Friday, June 15, 2012

Two chapters! White Trash in the Snow Chapters Five and Six

I'm getting anxious to get to some of my favorite chapters. In order to get there faster, I'm releasing two chapters this week. Chapter Five is about  how the Saplin family members deal with being in the public eye.  In Chapter six we easedrop on Cristol's parents talking about her dating that boy, Wrangler Strauss.

Happy Father's Day to all the dads who read The Palin Place and to all the husbands whose wifes read it to them!







WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
 by Allison

Remember, folks, this is fiction. Any similarity to real persons is strictly coincidence. If you think you find some coincidence, and it amuses you, thank the founding fathers who said we all have the right to pursue happiness.  I wrote this for my own entertainment, and nothing would make me happier than to hear that you found some enjoyment here today, too. And if so, do come back next Friday for more White Trash in the Snow.



CHAPTER FIVE

Governor Saplin was unconventional in many ways, particularly when it came to protecting her children’s privacy. They had none. She shown a spotlight on them for their mere existence, and in election season she would tell them “My getting elected is God’s plan, and God told me He expects you all to help.”

Every time she won an election, she said it proved she was right about “understandin’ God’s will.” If she lost, it was because “God doesn’t force his will on anyone and heathens vote, too - most of the time for Democrats, of course.”

Even with God on her side, the long gubernatorial campaign with its repetition of parsed promises, lies, and misrepresentations was enough to make anyone callous. Rachael and Tad mastered an impressive level of  phoniness in the stage act they honed while stumping across the state. The phrase “I love you,” dropped from their daily discourse many years before, was resurrected for use during platform speeches in front of gullible voters. “Here on stage is my husband, Tad. I couldn’t be here without his love and support.” Turning three quarters to look at him, consciously presenting her best profile to the audience, she’d finish with “Thank you Tad, I love you” and give her trade-mark wink.

The stump speeches became so predictable that Cristol and Maple, bored backstage, amused themselves mimicking their parents. Cristol would mime her mother’s hand motions, words and facial gestures in synchronized perfection, while Maple, playing the part of their father, stood with a flat, stretched smile, chin up, eyes blinking from imaginary spotlights. She’d make a thumbs up sign in tandem with her father. Then they would both have to stifle their giggles. The two girls thought themselves quite funny.

After the votes were counted and the winners proclaimed, the kids always expected  their own public appearances would recede to a tolerable level. It must have been wishful thinking, because it was never how it worked out. Rachael brought her husband and children into meetings, onto stages, requested extra seats at luncheons, dinners, and performances, including them in ways that were often inappropriate to the occasion, inconsiderate to the sponsors, and awkward for everyone except the Saplins. And that was while she was mayor. Six months after Governor Saplin took office, the grifting and grabbing so exceeded the bounds of propriety that watchdog groups began to question the use of tax dollars being used for the personal expenses of the entire Saplin family.

Governor Saplin called them “frivolous complaints” and set about to prove the troublemakers wrong. State accountants were told to compile and compare travel costs for herself and her family and those of the previous administration for each administration’s first six months. The results showed her family’s expenses were greater by far. Never one to concede, she declared the first set of figures “flawed” and sent the auditors back to tally it again from scratch, authorizing overtime to get it done. Only the accountants in the administration saw the irony in adding the cost of  overtime to the already spectacular cost of Saplin-family-related-expenditures borne by the taxpayers. The recount results came back even worse for the new governor.

Not able to use factual data to defend her family’s travel perks, the governor doubled down on her message that “every member of the First Family represents this great state wherever they go” and that each one of them “serves proudly.” Covering the story for tuned in taxpayers, an on air reporter used an unfortunate term to describe the Governor and The Shadow throwing their children into adult situations in exchange for state financed travel, lodging, entertainment and banquet meals. Never missing an opportunity to play the victim, Tad and Rachael made a big show of indignation, demanding that the reporter apologize. “The governor and I, as parents, are trying to give our children a strong work ethic. To compare that with the business of a pimp, is the most insulting and ludicrous accusation we can imagine. We are deeply offended.” Their plan worked. The travel expense story was dropped from the news cycle statewide and replaced with massive week-long coverage of the reporter’s gaffe and subsequent suspension. The governor’s office received an unprecedented number of sympathetic emails and snail mail. The First Couple were thrilled. They’d learned a valuable political lessen: whenever you can, make an accusation that your children have been unfairly used as a political tool, and wring every drop you can out of the story no matter how humiliating it may be to your children.

After that, the tentacles of political pandering wrapped themselves even more tightly around Cristol’s schedule. Saturdays, Sundays and vacation days were captured. There was little time for fun and friends. Cristol called it her “job.” She envied her friends who had “real” jobs - even Sparkler Jones’ minimum wage job at McDonalds.

Sparkler challenged her on that one day.  “You’d rather wear a polyester smock and shake the grease from the French fry basket than grin and shake hands all afternoon? Are you crazy?”

“No, I’m not crazy. You have a counter between you and other people. I have no protection. Have you any idea how creepy people can get? Leering old men want to hug me and wrinkled up old ladies with stinky perfume want to kiss me,” she wrinkled her nose. “You don’t know how lucky you are, Sparkler. Being the governor’s daughter is real work. And it’s hard work.”

Field, the oldest, outright refused to be used. Starting at the age of about thirteen, he said no and got away with it.  Cristol thought when she reached those magic teen years she'd get the same pass on political propagandizing that her brother had gotten. But somehow, what worked for him didn’t work for her.

At the other end of the age bracket, Pride had a different perspective. The baby of the family  had been steeped in attention since birth, and loved being team Saplin’s mascot. Constantly smiled upon and offered treats, she believed she was special and expected attention wherever she went. Six months ago, however, even Pride’s magical life had taken a downturn.  In the evening, after the huge mahogany front door of the mansion closed, shutting out the public, she had difficulty adjusting to the quiet. She didn’t like having to entertain herself. She missed having a surrounding cloud of kiss-ups hovering and doting. And maybe even more, she missed her grandparents and cousins. So did Maple.

“Maple-in-the-middle” as Tad called her, had been uprooted from middle school in Azzolla just as she had won the attention of a cute new boy. Maple’s problems were not insurmountable, however. With cell phone calls and text messages, MySpace postings and frequent flights back to Azzolla (on the pretense of state-business, of course), she kept close to all her friends, old and new. Within a month of the move, she had boyfriends in each town. Unlike Cristol, Maple was pretty and perky. Cristol hated that about her.

Cristol hated a lot of things about her life, her siblings and her parents. She kept a list on her computer called “Things I hate about being a Saplin.” No one else had ever seen it. Not even Sparkler. It was updated as needed, and had grown to over fifty entries since she started keeping track at age twelve. Early entries documented jealousy of her sister Maple’s good looks and ability to make friends. There were things she hated about everyone, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Uncle Ed used to be her favorite until the separation from Aunt Sally. He’d made the list a few weeks ago when he’d called her an “arrogant ass.”  She was the instigator, but he was the adult, so that put him in the wrong. All she’d done was walk past him at the school carnival, stop, sniff the air, and check the bottom of each of her shoes. Ed was voluntarily working security for the event, so even though she told on him and her father wrote emails and letters to just about everyone, he didn’t get in trouble.

Cristol was nearly clueless that being a snitch was not an admirable quality. Whenever she told her mother or her father about any perceived slight, one of them would fight her battles for her, even against teachers or police officers or family friends. Saplin kids were rewarded for whining and tattling. It had always been that way and Cristol had learned to use it. The only time she had a problem with snitching was when it was her brother or one of her sisters getting her in trouble. Such had been the case when the last Field-related complaint had been typed in “I hate my brother for being a snitch.”  That came from his telling their parents she was “a stoner,” but she’d gotten even with him.

Rachael and Tad had underestimated the stress of working together in the governor’s office. Because they rarely spoke, it was awkward to now spend so many hours together. People noticed. Until the gubernatorial victory, only family and friends saw the canyon that had grown between them during the eighteen years of Tad’s distant employment. Now it was evident to staff that surrounded them at home, at work, and during their travels. Their quarrels in the office were as common as the pens and Post-It pads they flung at each other.

About six months into the job, Rachael complained to her sister Helen about the adjustments she and Tad were trying to make as a couple.. “I’m just wrung out. Tad and I are fightin’ about who’s going to do this, and who’s going to do that and all the while we are so tired and have so much to do already, I never thought it would be this much work.”

Helen nodded. She could relate. She and her husband had gone through times of upheaval, re-evaluation, and redistribution of work - it was called being new parents. The last time, the child had special needs. Now, that was exhausting!  

“I get it, Rachael. It’s like bringing home a new baby. It’s a lot of work, and you know that going into it and you do the best you can every day. So just do your best. You’ll be great.”

Rachael frowned. “I shouldn’t have expected you to understand. You’re a stay at home mom, makin’ cookies and calling that a job. Honestly, Helen, you have no idea what work is. Kids are simple compared to real work.”

Helen was deeply offended. Her sister had never understood the work involved in having a child with a disability. Nor did she ever try to understand. Determined to keep her temper, Helon drew from a favorite Bible verse to compose her thoughts: Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, it does not boast –

Rachael was  impatient to make her own point. She didn’t  notice her sister’s downcast eyes, and she didn’t wait for Helen to respond. “Believe me, I know both sides of this. I’ve had four kids. Just birthed ‘em and went back to work. But being Governor, well, you have no idea of the responsibility I’m carrying.”

Compared to her sister, Helen was a real saint. ”You wanted this job, now you have to do what it takes to be the best governor you can be. All I’m saying is, you’ve done this before, you’ve done this as a mom. You have to listen a lot, learn from others and, of course,  you’re going to lose a lot of sleep. But it will be worth it. Just like motherhood.”

“Yeah, right,” Rachael groused. Helen doesn’t get it. She just doesn’t know how really, really hard it is to be me.

By the spring of 2007, the governor’s job had, indeed, become like a pseudo fifth Saplin child. The governor and Tad nurtured it and lavished attention on it. She woke up in the night to check on it via two Blackberries. Tad's mind was on it and he bragged about it when he was away at work. It was needy and demanding. It was an under-achiever that needed extra care, extra coddling and constant attention. If Pinocchio’s fairy godmother had been summoned to turn the Saplin administration into a real live girl, it would have been a spoiled six year old wearing a snow princess coat and a rhinestone tiara.


CHAPTER SIX

It was late. Tad was settling into his recliner, ready to turn on some sports show and fall asleep. As he picked up the remote, his wife came in with a mug of hot chocolate and a cinnamon bun. She set the plate on the end table and curled up on the sofa.

He hesitated, then put the remote back down. He knew the signs. When Rachael went for a double-sugar fix just before bed something was bothering her. Sometimes she ate in the kitchen, and other times in her room, but, when she brought her comfort foods near his sleep zone it was the harbinger of a fitful night for him, too.

Tad pulled the lever that stretched the recliner out full, laced his fingers and laid his hands on his chest, and waited. Whatever was on her mind, it wasn’t going to be spoken until the level of tension and her blood sugar count were maximized. Rachael began ripping off little lengths of the sugary bun and popping them into her mouth in a making-it-last-as-long-as-she-could way that she knew would get under his skin. Not tonight, though. Because on this night, he was in a pretty good mood. He’d had a long massage before he came home and he was mellow.

Holding the mug with two hands, she began blowing across the steaming surface. “Crap!” She pulled her head back after the first scalding sip. She set the mug down and scowled.

While she ate, he closed his eyes and tried to guess which of the reoccurring late night discussions they were going to have. Had her sister Sally called with another complaint about that good-for-nothing brother-in-law? Was there some problem with his having charged those snow machine parts to the credit card this month? Did the school send a note home complaining about the number of days the kids have been pulled out from school for First Family duties?  That was probably it – teachers were such a demanding lot. Well, he’d take care of that. Those damn school teachers were  public servants. They ought to understand that the people of the state had a right to meet their new First Family. Besides, the school year was almost over, so this was just harassment. Political harassment. Teachers are liberals, everyone knows that; who else would go to college and get into debt to do a thankless job for so little pay? And some of them were men! Yup, they were goddamn liberals intentionally messing with his kids. He’d handle it with a phone call in the morning.

Setting the half eaten bun down, Rachael licked her fingers one at a time, and wiped them on a paper napkin. Tipping her head to the side, she looked at Tad out of the bottom corner of her glasses.

“Okay,” he said, humoring her, “what is it?”

“It’s a crisis, Tad. If you paid any attention to the kids at all, you’d know what the problem is.” Through clenched teeth she hissed, “It’s that Strauss boy.”

He was thrown for a minute by the words. “Strauss boy” conjured up an old image of a ten year old with a two-toned mullet, playing hockey in the backyard with Field. Tad remembered the boy’s skill controlling the puck. That boy had become the kid named Strauss playing varsity ice hockey since last year. Tad had gone to only a few games before Rachael announced she was running for governor. That put an end to any free time to go to Field’s games. Maybe it was a good thing. Wrangler playing as a Freshman really upset Tad. If only Field had shown that potential… Then after last fall’s election, Tad got even busier. He followed the team through the newspaper and Field’s reports. And wouldn’t you know, that Strauss kid had gotten the most coverage in the sports section of both the city’s Daily Press and the town’s weekly, the Azzolla Holler. That was important in this hockey-crazed valley, it gave a young man some legitimate bragging rights.

After all that review, Tad couldn’t comprehend a problem, so he ask straight out, “What about that Strauss kid?”

“He’s been hanging around with Cristol.” She pursed her lips, the corners of her mouth went down.

“Okay…” He still didn’t get it. Maybe he was thinking of the wrong kid. Were there two Strauss kids? He tried to clarify, “Is that the kid the paper called a game changer?”

Rachael stiffened. “Humph." It was a cross between a snort and a grunt. “That’s him.”

“Oh. Does he still bleach his hair?”

“Really, Tad! That was when he was – what - like, in fifth grade?”

“Oh, good. Can’t have our daughter hanging around a guy with a mullet.”

“I didn’t say he got rid of the mullet. I said it’s no longer bleached at the top.”

“Really? A mullet?” Tad grinned a silly grin. No self-respecting guy still wore a mullet, did they? Where do you even find a barber who would do that?  “He must tuck it up under the helmet when-"


           "Tad!"


            "Umm, yeah, so, okay…sure. I don’t want Cristol seen with a guy with a mullet, either. Glad we got that settled. Now, can I get some sleep?”

“Good lord, Tad! It’s not the mullet. It’s his family! The Strausses aren’t people we want Cristal getting mixed up with.”

“What? Why? Didn’t Field bring him around when they were kids? What's the problem?”

“For one thing, I’m the governor now,”

“And?”

“And the kids have to be more selective! This boy…” she stopped. Shaking her head, she said, “Sometimes I don’t know why I bother explaining things to you.” She picked up the remaining half cinnamon bun and shoved it all into her mouth. Chewing while talking, her next words were muffled, “I hate to use the term white trash, but it fits also…this kid is that, ...this kid who likes Cristol and she likes him…” She picked her teeth with the nail of her pinky finger and squinted at Tad, waiting for him to say something.

Tad raised the chair to an upright position, buying time to think how to get this over with so he could go to sleep.

Rachael walked over, stopped in front of him and glared down, hands on hips.“His parents are divorced, Tad. And his mother is a hairdresser!”

“Really?” His voice almost squeaked. “That’s where he got the mullet?

“Enough of the mullet, already! Don’t you see? We have to break this up!  You know how Cristol is, they must be foolin’ around…”

She leaned over, got in his face and, with a locked jaw spoke slowly and deliberately. “If Cristol got pregnant by Wrangler-fucking-Strauss it would be the worst thing that could happen to this family.”

“Don’t you think you’re taking this a little too far?” Tad was being brave. Her stone cold glare  warned him she was not going to back down.

“Me going too far? Have you any idea how many girls are pregnant in Azzola High right now? There's no such thing as going too far in this town. ” She leaned in close. “So don't be so stupid.” In the execution of “so stupid” Tad was sprayed with cinnamon spittle. Rachael straightened and went back to the sofa. Bringing her knees up to her chest, she hugged her legs, turned her head and rested cheek on her knees. She closed her eyes.

Tad stared at the blank television set and waited, knowing that eventually, she would speak. He also knew that when she did, it would be a calmer, quieter Rachael. It was her makeup. She seethed and then she stewed, and eventually, her storms subsided. His stepmother said it was a sign of mental illness. He figured she was just like her father. (The two things were not mutually exclusive.) He’d learned to cope, he closed his eyes and rested.

A full thirty five minutes passed before Tad was awakened by someone talking. It was Rachael using her “don’t- want- to- wake- up- the- kids” voice.

 “… immature. Not ready for a serious relationship.”

He shuffled in his chair and sat up straighter.

 “The way she hangs all over that boy – scares the heck out of me. I’m just trying to be a good parent.” She saw that he was awake, and said “I want you to tell them they have to break up. They are through.  Just like that boy JJ before. These guys want one thing. You have to do it Tad, you have to set your foot down.”

 Rachael talked a lot about being  the mother of four kids, yet it was Tad who gave the kids what parenting they got. He gave the occasional pep talk, wrote absence notes to take to school, gave advice on surviving a strict teacher, and ate ice cream with whoever had suffered the betrayal of a best friend. Certain he knew their daughter better than Rachael did, he gave advice, “Don’t worry. This will pass. Cristol is only trying to be cool. She’s at that age where a girl wants to be seen with the star of the basketball team or the captain of the hockey team. She's interested in him because he's a star. Wait ‘till track season, she’ll move on to some other jock.” He was enjoying being a voice of reason. “You know, how it is. Remember how you claimed me when you saw me play basketball?”

Smiling, he clasped his hands behind his head. He was intentionally leading her away from her angst and into familiar territory – their own story of young love. In their eighteen years of marriage they’d joked about this so many times, it was like a comedy routine. The first lines were his: “Oh, yeah, why I’d no sooner stepped off the court from showing your Dad my jump shot, than you swooped in and latched on to me. I didn’t have a chance.”

No immediate reaction, this was the point where each was to pause and mentally linger in the past. Individually, they envisioned their senior year at Azzolla High - the thrill of reciprocated adolescent flirtation, first love, and awkward fumbling in the back seat of a ‘72 Dodge Charger.

Eventually, Rachael broke the silence. Tad knew she would. “Oh, really?” she said, smiling, “I swooped in? Is that how you remember it?” They both knew he was right, but she always disagreed. “Seems to me, hotshot, you were the one who asked me out.”

“Of course I did. It’s the unwritten rule of high school sports. A boy wants to make the team – he has to ask out the coach’s daughter. Especially if she’s practically throwing herself at him.” He got the usual reaction - she defensively jutted out her chin and squinted her eyes. Then came  the part where he liked to change it up. He always had fun with this part. What animal would he compare her with tonight? A cow? A moose?

“Don’t tell me you really believed you were Miss Popularity? Heck, I’d have asked you out even if you’d been a gorilla wearing those thick glasses.”

She picked up a throw pillow and flung it with medium force toward her grinning target. “Liar,” she said. He batted it away.

“Yeah, I lied.” His ice-blue eyes twinkled

“Darn right.”

“I lied about the glasses. Good thing you got contacts that year or you might have been a spinster.”

They smiled at each other. Full, relaxed, creases-in-the-corners-of-the-eyes smiles. This was the most tender moment the two had shared in many months. It felt good, and neither wanted to return to the uncomfortable subject of their teenage daughter having sex.

Tad forced a yawn and stretched his arms, then picked up the remote, turned on the television, and began changing channels. Rachael got up and took her mug and plate to the kitchen. After rinsing and stowing them in the dishwasher she hesitated at the bottom of the stairs. “Well, good night.”

“Night,” Tad replied, eyes on the screen in front of him.

She felt a sharp pain in her heart as she climbed the stairs. For a few minutes, down in the living room, it had felt different. She'd thought maybe Tad would come to bed with her tonight. The irony of the last hour struck her as she reached the landing. I’m married and  my sixteen year old daughter is having more sex than me.. Unflippin’ believable.”

5 comments:

jk said...

I'm a writer and an actual avid reader (not Sarah Palin "avid"). I have to say I'm really enjoying your writing style and voice. Even if I didn't know the story behind the story, this would be a fun read.

Jo said...

Very, very fun.

Anonymous said...

De' Ja Vu!! :-) Unflippin' believable! You're quite the writer Allison....so easy to visualize every word you write. Thanks again.

mary beaulieu said...

You are doing such a great job!!
I wait for Frday's very impatiently, knowing that I'm going to read the next chapter and be thrilled by it!!

Thank you, Allison!

I don't think anyone could have captured that awful family as good as you have.

I hope a big name Publisher see's this and makes you an offer you can't refuse!!

JillyG said...

LOVE IT!