Thursday, November 22, 2012

Field makes a visit in this week's installment - White Trash In the Snow Chapters 60 and 61

Happy Friday friends!  It's that day after Thanksgiving when people are shopping, traveling, tree trimming, and continuing to clean up the house from yesterday's festivities. Here are two chapters to fit in when you have a moment to relax. 
by Allison

December's weeks sped by quickly for the Saplins that year. Like most Americans, they tried to pack too many events, sweets and presents into too few days. In other ways, they were far from typical.

The Saplins hosted their second annual Open House at the Governor’s Mansion, with a staff on hand to pass out cookies and hot cider, and an engorged extended family greeting the mob of walk-through taxpayers tracking up the temporary runners with slush and dirt from their boots. It was a Monday night, scheduled to keep the attendance low. Even so, members of the Saplin/Heat extended family were provided all-expenses paid travel to visit the capital and see the city decked out for the holidays in exchange for a couple hours of hosting at the big house. Rachael’s parents, sisters and brother all showed up with children in tow, as did Tad’s sister and brother. The place was overrun with nieces and nephews.

The number of family members was obviously more than the event required, and because the governor expected to be criticized for that in the gossip column “The Nose,” she tried to get out in front of the story. Governor Saplin offered the reporters a tray of cookies and a justification for the family entourage during the pre-event press meeting/ She explained that the relatives were needed to augment the numbers of  family members available to greet members of the public and to reduce the strain on the Governor’s immediate family. In response to a question about the cost to taxpayers, Governor Saplin was quoted as saying it “didn’t begin to cover the inconvenience of being away from their homes during the holiday season, but my family, the Saplins and the Heats are happy to sacrifice for the people of this great state.”

The explanation served dual purpose, both as a vouchering entry on forms later completed by office “bean counters” and as the reason given to the invited relatives. The hidden agenda, of course, was to have so many Saplins and Heats around that no one, especially reporters, would notice one Saplin daughter’s absence. And if they did, they might think they had simply been unable to find her in the crowd. Better yet, some might mistake one of Tad’s dark-haired nieces for Cristol and mention in their coverage that  she was there.

The plan worked. There was one snipey comment in “The Nose,” but it was about a moving van that had been spotted outside the mansion several days prior to the open house. An office staffer attached the column to an email to alert Rachael and Tad to the publically issued conjecture that the family was moving back to Azzolla. The story was obviously intended to feed the gossipers and gripers who complained that this governor was out of town too much; it was a growing concern among taxpayers that neither the governor nor her family had settled in for four years in the capital. Whether or not that was true, the van in question was only picking up rented tables.

 Her sensitivity to having anyone watching closely and reporting on what they saw at the house was heightened.  She sent a copy of the gossip blurb attached to an email to mansion staff members. “This is crap. I hate when they pick on the home, family and the kids.  NO ONE on staff  is to talk about my kids to the press. NO ONE.  Now, go home and have a Merry Christmas."   What went unspoken was that Field was  coming home under the radar, and she didn't want it making the papers.

Field came home on leave from basic training on December 23rd. He hadn’t seen the family since September. They all said they thought he had grown. Tad was impressed with his son’s newfound confidence, air of maturity, and strong handshake. As he reached out and gripped his bicep he was shocked. “Jesus!” he exclaimed. A bit embarrassed and a bit uncomfortable with his own son’s superiority, he jokingly barked “Get down and give me fifty.” Field played along, doing pushup after pushup in rapid, unlabored succession which only exacerbated Tad’s envy.

“He’s not ours anymore. He belongs to the Army.”

Rachael agreed, “Yep, he’s a soldier, a responsible citizen, and a handsome young man with the world by the balls.”

As if it were planned they both said, “Don’t screw it up!” All three laughed,

Looking proudly on as her son and her husband picked up his baggage and began to walk away, Rachael wondered, “Where had the years gone? Choices she’d made seemed right at the time, but now she wished she had more memories of Field - more memories from Field’s transition years from childhood to manhood.

She was also dealing with the knowledge that this young man, her son, was not invincible. If she reminded him of that, asked him to be careful, would he listen?  Unlikely. “God, he’s in your hands,” she silently prayed. “Take care of my only son.”  Only son! God understood so well. He’d sacrificed His only son for her. For Rachael Saplin alone, Jesus would have died on the cross. And now she was asking that her son be spared.

“Hey, you guys. Wait for me!” She ran as fast as bunny boots allowed and fell into step alongside the handsome soldier with Saplin on his uniform.

That night, Rachael sat on her bed, head bowed in a state of contemplation. So much had happened in the past year, since the family had last celebrated their savior’s birth. She had given God the credit for opening the door and giving her the governorship. But she also knew in her heart that she had used that position in ways that were selfish and vindictive. She knew she had taken opportunities to get revenge on those who had crossed her even though the Bible says vengeance belongs to the Lord. She was conceited- proud of her accomplishments, proud of being the first woman to govern this state, proud to be the youngest of them, and proud of her God given good looks. That was a lot of pride, still, there was more.

Though it was the team of people around her that kept her administration working, she was proud to have assembled that team. Though she needed coaching on every major issue, she was proud when she adlibbed an answer to the press or to a fellow elected official, proud of the cleverly cutting remarks she could come up with and the wit she displayed. When she was empty of all other emotion, she maintained pride.

That night she wrote in her journal, “The Bible says “Pride goeth before the fall.” I better cut back on some pride and start eating humble pie.” Then she lightened up, and wrote “but I prefer pumpkin or mincemeat. Ha Ha.” Further down the page, getting serious again, “For certain I’ll be humble when Cristol has the baby. Can’t be proud when my unmarried seventeen year old daughter makes me a grandma. Even if nobody knows.”

The line after that began, “Field’s home! So proud  to be the Mom of a Soldier!”


Music filled the kitchen as family members went about their last minute preparations for Christmas eve with the cousins. Pride was frosting cookies, struggling to get the sticky white stuff out of the can, licking her fingers frequently as she slopped it and spread it over the edges of the cutout trees, stars, bells and candlesticks.

“Whoa, you’re making a mess,” Maple chided Pride as she walked past the island where the cookie decorating was underway, sugar crystals crunching under her feet as she headed for the refrigerator.  In response, Pride scrunched up her face and stuck out her tongue. “You better watch out, Maple, or I’ll pull your hair!” To support her threat she held up a hand and flexed dye-stained fingers.

“ooooooo, I’m so scared,” Maple taunted.

“Shut up, both of you!” Maple and Pride both froze. This was not their mother’s normal reaction to a little good natured tiff between siblings.

The stresses of life and season were making Rachael cranky. The big day was closing in too quickly and she was feeling the co-dependant pressures of unrealistically high expectations for merriment and a nearly empty bank account. 

Pride looked like she was going to cry.  Rachael felt a pang of shame. 

 “I’m sorry,” she said, and truly meant it. “Though, also, you two should not, ideally, be arguing at Christmas time.”

When “Feliz Navidad” played once again in the rotation of songs Maple had burned onto a cd, Rachael bristled as the foreign-sounding masculine voice merrily sang words she couldn’t pronounce. “Why do Americans like that song? English is the official language of the United States. Real Americans shouldn’t listen to that caribou doo doo.”

Pride giggled, Maple ignored her.

As the song continued, Rachael pictured the singer as having light brown skin and wearing a mexican sombrero. Muttering to herself, there were a few phrases Maple picked up, “… singin’ the English part … infuriating…encourages those illegals…’merican culture…”

“I wanna weesh you a Meeerry Chreestmaas from the bottom of my harraaart.” On cue, Pride and Maple sang with gusto, mimmicking that horrid accent! It was enough to make Rachael scream. Needing a break, she grabbed her jacket and went out for a run.  No one asked where she was going, everyone understood that when Rachael needed to release pressure, Rachael went running.

Meanwhile, upstairs, the concophony of Christmas sounds had pushed Cristol over the edge; she couldn’t make herself get out of bed. Hugging two pillows and curled into a semi-fetal position, she sobbed and sobbed, eventually falling back asleep. When morning became afternoon, Field got up. He asked about his sister and found that she had not been seen, but everyone assumed she was wrapping presents or doing other last minute Christmas “stuff” in her room. Maybe, as had been the case more often than not in recent weeks, she simply wanted to be left alone. He went and knocked soundly on her bedroom door.

Waiting in the hallway, he looked at the bedroom door postings of the teenage girl Cristol had once been. Cut from magazines, downloaded from the internet, or hand drawn by herself and friends, signs of a flirtatious, audacious, adolescent girl were taped together into a the collage of pictures, slogan’s and cartoonish characters. “You go girl!” partially covered “Princess Cristol” which overlapped a poster from a concert, whose upper right corner shared a tack with last year’s Sophomore Dance program (upon which a bright red lipstick kiss had been planted), and recognizable from under the bottom right corner, a wrapper from a dark chocolate bar with the letters “PECIAL” visible. He counted ten advertisements for various high-end bottles of booze.

Interspersed were various size drawings, many on lined notebook paper. Field didn’t have a clue what most of them were, and the ones he thought he could guess, he really didn’t want to confirm. One  looked like it represented what Cristol had bragged about on MySpace  last year – “the biggest shit stash I’ve ever seen.”  Other drawings were equally disconcerting. How could his parents have walked past this over and over without getting the message?

Wow, where were these thoughts coming from? Had he really changed that much? A year ago he would have been laughing at this. Six months ago he, too, had walked right past without noticing. For the first time, he saw that he hadn’t been the brother he should have been to Cristol.

Last September, when they all met at the mansion to have the photographer take the picture for the Christmas card, he’d been disgusted with how tight Cristol’s dress was. He had even said, “You better lose some weight, Pudgy.” Now he could see how much that must have hurt her. But last September, he’d been hurting, too. And no one cared.  Even now, if he had anywhere else to spend his leave, he wouldn’t be here, in this house, standing outside his knocked-up sister’s bedroom door.

He knocked again, this time calling to her. “Cristol, it’s me. Open up you lazy-head.” In days gone by, he would have called her a much stronger name.

Still waiting for her to open the door, he almost turned away. Who could blame her for not wanting to see him? He remembered how he had ignored her last summer, how her immaturity had irritated him, how annoying he found her silly friends who hung around the house - feelings of superiority he was sure he had communicated to the “lowly” kids who weren’t “worthy” of attention from him and the other soon-to-be-college freshman he’d hung out with at that time. If he tells her now that he cares about her, why should she believe him?

At that moment, he knew he had changed. He knew he had grown up. Last night, his mother saw it in his physique, his father felt it in his handshake. But it took this experience, these minutes looking inside himself, for Field Saplin to see it for himself.  Field Saplin, the boy, was gone.

Field Saplin, the man, began to turn away. Obviously, his sister didn’t want to be disturbed. But then, he heard something that made him turn back. The door slowly began to open. He closed his eyes and held his breath. It was some internal reflex. He hadn’t planned it, it just happened. When he opened his eyes, there stood before him a very pregnant girl. Not a woman, no, not at all. There was no mistaking that this was a child. A child with a swollen belly.

Rachael and Tad had dropped the news on him the night before. Actually, it was early morning, after both Pride and Maple had been unable to keep their eyes open and had both finally gone to bed. He had been angry. Angry with both of “the knuckleheads.”

When he woke up this morning, he asked himself if perhaps he had dreamed it.  Cristol having a baby? Unreal. Did not compute. Now, there she was, stepping back to let him in, closing the door after him. It was not a dream.

Cristol, in her vulnerable maternity, was a pitiful sight. She looked as if she’d had no sleep. Her hair needed washing. Her clothes were wrinkled, and her voice was a whisper. “Hi,” was all she offered.

“Hi yourself,” was all she got in return. But it was the hug that followed that told her everything she needed to know. The powerful, long hug said she was loved, forgiven, accepted, and maybe even missed. Those were the best gifts of the season.


Anonymous said...

Very moving. The passage into adulthood. Too bad Rachael never made the transition.

Duncan said...

Thanks Allison,

That was the best description of the thought process of a 'born-again' hypocrite that I've ever read.

Anonymous said...

Excellent writing as always. Hard to wait for the next installment!!!!