The haughty WFL marches down the hall to the dusky cubbyhole where I am invisible when I write on a computer that is as old as WFL. The monitor is lit with a greenish glow in the darkness: the words “Welfare Fraud Lady Is Insane” are on the screen. I feel the shock as WFL reads it, and thunder rumbles. A lightning flash.
The telephone rings.
While I talk to a bill collector for telephone/TV services that I occurred while I was in isolation with flesh-eating bacteria at Mercy hospital, WFL makes Baby a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“What is your name?” I hear WFL coo to Baby.
“That’s a coincidence,” exclaims WFL. Baby interrupts to tell WFL: “You look like my Mama.”
As the storm progresses, I sit in my place of power on the red settee and WFL settles across from me in the pink/bronze recliner. The cat, Erie, attacks anyone sitting in that chair. It is a deformed black kitten, three legs and a fang growing from the bridge of its nose.
“Oh, how cute,” WFL manages as Erie climbs up her bare leg. Erie wants to suckle her earlobe as if she is her Mama. WFL grasps the furry kitten tight in both hands and holds it out at eye level; her expression is pained. “Except, I’m allergic!” Children crowd her. Allaurha leans over her with her mouth full of candy and drools. Baby jumps on her lap, smearing her with jelly and generic kool-aid.
“I’ll do you a favor,” Fraud Lady says to me, trying to regain control of her pen and notepad. “I know Bobby is living here.”
I look outside as the CATS bus pulls alongside WFL’s Caddy and Bobby gets off, his arms full of merchandise. He is unaware of the maelstrom surrounding him as he strides up his porch that is now our staircase.
“I won’t charge you with failure to report his food stamps,” WFL is saying. “But I have to report that Bobby is working under-the-table at Walmart.”
The kids leave WFL to swarm Bobby as he enters loaded down with fertilizer, bread, milk, a carton of toilet paper, and a football.
“You are a maniac!” I fling at the crazy person in a dress. Erie makes a long sucking sound as WFL grabs her by the scruff of the neck, and disconnects her from her earlobe. Delicately, WFL holds Erie out from her and drops her. At once, the cat is clawing onto the top of WFL’s head, where she’s been scalped.
“No one works under-the-table at Walmart!” I cry out.
Bobby shuffles back and forth. “I volunteer. Volunteerie!”
“I can’t pay.” It’s that simple.
“You could do Community Service,” WFL suggests brightly.
I light a hand-rolled cigarette, she looks at me sideways. “You could save money if you didn’t smoke. A pack of cigarettes is up to $10.”
“At the Rez, tobacco and gas are non-taxable, practically free,” I say. “I roll my own. Here, have one.”
WFL sighs, as if embracing a deep longing she’s tried hard to forget. She reaches out her hand and holds the cigarette to her red lips. I light it for her.
WFL gives me a blank look that reminds me of mindless bacteria that slowly rises like yeast to the top of the good ol’ boy system. She’s forced to deny the humanity of those on the bottom—women and children—defining them as lesser beings who are therefore not entitled to positions of power. WFL flicks her ashes into a nearby ashtray. She blows smoke out both snotty nostrils, then takes another long drag on the hand-rolled cigarette laced with saliva.
Suddenly WFL is crying. Tears as thick as mucus run culverts though her powdered foundation. “I built my house!”
“The Erie built the Nut Bin,” I offer. “Would you like some tea? Green tea?”
“Daddy helped me with the plan, an A-frame in the woods. It’s all glass. I could see the deer pass through the yard. I painted one room purple!”
Something inside WFL is born: a psychic Erie effect. The smoke has reached her reptilian brain and is taking her higher. “Foreclosure! Subprime loan!” she cries. “Take the money and raise the interest adjustable rate with the economy influx ration.” She sobs.
“Periodically, I get a standard of living increase in my SSI check that is subtracted from my food stamps,” I soothe her.
“I didn’t know they were bundling the loans and selling them to China!”
“You should have asked a Tibetan!”
“I did everything right!” WFL is surrounded by a purple haze as she collapses into an infantile state; her tongue flicks over her thumb, and I know she wants to suck it. “They took my house! My home!”
“And a Slumlord bought your home,” I guess, “and then rented it for a profit.”
“No. A hunter bought it at auction for the land, just to hunt on it!”
Lightning strikes the TV antenna on the roof at the same moment the electric goes out. Thunder rumbles and sudden hail puts out the fire started by the lightning strike.
Suddenly Dusty Stump is in the middle of the room, and says something shocking. WFL is his girlfriend!
WFL sits bolt upright.
With her long silver hair freed and her wet dress clinging to her body, she does resemble Char. WFL is Dusty’s girlfriend! She points at me with her right-hand finger, and she should be thankful she has one, the bitch. “You’re Dusty Stump’s mother!”
“How,” says Dusty to WFL, holding up one palm, “How is Allelujha?”
And it comes to me as brilliantly as the flash of lightning: I’m a grandmama, again. Coincidence?
“How about that hardship waiver now?” I ask WFL.
WFL is on her feet; she’s pulling at the roots of what remains of her frizzled hair. Like a banshee, she cries out: “She’s dead! Allelujha is dead!”
I suck in air and look at WFL. I know the law won’t like it if we’ve killed another kid.
“Mama!” Dusty shouts, reading my mind—he’s Erie, after all. “WFL can’t have children. She has no womb! Allelujha is her puppy…a Chihuahua…I ran over Allelujha with the Caddy. Accidentally!”
WFL flutters towards the door. Beats against it mindlessly, intent on escaping the mini-Nut Bin.
The rain turns to drizzle. The storm is over.
WFL screeches, “You’re insane! You’re all insane!” She slams the door behind her.
“Yes! Yes, yes. Yes!” I knew then: Welfare Fraud Lady is Erie.