I still dream about you.., p.23

I Still Dream About You: A Novel, page 23

 

I Still Dream About You: A Novel
 


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  Maggie asked, “I don’t understand what happened. Why am I upside down?”

  “That mattress truck pulled right out in front of you and sideswiped you, and you flipped over in our yard. I saw the whole thing. It’s a wonder you’re not dead. Is there anyone I should call? What’s your name, honey?”

  “Margaret Fortenberry.”

  There was a pause. The woman leaned in and looked at her more closely. “You’re not Margaret Fortenberry—Miss Alabama, are you?”

  “Yes.”

  “Oooh, for gosh sake, my mother was Jo Anna Horton! She was in the Miss Alabama pageant the same year you won; she played the marimba and tap-danced? Do you remember her? She always said you were just the nicest person.”

  This was not the conversation Maggie would have liked to be having at this moment, but still upside down, she answered, “Oh, yes. I do remember her. How is she?”

  “She’s just fine. Oh, my gosh, wait till she hears about this.”

  In the short time before the fire truck arrived, Maggie found out that Gary and Marian had bought the land she was now hanging upside down on about ten years ago and had started Sweet Home Alabama Goat Farm. Eleven years before, they’d found out that their second baby was allergic to cow’s milk and realized how hard it was to find good fresh goat milk products and thought that starting a goat farm would be a great opportunity to leave corporate America, something Gary had always wanted to do anyway, and now he was having a chance to serve mankind as well …

  Maggie was told in great detail all the many reasons why goat milk was far superior to cow’s milk. When the fire truck with the paramedics arrived, they immediately cut her out of her seat belt and carefully pulled her through the window and laid her down on the ground. As the paramedics were busy checking her for broken bones, one remarked, “I’ll tell you this, ma’am. If you hadn’t been wearing your seat belt, you would be dead.” As they continued to check out her arms and legs, she couldn’t help but wonder. Why would a woman who was planning to jump in the river and drown herself be wearing a seat belt in the first place? How stupid. After examining her, they found that other than a sore shoulder and a bruise on her forehead where her purse had hit her when the car was rolling, she was fine. But everything else around her was a mess. She had knocked down the Conways’ huge sign and half of their fence, and her car had been completely totaled. Now she was going to have to fill out all those insurance forms, and God knows how long that would take. The truck driver, who was not hurt, was claiming the accident was her fault, and so there was probably going to be a lawsuit before it was over with.

  Later, after the police had come and taken pictures of the accident site and filled out the report, she looked up and saw her car being towed away and realized, too late, that her raft, her glue, and her weights were still in the trunk.

  A few minutes later, Brenda answered the phone at home.

  “Brenda, it’s Maggie … listen, are you busy?”

  “No, why?”

  “I need a ride. Could you possibly come and pick me up and take me home?”

  “Sure, where are you?”

  “I’m at the Sweet Home Alabama Goat Farm.”

  “A goat farm? What are you doing at a goat farm?”

  “Well, I wasn’t at a goat farm; I just wound up here.”

  “How?”

  “A mattress truck hit me.”

  “A truck! You were hit by a truck? Oh, dear Jesus in heaven!” Brenda screamed down the hall, “Robbie, Maggie’s been hit by a truck!”

  Maggie heard Robbie’s voice in the background. “What?”

  “She’s been hit by a truck.” Suddenly, Robbie was on the phone. “Maggie, are you all right?”

  “Yes. I just had a little car accident … but I’m all right.”

  “Have you been checked out?”

  “Yes. The paramedics were here, and they said I was fine; no broken bones, but my car was wrecked. Could you and Brenda come get me and take me home?”

  “Of course, where are you?”

  “I’m out on the old highway, right past the old Silver Slipper Supper Club, at the Sweet Home Alabama Goat Farm on the right.”

  “Is there a sign or something?”

  “Well … not anymore. But you’ll see a lot of men out on the road, working on a fence.”

  “Okay, we’ll be right there.”

  After she hung up, Robbie was out the door in less than twenty seconds, with Brenda running to catch up to her. Robbie wasn’t an emergency room nurse for nothing.

  Maggie sat on the front porch, waiting for them, with Marian and Maggie’s new best friend, Leroy the goat. From the time she had landed in their yard, Leroy had followed her everywhere.

  “I swear,” Marian said, “Leroy has just fallen in love with you. He won’t stop pestering you for one second; he’s never done that before.” It was really very sweet, and Maggie guessed she should be flattered, but she had never been this close to a goat in her life, and she had no earthly idea how to pet a goat. Still, she reached out and patted it on the head, trying to be nice.

  Maggie and Marian sat and looked out across the pasture and watched as Gary, with a bunch of neighbors, tried to put up a makeshift fence so the goats wouldn’t wander out on the road and get hit. “I’m so sorry about this,” Maggie said. “Believe me, this is the last thing in the world I wanted to have happen today.”

  “Oh, don’t you worry,” Marian said. “It wasn’t your fault; I’m just glad you’re alive. Just thank your lucky stars. This could have been your last day on earth.”

  A few minutes later, Maggie had a long-distance conversation with Jo Anna, Marian’s mother, which started out by Marian saying, “Momma, you will never guess who just wound up in our yard today.” To Jo Anna’s credit, she hadn’t guessed. About forty-five minutes later, after Maggie and Marian had exchanged information and addresses, Robbie and Brenda arrived to pick Maggie up. As they drove home, Brenda, who was driving, looked at Maggie in the rearview mirror and said, “I’m not even going to ask you what you were doing driving around out in the sticks all by yourself.”

  After a moment of silence, Brenda said, “Well?”

  “Well, what?”

  “What were you doing?”

  Robbie said, “Now, Brenda, that’s none of your business.”

  “Well, I guess it is … she’s my business partner, and I guess I have a right to know why she was way out here.”

  Maggie sighed. “Oh, Brenda. If I told you, you’d never believe it.”

  “Try me.”

  “I was just driving around in the country, that’s all.”

  Brenda was horrified. “Why? There are snakes down here and everything!”

  Snakes? My God, Brenda was right. Maggie hadn’t thought about that. Oh, Lord. That’s all she needed. To go to all this trouble to do it right and then get snakebitten by a big old water moccasin on her way down to the river. By the time they found her, she would probably be all swollen up and bloated, and they always photographed the body, and no telling where that photo would wind up.

  ON MONDAY, BRENDA took Maggie over to the car leasing company to fill out all the papers about the accident. The owner had been very fond of Hazel and immediately gave Maggie a new car to drive. Then Maggie drove over to the auto body shop, where her old car was. They had to open the trunk with a crowbar so she could get all her things out and transfer them to the new car. What a perfect mess. This was going to mean yet another delay. She was not only the victim of an accident, she was also a key witness, and she had to be available to give a statement. Also, she had to make sure the leasing company was fully reimbursed for the car and that the poor Conways got their insurance company to pay for a new fence and a new sign. Having dealt with insurance companies in the past, she knew what a hard battle that could be. But as soon as that was cleared up, she would go on with her plans, as soon as possible. Every extra day she stayed was just adding up more debt. Being a woman in the business world was
expensive. Just the sheer maintenance alone was costing her a lot of money. Hair, nails, makeup, cold cream, dry cleaning and laundry, not to mention food and gas for the car.

  When Maggie finally arrived back home, she saw that Miss Pitcock the librarian had faxed her yet another document regarding the Crocker siblings. Oh dear. A few weeks ago Maggie had called and thanked her profusely for helping her with her research, saying that she had all the information she needed, so there was no reason to go forward. But evidently once Miss Pitcock got started, she could not be stopped. And today she had faxed Maggie something that had thoroughly confused her.

  Miss Pitcock had somehow managed to obtain a photocopy of Edward Crocker’s will, dated January 11, 1935, and after pages of instructions dealing with numerous foundations and charities, Edward had specified that in the event of his death, the business and Crestview were to be willed to the Dalton family. But he had left the entire bulk of his fortune (including Edwina’s house in London) to Lettie Ross, his childhood nurse. There was not even a mention of an Edwina Crocker in the entire will! And who was Lettie Ross? If the woman in London who had passed herself off as Edwina Crocker had been his mistress or even a distant relative, then why had Edward not left her a dime in his will? It didn’t make any sense. Oh, well, it was obvious that detective work was not as simple as Nancy Drew would have you think.

  Brenda Gets a Surprise

  February 2009

  BRENDA DIDN’T KNOW IT, BUT HER SISTER ROBBIE HAD BEEN saving money to buy her a fifty-inch flat-screen television set for her birthday, in two weeks. This morning, Robbie had read that Costco was having a huge one-day sale on electronics, and the exact model Brenda wanted was marked down 35 percent. So that afternoon, with the help of two of her intern friends at the hospital, they borrowed an ambulance and ran out to Costco and bought one. Because she couldn’t trust Brenda not to go through every square inch of the house and the garage looking for her presents, they took it over to storage to keep until her birthday, so it would be a surprise. But it was Robbie and the two interns who got a surprise when they moved the chest of drawers.

  The next person to be surprised that day was Brenda. When she came bouncing in the door from her Youth at Risk meeting, she was feeling pretty good, until she saw Mr. Crocker sitting on the sofa with his legs crossed and Robbie sitting right beside him.

  “I’ve been waiting for you,” said Robbie.

  “Uh-oh.” Brenda understood that this was one of those times when changing the subject with enthusiasm was just not going to work. She was busted and she knew it, so she sat down and told Robbie the truth.

  After she finished, Robbie shook her head and said, “Brenda, do you have any idea how insane you are?”

  Brenda blinked her eyes and tried to look as innocent as possible. “Well, it sounded like a good idea at the time.”

  “And Maggie went along with this? That doesn’t sound like her.”

  “I know, but you don’t understand: we needed this sale. Our office depended on it. Please don’t tell Maggie that you found him. Please.”

  Robbie thought about it for a minute, then said, “Well, okay, I guess it won’t hurt anything. But why do you keep saying he?”

  “Because we’re almost positive we know who he is.”

  “Oh, really?”

  “We think it’s Edward Crocker, the man who used to live there. There’s a painting of him in the house wearing this same exact outfit. Don’t you think that’s a pretty good clue?”

  “I do. Except for one small detail.”

  “What?”

  “Your little friend here is a female.”

  “WHAT? How do you know that?”

  “Because I examined it.”

  “Are you sure?”

  “Of course I’m sure; I know physiology. You can tell by the hips.”

  Brenda was not happy to hear this news. “What were you doing examining my skeleton’s hips … and now that I think about it, what were you doing over at the storage unit in the first place?”

  “That’s for me to know and you to find out,” said Robbie. “Other people have secrets, too.”

  Usually, as it was so close to her birthday, Brenda would have badgered Robbie until she found out what the secret was, but she had other things on her mind right now. She was wondering how she was going to tell Maggie that the skeleton was not Edward Crocker. After thinking it over, she decided that maybe she wouldn’t tell her. What Maggie didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.

  ACROSS TOWN, AFTER Ethel Clipp had poured herself a nice stiff drink, she was sitting in her living room in her purple velour pantsuit, looking out the window and watching the pigeons walking all over her yard. One big fat male pigeon was all puffed up, strutting around and pestering some poor female to death. Typical. It could have been her ex-husband, Earl. If she thought there was any truth to the reincarnation thing, she would have gotten up and gone out in the yard and swatted it.

  After the divorce, that son of a bitch Earl had just disappeared. He just took off and hadn’t sent her a dime in alimony, not even a postcard. If it hadn’t been for Hazel, she never could have gotten those two kids raised, much less been able to send them to college.

  And after her working so hard to make sure they had an education and would be able to get a good job, they both wound up weird as hell, and neither one of them had a job. Now, just like crazy Dottie Figge, who had flipped out and gone all Hindu, they said they were on some so-called spiritual quest and needed to devote time to discovering the “path to happiness.” Opal, her youngest, had just sent her a book. She said it was the most profound thing she had ever read. Ethel didn’t want to burst her bubble, but it seemed like a bunch of gobbledegook. Back in her day, going to church every Sunday used to be enough. But now everybody and their brother had some new lamebrained theory or philosophy they were pushing. Years ago, you used to have to wait until someone asked you to write a book, but now with self-publishing, every wing nut in America was writing one. Ethel thought that maybe she should write one. She had a philosophy, too. She even had a title: Fools and Idiots I Have Known or Have Been Married To. Her theory was very simple: there wasn’t a thing the matter with the world, just the people in it. They never learned, and they just kept doing the same damned stupid things over and over again. Animals were fine, but all humans were fools. Herself included, or she wouldn’t have married Earl in the first place.

  The Kate Spade Affair

  8:57 A.M.

  March 15

  ON SATURDAY MORNING, BRENDA AND HER SISTER TONYA WERE AT the factory outlet mall for the annual Kate Spade March Madness handbag sale. They had arrived at five A.M. to make sure they got in the front of the line, and by seven, the line was already around the block, with women waiting to stampede through the store and grab as many bags as they could. When the doors finally opened at eight, Brenda shouted for Tonya to go to the left, and she would go to the right. Brenda had been rushing around the store for about ten minutes when she began to feel ill. She felt a burning pain in her chest; she was hot and sweaty and was suddenly having trouble breathing. She should have gone home, but this was a once-a-year sale, so instead, she ran in the ladies room and threw cold water on her face and headed back out again. When she did, she caught a glimpse of her sister across the room, and Tonya held up a bright red bag in triumph, and Brenda started over to that side of the store to try to find one just like it. She needed a red bag, too.

  MEANWHILE, ACROSS TOWN at Avon Terrace, Maggie was busy with her last-minute details again. Finally, after weeks of waiting, her deposition and all the paperwork involving the wreck had been completed, and yesterday, the Conways had called and said that the insurance company had finally agreed to cover all the costs of the fence and a new sign. When Maggie had heard from them, she had gone back to the river, this time with her snakebite kit in hand, and left all her jumping-in-the-river items.

  Yesterday, she had ordered a car to pick up a Mrs. Tab Hunter at eight-thirty in the mid
dle of the block. Maggie had been up since seven, and now all that was left for her to do was put out the package with her Miss Alabama crown, sash, and trophy for Audrey and a box with her new clothes labeled for the theater out in plain sight, where they could be seen.

  She had paid off her credit card, and yesterday she had put her last check for half of the commission on Crestview in the mail to Babs.

  She made the bed and checked off the last items on her list. Clean towels in the bathroom, new soaps in all the soap dishes, ant traps under the sink. She then went back to the kitchen and put the “To Whom It May Concern” envelope and the envelope addressed to Lupe with the watch and, this time, one thousand dollars in cash on the kitchen counter, and did a last look around the room. She realized that after today, the two envelopes would be all that was left of her.

  All she had now was just enough money to pay for the cab ride to the river. Oh, well. At least she hadn’t left owing money, and that was something, she guessed. She then unplugged the toaster and the microwave oven and locked the kitchen door. She grabbed her purse and went down the hall to the front door. But when she tried to open the outer glass door, it wouldn’t budge. Something heavy stood in the way. She looked down and saw a huge cardboard box with a card taped to the top, addressed to her from Sweet Home Alabama Goat Farm. Oh, Lord. How had they gotten in the gate? It was too early for mail, so the gardeners must have put it on her stoop, thinking they were doing her a favor. She reached down and opened the card; inside was a photo of Leroy the goat, along with a note.

  Dear Maggie,

  I am so glad you are alive and not hurt. Please come out and see me again soon. I miss you. The Conways send their love and said to tell you thank you for all you did to help them with the insurance claim.

 
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