Beware what you wish for
February 18, 2014 by Thomas Wictor
I was once forced into a family dispute among people I neither knew nor liked. It started when I saw a young woman sitting on the porch of a house, waiting.
The elderly man who lived there was a friend of my mother’s, so I approached and asked if there was anything wrong. My parents had recently been the victims of a home invasion, and two old ladies I knew had slipped and fallen in their houses, lying there alone for days. My fear was that Mom’s old pal hadn’t answered the door or the phone for a while.
It turned out that “Suzanne” was a relative of Mom’s buddy “Arthur.” Suzanne was worried because a middle-aged woman had moved in with Arthur, a longtime widower. Nobody knew or trusted “Betsy.” Suzanne explained that Betsy had taken Arthur off all his medications and fired his nurses and physical therapists. She’d hauled him all over the West Coast, treating him to long sight-seeing vacations even though he was on kidney dialysis.
“As soon as they come home, I’m going to confront Betsy,” Suzanne said. “Would you please stay here with me?”
I didn’t want to, but Suzanne was near tears, so I agreed. We sat for a while, talking, and then a pickup pulled into the driveway. The driver was a wrinkled, leathery woman with a pixie haircut dyed chocolate brown. She wore khaki shorts and a white T-shirt. I despised her on sight. For those who think that’s awfully judgmental of me, fine. Keep reading. And beware what you wish for.
‘Cause you know what might happen when you wish for something, right?
Arthur struggled out of the front passenger seat of the pickup and tottered over to his relative, who pleaded with him to tell her what was going on.
“Nothing’s going on,” he said. “Why are you here?”
“YES!” Betsy shouted. “WHY? WHY DO YOU KEEP HOUNDING US? HARASSING US? MAKING OUR LIVES MISERABLE? WHY? WHY?”
She was like Jon Lovitz playing the Master Thespian.
Her projection and vibrato were magnificent. She stood with one hand in front of her in a clutching gesture. Her eyes were wide and the corners of her mouth were turned down like the Mask of Tragedy.
Suzanne immediately went silent, as I knew she would. Betsy turned her tragedy mask toward me.
“Who ARE you?” she barked.
While waiting for Betsy and Arthur to arrive, Suzanne had told me how afraid she was of this woman. I found her utterly ludicrous. She was clearly a con artist who’d latched onto a lonely old man. Since I’d seen this happen before, I may as well have just walked away. Everything that would come next was preordained. But I decided to stay and perform an experiment. I wanted to see what would happen if I gave a grifter absolutely nothing to go on.
“Arthur knows me,” I said pleasantly. I imagined myself as a wooden statue, bereft of all emotions.
“He’s CeeCee’s kid,” Arthur said. “I know him. He’s a good kid.”
Betsy glared at him. Suzanne again pleaded for Arthur to tell her what was going on.
“I’ve told you over and and over. Nothing’s going on,” he said.
“Call the police, then!” Betsy trumpeted. “Call them! Bring them here! I demand it!”
“All right. I will,” Suzanne said. As she walked away, she pulled out her cell phone. Betsy flounced into the house; I got a plastic chair for Arthur, and we sat in the shade of the carport.
“Your family’s just worried about you, Arthur,” I said. “They want to make sure everything’s okay.”
“But it’s nobody’s business!” He pounded the arm of the chair as he said the last two words. “They need to leave me alone. Besides, they just want my money.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, I know. They never cared before. It was only when Betsy showed up that suddenly they started paying attention to me.”
“That’s exactly right!” Betsy yelled from behind me. She was folding a sheet. “They think such hurtful things about me!”
Without warning she started started crying like Zach Galifianakis.
“I am an herbalist!” she sobbed, slapping her chest. “A shamaness!” Whap! “An artist!” Whap! “Do you think I’d try to steal from an old man? Do you? How could you think that?”
“Well, since I don’t know you, I have no idea what you’d do.”
“I WOULDN’T!” She put down the sheet and instantly stopped crying, as though Arthur had pressed her Stop Crying button. “Some people are gonna be real sorry, I can tell you that,” she snarled. Suddenly was was like a 1930s gangster, speaking from the side of her mouth.
Sitting there beside Arthur, I said nothing. All I did was gaze at her with a tiny smile.
Betsy looked worried, then she smiled back. “Arthur offered to give me all his money,” she said in a little-girl voice. “But I. Said. No!”
The “no” was a Marilyn Monroe squeak, so high pitched that it was almost inaudible.
“That’s right,” Arthur said. “I told her she could have it all, but she said no.”
“I told Arthur, ‘YOU MUSTN’T!‘” Betsy shouted. “‘I WON’T HEAR OF IT!’ Would I have done that if I was after his money?”
Again, I just watched in silence. She tried every piece of shtick she could think of, all the routines that had worked in her long career. It was amazing how flustered she got when confronted with someone who didn’t react in any way. Also, it was really fun. She was edging closer and closer to hysteria.
A deputy arrived and told me to go sit on the porch. I heard him ask Arthur what year it was, who was the president, Arthur’s branch of service in World War II, and so on. When he came onto the porch, he said what I’d predicted he would.
“There’s nothing I can do. He’s in his right mind. If he wants to let this woman live with him, she’s not breaking any laws.”
Suzanne gave up and drove away. I wished Arthur well.
“Tom, I have no hard feelings,” Betsy said as I left. “I know you’re just concerned. Arthur’s right; you’re a good man.” Her lower lip quivered.
I ignored her.
Mom died October 13, 2013, but Arthur is still alive. At one point there were four women and several children living in his house. Betsy began appearing in new, fashionable clothes, her hair coiffed. We’ve seen four or five brand-new SUVs and pickups in the driveway and street. The house now has three dogs.
Betsy no longer takes Arthur to the doctor. Instead, a medical shuttle bus comes and picks him up. Sometimes the happy couple returns home together in one of the new vehicles. Betsy gets out and rushes inside, leaving Arthur to shuffle into the house on his own. I once saw him almost fall backwards down the stairs. He flailed and grabbed the railing as Betsy stood at the door with her hand on her hip.
“Are ya comin’ in or what?” she snapped.
A few days ago, Betsy came over to talk to Tim as he did yard work. She says she’s exhausted and depressed from taking care of Arthur all the time, so she thinks she might to go to Florida, where she now has a house.
“She couldn’t stop talking,” Tim said. “The words were just pouring out of her. She looks like shit—twenty years older and monster-ugly, like Butch Patrick crossed with Patty Duke.”
Tonight we heard Betsy choking, hawking, and spitting in Arthur’s front yard as her three dogs barked at her. Maybe a locust flew down her throat. After she spat, she coughed and shouted at the dogs and then at someone inside the house. Standing there with her shoulders slumped, she seemed to be living in hell.
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