|alt | the banner years | chapter 1|
by Christin Keck
I suppose I'd better start at the beginning. And for me, the beginning always starts at Ward's large family home, on the morning of March 3, just as dawn broke over the horizon like a lanced boil.
Ward's housekeeper, Mrs. Mara Plopp, had just come downstairs to begin cooking breakfast. Mara was a diminutive Japanese woman of indeterminate age. She'd been with the Player family for as long as I could remember--at least as long as Paige had been alive, and for a time even before that. It was Mara who first discovered the note Ward's wife had left in the silverware drawer, telling Ward she was leaving him for the Schwann's man--or maybe it was "that man with the schwantz"--Mara wasn't really familiar with the English language at that time, and RaeJune didn't have very legible handwriting--and became so upset at the thought of losing her job at the Player household, that she destroyed the note and told Ward that his wife had gone on a shopping trip. Of course, it was a shopping trip that lasted three years. Ward would occasionally ask if she had returned, and Mara would put him off with one excuse after another, until one day, when Paige was about 4, two detectives showed up at the door and asked to see Ward. They were from Tulsa, and had news, they said, about RaeJune.
"She's shopping," Ward told them.
"She's dead," said the detectives.
"Then who's been using my credit cards?" asked Ward.
RaeJune was indeed dead--she'd been used and abused by the Schwann's man, who'd turned out to be a serial killer who worked at the Ripley's Believe it or Not! museum in Oklahoma City. It seemed that nearly a third of the more grisly exhibits were his "work", and that included RaeJune. In fact, RaeJune had provided the killer with component parts for several exhibits. The detectives, after interviewing Ward, determined that he did indeed know absolutely nothing, and Mrs. Plopp fell back into pidgin-Japanese (which she tended to do when she got into trouble,) and the questioning was over in a matter of minutes. The cops handed a plastic container to Ward, and made their farewells. (Sometime later they would have a decent funeral for the container, and get on with their lives, having attained firm closure on this particular phase.) Mara, who was just relieved that the Players could not now live without her, and who knew at that moment that she would have a job forever, relaxed a bit, and apologized in fairly good English to Ward for having deceived him all these years. Ward, of course, forgave her (remember what I said about that soft spot?)
"I was just fraturent in my mind," said Mara.
"I understand," said Ward. And forgot the entire incident.
But Paige, dear little Paige, could not forget. This was her mother we're talking about remember--and she was only a little girl--and that enticing plastic container was on the table--and--yes, you guessed it. Paige peeked inside.
She was severely traumatized. Mara and Ward found her later, standing and staring at a picture of her mother unable to speak or move. Paige couldn't speak or move either.
"She act rike she two short sandwiches on broken erevator!" Mara told Ward.
Ward, struggling with this metaphor, did what any conscientous father would do. He left his housekeeper in charge of the funeral plans and went to work.
It was years before Paige came out of her catatonia. Ward looked back on these years later as some of the most peaceful he had ever spent. But he felt somewhat guilty. And Paige, poor thing! would never quite get over her fear of having her loved ones preserved in a Tupperware container. She would, in later years, become engaged over and over again, only to break off the engagement just as wedding plans seemed imminent. She thought if she left her daddy, she'd end up having to visit him in some exhibit somewhere, and she couldn't bear the thought of paying admission.
"That girr not the sharpest clayon on porch," Mrs. Plopp was fond of saying in reference to Paige and her little quirks. But, for the most part, they were a happy family.
Ward eventually found some satisfaction as a widower, especially when his wife's estate was settled, he had inherited the Examiner, and he discovered he was extremely well-off.. He also met Macadamia Attache at the same time, gave her the job of Art Director, fell in with her lovable, if somewhat eccentric, ways, and started getting lost on the streets of Boston every day. And though Macadamia, when she thought at all, thought she might like to be the next Mrs. Ward Player, she never really pressed the issue. All in all, he was a happy man, even if Paige refused to move out of the house.
This particular morning, March 3, Mrs. Plopp was cooking congee for the family's breakfast. They hated congee. Mara had peculiar ideas about nutrition, however, and it was either that, or couscous, which they hated even more. She went to the kitchen door to retrieve the milk, left there by the new Schwann's man. But instead of milk, her tiny hand fell upon a large, leather briefcase.
"What this?" she said aloud.
"Why don't you bring it inside and open it, " said the disembodied voice.
"Good idea," said Mara. And did.
She stared at the contents of the briefcase briefly, then went and woke Ward, who came downstairs wearing only his briefs.
"Where did this come from, Mrs. Plopp?" he asked her, waving his hand in front of her face to try and get her to stop staring at the front of his jockey shorts.
"Big..." she began, "...surprise to me..." she continued. "Was on porch where milk comes," she said, exhaling loudly and tearing her eyes away from Ward's crotch, albeit with some difficulty.
"I see," said Ward. "Well, I guess I'd better take it into the office with me and see what I can find out about it," and with that, he firmly snapped the briefcase shut, catching the fold on the front of his underwear in it. When he straightened up, and brought the case down to his side, his shorts came with it. Mrs. Plopp's already wide-opened eyes opened even further. She took in a sharp breath, and was gifted with insights into her employer never before revealed. She was definitely going to have to take a little break sometime this week--it had been a long time since she'd had a break. Oh, yes.
Ward hobbled with no small loss of dignity back up to his room where he hastily disengaged the briefcase from his jockeys, showered and got ready to go to work. There was one good thing about this incident, anyway, he thought to himself--at least I don't have to eat that horrid congee.
I met Ward for lunch at O'Brien's on Counterinsurgency Street, next to the Arabian Deli. Thank God he hadn't wandered far. We had corned beef sandwiches, and he opened the briefcase for me, showing me its contents.
"Wow--where did that come from?" I asked him when I had swallowed my mouthful of sandwich.
"The milkman left it this morning," he told me.
"So, she stared right at your crotch? " I asked him, with a hint of a grin playing around the corners of my mouth. "Well, I suppose she couldn't help it, poor thing. She hasn't had a break in over a month," he added.
"What are you going to do about it?" I asked, thinking of what importance that briefcase would now hold in his, and maybe everyones, lives.
"Well, I suppose I'll give her a day off," started Ward. "Oh, you mean this." He shifted the case slightly. The waitress came over to replenish our coffees. Ward waved her away just as she held the pot over my outstretched cup. I got three drops before she left, which I immediately sucked down. "I think perhaps I should consult Cassandra, don't you?" he asked.
"Well," I began, but it was lost on him. He had already gotten up, leaving me to pay the check (again) and had bolted through the door of the restaurant out to my car, which (Brain Fart!) I had left the keys in. As he drove away, I ran down to the curb and hailed a taxi.
"2038 Washington Street," I told the driver, "and hurry!"
adjusted his turban and in very careful English asked me "Where do you
wish to go, sahib?"