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.“Mimi,” Birgie said, “I’m eighty-two years old, and I’ve learned as many new names in my life as I want to.Besides, most of the people here aren’t even related to me.”She nodded toward Chez Ducky’s beach.Little figures chugged up and down the shoreline, toting folding chairs, blankets, ancient TV trays, portable Weber grills, bags of charcoal, and cans of lighter fluid in preparation for the picnic later that afternoon.Birgie didn’t know two-thirds of them.Chez Ducky was like some petri dish experiment run amuck.Seeded more than a hundred years ago with a few grains of expansive, indiscriminating, and congenial Olson DNA, the Chez Ducky population had exploded over the decades, devouring anyone with the slimmest association to an Olson.There were ex-wives and ex-husbands and new wives of ex-husbands and children of new husbands from former marriages and half brothers and sisters and their friends and…gawd! It made her head hurt thinking about it.She knew none of this was necessarily a bad thing, but it wasn’t the same Chez Ducky she’d known growing up.And Birgie wasn’t the only one expressing discontent with what Chez Ducky had become.“Oh, I imagine you still have room in your old gray head for a few more names,” Mimi said.Birgie wondered whether Mimi would be so calm if she knew that certain family members, some of them the legal heirs to the property, were discussing selling the Chez.If Chez Ducky got sold, that would be that.On the up side for Birgie, there’d be no family enclave to be the head of; on the downside, she’d be stuck in Everglades City year-round because she didn’t have enough money to rent a place up here and she couldn’t stay with one of her Minnesota relatives for more than a few days.And where would Mimi go? As far as Birgie knew, this place was the only constant in Mimi’s life.No doubt about it, they’d be screwed.But what could either of them do about it? Still, she supposed she ought to say something to Mimi…just let her know people were talking…but…Beneath her blunt and blustery facade, Birgie knew herself to be a coward.She’d been too cowardly to get married, to have kids, to move into the head surgical nurse position at the hospital where she’d worked for forty years, or to tell someone bad news.She’d long ago come to terms with this failing in her character.She could, she reasoned, have had worse flaws.For instance, she could have been a Republican.It wasn’t that she thought Mimi would break down and bawl.Even when Mimi had been eighteen and the courts had declared her father legally dead, she hadn’t blubbered.But Birgie never wanted to see that stricken look on Mimi’s face again.“What would you do with your summers if you didn’t spend them here?” she asked as casually as she could.One of Mimi’s gimlet dark eyes opened.“But, I do spend them here,” she said.“And I intend to spend them here.Always.Until they wrench the key to Cottage Six from my cold, dead hand.And who knows?” Mimi mused, closing her eyes again and grinning.“I might not even go then.”“What? You’re going to haunt the place?”“Maybe.”Birgie snorted.Mimi was a tele-spiritualist…or was it tele-medium? Birgie never could remember what the operators of Uff-Dead—Birgie’s pet name for Straight Talk from Beyond, the paranormal hotline Mimi worked for and which catered to Minnesota’s Scandinavian population—called themselves.Unlike the rest of the Olson clan, who, uncertain whether they should be concerned, conciliatory, or amused about Mimi’s career and so opted to take the traditional Scandinavian route of ignoring it, Birgie wasn’t above open scoffing.Not that she had many opportunities to do so.The only time Mimi referred to her job was when someone suggested aloud that Mimi’s father, John Olson, who’d disappeared when Mimi was eleven, was dead.Mimi would look the offender straight in the eye and reply, “If my dad was dead, I’d be able to contact his spirit, wouldn’t I? But I can’t, so he isn’t.” That generally shut down any further conversation.Birgie didn’t know what Mimi’s mom, Solange, thought of her daughter’s refusal to entertain the possibility that her ex-husband was dead, but she’d guess Solange didn’t ignore it.No, sirree.Mimi’s mom, Solange, was the anti-Olson, focused, insistent, and relentless.Not that Birgie considered Solange a bad person.It must have about killed her to return Mimi to the midst of her indolent former in-laws every summer after the divorce.But she had.And she’d continued to do so even after John’s disappearance.Solange and John had met in college at a University of Minnesota job fair—she was there for a job; John Olson was there for the free hotdog.Solange hadn’t seen the carefree, wanderlust-prone young man as her polar opposite.She’d seen a gorgeous Gordian knot of potential she itched to unravel.John saw a pretty, starry-eyed girl who hung on his every word and enjoyed sex.No one had ever hung on any of John’s words before.They married.When Solange finished unraveling John, a process that took an embarrassingly short time, she realized he wasn’t ever going to amount to anything, big or otherwise, and that was exactly the way he wanted it.Sadder but wiser, Solange divorced John and swept their black-haired baby girl off to her parents’ palatial home (Solange’s great-granddad being Jacque Charbonneau, the depilatory king, creator of Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow).There, Solange wasted no time trying to root from Baby Mimi any suspected slacker tendencies she might have inherited from her dad.Her fears, Birgie conceded, were not without justification.As it turned out, Mimi was a slacker of the first order.Unfortunately for Mimi, it also turned out she had a sky-high IQ.Solange, not one to suffer waste gladly, set about “encouraging” Mimi with extracurricular activities, handpicked playgroups, accelerated this and fast-tracked that—at least that’s what Mimi’s dad, John, had said.This encouragement met with mild success and probably would have escalated had not Solange remarried a decade later and forthwith produced two more bright little girls who, unlike their older half sister, not only wanted Solange’s encouragement but actually seemed to benefit from it.And substantially, too.Mary and Sarah, Birgie recalled the girls’ names.Not that Mimi talked much about them.She kept her relationship with her Charbonneau relatives strictly separate from that with the Olsons.Or more specifically, her relationship with Chez Ducky.Since her dad had disappeared, Mimi had been living pretty much like she had a terminal disease.She had no responsibilities to anyone but herself and didn’t owe anyone anything.Owning nothing of value, she had nothing to protect.Except Chez Ducky.That, Birgie thought sadly, was the hell of it.You couldn’t get out of life without at least a few things sinking their hooks into you.And the fewer things that got to you, the deeper they set their hooks.For Mimi it was Chez Ducky.For Birgie, too, damn it.She cleared her throat.“Mimi.You…ah, you got anything going on in your life?”“Nope.I’m free as a bird.What do you want and when?”“That’s not what I meant.I meant, do you have a boyfriend? Or a girlfriend? Or anyone?”“You are acting so weird today,” Mimi said, wiggling her way up onto her elbows to peer at Birgie.“You feeling all right?”“I just…you know [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]