Rose stirs another spoonful of sugar into the glass of iced tea for her husband and watches through her kitchen window as a dusty Plymouth drives up to her neighbor’s mailbox and parks. A man climbs out of the car, shrugs into a sports coat and fits an old felt hat down low over his left eye.
“Dwane, what do they call that hat Humphrey Bogart wore in The Big Sleep?”
“Fedora,” Dwane says.
“Yeah, a fedora. Inez’s lived here how long? Five years? Never once has anybody visited her. How come all of a sudden there’s a strange man wearing a hat just like that walking up to Inez’s trailer?”
“Uh,” Dwane says.
“He’s stopped and… Dwane, come look. The man’s stuck his hands up in the air.”
“Uh,” Dwane says.
“Wanna’ know why he’s got his hands in the air, Dwane? ‘Cause Inez is pointing a shotgun at him, that’s why.”
“Uh,” Dwane says.
“Something weird’s going on, Dwane. Maybe you should go over there and see if she needs help.”
“Inez can take care of herself. Now bring me that tea before you wear it out.”
“You’re such a big poop sometimes.” She delivers the tea then hurries back to the window in time to see the man walk to the porch and sit down in a deck chair. After several minutes, he jumps up, runs to his car and peels out of the driveway. Rose waits barely long enough for the dust to settle before she scurries over to Inez’s trailer and knocks on the door.
“I told you to haul ass,” comes from inside the trailer.
“Inez? It’s Rose. You all right?” The door opens and Rose sees the shotgun leaning against the doorframe. “What the heck’re you doing with a shotgun?”
“Scaring off varmints. Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.” Inez opens the door wider. “Come on in. Move Jezebel and have a seat. Coffee?”
“Sure.” Rose moves the cat off the chair and sits. “Lord, girl, you gave me a fright. First that awful man drives up, then you start waving a shotgun around. It looked like you might just shoot that man if he held his mouth the tiniest bit wrong. Who was that guy?”
“Some fool kid playing sleuth.”
“I told Dwane he looked just like Humphrey Bogart in those old Philip Marlowe movies. What’d he want?”
“Long story. Dwane know where you are?”
“A Swamp People marathon just started. He won’t notice I’m gone till tomorrow morning.”
Inez chuckles and sits down across from Rose. The two women sip their coffee in silence for several minutes. “Inez, you’re driving me nuts. Start talking or I’m gonna’ break out in hives.”
“He’s a private investigator hired by my daughter to find me.”
“Your daughter?” Rose’s voice squeaks. “You have a daughter?”
Inez takes a deep breath. “I left my husband and daughter when she was seven years old and haven’t seen either of them since.”
“You left your little girl? Why?”
“I didn’t think like other girls back then, Rosie. I never wanted to be a wife or mother, never dreamed about a nice house on a nice street with a nice car and a nice lawn.”
“Like Donna Reed, all decked out in pearls and high heels to vacuum the living room?”
Both women laughed.
“I kept hearing prison bars clanging shut and locking. I loved Natalie in my way but not a mother’s way. I knew eventually I’d go batshit crazy and destroy Natalie’s life and my own. I had to escape, find fresh air to breathe.”
“What about your husband?”
“Harold was devoted to Natalie. I knew he would take care of her, keep her safe.”
“What did you do, where did you go?”
“Moved around a lot, different towns, different jobs, different highways.”
Inez pulls a vintage shoe box down from the bookcase and opens it.
“On the road I stopped at interesting places and bought picture postcards, one for Natalie and one for me. I’d imagine her being there with me, what we said, what we wore, what made us laugh.” She picks out a card and holds it toward Rose. “This is a reptile farm outside of Anadarko. See the two-headed snake? I knew Natalie would love that place. Here’s one from Wonder Cave outside Eufaula.” She shuffles through the cards.
“Look, the Will Rogers Museum in Claremore. When Natalie got older, we *met* in places like this. We toured the Gilchrist Museum–there’s a card in here somewhere–and sang together through a Willie Nelson concert in Ardmore.” She fingers the cards, lost in thought. “Whenever I feel lonely, I pick out a card, send one to Natalie and date the other one for me, then I daydream the story.”
“So you still send the cards?”
“Not as often as when she was younger, but, yeah, sometimes.”
“But that’s all changed now, right? This private eye guy tells your daughter where you are, she contacts you and maybe you two can see each other again?”
“Natalie’s married and has two children. She doesn’t need some broken down old warhorse butting into her life.”
“That should be her decision, don’t you think?”
“No, I don’t. I’m used to being by myself. Besides, if I couldn’t be a mother, how the hell could I be a grandmother?”
“But Inez, you’ll need someone to look after you when you get old.”
“I’ve taken care of myself my whole life. That won’t change.”
She picks up the two-headed snake postcard. “I think I’ll send this one to that silly private eye. Give him something to worry about.” She piles the rest of the cards into the box then puts her hand on Rose’s shoulder.
“You’ve been a good friend to me, Rosie. I’ll miss you, but I have to go. You understand that, don’t you?”
“Sure I do, but this old park’s gonna’ feel empty without you and your little yellow trailer – and Jezebel.” Rose stoops and rubs behind the cat’s ears. “You girls take care of each other, you hear?”
“I’ll try to keep in touch, Rosie. I promise.”
“Maybe you could send me a postcard ever so often?”
The women laugh and hug good-bye. Inez watches Rose cross the compound, open her trailer door, and turn to wave. Inez returns the gesture then looks over at Jezebel, “Go round up your catnip, kid. We’re on the road again.”