The bad news was that I had to work the weekend at the assisted living facility where I’m paid to hang out with a group of elders every day. When I was in my 20s all my friends were aged 60 to 80, so I’d been practicing for this fairly new career of mine quite some time before I realized it existed.
The good news was that I was off work on Monday, so I had some notion I might want to fly to England that afternoon and see Beffer, my best friend since we’d met at the bus stop on the first day of kindergarten in 1975.
(There was another girl waiting for the bus with us on that fateful day. Patty Narog was a shy, infuriatingly quiet child who lived on the wrong side of Paw Paw Creek. [She and her family lived “across the covered bridge,” a zone forbidden for me to visit without express permission and a detailed exit strategy]. Patty and I lost touch after third grade. We all lost touch with the covered bridge in 1985 when a major flood event caused its collapse. Its collapse, thankfully, provided a dam to slow the rising flood waters.)
I was excited by the thought of visiting her, so I used Google Hangouts to contact Beffer several times on Friday to tell her my plan for Monday.
Unfortunately, I only got a series of one-word replies:
Finally, she used several words to reply, so I thought my luck was changing.
“Good Lord! What’s so urgent?” she wrote.
“Video chat in five?”
“I need fifteen and we can’t waste time. Things are happening right now.”
When I finally reached her an hour later, it seemed that the main thing happening was pandemonium breaking out in the background. I’d never heard so much swearing and cursing in my life, all joined by the sound of breaking glass, splintering wood, and lots of blood-freezing shrieks and hoots.
“I’ll have to do this upstairs,” said Beffer, “or we won’t be able to hear each other.”
“What’s going on there? What’s all that racket?” I asked.
Once Beffer reached her personal, private panic room behind a secret panel on the second floor she said in a near-whisper, “It’s Manny. He’s upset.”
Manny is Beffer’s husband. The lethal mixture of being born half-Irish under the sign of Scorpio have turned his mind and body into a volatile laboratory from which every type and stripe of violence can spring at any moment.
Manny is terrifying.
I decided that a wild guess never hurt anyone. “Is he upset because Manchester United is paying £50 million for Aaron Wan-Bissaka?” I asked.
Manny is a huge fan of Manchester United football club—he sleeps in Man United pyjamas between Man United sheets with a red woolen cap on his head and red woolen socks on his feet. In fact, I’m pretty sure Manny used to be called Andrew but he was such a fan of the Manchester-based club that he legally changed his first name to Manny.
Not only that. When their son was born in 2000, Manny said if Beffer didn’t name the child David Beckham II he would divorce her and leave the baby on the steps of the Mother of God Catholic Church in Leicester. Remembering this made me wonder where David Beckham II was.
Before I could ask, Manny’s voice boomed from the other side of the wall: “Beffer! Are you calling ITV like I asked, Sugar?”
“Yes, Sugar, I’m on hold right now,” Beffer said. “It’s all going to be fine. Go downstairs and turn on the kettle so we can have a cuppa.”
“I threw the kettle into the garden!” he shouted. His voice faded as he got further down the stairs: “But before I chucked it I tore off the cord and when I find Wispa I’m gonna hang that cat from a fence post!”
“Okay, Sugar! I’ll be down soon,” Beffer yelled.
“What was all that about?” I asked.
“Oh, damn that man and damn ITV!” Beffer said. I knew she was mad because she had the same look on her face she used to get if I dared embarrass her in front of Frankie Thomas when we were high school sophomores, which was super-dumb because they weren’t even dating and he looked like a life-sized Monchhichi doll.
“What happened?” I asked, glad it was not me she was mad at on this day.
“Manny got settled into his chair this evening to watch the news, but for some reason Lucy Verasamy wasn’t doing the weather, and so…” Beffer rolled her eyes as if to say, You know the rest.
This explained everything. Tearing up the house, demanding that Beffer call ITV, vowing to hang the cat—all of it made perfect sense, now. Manny loved meteorologist Lucy Verasamy about six and a half trillion times more than he loved Manchester United football club.
“That’s horrible! Bless his heart!” I said.
Though blondes are my weakness, I can’t say I blamed Manny for being mad as hell. For a brunette Lucy Verasamy is pretty hot, with the longest fingers I’ve ever seen on an ITV weather girl. I felt my face turning red. I started fanning myself.
“Don’t worry, you’ll both cool off eventually,” said Beffer. “Now what did you want? I don’t have much time before he goes after my ferns with his hedge clippers.”
I wasn’t sure I still wanted what I’d wanted before, at least not until I knew that Manny was finished destroying the house and murdering the family pet. Either thing would be God-awful to walk in on.
“I wanted to fly there Monday and spend the evening with you,” I said. “I’m off work and I’d love to see you guys.”
The problem with video chat is that you can’t hide your emotions behind the disguise of your voice because your face is right there. Beffer looked off to the left and then at the ceiling before she said, “Yeah. Monday won’t be good.”
“Oh,” I said, trying not to sound disappointed. Sadly, as mentioned above, my stupid face wouldn’t let me hide anything I was feeling.
Beffer avoided making eye contact and continued. “Yeah, um, we…we have to go out of town.”
As soon as Beffer said this I was reminded of our high school friend Natasha. Natasha’s mother, Cynthia, had cousins who would drive from Michigan to West Virginia every other summer to show off the new car they would have bought before the trip. Cynthia called them the Detroit Bunch, and whenever she found out they were headed that way, she would say, “The Detroit Bunch is coming—pack up! We’re going to Florida!”
Then the household threw itself into a tizzy as they all got ready to leave the next morning.
“Where are you going?” I asked. If Beffer said they were going to Florida I would call bullshit and quit my job just so I could fly to England that very day.
“Oh, right, we’re…er, we’re going to Wales,” she said. That made me feel a lot better—even if she was lying, which I suspected she was.
“What’s in Wales?” I asked. But I knew: nothing was in Wales. Rocks and grass and rain. That’s what was in Wales. And coal miners, maybe a few Druids. Still. I couldn’t believe she wasn’t going to think up a better lie than that to keep me from coming to visit her.
Beffer’s eyes were now cast down. I think she was looking at her phone, which was out of my view on our video chat screen. While she looked up and down and up again she said, “The thing is, they’ve dug up some ancient chariot pieces around…” She trailed off and glanced downward, then looked up again. “…around Milford Haven in Pembrokeshire. They think they could be,” she started. Head dip. New eye contact. “…late Iron Age, so.”
“Yeah, okay,” I said. “Who doesn’t want to go to Wales to look at late Iron Age chariot pieces, right?”
I could tell she thought I actually believed she was interested in this, and so she relaxed. At least she didn’t try to take the piss from a lesbian during pride month and say they were going to see Offa’s Dyke.
She grimaced and said, “Thanks for thinking of us. Maybe another time?”
Before I could answer there was a loud banging on the wall outside the panic room. “You get through yet, Sugar?” asked Manny’s angry voice. “Where’s my Lucy? Have they said?”
Beffer closed her eyes. “Still on hold, Sugar. I guess everyone’s cross about Lucy,” she yelled, then whispered to me, “I’ve got to go. Bah!”
“Bah!” I said, but she was already gone.