“What to do when Joelene comes calling,” by Rijn Collins

Dec 20th, 2011 | By | Category: Fiction, Prose

It was April when it began.

It might have started earlier, but that was when I noticed the first sign. I was chatting to my mother, the phone in one hand and a pen in the other. It was only when I hung up that I looked down and saw, in thin black strokes, that I’d absently drawn a round little banjo.

And that’s how it started.

It was a few days later that the second sign occurred. I was locking up the salon when I turned to Tina and Lois, my chief manicurists, and out of my mouth fell “See y’all tomorrow.”

I’ve never, in my entire life, said “y’all” before. I had absolutely no idea why I was taking it up now.

Tina and Lois seemed as surprised as I was at my choice of words, and as I climbed into my car I could see their heads bent together, whispering.

After that, I just couldn’t stop it happening. By the time I got home and kissed my husband hello, everything out of my mouth was in a twang straight out of Tennessee. I heard the words, I saw my husband’s raised eyebrows, but I could do nothing to halt the flow.

When I heard myself say “I’m fixin’ to make a mess of polk salad for dinner,” I had to head for the bedroom and slam the door.

I sat on the edge of the bed, my head in my hands as my heart slammed against my ribcage.

There was no doubt about it.

I was turning into Dolly Parton.

I slid back onto the bedspread and hugged my knees, shaking my head to throw the thought clear. How could this be? I wasn’t even a fan! I’d grown up with her free spirited exuberance and infectious laughter bouncing out of my dad’s stereo, and had often been told tales of her dirt poor upbringing as one of twelve children in the Smoky Mountains, but when in my musing I actually used the word “younguns,” I began to rock back and forth on the bed.

Why me? I’m the opposite of free spirited—I only ever engage with my husband with the lights off, and I’ve been known to iron my underwear. Once, he kissed the top of my head and said with a sigh I didn’t quite understand, “There’s not much frivolity in you, is there, babe?”

No wonder he was tapping at the door, asking if I were ok. When I hollered “I’m a-coming!” I clapped my hands over my mouth in horror.

I reached for the bedside phone, shaking as I dialed.

“Mum! Something weird is happening to me.”

I could heart the anxiety in her voice.

“What is it?”

“It’s just…well, I seem to be turning into Dolly Parton.”

She was silent—a fair enough response, considering. But I wasn’t prepared for what came out of her mouth next.

“Ah…I was afraid that might happen.”

My eyes grew huge.


Her voice was gentle, as though talking to a small child, which is just what I felt like, to be honest.

“It’s in our blood, you see, my love. I don’t know what it is about us O’Hallorans, but at certain points the women do tend to morph, I’m afraid.”

I held the phone to my ear, and blinked, hard.

“I myself spent several months in the late 70’s as Nana Mouskouri,” she admitted. “I guess you were too young to remember, but I have to say, your father did have a soft spot for the glasses. I still bring them out for special occasions, if you know what I mean.”


“Darling, lighten up! You could learn a few lessons from Dolly, you know. There’s not much you can do about it, I’m sorry, so best just go along with it.”

“Is… is there anything else I should know?”

“Well, just one thing: some husbands seem to absorb it too, and they can alter when their wives do. It’s not likely darling, but it’s possible.”

After I hung up, I sat on the bed in a daze. What if I woke up one morning and found myself lying next to…next to…Liberace? I slid off the bed and staggered to the mirror, and what I saw made my jaw drop.

My hair, usually kept pinned back tightly, had shimmied out of its moorings and risen in a teased halo so big it wouldn’t fit within the frame of the mirror. And you know, I have to say it quite suited me.

The changes still take me by surprise, but all these months later, I’m learning to live with them. Who would have thought that long, gaudy Dolly talons would prove so popular at the salon? We’re booked solid, and the customers seem to love my tales of red-headed hussies, possum stew and coats my grandmammy used to sew. As for the physical alteration, well, let’s just say that with the changes to my figure, I’m now comfortable leaving the lights on, if you get my drift.

But that’s not the most exciting part. The other morning, I went to wake my husband for his grits and gravy, and stopped, my hand frozen in mid-air. There, his face deep in slumber, was what I swear looked like the beginnings of an Elvis sneer.


Rijn Collins is a Melbourne writer whose latest stories have involved trichotillomaniacs, Finnish cowboys, taxidermy, Eastern European reality TV stars and those phobic about the colour red. Her writing has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines, as well as online journals such as Metazen, Jersey Devil Press and Lowestoft Chronicle. Her stories have been performed at the Melbourne Emerging Writers’ Festival and adapted for radio by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. She’s currently writing a novel, and trying not to include Elvis in it. So far, so good.

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.