THE FORTUNES AND MISFORTUNES OF MOLL SLANDERS WHEREIN MOLL FACES HER OWN MORTALITY
Sara Cody

We finally made it to the twins’ house; lucky the windshield hadn’t shattered in the onslaught of rain. Cole was nervous driving the whole way; Arizona native that he is, he’d never seen this kind of downpour, the rain falling so hard it sounded like fists smacking our car, as if we were dictators of some South American country trying to flee the capital city in the midst of an uprising by the underfed locals. I was trying to be helpful, but Cole, as usual, was having none of it.

“Jesus Christ, you steer into the swerve when you fishtail,” I explained, but to no avail: the car continued to twitch its way down the street, resembling a Dodge Dart powered by vodka rather than gas.

“Mother of freakin’ God, Moll, it’s my freakin’ car and if you tell me one more freakin’ time how to freakin’ drive in this freakin’ rain I will throw you into the freakin’ street,” he bellowed, pausing just long enough to crack the window in order to flick his freakin’ Marlboro out the car. Still naïve to the basic physics of a rainstorm, Cole found the cigarette butt propelled back into his face and into the back seat. We fishtailed again.

“I’ve got it,” I said, hoisting myself over the seat and rescuing the butt from the carpet in back, then grinding it out in the ashtray.

“That’s just going to stink up the car now,” Cole growled, apparently unclear that smoking itself caused the car to stink. I was about to enlighten him when we careened around a corner and lurched to a stop in front of a dilapidated prefab, dating from the Eisenhower era and distinctive chiefly for its cantaloupe hue.

Gutter water so deep it practically had an undertow flushed over my feet as I stepped out of the Dart, ruining my new Via Spiga slingbacks in a matter of seconds. Now, I am no fundamentalist, but had this desert deluge (and attendant footwear calamity) been followed by a plague of locusts, I would not have been entirely surprised. As I ran to the front door, nearly sliding out of my shoes, my clothes stuck to my skin as if I had been dipped in snot. By the time we reached the stoop, I was so thoroughly drenched that most of my bones and several internal organs had begun building an ark in which to flee.

Cole pounded on the door as we huddled beneath the metal awning, which rippled alarmingly in the wind. From inside the house there was a muffled thump, then silence. Cole banged on the door again, harder this time.

I was about to bang on the door myself with a soggy size 7 when a wild-eyed woman, aged 25 going on 50 with the apparent aid of a tanning bed, flung open the door.

“Omigod! Get in here now!” Too shocked to decline, we crossed the foyer to drip on the green shag carpeting. The woman (not having met either of the sisters before, I am unclear to this day as to which one it was) slammed the door behind us, raised a hitherto-unnoticed iron skillet, and lunged at a blurry object darting behind a red velvet Barcalounger. “Fuck,” she yelped, flipping over the chair.

“Call the police! Call the fucking police!” screamed her twin, running into the living room. She was clad in a plaid nightshirt and men’s work boots and wielded a massive wrench as she engaged in her own battle with the blurry creatures scampering through the carpet. For a moment, I wondered if we had somehow intruded upon the sisters’ shared hallucination. My next thought was that, if so, it must be some stunningly powerful drug that could spread the trip to mere onlookers.

My final thought—and they were all coming so rapidly, far more quickly than the time needed to articulate the experience itself—was to wonder what the hell was climbing up my leg.

I looked down to see a glistening red spike peeking out from the cuff of my apple green Stella McCartney capri pants. My brain began making dim, ape-like calculations: This is Arizona. We are being flooded by an angry god. There is nowhere for the water to go. Scorpions nest below houses. The rain has displaced the scorpions. And now there is one crawling up my goddamn leg.

In retrospect, it is clear that the advisable course of action would have been to strip naked and dash straight into the meteorological mayhem outside: no pants, no scorpion, no problem. Under the circumstances, however, I took a brief but entirely understandable leave of my senses and fell to the floor, flailing wildly. This apparently agitated the scorpion, because instantly I felt a stab in my shin, then a steady flow of magma entering my leg, flowing up to my hip, snaking round my ribs and finally pooling in red-orange fiery currents of poison in my heart. I was dying.

Cole fell to his knees by my side as the sisters embarked on a new dance of hysterical frenzy, possibly Navajo in its origins. “Call an ambulance!” yelled Cole over his shoulder as he tended to me. In this case, however, “tending” consisted chiefly of moistening my face with spittle as he repeatedly demanded to know whether I was okay.

The sister with the frying pan took leave from the ceremonial Visitor-Has-Been-Stung dance to peer at me. “Do you know what day it is? Do you know who the president is? Do you know what your name is?” she babbled.

“Nellie Melba,” I said peevishly. “Aren’t you supposed to apply a tourniquet now and suck out the poison? Oh look, my thoughts are like puffed rice expanding in the air, comme ça…”

I turned my head to get a clearer view of the thousand scorpions dancing on the carpet. They were pink and white with pulsating blue fractal patterns running along their backs and they were all doing the samba, waving their stingers at each other in an ancient mating ritual I found strangely comforting. In the meantime, none of the three dunderheads in my midst had yet seen fit to pick up the phone and call an ambulance, much less pick up my body and haul me into the car. Venom-induced visions or no, I would have to take the situation firmly in hand

*

Through sheer Promethean will, I impelled Cole and the sisters to grip their tiny wits and coordinate efforts into achieving one simple, elegant goal: to get me to a hospital. The closest was St. Erasmus—who, as patron saint of shipbuilders, might now see fit to come in handy in the middle of a desert. It was a harrowing drive, between having to shout directions above the ululation of Cole and the sisters whilst simultaneously memorizing the unspeakable consequences of scorpion stings as enumerated in the 1974 edition of the “S” volume of Encyclopedia Britannica, which I had grabbed off the bookshelf as I was being carried out the door. According to Mr. Britannica, I was in for a formidable dance with death. I would have to be brave.

After wading through high tide in the parking lot, we entered the emergency room: the double doors swung open magisterially as Cole strode in, my prone body draped in his arms, an icepack taped to my leg. I imagine we resembled nothing so much as Michelangelo’s Pieta, had Jesus been a willowy independent fashion designer of some note and the Blessed Virgin a hirsute wall-eyed bouncer. Tina and Gina straggled behind, two slatternly apostles still clutching their offerings of frying pan and wrench.

I waved my Neiman Marcus charge card in the general direction of the admissions desk as a ruggedly handsome fellow in a white coat watched our approach. “I’m insured and I need antivenin,” I shouted as George Clooney gaped at us. “Stat!” I added helpfully, hoping that medical jargon delivered at a high volume would rouse the lantern-jawed giant from his mental slumber.

“Have a seat in our waiting area,” he said, preposterously handing me a sheath of forms. “And try to stay calm.”

“Calm?” I repeated, a shrill note justifiably beginning to creep into my voice for the first time since the vile beastie had the temerity to stick its stinger into my alabaster gam. “I’m dying! Vishnu on a fucking Vespa, am I the only one who understands that?”

“Ma’am, please,” he said soothingly, using his best Lie-to-the-Patient voice. “There are more than thirty types of scorpions in Arizona, and only one of them is life-threatening.”

“And that’s the one that bit me,” I clinched. “Eight inches long and the color of decaying flesh!”

My protestations fell on deaf ears, however, and we were relegated to the mauve antechamber. Cole dutifully fed me Twix bars laced with Xanax while I distracted myself from nerve-jangling pain and my impending demise by making up exotic details of my medical history. By the time Mr. Jaw beckoned us back to the desk, my parents had been felled by Ebola, my brother was gamely battling synapse cancer, and Nana (sweet Nana) had met her maker after an untimely bout with scrivener’s palsy.

I was eventually wheeled to a bed enclosed in a polyester curtain—but not, I noticed grimly, any actual walls, much less a private wing. Cole and the sisters lingered nearby, hushed with concern.

“And how are we today?” chirped a white-coated doctor who looked as if he still might be reeling from the recent hormonal delirium of puberty. Dr. Crumb, as his nametag identified him, eyed my chart. “Stung by a scorpion, eh? That’s not usually too serious.” He felt my pulse and glanced at my swollen leg, clearly failing to grasp the seriousness of the medical crisis reclining in front of him.

I threw my icepack at his head and replied in a tone I believe was admirably restrained under the circumstances. “Now you listen to me, Doogie Howser,” I said, pinching his wrist between my thumb and forefinger, “I have been stung by an eight-inch Bark Scorpion. There is searing red-hot pain radiating from my leg to my armpits. I’m in a cold sweat and numb all over, I’m having heart palpitations and convulsions, not to mention excessive salivation and involuntary tearing, I’m vomiting black bile at regular intervals, and my tongue and throat have swollen like balloons to the point that speech has long since become impossible. Not to mention that I have slipped into a coma. So I suggest you deliver a nice antivenin-and-heroin cocktail with all due alacrity unless you’d like to be sued for malpractice!”

“Ma’am,” said Dr. Crumb condescendingly, taking back his wrist, “you’re not in any danger. A scorpion sting is quite painful and you are understandably anxious, but none of your symptoms suggest anything but a mild response. I’ll write you a prescription for a day or two’s worth of Tylenol with codeine. In the meantime, keep ice on it and take it easy.”

He clicked his ballpoint pen and wrote out the scrip (for a tonic I had lapped up in my childhood as if it were pap!), then ripped off the page and tossed it at me on his way out. “And by the way,” he said over his shoulder. “You weren’t stung by a Bark Scorpion.”

“Of course I was, you quack,” I spat.

“Well, not if the scorpion that stung you was eight inches,” he said. “Bark scorps only grow to an inch-and-a-half at maturity.”

“Then an eight-inch one ought to be cause for your concern, oughtn’t it?” I insisted, gesticulating so forcefully that I flung my Prada purse to the floor.

I lunged for it. So did Cole. So did the sisters.

And so did the friendly policeman who happened to choose that precise moment to walk past my curtain. He picked up my purse, scattering its contents—including wallet, keys, lipstick and several baggies containing top-shelf designer pharmaceuticals—across the floor. A hundred beautiful yellow-and-green capsules, smooth and shiny as tiny targets, rolled underfoot.

“What’s this?” growled Officer Not-So-Friendly, scooping up a handful of the ochre-and-celadon delectation at eight bucks a pop.

“It’s theirs!” I declared, pointing at the sisters. (Technically, of course, they had yet to pay me for or take possession of the pills, but I thought it unnecessary to saddle the officer with such subtleties.) “Drug-addled reprobates!”

The sisters, however, had disappeared from the general direction of my accusatory gesture. So, too, had Cole. Yellow-dog cowards that they are, they had each beat a hasty retreat at the first sight of Johnny Law.

*

So it was thus that I found myself barefoot in a holding cell of the Maricopa County Jail with my companion, a whore named Bruschetta, who proved herself at once to be the ideal cellmate by offering me a cigarette and reminding me that my constitutional rights included Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of a Phone Call. I stuck the unlit cigarette between my lips and rattled the bars of my cage as I had seen in so many films. “Guard— guard—guard!” I intoned rhythmically. “Need a call here. Need a call here. Need a call here!”

Eventually, a dumpling of a woman waddled to my cell. I inquired about my call. Wordlessly, the guard (Myra, according to her nametag) unhooked a ring of keys from her ample left hip and opened my cell, the lock turning with a satisfying metallic clunk.

“Bring me a coffee, plenty of Sweet ‘n’ Low with no cream,” Bruschetta requested.

Still reeling from the scorpion sting, I limped behind Myra toward the phones. She ambled lazily; her holstered revolver lightly smacking her monstrous left buttock, her right hand unselfconsciously picking at a few whiteheads tucked into the oily crevice at the side of her nose. A plan (thrilling in its daring, cunning in its design, poetic in its potential!) began to form in the primordial ooze of my brain’s nether regions. Said plan quickly evolved legs, crawled onto land and, by the time I had dialed Cole’s number, began slouching inexorably towards its destiny in my frontal lobe.

“This is Joan of Arc,” I whispered conspiratorially when Cole answered. “Bring the hay wagon to the Bastille when the wolf howls at sundown.”

“Who is this?” said Cole, evidently so shaken by my entrapment that he had still not regained full use of what wits he possessed.

“Hey! Don’t kid a kidder, don’t fuck with a motherfucker, and don’t get into a pissing contest with a skunk,” I hinted.

“Oh,” he said. “It’s you. Where are you? And what hay wagon?” Clearly, if vapidity were concrete, Cole would be the entire interstate highway system. And it was this man who was now holding my freedom in his hands.

“It’s a metaphor, you nit,” I hissed. “Joan of Arc! Martyr of France! Burned at the stake! Does that ring any bells?”

“You’re not French,” he said.

“My Man Godfrey, just wait for me in the alley behind the jail in one hour!” I commanded. “And bring Percodan!”

“Wouldn’t it be easier if I just took some of the cash from the coffee can under your sink and posted bail?” he queried, clearly further gone than I had initially thought.

“Are you high?” I snapped, before realizing that in all likelihood, the answer was yes. “I have not one, not two, but three fall fashion lines to preview in Paris next month. If you think that I am spending my runway fund on something as drearily commonplace as bail, then apparently after all these years you don’t really know me at all. I’m devastated, Cole. I really am.” And I began to sniff.

A recorded drone broke in: “Please deposit one dollar and fifty-five cents for the next three minutes.”

“Cole, they’re taking me away!” I shrieked, holding the receiver away from my mouth to further the effect. “Three huge biker mamas are going to make me their bitch! They’re demanding I service them with cunnilingus and styling tips! I can’t last twenty-four hours in here!”

“I’ll be there,” Cole promised.

“And one coffee, no cream, plenty of Sweet ‘n’ Low,” I added before hanging up the phone.

*

“You really are the Earth Mother type,” I said to Myra as the cell door began to swing shut behind me. “That gorgeous olive skin and divine thick hair! You’re an archetype, like the Queen of Swords from a big pack of Tarot cards come to life.”

“Really?” said Myra, stopping the door in mid-swing and pushing a thatch of hair out of her eyes.

“Absolutely. Gosh, if only I could get my hands on my purse. I’ve got a blusher in there that was made in Italy just for you.”

“I’ve never tried makeup from Italy,” she said.

“Beautiful women should wear no less.”

“I’ll be right back.”

Happy baby elephant Myra bounced down the hall. I leaned back and smiled serenely at Bruschetta. “You’ll have that coffee soon.”

Five minutes later, Myra re-appeared with my bag over her shoulder. She opened the cell door and motioned me towards the window in the galley. “The light is better out here.”

“So it is,” I said, nearly giddy at having my Prada back in my arms again. I began rummaging through its contents. “Now let me take a look and see what I’ve got. Bru, can you give me a little hand with all this?” Bruschetta dutifully followed me out of the cell as I handed her a brush and an eyelash curler.

We Three Queens of L’Oreal Are settled at a crumb-festooned table to commence the makeover. Smoothing back the ruff of dishwater blond frizz from Myra’s forehead, I pressed an oil blotting cloth to her moonpie face and began. A few swabs of Almond Honey powder, a dusting of Cranberry Fool blusher, a coat of Strawberries & Cream lip gloss ... within moments I turned Myra into a veritable Wayne Thiebaud painting of Guard Gateau. The cherry on top, as it were, had simply to be plopped into place.

“Look up ... way up,” I murmured, delicately waving a wand of Ooh-La-La-Licorice mascara across her stubby eyelashes. As her eyes rolled towards the ceiling, I reached out my hand to her hip...“that’s right, keep looking up,” I whispered, unsnapping the holster...“just about there, and… freeze!”

Fashion, as they say, will make you free.

Well, all right: nobody says that. But they should—because in this shining instant of the transformative power of cosmetic application, it was true! I held Myra’s revolver in my hand, pointed straight at her newly fabulous face. (Of course I wouldn’t shoot her; I wouldn’t have bothered to match her colors so well if I had any such plans.) She stared at me, mouth agape, eyes agog, arms akimbo. For one ephemeral moment I took leave of my body, peering down at the spectacle of myself holding a jail guard hostage with a .38 in my hand and a 20-dollar hooker at my side. Dear reader, I was struck by one lucid thought: and that is that the gun is the ultimate accessory. Truly, there’s simply nothing like a deadly weapon to lend a satisfying weight to any situation or outfit. I, for one, have reconsidered my position on gun control, and am not ashamed to say so.

Filing away this firearm epiphany for future use, I re-entered my body, shifted my cunning plan into third gear, and promptly shattered the window with a single shot. Fourth gear consisted of tumbling out the window into the strategically placed trash dumpster two flights below.

I briefly considered that flinging myself headfirst into several hundred pounds of greasy donut boxes was perhaps not the best path to liberation. I reconsidered just two seconds later when I felt the impact of Bruschetta’s ample body next to mine. I had led her to the Promised Land! The putrescent coffee grounds between my toes were as fragrant as milk and honey!

“Free at last, free at last,” I chorused lustily to the sky. “Thank god almighty, we are free at last!”

A pair of weak yellowy beams suddenly lit up the alley. Bruschetta and I peeped warily over the edge of our dumpster of freedom; The Man, we knew, would extract a high price for our brazen audacity, our lust for liberty, and would undoubtedly soon swoop down upon us like vultures on sweet, tender flesh.

The driver killed the headlights as the car crept stealthily towards us. Two flights up, Myra was shaking off her dreamy shock to call in reinforcements—I could hear the hullabaloo of our police state preparing to wreak its vengeance already! The car continued to crawl ahead, gravel crunching, our hearts pounding, the driver sucking on a cigarette glowing anemic orange in the dark.

A head poked out of the car window. “Moll?” came a nervous voice.

“Cole!” I screamed as we scrabbled out of our odiferous limbo and made a beeline for the Sweet Chariot that had Swung Low For To Carry Me Home.

I leapt into the back seat as the first shot was fired from above. Bruschetta slammed the door behind us as Cole peeled out of the alley.

“Peeling out” in a Dodge Dart, however, is relative, and we found ourselves crawling towards the street with only scant increase in speed. Not wishing to be killed in a hail of bullets, I smashed the back window with the butt of Myra’s gun (which I had cleverly managed to hang onto during our dumpster plunge along with my Prada, naturellement), discharging several rounds in the general direction of the jail.

“Eat that, pigs!” I screamed as we eked our way to the street, making a mental note to find a hat like Faye Dunaway’s in Bonnie and Clyde. “You’ll never take us alive!”

The Dart lurched forward. As the cops had apparently not yet mounted an adequate dragnet, Cole deftly propelled the Dart into traffic without being followed, neatly executing an illegal left turn in front of a van carrying what appeared to be the starting lineup for the University of Arizona’s ball team. (I do not know which ball team; the object of all sports seems to me woefully simplistic, and the outfits are rarely tasteful, so I cannot be bothered to distinguish among trivialities.) The van screeched to a halt, banging into a tow truck. Traffic came to a standstill—with the lone exception of our Dart of deliverance. We ambled on our merry way.

Aside from forgetting Bruschetta’s coffee, Cole had done well, and I told him so. “I’m going to wipe your credit account clean,” I announced, kissing his scruffy cheek. “You now only owe me for the drugs you use from this moment forward. All those past treats—de rien, as the French say.”

“Thanks, Moll,” he said, clearly moved.

“You can let me out right here, kids,” said Bruschetta, thumping on the window. “Thanks for the ride and the escape and everything.”

“Bruschetta, no,” I protested as Cole turned into a parking lot. “We wouldn’t dream of letting you go. Cole has a perfectly cozy bed at his place you can have for as long as you like.”

“Moll, you’re a doll, but Bruschetta’s gotta be where the action is. And here, this is Action Central.” We glided to a halt in front of a Winchell’s Donut Hut, and she opened the door. “Can I get you anything?” she asked, gesturing at the jaundice-yellow storefront.

“Ooh, yes,” I said. “One cake with chocolate sprinkles for Cole and one cake with rainbow sprinkles for me, please. And a little carton of milk.”

Bruschetta returned moments later with our repast. We said our fond farewells quickly. As we hit the street, I threw my head back and dropped one, two, three, four Percodans down my slender gullet, like a baby bird accepting nourishment from its mama, then washed it all down with a swig of milk. It was not yet 9 p.m.

“I do believe,” I said, “that I still have time to toddle back chez moi and change into my new Moschino dress and Kate Spade pumps. If you hurry, I can still make it by ten o’clock for dinner at Palm Court. I hope they have the Duckling aux Framboise tonight. Now hurry, Cole, after all I’ve been through! Vite! Vite!”

 

Sara Cody is an editor and writer in L.A. Most recently, her play “Dualities” was staged by The Syndicate at the Hollywood Women's Club, and her short play "Fun With Gemma and Lucy" was included in Theatre of NOTE's annual performance marathon. She has also performed spoken word pieces (including other chapters in the life of Moll Slander) at multiple Cabaret Voltaire events in Hollywood, and is currently at work on a play about the suicide of Crown Prince Rudolf of Austria.


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