THE BLOG
06/06/2013 06:59 am ET Updated Aug 06, 2013

The Silver Twinkie

It'd been three decades since I last saw Yvonne Carter, and never would I have made the drive if she hadn't needed me.

After five hours the highway became less and less congested, until mine was the lone car on the isolated road. The Mojave Desert scenery stretched for miles, and seemed unforgiving. Yucca and barrel cactus rippled through ponds of distant vapors, like caution signs. I believe the tour books call it desolate grandeur, but it seemed more like windswept insanity.

Yvonne and I had been best friends during the roller-skating years. The laugh-til-you-blow-milk-out-of-your-nose stretch from third grade until the second summer of middle school, when the Carters abruptly moved. We promised to stay close but, as those things go, we lost touch.

After the initial excitement of hearing from her I asked how she found me.

"On the Internet," she said. "I use the library computers for free." Her voice hissed over a poor connection. "It was easy. I plunked in a couple of matter-of-facts, and I'll be damned if your name and address didn't come up on the screen."

"I'm so glad you did."

"Fancy schmancy you," she said. "Living in Beverly Hills."

"On the outskirts." I laughed. "How about you?"

"I'm in the desert," she said. "God, I've missed you over the years, Rosy."

"I've missed you, too," I said, uncomfortable with my fib.

"Whenever I'm feeling unhinged, I look at the photo of us at Magic Mountain, and somehow it helps me. Remember how much fun we had that day?"

"Well, sure." I said. But I didn't really. Not the way she did. She recited word-for-word conversations and then recounted other trips we'd taken. Exact details about what we wore, and how the mustard from the corn-dogs dripped down our arms. I grew self-conscious about my memory. It was as though a giant blotter expunged all the details of our friendship. Even so, some of the things she said simply couldn't have happened. Or maybe they could have.

Yvonne sounded a bit wacky and, yes, that part I remembered well. Soon, just like when we were kids, she made me laugh. We grew nostalgic over tap dance lessons, two-handed canasta games during summer break, and listening to the Top 40 Countdown together. Our conversation glided smooth as a waltz, with Yvonne taking the lead and filling in all the particulars.

"Remember how you'd bail me out of trouble?" she said. "How you could rationalize to the teachers until nothing we did was our fault?"

I was flattered. I think.

"Are you still loyal to the bone, Rosy? Still polite as punch? Still perfect as a china doll? Can you still talk your way out of anything?"

"Yvonne, stop it." I feared the teasing could turn mean, even though her voice remained airy.
"Okay, Okay, but God, I'd love to see you again. I'd drive to your place in a heartbeat, but my car's on the blink."

"Is it serious?"

"I like to say it bit the dust."

"What?"

"Like I said, I'm out here in the desert, and somehow sand from a dust storm got into the gas tank. I'll get it fixed when I can."

"I'm out there often," I said, assuming she meant Palm Springs.

"Great. Why don't you come see me next time you're here? I'm going to be off work for the next few weeks. We can shoot for that."

"Off work?"

"I've got some bum joints. Surgery's scheduled for next week. They'll replace the knuckles on my right hand with plastic implants."

"I'm open weekend after next. I can drive out for a visit, and help you after the surgery. Two birds."

"That'd be swell."

"Why don't you e-mail me the directions?"

"I'll just tell them to you now."

The thing is she didn't live in Palm Springs. When she said, "By Death Valley, near the Nevada border," I wanted to yank the offer back and pull my words right out of the phone wires. The name alone, Death Valley, smacked of danger. I imagined scorpions, and vultures, and crusty-skinned men carrying long barreled rifles for shooting at empty beer cans and rattlesnakes. It was much further than Palm Springs, and the opposite direction to boot.

As each day passed the regret of telling her I'd come to see her grew. An intuition, or foreboding, assisted by my normal stressed, neurotic self, convinced me we had nothing in common. That we never had.

Twice I picked up the phone to call with an excuse, but didn't because hearing from her awakened a lightness in me that'd been sleeping since my divorce.

My behavior was horrible during the split-up, and I felt out of touch with the world. Our friends sided with John. I thought a good deed might get my life back on track. Maybe I needed my old friend back. Or my childhood.

The thought of returning home was constant, but I drove on as if powered by the menacing heat. Part of me was anxious to reminisce. To laugh with abandon, like when we were two little girls who wanted to ride on lightning bolts and shake hands with astronauts. Another part of me felt trapped in a web of politeness and the inability to say no.

Wind gusts shook the car. The wing of a moth flapped next to a yellow glob on the windshield. It reminded me of the insects Yvonne caught in elementary school, from the windowsills above the stalls of the girls' bathroom. She'd rip one wing off and watch the creature thrash about the tiled floor, in circles.

Soon, bug debris was all over my brand new Jaguar. The bleakness of the trip expanded with my anxiety. I reached for my cell phone to call Yvonne and beg off with an excuse. The signal was low, on its last bar. I scrolled through the menu for her number, just as the truck Yvonne described, came to view.

"You'll pass an old, rusty panel truck," she'd said. "Sittin' on concrete blocks. It's hard to miss. The word OOPS is spray painted across the side."

The letters were huge, and sloppy, with drips streaking down to the running board. A knot settled in my stomach as I passed by.

"Keep driving," she said. "Seventeen miles past the truck, turn right and keep going straight until you see the Shady Cabana Trailer Estates." I stuck the phone back in its holster and scolded myself for the panic attack.

When she told me she lived in a trailer park, I imagined one like my grandparents old vacation home. The two bedroom doublewide was perched on a lush cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. To enjoy the view we sat on comfortable patio furniture under an aluminum awning.

If it weren't for the prickly-pear garden and two plastic flamingos perched next to the hitch, Yvonne's runty trailer could have been abandoned. The cocoon shaped Airstream was pocked with dents. It looked crippled, supported by cracked, airless tires. A homemade sign next to the filmy louvered windows read, "The Silver Twinkie."

The door opened. A woman filled the entrance. She had on a sleeveless muumuu, the same color as the blue painted on her puffy eyelids. I wasn't sure if it was Yvonne until she stepped into the garden and waved. The features of the girl I once knew were covered with swollen skin.
I pulled onto the pebbled drive behind a faded red Ford Festiva and adjusted the rear-view mirror to check my face, in the hopes that it hid the dread inside my chest. If only I'd listened to my intuition.

Yvonne made her way to my car. The contrast in our size was extreme, and I wished I'd worn something less tailored.

When I stepped out of the Jag we embraced. My cheek pressed against her damp muumuu, which smelled of sweat and mildew.

"Holy shit, Rosy, you look like a kid," she said, and stepped back. "I'll be damned. You haven't changed one bit."

"Yvonne, it's nice of you to say that. And look at you. Where did you get that dress? Periwinkle's one of my favorite colors. It complements your eyes."

"Periwinkle? Hell, I just thought it was blue. Hey, that's one damn pretty set of wheels you're driving. What is it?"

I nodded and forced a smile, wishing, for the first time I didn't have such a nice car.

"Come on inside." She offered her hand. A straight, healthy hand, fingers tipped with bright coral polish, no bandages or signs of surgery.

"Welcome to my abode." Yvonne opened the door. It gave a husky wine. "This here's a 1962 Globetrotter. They're hard to find anymore," she said, with a tone of pride. "I bought it from a couple of tin-can tourists who traveled just for fun. But Twinkie hasn't gone anywhere since I've owned her."

When we stepped inside the linoleum floor bounced as if attached to springs. The heavy smell of pork and beans filled the space. She closed the door tight. The swamp cooler droned. It seemed as if I could span the trailer from kitchen to sleeping area in five or six steps.

"Sit, sit, sit," she said, like she was training a puppy. I obeyed by sitting on the tweed sofa behind a maple coffee table with an empty shoestring potato can on it.

Yvonne sat across from me, on an upholstered bench next to a worn Formica table.

"How long have you lived here?"

"Twenty years," she said. "This kind of living's not for everyone, but after a while it feels as comfortable as a mother's womb." Her words mixed with a laugh of short air blasts. "It's about the same size."

She reached in her pocket and pulled out a pack of cigarettes, then stretched to grab an ashtray from the bookshelf next to her. An ice pick balanced on the top shelf. The words, Death Valley Ice Company, were stamped on the wooden handle, in red block letters.

Instead of lighting up, she said, "My liver's startin' to rumble. You want to join us?"

"Us?"

"Usually it's just me and Jack." She got up and looked toward the kitchen area. A bottle of Jack Daniel's sat on the counter by the sink. I checked my watch. It was close to two in the afternoon and I hadn't been there five minutes. I don't drink before five.

"Sure," I said.

"Good."

The floor gave as she walked to the kitchen nook. The small, veneer cabinets above the sink were latched with oversized bobby pins fastened through eyehooks. Yvonne's muumuu filled the space. She poured us some Jack. No ice.

"Rosy, you see how easy things are when you live unpretentious?" Again, she laughed, noisy air mixing with her words.

Her manicured hands wrapped around the glasses. She set my drink on the coffee table and plopped back on her bench. The Silver Twinkie closed in like a cage.

"I thought you were having surgery." I said.

"What surgery are you talking about?" One of her eyes twitched a little. "Damn, it's good to see you, Rosy. Let's drink to Peachgrove Street and to the 'friends-forever' bracelets we made."

Yvonne shoved her meaty, formless wrist toward me. "Remember how we made these from the catgut strings of that old tennis racket?" Her hand stayed put. "Remember how we'd share a roll of Lifesavers every Saturday, and promised-on-spit that nothing would come between us?"

"Not really," I said. My head began to throb.

Her eye twitched again. "Well that's real damn convenient, isn't it Rosy. I don't suppose you remember Skippy Howard either." Her voice slipped into a singsong juvenile tone.

"Skippy Howard? Which one was he?"

"You stole him from me with your brand new la-de-da bike. Your fancy Christmas present, with the streamers on the handlebars."

I laughed. "Yvonne?"

"Not funny, Rosy," she snapped. "How about Roger Jennings and Stevie Hinkle, and Bobby Farley? I don't suppose you remember them either. You, strutting around in your designer clothes and cashmere sweaters, going off to Cotillion with all the rich boys, while I stayed home."

"What's going on, Yvonne? Those were horrible boys. You were lucky you didn't have Cotillion." I looked toward the door. "I always envied you getting out of those affairs. I wanted to be you, and not have to go to them."

"Yep, you're still Miss Twist-Things-Around."

The sickly sweet smell of the brown sugar bubbling in the pork and beans crawled up my nostrils. I thought, Jesus, how can I get out of here politely? I looked at the floor, to see brown spots on the linoleum. Perfectly round drips, like dried blood. Or it could have been sauce from the pork and beans.

"So, do you live here alone?" I said.

"Only since Larry died."

Our eyes met. My insides tightened. "Larry? Your husband?"

"Yep. Well, common law."

"That's okay."

"Larry was a loser. A real whack job." She took a sailor's gulp of Jack. "When we met, he drove a taxi. By the time we moved in together he was a part-time drunk, a part-time bricklayer, and a full-time man of God."

"A man of God?"

"He was crazed with the Holy Scriptures." She shook her head. "His own damn version. He wasn't Baptist or Presbyterian, or anything like that. He was a self-serving Man Of God with a Dodge Ram pulpit."

She put her hands in the air. Her voice dropped. "Praise be, God in heaven," she said. "Help my wife accept her journey of penance. Hold her hand as she walks through this life of purgatory. Lord Jesus, make her understand." Her speech pattern changed, as though she was channeling Larry, and mocking him at the same time. "Let her know you intend her no harm, even though she is reminded everyday because she lives with the devil's stupidity."

Yvonne leaned forward and coughed. White spittle collected in the corners of her mouth. I noticed movement past her shoulder, on the bookshelf. A roach crawled over the ice pick.

"He was an unpredictable freak, Rosy. I never knew what to expect next." She took another drink. "Every week brought seven days of damnation for the unclean spirits that dwell in us all. Myself, in particular."

"Wow." I didn't know what else to say.

"He was a goddamn madman, Rosy."

Yvonne watched me reach for my purse and set it on my lap. My keys had been on top, but slipped inside with the sudden movement.

"Goodness, what happened to him?" I tried to ask casually, but the words came out shaky.
"I was on the front steps watching him preach to no one, from his truck bed. The Dodge rocked from his gyrations, like it'd been caught in its own little earthquake. He squealed about brimstone and the fire that never shall be quenched." Yvonne's face began to pinch.

I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs and bolt out the door right then, but was afraid it was locked. My hand searched deep in my purse. The keys were nowhere.

"His face was gray as ash, and his arms were stretched out, fingers shaking like a son-of-a-bitch." She stood up to show me, and the Silver Twinkie moved.

"He was shouting to the Holy Ghost, and the veins in his neck jumped like they were trying to escape. One big fat vein finally burst, and Larry fell flat. He choked on his own sermon."

I froze because of the way she stared at me.

What did you do?" I asked fast.

"I made a joyful noise unto the Lord, Rosy. He'd finally given me a sign."

"Praise the Lord, Yvonne." I don't know why I said that. Then I added, "I guess God's looking out for you."

"You betcha, Rosy. And every day I thank him for taking Larry away." She smiled, like it was a perfectly normal thing to say. "And now he's sent you back to me." She brought her hands together and rubbed them in a menacing gesture.

"Let's celebrate. More Jack?"

Without my answer, Yvonne took the ice pick from the book shelf and went to the kitchen. But, Yvonne hadn't put ice in our first drinks.

"No more for me, thank you." I looked down at the brown dots on the floor; again convinced they were blood.

"Everything's just fine now," she said gently. "Now that I have you here."

I got up and ran to the door. It didn't budge. Yvonne turned.

"What are you doing, Rosy?"

Our eyes met. Her pupils looked microscopic inside the blue, puffed lids. She reached for my arm with a clammy hand. I breathed in her stench.

"You don't need to go anywhere, Rosy. Sit back down and visit awhile."

I stayed where I was. "For God's sake, Yvonne, you said you were having surgery. I came here to help you. I'm just here to help."

"I don't need no surgery." She smiled. "I said that to get you to come out. Don't you know, Rosy, I wanted to see you so bad. I didn't think you'd come unless I fibbed just a little. Hell, you're the one who taught me how to do that―fib just a little."

I jerked my arm from her soggy clutch. Yvonne stepped back. I thought I caught a glimpse of the ice pick in her far hand―the hand with the catgut bracelet.

The surge of fear hit me as hard as if the ice pick had struck my temple. I screamed at the big blue monster that smelled bad, and punched my right fist deep into her belly, her enormous, gummy stomach. My hand hit a pillow of fat, and then the hard sack of intestines met my knuckles.

Yvonne fell back. Her head smacked on the corner of the bookshelf. Her menacing eyes turned empty. She slid to the floor. I moved the excess material of her muumuu with my shoe, to look for the pick, but only saw the dried blood drips, and nothing else. The low-pitched growl of the swamp cooler turned haunting.

Yvonne tried to get up, and then fell back. When I charged toward the door I saw the pick, the Death Valley Ice Company pick, still on the counter next to our glasses.

The door wasn't locked, just stuck. After two shoves it scrapped against the threshold and opened.

Once free from the Twinkie, I ran. The bite of a barrel cactus ripped through the leg of my pants and caught some skin. While stumbling toward the car I dug into my purse for the keys. They rattled, a maddening sound, but I couldn't feel them. My hand dug deeper, through tissues, half used matchbooks, and plastic toothpicks. I set the bag on the hood, looked back toward the Twinkie to make sure Yvonne was still inside, and frantically turned the bag upside down.

My wallet tumbled out. Credit cards and loose change slid under the car. Then everything else in the purse cascaded to the ground. The beautiful, life saving Jaguar emblem on my keychain peeked out from a tear in the lining.

A throaty moan seeped from the Twinkie. The trailer swayed. Yvonne stumbled outside to the top step.

"Rosy," she called. "What are you doing? Please don't go. Please don't be mad at me."

"Get away from me," I screamed, as I got into my car. "Get away you sick, deceitful cow."

"Please don't go Rosy, please don't be mad at me!"

The key turned, but stopped with the flat click of a faulty starter. It clicked and clicked, then nothing. Yvonne came down the steps. I locked the car and turned the key again. She reached for my door handle.

One last panic-filled try and the engine whirled in a triumphant roar. I put the gearshift in reverse. My foot shoved the pedal to the floorboard and the Jag roared backward.

Gravel battered the underside of the car as I sped to the highway with the moth wing still flapping on the windshield. The wind had died down and the world seemed to slow to a more normal pace. I rolled down the windows. The desert air dried my moist eyes as I accelerated past the panel truck on cement blocks with the word spray painted on the side. OOPS.