“Mummy, what do you suppose Gerry Clifford would give me for Christmas if he could be here with me?” eighteen-year-old Arachne Desrochers inquired as she sat at the dining room table watching her mother prepare dinner.
“Why, whatever you wanted, of course, Dear,” Elaine Desrochers replied as she readied the roast for the pan. Elaine told herself that there was no harm in indulging her daughter’s fantasies about her crush, although her hairdresser, Mister Siegfried Metaxas, said that he found it strange that a girl of Arachne’s age was enamored with a man old enough to be her grandfather.
“Do you not think it odd that a girl barely out of high school would be drawn to a rather overripe and…well, frankly, Darling, to put it gently, Gerry Clifford has never been what you’d call pretty,” Siegfried said as he applied tinfoil wraps to Elaine’s hair.
“Arachne has always had a soft spot for underdogs,” Elaine explained. “Honestly, I thought she’d outgrow this thing she has for Gerry. She became enamored with him when she was ten years old. We were watching the 2006 Ringing in the New Year special and the Clifford brothers’ band, Mainline, was one of the acts. I always thought that Paul Clifford was kind of cute in his weird way. Gerry never held any appeal for me. He’s an incredibly talented guitarist, but I’m honestly not sure how Arachne could determine whether he was cute or not. Usually, the only part of his face that can be seen is his nose sticking out from that mop on top of his head.”
“Gerry’s hair is like a Beatle shag on steroids,” Mister Siegfried laughed. “At least Paul has the curly blond locks, though they are much thinner these days.”
“I suppose that Paul should be commended for allowing himself to age naturally,” Elaine mused. “Too many celebrities get all kinds of procedures, and the result isn’t pretty. Oh, Siegfried, I do worry about Arachne sometimes. I suppose her obsession with Gerry stems from Adolfo leaving when she was so young. My little sugar magnolia is romanticizing a father figure. It’s a phase, surely, it’s just taking much longer for her to grow out of it than I’d assumed it would.”
“Mummy, did you hear me?”
“Oh, I’m sorry, my fairy,” Elaine apologized as she placed the potatoes alongside the roast. “I was lost in thought. I barely remember slicing these. What were you saying?”
“I was saying that I thought a Christmas wedding would be perfect,” Arachne repeated, her eyes dreamy and her smile predatory.
“Arachne, Love, Gerry Clifford is a very sick man,” Elaine explained gently. “I know he was cute when he was younger, but he’s a senior citizen now, and he has dementia. He isn’t going to recover from this. I think it might be better if you started thinking about boys your own age.”
“Young guys are stupid,” Arachne sniffed. “Anyway, Madame Yadira is teaching us the Zetar magic. I may never have Gerry’s body, but his soul will be all mine. Shall we have crème Fraiche with the jam tarts tomorrow?”
Elaine sighed as she surrounded the roast with quartered onions. She didn’t want to seem unsympathetic, but she feared that Arachne’s obsession with the aging and now terminally ill Gerry Clifford was going too far.
“I found a new picture of Gerry today, Mummy,” Arachne revealed. “Well, not new-new, it’s twenty-two years old. There’s a lady named Fanny Magnolia—do you suppose that’s her real name?”
“It could be,” Elaine said, forcing cheerfulness into her voice as she put the roast and vegetables into the oven. “Where is she from?”
“She’s from right here in Quebec, but her family moved to London in 1986 when she was fourteen years old,” Arachne explained. “She was one of the few journalists that Paul and Gerry trusted. She got permission from Paul to release some old pictures.”
“Shall I flavor the crème Fraiche with a little vanilla?” Elaine inquired.
“Mummy, if we bring it out now, we’ll just end up eating it!” Arachne giggled. “I need to keep my figure trim. If I’m going to possess Gerry’s heart, it’s only fair that I present him with a firm bum to fondle.”
“I think I’ll make coffee cake for breakfast,” Elaine mused, ignoring her daughter’s lurid remark. “I’m trying to place Madame Yadira. Where did you meet her again?”
“At the Xenon Psychic Faire,” Arachne said. “Mummy, you needn’t worry. Madame Yadira doesn’t charge outrageous fees for her products or services. It is her mission to make sure that ordinary people have access to magic. Do you know, she predicts that Gerry’s daughter Amber is going to announce her first pregnancy next year? She’ll need a nanny, don’t you think?”
“Darling, didn’t you say that Amber’s disabled brother—the fellow who has the seizures, you know—lives with Amber and her husband?” Elaine inquired as she chopped carrots for the salad.
“Yes, Mother, Daniel does live with Amber and Vance. But don’t you see? Since he has seizures, he can’t very well be left alone with a baby, and certainly Amber and Vance will want to have some time for themselves to go on dates and keep their romance alive.”
“I’m only thinking that the Cliffords have such a very large family. Don’t you think that perhaps Amber and Vance might ask one of their cousins to come by? I always thought it was terribly sweet how close Daniel and Amber were with Paul’s children, Alice and Donovan.”
“Well, Alice and Donovan have lives of their own. Anyway, I’m proposing that I could help Daniel too. He has his seizure dog Scarlet, but when things get tricky, a dog isn’t really going to be much help, is it?”
Elaine poured stock into a Dutch oven and returned to chopping vegetables.
“Do you still love my special minestrone, Dear?” Elaine inquired, her voice sounding as if she’d huffed helium.
“More than anything except Gerry!” Arachne giggled. “Fridge minestrone is the best! Is there anything I can help you with, Mummy?”
“Oh, no, I’m in the swing of it,” Elaine declared as she sliced tomatoes for the soup. “I was wondering how often you meet with Madame Yadira.”
“Now and then, over at Xenon. Mostly we meet in the Astral Coven. I’ve made friends all around the world thanks to Madame Yadira. She’s amazing, Mummy, you simply must get to know her. She seems impossibly old, but she’s so tuned in to the modern world. She said that my blog really reflects my passion for Gerry, and Mainline fans love it because it’s very educational. Everyone wonders where I find my rare photos. I’m an authority on something, Mummy. That makes me feel so proud!”
“You are my clever sprite,” Elaine agreed, adding spices to the soup base. “Now, the roast will give us tonight’s meal and sandwiches for a couple of days. I’m making enough soup for a week. I’m going to dice a week’s worth of potatoes, tomatoes, and peppers so we can make omelets in a jiffy. The eggs and bacon are good to go. Am I missing anything, Sugar Magnolia?”
“I don’t think so, Mummy. What days are you working this week, and what shifts?”
“Four tens, third shift. You won’t have me here to remind you to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Do you think you can manage?”
Elaine gave Arachne a teasing grin and a wink, indicating that at least on the surface she trusted her daughter to be mature enough to go to bed on time or risk missing her morning classes at John Abbott College.
“Yes, Mummy, you can rely on me,” Arachne promised.
Elaine glanced at Arachne while her daughter’s attention was drawn to a message on her netbook. Arachne was still so young, her cheeks plump, her face free of worry lines. Elaine chided herself for fretting about her daughter. Arachne was, overall, a responsible girl. She didn’t drink or do drugs. She didn’t stay out all night partying. She didn’t involve herself with questionable peers or throw herself at boys. Unlike many eighteen-year-old girls these days, Arachne was still a virgin, and it wasn’t because she was unattractive. The evening sun shone on the girl’s wavy, auburn hair and highlighted her fair, freckled face. Elaine smiled. She was the only person whom Arachne didn’t insist on hiding her freckles from.
“My Arachne will be all right,” Elaine told herself as she placed beets in a pot to boil. “Better she should have a crush on Gerry Clifford than to get pregnant by some boy who will leave her crying.”
Arachne stood and walked over to Elaine, embracing her mother from behind.
“I’m glad you’re able to be home tonight, Mummy,” she said. “After dinner, I can help you make dessert and we can spend more time together.”
When the roast was done, Elaine set it on the stovetop to rest. Arachne drank flavored water and confirmed that she would be meeting her friends in the Dreamlands later that night. Elaine prepared a red velvet cake from a mix as Arachne continued to detail her plans.
“We’re going to do the Empowerment Love Spell in the Forest of Dream tonight and I’m going to see if I can find Gerry,” Arachne revealed. “I’m going to make my eyes shine with Emerald Glimmer, so he knows that I’m the one he’s waited for.”
An eggshell slipped from Elaine’s hand, shattering on the floor.
“Mummy, you’re tired!” Arachne declared. “Come, sit down. I’ll sweep up the mess, and I’ll serve dinner. Would you rather have a cup of tea or a lovely hot chocolate?”
“My innocent girl,” Elaine thought to herself as she allowed Arachne to lead her to a chair. “My lovely Arachne has never had a normal life. It isn’t her fault that her head is full of necromancy and potions. I need to address this problem, I know. Oh, but let’s just have a quiet dinner tonight.”
Arachne swept the eggshell into a dustpan and deftly poured it into the trash. She washed her hands carefully.
“Look, Mummy, not a germ to be found!” Arachne giggled. As a nurse, Elaine was a stickler for proper handwashing.
“Good show, my little queen,” Elaine praised.
Arachne scooped the red velvet batter into the heart-shaped pan and placed it in the oven. She poured milk, sugar, and cocoa powder into a saucepan.
“Go wash your hands for dinner, Mummy,” Arachne scolded playfully.
While her mother was gone, Arachne procured a small plastic zipper bag filled with fine, sparkling vermillion powder from her pocket and poured a small amount into a cup featuring a picture of a cartoon nurse and the proclamation “World’s Greatest Nurse.” When Elaine returned, Arachne poured cocoa into the cups and stirred each cup well before applying a crown of whipped cream from a spray can.
Arachne placed the World’s Greatest Nurse cup in front of Elaine and kissed her cheek. She prepared a plate of food for her mother. Elaine sipped the cocoa with a contented smile.
“What would I do without you, my best girl?” Elaine gushed, her eyes shimmering with pride.
“You’ll never be without me, Mummy,” Arachne promised. “We’ll always be the best of friends, won’t we?”
“Of course we will!” Elaine declared. “If a mother and daughter can’t be besties, what is this world coming to?”
“Mummy, you aren’t worried about my feelings for Gerry Clifford, are you?” Arachne inquired as she sat down across from her mother.
“Worried?” Elaine giggled. “Don’t be such a goose! Oh, I admit it’s a bit unorthodox for a young girl to become enamored with a man old enough to be her mother’s father, but you’ve always been mature for your age, my zany little enchantress.”
“I’m so glad,” Arachne sighed. “I was afraid you were beginning to think I was crazy. I simply couldn’t bear to have my favorite mummy not be my number one fan anymore. This roast is simply scrummy, Mummy! You are the very bestest cook in the world! I think Gerry would love your cooking, and Paul too. Don’t you think it would be lovely if you could marry Paul when I marry Gerry? Then we’ll be sisters-in-law as well as Mum and daughter.”
“Yes, that would be sweet, Darling,” Elaine agreed as the harsh fluorescent light set vermillion sparks dancing in her eyes. “I always did think Paul was quite the cutie patootie. But he does seem to love his wife very much, and she’s ever so tall and blonde and pretty. Why ever would he leave her for a curly-haired redhead with freckles and a big bum?”
“Mummy, as I’ve told you, your hair is auburn and you’re very beautiful and ever so agreeable. I could ask Madame Yadira for a spell to make Paul and Sophia tired of each other. Then neither of them would get hurt.”
“I think you should make the cocoa forever,” Elaine praised. “It always turns out special when you do.”
“Eat your dinner, Mummy,” Arachne admonished. “You must keep your strength up. After all, you’re still going to have to work until the spell to bring Paul and Gerry to us kicks in.”
“Tell me more about this fangirl coven of yours,” Elaine encouraged. “I think I did a pretty good job on the roast tonight. Perhaps you can invite your little girlfriends over, and I’ll make a roast for them. Unless they’re vegetarians, of course. Or vegans. That’s the trendy thing now, isn’t it?”
“Sadly, the other members of the coven are spread out all over the world, so it’s not likely we’ll be having them to dinner anytime soon,” Arachne explained. “But your roast is so good it could make a carnivore of the staunchest vegan!”
“Oh hush, you flatterer!” Elaine giggled. “I must say, I’m glad the potatoes turned out so soft. Sometimes roasted potatoes are a bit tough. Oh, Arachne, I am so glad that you’re my daughter. I feel like a young girl with a mind full of impossible dreams when you and I sit down for a meal and chat like this. I’ve always felt bad that your father left when you were so young and I never found another man to be a father to you.”
“Well, now I’m all grown up and I don’t need a father,” Arachne declared. “Mummy, don’t you think it’s funny that if I marry Gerry and you marry Paul, Paul will become my stepfather, and even though Gerry is the older brother, Paul will now be his father-in-law? Oh, I do think that’s just the funniest thing ever!”
Number One Fangirl
After dinner, Elaine washed the dishes and Arachne made tea, putting Elaine’s in a cup decorated with a red rose. She stirred a bit more of the sparkling vermillion powder into Elaine’s tea and invited her mother to come and watch a video with her. Arachne selected Mainline’s 1976 concert video, Kings of the Road.
“This came out the year I was born,” Elaine recalled. “It’s so strange watching it now. They look like little boys. So much time has gone by and the world has changed so much. Oh, Arachne, I used to have such grand hopes and dreams. I thought that your father and I would have a wonderful life together. He was extremely handsome with his dark hair, dark eyes, and porcelain skin, and I was his fool. He looked like a young Bela Lugosi, the gentleman vampire, and he had killer dance moves. I was into vampire movies, and we went to see The Addiction together. I got pregnant with you that night. When he agreed to marry me, I thought we’d be a family forever, but I wasn’t enough to hold him.”
The kitchen timer chimed. Sniffling, Elaine went to the kitchen to take the cake out of the oven. Arachne paused the video and followed her mother. Elaine stood bent over the stove, her shoulders shaking. Arachne wrapped her arms around her mother’s waist.
“Mummy, please don’t cry,” she begged. “We’re better off without Daddy. I don’t even miss him. I barely remember him. I was only four years old when he left. He would never have understood me the way you do. I think he looks terribly stuffy and full of himself in that picture of the two of you at your wedding, while you look so sweet and dreamy. I can’t ever imagine a prig like him encouraging his little fairy dreamer the way you encourage me. I love you so much and forever. Now, when this cake cools, we’ll frost it together.”
“Oh, Arachne, you ought to go to bed,” Elaine insisted. “I need to stay up so I can sleep during the day since I’ll be working nights for a while, but you have your graphic design classes in the morning.”
“I’ll be fine, Mummy,” Arachne said reassuringly. “Please, at least let’s watch the rest of the video. I do love spending time with you like this. We’re more like sisters than mother and daughter. You needn’t worry about anything. When I fix Gerry Clifford’s broken brain, he’ll fall in love with me, and then neither of us will ever have to worry about anything anymore.”
“If you say so, Arachne,” Elaine agreed, smiling placidly as Arachne wiped the tears from her mother’s vermillion-flecked green eyes. “You are my wonderful and perfect Sugar Magnolia Fairy, and any dream you dream is certain to come true.”