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daisy's halcyon days

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By Louise Bialik

Thanksgiving at the Albertses last year hardly mattered to new waved Molly. She was then too preoccupied with thoughts about leaving Eureka's dogwooded countryside for trendy adventures in Manhattan to notice any unusual behavior at home. Had she turned from daydreaming for a moment to listen to her cousin's yapping at the dinner table, she might have better understood what Cousin Janie meant when toying, "Mama has a new man!" But Molly, who believed this to be untrue and odd for good Catholic folk such as the Albertses considered otherwise when her uncle, who was within ear shot, began to nod.

"Yeh, yeh," small boned Uncle Bud wheezed through his oxygen mask-- "Your aunt's got a new man alright and I'm better off for it. After supper we'll move her down to the shop and that'll be the end of this nonsense." His words provoked Daisy, who meant to kick her husband's leg under the table but got their crippled dalmation, Scattbutt instead. Scattbutt whelped as he had been gnawing on his scabby paws and was taken by surprise. "There, there, Scatbutt," Daisy mewed, petted his wet fur then scolded Buddy for leaving the durned dog inside. But Bud laughed and blew her a kiss to which she intercepted with a left handed clutch and fixed its trace to her behind. "You'll always love me, Buddy." Bud nodded, pushed his empty plate to the center of the table and began to mess with his lumps.

For twen-ty years Bud's habit of fiddling with those pink lumpy arms of his made fair-haired Daisy irritable. The first lump premiered on their 10th wedding anniversary party and became the focal point of conversation which year after year remained the topic of table talk: "Thirty whole years together, imagine it" all their kin remarked and would immediately shift to the boil count on Bud's arms to say, "You really should get that checked out, Bud." But Bud didn't care. He was well over fifty and looking miserably sixty-something, had chronic emphysema, tubes up his nose and continued to hide the fact that he smoked and hadn't one bit of interest to see any doctor. Often he feigned deafness whenever Daisy whined, "stop it stop it," and being the rebel that he was, dug deeper, taking pleasure in witnessing his wife's irritable winces. Thus his lumps grew from "one to two" to a dozen on each arm which his wife publicly nicknamed "Buddy's buddies" at their 30th anniversary dinner and evened the score. Yet this made Bud feel all the more right about marrying her for he adored a good laugh and boasted, "If it hadn't have been for Elvis, my wife wouldn't have become such a joker. Do you know that she dated the King when she was a kid?" Bud and Daisy's family loved this story. Some half believed it to be true and some half believed it to be Daisy's imagination running wild. Regardless, the story of Daisy sharing pie with Elvis made the Alberts lungs sting with laughter and brought Daisy back to the old wound of wondering where her life would have been had she stayed with Elvis for coffee.

Sometimes in the stillest of evenings Daisy Albert would hear Elvis repeat, "What are you having?" Then feel him leaning in, whispering "that looks awfully decent." The very word "decent" would endlessly reverberate a thousand times in her thoughts, and she would replay the image of crushed ice floating in soda, the large cafeteria clock on the wall struck at 1:30, the lightly soiled napkin which she tried to conceal from this dark stranger. He was a man who seemed to read her insides so well, and possessed a special vocabulary to utter a word like "decent." Daisy felt many connections to "decent," and "decency," and anyone who spoke her privately loved words became an instant, trusted friend. Yet Daisy's father cautioned against making acquaintances with men outside of church, and so she had excused herself, only to learn the next day that a famous radio personality by the name of Elvis asked for her phone number. "I'm sorry Mr Presely, but if you want to call Daisy you'll have to meet her father at St Benedict's this Sunday. They're strict Catholic people." The waitress is rumored to have said, to which Elvis replied, "Shucks, Ma'm, my mama wants me to date Baptists." And so Daisy missed her chance with Elvis but became the legendary Queen of Eureka County for her popular loss, thanks to Bud Alberts reliving the tale, anniversary after anniversary.

A year passed and no one knew how it went like that, but after many late night calls from Missouri to New York, the world of Daisy Alberts transformed into a most desired storyline for Molly who was busily suturing it into a schtick for her performance art routine. Prior to last year's Thanksgiving get-together which Molly enjoyed since orphanhood (when her biological mother went to prison for armed robbery), the charity of the Albertses seemed dull and predictable until Aunt Daisy took up a lover. From what Molly gathered when chatting with her aunt into the wee hours of the morning, all of Eureka county, population 324, had become jealously mad on the morning of Halloween when Daisy's secret lover broke silence and revealed himself, live, on air that he was one "most tender loving hound dog under the spell of the Sassy Gal beautician," and must dedicate the song "You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings" because it said all the things his heart was "too stunned to utter."

Daisy's clients, all three who were pinned, primming and permming in the very nice spaceaged hairdryer chairs, heard with their own ears this dedication and became convinced that D.J. Jay was indeed real, not imaginary, and happened to sound southernly sexy, manly, warm, seductive and dark haired. Not just dark haired but blueblack jethaired. And slick. Very slick.

The women whispered and began goading-- "Oh Daisy, I don't know how you managed to leave a fine man like Bud, but your Jay sounds like Burt Bacharach.! How did you meet him? Tell us everything from the beginning!" Sally Dee queried.

Daisy pulled an hair pin out of her mouth and stuck it into one of the many small silver curls that lay dumb on Mrs Dee's head. Daisy winked and shook her head No to Mrs Dee's question. This love was too private and personal. But with the cat was out of the bag, Daisy now felt it necessary to close shop. There were thirty-seven days left to tie up lose strings as it was more now than never to return to sender, so after brushing her clients doos into respectable styles, Daisy said, "No charge" and showed them the door. Then with great joy in her heart, set the CLOSED sign in the front window. Once Mrs Dee got home, she phoned Bud and asked for Janie. "Janie Honey," Mrs Dee said, "Your mama is going nuts."

The "Now or Never" signals reached Daisy's daughter who intuitively began ciphering her mother's newly acquired jock jive which was half-born from radio commercial sound bytes and half-born from encrypted automobile license plates. It was a little odd and strange. No one knew what to make of it when Daisy began to laugh at passing cars. At first Janie thought her mother was commenting on funny bumper stickers, but then soon learned that her mother was decoding licenses for secret messages sent from D.J Jay. Of all things! This funny behavior was also observed by Daisy's beauty patrons, and being the small town that Eureka was, found a lively place in tavern gossip, which in turn circulated back to the K-KEA radio jockey. When D.J. Jay heard the whole story of Daisy's love affair fantasy and the historical heartbreak of being so close to romance with Elvis, he was stunned. Yet in thinking that Daisy needed to be "let down nicely," D.J. Jay decided to play along, and without her knowing, contributed to the fantasy. Janie was in the dark about D.J. Jay's intentions. She had tuned into radio K-KEA and heard his song dedications to her mother, but being the good daughter that she was, felt it necessary to stay out of her mother's business. There was a part of her that didn't want to reckon with the chance that her parents would be soon splitting up. And it was rough goings to figure out what was happening to her mother now that she was living full time in the beauty shop, sleeping in the dressing room and bathing in those fuschia shampooing sinks. Dad was lonely but adjusted well thanks to Janie's homecooking and housecleaning, and he felt proud and grateful for having raised such a good daughter. All Janie wanted out of this was a resolution for her parents but she was just beginning to understand the information, which came in piecemeal during those drives to the city mall. On one such occasion to Rexall's in Labadie for a refill of her mother's Halycon nerve medicine, Janie got more than she imagined when her mother revealed the secret language of Love.

"Love's language," Daisy breathishly intonated, "isn't bound by words but freed by feeling. When you feel, you are There. The world is You. Songs are sung, and men are meant to sing, this is what '2YG367' means. This is the Show Me State and Jay has shown me a love that doesn't know gravity. You know I love you, don't you darling?" "Mama, what are you trying to say? You know I know you love me."

"Well Honey, my love is Everlasting. Something wonderful is going to happen, is happening. It's in Alaska." Daisy smiled and looked at her watch. She was completely happy and for the first time, for a certain moment, Janie believed her mother entirely, then sighed.

Janie eased her father's old blue Buick into a drive-thru diner and breaked for its cheery clown head. "What would you like, Mama?" Janie asked before the clown wondered. "I'll have a fat free frozen yogurt and a large diet coke." Daisy spoke to the vanity mirror. Janie turned her head to the clown, "Good. That's what I want." The clown head squelched, "Are you ready to take your order?" Janie answered, "Yes, sir. We'll have two soft serves and two large diet cokes."

"That'll be $4.20 with tax. Pull up to the window."

"Pull up to the window," Daisy mused to herself. "Windows are doors. It's what we pass to get somewhere. Can you remember that? You need to know which way to go. When the time comes, you'll have to be ready. Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mama. Your order is coming."

"It most certainly is."

Janie interpreted her mother's code system as a symptom of some kind of unnamed nervous breakdown and quit dental hygiene school, moved out of the Via Della Rosa trailer park and back into her old room. While sifting through the mail she found a stack of unopened bills and discovered that her mother wrote Not At This Address on many envelops and forwarded them to Bud. One bill totaled nearly $600 dollars in calls to the 212 area code and this sparked a curious envy which amazed Janie as she generally felt compassion for her cousin who was, although a few years older, less mature and terribly unstable and would probably, most likely find trouble in New York. Such was the case for Aunt Deb whom no one spoke of since the jailing when Molly was but nine and adopted by Grandma. Yet Grandma took sick and died but a few years ago, leaving Molly with some money for college. Yet money was hard to come by. Every dime had to be counted and Janie wondered if somehow her cousin was aware of Mama's new poverty now that she was living in the beauty salon and cut off from Bud's allowances. Just thinking of how her cousin could stay on the phone like that made Janie feel hot in the face, so she decided to put her foot down.

Janie drew in a deep breath and dress rehearsed the words she would have to get out quickly because she knew Molly inherited Grandma's Radio Shack answering machine, but not realizing it, Janie pressed the speed dial by accident and was well on her way. Quickly she had to speak her peace: "Mama keeps calling you. I know it. Six-hundred in phone. If you love her you let her be let her come -" But the beep came and she was in no mood for a redial or rephrasing.

Later that evening Janie got a call from Molly. "Hi Janie, it's me." Molly said to her cousin. "Molly, I'm very unhappy with you right now," Janie replied. Then they got to talking about the big phone bill which Molly explained happened on account of Aunt Daisy calling drunk every night, sobbing on how it wasn't working with Jay because all he could do was send cars with secret messages in the license plates. "So you knew and didn't say anything?" Janie asked. "Yes, I'm sorry, but your mom is my aunt and I swore on oath to keep secret. I thought I was helpful by being her friend but I don't think I can handle it. It

was funny at first. I even thought she needed to have Jay because he made her feel alive, loved, but you know what? There isn't even a Jay. The only man in her life is Uncle Bud."

Janie took in another deep breath and asked her cousin to repeat what she just said. "Yes, there is no man in your mama's life but Uncle Bud. She's in a weird headspace. I don't know what it is, maybe the drinking. Do you think you could call AA or something?" Janie laughed at this, "Molly, we if call any of those people they'll come for all of us. It's the last thing we need and Daddy would be mad." "Guess your right," Molly responded then let the whole thing out:

"Jay is Elvis."

"What? You can't be serious," Janie pleaded.

"Yes. Jay is Elvis."

Thirty-two summers ago in the St Louis County's electric light district of Cherokee, young Daisy dreamily sipped ginger beer on a burgundy swivel stool at Woolworth's five and dime. She frequently wore a lovely beige chenille sweater that complimented her stove piped skirt of the same tone. Noon times at Woolworth's offered Daisy a comfortable hour away from her lessons at Meremac's Cosmopolitan Institute and offered her the finest ladies' day journals she enjoyed reading for free. This was her favorite soda fountain as this was the place where she learned to find her own thoughts away from other folk, but mostly, she enjoyed Woolworth's because this was the place where she met Elvis Aaron Presley and fell madly, madly in love.

Beautiful Elvis was a handsome young man and had the physique of a Roman Olympian athlete and soothing voice of a gentle Egyptian prince. He didn't speak to Daisy at first, just flirted with his dark eyes, unzipped his red suede jacket and pretended to have trouble reading the menu. "Sugar," he said to her, "that looks awfully decent. What are you having?" "Root beer pop," she giggled, not knowing who the young man was as her father was a strict Catholic man and forbade his daughters from listening to the radio. The handsome stranger moved down the bar and made himself home on the stool next to Daisy's. This made her face instantly flush and she tried very hard to conceal the effect of her racing heart. "You're very pretty," he said, and then whispered lowly into her ear, "I go by the name of Elvis. What's yours?" "Daisy," she whispered back, "Daisy Whitall." "Well nice to meet your acquaintance, Miss Whitall. It is Miss, right?" He winkishly prodded and took her hand in his with a very warm carress. Such contact made Daisy burst into a nervous giggle, "Yes! Yes! Good heavens it is Miss. I'm only nineteen." "Well Miss Whitall, I hope you will do me the honor and have a pie with me." But in seeing the clock on the wall was struck at 1:30, Daisy had to apologize and bid a pleasant thanks and parting for her lunch hour was now over and she had to return to Meremac's for a lesson in bleaching.

"Awfully sorry, Mr Preseley, but if I'm late to class, my instructor will mark me down and I can't allow that to happen just now," she said, and began hunting for a dime in her purse. "Please allow me. My treat," Elvis said and then called for the waitress to order a slice of American Cobbler with two scoops of vanilla ice cream. Daisy left but would return Monday to Saturday with the hope that she would see this fine man once more, but he never returned until recently.

The air was unseasonably warm and stiff this November, and per her cousin's urging, Molly bought a round trip flight to St Louis a week earlier than planned. Molly wasn't exactly sure if Aunt Daisy really believed that Elvis was alive and living in Alaska and on his way to Eureka where he hosted a radio show for one which he personally transmitted by satellite over the Aurora Borealis. It seemed quite silly since the famous entertainer died four years before by drug overdose, however, Aunt Daisy made a convincing story-- Elvis faked his death so that he could be free to roam where he liked and do as he pleased. He could successfully hide all these years because he had a ranch in Alaska and had a warehouse with every imaginable product known to man and named by Adam. Daisy told her niece, "Elvis's manager made him give me up because I was just a country girl and would have been bad for publicity, that's how it was back then, but now that Elvis is a man there's no one who can tell him what to do."

And there was no one to argue with Daisy on this one either. Daisy had thrown herself completely into her faith that Elvis was on his way to take her to Alaska that she slept for only thirty minutes a day, cutting and sewing evening gowns to wear on their lune de miel. She steam ironed the many dresses and gently placed them in old Famous and Barr gift boxes which she had saved for some ten or twelve Christmases. She would need a gown for every evening and could not wear the same gown twice in a row, so she would need a gown for every other day and there were thirty days in the month of November, April, June and September, all the others had thirty-one but February. She repeated this to herself and kept a flow chart of her progress. Her industriousness paid off the second week into production for she had achieved the sewing of fifteen gowns. By then there was a knock at the door from her first visitor in weeks.

"Aunt Daisy, are you there? It's me, Molly." A small voice squeeled from outside. Daisy straightened her blouse with a quick tug at the hem and then peered through a hole in the dark velvet sheets which she had nailed over the windows last month. "Molly, is that you?" She asked. "Yes, Aunt Daisy, it's me, all the way from New York. Why aren't you calling me anymore?" Daisy sighed and shook her head, opened the door and gestured for her twiggish niece to find a seat at the hairdryer station. "Aunt Daisy," said Molly who was very much relieved to cross the locked door, "I have been worried sick about you. What's going on? Why all these suitcases? Are you going away somewhere?" With a very slow start, Daisy began to explain to her niece the facts of life and the importance of brushing after every meal. "You need to take care of your teeth. Once the teeth go, that's the end of your health. I need to hear you tell me that you'll remember to floss." Molly took a survey of the room and noticed department store frames hosting photographic images of Elvis Preseley all over the walls and shelves which previously held beauty supplies. "Aunt Daisy, I need to ask you something."

"Sure thing, honey. What is it?"

"Has Elvis been here to see you? Have you seen Elvis?"

"Molly, all I can tell you is that he's on his way. You might even get a chance to meet him. He's such a nice man, and he's coming to fly me to Alaska in his own plane. Did you know the man can fly a plane?"

Molly stared earnestly into her arm and without even thinking began to pick at a flea bite. "If you do that," her aunt said, "you'll end up like your uncle... Can you imagine that? Thirty years with the King of Carbuncles. Do you think it's been easy to look at that? I have cooked and cleaned and gave Buddy everything, now God is delivering me my miracle--" and with that said, there was a knock at the door.

"See? He's here now! He's come to take me to Alaska!" Aunt Daisy screamed excitedly.

"Go get him, hurry! Hurry!" She pleaded to Molly.

Molly sprung to her feet and darted for the door which magically opened inward and slammed hard against her forehead, knocking her cold. "Dear God, she's dead!" Aunt Daisy cried and then began to convulse. The shadow followed by another shadow on the other side of the door made themselves known.

"Daddy!" Janie gasped, "Mama's having an heart attack and Molly's on the floor!" Just then, with heroic strength, Bud flew to his wife, wrapped his arms around her waist and carried her to an open dryer chair, dragging his oxygen tubes that dangled free from the air tank. "Check Molly to see if she's breathing," he ordered to his daughter who then bent over and listened to her cousin's mouth. "Yes, she is. She's just out cold. I'll call 911," Janie said.

Taking off Daisy's shoes, Bud elevated his wife's feet and began to rub them with the hope that after all the years he rejected her requests for massages that this one time would bring his wife back, "Oh my darling," Buddy said to Daisy, "Hang on. Hang on." And he felt no pain from breathing regular air.

Janie returned to Molly's side and noticed her left cheek twitching. "Oh mercy, Molly, you've got a real shiner. You need some ice." So the young nursing student went for the mini-fridge and pulled out the only icy thing-- a two year old beefsteak. Moments later, Molly blinked her eyes and called out Elvis' name, to which her ecstatic cousin rejoiced, "Daddy! Molly is waking."

Uncle Bud walked a few paces, removed the tubes that dangled from his nose, then lifted his niece off the floor, saying, "You can call me Elvis if you want." Janie helped by gathering her father's tubes and tank. "Daddy," she said, "you really need to get this back on at once." For the first time in two years, Bud felt physically free. There are wild stories of young mothers in car accidents made able to lift automobiles off their loved ones, and Bud Alberts, on the eve of his wife's honeymoon with Elvis, was an umber mensch. "Janie," he said, "I can breath just fine," and moved Molly next to Daisy's slumped frame. "This isn't a comfortable place to rest. We need some bedding," he commented and began to hunt for softer things. Opening the Famous and Barr boxes, he found the gowns which he dumped on the floor to make a colorful, chiffon nest. "There you go, my darlings," he said sweetly and carried his wife, then niece to softer ground. When the paramedics arrived, the rescuers gave a double take and began their treatments. From what Captain Steven Irons told Janie Alberts, "Your cousin has suffered a mild concussion and may have amnesia, so be forwarned."

Accordingly, while under the influence of the big green door, Janie was pleasantly dreaming of herself as the young Miss Daisy Whitall, and yes, oh yes, while coming to, her young Elvis Presley did arrive: The strong, dark haired male attendant treating Molly complimented her and became in her vision a debonair gentleman. When placing his tender hand to her cheek to examine her abrasions, Molly felt a sudden electrical charge burst from her toes to her red roots. Her eyes sparked and for an instant flashed golden flecks in her hazel irises. "You have very pretty eyes," her rescuer said. This aroused fierce passions in the delirious Molly who then threw her arms about Captain Irons' neck and began to kiss him earnestly. "O Elvis, Dear Elvis! How I've waited for you. Thirty years! You can't know! You can't know!"

Captain Irons politely withdrew Molly from his firm chest, and taking her hand in his, escorted her to the ambulance. Turning to his partner who was safely strapping Daisy into the ambulance bed, Steven Irons said, "I think I like this girl."

Three weeks later, on Christmas Eve, Molly and Steven Irons made a proper visit to Daisy Alberts who was now out of a coma and able to suck semi-solids from a long straw.

Daisy's physical therapist was training her to use the left arm to the best of her ability now that her whole right side was paralysed by the sudden stroke. While standing beside her brave aunt, Molly overheard Doctor Martin comment to the therapist that he had found traces of epileptic seizures in the MRI readings-- he was about to ask Daisy a question but in seeing that she was drooling, turned to Molly and asked whether her aunt had exhibited any unusual behavior within the last year.

"Well doctor," Molly started, "for a time my aunt believed that she was having a romance with Elvis Presley."

The good doctor nodded his head and said, "Delusional thought brought upon by blood clotting. The clot starts out very small and gradually builds up, eventually pressing against your aunt's cerebral cortex, giving her these hallucinations. The clot will either do two things-- burst and cause internal bleeding which we hope not, or-- pass, clearing with a stroke such as she had. Which is what we hope for. I see no impending threat. The danger has lifted. And as for those Elvis thoughts,... people who suffer from blood clots often see the strangest things."

"Is that right?" The therapist jumped in to flirt with the very single and very good looking Dr Martin. Yes, he nodded and continued, "It happens more frequently than we know and could explain for lots of craziness in the world." With his analysis for the day complete, Dr Martin excused himself, hung up the chart on the outside of the door and patted Steven's shoulder. Steven smiled, and said, "See ya later, Frank." Nurse Helen melted, then returning to Daisy's attention, asked her "Was it true, Mrs Alberts? Were you ever friends with The King?"

Daisy moaned and tried to pull at the tube buried deep down her throat.

"Now you just keep all that nice dinner coming to you" Nurse Helen told Mrs Alberts and then turned her attention to Molly to ask "What happened with your aunt?"

Molly felt put on the spot with her new boyfriend there, but Steve explained to Nurse Helen that Molly herself had trouble explaining things since she lost an hour of memory when hitting her head on the door on the night her aunt had the stroke. "You don't say?" Nurse Helen remarked, "was there some kind of party going on?"

"No Nurse," said Molly who then looked at Daisy and witnessed Daisy shaking her head side to side in agreement.

The awkward moment had to be cleared, so Steven light heartedly expressed that Molly's amnesia paid off because they were now dating. This put Nurse Helen into bits. Molly laughed, too. Apprarently Molly thought pretty highly of this Mr Irons because she abandoned everything in New York to move home with Janie. "When love comes," Janie said, "it's a miricale. I would be missing out on a great thing if I stayed in SoHo." "If that don't beat all," the Nurse replied.

For Molly this was the best Christmas ever, and she wished Janie and Uncle Bud were there to see Aunt Daisy all awake and able to suck apple sauce without complaining. Just then Uncle Bud and Janie poked their heads around the Christmas carded door frame. Bud stepped back for a second, making a loud bang with his air tank. "Why just don't stand on the other side," the Nurse implored, "Come in. Come in."

"Well," Bud sheepishly replied. "I kinda did a bad thing. I brought our dog. Hope you don't mind."

"Lord, Mr Alberts. You know the hospital rules. But seeing this is Christmas, come on in and bring the dog."

Steve Irons shook Bud's hand, "it's a good thing you brought your tank."

"Well," Bud started, "to be truthful, I think I'm allergic to Scattbutt."

Bud laughed and released old Scattbutt to let him lick Daisy's toes. "Go get her, Scattbutt, go getcher Mama!" Then a miricale happened: "Oh, Scattbutt,. It's good to see you," Aunt Daisy whispered with tubes down her throat. "Did you hear that?" Janie smiled with tears in her eyes, "Mama is talking again!"

Such warm words continued to gleam and glow throughout the holiday evening, and this brought color into eyes of Walter "Bud" Alberts as he stayed by his wife's side. There was love all about. The bright pointestias overtook the yellowed walls and enshrined everyone in glorious feelings.

"Oh sweetheart," Bud said, "It's great to have you back!"

"Me too," answered Daisy.

Copyright 1999 
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