(An Olive Quickly Fragment: Part 2)
The persistent mechanical buzzing was difficult to ignore. Olive Quickly was determined not to allow the airborne commotion to disturb her nap. She was tired, deep down muscle and bone tired, don’t get me out of bed tomorrow morning tired; her skin reeked of fish broth from working at Captain Bob’s Seafood Hut & Maritime Emporium all afternoon and she just wanted to sit in the shade for a long bit, maybe even fall asleep if she could get her mind to step off the carouselambra for a hot minute. Still, the buzzing: non-organic, of that she was mostly certain; the distinct hum of motor driven blades filleting the thick air above the arcadian tumult of the backyard.
If this is those damn Primo brothers next door trying to get bikini pics of me again with their drone for their Instagram account, I’ll torch their house for starters and escalate from there.
There was the slim possibility it wasn’t a drone but a massive insectoid overlord from Dimension X hell-bent on slurping on her brains. Olive considered this as the buzzing increased in volume and was about to open her eyes when the racket migrated toward the front of the house. She sighed, stretched, and locked her long fingers behind her head. After a minute the racket dopplered out of range and she began to relax. She considered that she should lay off the Bug Eyed Creature Double Feature on late night cable coupled with the occasional joint.
The screen door slid open and someone stepped out onto the porch. She hoped that she appeared to be asleep and whoever it was would come back later.
“Look what the Drone Delivery Service dropped off,” her father’s voice said.
Olive didn’t open her eyes. “What is it?”
“I don’t know. A package. It’s addressed to you.”
“Put it on the porch, I’ll get it later.”
There was a distinct lack of sounds that would have indicated he was placing a package on the porch. Olive opened just enough of one eye to see Bernard Quickly with a small package in his hand.
“It’s from your grandmother,” he said, so quietly she almost didn’t hear him.
That was different. It almost verged on unique, just enough to induce her to open her eyes.
“I didn’t think I had a grandmother,” she quipped.
Mr. Quickly held the package at arm’s length and blinked slowly. “Don’t be like that; of course you have a grandmother. Everyone has one. Even you. What, did you think I was grown in a vat?”
“I can’t remember the last time you mentioned her. Even in passing. Even as an aside. Not even as the subject of one of your hideous puns.”
Mr. Quickly bent at the knees until his well worn denim pants pressed into the wooden porch scabby with paint. He frowned a bit as he turned the brown wrapped package in his hands, over and over, like it was a Chinese puzzle box he couldn’t make out. “That doesn’t mean she doesn’t exist. She’s out there all right, like one of those rogue comets, on some pinball parabola around the sun. She and I, well, you know what? We happen to disagree on just about every fundamental concept in the known universe. That’s a fact. And we haven’t had much to say to each other for a long time. That’s also a fact.”
“Fair enough. Maybe you’re both selfish, stubborn pricks.”
“There is a strong possibility that is also a fact. You should still take a look at whatever this might be.”
He tossed the package toward her; Olive caught it and looked it over. It was carefully wrapped with what appeared to be brown grocery sack paper and tightly bound with rough, thick string. It was addressed, in a strong cursive hand, to “The One & Only Ms. Olive Quickly.” That was it; no street address, no zip code. The return address simply said “The Lizard Queen.” On the back was a hand drawn picture of a very green lizard, wrapped in an ermine robe, crowned, and carrying a scepter.
“How do you even know this is from your mother?”
“Well if there is another Lizard Queen out there, I have yet to meet her.”
Olive frowned and held it up to her ear, shook it, weighed it in her palm. Something clinked together inside.
“Well it’s not a set of ancient crockery or a very small monkey,” she concluded. “Already I am ripe with disappointment.”
“You going to open it or what?”
Olive noted that the end of the string was taped to the side of the package; she lifted it from the paper to which it was adhered and gave it a tug. The seemingly taut strands fell away like a trick string figure melts from a intricate design back into a single coil. Olive pushed her finger beneath the seam of the paper, determined to maintain the integrity of what was, to her knowledge, the only time she’d seen her name in her grandmother’s handwriting. Beneath the brown paper was a cardboard box. She lifted the lid and pulled back, one eyebrow arched in a way Mr. Quickly recognized as the same look of vague disbelief she’d given him when he’d attempted to explain Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Great Pumpkin.
“What is it?” he asked.
She reached in, pulled out a key ring and dangled it in the air; she shook it slightly and the multitude of charms and talismans clanked against each other. There was a bronze rabbit, a jade turtle, a tiny Buddha, a four leaf clover suspended in amber, the Eye of Horus, a fantastically endowed monkey, Enochian engraved silver discs, and other pieces too obscure for Olive to identify. That, and a single key, embossed with a strange little goblin-like figure. There was no note of explanation.
“You tell me,” Olive said. “Hey, why are you laughing? What’s the joke?”
Mr. Quickly smirked. “Olive, I haven’t seen that key chain in years, but there’s no mistaking it. I believe the Lizard Queen intends for you to inherit the totally infamous Q.E.R.M.”
Olive looked back and forth between the key chain and her father. “Querm? What in seven layers of frosted hell cake is that?”
He shook his head. “The acronym stands for Quintessential Existential Roller Machine. It’s a car, Olive; more to the point, it’s your grandmother’s own car, or at least one of them. The Q.E.R.M. is a 1970 AMC Gremlin.”
“Never heard of it.”
“It’s a… uhm… well, it’s a classic, let’s just leave it at that. You’ll see what I’m talking about.”
“But where is the car?”
Mr. Quickly shrugged. “I haven’t the foggiest notion, Olive my love. Oh, don’t look so flabbergasted. Something like the Q.E.R.M. can’t just be given to you, it has to be earned. If you want that car – and believe me, you really do want that car – you’re going to have to make it yours through a supreme effort, a – dare I say it – a triumph of will!”
“I don’t know. It might be easier just to go down to CarMax and pick up a used Honda. What’s so special about this car that you felt it necessary to bludgeon me with a Leni Riefenstahl reference?”
He pushed himself up to his feet, flexing his left knee. “Well it’s not for the looks, that’s for sure – goddamn ugliest hunk of steel to ever roll out of Detroit. When you find her – if you find her – you’ll appreciate that my mother isn’t just giving you a car, she’s altering the very fabric of your existence. You’ll see.” He walked back into the house and slid the screen door shut behind him.
Olive sat up and examined the key chain. Each token or charm was weathered, scratched, dinged, or slightly bent, a tale of endless pockets and purses and counter tops uncountable. All except for one; shiny and new, a square scrap of silver, marked on both sides with arrow headed lines and concentric circles. She rubbed her fingertip over the pattern. There was something familiar about it, a tickle on the edge of her comprehension. A clue, obviously; she hadn’t grown up around her father, the enigmatic enigma, without learning to recognize when she was being led down the path.
She sighed and put the key ring back in the box. Puzzles! The whole lot of them were obsessed with their puzzles. She sat back and closed her eyes again. Labor Day was only two weeks away; she had worked this summer at Captain Bob’s as a favor to her parents and to scrounge a little extra cash before college.
Silliness! I refuse to indulge this; and yet, but still – a car. My own car. My own car! No more bumming rides. Driving power, moving ground, throttle control and everything. Maybe I do want this? Damn it!
I wonder why she calls herself the Lizard Queen?