Over the Rainbow by Martin Dodd
Dottie Toomis hadn’t told the other accountants or staff that today was her birthday. Being middle-aged didn’t bother her; one year was pretty much like another. She just couldn’t abide center stage. At an early age, she learned to avoid eye contact. It saved embarrassment, not only hers, but others’. A reddish-purple birthmark, which varied in tint on a cold day or when she blushed, covered the right side of her face from temple to jaw line. Dottie divided people into two types, those who stared at her defect or those who got jittery in trying to avoid staring. Either way, she made them uneasy. Eye contact made the moment worse. Best let them stare and not confront.
“Port wine stain” was such an innocuous name, like something fixable with an infomercial spot remover. She preferred nevus flammeus. The Latin made it a medical mystery. Reportedly, there had been some success with lasers, but she had not talked with a doctor. As long as Dottie wasn’t told “nothing will work,” she still held hope.
Sometimes Mama claimed the mark was God’s way of picking her out of a crowd. Other times she blamed “that man who was your father,” whom Dottie couldn’t remember. Through the years, she found that layers of makeup only seemed to advertise her sensitivity. She finally settled for a hairstyle that draped over most of the mark. Mama, who grew up with ‘40s Hollywood, said she looked “just like Veronica Lake.”
Dottie hated this time of year. She left for her office before sunrise and returned home after dark: an hour’s drive each way to and from downtown Los Angeles. Audio book romances softened the commute, but they didn’t lift the season’s pall. Now Christmas decorations, a week before Thanksgiving, and they’re already filling the store windows with Santa foolery.
She turned into the small shopping center and pulled up to the 7-11. Before switching off the motor, Dottie surveyed the store. Two teenage boys slouched about inside, looking around, edgy. They wore oversized clothes and sideways ball caps. She waited. Kids are so wild nowadays. No respect. And so many guns. So many hold ups. They’re taking their time. Stalling? Maybe I should leave. The boys strolled to the cash register. She shifted into reverse ready to back out. The clerk spoke to them, and they laughed while paying for their items. Dottie shifted into neutral and turned off the motor. As they passed her car she looked away. You just have to be careful.
Inside the 7-11, Dottie went straight to the freezer, where she picked a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia, then to the coolers. She pulled a quart of milk from the back of the display and checked the expiration date against the front carton to make sure she had the freshest. In the wine section, she selected the second lowest-priced bottle of champagne. As she placed her items on the checkout counter, the clerk came through the curtain from the back room.
Marv, as his name plaque informed, had been on evenings in the store since he started around the first of the month. A friendly, relaxed, talkative type, he had told her he went back to work after his wife died, and preferred the two-to-ten shift, because supper and early night were the loneliest times. He must have suffered a stroke or had an accident because he favored his left arm, holding it tight against his side, bent at the elbow, hand resting on his belly. A tall, heavy man, he probably had been a hunk when he was young, before the double chins.
“Hi, how goes it this evening? Woo, champagne. A party?”
She looked at the bottle. “My birthday.”
“Heh, heh. Thirty-nine and holding?”
“Forty-five, I don’t mind saying it.”
“Come alive at forty-five. I got you by ten. Save me a sip. Want your scratcher?”
“Yes.” She took the lottery ticket and selected a package of Peanut M&Ms from the counter display. “And the candy.”
“Can’t forget the sweet-tooth.” He rang up the sale and put the purchases in a sack.
“Got time for a joke? It’s a killer.”
“Sure.” She found it difficult to be impolite.
“How do you catch a unique rabbit?”
“I have no idea.” She focused on the magazine shelf.
He grinned. “You ready?”
She nodded. The cover of Reader’s Digest offered: “Real-Life Miracles – Inspiring Stories of Hope and Love.”
“Unique up on it!” Marv laughed. “Get it? You ‘neak up on it.”
Dottie forced a smile. “Yes, that’s pretty funny.” She picked up her sack.
“Wait, there’s more.” He gathered himself. “How do you catch a tame rabbit?”
Dottie grasped her wallet and purchases and edged toward the door. “I give up. How?”
“Tame way. You ‘neak up on it.” Marv bent forward, laughing.
She opened the door.
He wiped his eyes. “Isn’t that a riot?”
“Yes, yes. Thank you. Good night.” She escaped to her car.
Driving away, she glanced into the store. The clerk was talking to himself and chuckling, no doubt repeating his jokes. Who made these things up? She had seen the same ones in a list of jokes, twice that day, circulating on email. Making a joke of people with speech impediments was not her idea of funny.
She turned into her apartment complex, hoping she could find a parking place near her unit. The tenants in 228 usually had visitors who parked in her assigned space. Two successive managers had ignored her requests to have them move. At this exorbitant rent, she shouldn’t have to beg for parking. Dottie never spoke to the offenders because they seemed angry and ill-mannered. They drank a lot of beer. Thank God. Her space was open.
The sight of a package beside her front door put a knot in her stomach. She knew it contained a gift. A gift wrapped in rainbow-striped paper and tied with a ruby red ribbon. Red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, Roy G. Biv, the rainbow’s friend. She learned that memory trick before she learned her times table. “See,” Mama said, “the paper has every color of the rainbow. You can remember the colors if you get to know its friend, Mister Roy G. Biv.” Forty-five rainbow-wrapped gifts, if you include the pets that each came with a rainbow ribbon around the neck.
Dottie unlocked the door and pushed the package inside with her foot. Her cat, an apricot-colored, yellow-eyed Maine Coon with his lion-like mane and tail, greeted her by stretching out on his side for a scratch.
“Wait a second, Zeke, let me get in.”
Dottie placed her cold purchases in the refrigerator. She stooped and scratched her gentle giant. He responded by stretching more.
“Enough, lazy cat.”
After removing her coat and shoes, she carried the package, M&Ms, and her scratcher to the sofa. She placed the gift on the coffee table and sat. Zeke jumped onto her lap.
“Wait, guy. First, let’s see if we’re millionaires.”
Dottie closed her eyes and held the lottery card to her forehead. She had a wish for her winnings. A plastic surgeon, then Hawaii. A house among the palms, fronting on a wide, white sand beach. With water swirling about her waist, she would dip her head in the foam of a wave then throw her wet hair backward and hold her tanned, unblemished face to the sun. A man standing under the shade of the palms waves to her. The shadows obscure his face. As he steps into the sunlight, he becomes whoever fills her dreams at the moment.
For years, that dream lover had been Jack Abbott of “The Young and the Restless.” He was a cad, but sexy. She strayed briefly to Brad Pitt, but that made her feel average. Recently, Jack had been alternating with Nicolas Cage. She had watched “Leaving Las Vegas” at least ten times. Nicolas had that puppy-sad look. He needed acres of love.
Her antique wall clock chimed the half-hour: six-thirty, eight-thirty in Kansas. The phone beside her rang, causing Zeke to take off for the bedroom. “Scaredy-cat.”
She lifted the receiver. “Hello, Mama.”
“Happy Birthday, Dorothy.”
“Thank you.”Do you know why I named you Dorothy?
“It means ‘gift from God.’ That’s what you were, Baby.”
“I know, Mama.”
“I saw Wizard of Oz when I was thirteen, and…”
“Always said if you had a daughter…”
“That’s right …I’d name her Dorothy.”
“I’m glad you did, Mama.”
“You never call me.”
“I called you yesterday.”
“Well, you usually never call me.”
Dottie felt tired. There was a vague pain behind her eyes. She was aware of the clock ticking.
“Dorothy, did you hang up?”
“Did my package get there?”
“Do you like it?”
Dottie glanced at the package. “It’s lovely, Mama. Thank you. I’ve always wanted one.”
“I thought it was cute, but when I heard it play ‘Someday over the Rainbow,’ I had to get it for you.”
“Nothing. I’ll enjoy it.”
“How’s the Cowardly Lion?”
Dottie looked over the end table. Zeke peeked back from the bedroom doorway.
“Good. You need a companion. You’ve been right not to just take any man that….”
“Mama, I should go. Ze… the Lion’s clawing my leg for food.”
“The only thing I got from that man was you.”
The pain behind her eyes began to throb. “Got to go for now, Mama. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Dottie waited. After a moment, her mother said, “And?”
“I love you, Mama.”
“And I love you, Dorothy.”
The phone clicked, but she didn’t hang up. Sometimes Mama called back. Dottie found it easier to lie about talking to someone than to explain why she didn’t answer. She put the phone under a pillow to muffle the tone signaling an open line. Zeke crept into the room. She patted the sofa beside her. He accepted her invitation and snuggled in next to her thigh.
Dottie stared at the package while stroking Zeke. As a child, she loved the gifts and watching Oz over and over. Being “Dorothy” seemed special, fun. She received “Toto” at five and was crushed when he died four years later of heartworm. So, Mama got her a mutt with sticky-out hair named “Scarecrow.” When she was fourteen, Scarecrow caught a delivery truck. Mama replaced him with a Russian Blue, named “Tin Man,” a cold, unfriendly cat that disappeared after a year.
About that time, Dottie began to feel uneasy, actually creepy, about Mama’s obsession. She pleaded “no more pets,” but she could not not display the gifts, otherwise Mama pouted. Dottie stopped taking friends into her bedroom. At twenty-nine, she entered therapy. At thirty-nine, with her therapist pushing her, she left Mama’s house.
Dottie patted Zeke and stood. “I tell you what, Lazy Cat, let’s party.”
In the kitchen, Dottie half-filled a bowl with milk. She twisted off the wire from the champagne and pushed the cork. The loud POP startled Zeke, who dove first into a cabinet door before skittering into the living room. Dottie poured herself a glass and then put a dollop of the sparkling wine into the poured milk.
She carried the bowl and glass to the living room and placed Zeke’s treat on the floor. He approached and sniffed the milk. Dottie waited a moment watching her cat then raised her glass.
“Ready, guy? Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday to me. Happy birthday dear Dorothee-ee. Happy birthday to me.”
She took a sip from her glass. Zeke tentatively lapped the milk then backed away and sneezed.
“Oh, come on, Cat. Don’t make me drink alone. I’m not that bad―not yet.”
Zeke sat on his haunches and meowed.
Dottie took another sip as Zeke jumped onto the sofa and stretched. She ignored him and gazed at the package. She didn’t want to open the thing. It could go in the closet with the others until Mama visited. Birthday stacked on birthday. Mama’s fantasy filled her closet.
There were the Royal Doultons: Dorothy and friends, plus the witches, both Good and Bad, also the Mayor of Munchkin Land. And a musical plate emblazoned with Dorothy and company. With this new gift, she had four that played “Over The Rainbow.” The Madame Alexander dolls had graced her bed until her exodus. There were more, too many more. The last full display was five years earlier when Mama came for her fortieth birthday with The Cowardly Lion in tow.
Dottie’s eyes rested on the needlepoint sampler on the wall by the front door that proclaimed: “There’s No Place Like Home.” She secretly admired this simple, elegant irony. Mama had sent the sampler when Dottie took the position in L.A. and moved from Manhattan, Kansas to Manhattan Beach, California. Dottie suggested there was poetry in the switch. Mama retaliated by moving into an assisted living facility, where “strangers will care for me.”
At first, the westward move exhilarated Dottie as much as it frightened her. A fresh start, a new life, no more “Dorothy.” She’d be “Dottie” and find a man, one that would look past her mark, deep into her soul, and know her like no one else. She selected a beach community for exercise, inspiration, and opportunity. But, as days rolled into weeks and weeks into months, Dottie realized she had moved herself along with her belongings to California. She often thought “I moved eighteen hundred miles to get away but guess who popped out of the suitcase―me!”
Zeke bit at her toes.
“Ow, stop that, Meany Cat. I’ll feed you.”Dottie dumped the rest of her champagne into the sink before opening a can of cat food. She followed with a frozen dinner in the microwave for herself. While it cooked, she changed into sweats. After eating, she began her work-night ritual: a shower, then her journal, before settling in with a gardenia-scented candle and a pint of ice cream to watch the day’s taped segment of “The Young and the Restless.”
The episode bored her. She stopped it in the middle and switched to the movie guide and found “Moonstruck.” Happy Birthday, Dorothy! She knew it by heart. A young Nicolas Cage plays Ronny Cammareri, an opera-loving baker, who has lost a hand in a bread slicer. He falls in love with Loretta Castorini, a widowed 37 year-old bookkeeper.
Dottie placed the empty ice cream carton on the floor for Zeke to lick and emptied the bag of M&Ms onto the table: two red; five orange; four yellow; three green; two blue; and six brown. She ate them one at a time and one color at a time, savoring them in reverse from brown through red. Dottie lay on her side, propped up on an elbow. As the movie started, she tossed a brown into her mouth and crunched through the shell, through the chocolate, into the peanut.
Zeke purred and meowed for attention.
“Go away, Crazy Cat; I’ve got two hours with Nick.”
The candle had burned out, but the sweetness of gardenias lingered. Dottie glanced at the clock: ten after ten, and then looked groggily at the two remaining red M&Ms. The doorbell rang again. Her heart jumped. She punched the mute button and tiptoed to the door. She slipped the chain bolt into place and peered through the peephole. Marv from 7-11. What does he want? How does he know where I live?
She opened the door to the length of the chain. “Yes?”
Marv smiled and held up her wallet. “Miz Dorothy Gail Toomis?”
“Two kids found it in the parking lot. You must have dropped it. I’ve called several times, but your line is busy.”
She removed the chain, opened the door, and took the wallet. “Thank you. Two kids…?”
“Yep. Seems intact. I thought you might need it in the morning and saw your lights on. Hope I didn’t disturb…”
“No, no, not at all.
“Also, I forgot to say ‘Happy Birthday’ before you left the store.”
He hesitated. “Do you go by Dorothy or Gail?”
“Dorothy… I mean it’s Dottie―why?”
“Just wondered. I would have guessed Gail. I’m Marv. Marv Becker.” He offered his hand.
Dottie blushed and grasped his hand for a moment. “Nice to meet you… I mean it’s nice to…”
“Nice to know the names.”
“Yes… well, thanks.”
“Is it too late for one last joke?”
“What do you call cheese that doesn’t belong to you?”
She blinked. “Wait a second, wait a sec… umm, nacho cheese.”
“Right.” They laughed. Marv said, “You got the same email.”
“I wonder who makes those up.”
“I wonder, too.”
“Yeah.” He waited a moment then nodded and smiled. “Well… good night, Dottie. See you at the Sev?”
“Sure. Sure, Marv. See you at the Sev.”
Dottie returned to the sofa and movie. Zeke rubbed against her leg and meowed. She showed him the wallet.
“Nice man, Zeke. Saved me a lot of grief. Nice laugh. Really blue eyes.”
On screen, Ronny expresses his love to Loretta. Dottie brought up the volume. “The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us.”
She tapped the off button on the remote. Not us. Not us. Dottie toyed with the two red M&Ms then smiled and slipped them into her mouth. She closed her eyes and saw a house among the palms, fronting on a wide, white sand beach...