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Mrs. Midas
By Brigid Murray

I Do Not Want What I Have Not Got

I was rolling coins when the phone call came. My ritual is to sit on the bed and play loud Motown while I separate the cold copper from the silver. Soon I have before me wealth untold, or at least enough to buy a pound of salmon or a decent bottle of Prosecco. My mother-in-law, Mother Drachma, was on the line greeting me in her parchment thin voice. It had been a decade since she had contact with us. Not for a birthday, nor a holiday, nor even after 9/11 blew up in our backyard did she inquire about our wellbeing. I quickly passed the phone to my husband, Alex, who pantomimed slashing his throat.

Three minutes later he informed me that Mother D had repented. Her conscience had gotten the better of her. She was about to return what was rightfully ours -- Alex's inheritance of almost two million dollars that she had swindled from his father ten years prior. She requested the pleasure of our company at the Las Vegas home she had moved to after her obviously despised husband's death. She said she would sign the appropriate papers and make everything right. Even for someone who believes in miracles, as I do, this was really astonishing.

When Alex's father, Stavros, died in 1995, nobody declared it a tragedy. Even professional Greek mourners could not work it up for a guy whose greatest act of courage had been to put out a cigarette on the rug of a fancy Manhattan restaurant. When we heard of his passing, we rushed over to her chateau in Astoria, Queens to comfort Mother Drachma. Like a ravenous vulture she feasted on the scrambled eggs that her only child Alex had cooked. While she "grieved" in her bedroom, Alex sorted through some papers lying casually on the desk. There he found a copy of his father's Last Will and Testament recently doctored to leave him nothing. And how did he know it was altered? Anticipating the worst, Stavros had given Alex a copy of his authentic will for safekeeping.

I will shorthand the grim details. We hired a lawyer who assured us that this was an ironclad case. (Do they all say that?) I should have gauged his power when I shook his hand. I've felt more passion in a slab of tilapia. He guaranteed that the opposing attorney who forged the will would die of shame before being exposed in a court of law. After an incomprehensible deposition and interminable wait, our lawyer then insisted that we take an out-of-court settlement. Our ironclad case had devolved into a lump sum of $16,000.

Not that it was a challenge to our lifestyle. We only cared about being artists. Our home was a one-room apartment overlooking the Hudson. Even in a phone booth-sized kitchen I could create kick-ass meals. Our dog didn't know she was any different from the billionaire dogs in Riverside Park. Health insurance came from Alex's part-time job in a neighborhood bookstore. We had bi-annual shopping sprees at Old Navy and bought ten-dollar bootleg watches in Chinatown. We didn't drive, didn't have one of those swell refrigerators with the ice machine on the door, and we summered on our rooftop deck. That's why it was especially chilling to learn that Mother Drachma had disinherited us because we "lived above our means".

Perhaps it was old age, a bad dream, a bout with her conscience, but something prompted her to return to the scene of the crime and reconsider her actions. She had spent ten years estranged from her only child. Old dogs can learn new tricks. Maybe her accountant had encouraged her to divest her fortune. It was not for me to determine her motivation, only to enjoy our rightful bounty.

With my new-found status as an heiress, I booked a suite at the Las Vegas Hilton. The spirit of Paris was guiding me. Then, I did the unthinkable. I bought a cell phone. An heiress, after all, would need to be in constant contact with her celebrated colleagues. Now, if someone wanted to chat while I flew first class to Sydney they would be able to find me.

Inebriated by my new-found projected wealth, I decided that I really didn't have to work my day job as a counselor. Never underestimate the power of thought. Within hours my phone stopped ringing for bookings. Now I had even more time to shop for non-essentials like plush towels, cloth napkins, and my most extravagant purchase, a $10 picnic hamper for dinners on the roof. I was living large and I loved it.

Alex watched while I burned bright. I stopped at the realtor's office window to ogle the $6 million brownstones. An heiress would need a palace worthy of her. I pre-mourned the friends I would leave behind as I ascended the ladder to prosperity. Yet they would always have a spot at my 12-seat dining room table. I would even spring for the $17/lb. shrimp. I envisioned the day that Mother Drachma would pass on, leaving us her gracious home in Vegas. I would be the Peggy Guggenheim of my generation. Instead of navigating the canals of Venice in my private gondola, I'd ride the gondolas at the Venetian Casino. Finally, my life would have meaning.

On the Sunday before our departure I had a bon voyage dinner. Our Inner Circle of friends was called to our rooftop manor for fried chicken and potato salad and a case of Perrier Jouet. One friend commented, "I hate Mother Drachma. She's changing your life, and your life was perfect." Yes, but it was about to become more perfect, I assured her. If my modest life was so enjoyable, my new incarnation would be stupendous. I would become a philanthropist and offer grants and stipends to artists of all persuasions. I would open my own publishing house. I would rebuild New Orleans. I'd stop ordering the cheapest thing on the menu. I would make everything right for everyone who had ever been wronged. Viva Las Vegas!

What Happens in Vegas, Stays in Vegas

It's hard to describe how a 4'10" woman weighing 80 pounds can inspire terror in two adults, especially when she's 92 years old and on a walker. Mother Drachma arrived to pick us up at our hotel chauffeured by her brother-in-law, Serge. After the token air-kisses, she began.

"How is your uncle?" she snapped. The uncle she referred to lived with my mother until his death.

"He died seven years ago." I thought she might respond with an empathetic, "Sorry for your loss." Instead she stamped her cloven hoof and demanded "Who got the house?"

"There was no house." My mother and her brother had lived together happily in a small apartment.

Sides had been drawn. Five minutes into this dramatic Mother and Child Reunion and I was ready to bash my brains out on the Elvis statue in our lobby.

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