“A TINY TASTE OF NORMAL” by Dori Hartley
Eight years earlier.
Miracle Arlen held a firm hand up to silence the three noisy people who suddenly piled into her small, cramped room, fresh from their excursion to the store after picking up goods.
“Hush!” she mouthed, pointing to the phone. She opened her eyes wide to let her daughter, her daughter’s boyfriend and her other daughter know that she was speaking to someone of great importance.
Shelby Anne, the younger of the daughters present, looked over her mother’s shoulder at the notes she had laid out in front of her. Miracle made an invisible circle around the word, “Seattle” with the eraser side of a yellow pencil to indicate to her daughter that she was on the phone with Karen — an important connection from the Washington State area. Shelby Anne bit her tongue and retreated to the other side of the room, where she quietly informed the others that mom was “on with Seattle,” and that they needed to wait until she got off the phone before they could resume their squawking.
Miracle needed to concentrate on the situation at hand.
“Oh darlin’, believe me I know how hard it is,” she said to the woman, presenting her voice in such a way that whomever was on the other end of a phone line could only assume they were talking with a man. The kids were familiar with the masculine tone – it was the sound of Mama doing business.
“It’s just that the children haven’t had anything decent to eat in a few days, and…” Miracle started to sniffle, rubbing at her eyes as they began to water. Stubbing a cigarette out onto a half eaten cheeseburger, she pushed the plate to the other side of her computer desk and worked herself into a lightweight fit of dramatic mini-sobs. She listened attentively for Karen’s reaction. The Seattle woman was shocked and wondered aloud how she could somehow assist her poor, starved friend.
“I – I’m sorry for crying,” said Miracle. “Not exactly sexy, I know.” She laughed in an effort to sound self-effacing. “I just hate having cancer! It’s taken everything away from me. I can’t even provide for my kids.” Miracle let loose the tears. “They keep asking me, “Daddy, are we going to eat today?” I don’t even know what to tell them anymore.”
“Oh no, you poor man,” said Karen. “I am sending you some money right this instant. I won’t have you or your family suffering for another minute. Will two hundred be enough?”
Miracle wiped her eyes and jotted something down on a napkin.
“Yes, that should be enough, I guess. You could actually send it in a money-gram, that way we won’t have to wait.”
She turned around in her chair and held the piece of paper up for the kids to see. It said the number “200” on it. Tory, her eldest daughter, gave her mom the thumbs up, while her boyfriend, Tommy Neptune, eyeballed a bottle of pain pills that were sitting on Miracle’s dresser.
“Well, yes, that’s a great idea,” agreed Karen. “That way, you’ll all get to eat today. No more starving. My God, I can’t believe you suffer the way you do. You don’t deserve this, especially in your condition. Has the government no mercy?”
“No,” said Miracle. “Nobody cares about people like me. They’re just waiting for me to die out. You’re the only one who cares, Karen. I just – I just don’t know what I would do without you.”
Miracle put her on speakerphone so that the group could listen in.
“Well, you just make sure you get something in that belly of yours,” said the tinny voice. “I’m sending over enough money so that everyone can eat. Don’t you dare deprive yourself, I don’t want anything happening to you!”
“I won’t deprive myself this time, but only because you insist. It’s funny — you must have sensed that I am the kind of person who would always go without, for the sake of my kids.” She snuffled up a nose full of tears and let her voice do the smiling. She took a long swig from a super-sized Coke, and lit up another cigarette.
“Promise me you’ll get something for yourself.” Karen was adamant.
“I promise.” She exhaled a pale gray plume of smoke. “And, it will be so good to eat again. You have no idea how hungry I am.”
Shelby Anne looked over at her mom and mouthed the words, “say thank you.”
Miracle caught her daughter’s suggestion and, in a tear-weary, congested voice she thanked the woman from Washington State. “You humble me, Karen.”
“Hey, would it be easier if I just PayPal’d it over to you? That way you can just withdraw it from your own account.”
Miracle raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I appreciate that, but let’s just wire it on over to me. Oh — Karen?”
“Send it to my daughter’s name. It’s easier that way. With my illness, I rarely get out, and they know her over there at Wal-Mart’s. That way there won’t be any confusion.”
“Alright, then. What name should I make the money-gram out to, then?”
“You can make it out to Shelby Arlen. That’ll be perfect.”
“Arlen? Your daughter doesn’t use your last name?”
Miracle inhaled deeply, letting the mentholated smoke swirl around the inside of her mouth and up through her nostrils. Her husky voice took on a different tone than the one she had previously used to show humble gratitude.
“No, she uses her mother’s last name. Long story, I’ll tell you about it another time.”
“Sounds like I better set aside a nice long time to hear your nice long story.”
Miracle laughed suggestively and said, “that’s not the only thing I have for you that’s nice and long.”
“Oh my goodness, Stefan! You caught me off guard there. Wow, you are such a dirty boy!” Karen had no idea that those in the room listening were holding their hands over their mouths, suppressing their laughter. “You’re so damned hot. What else do you have for me?”
Tommy Neptune almost lost it, but Tory quickly muted his giggles with a quick fist to the gut.
“Shut up, asshole. Mom’s working. Shut the fuck up,” she whispered to the teenage father of their child.
Miracle smiled, clicked the speakerphone off and concluded the conversation. “Well, baby, I’d have to strip off my boxers to give you a better idea of what I’m talking about, but right now, I’m starved, so let’s get that money over here. Later on, after my skinny little belly is nice and full, maybe I can call you and we can discuss what I have for you, in great detail. That’s of course, if you still want me.”
“Of course I still want you, sexy boy. I’ll send the money right over.”
Miracle was starting to tire of flirting with Karen. “Don’t forget, send it to my kid, Shelby Arlen. $200.”
After a couple of tedious endearments were exchanged, Miracle hung up the phone. Looking up at Shelby Anne, Tory and Tommy, she asked them to assist her out of the chair. It was the first time she stood up in several hours, and her 350 lb. body was telling her that, after three and a half burgers, a super-sized coke and a chocolate milkshake, it was definitely time for a good stretch and a bathroom break.
“Tory, do me a favor and toss this out,” she picked up the plate that displayed the cigarette-embellished burger. “There are fries in the bag. Cold, but you can have them if y’all want to share ‘em amongst yourselves.”
“Mama, I got the mail,” said Shelby, as she handed her mother a thick pile of envelopes.
“Good girl, let’s have it here.” Miracle rubbed her lower back on the way to the toilet. As she pulled her underpants down and squatted on the seat, she opened one of the letters and began to read.
“Oh, Shelby Anne, listen to this. Good news, girl.” Shelby leaned up against the bathroom sink, listening.
“Looks like you’ve been awarded the full Pell Grant, babe.”
Shelby’s eye opened wide. “You mean I’m going to college, Mama?”
“Sure as shit looks that way. And with this money, we can finally move out of Mawmaw’s and into that HUD facility over in town. You can have your own room now, baby. New furniture, new place. You know I’ve been wanting this money for a long time.”
“Don’t I need that money for books, Mama?”
“Of course you do, babe. And a new computer, one that’ll look nice on a new desk in your new room – how’s that sound, sweet girl?”
“When do I start, Mama? Does it say the date?”
“Says you can start right at the top of the semester. That’ll give us plenty of time to settle into our new apartment.”
“Oh my God, I can hardly believe it. I’m going to college! I’m going to finally get out of this hick-ass town. I told you I was ambitious, Mama. I told everybody that there’s no way that Shelby Anne Arlen was going to end up rotting in Eastern Kentucky like the rest of y’all idjits. No fuckin’ way, man.”
“I beg your pardon? Idjits?”
“Not you, Mama. But you know what I mean.”
“Shelby Anne, look under the sink and get me another roll, please. Damn, I hope you kids didn’t forget to pick up toilet paper when you were out.”
“Here you go, Mom.” Shelby Anne handed her a fresh roll.
Just as Miracle was finishing up, the phone rang. By the sound of the particular ringtone, it meant that Adele was calling from her Connecticut home.
“Crap! Get the phone over to me. Do not answer it yourself!”
Miracle wiped and pulled up her panties. As she placed her hand on the lever, Tommy ran into the room with the still-ringing phone and shouted, “Don’t flush! I gotta pee. Here! Here’s the phone.”
Right before she clicked the phone on, she looked Tommy dead in the eye and said, “Don’t even be thinking about stealing my pills, boy.”
Miracle quickly switched gears, adjusted her voice and got herself into an Adele mood. “Hello?”
“Hello sexiness, whatcha doin’?”
“Just layin’ here, thinking’ about you.”
Miracle gestured for Shelby to get on over to Wal-Mart’s to collect the money Karen sent.
“Don’t forget to take your proof with you, Shelby.” She said it as quietly as she could without disrupting the flow of the new conversation with Adele.
“You don’t sound like you’re laying down. Who are you talking to?” Adele was always too inquisitive.
“Just my kid. She was just leaving to go get me something. Now, where were we?”
“We were talking about how you were laying around thinking about me. I wish I could see that. Any chance of you getting on webcam, or maybe sending me a quick snapshot?”
Shelby, Tory and Tommy slammed the door shut on the way out.
Miracle adjusted the seat of her polyester stretch pants and sat back down at her computer.
“Are you online right now?” she asked Adele.
“I can be. Why, are you finally going to send me a photo of your gorgeous self?”
“I am. Only for you, though.”
Miracle scanned through her desktop for the folder that contained her collection of erotic male images, and chose the one she herself found most impressive. There were just so many times she could stave off the requests for photos, but usually, a photo this intimate, had a way of satisfying even the most curious of her followers.
She sent Adele the photo via instant messenger and asked, “How ya like me now?” in her most seductive male voice.
“Um, why on earth are you sending me a picture of your dick? I want to see your face, not — this.” Adele was disappointed.
“You know what I look like.”
“No, Stefan, I don’t. I saw that pretty-boy icon you used, the one that looks like something out of a goth anime. I know what you’ve told me you look like, but I’ve never seen your real face. So, how ‘bout it?”
Miracle couldn’t lose Adele this soon into the game — she needed to make this work out. Adele had money – and since the first time they met online in that games group, she was able to get both a pizza and a paid premium membership to that very same group out of her. She seemed into the whole sexy-dying-cancer-boy thing…
Why do they always want a fucking photo? Why can’t they all be as easy as Karen?
She lowered her voice to a near-whisper.
“Baby, I want to show you my face, but I’m scared. Scared that you’ll reject me. I don’t know what I’d do if you’d reject me.” She was prepared to bring out the “tears of vulnerability” if necessary.
How could a woman resist a man who shed tears at the thought of being rejected?
Adele couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“You know what… fuck you, Stefan. OK? Just take your dick photo and go have a good time with it. Grow up, loser.”
Adele hung up on her.
With the phone still in her hand, Miracle immediately and impulsively removed the special ringtone, along with the number associated with this particular woman.
“Fuck you too, bitch,” she shouted at the receiver as she threw it across the room. “I got a pizza out of you, sucker. You bought me a fucking pizza, you ass-kissing suck-up. So “ha” to you, too, loser. You “grow” up! You grow up! YOU GROW UP!”
Causes Dori Hartley Supports
Stop Internet Fraud.