It's almost time for school to start again, and Cristol Saplin does not want to go back to the capital. White Trash in the Snow is a work of fiction. But it does take place on planet earth, in the USA. So, you might find some things that have a familiar ring to them. Any similarity to actual persons, or places or events is coincidental.
school nights and I’m going to need to sleep in. It’s an accommodation.” (The five syllables had become a household staple since Rachael became governor. It was a passport, of sorts. One that got the whole Saplin family into concerts, invited to dinners, provided with lodging, and airfare.)
“It’s always about you, Mom! You and your image. You and your stupid, phony, made up life. It’s always about you. You didn’t make any winning basketball shot in any dumb championship game. You sat on the bench. I know the truth. Wrangler’s dad told him and he told me.”
Tad came in from the garage to find Cristol, tearful and Rachael glowering. “What’s going on?” he demanded.
“Calm down, Rachael, I know what you’re saying, but - “
“But nothing! Cristol is going back with me. I have a special legislative session to conduct, and I have to be in the capital Mondays and Tuesdays and some Thursdays, too. The kids have to go to school there.”
Tad’s silence was hard to interpret. Was he going to agree with Rachael? Cristol turned her back to both of them and re-crossed her arms.
Rachel pushed her arguments further. “And common sense tells you we can’t trust her to stay here alone. Do you know how late she got home last night?”
Suddenly, it all connected for Rachael. It made sense. She straightened her back, struck a former-beauty queen pose with her head slightly tilted, and smiled like she had just been named Miss Congeniality. In what her kids called her “smart-ass sarcastic voice”, she addressed a question to her daughter’s back. “This is about Wrangler, isn’t it?”
Cristal, spun around and stomped her foot.”I hate you!”
Rachael’s eyes could shoot daggers, as sharp as Cristol’s. She shot her daughter a look, then, with a huff, gave Tad his orders. “You handle this. I’m going running,” and grabbing the water bottle from the counter, out the door she went.
Rachael Heat discovered running while in Junior High. Running was one of the things she’d held on to since she was fourteen along with writing in a diary every night, and holding grudges. Tad watched his wife run away, thinking to himself that, ever since he’d known her, she’d run away from tough situations. She’d withdrawn from courses and colleges, quit jobs, delegated the task of firing people, and walked out of meetings more often than not. Like many times before, she was physically running to get away from making a big decision. Rachael was a champion at running away from tough things.
Deliberately choosing to be the opposite of her mother, Cristol hadn’t moved. Arms defensively crossed, tears dropping from her chin, she was a mess. It was a pathetic sight. It made her father want to cry, too.
“Calm down, honey. Your Mom has a lot going on.”
“I don’t care!” She sniveled, pulled a paper towel from the rack and blew her nose.
Tad went to her. He hugged her and she laid her head on his shoulder. As she wept, a wet spot grew on the sleeve of his t-shirt. He imagined her pain washing away with the tears, and he was absorbing it. For Tad Saplin, this was a new level of sensitivity.
She pulled away and blew her nose again. “Who cares where I go to school?” she asked.
“Oh, Honey, your mom is right about that. People do care.” Tad was relieved. This was something he could talk about - other people and their shortcomings. “Especially people who care about your mother’s career. You remember that bunch of guys that got off the tour boat and had lunch at the mansion this summer? Just before your Mom went on that trip to Kuwait?”
“Yeah. So what? They were stuffy old men and Maple and me had to serve them that food from Costco’s that you ran and got. What’ve they got to do with me and Wrangler? I mean, with me and school?” She broke eye contact and blushed.
“Those are very influential guys, and they came to meet your Mom because they might want her to run for Vice President. The other party has a woman candidate who’s pretty much a sure thing to run on the top of the ticket, so the party bosses are trying to find a woman to run. Your mom has a really good chance.”
“I think it's a joke. Mom and her prom hair running the White House? That’s crazy.” Tad was glad to see her smile. "So," she asked, “why haven’t I heard about this?”
“It’s got to be kept a secret. I shouldn’t have even said this much. Those men - that group is like, top secret or something. All hush, hush.” He was sorry he’d said anything, but he had made her smile, so… “So you’ve got to promise not to ever, and I mean ever, repeat this.” Cristol nodded. “They insisted that we not tell anyone, including family. But I’m trusting you. Keep this a secret.”
“Politics! I should have known.” She was angry. “Does this group have a name?”
“Conservative Christian Caucus, but you can’t repeat that, either. That’s secret too.” Why am I still talking? He could almost hear his wife saying, “Shut up, Tad.”
Cristol wanted to get back to her problem. “So, Dad, will you talk to Mom, get her to let me stay here? I need to go to school with my friends. Everyone at Fredrick Douglas hates me. Don’t make me go back there!” she begged.
“It’ll be alright, Honey. You know your mom, we have to let her run it off. Everything will be okay. I promise.” He regretted those last two words as soon as they were out. His mouth was out of control.
“Daddy, you are the best! I knew you would save me from that horrid place. And I promise to keep those Christian Circus guys a secret. You promised me, I promise you!” She gave him a big hug.
When she crossed the kitchen to throw away the crumpled paper towels, he notice something different about her. Hmmm, he thought, she must be in one of those in-between stages, where she gets heavy before she shoots up taller. She’s really gotten big this summer. Her face is fuller, she’s put on weight. It made him feel sorry for her all over again. No wonder she’d rather be with old friends than trying to make new ones. What’s the matter with Rachael? Doesn’t she remember how hard it was to be sixteen?
“I’ve got friends to call, to tell them I’m returning. You’re the best, Dad!” She took the stairs two at a time, going up to her room, but she looked awkward and clumsy. Even more than usual.
Tad watched her, amazed that he was only just noticing the changes in his oldest daughter. Wow, I bet she’s put on at least ten pounds this summer. I'm going to tell Rachael she ought to have a talk with all the kids about cutting back on junk food. Then, he returned to the garage and promptly forgot all about it.
Cristol and Sparkler were sitting on the living room floor organizing new stuff they’d bought for school. Folders, paper, pens, pencils and notebooks were scattered about them.
“So, your brother is going to be in charge? And he’ll be going to community college? Man, that’s totally awesome. He’s not going to care what you’re doing.” Sparkler was in awe of Cristol’s good fortune.
Field wasn’t going to be a problem. Things were much better than last spring. After her brother had told her parents she was a stoner, she’d told them he was into OxyContin. It was a mess. Everybody yelling, then her mother shutting down and going into one of her pouting comas. Their dad leaving the house and not coming back for days. It was heavy stuff. Cristol and Field felt responsible for the near-breakup of the family and they felt guilty about being snitches. From then on, they agreed, they would have each other’s backs. And if they couldn’t do that, at least they would refrain from attacking each other.
Cristol had almost no worries. “Only one thing could go wrong that I can see. Grandma and Grandpa are supposed to check on us once in a while, like - you know, unannounced. Field and I are gonna have to watch out for them.”
“This is gonna be so totally awesome! Everyday…” Sparkler made the motions of opening a beer can and chugging it down. “It’s gonna be great.”
“Yeah,” Cristol couldn’t identify what was bothering her about the plan. She’d gotten her way. She was going to school in Azzolla, she would have practically no supervision; who wouldn’t love that? What was wrong? Why did she feel empty?
“Everybody’s parents are lame. At least yours are hardly ever home.” With that pronouncement, Sparkler began picking up. The Ellen DeGeneres show was almost over, signalling it was time for her to go home.
Cristol was still trying to figure out her own sadness. The battles she’d won, to stay in Azzolla and go to Azzolla High, meant that she wouldn’t be with the family. Was that it? No, that couldn’t be it. They weren’t a close family; they hardly ever sat down for meals together, unless it was to grab a couple pieces of pizza. They weren’t like Sparkler’s family – the Jones even played Monopoly together for heaven’s sakes! How last century was that?
A twinge of jealousy shot through Cristol. She remembered Sparkler’s laughter that very day as she shared funny moments that happened last night during the Jones family “game night.” It was a weekly event that had been going on as long as Cristol had known her friend. Someday, Cristol vowed, Wrangler and I will have “game night” with our kids. Till then, she knew she was stuck with the far-from-close-knit Saplin family life. But still…being hundreds of miles from her Mom, Maple and Pride was going to be a little weird.
While they were picking up, they heard the sound of tires on gravel. Through the sidelights at the front door, they saw Rachael climbing out of the state-issued black SUV. Sparkler flew into a panic. “Find the remote! Turn the station!”
Almost a year before, Mrs. Saplin had “caught” Cristol and Sparkler watching Ellen’s show. Cristol’s mom “went ballistic” – that’s how Sparkler described it to their friends. The anger that poured from Mrs. Saplin was frightening in its intensity. Sparkler trembled while Mrs. S adlibbed a ten minute sermon on the evils of homosexuality “Cristol! You know better! You’ve been raised better than this! You know what that woman is. And you, Sparkler, perhaps you don’t know, but it’s in the Bible, that which it is that is an abominator, or something, too, which it is, of course, common sense!”
Cristol, totally embarrassed, later apologized to Sparkler for her mother’s outburst. Her friend made light of it. “Can’t buy a mansion in heaven? Ha!” she said. “I thought that was why televangelists keep asking for all that money!” Using her best imitation of a faux-sincere elderly white man in an expensive suit and a million dollar smile, she said “For only thirty dollars I’ll send you this cheap little trinket made by children in a third world country who get paid thirty cents a week to make them.”