WEDNESDAY: The Second Sweetheart


Copyright is held by the author.

“CHECK THIS out, Austin. I think the woman here in the centrefold might be your mom,” Randy whispered, smugly handing me the faded magazine as we boarded the 5:15 pm commuter train. Randy liked to poke around people’s garages and basements on fair-weather weekends. Said he’d found the publication at a recent yard sale in a brown cardboard box labelled simply “magazines”. He’d struck gold before with Life pictorials and Newsweek editorials of famous events like the downing of the World Trade Towers, pristine collections of Superman comics, and other dust collectors most men wouldn’t bother with.

“In fact, I know it’s her. Look, right under the picture, it says she’s Ruth Ann Reynolds. She didn’t even change her name. Man, she sure was a hottie way back when.”

I leafed through the fragile pages to the middle, ready to laugh at his gag. But holy crap, yep, there she was, in the flesh, on the centrefold, page 41. Sweetheart of the Month, January 1954, back before they were called Playmates. Right after Marilyn Monroe, who was the inaugural Sweetheart the month before. The photo seemed pretty tame by today’s standards when preteens are watching real live porn on their phones, but back in Mom’s day this was just as bad. This kind of stuff was kept just as hidden.

“Keep it down, Randy. Don’t go waving it around. How did you get your hands on this again?”

“I paid 20 bucks for the whole shebang, 32 of them, all in consecutive order. I’ll bet I can get more than that for each and every one of them on eBay. I’ll let you keep this one if you want it.”

“Holy crap. You bet I want it. I can’t take a chance on naked pictures of my mother getting into the wrong hands. Especially in my kids’ grubby little fists. I don’t know if they’d be shocked, or mortified, or think it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen. Crap. This is the last thing I need right now.”

“Fine. It’s all yours. Wait till your kids grow up, then pass it on to them, like a family heirloom.”

“It’s not funny, Randy. It’s not your mother.”

I wished I’d never laid eyes on the magazine. Randy should’ve kept it to himself, sold it on eBay with the other thirty-one of them without telling me. Who wants to see their mother bare-assed and think about all the men who’d seen her that way, too? Whoever thinks when they open one of these rags that the woman they’re leering at could one day be somebody’s mother? Somebody’s grandmother! Too late to ask those questions now, after all the years since the publication hung on newsstands with its midsection discreetly covered by a plain sleeve of paper.

I looked both ways then stuffed the magazine into my briefcase, vowing to go through it tonight, at home, after the kids went to bed.


It made no sense to ask my mother about it now. She was in what is euphemistically called “memory care”, the lockdown where we put people when their memories are scrambled like eggs, gone like what happened two minutes ago.

She’d been a free spirit when I was growing up. We moved around a lot, whenever Mom found a better job in a new town that had greener grass, good schools, things to do. Never married, never wanted to. She never told me who my father was either, no matter how many times I asked. Didn’t even date much, pretty as she was. Oh, she had men friends. I mean they seemed like real friends, not boyfriends, not the romantic type. We went to ball games with them and they came over to our apartment on my birthday and on a holiday once in a while. I’d see them hug each other now and then and kiss on the cheek, but never anything passionate, like lip kisses. At least not in front of me.


I changed my mind and decided to try visiting Mom anyway. I know Alzheimer’s erodes short-term memory but allows some to recall their distant past. Things like songs, and the names of their grammar-school teachers. Maybe showing her this picture would open a door I hadn’t known was there. I wanted to know more, more about the mother I thought I knew.

I called my wife from the train. “Something’s come up and I have to visit Mom right away. Don’t hold dinner for me, Barb.”

“Is she O.K? I just got in myself, but I can meet you at Shady Pines if she’s not.” She was just being polite and I told her not to bother. We’d barely been speaking these past few months, mostly because there was no love lost between my wife and my mother, and I’d had to give Mom a lot of my spare time lately. Getting her settled into the old folks’ home, doing all the paperwork for her insurance and her finances, but it was settling down, almost into a routine.

“I think so. I have something to show her, and it’s easier to swing by there on my way home. I’ll be back before the kids go to bed.”

I got off the train and to my car just in time to miss the first cold slaps of a downpour. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. It could have waited until we had our regular lunch visit on the weekend. The demented often got worse at night; it was called “sundowning”. When it was sunset time, soft shadows shrouded memories in their brains, metaphorically anyway. Who knew what was going on in my mother’s head? No, I was so close, just a few minutes away, and I wanted to do it now. I wanted to find out whatever I could about her posing in a girlie magazine, find out anything more about my mother before her sun finally set for good, whatever was possible, whatever she was willing, able, to share with me.


“This is Hugh’s magazine,” my mother said when I handed her the publication. She had on a sparkly red sweater that matched her manicured nails. The in-house salon was a perk she couldn’t afford, but I could, and I did. “You’re not Hugh, are you?” At first I had no clue who Hugh was. Ah, yes, she meant Hugh Hefner, the late infamous founder of the Playboy empire.

“No Mom, I’m Austin. A friend gave this to me, and I thought you might want to see it.”

Her face lit up. “Oh, my goodness. Don’t let any of the old biddies around this place get a hold of it. They’d run me out on a rail.” She brought Hugh’s magazine closer to her eyes and giggled as she leafed through the pages.

So, she still understood her past might hold consequences. Or at least in this moment she did.

“Harry wanted me to do it. He wanted me to get some big modeling jobs, get famous and make lots of money so we could have a fling before he was drafted. So I did, I posed for Hugh’s magazine and it paid for one wild weekend in the big city. That was it for me. Just the one time. I didn’t get famous like Marilyn, but I had a good life anyway. Better than her. She died real young.”

She went quiet, stared through the window at the breaking clouds, as though there was a show going on out there. Then she looked down at the magazine again and her smile faded.

“Harry was, finally. Drafted that is. Went to someplace in Vietnam. There wasn’t a war there yet. Well, yes, there was, but not our war, and boy did we ever get our clocks cleaned once we ramped it up. Damn government always finds money for guns.”

I knew I shouldn’t interrupt her, but I couldn’t help myself. “Was Harry my father, Mom?”

“None of your damned beeswax, sonny. Well, no, anyway. Harry never did come back from that godforsaken place. Got killed, and I never did know how. Us not being married the government wouldn’t tell me.”

Her gaze drifted toward the window again. The rain had stopped and rays of the late day sun slanting through the blinds were reflected on her eyeglasses. I didn’t want her to lose focus on this discussion.

“You’re not Harry, are you?” she said, looking up at me from her recliner, her bright blue eyes watering. “Think he died. Haven’t seen him in a long, long time.”

“No, I’m your son, your son Austin. Can you tell me who my father was, Mom?”

“Some fella from Texas. Can’t remember his name. Just that he always said ‘Austin this’, and ‘Austin that’, like there was no other place worth being on the planet.”

“Tell me more about him. How did you meet him? What did he look like?”

“I sure do miss Harry. You’re not Harry, are you?”

I shook my head, got up, and took the magazine from her hand. “No, I’m not Harry, Mom. I’ll be back to see you on the weekend. Don’t get up.” I grabbed a tissue from a carton on the sideboard and wiped her eyes with it. She smiled at me sweetly and I glimpsed the ghost of her younger face, the expressive face that read me adventure stories in bed, the intent face that scrunched up as she tied the laces of my shoes, the young beautiful face behind this one, like the one in the magazine. I planted a kiss on her wrinkled forehead. “Goodnight, sweetheart,” I said, and took one of those tissues for myself.

I heard her croon softly as I walked out of her room, “Goodnight sweetheart, well it’s time to go…”


My wife and our nine and ten-year-old boys were boxing up our Monopoly game when I got home. Barb and I danced around each other for a while, mouthing the bare essentials until our kids went to bed. When she came back downstairs, I was on the sofa with a cold one, the magazine in hand.

“Sit down for a minute, would you please?” I asked. “I need to talk with you.”

“Uh oh. About your mom? Or us?”

“About her. About Ruth Ann Reynolds. In the flesh.” I blurted out a nervous laugh.

“What’s so funny?”

“This,” I said, carefully handing the evidence to her.

“Is this a joke? A skin pub? Since when did you start reading these?”

“Look at it,” I said. “Please, just look at it.”

Barb didn’t recognize the resemblance at first. Then she saw the name. Then the centrefold. Then she howled. “Oh My God. I forgive every awful thing I ever said about the old dame. I am so sorry.” My wife looked at me with the twinkle in her eye that made me fall in love with her so many years ago. We both collapsed in laughter.

Then Barb got serious. “How could you not know your mom had her fifteen minutes of fame? How daring she was! My word, Austin. Do you take after her? What’s buried in your past that you’d like to keep underground?”

“I don’t think my mom purposely kept this a secret. She was always an open sort of person,” I replied, hardly hearing what Barb had said. “Well, at least I thought she was.”

“Sure, an open sort. I can tell that by these pictures. Baring her all for the world. But you didn’t answer my question.”

“She finally told me today that my father was from Austin, Texas. That’s all I could pry out of her. Nothing else about him. After all the times my questions about him were ignored, went unanswered, maybe seeing the pictures of her younger self cracked opened a door in her memory and let her drop her guard for a moment.”

“Well, at least you and I have that in common, don’t we? Me, adopted from another country, no knowledge of my family tree. You only knowing one branch of yours.” She paused, leaned across me and took a chug of my beer. “I always fantasized that one day my real parents would fly across the ocean and show up at my door, bearing gifts, remorseful but happy to finally see me. I still dream about it sometimes.”

“Yeah, I did too, when I was a kid. Then I just convinced myself my father was dead, and that was why he never showed up. I taught myself to feel sorry for him instead of for myself. But the truth is, he could be living in the room next to Mom at Shady Pines and none of us would even know the truth.”

Barb smiled, and it made me smile along with her. “Wouldn’t that be a kick,” she said. “Anyway, whatever secrets you have, keep them. They’re yours. And mine will stay mine.”

I looked at my wife, took her chin in my hand and really looked at her. “Agreed. And from now on, whenever I step in the door I’ll let you know how happy I am to finally see you. Every single time. Because it’s always true.”

“O.K. And how about I come with you to Shady Pines whenever you go, and I’ll look at every man living there to see if there’s one who resembles you. You with your Texas genes.”

“It’s a deal,” I said as we made our way upstairs to bed, our arms tangled around each other. “Where do we go from here?” I asked her.

“I don’t know,” she said, “but let’s go there together.”

Lucky me, to have two sweethearts in my life.


Image of Patricia Bowen in a red suit jacket, with dangling earrings, in front of a bookcase.

Patricia Ann Bowen is the author of a medical time travel series about a cure for Alzheimer’s, and Unintended Consequences, a collection of short stories about people in challenging circumstances. Her stories have appeared in the Table for Two and Stories of Southern Humor and Southern Crime anthologies, as well as in Mystery Tribune, and Chamber Magazine. She has taught short story writing, and she leads a critique group of short story writers for the Atlanta Writer’s Club. Reach her on Twitter @WoodsgalWrites.

  1. Fun premise, beautifully executed, pulled me right in. Nice work!

  2. Very enjoyable story – great setup!
    I would leave out ‘beeswax’ – in my view it clashes. Also, I think you need an ending Maybe leading to more suspense instead yog the anodyne – lived happily ever after. Entertaining!

  3. This is so full of interest, and good writing. It kept me reading with the set up of perhaps the mum would tell some stories, while we know that memory can vary from day to day, hour to hour, in people with dementia. The story came to and end with love, without being over sentimental.
    Thank you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *