Thursday, October 4, 2012
Friday is Fun with Fiction Day - White Trash in the Snow Chapters 39, 40 and 41
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
“Let’s get out of there early. There's a boxing match on TV tonight,” Tad said.
Rachael was holding her long hair up while he fumbled to secure the clasp on the diamond pendant. The necklace was a gift he’d given her on their nineteenth anniversary two months prior.
“I’m with you,” she replied, “Not about the boxing, of course, no… about keeping this thing short. It wasn’t my idea, you know. Mom and Dad mean well, but getting together with the Strausses is all for naught. There’s no way these people are going to become part of our family. So here’s the game plan. I’m going to be polite, but not friendly. You follow my lead; we don’t want them gettin’ the idea that next month we’ll be havin’ them over for Thanksgiving dinner or somethin’.”
Tad had been home only a day and he needed to catch up on his wife’s most recent ideas about how to handle the problem presented by Cristol. They didn’t have pillow talk like normal couples, because he slept in a recliner in the living room, so he was taking this opportunity while they were behind closed doors and getting dressed to go to his inlaws to make nice with Wrangler’s family.
Tad hovered near and watched Rachael apply red lipstick. She pressed her lips together and smiled at her own reflection. “Okay,” he said, “So, when are we going to talk to -”
A raised palm stopped him. “Yup, yup, I’ve got that planned, too.” Holding her hand in the air but not taking her eyes off her own image, she held him in abeyance and tilted her chin up, then left, then right, inspecting her makeup job for another five seconds. Apparently satisfied, she turned around and gave her attention to Tad. “It’ll have to be Sunday after church. Your job will be to make Cristol get out of bed to go. She’s gonna whine and complain but she’s gotta be there. And you, too, Tad. No whining. I promised months ago that the First Family would show up on Harvest Sunday. And your other job is to make sure she keeps her jacket on all through the service. Got that?” “We’re going to church on Sunday?”
“Yes, of course. It’s one of the major holidays.”
“What major holiday? It’s too soon for Thanksgiving.”
“Pay attention Tad! I told you, it’s Harvest Sunday. Didn’t I say that? I’m sure I did.” She turned back to the mirror and began brushing her hair. Her reverse image glared at him.
“Have I got it covered?”
“ It sounds like it, but I wish it didn’t include church.”
“Tad! I’m asking if I’ve covered the Bumpit.” She patted the top of her head where she had placed an artificial mound to give her hair a lift. “Do I have it covered in the back or is it showing?”
“It’s covered. It looks just like something your dad would take to the taxidermist.” He grinned, she puckered, he changed the subject. “I think you’re making up this thing about Harvest Sunday. Sounds as artificial as that bump-out thing on your head. ”
“Well, you have, too heard of it,Tad, it’s that Sunday when the little kids bring in canned goods and put 'em up front. Remember the time Field put a can of beer on the alter? I still wonder where he got it.” She raised an eyebrow and looked at her husband suspiciously.
“Oh, yeah, well…” he broke eye contact for a few seconds, then changed tactics. Rubbing her shoulders he whined, “Jeese, Rachael, can’t we miss it this year? Or maybe you could go alone…” Under the best of circumstances his voice was high for a man, and when he begged, he sounded like a girl. “If you ask me, Christmas and Easter are enough.”
“That’s why I don’t ask you. The First Family is going to be seen in church this coming Sunday, so put on your big boy pants and suck it up. By the way, the choir could use more sopranos for the Christmas cantata, why don’t you volunteer?”
“Ha, ha.” He removed his hands from her shoulders. In the mirror she saw he had three fingers tucked into his right palm, leaving one standing alone. She gave him a smug smile knowing she’d gotten to him.
“Well, it better go quick,” he growled. “Sunday’s my day to work in the garage. There’s a lot left to do before I take that baby for a trial run.”
“You think you can give an hour to the cause, Tad? Really? We’re talking about a real baby here. Our fifth baby ya know. I think that’s a little bigger than this winter’s race.”
The two of them had decided to raise this grandchild. At one time, early in the marriage, they thought they wanted five children, anyway. That was the master bedroom became “Mom’s room.” Rachael hadn’t been pregnant now for more than six years, but she remembered the details of the last one in great detail. Chronically exhausted, she had some blood work done. When the doctor called with results, her voice told Rachael it was more than a case of iron deficiency. Dr. Quinn was not only the Saplin family physician, but also a long-time friend of Rachael’s. Rachael knew many different faces and voices of her friend, but she hadn’t heard that voice before.
In the private office of Dr. Katty Quinn, Rachael learned that she was carrying a seven week fetus. Due to her age and previous history of spontaneous abortion, some complications were possible. Dr. Quinn in a well-practiced tone described the good and the bad, the likely and the not so likely, and the legal and medical choices. Options included ending the pregnancy.
Rachael learned something about herself, she learned she was no different than the women and girls who, finding themselves in “less than ideal” circumstances, choose to terminate their pregnancies. Out of town three days after learning of her condition, a voice in her head kept repeating “Go find Planned Parenthood. Medical records are protected by Federal law. No one knows you in New Orleans.” Tossing and turning through the night, she wrestled with the freshly exposed shallowness of her own commitment to life.
It was a few weeks later that she told Tad about their “surprise.” No big deal to Tad, he didn’t see it changing anything. He’d still work up North on his two week on/two week off work schedule. He’d still go away a couple months in winter to prepare for racing. And he’d still spend at least a month in the summer fishing. What was the big deal? Another Saplin running around with the cousins. He hoped it would be a boy.One thing they both agreed on was that Rachael would have her tubes tied at the conclusion of this pregnancy, even if she miscarried again.
Tad didn’t get his son, but the minute he laid eyes on Pride, he was smitten. Afterwards, Rachael had the planned surgery; sealing off the chance that she’d ever be tempted again to have an abortion. Even thinking about it was a sin. When the National Right to Life Organization asked if baby Pride could be used in an advertisement, Rachael jumped at the chance to put angel wings on the plump, 8-month old and have her picture plastered on posters and pamphlets. Rachael knew without a doubt, that God was saying, “I sent you this angel as a messenger to proclaim that your sin is forgiven, I shall remember it no more.” Well, if He doesn't remember it, neither do I And I won’t think of it again. And I won’t think of what I did back in …Nope won’t think about that, either. It didn’t happen, ‘cause God has taken all my sin away. I’m sinless. Yup, you betcha.”
The plan they came up with to cover for Cristol had it all. After the baby came, an announcement from the Governor’s office would put a spin on the story that would make Rachael and Tad look like saints, and at the same time, it would provide cover for Cristol. “Governor Saplin and her husband, Tad, are pleased to introduce the youngest member of their family. Through adoption, they have opened their home and their hearts to …” Rachael and Tad would claim that they were so grateful to God for the blessings in their lives that they wanted to share their good fortune with a child who would otherwise face an uncertain future. Knowing full well that birth and adoption records would be sealed, they had no fear that supermarket tabloids could uncover the truth, and the main stream media wouldn’t even try. The press and the public would both understand that the family would be legally prevented from talking about the child’s parentage. No one would ever dare even whisper a suggestion that the birth mother was their own daughter. That would be tawdry.
Rachael pictured a gaggle of reporters vying for photos of the newborn, and she could almost hear the phone ringing off the hook with well wishers. The double blessing in all this was that, ironically, it might be the very thing that could secure her the Vice Presidential nod. It was a long shot, but Senator McElwain and his wife Mindy had an adopted daughter, and if the Republicans were to select the popular war hero as their candidate in 2008, well… the scenario was right out of a novel, or, as Rachael saw it, God’s handiwork. Thrilled with the potential for political superstardom that might spring from two horny teenager’s recklessness, she said out loud, “God is awesome.”
Tad, not knowing the meandering she’d just done along the cow paths in her head, looked at her like she was crazy.“Let’s go. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can leave.”
“Maple!” Tad hollered out the window of the black SUV with government plates, “Let’ go!” He blew his horn impatiently. Maple ran out of the house, climbed in, slamming the door. “I don’t want to go. This is stupid. Why’s Wrangler’s family going to be there?”
“You never mind,” said her mother. “This party is for your sister. Behave yourself.”
“You’re gonna owe me,” groused Maple. Then she put in her earphones and tuned her parents out.
Rachael didn’t hear her, either. She was already focused on other things.“ I hope Pride had a bath and got her hair washed,” she said. “Sometimes mom and dad slack off.” . Pride had been with Betty and Buck for two days. There was nothing unusual about that; the little girl had spent more time in the care of grandparents and aunts than she had with her own parents. Even Cristol had been more of a mother to Pride than Rachael had been.
Pulling up in front of the house, Rachael became squinty-eyed; she pursed her lips and blew out through her nose loudly. Tad followed her gaze to the front stoop where Betty Heat was welcoming the Strausses - Wrangler, Jerrie and Porsche. He knew which one of the three caused his wife’s reaction. It happened every time. But why? Why did her blood pressure go up whenever she saw Porsche Strauss?
Tad was glad that Maple jumped out of the car and headed for the house before either of her parents even opened a door, it gave him a chance to say, “Now Rachael, Honey. Calm down “ Tad feared that any drama could lengthen the night, and he wanted to simply shake some hands, have cake, and get out.
“Shut up, Tad.” Rachael wasn’t in control of her feelings. Her stomach churned from juvenile jealousy and resentments that were decades old. Wrangler’s sister, with her friendly smile, perfect teeth, and clear, bright green eyes, stirred up painful memories. She resembled Pepper Ideal Rachael’s eighth grade rival whom she had known only that one school year and hadn’t seen in nearly thirty.
Ancient demons from her past had their claws sunk deeply into her psyche. She had wrestled with them before and was sure that Satan sent them to torment her. She couldn’t exorcise them through her own efforts though she’d tried many times. Someday, she hoped to be set free through the laying on of hands in prayer. God had told her to do so. But that would mean confessing this ugliness within to someone at church, and she wasn’t ready to do that.
She knew the very day this spirit of jealousy possessed her. It was the first day of her last year of Junior High. Rachael Heat had decorated the outside of her fresh new pocket folders with peace signs and flowers, and inside each one she’d written “Kenny” multiple times inside large loopy hand drawn hearts. Blissfully unaware that her crush, Kenneth Mainerd, had been smitten by a new girl in town, she returned to school that year with the intention of becoming “Kenny’s girl.”
Pepper Ideal was cute. The effect of her thick golden mane and emerald eyes was captivating and she spoke with a heavy southern accent that would have assured her of popularity in any Junior High school north of the Mason-Dixon line. But as fate had it, the Ideals moved to Azzolla and Pepper became the bane of existence for Rachael Heat. On that first day of school the news that Kenny and Pepper were “going together” got around quickly. By lunchtime, Pepper was seated at the cool kids table in the center of the cafeteria while Rachael and her athletic girlfriends tried to look cool at their own table near the exit.
In gym class Pepper innocently talked about “my boyfriend Kenny” who’d asked her to go steady as soon as they were introduced. Rachael broke down in loud sobs, publically humiliating herself. Rachael’s resentment toward the new classmate grew throughout the year as Pepper showed herself to be more talented than Rachael in every leg of the classic secondary school tri-athelon – academics, athletics, and social standing. All year, Rachael prayed that she would have the last laugh. She also sought the help of her earthly father, Buck Heat the Junior High school teacher and coach.
Every year, in May, faculty picked the student who would give the eighth grade graduation address. It was a very big deal. Her father told her it was “in the bag” because the teachers were his friends and colleagues. In her mind, she pictured walking onto the stage to loud applause, standing in a spotlight, waving, and waiting for the adulation to die down. Then she would deliver a message that people would talk about for years. At reunions when they were all old, people would bring up her magnificent speech. And no one would even remember that new girl’s name.
On May first, the teachers selection was announced. Pepper Ideal would give the eighth-grade class graduation speech. The honor that Rachael coveted most had gone to someone she hated! Running all the way home, she burst through the backdoor. Looking for Betty. “Mom,” she choked, “I’m devastated!” Sobbing and sniveling in the way only heartbroken thirteen-year-old-girls can, she let her mother hug her and stroke her head. Rachael’s red rimmed eyes broke Betty’s heart and she did her best to console her. “You’re moving on to High School now, Honey. By August you won’t even remember this.” Though she said it, she knew better. Her second daughter had never shown a capacity to forgive or forget. Later, when Buck got home, Rachael demanded an explanation. “Well, see, it was like this. We had a tie. Then the band director showed up, and his vote put Pepper over the top.”
The band director! She should have known. Since fourth grade, Rachael had been “learning” to play the flute. If she’d practiced, she might have actually been able to play decently at the junior high level, but as it was, she hated playing the flute, never practiced, and made mistakes during concerts. She hadn’t respected the band director or the other flutists enough to work at the assignments. Who could have known how important it would be to her whole future? Mr. Hoover had paid her back. That’s how she saw it. “I’ll get even with Mr. Hoover. Someday, he’ll be sorry,” she said.
“That’s my girl,” said Buck Heat.
But the immediate target of her hatred was Pepper. She fashioned a voo-doo doll out of an old sock, and stuck pins in it every night all summer while Kenneth and Pepper grew more serious. Then, suddenly, the Ideal family moved away. Had Rachael caused that? Was she guilty of witchcraft? She felt a little scared and almost dirty. “I am not a witch,” she practiced saying in case anyone ever suspected otherwise. But those feelings evaporated the moment she saw Kenneth Mainerd walk into her freshman homeroom.
As a thirteen year old Rachael had diligently recorded her thoughts and feelings in a cheap dime store diary. Now forty-three, she still made daily notations, except they were entered into a sealskin journal. Recent entries revealed that being around Porsche brought back her “worst eighth-grade nightmares.”
Tension was in the air and on the faces of almost everyone in the room. Only Porsche and Pride were did not know that the “party” was really a thinly disguised excuse to give the two families a chance to get to know one another a bit better. The rest were under strict orders not to bring up the subject of the b-a-b-y.
The dining room table looked obscenely festive with ten sets of colorful clowns in primary-hued garb leering up from paper plates and encircling paper cups. The two families were not blending. The teenagers congregated at the end of the room near a TV tray table where a couple liters of soft drink were set out with a bowl of ice and dish of M&M’s. At the other end of the room, Pride stood at her mother’s chair, watching her scroll through messages on two Blackberries.
Smiling at their guests, the Heat’s thought Jerrie looked vaguely familiar, but couldn’t place her. It wasn’t lost on Jerrie that their eyes didn’t confirm the upward positions of their mouths. Wrangler had told his mom quite a bit about Buck and Betty, things he’d seen and heard picking up or dropping off Pride, or things that came from Cristol. These people were odd. That was the only label she would allow herself to put on them without first hand observations. The party had the potential for adding new words to Jerrie’s private thesaurus for words meaning “parent’s of Governor Saplin.” Jerrie looked around the room, taking in the various pelts, mounted heads, racks of antlers, and stuffed wild animals. She found irony in the décore. These pelts and dead things are more appropriate decorations than the silly store-bought paper products ‘cause this whole thing feels more like a wake than a party. She was right; it was a stiff obligatory mingling of loosely related people trying find something to talk about besides the reason that brought them together. “Real nice place you have here,” Jerrie said to Betty. The words “crazy,” “loony” and “nuts” made their way onto the list of synonyms in her head.
Tad was in the kitchen helping himself to a beer. Buck left the others and joined him. “Well, Grandpa,” he said grinning his old man grin at his son-in-law. “The tradition continues.” He gave Tad a slap on the back, then got himself a beer. He raised his bottle and gave Tad a nod. They were taking long draughts from their bottles when Wrangler came in. The host opened up the big side-by-side and took out another beer. “Hey, young man, “ he said, handing over a bottle, “I was just remarking to Mr. Saplin here that you and Cristol are carrying on the family tradition.”
Wrangler turned his head slightly to the right, keeping eye contact. He moved his jaw in a manner universally interpreted to mean “I’m listening – go on.” Most people failed to appreciate the genius in Wrangler’s mastery of brevity. Through body language and facial expression, his communications were clear, even though he was nearly mute much of the time.
“This is a third-generation shotgun marriage, young man. That’s just a figure of speech, mind you,” Buck hastened to clarify. “Yes, you and Cristol are starting out just like Tad and Rachael did, and just like Betty and I. Got a‘bun in the oven’, huh? Yep, third generation. I’d say that constitutes a family tradition.” he raised his bottle to Wrangler’s and they made a thud, hitting label on label. “Congratulations. You’ve got yourself a great set of in laws.” His Andy Rooney eyebrows bounced up and down a couple times before he put the bottle to his lips again.
“Yeah, whatever,” was all Wrangler said, but he looked startled. It wasn’t the “bun in the oven” remark that bothered him, he knew Cristol’s grandparents were on the “need to know list.” And it wasn’t “news” that Cristol’s mother and grandmother had each delivered full-term firstborns less than eight months after they got married. Everybody knew that. No, it was the talk about in laws and marriage. Marriage? his stomach turned over. I’m seventeen! I’m not getting married at seventeen. Who says we’re getting married? And he can shove that whole “figure of speech” thing right up his ass. Who does he think he’s fooling? When it comes to shotguns, Mr. Heat is dead serious.
Suddenly, he realized the party was a trap. The Heats and the Saplins wanted a wedding and they probably thought his mother would help them talk him into it. They were pretty clever, getting the families together so there would be witnesses. Oh yeah, he could see it now, they had him right where they wanted him. Is Cristol in on this? No, she’d have told me. Wouldn’t she?
He stepped over to the sink and poured the beer down the drain. There would be no inebriated pledge of marriage in front of a room full of witnesses. Nope, not gonna happen. With a clear mind and silence he could get himself safely through the mine field of this “birthday party.” The designated driver motto “Sober and Safe” came to mind. It had gotten him and his friends home after many parties, it would get him home without harm from this party, too.
Rachael had made no vow of sobriety. Though she rarely drank, she’d had a stiff one before they left home and started on her second as soon as they arrived. Her state of discomfort with this party, and the effects of alcohol on the near tea-totaller, worked in tandem to exaggerate her reactions and emotions. To Cristol she sloppily gushed “Seventeen! My baby’s not a baby anymore.”
This got an immediate rise out of Pride. “But Mommy, Cristol isn’t your baby,” she protested, “I’m your baby.” Pouty, proud, and craving attention, Pride climbed into Rachael’s lap and wrapped her arms around her mother’s neck. “I love you Mommy. I’m your baby. Right, Mommy?”
“Oh, yes! Yes you are,” Rachael’s reassurance had a loud, shrillness to it, “You betcha! You’re Mommy’s baby. Mommy’s precious baby. “ Hugging her youngest tight to her chest she looked around the room. Her passive aggressiveness was out in full force, and she couldn’t resist using the forbidden word again and again. “Absolutely,” she nodded like a plastic dog in a rear view window, “And you know what? You’ll always be the baby in this family.”
“And babies are special, right Mommy?”
“Yes, Pride. All babies are special. Babies are a gift from God.”
Baby! Baby! Baby! Cristol felt as if she was being punched in the gut. She glared at her mother but Rachael was avoiding eye contact.
Rachael was on a tear. She was mad, she was hurt, and in her alcohol emboldened state, she didn’t care if Cristol got hurt, too. If fact, she wanted her words to sting. “Baby, you are Mommy and Daddy’s pride and joy, that’s why we named you that, Baby.”
Cristol wanted to puke, and it wasn’t sick-to-her-stomach mother-to-be nausea. As Cristol stood to head for the bathroom, Rachael spread the final gob of nasty words on the poisoned cake of messages she’d whipped up at this party, “You are such a good girl, Pride. Such a good girl.” Getting weepy, she slurred, “You never disappoint Mommy and Daddy, do you, baby?” Hugging Pride, she held on for what seemed like minutes. Finally loosening the hold on the six-year-old, she brushed loose strands of hair from Pride’s cheek and said, “You are such a good girl.”
“Are Maple and Cristol good girls, too?” Pride asked, not entirely guileless.
“They were,” answered Rachael, “when they were your age, also.”
Everyone froze and stared at Rachael. She looked around the room at them, feigning wide-eyed innocence. “What?” she asked in a girlish voice. She fooled only Pride. “Let’s sing, Happy Birthing! Dang! I mean Birthday,” she threw her head back and cackled. Jerrie winced.
“Ha ha,” laughed Pride. “Mommy said ‘happy birthing. That’s silly. Mommy you are so silly.”
Rachael, still giggling, gave Pride another hug. With a look of satisfaction and a phony brightness in her voice she asked, “Who wants cake?”