Thursday, October 25, 2012
It's November in Azzolla - White Trash in the Snow Chapter 48, 49, 50, 51
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
“Wrangler, are you happy?” Cristol and Wrangler were laying across her bed in Azzolla working independently and half-heartedly on school work.
The seventeen year old picked his head up and looked at his baby mama propped with pillows to make herself more comfortable. “I dunno. Maybe I could use a sandwich.”
“That’s not what I mean.” Cristol slammed the textbook shut and pushed it off the bed where it landed with a heavy thud. “I mean are you happy that we are having a baby?”
Not again, he thought. But he didn’t say it. Damn hormones.
He’d been told that hormones made pregnant women bitchy and insecure, kind of like nine months of PMS. Maybe it was true ‘cause Cristol was both of those things almost all the time. Then again, she’d been like this before they got pregnant. Actually, he used to tell his buddies that figuring out if Cristol was having PMS was like trying to tell if an elephant was pregnant. He smiled at his private little joke, and it gave believability to his answer. “Yes,” he assured her, “I’m happy.”
Then, going against his nature, he embellished, hoping that it might satisfy her for a while, “And my mom is happy, too. Porsche and Dad don’t know, but if they did they’d be okay, too."
“Our Moms are so different," Cristol observed, "Your mom is being real good to us, Wrangler. She's even making stuff for the baby. My mom is such a pain in the ass. I wish she’d just stop trying to get us to give her our baby.”
Wranger wasn’t really listening, but she got his attention when she imitated the Governor’s voice. “Hey guys, you gonna let us adopt him?” The nasally tones were pitch-perfect. Wrangler laughed and Cristol laughed, too.“She’s trying to wear us down, you know. That’s how she is. She never gives up.“
Wrangler shrugged. “Your mother doesn’t want the baby, she only wants to keep people from knowing her sixteen year old daughter had a baby. I got news for her. There’s people already know.”
“What?” Cristol pushed herself into an upright position. “Who? Who’s talking?”
“Yeah, umm,” Oh shit, here we go. “I think Maple told her new boyfriend.”
“What? I’ll kill her! What did he say?” Cristol was wearing her glasses and her eyes looked so like her mothers, narrowed and demanding, that Wrangler looked away before he answered.
“ Last night at practice, that new kid on the team – he and Maple’s guy are brothers – and…and…”
“And WHAT? Tell me !””
Wrangler looked sheepish. “He asked me if you were pregnant.”
“Shit! I’m gonna kill her.”
Cristol awkwardly climbed off the bed. She grabbed a pillow and hugged it, as if subconsciously trying to hide her baby bump.
“Oh my God, Wrangler.” She said rocking forward and backward, “Why didn’t you tell me? What are we going to do?’
“There ain’t nothing’ we can do.” He got up to put his arms around her. “Cristol, honey. Calm down. This is why I didn’t tell you. You shouldn't be getting’ upset.”
She backed away from him. “Why, cause when I’m upset I don’t get horny? Nice. So thoughtful.” She flung the pillow at him. “You’re such a douche bag.”
He caught the pillow and tossed it aside. “No, because it ain’t good for the baby.”
Cristol glared at him. Wrangler glared back.
“I’m gonna go make a sandwich,” he said and left the room.
Cristol was alone in the kitchen, eating Moose Tracks out of the carton when Rachael came home. Taking off her parka and hanging it by the hood on the hall tree near the back door, she asked, “So, you gonna let us adopt him?” Her timing couldn’t have been worse.
“AHHHGGGGHHH!” Cristol flung the spoon and the ice cream container into the sink. Sticky spatters and lumps hit the window and the countertop.“SHUT UP!” Cristol’s face was burning and hot tears spilled over her dark lashes.
Startled, Rachael reacted as if she’d stepped in a pile of caribou crap. What just happened? How can I get out of this? Staring quizzically at her daughter, she was briefly distracted. Hmm, she thought, Cristol’s getting the same chubby cheeks and bloated features I have when I’m pregnant.
Rachael snapped back to attention when Cristol screamed, “I HATE MY LIFE!”.
It was enough to break a mother’s heart, and something inside Rachael Saplin was, indeed, broken, but it wasn’t her heart, it was her emotional thermostat. This mother of four was always cold inside, nothing triggered a rise in compassion or empathy. In a life tuned to ambition, she had extinguished sensitivity – if she ever had any. Maple, who could be wise beyond her years, had recently asked her father, “How come we never see Mom cry?” It was true, Rachael never cried. She never cared deeply enough for tears to form.
Though she couldn’t feel, she could think about feelings and come up with words she thought were appropriate. For the situation newly presented, she launched snippets of pseudo sympathy. “Oh golly Honey, of course you hate the way your life is right now, that you’re missing out on so many things that your friends that aren’t pregnant are having so, of course, when you came to us with the news that you had this less than ideal situation your father and I knew that this would mean that you would grow up more quickly than we would, perhaps, have wished for you and now, see? You should still be hanging with friends at the mall, and going to the movies, and getting a tan that you would like to be doing – all of ‘em – and not, instead, be hiding out in the house and you are as pale as milk. Of course this is tough on you which, as you know, is why you know you’re gonna want us to adopt it, and we will do that for you because we love you, and we’ve always been here for you and that in that way that parents do for their children we’re going to make this sacrifice for you.”
The long and rambling monologue did nothing to comfort Cristol. “No! Mom, will you listen to me? It’s not about any of that.” She ripped a paper towel from the roll next to the sink and blew her nose loudly into it. Then she pulled off another and wiped her eyes and dried her face. Pulling herself together, she took a deep breath.
“Someone, started the rumor that I’m pregnant.”
Rachael’s face drained of color while Cristol went on, “ I think it was Maple. I think she told her stoner boyfriend.” Before she finished, Rachael was clutching the kitchen counter as if she might faint.
“Oh my Lord,” Rachael whispered. “I’m screwed.”
Cristol’s teary eyes spilled over again and her mother corrected herself, “I mean, we’re screwed. Fuck. The mono thing was working great. Your friends stayed away…How do you know this? Maybe it’s not true.”
“Wrangler said Maple’s boyfriend’s brother asked him –“
“Oh no, what did Wrangler tell the kid?”
“Said it was a lie. Said he’d beat him up if he ever repeated it.”
“Good boy. He’s smarter than I thought. Okay, let me think for a minute.” She paced back and forth, thinking out loud. “Maple’s boyfriend – that family - they’re new in town, right? Guess they haven’t been told about the Azzolla code of conduct. Oh, yeah, that’s the problem. I can help them with that.”
In the one generation when Azzolla had grown from about 400 to about 4, 000, it maintained the feel of being one big family. All big families need to find ways to keep chaos to a minimum, which is why Azzles had come up with some family rules. Rule number one: Mind your own business. Rule number two: Keep your mouth shut about problems within the family. Maple’s little friend had broken both rules.
“Well, bless their hearts. Lucky for them I just happen to have a little time in my schedule. You know how I love to help new folks learn our history. History and community are my favorite topics. You betcha.”
Cristol liked the plan immediately. “They don’t know anything about our state, either. There’s lots you can teach them.” Translation: scare them real good.
Rachael set her mouth in a hard line and nodded. “Don’t worry, Honey. When I’m done they’ll have great respect for our ways.”
Most people who came from outside didn’t get the “benefit” of a history/sociology lesson from the highest elected state-wide government official, but personal experience taught outsiders that people in Azzolla and the valley didn’t appreciate newcomers with new ideas. Transplants to “the other Texas”, as it was sometimes called, also found a state populated by folks who took chances, often risking arrest but usually getting away with it (whatever “it” is). Buck Heat favorite saying – “ In Azzolla, fresh snows cover all tracks” – wasn’t an observation of the effect of frozen precipitation, it was a philosophy of life. And the new governor shared her father’s values, or lack thereof. Natives and those who learned to behave like the natives marched to their own drummer and allowed everyone else to do the same. Broad sections of the community, regardless of income or education, grew pot indoors and clung to their guns and religion like hardcore smokers to their non-filters and matches.
Many newcomers left again within a season because they were scared, disgusted, or disenchanted. Among the ones who stayed and fit in, there were outcasts from other states and individuals with pioneer spirit who felt they belonged in a state whose governor had posted an official recipe for crock-pot caribou with cabbage on the administration’s website. Rachael would do her best to help Maple’s boyfriend and his family find the way out, too.
“Yup, with a great respect for our pioneering forefathers, I’ll visit these boys’ parents and impart a history lesson. Just so they understand our natural laws. Of course I will do this to be a help in any way I can, also to put whatever there is before them to read, maybe some local and city newspapers and the state’s magazine, all of them, to show what I base my decisions on as governor, how it works in this town, again with great respect, so they will learn to fit in and won’t get in trouble.
“ They – all of ‘em, any of ‘em – they got to understand that I’m the governor, and the people elected me and now everybody has to do what I say. It’s called ‘showing support.’ ”
“Mom!” Cristol giggled, “Maple will be devastated. Ha! We’ll just see how she likes it.”
“She’s a teenager, Cristol, every other day she’s devastated about one thing or another. Rachael put an arm around her daughter.“I’ll be real nice about it. Maybe I’ll take them a plant. I’ll try to find a white Peace Lily like the one I took to John’s family after I fired him.”
Thanksgiving day Wrangler and Cristol woke up in separate beds, each in their own parents’ homes. The night before, Jerrie had been disappointed to learn her future daughter-in-law would not be with them for dinner. For weeks, Cristol had talked about joining them and had promised to bring “holiday salad.” She had been pleased that Jerrie had made a big deal about that. What Cristol didn’t know, or couldn’t empathize with, was that Jerrie’s intense anticipation for the sweet confection-and-fruit dish sprung from her near-poverty. All the November magazines had recipes for such a salad, but the Strauss family’s grocery budget was too tight to include such exotic items as canned oranges, jars of cherries, and bags of mini marshmallows.
Late on Wednesday night, Wrangler had come home and told his mom and sister that it would just be the three of them again this year. He explained that Cristol’s mother had thrown a fit, and her dad had said if she wasn’t with them for Thanksgiving, then he would cut off her allowance. Jerrie knew that Cristol’s allowance was being spent stocking up diapers and formula, so she said “I understand.” She didn’t let her disappointment show.
Porsche didn’t understand at all. “Can she come over for dessert? The pie came out better than any I’ve ever made.”
“Porsche, it’s not fair to ask Wrangler to put Cristol on the spot like that,” said Jerrie. “We’ll have a nice holiday, just the three of us. Like we always do.” Jerrie was helping to cover for the kids and she hid her own disappointment well. She was pretty sure she knew exactly why Cristol couldn’t come over for dessert. She had been forbidden to come over. According to Wrangler, she was showing. Really showing. And that was one of the reasons Cristol and Wrangler wanted to be at the Strausses for the meal. Wrangler wanted his sister to learn that she was going to be an aunt, and Cristol’s outing on Thanksgiving was going to be the perfect setting.
Thursday morning, Porsche and her mom worked in the kitchen and Wrangler watched television in the living room. Just like all the Thanksgiving Days he could remember, the Macy’s parade taped earlier that day in New York City was being broadcast and he was tuned in. As Clifford the Big Red Dog floated past skyscrapers, he thought about Cristol having been in New York City with her mom. “I wonder if the parade is going by that fancy hotel they stayed at?” He pulled up an ottoman and stretched out his legs. “Who would want to live in New York City? I don’t even want to visit there. Such a weird place, all buildings and crowds and traffic.” He popped a few pork rinds into his mouth and watched as dancers from a Broadway musical performed in a street thousands of miles and a world away. He knew he was not made for cities and bright lights.
It felt good to be in his mom’s house, a good break from the Saplin house with its high stress and multiple stressors: Maple and her boyfriend were up to who knows what, Mr. and Mrs. S were home so seldom their sheets got washed twice a season, and even doing schoolwork in Cristol’s room had gotten to be a drag. She didn’t want sex lately, so what was the point in living together? Man, he thought, sure is nice to have some peace and quiet. Al Roker’s image transitioned to yet another mid-west high school band marching and twirling to “Winter Wonderland,” and Wrangler found himself whistling along with them.
The Strausses had an early afternoon meal. Wrangler had provided the main course. When he bagged the wild turkey, he was continuing a tradition the Strauss family could trace back through four generations. “Here it is!” Porsche announced as she carried the heavy platter into the dining room. Jerrie followed, carrying a basket of hot rolls.
“Put it down here,” Wrangler pointed to a spot near himself. “There’s room right next to the mashed potatoes.”
After Porshe sat down, Jerrie continued standing, surveying the table to make sure nothing had been forgotten. “It looks beautiful, Mom!” said Porsche. “Sit down. Let’s eat.”
Jerrie loved holidays. Even though the kids were supposed to alternate holidays between her and her ex, she had managed to have them every major holiday and birthday since the divorce. For the first couple of years their father had complained and threatened to take her to court. But she knew he didn’t have the money to pay a lawyer to do that. It wasn’t fair to him, but since when is life fair?.
In Jerrie’s thinking, mother’s should have “first dibs” on holidays. Even with couples, it was natural for them to favor the gathering of the woman’s relatives over the man’s family. Natural, like bears and cubs. It was mama bear who has the responsibility for feedin’ and trainin’. Besides, holidays are for spoilin’ the kids and moms are better at spoilin’.
These thoughts led her to thinking about next year. Jerrie hoped that in the year to come, Cristol would be thoughtful and include Wrangler’s family at major holidays so that Porsche and she could see the baby, too. Next year at Christmas he would be at a real cute age. And Christmas is for children, right? But, she thought, time will tell. Right now things seem civil enough. Not exactly friendly, but civil. And that’s better than some folks had it. For now, that’s good enough.
Having expected Cristol for dinner, Jerrie had taken some extra measures to make their humble home and traditional meal a little more “classy.” Porsche polished the real silverware that Jerrie inherited from her great-grandmother. There were only three good spoons left of the original eight, so Jerrie instructed that her own setting get the roughed up spoon that had an unfortunate meeting with teeth of the garbage disposal. She’d splurged and bought real whipping cream to go with the pumpkin pie and a whole pound of butter instead of their usual “tastes like it was churned on the farm” margarine.
An outsider wouldn’t have noticed, but to Jerrie, the little extras were reminders that this holiday was unlike any other. Externally, turkey and television programming made the holiday appear to be the same as years gone by. Actually, they were blips on a timeline of transition. The day was not quite an ending and not yet a beginning. Relationships were in a period of extended twilight. Wrangler, not yet a man, was becoming a dad day by day. Jerrie wasn’t done raising her own two, but was soon to be a grandma. Porsche was technically a child, but her experiences and responsibilities were like those of a young adult.
Jerrie knew she could never match the luxuries the kids enjoyed in the Saplin mc-mansion – flat screen tvs in every bedroom, a jacuzzi bath, professional kitchen appliances, a pool table – they owned an airplane, for pete’s sake. All she could hope for was that, by comparison, Jerrie’s home would be appreciated for being welcoming and peaceful. She’d done lots of babysitting over the years, and many young people in Azzolla carry fond memories of the Strauss place where, as a child, they found a lap, lots of hugs, had stories read to them, were praised for every completed coloring book page. In her house, good little girls and boys were allowed to stick a just-washed hand into the full cookie jar. She didn’t need to compete with the fancy place on the lake, the picture windows, big yard and boat. Children don’t need expensive things. Children need love. Ironically, Jerrie had a natural and endless supply, while, it appeared the governor conservatively budgeted this human emotion.
After they said grace and filled their plates with first helpings of everything, another tradition began. One Jerrie had long ago labeled “Name That Neighbor." Talk around the table revolved around gossip, rumor, and reminiscing. “Old man Torsky’s dog died. That was a real friendly dog. Remember the time…” Jerrie reminisced wistfully. She had liked that dog. This would be the first holiday in many years that she didn’t end with setting aside table scraps to her canine friend.
Wrangler reached for the brown bread and made a production out of slathering on the real butter. His conversational offering started out with: “Odell Petersen got out of jail, Dan says he seen him getting’ a new tattoo.”
Porsche was thinking of happy times.“Mom, do you remember the Vickery kids I used to babysit for? Where’d the family move to, again? Hope they send a picture at Christmas this year, I can’t wait to see how much they’ve grown.”
It was light, breezy conversation. High-calorie comfort food and the sight of fresh snow outside completed the requirements for a perfect Thanksgiving. Jerrie and her children basked in a sense of well-being as they ate, drank, laughed and talked.
“Oh, look.” Porshe pointed out the window behind her mom. The sun was about to set behind snow capped mountains, and the sky was spectacularly lit in tones of orange, magenta and red. Minutes later, peak past and colors fading fast.
Wrangler said,”Folks in New York City don’t have that.”
Jerrie agreed, “This is the most beautiful place in the world,” she said.
When dinner was over, Porsche wanted to go see her boyfriend and Wrangler had no objection.“Go ahead, get out of here, I’ll do dishes,” Wrangler told his sister.
Jerrie agreed. “Yes, go, I never get Wrangler to myself anymore. We’ll clean up. You go have fun.”
Expecting that reaction from them, Porsche had already reapplied mascara and lipstick. She was vain, tanned regularly and deeply, and she wouldn’t go anywhere in public without heavy makeup to bring out her pretty eyes and pouty lips. Cosmetic upkeep was expensive, but she worked part-time at the tanning salon to pay for her time in the bed and to buy whatever makeup was rated number one in Cosmopolitan magazine for the season.
Now, she wasted no time getting her purse and coat. “Bye, don’t wait up for me!”
Dishes were scraped and stacked in short time. Jerrie, with soapsuds on her hands,and Wrangler with a dishcloth, stood side by side talking about the baby as they worked. Wrangler said it was an active little fella. He had felt it kicking and he was sure it was going to be a boy, a strong athletic boy. Cristol wasn't going out at all, not even if she stayed in the truck with Wrangler. If someone from school saw her, the “bad case of mono” cover story would be blown. Twice they had gone out to get Crunch Wrap Supremes from the drive through, but that was only because Mrs. S. had had a craving and didn’t want to get out of her pajamas and go get them herself. Both times it was after midnight - the shift the old people worked. Her mother figured there wasn’t any risk in it. And she really loved those Crunch Wrap Supremes.
“Cristol’s changed, mom. Everything is different now. She used to be fun and laid back. Now everything is a big deal. She'e s become picky about little stuff. And bossy, oh man..."
"Is she seeing the doctor?" Jerrie asked.
"Cristol isn't, but Joy Sherman is." He went on to explain that once a month there were after-hours doctor’s visits for “Joy Sherman” who entered through the back door to keep appointments made using two middle names. Cristol Joy Sherman Saplin used to wish her parents had been like normal parents and just given her one middle name.
“All her life she’s hated having a boy’s name. Sherman!" he shook his head, "heck, even a boy wouldn’t want to be called Sherman. But now, she likes it. Go figure.”
"I think Joy Sherman is a nice name," Jerrie offered.
"Yeah, well, she likes being called Joy, says it goes with Christmas. That’s dumb.”
“I hope you’re keeping your opinions to yourself. It’s an emotional time for her. You need to be very understanding.”
“I know, Mom.” Wrangler then told her that Cristol had put on a lot of weight, but he wasn’t going to make the mistake of telling her he noticed. The weight was one of the reasons she was having an ultrasound the next week. It would help to determine how far along she was and would tell them if it was going to be a multiple birth. “You know, twins or something,” he said. “She thinks that would be cool because she'd be like Jennifer Lopez. She's says Jennifer Lopez is her soul mate."
“So what’s this about not knowing the due date?“
“Oh, whatever,” he shrugged. “The doctor can’t be sure. Guess she wasn’t very good at keeping track of her…” He began to stammer. “You –know...” He trailed off, blushing.
Jerrie had pity on him and changed the subject. “You got any names picked out?”
“Not really. But it’s gonna be unique, Cristol says it give a kid an edge.”
“She’s right, names are important. What names are you thinkin' about ?"
“Nope, sorry Ma. We aren’t tellin’anyone. We agree on that.” He took the last wet plate from her and dried it slowly.
“Well, I’m glad you two are agreein,’” That was Jerrie’s main concern – that the kids stick together through this. Their relationship had been rocky, lots of loud arguments and breakups that lasted up to a week, sometimes more. It worried her.
Wrangler began putting the dishes away.
“I can tell you what we aren't going to name him. Maple said we should name him Romeo if it’s a boy, and Juliet if it’s a girl.” In a falsetto voice, Wrangler made fun of Maple, “You two are young lovers! It would be soooo perfect!”
“I told her it’s not perfect. Those families hated each other. That’s not like us at all.”
“Right, us and the Saplins are gonna get along real nice. That's a fact,” Jerrie said as she rinsed out the sink.
Later, as they relaxed in the front room, Jerrie worked on a baby blanket she was knitting and learned more interesting information; she found out Field rarely gave his folks a call, but there were a couple of girls he called “almost every day.” She also learned that the rumor that had been around for years – the one about Field’s birth father – was true. Since they were speaking of such things, Jerrie got up the courage to ask the obvious question. “Are you sure, really sure this is your baby?” She had wanted to ask ever since the kids had come out with the news, but no time seemed right until now.
“Probably?” The needles stopped clicking and Jerrie stared at him.“Don’t you know for sure?”
“How can I know for sure? The timing seems right.” He shrugged. “We’ve both hooked up with others, but I think it’s mine. I talked with JJ, he said he always used a rubber.” This was more than Jerrie wanted to know, she lowered her eyes and resumed work on the blanket.
“My name’s goin’ on the birth certificate and that means, even if he’s not mine, he is.”
He stood up. "I should get going." Seeing the troubled look in Jerrie’s eyes, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek and said, “You’ll see. He’s gonna look just like me.”