“St. Anthony, St. Jude, & Deborah Walk into a Bar,” a story by L. Shapley.Bassen, was a short-listed entry in our recently concluded 53rd Short Fiction Contest. It is published with the permission of the author
“Saint Anthony of Padua,” by Raphael
“St. Anthony, St. Jude, & Deborah Walk into a Bar…”
…..Deborah lost her wallet. Most of us have at one time or another. It’s one of the awful feelings, TMW you know you don’t know. Or the last time you knew … anything. It swallows you, that feeling. Utter loss. Utter failure. All the work it will take to regain lost ground. All the effort. If.
….. Because she was about to leave the house, she needed her wallet. Her husband, David, was in the City. He often stayed at the apartment..Or at the Metropolitan Club where he was a member..He traveled a lot. Deborah sometimes traveled with him, to London or Singapore or Sydney. Other places. In the photos she shared on Instagram and Facebook, the couple always looked happy. David could be serenaded with the Beatles’s Will you still need me, will you still feed me, When I’m Sixty-Four and get a big, sloppy, Yes. He looked like a bald model, tall and fit. Deborah had always been homely. She had been born with a head of thick black hair. Her small, dark eyes were too close together. Her mother had believed several miscarriages had finally been overcome, but then came full term Deborah. “Monkey face.” The disappointment.
….. Deborah’s mother had been a 1941 Hunter College honors graduate. Flirted with but rejected Communism; she didn’t like bosses but wanted to be one. On the real-life Mad Men Madison Avenue, she was a successful woman exec in an ad agency. She muscled through obstacles to assure Deborah’s success.
….. A shrink asked, “Do you think she felt self-loathing for your perceived shortcomings?”
….. “Well, I am short,” Deborah said.
….. The shrink laughed.
….. There were many examples of her mother’s drive. One was Deborah’s collegiate Phi Beta Kappa key. She never left home for college. Deborah got accepted at the cereal heiress’s estate turned into a Long Island university. Her mother chose all her courses and rewrote all her papers. After graduation, Deborah failed.Based on that Phi Beta Kappa, she got hired at The New Yorker magazine. Lasted a month. After that, she drove with her parents to the family cosmetic business. This caused resentment in her older brother. Eddie was VP to his father and mother. It worked out because Deborah stayed home more days than she went in.
….. When they were children, Deborah’s mother had stayed home, but even then she was researching marketing. When she got to go to the office full time, she moved the company into “the boutique market.” Deborah’s immigrant grandfather, a chemist, had left his son a factory in Queens with a waterfront view of Manhattan. After Deborah’s mother joined the business, they bought land in Nassau County for a second, larger location. Her father always gave his wife credit for the successful expansion. It was a doubly good thing because that Long Island City property became its own fortune when developers tore the old brick building down and put up a mini-skyscraper of glass and balconies one subway stop from the City.
….. Eddie was another story. He had a law degree, but when he married Deborah’s now ex-sister-in-law, she required more money than an ADA could make. So he went into the business. His marriage ended for who knew how many reasons. According to their mother, Eddie had only married Laura because of her breasts. Deborah had bonded with her sister-in-law because Eddie was mean to both of them. The friendship was a good thing since it kept Deborah in touch with her niece who had married and lived in Chicago with twin toddler boys. One looked like Eddie and the other was fair, like her sister-in-law. The same blue eyes.
….. A family tragedy had brought Deborah and Laura even closer. Her nephew Chad had committed suicide. Laura blamed the older woman he’d lived with, but to be fair, Chad had longstanding drug/alcohol issues, the result of a difficult, oxygen-deprived birth. The cord had nearly strangled him. A neighbor had warned Laura about the OB. His office was on The Miracle Mile on Northern Boulevard. In ads, Manhasset, Long Island looked like Rodeo Drive, L.A. The doctor had nearly killed the neighbor during a hysterogram. A nurse who assisted at her cardiac arrest had, off the record, told the neighbor that it wasn’t the first time. She felt guilty she hadn’t sued because she got pregnant and didn’t want to look back. Laura wouldn’t believe her, and that friendship ended. Now The Cord-O2 was how they spoke about Chad’s birth, but Laura still blamed the fiancee for his death.
….. So Chad had been stunted. Her mother often compared him to Deborah as she tutored, coached, and “helped”(did) his homework. His death was awful. Deborah was glad to be close to her niece and the twins, especially the one who looked like Eddie, like Chad. He was even middle-named for Chad. Both twin’s names didn’t reveal gender: Ellis Chandler and Cameron Ellery.
….. This made them plural, not an avoidance of the binary ‘him’. Deborah had read that The Merriam Webster Word of the Year was ‘they’ which was “huge for non-binary acceptance.” She also saw that the Time Magazine Person of the Year was Greta Thunberg and that the White House had replaced the teenager’s face with the 70-something President’s orange punim. Deborah told this story as a joke. It wasn’t going over well. Shortly before the TV success of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Deborah had begun a standup career in Long Island clubs and off the beaten track in Manhattan. She had to pay to play, of course, but money wasn’t a problem.
….. Born and educated in Brooklyn, her husband David had been an accountant in a big Manhattan firm. A Singapore billionaire trusted him enough to make David CEO of one of his businesses. They married before that windfall, after David had met Deborah at Club Med. “My mother sent me to hook a husband, and he was fishing for a rich wife.” The marriage worked better than her joke. Better than her mother could have imagined because David was making more money than even her parents’ expanded business netted. Millions more. They had the apartment near the UN and two homes on Long Island. Seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms in the bigger one. The other one was on the Sound with the same view as Teddy Roosevelt’s house called Sagamore Hill.
….. When Deborah lost her wallet, she did not phone David or their son, a Forex trader, whatever that meant. They were both in Manhattan and would be annoyed to hear she’d lost another thing. She looked everywhere. She posted on Facebook to ask for advice about finding the wallet. Deborah had many FB friends because she traveled a lot, trying out stand-up routines, also promoting a business she’d created to support grief-stricken families. She started it after Chad’s suicide when strangers reached out to her.
….. Deborah’s business was an offshoot of the Compassionate Friends but without the afterlife, New Agey vibe, or TV charlatans. You’d be surprised how many people appreciated Condolence Co., Inc. At first, she’d followed/tweeted bereaved people she knew; this quickly widened to strangers who contacted her. Deborah replied to every one until she had too many followers and needed a website created. This led to recruiting others, logo products (tee shirts, canvas bags, cards) podcasts, and a speaking agent placing her at hospitals and nursing homes. So far, she’d traveled for Condolence to seventeen states from Oregon to Illinois to Delaware and Nevada.
….. If her mother were alive, maybe she’d approve except that it was all non-profit. Also, stand-up performances reminded Deborah she was still a loser. In a way, failure kept Deborah from entirely losing her mother’s voice in her head.
….. Other voices suggested how to find the lost wallet. One promoted his self-published self-help, “Go into your dreamy state and retrace your steps. Next, go to Amazon/Ebay and buy my book.”
….. An actual friend messaged, “Feeling panic can suppress our problem-solving brain. Give your brain a break!”
….. Another urged, “Take a glass and turn it upside down on your kitchen counter. Leave it & don’t touch it.”
….. Deborah texted, “Does it have to be the kitchen? I did that on a fireplace mantel.”
….. One wrote, “My mother would light an orange candle & say it will be in the last place I look for it.”
….. Another quickly commented, “It WOULD be the last place because if you find it, you stop looking!”
….. Days of advice continued. “Repeating the name of the item out loud while you look increases the likelihood and speed at which you find it.”
….. “Ask departed loved ones to help you.”
….. Deborah didn’t want to bother Chad, and she’d never ask her mother. She could hear her exasperated sigh.
….. Someone wrote that before she fell asleep, she should give herself an auto-suggestion, picture the wallet, and she would dream about where it was. Because her unconscious mind knew. Maybe there was a joke in it somewhere if only she could find that. She fell asleep too fast. That was okay. The lost wallet wasn’t keeping her awake. Deborah didn’t remember her dreams.
….. December days passed. Encouraging advice continued. When David came home, Deborah finally told him. She tried to make it better with the list of things she had found instead: a different wallet in a bureau drawer, an active credit card lost for two years, and cash. In pockets. Jackets. “In a pair of boots I forgot I owned.”
….. “How much cash?” David asked.
….. “I didn’t add it up.” Deborah laughed.
….. “Not funny.”
….. David walked away. In two days, he had to fly to Libya. He never liked Libya. Deborah wasn’t sure if it was her lost wallet or Misrata that “disgusted” him.
….. At which point, Deborah tried praying to St. Anthony, who, she was texted, was the saint of lost items. She scrolled her phone and saw that St. Jude was in charge of lost causes. So she found one prayer and read it to both of them. saying her own words aloud.
….. “O Holy St. Anthony, gentlest of Saints, your love for God and Charity for His creatures made you worthy, when on earth, to possess miraculous powers. And O most holy apostle, Saint Jude, faithful servant and friend of Jesus…I implore you both to obtain for me my lost wallet with the ticket to TOOTSIE at the Marquis, sticking out. Really, it ends on January 5th! O gentle and loving St. Anthony and St. Jude, whisper my petition into the ears of the sweet Infant Jesus…and the gratitude of my heart will ever be yours…St. Jude, sorry I said the wallet before causes. Let US not be a lost cause. Have you heard about IMPOTUS?Amen.”
….. Was it funny to be a Jewish woman begging Catholic saints? It was the holiday season. The Maccabees got a miracle. Animals talked in the manger. All the Hallmark TV movies said, “Anything can happen at Christmas.” Desperate, Deborah finally prayed to her mother.
….. “Mom, sorry to interrupt, but can you see where it is?”
….. Deborah needed the wallet to drive to a comedy club, a corner storefront on Merrick Road in the southern half of middle Long Island. During/after the divorce, Eddie had been twice-elected executive of the county’s northern half. Then he moved to his parents’ summer, now winterized, house in Montauk. He could retire from whatever he did in Suffolk County government, but so far, he still worked there.
….. Deborah kept her comedy costume on. Advice from her mother: the power of positive thinking. Red jeans, hoodie, hat, socks & sneakers – she liked how the Brits called them trainers. In Ireland, they were runners. Joke potential? Brexit certainly made running away an Irish issue. But Deborah avoided politics as she did Eddie. She looked at her feet. The red sneakers cheered her. Please take me to my wallet.
….. Two days later after David in no better mood had left for Libya, the red sneakers walked Deborah into the big kitchen where their daughter had roller-skated with friends. Now, Sydney was in grad school in Georgia. She would be twenty-eight in 2020 and was not coming home for the holidays. She was going to her boyfriend’s family in Idaho. Deborah’s housekeeper was Windex-ing the glass doors onto the slate patio overlooking three landscaped acres, low stone walls, a fire pit and winter-covered pool.
….. The two women were accustomed to one another and rarely needed conversation, except about the elderly cat. They both doted on Rescue. But Deborah hadn’t asked Mercedes to help her look for the wallet. Never tempt live-in help. Deborah stood staring, un-moving. Her mother had told her that as a baby, you could put her down anywhere and she would not budge.
….. “Like luggage!”
….. Deborah looked beyond the glass doors.
….. Mercedes finally asked, “Te peudo ayudar en algo?”
….. Deborah then noticed the newspaper David had left on the granite counter. It was open to the back of the front page. Deborah read aloud, “On This Day in History, WAR DECLARED ON GERMANY AND ITALY, December12, 1941. My mother was 21? My father was four years older. He was a Master Sergeant at the Battle of the Bulge. He helped build the largest US World War II military cemetery in France at…St. Avold. We went there when I was little. People remembered him. An old woman gave me an aqua crochet-edged handkerchief. I wonder where I lost that.”
….. Mercedes eyed the newspaper. “Mal ahora, peor en el pasado,” she said.
….. Deborah nodded, “Como se dice ‘tweet’ en espagnol?”.
….. “El tuit.”
….. Deborah followed the middle-aged woman out of the kitchen toward the dining room as she prayed to St. Antony, St. Jude, her mother, and her red sneakers. Later, she described the moment as not feeling like a coup de foudre (she’d heard that in Paris), but, “In a blink, I saw my knitting.” This comedy schtick was inspired by a joke about a college girl reacting to her professor’s scolding her for knitting while he lectured, saying she was “sublimating masturbation.”
….. The student said, “When I knit, I knit, and when I masturbate, I masturbate.”
….. So far, Deborah didn’t have the pacing right, or the shape of the telling. It was very hard to make people laugh, and the clubs were dark and dirty. The floors were always sticky.
….. But her knitting! A comedy course had taught her to look memorable and do something memorable. So she had created the red outfit, including a non-MAGA baseball cap which she had lettered FANS [For All, Not Some]. She’d thought the acronym found on Facebook would get a laugh, but not so far. Onstage, she knitted a scarf before the audience. “As I drop ‘em, I’ll have you in stitches.”
….. The point of the bit was the scarf was too long, and she pretended not to know how to cast off, end it. One audience had laughed when she wound the scarf around her neck a lot of times and accidentally the stuck needles knocked off her cap. You couldn’t tell if they were laughing with her or at her, but Deborah thought that was better than groans, silence, or heckling.
….. Now, the red sneakers ran her to where her knitting bag with the rope cord handles was, the one with the Dan’s Papers logo. Her mother should see how fast she could move, but after the prayer, maybe it was her mother pushing her! The scarf covered balls of yarn – and the wallet!
….. Deborah sank to the floor and mewed like Rescue. Mercedes came running.
….. Deborah held up the wallet and waved the TOOTSIE ticket.
….. “Gracias, St. Antony y St. Jude,” Deborah wept.
….. Mercedes knelt beside her and wiped away her tears.
….. Moments later, Deborah texted David with the great news. He complained about the time. Maybe she had awakened him in the middle of the night? She never really knew how many hours away anything was. Disney sang that it was a small world after all, but in her experience, it wasn’t. Distances also didn’t seem to make the heart grow fonder. Deborah was always jotting down or recording these observations for possible jokes. And now, look, also useful for Condolence Co., Inc. Lost could be found! Usually, she avoided politics, but now she crowed at her David-departed smartphone, “St. Jude, help US! 45’s face should be carved on Mount Russian-more!”
….. In a few days, it would be the winter solstice. Deborah hugged her red hoodie around her.
…..See, Mom? I’m more like you than Eddie ever was. She laughed and laughed.
A native New Yorker now living in Rhode Island, L. Shapley Bassen is a poetry/fiction reviewer for The Rumpus, fiction editor at Craft Literary, and a prize winning playwright. Her story,”Portrait of a Giant Squid” was the winning story in the 205 Austin Chronicle Short Story Contest.