Kristi Conley and Lisa Eldridge

Light at the End of the Tunnel
Kristi Conley

The Perils of Optimism
by Lisa Eldridge

Bitsy Schmendelsohn floored the stiff gas pedal on her 1994 Dodge Bladder. She was careful to rest her left foot against the peeling vinyl of the driver-side door so as not to lose her lavender satin slingback shoe out of the large hole in the rotten footplate. Bitsy and Sweetie, her ancient, incontinent grandmother, were speeding east on the highway, in what was beginning to seem like a pointless effort. Bitsy was trying to reach the small city of Dogtown in time for the religious conversion ceremony of Chet, her second ex-husband. Bitsy had promised Chet she and Sweetie would both be there to support him as he finally achieved his months-long dream of becoming a Futilist.

Things were about to get a little hinky.

(The previous day, following the pre-ceremonial brunch and group circumcision, Bitsy had set out in her rattletrap, oil-spewing Bladder to drive the 87 miles to pick Sweetie up from The Home. Sweetie had always had a soft spot in her heart for her grandson-in-law, now her ex-grandson-in-law. Sweetie liked to say, “If that good-for-nothing Chet ever actually finishes one thing he’s ever started, I’ll have seen everything and be ready to die happy.” Because Bitsy had run into a bit of bad financial luck in the last few months, she was hoping to make a few bucks by pawning the jewelry Sweetie had promised her in the will. Anything she could do to hasten Sweetie’s demise seemed like a good bet, so she had gassed up the Bladder with some anticipation.)

Now, Bitsy steered the car down the road with her knees while she held a cigarette in one hand and applied her false eyelashes with the other. She cursed loudly when a hot ash settled on her rouged cheek. Bitsy had to get to Chet before anything went wrong! Without Bitsy beside him for moral support, Chet would be beside himself, which was not a place Bitsy ever wanted Chet to be if he were going to go through with the ceremony so Sweetie could witness it and be satisfied enough to finally kick the bucket and leave her meager nest egg to her beloved and insolvent granddaughter. Grimly, Bitsy hunched over the wheel and pressed her foot down as hard as it could go. The Bladder coughed, weakly, and sped up slightly.

All of a sudden, something felt…wrong. Bitsy blinked at the light filtering through the dirty windshield. The light turned peach, then gold, and then settled on a diaphanous non-color. The radio blatted discordant noise, whether music or words she could not have said. Bitsy glanced at the ancient, snoring woman in the seat next to her, and panic overwhelmed her as she realized she was sitting next to a stranger. She pulled the car to the shoulder and stopped it with a screech of brakes. She threw open the door and staggered away from the car, falling to her knees a few feet behind the vehicle.

(Sweetie could probably have warned Bitsy that something like this was bound to happen. The women in Sweetie’s family did not cope well with special occasions. Sweetie had herself been late to her own wedding because she’d suddenly been overcome with the vapors and had to be placated with several shots of Old Thunder Spleen before she finally agreed to stumble, mincingly, down the aisle to almost 3 years of wedded bliss (followed by 20 years of divorced bliss). At the funeral for Sal, Sweetie’s ex-husband and Bitsy’s grandfather, Bitsy’s own mother had been caught in the coat closet with her dead father’s business partner before, as Sweetie liked to remind her, the body was even cold. This was literally true, as Bitsy’s grandfather had died in a suspicious fire that had burned, mysteriously, for over a week.)

Sweetie had always suspected that Bitsy’s real father had not been Mervin Schmendelsohn at all but rather her late husband’s business partner, Dr. Jasper Terwilliger, DDS. Sweetie was sure she saw the resemblance between the dentist and her granddaughter: it was something about her teeth when Bitsy neglected to cover her mouth while eating saltwater taffy.

So, here it was, less than an hour until Chet’s rebirth as a Futilist, and Bitsy was crouched in the dirt, staring in consternation at the cars whizzing by her. The spontaneous amnesia had returned.

(This always happened when she let herself get too optimistic.)