“Now, just hear me out,” Cheyenne prefaced, sitting in my living room, the Accidental Plagiarist in tow. He’d been released from the hospital after having what can only be described as a manic/psychotic episode that resulted in him trying to ride a fire hydrant in the buff, covered head to toe in Gold Bond Medicated powder. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you may want to go back and read all about it. I’ll wait, you go. Make sure you read part two, because that’s where it all goes to hell, darlings.
Okay, now that you’re back — the clue was: Now, just hear me out.
What are five words you should never start with when asking for a favour?
I sat across from my two house guests and wondered just where they were going with this. Cheyenne is an exotic dancer from my distant past who showed up on my doorstep a couple of months back, and her boyfriend I had dubbed the Accidental Plagiarist — so named for his absentminded penchant for playing songs that he fully believed, it seemed, that he wrote, but were nonetheless, quite famous songs. For example, he would be playing a four chord progression that was simple but dirty and garage-punk, and present it to us as just something he was fiddling around with, and I’d tell him that it sounded good; that I loved Iggy Pop, and that I Wanna Be Your Dog was one of my favourites, and he’d just give me a blank look as if he had no idea what I was talking about.
The Countess Penelope, late of Arcadia, which is somewhere in the vicinity of Dublin, was in the kitchen making Irish Car Bombs — the drink, not the incendiary device — and practicing her Irish brogue. The trick, she assured me, was lots of hard Rs and long, soft AHHs in place of the nasal ‘a’ that we North Americans put in the middle of words. She may have had it down in theory, but in practice, she still sounded more like the Lucky Charms leprechaun than, say, Sinéad O’Connor.
“Shore an’ it’s not the worst ting thaht could ‘appen,” Penny called from the other room, having listened without interrupting once. “I mean, it’s not like ‘e’s suggestin’ that the Irish eat their babbies, is it?”
The Countess had just had occasion to read Jonathan Swift‘s Modest Proposal, in which he suggests, tongue firmly in cheek, that the Catholic Irish, who were starving, might solve two problems in one by eating their surplus children.
“It’s completely out of the question, Penny,” I said, and then looked at Cheyenne and the Accidental Plagiarist and repeated myself. “You’ll just have to find some other way.”
“I know that this is a big deal,” Cheyenne said, “and don’t think we haven’t thought about other options…”
“Well, keep thinking,” I said sharply. Chet’s face dropped in defeat. They had lived with me for several weeks, and it wasn’t until I had to go see him in the hospital that I actually learned his real name.
“Chet’s doing so much better now that he’s got medication, Helena, but they want to send him back home, and he don’t have any health insurance back there!” Cheyenne had been paying the hospital what she could, but without insurance, it wasn’t feasible for him to stay. One of the things we take for granted in Canada is our health insurance. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s free, because we’re taxed dearly for it — but no Canadian citizen ever has to worry about going to the hospital for fear of the financial implications.
Which brings us to why Cheyenne had called me up last night, and insisted that we speak face to face.
“It would only be on paper, Helena,” Cheyenne insisted, trying to sell me again on the idea of marrying the Accidental Plagiarist so that he could apply for landed immigrant status. I guess that would make me Mrs. Helena Hann-Basquiat-Acccidental Plagiarist, or Helena H-BAP for short.
“It’s fraud, Cheyenne,” I said firmly. “And I hardly know the guy — no offense, Chet — I’m not going to convince anyone that we’re together.”
Chet nodded and kept silent.
“Car Bomb, anyone?” The Countess Arcade called from the kitchen.
Now, the secret to the perfect Irish Car Bomb is the Irish Mist. Some people will try to make it with just Bailey’s Irish Cream and some Jameson Irish Whiskey, but if you mix a third shot each of Bailey’s, Jameson and Irish Mist, and then drop that into about a 2/3 pint of Guinness, and then pound that back as quickly as you can, why, it just might be the loveliest drink on earth — like drinking chocolate malt out of the cupped hands of wee red-headed angels.
Penny and I pounded back our Car Bombs and as I was wiping my lips with the back of my hand in most ladylike fashion, another hole in their master plan occurred to me.
“You can’t just marry someone and then go get a Health Card,” I said. “Or else people would do this kind of thing all the time.”
“Oh, I know,” Cheyenne said, “the lady on the phone told us that he would have to live here for a year before he could get a Health Card.”
“Well, there you go, then,” I said, thinking that would settle it. “Marrying me isn’t going to help you for at least a year.”
“Unless….” Cheyenne prompted, but my mind just didn’t go where she wanted it to go, and so she said: “Unless you were to sign a declaration that Chet’s been living with you for the past year.”
“No,” I said flatly. “Uh uh. That’s not going to happen, and I think you should leave now.”
“Oh, come on, Helena,” Penny said. “It’s not that big a deal, is it? I mean, it’s not like you’re going to get married for real anytime soon.”
I scowled at her and mentally projected that she should leave the room or risk my wrath, but my telepathy must have been off, because she just stood there smirking at me.
“Hey, if you won’t do it, I will,” Penny offered, and that was the last straw. I didn’t care what I owed Cheyenne, there were just some things that you didn’t ask someone to do. It’s not as if Chet came from some politically volatile nation and he was begging for refugee status. And I didn’t believe this “one year” thing she was trying to sell me, either. It couldn’t be that simple.
“Penny, please go to your room.” I said, teeth clenched. I wasn’t angry with Penny, and I realized just how ludicrous it sounded; me telling another adult to go to her room as if she were a child.
“Yes, mum,” Penny sulked, and winked at me on the sly.
Once Penny left (though I’m sure she was listening — some habits never die) I told Cheyenne and Chet in no uncertain terms that they were to leave my house and never come back. Furthermore, I told them, if I found out that either of them tried to contact Penny about this, I would personally bring the police to their doorstep. I told them that I didn’t give a rat’s ass what they did, or how they resolved this, but that I didn’t want to be involved any further. If they managed to find someone else who was willing to go along with their scam, that was their business, and as long as they didn’t involve me or Penny in it, then I wouldn’t feel obligated to report them.
“Helena, that’s…” Cheyenne started, and I stopped her just as quickly with a pointed finger. I was trembling with the rage of a protective mama bear, and must have looked pretty scary, because she stopped talking immediately.
“Let me finish,” I said, trying to maintain some semblance of sane composure. I was furious. “I will do one last thing for you, if you want it, and then you and I are through, do you understand?”
“Helena…” Cheyenne started, and the tears that welled up in her eyes only made me angrier, because when I see someone crying I can’t help but cry, too, and I didn’t want to look weak at that moment.
“No,” I said. “You don’t get to say anything else right now. I said that I would do one more thing for you, if you want me to. I will drive you back over the border — I will do that much for you. It’ll be easier going over with me than trying to cross in a bus or something. You find yourself some town to settle in over there, and apply for Medicare. You’ll have a hell of a lot easier time getting that — plus it’s legal — than trying to defraud the Canadian healthcare system. I’ll do that, but then you lose my phone number.”
We sat there in silence, and I waited for her to say something. Frankly, I expected her to either burst into tears and apologize, or else shower me in vitriol. I wouldn’t have been surprised at either.
In the end, it was Chet who actually broke the silence.
“Thank you, Helena,” he said calmly, and stood up. “I never meant to cause you any sorrow or pain.”
I couldn’t be absolutely sure, but wasn’t that pretty damn close to the opening lyric to Purple Rain?
I was dumbfounded, and just licked my dry lips in response.
“Can we think about it?” He asked. “Give you a call in a couple of days?”
That sounded fair. I felt my urge to kill suddenly begin to fade.
I nodded. “I’ll give you a week. After that, the offer expires. And you get one phone call, so make sure you’re certain about your decision when you call me.”
“Fair enough,” Chet said, bottom lip trembling as if he might suddenly burst into tears as well.
Chet held out his hand and offered it to Cheyenne, who pulled herself up, her glariing eyes burning holes in my skin, and accompanied the Accidental Plagiarist out my door for perhaps the last time.
I sighed as the door closed, and threw myself down on my couch and cried for a minute or two.
“You okay?” The Countess asked from behind her closed door. “Is it safe to come out?”
“Only if you tell me you were just kidding about marrying Chet.”
The door opened and Penny came out, grinning at me.
“Can I tell you something, and you have to promise not to be angry with me?” She asked sheepishly.
“I’m already angry with you, so you might as well go ahead,” I said, rubbing my temples. I could feel a migraine coming on. Perfect. Just perfect.
“Well,” she said cautiously, “sometimes, in order for you to, well… assert yourself…”
“Yes?” I prodded.
“Well, iss loik, The Incredibow Howk, ennit?” She tried dipping into her repertoire of characters and drew out the lovable Dickensian urchin, hoping that it would charm or disarm me, but instead, it had the opposite effect.
“Drop the bit, Penny, I’m not in the mood,” I said, too harshly.
“Well, that’s the point, ennit?” She said, stubbornly continuing to be the Countess Penelope of Arcadia circa 1850. “Sometimes you ‘ave to get just mad enough before you do wot ‘as to be done.”
Was she saying what I think she was saying?
“And, loik, you ain’t really concerned, beggin’ yer pardon, mum, if you’s the one in ‘arm’s way.” I was beginning to realize where this was going.
“So, then, you…” I began.
“Frew meself on me own sword, mum. Thass roit, cheerio, tut tut an’ such.”
I should have been overjoyed that I had such a brilliant, manipulative, caring niece. Further, I should have been proud that I helped make her that way. But I was too tired. Totally knackered, as the Countess Arcade would no doubt say, and all I wanted was to be alone.
“I’m going to bed,” I said, and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “G’night, darling.”
Penny frowned, and called after me. “Are you okay?”
“Sure,” I said, and tossed her a weak smile. “I’ll be fine.”