Everything But the Truth
Excerpt from: Everything But the Truth: A Story of Our Scandalous Grandmother
By Steve Peek
©, 2020, Steve Peek. All Rights Reserved
“Start that thing up.” The old woman’s talon-like, arthritic hand motioned toward the tape recorder.
“My name is Margaret Rose Nolan Stanton. Other names could be included. I was married a few times. I’m leaving those names out. They were more mistakes than marriages.
“I am ninety-nine years old. I have not always lived like this. They call this place a home, but it is not: at least not like any home I ever knew. Big men make me do things the doctors want them to do with me. I don’t want to do any of it, so sometimes I raise a ruckus. When I do, it takes two of them. I’m proud of that.
“I haven’t had a beer since I’ve been here. Six years without a beer. I might as well be dead. Maybe I am. Maybe this is hell. I want a bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon as bad today as when my daughter put me here. She’s dead now. All my children are dead.
“If this isn’t hell, I don’t know what could be worse. I guess I’ll see soon enough. The doctors said I’d eventually ‘dry out’ and not need alcohol anymore. Well, the cruel bastards were right; I don’t need it, but I sure as hell want it all the time. I even dream about it.
“In one dream, there’s a ritzy Parisian bar with hundreds of parakeets perched on little birdie swings hanging from the ceiling, above everyone’s heads. I sit against the wall in a small banquette, a miniature palm tree on either side. The waiter moves toward my table. Black tie with waistcoat, a Clark Gable mustache, luscious black hair, slicked back. There is something sensual about him. He stops, almost snapping to attention, and examines me with olive-green eyes. He opens his mouth to speak. The hundreds of swinging birds erupt in song. Bird droppings fall like confetti.
“It’s the jingle from the advertisement, ‘What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon.’ The little fuckers sing it over and over, tiny, high-pitched bird voices, gleeful, knowing I am desperate but can’t have one of those blessed brown bottles.
“I have that dream a lot.” Margaret Rose took a mental step back from her beer dream, breathed a sad, heavy sigh, and returned to the message at hand. “My family are all dead. There’s only me and a coop full of frightened grandchildren, and not one of them has the balls to sneak a beer to me.
“I don’t have anything to leave them when I die, so they hardly ever visit me. I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t be with me if I had a choice. When they used to come, they told me how good I looked and that my mind was still sharp, and oh, by the way, I’ve got to be leaving now, thank you very much, my guilt is lifted. My mind is sharp enough to know they are full of shit and scared of life.
“It wasn’t always this way. I lived a life like few others have for certain, a life unlike the people in Alabama. Those folks don’t believe it when someone tries to tell them things I did. They think people are talking about a movie star, not Margaret Rose’s real life. Then they always say, ‘Margaret Rose was the biggest liar to come out of three counties.’
“This boy by my bed, he is one of my grandsons. He is fifty-something years old. He has a recorder plugged in, and a microphone clipped to my hospital gown. The idea is I’m going to tell this machine my life story, and then he is going to write a book, and maybe someone will make a film about my life.”
The old woman paused briefly.
“Film, that word tells you something about me. Most people around Atlanta say they are going to see a movie. Back where I grew up, they called it a picture show. But I learned to call it a film when I lived in Manhattan with the man who sometimes played the piano at Carnegie Hall.
“This boy, John is his name, with the ambitious tape recorder, reminds me of my son, Joe Jasper, but less angry.
“John never wrote a book. He says my story needs to be told.” Margaret leaned forward and clawed a glass of water with a bent straw aimed toward her. She sucked on the straw until the glass emptied of everything except a moist sucking sound.
Her grandson lifted a pitcher and refilled her glass.
She stared at her grandson through old eyes clouded with a second crop of cataracts.
“You’re not the one that should be here,” she said, her voice dry, high and crunchy sounding. “The oldest one, the real author, he should be here, not you. He’s famous and rich. They make movies about what he writes. He even put a made-up version of me in one of his books, but it was only a little part. They didn’t even put it in the movie. But that doesn’t matter. He let me go to parties that reminded me of the old days.”
“I know, Mama Stanton, he got sick before he could write about you,” John said, not taking offense at her mean comment.
Chapter Two Coming Soon…