Loretta Young is about to walk down that elegant spiral staircase. I wonder which gown she’ll be wearing today.
Oh look, it’s red! Doesn’t she look beautiful? Red looks so good with her black hair. And it goes with her lipstick, too, which is also red. She always matches.
Loretta Young glides down the stairs, she does not trip, she is smiling her perfect smile.
“Grandma,” I say, “isn’t she the most beautiful woman . . . .”
“Sha.” Grandma puts her finger to her lips.
“But Grandma,” I persist, “don’t you think she looks exactly like . . . .”
“Sha sha, it’s starting.”
I was going to say, “Don’t you think she looks exactly like Mommy?” because my mother has black hair, too, and she wears red lipstick. She never wears a red dress, though, and her smile isn’t that big or that white, but still I think they could be sisters, my mother and Loretta Young.
Grandma’s right, the show is starting, and we never talk when Loretta Young is talking, so I push back against the sofa cushions and wait to see who Loretta Young is going to be this time.
Today she is a housewife, so she doesn’t have any sparkling jewels around her neck and she’s wearing an ordinary sort of dress. Though not as ordinary as Grandma’s dress, which would be silly, because she is Loretta Young.
She’s standing in her pretty white kitchen and there are little lace curtains on the windows, and pictures of cows and chickens on the walls. Loretta Young is at the stove, making stacks of pancakes. Each one is perfectly round and golden-brown, and she’s humming to herself. She must really love to make pancakes.
Then the telephone rings and Loretta Young goes over to the wall and pulls down the receiver and says, “Hello,” in a happy voice. But then all of a sudden her face looks so sad and she says, “I see.” She says, “Yes, I understand, I’ll be there as soon as I possibly can.”
She hangs up the phone and sits down at the kitchen table. She has tears in her eyes. Even with tears she looks beautiful.
Loretta Young’s husband comes into the kitchen, holding a newspaper in one hand. He can see right away that something is wrong.
“Mama died,” she tells him, “and I have to go home for the funeral. I’ll take the train and I’ll only be gone a couple of days.”
“That’s a shame, Hon,” her husband says. He’s a nice man. Sometimes her husbands are mean. Once she had a husband who tried to make her do something she didn’t want to do and she said to him, “When hell freezes over.” I asked Grandma if Loretta Young was going to get in trouble for saying “hell” but she said when you’re Loretta Young certain allowances can be made.
I am just so relieved that this time her husband is kind. He says, “Billy and I can manage on our own for a few days, don’t you worry about us,” and she tells him there are casseroles in the freezer and he should help himself to the flap jacks. I ask Grandma what are flap jacks, but she just shrugs.
Loretta Young’s husband goes over to the stove and carries a plate of pancakes to the table. So then we know what flap jacks are.
Loretta Young starts to go upstairs to pack, but at the very last second she picks the newspaper off the kitchen table and takes it away with her. It looks like maybe she is being a little bit sneaky about it. I wonder why.
Now we have the commercials. Even though I’m allowed to talk during the commercials I don’t want to because I might miss something important.
“Brylcream, a little dab’ll do ya.” My daddy uses Brylcream. I’m hoping we’ll get plop-plop-fizz-fizz, but we don’t. We get Bayer aspirin, instead.
Loretta Young is back. She’s sitting on her bed next to her suitcase and you can see she’s put a few clothes in already. She must have done it while we were watching the Brylcream man. Now she’s reading the newspaper and she looks scared. Uh oh, her hands are shaking. They’re shaking so hard she can’t even hold onto the paper. She can’t even sit up on the bed anymore. She crashes to the floor.
Her nice husband must have heard her fall. He comes running into the room and Billy, too. Billy is around my age but skinnier. He looks sort of goofy.
“Mama,” he screams, and I can tell he’s a big crybaby, like Michael Lifton in my class. His father tells him to go back to the kitchen and eat his flap jacks. Then he lifts Loretta Young off the floor. “What is it, Hon?” he asks her. She is too upset to speak. She points to the newspaper.
“Have you been reading your horoscope again? You know how that upsets you.”
I look at Grandma. Horror Scope? She gives me her “Don’t ask me, I don’t know” look.
Loretta Young’s husband picks up the paper and reads: “Stay close to home for the next 72 hours. Travel could prove disastrous. Avoid doing anything out of the ordinary.”
Loretta Young is on the bed now, her whole body is shaking. Her eyes are really big, which is how you know she is truly scared.
“Hon,” her husband says, “this is nonsense. Some lonely spinster makes it all up out of her head. We’ve been over this a million times before. You cannot live your life according to your horoscope.”
They talk some more but Grandma and I don’t understand most of what they’re saying. All we can figure out is that Loretta Young is terrified. But she still has to go, even though her Horror Scope says she shouldn’t, because her Mama died and no matter what, she has to get on that train.
I’m scared for her. What if she dies, too? What would happen to Billy? What would happen to the Loretta Young show?
Oh no. More commercials. Prell Shampoo and Gerber’s baby food. No plop-plop-fizz-fizz. Not even a snap, crackle and pop. Grandma doesn’t like it when I pout, though, so I keep my disappointment to myself.
Loretta Young is walking in the front door of her house. Her little hat is on an angle and she looks happy. She puts her suitcase down and calls out, “I’m back.”
Her husband and Billy come running to meet her. Everyone’s hugging and kissing and then Loretta Young’s husband says, “Hon, you look so — I don’t know — you look so — different.”
“I am different,” she says.
And then she tells him the most amazing story.
When she went home for her mother’s funeral she found out that the woman she always thought was her mother wasn’t really the woman who gave birth to her. An older relative told her that by the time she came to live with her Mama and Papa she was already a few months old.
“Which means, “ Loretta Young says, “I am not a Scorpio.”
I look at Grandma. I don’t know what a Scorpio is. Neither does she.
“You’re not a Scorpio?” says her husband. “You mean . . . . ”
“Yes,” Loretta Young says, laughing, “I spent all those years reading the wrong horoscope.”
“Oh, Hon,” says her husband. And he says it again. And the two of them laugh and hug and kiss. And then show is over.
“That was a good one,” I say, and Grandma agrees. Even though we don’t know what a Horror Scope is, or what Scorpio means, it was still a good one. Because we learned to call pancakes flap jacks and we got to see Loretta Young be happy. True, she did cry a little at the beginning, but it only matters what happens in the end. And in the end she was happy.
And so are we.