He stood with his suitcase gazin at the green home with yellow shutters, and window boxes crammed with geraniums. Its wide porch with four pillars featured a swing where as many as three people could dangle their old swollen legs. House looked to be well over a hundred years old.
Daisy and Jack invested well. Freaks always made more money than norms, at least till the sixties before it become incorrect, but midgets and dwarfs worked on, cause they wasn’t too scary lookin.
The home with a rail leadin up to the veranda reminded him of all the times he passed by in trucks and trains thankful he never had to settle down in one place, made life hard for the wives, cept for Alice, who divorced him cause he was still married to Betty. And kids? Well, he ain’t sure how many he done fathered. None never showed up on his doorstep, course he never had a doorstep, till ’05, the year they made him retire.
He trudged up the walkway. It'd be three years since he last seen his girl. He come down for Jack’s funeral and what a spectacle it turned into, musta been more ex-carnies and circus folk there than in Gibtown; fire-eaters, sword swallowers, even a Wallenda showed up, tights an all. But Jack was no ordinary midget. He was a magician, an entertainer, a munchkin in the Wizard of Oz, so charmin he could con a con and how he loved shootin craps. Billy chuckled, just thinkin bout his friend Jack.
Sure enough, Billy’s pants sagged in the butt and his shirt forced its way out of his belt. If only he could turn back into that tall blond stud with light blue eyes that drove women loco. Ah shit, least he was alive and not in some sick home like Daisy. He held onto the railin and shuffled up the porch steps.
Billy tucked in his shirttails, he unstuck his hat from his sweaty head and steered a comb over his damp scanty hairs.
He rang the bell.
A black woman opened the door dressed in white pants and a lime-green jacket. “Why, you must be Mr. Luck.”
“That’s me, Billy.”
“Well, Miss Daisy is having a rough day, but seeing you will lift her spirits.”
Billy wondered. She was a tightfisted little mother, always lecturin him on savin his dough. Comin down for her funeral woulda been enough money spent. But callin him before and spendin more bucks to come down after she died? Musta had somethin to do with that night, and gitten religion an all.
“Leave your suitcase and hat here in the lobby. Ruben will take it up.”
Billy stepped into a foyer with a tall potted palm tree next to a narrow table. There was a stairway in front of him and on either side the ground floor fanned out to where he couldn’t see no more, just the fronds of palm trees wavin from the air-conditionin. The place seem all spick-and-span.
“We have your room ready for you. It’s on the third floor.”
“Hope I don’t have to walk up no steps.”
“Lord have mercy! You wouldn’t find me walking up three flights of stairs. No, Mr. Luck, we had an elevator put in years ago.”
“I’d like to see Daisy, right soon. An call me, Billy.”
“Sure, Mr. Billy.”
He smiled at Geneva callin him Mr. Billy.
“We’re going to have dinner in couple of hours. Would you like to join us in the dining room?”
“That sounds right nice, ma’am.”
“Let’s go see Miss Daisy.”
Billy followed Geneva past the stairway. The house seemed bigger on the inside.
He passed a room where people watched TV with a piano off to the side, and several white-haired ladies sat on a couch. Three old geezers played cards at a table, lookin like waxworks they did, till one of em eyed Billy—the scrape of emptiness passin between em.
“How sick is she?” Billy asked.
“She’s had hospice this morning. She ate some and that’s a good sign.”
“How long she gonna live?”
“Months, maybe weeks.”
“Can ya fix her with chemo?”
“Mr. Billy,” Geneva said, pausing at the doorway, “Miss Daisy refuses to have any more chemo.”
“She got tubes and needles in her?”
“No. We’re keeping her as comfortable as we can. She’s a spirited soul.”
“She always been stubborn. Her sickness got anythin to do with her bein little?”
“Not that I know of. But she’s eighty, that’s a long life.”
“Don't seem long enough even when you’s ancient like me,” Billy mumbled.
He followed Geneva though a courtyard with hangin ferns the size of bushes and flower beds, all kinds, roses, pansies, other plants and colors he didn’t know the names of, all of em shootin toward the sky.
A fountain splashed down into a small pool. Billy wiped his upper lip with his handkerchief. “My that water looks invitin,” he said.
“We have a pool. Guest are allowed to swim. If you’d like.”
“Oh I don’t look so good in trunks.” Billy chuckled. “Used to,” he added.
“Well, if you change your mind we have bathing suits for our guests.”
“Don’t think so,” he said.
Billy tried to keep up so’s not to look feeble.
Geneva stopped at a door, knocked and inched it open. “Miss Daisy, Mr. Luck is here.” Geneva pushed the door open for Billy to enter.
A sweet sickly smell like hamburger goin bad greeted him as he took a step inside. He’d been so eager to see her but sometimes emotions made him feel lost, runnin blind into nowhere.
Through the cracked door he saw a child’s dresser with pictures on it, a kid’s table and a small chair.
“You okay, Mr. Billy?”
“Oh, I git all sorts of tummy problems.”
He went into the room. There on a child’s bed he saw his old friend, tiny, scrunched and shriveled, her white-blonde hair thin and dull. She looked at him.
Not movin no further, he stood in the middle of the room wonderin what to say, what to do, how to bring cheer to his friend who was dyin.
He turned to Geneva. “I wanna be alone with her.”
Geneva nodded and closed the door.
Billy swallowed containin his sorrow. He felt that sudden grab that never left him alone when in Daisy’s presence, it wedded him to her like no other woman ever done. But he never seen her lookin so bad. She always wore make-up, fixed her hair, a real looker, presentin herself like a lady.
“You look swell, Daisy.” Course bullshit was like breathin for Billy.
“Liar,” she rasped.
“Ah, you gonna be okay. Bet you just layin there sick-like cause you want me to feel sorry for ya.” His jokin fell flat. “Everyone treatin you good? Geneva looks to be a right nice colored gal.”
“African American,” Daisy said.
“I forgit. Use black most of the time. Miss talkin on the phone but git your letters. You git my postcards?”
She nodded toward the dresser.
“I keep yours too,” he said glancin round the room that was good size even for a norm.
The window with open curtains let in light, and she had a small patio with a little chair and table right outside her room.
Everythin was make-do for her. The bathroom door was half closed and he wondered if that too was re-done.
“There’s something,” the effort to talk took her breath.
“Oh, I know you git religion and all,” Billy said, raisin his palms up. “You gonna preach, well I ain’t interested.”
“Well, can’t be just a good-bye. You too practical for that. So’s if you lookin for me to ask forgiveness for what I done to Mason or somethin, I ain’t gonna do it.”
Daisy rolled her eyes. “Stupid, old goat.”
Billy turned his right ear toward her. “Whatchu say?”
She shook her head. He’d seen that same scorn in her eyes when she thought he or Jack said somethin dumb.
“I heard ya.”
He felt his cheeks burn. He done read her wrong, bet she never give that night another thought. Daisy moved on, while it tailed him the rest of his life. Billy blew troubled air through his mouth. He was angry at himself, lettin Daisy know that night lived with him right up to now.
“Took a portion of my social security check to come down to see ya, so’s whatchu want?”
She struggled to sit up. Billy come over to help but she shooshed him away.
“Open the top dresser drawer,” she said in a weak voice. “There’s an envelope—for you, under the garments.”
“You want me to poke around in your girlie things?”
Billy shuffled over to the dresser and crouched down first on one knee then the other. He saw pictures of Jack as a young man, another of Daisy lookin gorgeous in a black dress. He picked up one of the three of them together taken back in the seventies. “Look at us then,” he said, turnin to Daisy. “That was taken the day Abner’s magic trick backfired and the dove done flown out of his fly.” Haha, haha. Billy laughed hard bringin his butt down on the heels of his tennis shoes. He glanced over at Daisy, who smiled back at him. “We seen some funny things in our time, huh, girl?”
She nodded. “The drawer,” she said in breathy voice.
Billy jiggled it open. He saw her nighties, the sheer see-through fabric. Didn’t seem right him goin through her personals, he never so much as touched Daisy, she bein special and all. He put his hand under her clothes feelin the feminine softness till he reached the envelope. He pulled it out and shut the drawer.
Billy labored as he pushed off from the dresser to git to his feet. Once standin, he spread his legs apart to balance himself, he took his glasses from his pocket, put them on and opened the envelope. He found a paper. It looked all serious with a picture of a funeral home and a payment made for $8,500. He never liked showin how ignorant he was, and that defect git him into trouble sometimes, so’s he picked up symbols to help him along. He studied the words and pictures he knew, three plots, one taken. He looked at Daisy. She done wanted him buried with her and Jack. It touched him, she wantin him near her.
“I coulda used the money it took to buy this.”
“You would have wasted it on whores.”
“Hell, nowadays thinkin bout a roof that don’t leak turns me on more than a long legged hooker.”
Billy took off his glasses. “So’s that why you called for me to come?”
“I want you buried with Jack and me.”
“That’s mighty nice, girl,” he said. “Just thought the county would come take my ole body and cremate me or somethin. Didn’t give it no thought.” He stuck the paper in his back pocket. “Never did git use to livin in one place even after ten years. Guess when we die, we don’t have much choice. Glad I’ll be with friends, least my ole bones an all.”
He went to the chair by her bed and sat down. “I hate bein old. Live in my memories I do, cause that’s where I feel safe.” He stared down at his hands, hands that once could do anythin. He kept his eyes lowered, feelin blue, sad for the way life turned on Daisy. “Least you git religion,” he said, lookin up.
Her eyes roamed his face.
“Daisy? You okay?”
“I always believed,” she whispered. “I just never talked about it.”
“Well, you full of surprises. I never knowed that. Never heard you say peep bout God till you git sick.” Billy chuckled. “You didn’t live like no Christian, stealin and all.”
“God forgave me.”
Billy figured if God was in the business of judgin he wasn’t worth glorifyin.
“The bathroom. Cabinet.” Daisy sighed. “There's a brown bottle. Bring it to me.”
“What is it?” he asked.
“Want me to git Geneva?”
“What kinda medicine?”
“Geneva give you the right dose.”
“Not the dose I want.”
He crossed his arms and tilted his head back squintin at her. “Whatchu askin me is a big deal.”
“If I could get it I would.” She winced.
He hobbled to the slidin door where he looked out on the lawn with the plastic pink flamingoes and alligator steppin stones. He gazed past the hedges, where he could see through the leaves to the pool beyond. He looked back at her. “I ain’t takin your life.”
“I’m not asking you to.” She slumped further into the pillows.
“What your maker think bout this?”
“God doesn’t want me to suffer.”
“We don’t know nothin till we die,” Billy said.
She stared at the bathroom, her lower lip juttin, gave him the silent treatment, she did.
He looked out the window thinkin bout what Daisy wanted. He saw dashes of white and printed bathing suits, people goin for a swim. He raised his hand to the curtain and pulled it all the way back as if some kinda wisdom was out there waitin, just for him.
Billy scratched his arm. He raked his neck. His whole body crawled with sadness. “Oh girl, I know you feelin bad.” He shuffled to the side of the bed. He bent so close to Daisy he smelled the rot comin off her. “You been my family. My little sister.” Billy sniffed. “Think I’m gitten a cold from all the air condition.”
“It’s a brown bottle,” she said. “Bring it.”
“Geneva gonna know I git it for you.”
“She won’t. It’s time, Billy.” Her voice sounded tinny, like comin through a pipe, it did.
Through the years he denied her nothin, the only woman who could make him walk through fire and feel privileged to do it.
He felt Daisy watchin as he crossed to the bathroom. He went inside. It was a place for norms, even the john. Billy opened the cabinet door and saw several brown bottles, two, with paper round the neck. He took the open one and went back to Daisy.
“You done planned this all along, you little con.” But Billy couldn’t be mad, just mystified at the way he was fated to this woman.
“Give me the bottle,” she whispered. “And hand me my juice.”
Billy saw the glass on her nightstand and give it to her.
She poured the medicine. She swished the morphine round and drank. “Put it back.”
Billy set the glass on the stand, returned to the bathroom and did as Daisy said. He shut the cabinet door and glimpsed his reflection, turnin away so’s not to remember the moment. Grabbin the doorknob to steady himself, he took out his handkerchief and wiped his face. He limped back to the chair. He moved it as close to the bed with him still able to sit.
“Thank you, Billy.”
Seemed his whole life got stuck in his throat. He cleared it. Coughed. “Ah girl,” he said. “I didn’t do me no favor. Who do I got now?” He reached for her tiny hand. Her frail fingers slid through his. Like a bird, she was, flying over the carnival with the merry-go-round music blarin, the Ferris wheel turnin, the people all happy cause they feelin free, in one hand they eatin cotton candy, the other holdin the hand of a sweetheart.
He let go of Daisy.
Billy done feel like his life folded, where his heart was ground into sawdust and just blowed away leavin him alone on the midway.
DC Diamondopolous is an award-winning short story and flash fiction writer with over 275 stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals, and anthologies. DC's stories have appeared in: Penmen Review, Progenitor, 34th Parallel, So It Goes: The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, Lunch Ticket, and others. DC was nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice in 2020 and also for Best of the Net Anthology in 2020 and 2017. DC’s short story collection Stepping Up is published by Impspired. She lives on the California central coast with her wife and animals. Check out dcdiamondopolous.com. DC recommends Homeless Animal Rescue Team Cambria.