I toed aside a pink take-out bag from the Pork Pit.
Barbecue sauce stained the cuff on my jeans. A soggy onion ring clung like a barnacle to the leather laces of my work boots. Flies buzzed. Mountains of household trash rose around me. Brushing at a sweat droplet that rolled from my forehead down my nose, I glared at Mama.
How had I let her drag me along on this search expedition to the Himmarshee dump on the hottest day of the year?
"Tell me again how you tossed out your wedding ring with the garbage?"
"I already explained all that, Mace. It was an accident."
She sounded more annoyed at me than she had a right to, since I was the one doing most of the looking under a scorching sun. She stood in the shade cast by my Jeep, fanning herself with a paper cutout of a largemouth bass, a freebie from Gotcha Bait & Tackle near Lake Okeechobee.
"In other words," I said, "you were careless because you were trashed."
"Right. Tipsy. Blotto. Drunk."
Mama pulled herself up to her full height of 4 foot 11 inches, smoothed her perfectly coiffed platinum hair, and regarded me regally. Well, as regal as someone standing in a pile of moldy cantaloupe rinds and coffee grounds can be. "I was not drunk. I'd only had a tiny glass of pink wine. Barely a thimble-full, really."
I stepped on a squishy disposable diaper. Used, of course. A rat ran over the toe of my boot. I decided to continue our discussion, but keep my eyes on the ground.
"That's not what Marty said. She said you just about finished the whole fiesta-sized box yourself. You barely left her enough wine for half a glass."
"Right. My trustworthy little sister is a liar."
"She's not lying; exaggerating, maybe. Anyhoo, I'd taken off my ring to scour the stovetop. I must have swept it off the counter into the trashcan with the used paper towels. We'll never have to worry about the same thing happening with that new ring of yours, since you never scour anything."
I took pity on her and didn't press it, figuring she felt bad enough about losing the enormous diamond wedding ring Husband No. 5 had recently given her. Amazingly, Salvatore "Big Sal" Provenza from Da Bronx was turning into a keeper. No such luck, apparently, with his ring. I kept quiet, working my way through another pile of rubbish. The silence stretched out, without Mama saying one word. That was unusual enough that it made me look up to check on her.
She was tapping away at her smart phone. I heard the whoosh sound, signaling she'd just sent a message.
"You've gotta be kidding me!"
"What?" She raised her face from the phone, all blue-eyed innocence.
"Is my busting my sweaty butt to help you find your stupid ring keeping you from some more important business on that telephone?"
"Oh, this?" She lifted the small electronic beast in her hand. "I was returning an email from your sister Maddie. She's in crisis."
Mama closed the gap between us, and shoved the phone toward me. "Look at this picture. See the yellow dress? That's what she's supposed to wear to Kenny's party next week. You know I absolutely cannot let Maddie wear that dress, Mace."
"Why? Is it against the law to wear yellow for your husband's forty-fifth birthday?"
"Don't sass me, girl. You're not too old for me to grab a switch." She leveled a look that could still scare me a bit, even though I'm thirty-four years old and tower over her by almost a foot. "Yellow turns Maddie's skin tone as green as my wrist got after Husband No. 3 bought me that watch from the man with the card table in New York City."
I shielded the phone's screen from the sun and examined the dress. It was smiley-face yellow. I thought it looked cheerful. Mama ran the Color Me Gorgeous franchise at Hair Today Dyed Tomorrow beauty parlor, so she considered herself an expert in what shades of clothing did and did not match which skin tones. I had less fashion sense than the guys at the feed store, so I didn't really see the problem.
"Maddie and her yellow dress is hardly a crisis, Mama. I'll give you a crisis. If we don't recover your ring, and Sal finds out you lost it even before he's had the chance to pay it off because you got blitzed on too much sweet pink wine -- "
" -- Say no more, Mace." She took back the phone, and slipped it into the pocket of her orange-sherbet-colored pantsuit. "I'll take that corner over there by the fence. I see a bunch of white paper towels and some empty cans of that dog food Teensy likes. Maybe that'll be the trash from my house."
Picking up a broken broom, Mama began using it to delicately poke at garbage piles. I had to smile at the look on her face when she lifted the broom handle to examine what was stuck to the end and a banana peel dropped down her blouse. I was about to say something smart-alecky, when a sparkle of light shining between a bunch of spoiled beets and a flat bike tire caught my eye.
I walked over to get a closer look. A fishy smell about knocked me out. A week's worth of leftovers from Jimbob's Seafood Shack moldered. Sure enough, though, I saw the unmistakable glint of a diamond.
"I found it," I yelled, only to hear Mama's excited shout at the same moment.
"I've got it!" she cried from across the dump. "I found my ring."
She was waving, and the sun reflected off the big rock returned to her hand. If Mama had found her diamond, what exactly had I found? Kicking aside some crab shells and rotten shrimp, I lifted the bike tire. Up came a stained sheet tangled in some snapped-off spokes. Underneath was the body of a scantily clad woman, with one hand flung out. Against the deathly pallor of her wrist, a diamond bracelet glittered . . .