Sophia Baker sighed deeply, massaging the skin of her aging forehead that had been stretched taut as a result of several expensive cosmetic surgeries. Mother of 5 children and current unsuitable guardian of one adoptive child from Russia, Sophia was definitely not an experienced matriarch.
Before she received the stressful phone call on September 23rd, and for that matter, after she received the stressful phone call on September 23rd, Sophia had completely embodied the term "absentee mother". She had always stood on the sidelines when the shit hit the fan, only stepping in to offer an unwanted opinion or rude statement, and this incident was no different.
So Sophia did what she usually did when faced with a tough situation. She drank two double martinis in rapid succession, smoked a cigarette and called her Swedish massage therapist and booked a house call for later that day, letting all responsibility fall to her one responsible and constantly overlooked offspring Emma.
It was fairly easy to overlook Emma. She was still young at 32 but somehow managed to look like she was in her mid forties. Emma was one of those people you couldn't pick out of a lineup if you tried. She had boring sand colored hair that was more beige than blond, which hung at her shoulders in the same low maintenance bob she had styled it in when she was ten. Her eyes were small, brown and indistinct and the only interesting thing about her face was the marks of age and stress upon it that were not customary for a woman of her young age. She kept in fairly good shape and lived an incredibly mundane, organized life. Everyone in the family had been shocked when she was impregnated at sixteen by a guy named George in her fourth period economics class. Things like that just did not happen to people like Emma and she was all the buzz around town for about a week until people remembered.... it was just Emma.
Anyhow, Emma, upon hearing that her uncle Alfie had died of a stroke earlier that day and the funeral was in three more days she conceived a plan her mother should have been the first to come up with.
She ordered her borderline autistic teenage son Liam to get himself a juice box, politely told her mother's massage therapist to turn down her mother's sounds of the rain-forest CD and went to the phonebook.
She began alphabetically as she held the exact same amount of distrust for all of her siblings. That meant her brother Baxter, born after her, was first.
Baxter was the favorite of their mother and had had his whole future ahead of him. A large and muscly boy he had excelled at sports in high school and won a football scholarship to college.
But Baxter had undeniable rage issues, which he often expressed in sports, but when he switched to an archeology major in his sophomore year, he lacked an outlet for his violent behavior. He dropped out of college shortly after he was arrested for vehicular manslaughter when he purposefully ran down a beloved family dog in the parking lot of an A & P after it's owner had taken his parking space.
Jumping from dead end career to dead end career, Baxter finally settled on something that suited his aggressive lifestyle. Championship Boxer. He was now nearing 30 with no real goal in life and somehow his mother still loved him the best.
He had three contact numbers, two of which were disconnected and the third of which rang approximately twenty times before someone answered.
"Julian's Boxing Club what can I do you for?" A musky deep voice answered, sounding like a tour guide, much too bored and bitter to say the old spiel with any sort of enthusiasm.
Emma began to rub her left shoulder in anticipation of the stress induced muscle ache that she could feel coming on. "Um yes, is someone named Baxter Baker there and could I talk to him please?"
Emma was the only one of the Baker children who had really swallowed the lessons of the etiquette classes their mother had forced on them when Baxter was about 13 and the rest of them fell somewhere below that. The whole family was unceremoniously kicked out of the program when Baxter, Tad and Niki were found in the men's restroom sharing a fresh joint.
"Bax?" The voice asked, irritability edging away at the corners of his voice, which already sounded laden with throat cancer. "That sack of shit? Yeah he's here. Hang on honey." The man unsuccessfully covered the mouth of the phone and yelled at Baxter who was in some nearby but undisclosed location. "Yo you ungrateful bastard! Some chic's on the line for you!" Emma flinched at the loud bout of profanity. It reminded her of the last time she had seen her sister Niki.
"She sound hot?" Emma heard Baxter's familiar voice yelled from inside the boxing club.
The man exhaled loudly into the phone's mouth before shouting back. "Only so/so!"
Emma blinked multiple times, trying to calm herself down.
"Hang on!" Baxter called back.
"If you don't get over here in three seconds I am going to shove my shoe up your ass and then turn it sideways!"
"Make up a good threat you shit-bag!"
"I'm dropping this phone! In ten, nine, eight-"
"Oh for fuck's sake..." There was a shuffle of furniture.
"Seven, six, five-"
"I'm taking it, calm the fuck down!"
"Yeah?" Baxter asked, finally taking the phone.
Emma inhaled deeply before starting to explain the situation. "Baxter it's me."
"It's Emma!" Emma yelled, getting down to the end of her rope.
"Oh hey Em. Why are you yelling?"
"What's that noise?"
Throughout the entire phone call there had been the sound of a television blasting in the background.
Baxter chuckled merrily at Emma's annoyance. "Oh it's How Shit Functions. It's like the low budget version of How Things Work except with swear words and black people."
"Okay. Look could you turn it down for a second?"
"Yeah hang on a sec." Baxter too was not skilled at successfully covering the mouthpiece of the phone. "Guys could you turn that the fuck down??"
"Calm the fuck down man!"
"Okay yeah Em you still there?"
"Yes. I got some bad news."
"Oh," Baxter said quickly, faking sympathy. Badly. "Is mom dead?"
"No, mom is not dead." Emma repeated patiently.
Emma thought, but wasn't positive, that she heard him mutter something along the lines of 'darn shame' under his breath.
"Hold on a second Agda." Sophia said in the next room, addressing her massage therapist who was halfway through her shoulder blades. "Are you calling me honey?" Sophia called from her massage table, over the sounds of the rain forest CD.
"No Mom. Keep going Agda." Emma replied. Before she could return to Baxter and their predictably disturbing conversation her over-coddled sixteen-year-old son Liam appeared at her side. Liam was already a short, sallow, gangly mess of knees and elbows but always affected a slight slouch that made him look even more like he was constantly imitating Gollum from The Lord Of The Rings.
"Mom the only juice boxes here are orange." He said weakly, fiddling with the top button of his beige khaki shirt, a nervous habit. Liam suffered from multiple neurosis and undiagnosed illnesses that had always been written off by doctors as hypochondriac tendencies, one of which was a bad reaction to vitamin C.
This was ironic as Donald Baker and by extension the rest of the Baker family had made their wealth by acquiring a valuable 25 acre orange and lemon grove which became the headquarters for the Baker's Orange Juice and Lemonade empire.
Emma let the phone hang by her side and rubbed her son supportively on the shoulder. "Oh I'm sorry honey. How about you watch some television in the den?"
Liam hunched further and held out his pale weak arm to look at his gray gel band digital watch. "But it's not four-thirty yet."
Emma, out of character, decided to overlook her strict daily schedule for once. "It's okay. Just watch for a little while." She hesitated. "But avoid anything that looks too.... Maybe it's best if you just stick to the discovery channel."
"Sure mom." Liam agreed with a twitchy smile and limped into the den to watch the Discovery Channel at a sensible volume.
Emma returned to the phone, deciding the best course of action would be to press on to the issue of their uncle's death and get it over with. "I'm just going to come out and say it. Uncle Alfie died."
"Alfalfa died? What?"
"Died. Uncle Alfie died."
"We have an uncle named Alfie?"
"Oi Bax, get the fuck back here! Someone's got to hold up the TV antennae!"
"Hang on you little shi-" Then the line went dead and the dial tone hummed in Emma's ear.
"Hold on Agda." Sophia said, as Emma slowly walked into the room. She sat up on the massage table, covering herself with her towel. "What did Baxter say? Did he mention me?"
"It wasn't a good time. I'll call him back later." Emma said as a response.
Her mother deflated from her two seconds of blissful excitement. Baxter was her favorite child, a fact she did not mind sharing with her other children. "I suppose it's all for the best. He's been upset since your father's birthday party last year."
"Mother I think he had a right to be, you paid your tennis instructor to flirt with his girlfriend and he found them making out in the broom closet."
"So silly to have a broom closet. The maid brings her own cleaning supplies."
"Well I couldn't just let him run off with that little tart from San Diego with the distrust for proper undergarments. What was her name? Sandy? Cassidy?"
"Yes I knew it was something like that. It's all in the past dear. You should think about taking a Xanax or two, you look like crap."
"No thank you." Emma said stiffly. As a child she had suffered from debilitating panic attacks and had been prescribed an experimental drug called Calzupene. On her first day taking the drug she experienced every single one of the 23 side effects listed on the side of the bottle, which had ended with her cutting into her stomach with a steak knife at a kitchen goods store in the mall and shouting to the general public, "Can't you see! My blood is green I say!! GREEN!!!!!"
She went off the drug and upon returning with her mother to the therapist's office for an angry confrontation they discovered that the therapist was gone, the office was cleared out and he had been a conman hustling a drug that was principally a mixture of several tranquilizers and LSD.
Ever since Emma had held a deep distrust for psychiatric drugs.
"Well they're on the ledge of the bathtub if you need them." Her mother assured her, waving in the general direction of a bathroom.
"I'll keep that in mind mother."
"Continue Agda." Sophia ordered, settling back down on the table. Agda rolled her large rather beautiful eyes that were overlooked by most people due to her thick masculine eyebrows and continued to remold Sophia's upper back with her fingers.
Emma went into the kitchen and approached her large brown leather handbag that she had left on the marble island in the center of the room. She had had it for four years and it embodied Emma's very personality. Practical, boring and not particularly attractive.
She harvested a bottle of vitamin water out of her bag along with a bottle of baby aspirin from underneath her car keys, bag of thin mints, flashlight, nasal de-congestion spray, lip chap, sunscreen and jewelry cleaner. She took one and gargled with the vitamin water before deciding what to do.
She fetched from the secret pocket of her purse, her one and only vice. A jumbo box of motion-sickness patches (sadly Emma's vices were as mundane as her personality). She had used one for the first time when she had taken a plane to Boston for a gift-basket assembler's convention (Emma owned a gift-basket company) and had marveled at its ability to calm her easily frazzled nerves. Since then she had been using the patches at least once a day when she found herself bordering on any sort of unpleasant emotion.
Sticking one at the base of her neck, Emma took a deep breath and repacked her handbag until no discernible trace of disorder was left.