The third here.
“Miss Muselik, you do know that half the town will be here shortly. It’s a spur of the moment wake for old lady Sauer who they buried today,” Fi said as she handed the Ouija board to Bella. “That’s why I’m splitting.”
This news should have convinced Bella Muselik to scoot on home as quickly as her short legs could carry her. Old lady Sauer’s eldest child, an attorney, lived in a three-story house next to the Muselik’s “ill-kept” bungalow and had for years tried to force them to sell so he could raise their home and build a garage. “That old bitch. I hope she rots in hell.”
“I’m gonna tell your mother you used the b-word.” My sister Lizzie was only eight but already savvy to the benefits of playing two sides of any coin. Sweet and loving to those who brought gifts but indifferent at best to everyone else.
“Miss Muselik, that old lady owned half of Washoe Valley but I don’t think your mom would want you hanging out here,” Fi said. “ There’s gonna be plenty of drinking and undoubtedly some foul language. I think it best you leave this hotbed of sin now.”
“I told my ma I was invited for dinner. I can’t go home until eight or she’ll think I did something wrong.”
“You lied,” Lizzie said. “No one invited you to dinner. You invited yourself.”
At Bella’s house, dinner was precisely at six, always at the table under old-world doilies and generally consisted of an oily stew of lamb and potatoes consumed in quiet. If the O’Tannens ever did eat at the table, rare were the moments of quiet. But that didn’t stop Bella from regularly inviting herself to participate in the mayhem.
“Shut up Piglet. “I’ll go home as soon as I get my answer. We’ll stay down in the basement.”
“Miss Muselik, you touch anything down there other than that Ouija board and I’ll release my family of Phoneutria in your bed.”
“Banana spiders. The deadliest in the the world. One bite and ⏤”
“Sheesh. I won’t touch anything down there, honest Fi.”
Fi’d been honest from the beginning. Living at the O’Tannen’s had not been her first choice. Maybe not even her third or fourth. Her first choice had been the Ashram, a compound of beehive huts near Virginia City where devotees led lives of self-sacrifice and meditation. But the Ashram was run by the Reverend Supramamuna, a silver haired white guy in his seventh incarnation as a guru who did not allow women under forty to join his flock. Woman in the child-bearing years, according his Supremeness, did not have the necessary focus to improve their spirituality. The weight on karma of wanting and having babies disrupted the harmonious path. It was a crock, Fiona claimed. The Reverend, in his final run for nirvana, just didn’t want to be tempted by young female flesh.
After Fi left, we sat down on her bed for that one question. Lizzie knew it was a dumb question and I knew it was a dumb question but Bella grew so focused that her freckles glowed neon in the darkening room. Rain began a titter-tatter against the casement windows just as the planchette launched itself off the board somewhere in between Maybe and Yes.
“Yes! They’re here! Now we have to find out where they ⏤”
Upstairs we could hear shoes clanking on the parquet floors as the mourners arrived and my mother shouted our names.
“No Bella, you said just one question. You can go out the backdoor but you have to leave.”
“But ⏤” she began.
Riley, Lizzie … get up here right now.
“Go home Bella.”
We left Bella sitting on Fi’s bed and ran upstairs. The mourners had brought with them pizza, buckets of fried chicken, chips and cheese platters which they set on the dining room table while Mother pulled all manner of booze out of the pantry and set the bottles on the counters. I was ordered to take people’s coats and umbrellas and throw them on my bed while Lizzie entertained a group of elderly Sauers sitting by the fireplace for warmth. Soon so many people filled the house that I had to shimmy through bodies to grab the last piece of pizza before it disappeared.
Mrs. Noland stepped in my way. “Hello Riley Anne. Nice to see you helping your mother. What are you studying in school these days?”
What a bitch. “Pretty much the standard stuff I guess, Mrs. Noland.”
“What exactly is the standard stuff, Riley Anne? Are you taking college prep courses?”
“College is a waste of time. I’m going to write songs and sing them.”
“Are you taking singing lessons?”
“No but the Beatles didn’t take singing lessons and look at where they are.”
“The Beatles?” She had that who-the-heck-are-they look on her face. “Are they that British group? Really, Riley Anne, didn’t you study under Madame Vortiyev? Hasn’t your father ⏤”
She was about to remind me of all the benefits of a classical education I would be thumbing my nose at by listening to that British group when she spotted something behind me. “Is that … is that Rosebella Muselik drinking alcohol from a bottle like a … like a … Oh my God. She’ll be the death of her poor sweet mother.”