Melody Parker entered the living room from the kitchen, felt the baby kick so hard she had to grab hold of the door frame. Her mother witnessed this, saw Melody’s hand pressed palm to stomach, saw Melody’s face pale, and became concerned.
“Want to sit down, Precious?” Jane smoothed a pillow lying next to her on the couch. “Here, right here, come on, sit next to me.”
Melody wobbled over and fell with relief into the soft cushions. Jane put out her cigarette.
“That’s better, Precious. You have to take care now. He could come out at any time.”
At that exact moment a flood of clear liquid gushed from between Melody’s legs and she cried, “Ohmigod! I think he’s coming now.”
Jane leaped to her feet and grabbed the telephone from the low table in front of her. She frantically dialed 911 saying to her daughter, “Just sit there Precious. I’m calling an ambulance.” Into the mouthpiece she gave her name and address, asked, then demanded paramedics get there immediately. But before they could arrive, the baby was born.
The widow mumbled incantations, practiced her peculiar brand of Catholic voodoo over what the paramedics who finally arrived said resembled a Santeria ritual birth as Milo Parker came kicking and screaming into the world. It was a messy beginning which left a stain on the living room carpet. As a toddler, Milo would point this out to any visitor and say proudly, “That’s where I was born.” Melody never denied, always confirmed this.
Melody’s mother was her father’s second, much younger wife. Both marriages produced a litter of three. Melody was the sixth, born when her father was 60.
As the last child, Melody was never disciplined. She was her mother’s favorite, made in her image Jane used to remark, and by then the father was just not the authoritarian figure he once had been. As a result, Melody rebelled. At 14 she ran away from home and nine months later gave away the first child she had out of wedlock. Although all five of her siblings received college degrees, Melody never graduated high school, had no marketable skills other than her good looks and a nice figure. By the time Milo was born Melody was 17 and had a new boyfriend who was not Milo’s biological father.
Melody lived with Jane who scratched out an existence at a local coffee shop and had a three pack a day habit. They never asked for or received social welfare benefits. Melody held a series of low paying service jobs as a seamstress, a cake maker, a beautician until she was old enough to work bars as a cocktail waitress. She raised Milo with Jane until her mother died thirteen years after Milo came into the world.
“Smoked herself to death,” Melody explained to her sister. The condo was sold and the money divided among Jane’s three children. But there was an entirely other family Melody was a member of: Her father’s offspring by his first wife.
As Milo grew, Melody allowed her half brothers, unmarried with no children of their own who were much older, successful and lived on the West Coast, to pamper Milo. After all, she turned them into uncles over night. They referred to Milo as “The October Surprise” and every summer took him sailing on the Pacific which was 1,591 miles to the left of where he was born.
* * *
Guests at the memorial service were greeted with a shot of Irish whisky in a small cup which they were encouraged to down in one go. It was ten in the morning on a Friday and among the three hundred mourners a few intended to return to work at some point in the day. Ah, but what the heck, a toast to Steve whose life turned out to be important to so many.
The two sisters and three brothers were told they would share the estate which was substantial. Steve had against all odds founded a publishing empire. They were sad for their loss, but a twenty-year old will named them and Steve’s step-mother, Jane, who had pre-deceased him. So, by California law, the executor apportioned the estate not in fifths but in sixths and one of those sixths was divided among Jane’s three surviving children.
No medical examination could adequately explain why Steve’s great big beautiful generous heart stopped, but it did. He was 56.
The five were grateful for having won the lottery. However, near the end of the farewell ceremony it was clear they were not going to agree on much of anything. An undertow of resentment, one against the other, threatened to suck outsiders beneath the surface if they got too close. Which no one could, of course, because each sibling had an ego the size of a jumbo jet. None was able to share a room with another, let alone see their point of view. They even argued over who felt the greater loss.
Melody and Milo sat together in the front row close beside her half brother, Milo’s uncle Marcus, who took the stage first. Next, the military brother rose, was stoic and shed no tears as he recounted tales about Steve. Jane’s other daughter, Marjorie, was able to make wise observations about Steve from the dais while the oldest of the surviving five was inconsolable and unable to speak in front of the gathering.
“Get away from me. I’m not talking to you,” Marcus told Todd when he was sure he would not be overheard by any of the black arm-banded friends of their deceased brother.
Todd replied, “You think your grief is larger than mine? I just wish you and I were close enough to be estranged.”