1. Archive

Partners in life, partners in crime

"I don't believe it!" The telephone dropped from Georgina's hand. "Aunt Lucille just blew into town."

Zack frowned. "I thought that crazy ol' broad was cooling her heels in the slammer." He stamped his feet into his work boots. "Killed her husband, ain't that so?"

"I told you a million times, it was self-defense. Anyway, she's sprung fee. And she's flying straight here."

"What for?"

"To roost with us chickens." She clucked and flapped her elbows.

"There's no room in this trailer for three." Zack looked up from lacing his boots. "And her voice'd tear this place down, wall by wall."

"Be nice. Aunt Lucille is high-strung and her voice is pitched to match, is all. She only asked to rest a bit."

"Hide out, you mean. She's got one day, then kick her out. Or I will." He grabbed his lunch box and stomped across the linoleum, letting the screen door slap behind him.

Georgina's teeth didn't unclench until she heard the truck start up. Zack don't let me drive no more. No bowling either. The TV's busted and he's throwed out my magazines. But he ain't gonna spoil my fun time with Aunt Lucille.

Georgina danced across the room, giddy with memories of her girlish brazen self. Oh my, how she used to sashay around the store clerks and flutter her flirty lashes while Aunt Lucille pocketed lipsticks and eyeshadows. Sweet recollections jigged around in her head: Aunt Lucille blowing big ol' bubbles while teaching her to pick locks and hot-wire cars; Aunt Lucille twirling dual pens to exercise her hands for check forgings; Aunt Lucille smiling and advising, "Girl, look out for No. 1."

"Shoot," Georgina told the mirror, "that advice flew out the window the day I married Zack."

Horns honked like flibbertigibbet geese, and Georgina knew that Zack and Aunt Lucille had just passed one another. A sputtering, a clattering, an ear-splitting hullabaloo invaded the trailer park. Georgina arrived at the door in time to see dust parting before her like the Red Sea for Moses. She skedaddled outside, smoothing the wrinkles in her pink shorts and halter.

Whoooeee! Plowing toward Georgina was the biggest car she'd ever laid eyes on. Tomato red with long back fins and chrome trim everywhere, the Cadillac wheezed to a halt. Aunt Lucille stepped out, waving away dust and flies and blowing kisses all at the same time. "Helloooo, Georginnnahhh," her voice sheared the tree tops, scattering birds every which way.

My, oh my, thought Georgina, I am truly caught in one of them wacky time warps like on TV. "Take off them shoes, Aunt Lucille, before you fall into a rut."

Aunt Lucille picked her way across the ridges on yellow platform-sole heels, vulnerability oozing from her every step. Orange corkscrew curls bobbed around her neck.

"She's still dazzling," Georgina murmured as the sun, playing peek-a-boo over the bluffs, illuminated Aunt Lucille's yellow blouse and mini-skirt. Orange pop-it beads sashayed across her ample breasts. Behind rhinestone-studded glasses, the green eyes that had bewitched every man in Lee County begged for help.

"I'll get that," Georgina said and grasped the makeup kit, being careful not to dislodge Aunt Lucille's paste-on nails.

"Let me sque-e-e-e-ze the sugar and spice right out of you," Aunt Lucille squealed, hugging Georgina tightly. Shading her eyes with one hand, she steered Georgina into the trailer with the other. "Zack working all day?"

"Sure is, and I say hallelujah and amen." Georgina fidgeted with her hair. "Things aren't working out between us."

"I told you don't marry a control freak, but no-o-o-o _ you wouldn't listen. I knew from your letters you was suffocating." Aunt Lucille brushed past Georgina and opened the refrigerator door. She grabbed a beer, then wiggled around the living room, leaving a trail of charisma that nearly took Georgina's breath away.

"I can't believe you're here," Georgina said. Observing Aunt Lucille's figure, she sucked in her stomach and scrunched up her hips. "I thought I'd never see you again. The newspapers said 20 years."

"Don't pay them no mind," Aunt Lucille said. "The parole board gave me time off for good behavior. Easy as pie." She winked. "So was the judge." She glugged the beer and patted the couch. "This'll do fine for one night. I only stopped by for a favor."

"You name it, you got it, Aunt Lucille." Georgina's hound-dog eyes turned dewy with appreciation.

"Help me launch my new scam."

"What are you up to?" Georgina tweaked Aunt Lucille's cheek.

"Entertainment. Sit back and close your eyes. Now picture a typical afternoon at a nursing home. All the folks sitting around, dreams on hold, forgetting they was once No. 1. Tah-dah!"

Georgina sat bolt upright.

"I, Lola Lamour _ that's my name this week _ I make my entrance singing my country heart out. Reba, Dolly, Winona and Tammy _ I got 'em all down pat. Lordy, wait 'til you see the bodacious wigs. So, like I was saying, I shimmy among the patients, kissing cheeks, patting heads. Everybody's happy, swayin' like flags on the Fourth of July. I lead the spry ones in a sexy line dance. I spread some sunshine into their lives."

Georgina giggled. "Aunt Lucille, get to the good part."

"Okay." She patted Georgina on the knee. "While I'm performing, you circulate among the audience."

Georgina laughed and shook her head from side to side. "You mean while the relatives are gawking at you and their kinfolks, I help myself to their credit cards and cash." Red blotches rose on Georgina's cheeks. She pouted. "Zack'll never go along with me working."

"You'll wear a wig, use a fake name. No one'll recognize you. For heaven's sake, nobody around here's ever seen you." Aunt Lucille lit a cigarette and exhaled. "Zack won't know nothing."

"Zack knows my every move. He's ... protective."

"Possessive's more like it. Stop kidding yourself. You're just here for his convenience."

"Maybe Zack is possessive, but he means well. He wants me all to himself 'cause he loves me so much."

"Girl, haven't you forgotten something? You need to look out for No. 1." She hugged Georgina. "And I need an assistant. Come on, we could see the whole country like we used to dream about. Go for it, girl. You couldn't be worse off than you are here."

While Georgina chewed on those words, Aunt Lucille pulled off her wig and unwound her stringy blond hair. She descended from her platform-sole shoes and peeled down her pantyhose. Georgina's eyes popped wide open when she saw the knotty veins the thick surgical stockings had hidden.

Aunt Lucille flopped next to Georgina. "It's getting real hard to drag these tired bones around. Retirement years are creeping up on me like cheap underwear." Her head lolled to one side, her voice faded. "This is my last shot at the big time. I'm counting on you."

Georgina pictured herself in a sweep of blond hair, knocking on the door of a retirement home. "Hello, I'm Miss Velma Vane," she'd say and tug at her lace gloves. "I represent Miss Lola Lamour and her mighty fine musical extravaganza."

Georgina tingled from head to toe. The wigs, the names, it was just too thrilling and theatrical for words. The insurance companies would pay the claims. So who'd get hurt? Why, she and Aunt Lucille was just continuing Robin Hood's good deeds.

Georgina studied Aunt Lucille's face. Perspiration seeped through her pancake makeup and filled the lines around her mouth. Clumps of mascara left bird tracks on the pouches beneath her eyes.

"You're the stuff great Hollywood actresses are made of," Georgina whispered and snuggled closer. "You'll dazzle them. Don't you worry. Together, we'll pull this off." She could hardly wait for tomorrow. The red Cadillac screamed AD-VEN-TURE! And my, oh my, Georgina didn't want to miss one single minute of Aunt Lucille's last gig. She'd learn from the best. It would be her job training, sort of an insurance policy for her own future.

Diane Sawyer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, writer and translator. She lives with her husband, Robert, in St. Petersburg.