Home Stories Poems Site Reviews Writing Tips Charlie Fish
FICTION on the WEB short stories by Charlie Fish

Sweetie Lou
Sweetie Lou
by Ericka Pate

View or add comments on this story

The police report described it as blunt force trauma. She went flying through the air like a goddamn pixie fairy the night she was mowed over by a Lotus Esprit while walking back to a friend's car. She had forgotten her crisp pack of ultra-light Virginia Slims. Lucinda could not go 20 minutes without a cigarette dangling off her matted magenta lips - she wore hooker-colored lipstick when she trolled parties and when she needed to feel sexy on days of tedium. She did not see it coming - the speed machine barreling down the steep California road, racing another pretentious automobile - losing control and venturing up on the sidewalk it broke every bone in her back and knocked her croco-embossed leather kitten heels clear off her size 10 feet. She was collected 175 yards away - face down in the trash-lined embankment. Christopher wanted to see her in the morgue. I told him he would regret it. She would be bloated and bruised - highly unlikely to seem as though she was sleeping peacefully. I had never laid eyes a dead person, but I could only imagine.

Her personal effects - that's what the city coroner called them - were covered in specks of dirt - a leopard print satchel, a pocket calendar, a half-dozen ballpoint pens without caps and other unimportant items needed to be dusted off before further inspection. We passed around her belongings while we sat in the sterile, public office - a Plexiglas barrier between us and the clerk - like visiting someone in jail. The woman slipped a sandwich-sized plastic baggy to me - a menagerie of jewelry Lucinda had worn. Two of her sterling silver rings rode together for a brief time - sliding on and off each of my bare fingers - both too large for me to sport.

Lucinda's best friend Maggie called me - during a string of forgettable moments when I was agonizing over pending graduate school projects. I had just moved to Chicago four months prior and had begun an intensive MBA program at Northwestern.

"There's been a horrible accident. You're mother's dead," She blurted it out - just like that no sympathetic warm-up - no suspense.

"Excuse me?"

"She got hit by a car. It happened last night, around 2:00 a.m. She was with Karen and they were on their way to a party for the guys in Laurel Canyon and some idiot hit her. He was going at least 100 miles an hour. I can't believe this is happening..."

The obligatory silence that usually accompanies bad news took over the line.


"Ya, I'm here. Where's Christopher? Have you told him yet?"

"We can't find him."

"What do you mean you can't find him? It's after nine there, where is he?"

"I don't know. I'm at your mom's house right now and he isn't here. I don't know who to call. Who should I call to find him?"

"Jesus Christ! It's L.A. He could be anywhere... I don't know why she lets him run the streets... "

"Kat... he just walked in. Hold on... "

Maggie handed the phone to Christopher and I was sick to tell my 13-year-old brother that our mother - the only parent either of us had ever known - had been killed. She was 39.

"Don't worry. I'm going to fly out there tomorrow and everything will be fine. Are you going to be okay until I get there?"

"What time are ya gunna be here?"

"As soon as I can. I promise. I'm going to call the airlines right now and book a flight. Stay with Maggie tonight."

"Okay... I love you Kat."

"I love you too."

The band played two exhausting sets in the bite-sized bar conveniently located between a lingerie shop and a Vietnamese restaurant in Santa Monica. The fivesome had aspirations of charming the pants off the music industry - being rewarded with eager groupies and disposable income - and oh what nagging fame that awaited them - some had already planned on weekly therapy.

This night of all nights, they were not temporarily derailed with gigs covering insufferable tunes by bands that had already grabbed fame by the throat. When the rent could not be paid, they morphed into their alter ego disco band - "The Boogie Knights." With flared corduroy pants and frizzy afro wigs, the handsome fellows brought back the hustle to a generation of young professionals who were barely embryos when the original dance craze had emerged on the scene. Lucinda, being the band's manager, would not be discouraged by the necessary setbacks. She was puffed up and inspired by her life's blood. She believed in their potential to break the North American market with their funk-rock-a-billy-semi-pop sound. And this night would surely prove that the band's own carefully chosen words and danceable instrumental arrangements could send everyone's career into orbital bliss. This night of all nights, important folks were shadows on the back wall - listening and negotiating among themselves - the space ship was ready for boarding.

Lucinda's expectations were persistent and beyond my practical understanding. How could she manage a band? She was not formally educated in business management of any kind - she manicured her nails during remedial high school math - she ditched any useful class whenever she had a craving for soft-serve Dairy Queen ice-cream - according to my sources. Yet, she was determined to baptize herself in the pool of possibilities. Her yellow-stained ambition moved her to West Hollywood three years ago - a grungy studio apartment and a scratchy foldout couch were the only tentative friends to welcome her and my brother to town.

"Why don't you get a normal job? Why must you drag Christopher across the country to the land of plastic where you don't have any prospects? I really don't get it..."

"You don't get it Kat because you're not me. And I don't need a lecture from my daughter about my life."

"You need something... it's not normal for someone to pick up and move 2,000 miles away... and for what? Jesus! Don't you care how your children feel?"

"You don't know what you're talking about... Chris is excited. He can't wait to see all the movie stars."

"Good lord... do you even know how unbelievably ridiculous that is Lucinda? PLEASE tell me you do?"

"My name is Mom, and you'll get over it Kat, like everything else you have a stick up your butt about. Now are you going to write down our new address or what?"

She had bought me a pair of purple suede stilettos and a feather boa for my 21st birthday. She ranted on numerous occasions about my inability to choose clothes that were fun - clothes that did not suggest a Beverly Hills tennis match was on my day's agenda. Her tangible affections were wrapped in the L.A. Times - Sunday edition - and sitting patiently on her dresser. She had intended to mail them out to me - but in the grand tradition of acknowledging major familial holidays 2-3 weeks late - Lucinda had procrastinated. I sat - slumped over on her sheet-free mattress, defeated and featureless, and bored my stare into the unopened gifts for the better half of an hour - until I had the courage to expose to open air her style-defining gesture. Despite my bullish efforts, she always got the last word.

The cocktail hours of my milestone birthday celebration were spent at a candlelight vigil - swiftly organized by the bass player and the lead singer. A magnificent glow in the hands of her friends showered over the spot where she had been found. Miniature roses and Calla lilies and flowers I could not immediately identify were decisively arranged in a makeshift memorial - more breathtaking and fragrant than an elaborate Spring wedding - very ironic, I remember thinking, for Lucinda longed to be married. Poster-painted signs were peppered throughout the flowers - strident tokens of support - like the loyal cheers in the visitor section at a home football game.

"We'll miss you Sweetie Lou."

"You Rock Sweetie Lou!"


And it occurred to me - standing there, stiff-kneed holding a fast-burning, tapered candle supported by a small coffee filter - I had withheld approval of Lucinda's life for as long as I have been able to think independently. In a moment of clarity, a tragedy had become a cliché.

I wobbled on the plane in my new heels - falling in to the passenger in front of me - bracing myself from a potential fall - forearms and elbows making contact with squishy, private areas.

"Nice shoes," the chubby suit said to me with a pound of disdain mixed in his delivery.

"Yes, aren't they wonderful? Sweetie Lou got them for me."

"Who the hell is Sweetie Lou?"

"An angel I know."

View or add comments on this story

Back to top
Back to list of stories

Web www.fictionontheweb.co.uk


Home Stories Poems Site Reviews Writing Tips Charlie Fish