Antonia sits alone in the basement of her youngest son’s house, waiting for him to come down and talk to her. And Peter does. Often.
She listens but never says anything.
And though he’d prefer a more equitable interchange, like they used to have, Peter has adjusted to the altered circumstances of this one-sided discourse. When she was alive, Antonia was the only family member who listened to what he had to say, and now, from the urn Peter placed on a special shelf, she still is the only one who does.
Antonia had been in and out of the hospital for at least a year, and Peter went to visit her every day, sometimes bringing his wife along, though Jackie never once entered Antonia’s hospital room. Never once telephoned to ask how she was doing. Never once told Peter to say hello on her behalf. Jackie didn’t even ask how his mother was doing. When his visit was over, Jackie would pull her hefty frame from the chair in the hall, eager to be anywhere but here, and walk to the elevator without words, her heavy steps now purposeful. Peter, trailing behind, out the main doors and through the parking lot to the car, had given in long ago to what he felt too tired to try and change. He and Jackie rarely exchanged more than a few stiff words that were always poised for delivery of the sharp jab or a nasty reproof.
A much younger Antonia had once moved to Los Angeles with her older sister when both were in their late teens, lining up babysitting and waitressing jobs to pay the rent in a small, furnished flat. To her older sister’s chagrin, Antonia took a keen interest in the soldiers that frequented the downtown Los Angeles bars and restaurants, flirting with old and young men alike while keeping an eye out for the occasional movie mogul who, watching her from the corner of the room, might think her destined for greater things than waiting tables. The ingénue turned promising starlet. The new Elizabeth Taylor or Natalie Wood.
Antonia’s mission had been two-fold – to escape the tyrant of a father she loathed and to become a movie star. But in a year’s time, she and her sister moved back home because their father had become ill. Neither one of them cared all that much, but their mother begged them to come home because she thought he was dying, and they did so for her sake. Her sister, eagerly; Antonia, not so much so. No, not at all.
Sunset Boulevard turned out to be no more than a street like that in any other town across America – one of false dreams and broken promises.
But lives filled with bitterness and disappointment only sharpen the wanting.
As she grew older, Antonia turned her energies toward Englebert Humperdink. She became an ardent fan, organized a fan club in her area, and started following his concert tour gigs around the country – she and other groupies who worshipped him in like fashion. They became concert fixtures, managing to secure front row seats, or so Antonia claimed, as groupies tend to do after a while, eventually getting an invitation backstage on one occasion, maybe two. Maybe. It was sometime during this obsessive-compulsive phase that she began regaling her friends with vague and undocumented tales of her once-upon-a-time stardom. Antonia fashioned herself not as a Taylor or Wood, of course, or they’d know that wasn’t true, but as a person-of-some-significance in the world of fame and fortune.
If you did the math according to the timetable she propped up her career with, you knew it wasn’t remotely true. She’d spent the years in question ensconced in small Michigan town with her husband and three young children. He worked on a construction site and she complained because he didn’t take her out enough. But what would be the point in bringing that up? She was desperate to be, or to have been, a somebody. Desperate and determined to secure attention and fame in any way she could.
Long after her groupie days were over and her pseudo-life faded into the passing decades, the stories about those glory days witnessed a revival and were embellished with renewed fervor as her slow march to the end approached.
Then Bob Hope died.
“I’m really going to miss him,” Antonia said matter-of-factly, adding how sorry she felt for “Deloris” whom she knew from her days in LA, adding that she’d kept in touch with “Deloris” over the years, sending her cards and letters. She suggested they’d been close friends for years, corresponding regularly, though she’d uncharacteristically failed to mention this until “Bob” died. It was all she talked about for months afterward.
Her self-styled obituary referred to her as a singer, a dancer, an actress. All make-believe, a supernova of distortions coalescing into a truth of their own. One that failed to paint the picture she thought it would. Instead, this one was a sad and pitiful portrait of the life she had never lived, despite the wanting of it she thought would make it so.
Over the years, she sent her sister greeting cards for holidays and birthdays. They contained poems Antonia had written on separate slips of paper. Poems she’d seen in obituaries. Poems of remembrance, loss, hope. Poems plagiarized from the obituaries of strangers – like the one now taking up space in her own.