On the night of Franny Tucker’s sweet sixteen party, held in the Tucker’s newly finished basement, Myrna Tucker, Franny’s mother, who had insisted on the 60’s Rock and Roll theme, got shot. Luckily, the shot was not fatal; actually, it didn’t even come from a gun. Mr. Tucker would never keep a gun in the same house with Franny’s crazy, younger brother Marty. “That, for sure, would be asking for trouble,” he’d said to my father, a few days after the party, while they weeded the daffodil beds separating our backyards.
Mrs. Tucker survived the shocking ordeal without missing her Saturday morning wash and set at Pinky’s Cut and Curl. Luckily, she was wounded just three inches above her heart (and breast, of course) by the tip of a silver arrow from her son Marty’s junior archery set. IT HAD BEEN A GIFT FOR HIS TENTH BIRTHDAY! She informed the women sitting under the dryers at Pinky’s. But here’s what’s puzzling to most: Marty hadn’t attended the birthday bash- the long, anticipated celebration of his only sister turning sweet sixteen. The Tuckers had decided to play it safe. They shipped little Marty upstate for the weekend to his grandparent’s bungalow colony, knowing he was more than capable of ruining the party and sending Franny into one of her hysterical rages, not uncommon for teenage girls with monsters for younger brothers. It was also not unusual for Marty to: chase Franny’s friends, his intent to lift up their blouses, unsnap their brassieres and feel them up with his damp little hands. I never really minded Marty’s antics knowing all he’d ever get from me was a disappointing airy squeeze of Kleenex. So now the question being asked on the front lawns of every split-level from Mineola to Montauk Point is: WHO SHOT MYRNA TUCKER?
Well, I’m no Nancy Drew, but if you ask me I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be sweet-little-sixteen Franny, herself. It’s not like she didn’t have a perfectly valid reason.
That night, the night of the party, while Franny waited in the basement, Mrs. Tucker, dressed in black silk toreador pants and a low-cut ruffled blouse, greeted us, one by one, as we arrived.
“Come in darling,” she’d said to Joey B., then “give us a teensy weensy kiss,” to Mickey P. “Aren’t you the sweet one,” she sighed to Big Ed squeezing her shoulders together like Marilyn Monroe. When she kissed me, I felt the thick imprint of her greasy lipstick, but I waited until she turned around to wipe it off my cheek. The My Sin she wore permeated every room of the Tucker’s tidy little dollhouse. Its intoxicating aroma wafted through the kitchen where Mr. Tucker sat reading the baseball scores and drinking what looked like Alka-Seltzer. Now, I was certain no one would get a whiff of the Ambush that I had splashed and spritzed over the insides of my wrists, my number one erogenous zone.
Mrs. Tucker escorted us downstairs to greet the birthday girl. She was perched on a stool against a bamboo bar, sipping a tall pink drink in a flamingo print glass. Franny grabbed one of her mother’s soft sheer ruffles hissing something in her ear.
“Okay, dear,” she said. “Don’t you worry about a thing. Yes, yes, I promise, I’ll join Daddy upstairs.” And then Franny released her mother’s arm, her taut smile softened, and she began talking to Big Ed for whom she had a huge public crush.
Despite the warning, after the last party guest arrived, Mrs. Tucker lingered on and began arranging Franny’s gifts in size order on top of the ping-pong table near the punch bowl. Instead of going upstairs, like I heard her promise Franny, she planted her butt smack in the middle of the staircase, and sat staring at us. Now, if any of us needed to use the bathroom, they’d have to lift their legs over Mrs. Tucker. This was not an easy thing to do especially if you were wearing a tight skirt, like me, for the very first time.
Did Mrs. Tucker care? Did she even attempt to shimmy her body a drop left or right? We had to climb over her while she sat on the steps grinning, red lipstick smeared on her two front teeth, and her pancake make-up melting under the fluorescent glow of track lighting.
Franny’s face burned; it turned violet, especially after Big Ed made his third bathroom journey, stopping each time, to maneuver his long torso over Mrs. Tucker’s neck and shoulders like some giant nutcracker.
Lesley Gore belted out It’s My Party And I’ll Cry If I Want To. I ran over and lifted the phonograph needle, but it made a horrible, high-pitched screech causing everyone to freeze. I piled on a stack of mellow old 45’s hoping to change the mood. I purposely pumped up the volume thinking that would send Mrs. T. running up the stairs. But the second a few of us started Lindying to Connie Francis’s Stupid Cupid, Mrs. Tucker practically jumped from the basement steps with her arms outstretched. As she moved, the limp crepe paper decorations snapped and gathered around her neck. Lifting Big Ed’s hands, she spun herself around and around while Mikey, Joey, even the girls, howled, yelped and whistled.
Someone dimmed the lights so all you could see was one of Mrs. Tucker’s gold hoop earrings spinning like a globe on its axis. And that’s when I saw her. It was Franny, I’m almost sure, looking sixty not sweet sixteen. Slowly, she faded away, taking tiny backward steps into the adjoining playroom where Marty Tucker’s bow and arrow waited gleaming, shaped like a broad smile, against a paneled wall.