It must be Bingo night!” She laughed and it was tinny and false-sounding. Peter’s silence in response made her breathe easier: he’d seen nothing amiss. Amy was lying all the time now, it seemed, thanks in no small part to her mother, or as she sometimes still called her: Mummy. “Mummy” was a joke they’d had from when they’d stayed up all night drinking White Russians, pretending to be English (in homage to her boyfriend Graham’s nationality). “Oh, Mummy, could you pass the Earl Gray,” she’d giggled. “Why, yes, cheerio dear daughter, I shall do that expressly.”
Mummy. The thought of it, the remembered conversation, made a little corner of Amy’s heart ache, though she didn’t like to admit it. Don’t focus on that. No. Focus on the truth. The truth was Amy hadn’t spoken to her mom since she was seventeen and still her mother was fucking up her life. Even that, the word ‘fucking’, a word Amy would never, ever employ, she now thought of freely. It was her mother’s fault. It was all Mummy’s fault. Just thinking about her mom brought out her inner Evil. For example: tonight, the lies came effortlessly. Hadn’t Amy said cheerfully: I’ve left a message! It’s Bingo night! My mummy will be so happy to finally meet you! She’d called these things to Peter as if they were true.
Lies humped like rabbits it seemed.
There was another word: humped. She hadn’t even thought of humping in ages. She never thought of humping period! And now her mind was a flurry of humping. Peter did not hump her. What they did was far more clinical. Peter and she performed intercourse with each other…though to be honest, sometimes Amy followed it up with a little solitary manipulation of her own in the bathroom. But all of this was just a digression. She needed to focus. She blamed her mother again. When she thought of her mother, her mind wandered. She worried it was genetic.
Internally Amy said: “Just pick up the phone, Sausage, and call your mother!” And then externally, she’d gasped. She’d referred to herself as that ‘other person’ and if she thought of herself as ‘Sausage’ how long would it be before she slipped and Peter found out the truth? She was not Sausage anymore! She would never, ever be a sausage. She didn’t even touch the stuff anymore. Not even chorizo. And she liked chorizo.
She sighed. She picked up the phone. Her fingers punched in the number. She never even paused to consider that all these years later her mother might have a new phone number…but she was not so lucky.
“Sausage, love, you still breathe like a sick horse.”
That was her mother’s greeting. No, “Hello, how are you, I’m sorry.” No. In fact, Amy hadn’t even said a word so how did her mother know?
And in answer to the question Amy did not voice, her mother responded, “Caller ID, honey, though it says Amy Wellington. I never did figure out why of all the names in the universe you chose one as plain as Amy. Everyone and their brother is named Amy.”
Amy inhaled sharply. Her mom continued. “So, are you pregnant? Or just getting married?”
She felt the word forming in her throat before she was able to croak it out “Married”.
A pause. She heard something familiar, the striking of a match. Her mother, yoga connoisseur and sometime vegetarian, was probably getting high. Well, actually, maybe that was harsh. She’d never actually seen her mother get high, though she suspected it. She could, however, almost smell the incense burning. Her mother said that it realigned her chakras. “Okay, then, pet. My only request is that I want to wear my stilettos and a red dress. If you’re okay with that then I will be there with bells on.”
“No bells,” Amy said. “And only if the stilettos are short.”
Another pause, an exhale, and then her mother said the words that started it all: “It’s a deal.”
~ * ~
Amy was obsessed with weddings. Ever since she was a girl, she’d dress up in white and pretend to walk down the aisle, until her mother caught her and tried to get her to participate in her Wiccan friend’s Mayday celebration. Amy (at twelve) might have danced around the Maypole if her mother hadn’t given her the details of its symbolism: “It’s phallic, Sausage. Do you know what I mean by phallic? Really, you’re dancing around an enormous penis, pointing straight to the heavens. Hallelujah!”
No. No maypoles. Amy preferred to bring her own symbolism to her wedding ceremony. It was the final act to wipe away her past and begin new, as a bride, a wife, and someone not at all connected to Pepper Wellington. She wanted to be someone who was not Sausage Wellington, but Amy Johnson. She would marry Peter and she would be dressed in a perfect white dress that was so flouncy she could be mistaken for a princess. And in her arms she would carry red roses.
They would marry in Leelanau, a small peninsula in northern Michigan--in fact surrounded by Lake Michigan where the waves would create a musical beat to the procession. She would kiss Peter just as the sun set behind them in a burst of oranges and pinks. There would be starlight and dancing, a fire pit on the beach. Laughter. Music. In short, there would be magic. She had every detail worked out and recorded painstakingly in her three ring binder, separated by wedding details: Invitations, Cake, Vows, Clothes, Rings, Music, Food, Beverages, Registry, Gifts, People to Invite. And the final tab--People Not To Invite--which included just two people: Pepper, and Amy’s first love, Graham Lillibridge. Graham was of some kind of mishmash heritage that resulted in a voice that was deep and slightly accented and a personality that could only be termed as thus: Graham Lillibridge was a complete and utter cad.
Amy slept with the book, brought the book to the bathroom with her, had it sit by her when she ate. It went wherever she did and as the Big Day approached every detail was coming true. Except, of course, her mother was now invited. Graham, though, was certainly not invited. He was probably married, or divorced, or had a mistress, and was in jail or recently released. There was no way she’d see him again. So she needn’t worry.
The thought that she needn’t worry led her to worry and to think again of Graham. They were seventeen. They were in love. The kind of love you only feel in your life when you are young and stupid and, Amy supposed, very vulnerable. She tried not to think about his bare chest under her fingertips or the way he said her name or the way he kissed her or how he smelled, somehow, of wild trillium. Really, it was impossible not to think of him and the day when she left him; when she left her mother; when she left her life far, far behind her. It was a sad story. One Amy would not share with anyone except with herself, late at night, when Peter lay snoring next to her.
In her dreams she’d sometimes awaken gasping because Graham was kissing her and she could feel his lips pressing against her. But it was more than his lips. She felt a pressure covering her whole body, as if he lay on top of her. “Am I hurting you?” he’d asked, the one time he was entirely gentle. “Oh, yes,” she’d said. And then: “Hurt me a little bit more.” Even now those words haunted her. Pathetic. Ridiculous. Twisted. And, yes, hot. Very hot.
That was when people still knew her as Sausage. Graham called her “My little, spicy Sausage.” Not original, no, but she liked it. She liked him. Sometimes, even now, she missed him. She ached for him the way she imagined one could miss a ghost limb.
She would not think of him though. She was getting married! She, Amy Wellington, was getting married to dear, predictable, hairy Peter! And wasn’t it just grand? Wasn’t it just romantic?
She ran her finger over Graham’s name and then in one clean swipe, ripped the page entirely from the binder. Of course he wouldn’t be at the wedding. Just, unfortunately, her mother. She needed no other reminder of him. Best to make him disappear completely.
(Even though the page was torn, crumpled and tossed in the garbage, his name still existed in that binder. It whispered on every page, in every white space, in every letter of the alphabet. A ghost limb, indeed.)
Sunday, February 13, 2011
I'm reading: ENJOY AN EXCERPT FROM TANYA EBYTweet this! Posted by Angelica Hart and Zi at 6:00 AM