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Friday, January 24, 2014

Nikki's Favorite Daughter - A Short Story

In case some of you follow my blog and like to read my uploads, here's a short story first for you.  It's entitled "Nikki's Favorite Daughter."  It essentially came to me in a dream, and in that dream, I envisioned it to be filled with a lot of dialogue.  So, if it seems a little "talky," blame my subconcious/sleeping mind, not me!  Here it is, so enjoy it!  If you read it and loved it or hated it, please don't hesitate to comment and let me know.  I appreciate hearing from the people who read my blog.  It gives me a reason to continue doing it.

Nikki’s Favorite Daughter

     “Your Nikki’s favorite daughter, aren’t you?”
     The television news reporter from Channel 10 moved his microphone nearer her lips in anticipation of a response.
     “I guess I am.  How did you find me?”
     “We have our sources, Mrs. Halley.”
     “I’d like to know who they are.”  She laughed.
     “So would a thousand other people.  Then, you don’t mind a few questions?”
     She studied her watch for a few seconds.  Staring at it wouldn’t make it any later and she wasn’t due back in town for another two hours, not until school let out.  Being interviewed by Les Warren was as good a way as any to kill some time.  She pointed to the chairs on her porch.
     “If we’re going to do this, let’s at least be comfortable.”
     “Thanks a lot.  It’s very nice of you to agree to this.”
     Les motioned to his two-man crew and they began setting up pieces of electronic equipment just off the front edge of the early-afternoon-sunlit porch.  When they were ready, the one shouldering a large video camera nodded his head.  The interview could begin.
     “Just why is channel 10 so interested in me, now?  Wouldn’t my mother be the better story?”
     “She might, but no one can get to her.  They’ve got her sealed up tighter than a kettle drum in the New York Philharmonic.  And besides, you’ll make a great human interest piece.  Something we’ve found our viewers really respond to.”
     “I’ve seen your show.  Maybe I should go take off half my clothes.  Give them more to respond to, Les.”
     “It’s not sweeps.  You’ll do fine just the way you are.  The natural look.”
     “You’re sure?”
     “Relax.  Tell me about your relationship with Nikki.”
     She couldn’t help smiling, despite the circumstances.  “She was my mother, you know.”  Les frowned.  “Okay, my relationship with Nikki.”  She stared out over the cameraman’s head and her eyes got a faraway, wistful look in them.  For a full sixty seconds, she was silent.  The reporter wondered if she was going to back out of the interview.  Finally, she cleared her throat and started to speak.  Because her voice was so low, the soundman punched up the recording level a few decibels.
     “I was the last of three girls, we didn’t have any brothers.  I was six years younger than my oldest sister, Nancy and four years behind Abbe.  We were always close, in those early years, even despite the age difference.  They never treated me like the baby of the family, not like mother did.  Oh, she meant well, I suppose, but how do you think Nan and Abbe felt about it?  Although Nikki gave me most of her attention, they managed to take it in stride.  I never once knew them to get mad at anything mother did.  And she was always doing things just a little bit different than everybody else.  ‘The Nikki Torres Way,’ she called it.  Like it was patented or something.”
     “I remember once when she came to get me out of school, I must have been in the fourth or fifth grade at the time.  When my teacher asked what she was doing there, long before class was over, my mother looked at her and said, ‘I always try to take a personal interest in the teaching of my child.  Don’t you know what today is?’  It was just an ordinary school day, for all my teacher knew, so she said no.  My mother, being the forceful presence that she is, planted both feet firmly on the floor and said in her best ‘I’m surprised you don’t know what day it is’ voice, ‘Why, today is the day that the swallows fly back from Capistrano.’  I guess you could have knocked Miss Wilson over with a feather.  She was too astonished to have an answer for her.  There was often no answer for the situations mother created.  I didn’t want to leave my classmates, and I couldn’t disappoint mother.  Dear, sweet, well-intentioning Nikki.  She took me, and only me, for a drive to the seashore, where we sat for hours in her convertible foreign sports car watching the waves crash endlessly onto the beautiful, empty beaches.  No other living thing was around except for a few hungry seagulls.”
     “Did she do this often?”
     “What?  Wait for the swallows?”
     “To my knowledge, she never did it again.  But she was always doing things like that, you understand.”
     “What about your sisters, did she do things like that with them?”
     “No, never.”  The roar of a jet drifted over them and she waited until it subsided.  She repeated, “Never.”
     “Was it because she didn’t like them as well?”
     “Oh, no.  She adored them.  All three of us got swell presents at Christmas and for our birthdays.  She never skimped on those.”
     “But.... there was something....?”
     She nodded.  “It wasn’t a thing you could put your finger on and say, ‘There, there it is.’”
     “Then, what do you think it was?”
     “Do you have any children?”
     “Two.  A boy and a girl.”
     “Is your boy the oldest?”
     “No, my daughter is.”
     “Right there.  You see?”
     “See what?”
     “You said, ‘a boy and a girl.’  Not, ‘a girl and a boy.’  Why was that?”
     “It’s just natural, I suppose.”
     “You should have said, ‘a girl and a boy.’  She’s the oldest.”
     “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
     “I know, it’s just what I was saying, though.  There was nothing.... concrete about it.  I just felt inside that there was something different in her manner toward me.”
     “Did your sisters notice it?”
     “They never let on if they did.  But, I know they must have.”
     “Didn’t anyone say anything about it?”
     “That was the funny part.  Just when it seemed like she thought of me as an only child, why, then she’d surprise everyone and bring Nan a pony, or Abbe an expensive doll house, imported from England.”
     “Where did she get the money?  I know she didn’t work.”
     “Her first husband died and left her financially secure.”
     “Was he your father?”
     “No, he wasn’t mine, nor my sisters.  She never talked about him, so we didn’t know much about him.  What little I have learned about him, I found out from digging through old records.”
     “Why did you want to know?”
     “Curiosity, I suppose.  I wanted to know more about Nikki so maybe I could understand why....”
     The soundman stepped up onto the edge of the wooden porch.  “Could you pause for a second, Les?  I need to put in another tape.”
     Les looked at the woman seated beside him, watching her eyes.  No matter what he might wish, it was up to her to make the final decision.
     “No, go ahead,” she whispered.  “I don’t mind.  A short break might be good.”
     A new tape was inserted and a hand signal given to start the interview again.  Les tried to put her back at ease once more.  If he was lucky, he might get enough footage to run two different spots - one for the six-o’clock news and another at ten.  He mentioned her father, if only for the happy memories it might stir up.
     “Angelo Torres, the man that gave you and your sisters a first step into the world.  What was he like?”
     “He was a good man.  What I can remember of him.”
     “When did you last see him?”
     “Just last week.”
     Les looked up from his notes.  “Oh.... I was under the impression that....”
     “Well, at one time, yes.  But, since this.... thing, I very much wanted to talk to him.  He was glad to see me, for whatever the reason.”
     “When did he leave you?”
     “Nikki kicked him out around 1972.”
     “Was the story true about there being another woman involved?”
     “For years, that was what mother told us.  It must have been her own kind of personal therapy, I guess, but there was no truth to it.  None whatsoever.”
     “Do you know the real reason why they split up?  Or have you surmised it?”
     “Yes, I do know.  I just don’t feel comfortable saying it.”
     “Too painful?”
     “No, it’s not that.  You might think I was imagining things.”
     “You know Nikki best.”
     “Yes, and that’s why I’m almost certain of my feelings.  They’re all I have to go on, but I.... know I’m
right, so I’ll just come out and say it.  Mother didn’t want anything to come between us.”
     Les sat there, hardly believing the words she was saying, what she was implying.
     “You mean, between her and you?” he said.
     “That’s exactly what I mean.  I think as time wore on, she started changing.  Her and Angelo never got on famously, as the saying goes, so there was no love lost between them.  My sisters and I missed him for a while, but she conditioned him right out of our thoughts.  Quick.  Too quick.  We believed all the things she said about him, why shouldn’t we?  She was our mother.  And I kept believing them up until I was in high school.  Then I began to read between the lines of what she had said.  What she said didn’t make sense to me anymore.  Unfortunately, I never took the thought any farther.  I wish now that I had.”
     “How was your father when you saw him last week?”
     “He told me he was sorry it all happened, as was I, and I assured him I knew it wasn’t his fault.  It meant a lot for him to know that I felt that way.”
     “Did your sisters ever try to track him down?”
     “If they did, I never knew about it.”
     “Would they have told you if they had?”
     “I think so.  As I said, we were always close.”
     “Always?  Even after they graduated and moved away?”
     “They may have been in two other states, but there was a kind of bond between us.... scientists would probably call it a mental link or E.S.P.”
     “What do you think it was?”
     “Just the fact that we lived so close together all those years.  You grow to know someone after that long.”
     “Did Nikki realize you three were that close?”
     “We didn’t, at the time, so how could she?  She was just your average mother.”
     “Hardly average.”
     “We thought she was great.  When that’s all you’ve ever known, you tend to think everyone’s mother is like that.”
     “Were your friend’s mothers like that?”
     “Friendships were a thing that she never encouraged.  We always had to come home right after school.  We
weren’t allowed to play at friend’s houses or to sleep over.”
     “Did Nikki demand that?”
     “Yes, in a way.  Only, she made it seem like nothing out of the ordinary.  Why, when we got home, she was just as likely to involve all of us in making a batch of cookies or to take us to the zoo.  She was always one for family togetherness.”
     “Yet, through it all, she still favored you?”
     “What can I say?  She did, but she must have had a reason for doing so.”
     “Do you ever wish you could ask her what it was?”
     “No, after all these years, I wouldn’t want to know.”
     “Aren’t you in the least bit curious?”
     “My curiousity became jaded at a very young age.  When my sisters became old enough to finally move out on their own, I sensed relief in them.  Maybe more than that.  It was nothing tangible and I’m sure mother wasn’t aware of it.”
     “How did she take it when they left?”
     “She turned to me.  I was still there and she liked me even more because of it.  Now, however, she was unimpeded in her efforts to shower me with every bit of her love and affection.”
     “Did it seem strange at the time?”
     “What is normal and what is not?  As I said, if that’s all you’ve ever known, you don’t know any different.  Her manner didn’t change overnight.  If anything, it just grew more intense.  It was just her and I alone in that big, rambling house.”
     “The one in West Hollywood.”
     “Yes, that’s the one.  She always told us that a famous movie star had owned it.  I asked a realtor once and found out that it had been owned by a minor starlet from the silent era of the twenties.  I’ve since forgotten her name.”
     “Why did you go to New York when you turned twenty-one?”
     “Who knows?  Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we lived in Hollywood, the motion picture capital of the world.  At the time, I suppose, I saw myself as a great actress, the next Katherine Hepburn.  I wanted to learn all about it, but just not here.  Do you understand?”
     Les nodded his head without speaking.
     She continued.  “New York was where real actresses lived and worked, learned and starved, and coped and triumphed.  It sounded romantic to a girl of twenty-one.”
     “I can imagine.”
     “Maybe you can.  Anyway, I went there and supported myself, not in the custom I’d been used to, but it wasn’t a bad experience, in all.  I remember back on those two years quite fondly.  When I came back to California, mother insisted that I stay with her until I got settled.  I had gotten over the notion of being the next big thing and had become a very good secretary after my time in New York.  I liked the work and had no trouble in securing a position almost immediately.  It was with a firm that was involved, peripherally, with the motion picture industry.”
     “Howe Associates.  I believe a couple of their clients are the heads of some of the minor studios.”
     “Precisely.  The job provided me with more than enough to live on, so I found my own apartment and really started to live my life.  It felt like the first time I had ever done so.”
     “How did Nikki feel about it?  About being left alone, abandoned by her last daughter?”
     “She wasn’t like that, she was very supportive.  She always was when it had something to do with me.  Nan and Abbe could have ideas about things, but whenever I had a notion, it was always full speed ahead.”
     “Can you give me an example?”
     “There was the time I wanted to go into business for myself.”
     “After Howe Associates?”
     “No, when I was eight years old.”
     “What kind of business could a child of eight desire?”
     “I chose the age-old favorite, a lemonade stand.  For customers, I had our neighbors in the immediate
area.  They all knew me, knew that I was very precocious at that age.  Still, I made a go of it.”   
     “How long did it last?”
     “Why, the complete summer vacation.”
     “Did you make much money?”
     “I probably lost twice as much as I made.  Mother furnished all the lemonade supplies.”
     “Did your sisters help you?”
     “No, it was my project alone.  Mother made sure to stress that point.”
     “Did they mind being left out of it?”
     “Well, they were at the age when they were just beginning to find out about boys.  That kept them occupied and out of the way of mother’s need for my special attention.”
     “How did Nikki take it when you got married?”
     “I don’t think she expected anything to change.  It always does, though.”
     “Yes, marriage is a big step.”
     “It was for me.  I found myself in a whole different world.  One I never even dreamed existed.  I still had my job as a secretary and Jack worked in an advertising firm.  We were very much in love right then, still are, as a matter of fact, and life looked rosy.  At the beginning, mother seemed to support us.  I had everything I’d ever wanted and my mother’s approval, too.  She came to our house on numerous occasions and each time I never suspected that anything was wrong.  Then, my sisters began dropping by.  My mother was putting things into their heads, things that weren’t true, and they were checking up on me.  Each time they came, I sensed that strange things were going on in their minds, but nothing was ever said.  They’d stay for a couple of days, find out how things really were, and then go back to their own lives.  After this went on for a while, they began to realize what was at the root of the problem.  They believed I was happy and knew it was just mother’s queer way of doing things.  It had a side effect.  My sisters began to drift away from her after that.  Once the damage was done, it was too late to repair it.  Mother tried, but nothing worked.  After that, she turned all her efforts back on me.  She tried to convince me that my married life wasn’t the best goal I could attain.  She had me almost believing it, if it hadn’t been for Jack.  He straightened things out on that one quick.”
     “Was that the period when Nikki and you didn’t speak?”
     “You make it sound like required reading in History 101.  It only lasted for six months.”
     “What finally ended it?”
     “Mother apologized.”
     “Was this before or after your first child?”
     “Right before.  At the time, I felt, somehow, she must have found out about my pregnancy.  But, she couldn’t have.  Only Jack, myself and my doctor knew it.”
     “She picked up where she’d left off?”
     “Not exactly.  It was like she was a changed person.  Nothing was too good for a daughter of hers in the condition I was in.”
     “Hadn’t both of your sisters, by that time, had children?  Did Nikki act in the same manner toward them?”
     “I can’t say, because I wasn’t there with them.  I did get the impression later on that they felt mother could have done more.”
     “Like what?”
     “Well, been there for them more.”
     “She hadn’t been, at the time?”
     “She was and she wasn’t.”
     “What do you mean?”
     “She was there in body, but not in spirit.  If that makes any sense.”
     “I think I can understand what you’re saying.”
     “Exactly.  It’s such an ephemeral kind of thing.”
     “And it never changed?”
     “Not to my knowledge.”
     Les looked at his watch, knowing that at any time the interview would have to come to a close.  He still hadn’t asked the question he had on his mind, the one his viewers would most want answered.  He tried leading into it.
     “What made Nikki ‘go over the edge,’ so to speak?  If I may put it that way.  Was it one particular incident or was it a cumulative effect?”
     “You know, I’ve often wondered that myself.”
     “Don’t you have any idea at all?”
     “No, not really.  And now, I guess we’ll never know.”
     “Not unless they come through with a pardon in time.  Do you think that will happen?”
     “No, I don’t.  And I don’t know if they should.  What’s done is done.  You can never go back.”
     “But, she’s your mother.”
     “The mother I knew disappeared a long time ago.  I want to remember her the way she used to be, back
when we were all together.”
     “Do you plan on attending her execution?”
     “No, I couldn’t handle it.  It would only remind me of too many things.  Sad and lonely things.  Things I will never know again.”
     “Like the bond between you and your sisters?”
     “Yes.  When Nikki killed them, a part of me died with them.  No one could ever know what that was like.”
     “I guess not.”
     She stood up.  “I hope you’ve gotten enough for the story you wanted.”
     “Oh, yes, Mrs. Halley.  It was great of you to allow me to get this much.  It should play pretty well tonight when it’s aired.”
     “Well, that’s good.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go get my children from school.”
     “You’ve got kids in school of your own, now?”
     “Yes.  Three darling girls.”

The End.

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