Thursday, January 10, 2013
The Announcement! White Trash in the Snow Chapter 77, 78 and 79
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
Rachael left the satellite office at 3:30 PM and went directly to Helen’s house. It was D-Day, and time for the troops to be given their orders. Tad showed up right after Rachael. Helen and Kurt had left work early and were there.
“Where are Cristol and Wrangler? She texted me from the school library with this dumb suggestion that Pride get a cell phone so she can text, too. That’s when I told her to be here right after school.”
Actually, Cristol had skipped school to catch some private time with Wrangler, and when she sent the text, they were at the family’s hunting cabin an hour away.
Rachael was pacing, and stopped when she heard the front door open. “There you are! What took so long?” The teens looked sheepishly around and saw four annoyed adults. Wrangler blushed.
Tad said, “Alright, they’re here. What’s up?”
Rachael nearly burst. “McEwain has it sewn up!” Her eyes glowed, her cheeks were flushed.
Helen looked puzzled. Kurt looked like he expected more. Tad looked matter-of-fact. And the kids were looking at their phones. “On my God, don’t you see? It’s happening! It’s really happening!” she exclaimed.
“That’s it?” Kurt said. ”I raced home from work to get an update on national politics?” He was angry. “ What is this Rachael? An audition for Fox news? Have some respect for other people’s time, god dammit! ” He stood up. “I’ve got to get back to work.”
“Calm down, Kurt. And sit back down. Obviously, she isn’t finished.” Helen didn’t know what was coming, but she knew her sister well enough that she was certain this was going to somehow become about her – about Governor Saplin, the former-mayor of Azzolla whose sites were now focused on Washington. “Please go on Rachael, there must be more to this.”
“Yup, yup, there is.” Rachael had lost none of her excitement. “Okay everyone, listen up. Tomorrow,” she looked around to make sure she had everyone’s full attention, “Yup, tomorrow… I’m announcing my pregnancy to the press.”
“What?” said Tad.
“No!” said Cristol.
Tad and Cristol both thought they had talked her out of the fake pregnancy plan a while ago. Tad figured she’d given up on the idea because she hadn’t mentioned it in weeks. Yes, she’d been wearing those scarves quite a bit, but he figured that was because it cut down on laundry (scarves covered the same shirt two or three days in a row). And Cristol was counting on the search for an adoptive family to go on for so very long that eventually Rachael would have to agree to let her keep her baby and raise him with Wrangler. She thought the fake pregnancy thing was over. Her mom hadn’t mentioned it lately, and Cristol hadn’t even told Wrangler about the idea. It was so extreme that he might have confided in his mom, or worse yet, his sister, well, Cristol wouldn’t risk that. So she kept it to herself. And she thought she’d won. Heck, the tension it had built up in her and the sense of power she had from the assumption of victory had intensified the passion she’d been feeling toward Wrangler these past few weeks. It had been a win-win. Until now.
Wrangler, with no idea what was actually happening, was slowing turning the announcement over in his head. “Whoa,” he thought, “Now she’s pregnant?” Then he realized there was another possibility. “Hmmm, I wonder if this has something to do with Calc? Is Mrs. S jealous that her daughter has a baby? She’s always lookin’ for attention.”
He was smart enough to know that, whatever was going on, he was only a spectator. The Governor could do any damn thing she pleased. He was beginning to understand his father’s warnings – about what happened to people who crossed the Saplins. He might not be the as bright as the midnight sun, but he wasn’t a total fool. When all was said and done, he’d do whatever he was told.
Helen and Kurt hadn’t seen it coming. They were in shock. “Pregnant? What on earth?” Helen said.
“This is a back up plan. Calc’s getting stronger every day. He might get out of the hospital before Abigail finds him a family. If the adoption idea doesn’t work out, the fall back plan is that I’m gonna say I had him.”
Helen knew this was a bad idea, her concern was evident. It didn’t deter Rachael. “So, I’m going to announce that I’m pregnant. If he gets adopted, I’ll have a miscarriage. Can’t wait any longer. Doin’ it tomorrow. Otherwise it’ll be too late.”
“ It’s already too late. You do not look pregnant. You’re wearing a suit you’ve worn for …for maybe five years. It fits fine. Where’s the baby? In your back pocket? ”
“Helen, look,” Rachael stroked a scarf that she had tied like a necktie. “See this scarf? It’s called obscufication. Muddy-ing the water, so to speak.” She turned and showed her sister another angle. “See? Hanging like this, my waist can’t be seen. Not clearly, anyway.” She smiled and twirled around. “Oh, and I stopped taking off my jacket in the office.”
With a self-satisfied twist of her jaw, and a smirk on her face, Rachael stood facing Helen with hands on hips. She reminded Helen of an eight year old. All that was missing, was for her sister to stick out her tongue, just like when they were kids. All her life, Rachael had stubbornly refused to listen to reason. When she was growing up, her father said she would never amount to anything if she didn’t learn to appreciate the wisdom of others. As a teacher, Buck thought this was the worst thing his own kid could be – unteachable. But, since then, Buck Heat had, himself, learned a valuable lesson. To support his daughter’s ambitions, he called stubbornness a virtue. Her refusal to listen to others was spun into a refusal to go along with the good old boys. Any ideas that differed from her own were called “subversive” and everything she said he backed up as true. “Rachael is the most honest politician you’ll ever meet,” he said to reporters whenever he had an opportunity. And Buck chuckled every time he said it.
“You are crazy,” Helen said. “Crazy as a loon.” She got up and walked over to Rachael to make a point. “Look at this scarf. It’s hanging straight down.” She flipped the scarf aside to reveal what was behind it - a flat-front skirt, buttoned tightly. “There’s no bulge under there.”
“She’s right. Nothing there.” Kurt said, supporting his wife.
“Phooey,” Rachael said, giving them a dismissive wave. “No one cares. No one’s gonna do what you just did. Besides, in a few weeks I’ll begin to show a little.”
Everyone in the room looked around at each other. It was Helen who continued to push Rachael toward clearer thinking. “How do you plan to show? You aren’t pregnant!”
“Oh, don’t worry. I’ve tried out a few different things. Trust me, it’s not gonna be a problem.”
Cristol spoke up. “Mom, why are you doing this? I agreed to an adoption. Give it some time.” And if enough time goes by I’ll get to keep him.
“We’ve run out of time. McElwaine is the clear winner of the primary race. He’s probably all ready got people checking me out as a potential running mate. I can’t have a grandson that belongs to my unmarried daughter who’s only seventeen!”
“Well then, you and Dad adopt him. Just announce it. Tell people you adopted him. We talked about that, remember? Wrangler and I could-“
“Cristol, perhaps for once, you might listen to me. Golly, if you’d paid attention to what you and that mullet-head were doing…”
“Rachael, stop,” again, it was Helen.
. “Well, what is it that… who do you think would…” She oratorically stumbled and heaved her way forward, “Of course in the overall plan… which it seems has never been…”
Finally, she found her balance, “Cristol, who would believe that your father and I would voluntarily adopt a retarded baby? I mean, yes, we are Christians, and yes I have a servant’s heart, but come on! I’m running a state and I already have four kids.”
Helen winced at the r- word. “Rachael, please! In this house we say special needs. And Cristol,” she spoke gently, ”She’s right about that, Honey. In this upside down world, your mom would be ridiculed instead of admired. In the end the baby would suffer from being a means for haters to attack your mom. None of us want to see that happen – to the baby, I mean.”
Tad stood up and walked over to a wall of family photos. He pointed to an old picture of a pregnant Rachael wearing what looked like a red tent. “Well, you better start packin’ it on,” he advised. “’Cause when you’re actually pregnant, you look like a beach ball.”
“Well thanks for the kind words, Tad . I already thought of that. Starting today I’m going to eat for two. Remember how Sally gained 15 pounds in three weeks when she first went into depression? That’s how we found out her marriage was going south. That’s what I’m going to do. Starting tonight.” Without missing a beat, Rachael started in about her soon-to-be-ex-brother-in-law. “I hate Ed Spivey. Tad , did you make that new complaint? The one about him drinking and driving the police car?” Even in the middle of the most important discussion her family could be having at that moment, Rachael was unable to set aside her obsessive compulsion to punish her soon-to-be-former brother-in-law.
Rachael, Tad and the Heats together had filed ten citizen complaints against the father of Sally’s children, twisting facts and outright lying, and yet Rachael paused that afternoon in Helen and Kurt’s living room to make sure more pain would be inflicted. As much as he enjoyed making Ed’s life difficult, even Tad thought that the subject was out of place.
“Rachael, let’s talk about that later,” Tad said. Actually, he hadn’t made the complaint yet and he didn’t want his wife to find out. He couldn’t tell her what he’d spent his time doing because, number one, it wasn’t legal, number two, it was immoral, and number three, if discovered, the headlines would end her political career. “You were saying you need to put on weight. Fast. How can we help you?”
“Yup, yup, well, there is that which you can do, which is cook for me. I’ll want lots of caribou burgers with bacon and cheese, and not cuttin’ off the fatty edges on the moose steak, and big helpings of dark turkey meat, also, too. I think I can put on 15 pounds in a couple weeks. ”
Helen said, “If you can add fifteen pounds that fast, that will help to fool people.”
“Yup, and I have one other idea.” Rachael picked up a throw pillow from the sofa. “Watch this,” she said. What happened next looked like it came from an I Love Lucy rerun. The governor of a large state, this elected US official, stashed a square pillow under her shirt, pulled her suit jacket together tightly, straining the buttons so that there were v-shaped creases in the fabric, and then posed for her audience. “See? I’m showing!”
There was a moment of brittle silence. Rachael took it as approval.
“So, that’s that. I brought over some Oreos and ice cream. Anybody want to join me?” Continuing to wear the prop, she headed for the kitchen.
“I will.” Wrangler followed her. The others had no appetite.
Handing him the package of cookies, Rachael took stock of her daughter’s boyfriend, the father of her first grandchild. He was nice looking; even more of a hunk than Tad. There was an air of mystery about him, a “strong silent type.” People said that about Tad, too. Maybe Cristol was looking for a father figure. That was a disturbing thought.
“You know, Wrangler, if anyone ever hurts one of my kids, they better have a good place to hide.”
“ I have a gun. I keep it under my bed.”
“Maybe you could come over and teach me how to use it.” She winked.
Wrangler wasn’t sure he knew what she was saying. Was she making a pass at him? Or was she making a threat?
“Wrangler, answer me. Do you understand?”
He shrugged. “Yeah, Mrs. S. Whatever.”
She handed him one of the two bowls of ice cream she’d dished out and pointed toward a kitchen chair. “Sit down, let’s talk.” They sat opposite each other at the table and he concentrated on eating while she ignored the food and dug into the topic at hand. “So, how are you going to support my daughter?”
Wrangler didn’t rush his answer. He was mashing Oreos into his ice cream. He took a spoonful, and swallowed before he said, “I’m thinking of asking Mr. S to help me get a job up north.”
“Ha! Ask Tad for help? Is that how you think it works?” She leaned across the table to get into his space. “You have a lot to learn, Wrangler. What you need is a letter of recommendation from the Governor.” He looked up.. “That’s right,” she continued, “and only certain people get them. People who are politically connected.”
“Oh, ” he said, and went back to eating ice cream.
“Wrangler! You are politically connected!”
“I am?” He wasn’t being coy. He was truly that clueless.
“Of course! You know me, and I am the highest elected official, well, not nationally, I mean, if you knew the President, well, then of course, but in this state it’s as good being my actual supporter, which it is that you are, right? Well, that’s as good as knowing the President to know the Governor, and that is what you are…um…do…um, that is who you know. “ She smiled and puffed out her chest, and again he wondered if she were flirting. She reached over and patted his hand and said, “And, also, because you are going to teach me how to use that gun, I’ll have a letter drawn up for you tomorrow.”
“Well, um, that’s nice of you, I guess.” Wrangler
“Yes, it is. Very nice. You should thank me.” Her hand was still on top of his. It was sooooo awkward.
He looked at her searching for a clue that she was kidding. He didn’t get any sense that she was. God, this is getting complicated. –He pulled his had away and said, “Yeah, right. Thanks, Mrs. S.” He wanted to get out of there. No more talk about guns or favors. He was completely repelled by the thoughts those words conjured up when spoken by his girlfriend’s mom.
He was relieved when she said, “You’re welcome, Wrangler,” and took her bowl to the sink, dumped the mostly uneaten contents, and rinsed it out. Afterwards she went back to the table and stood, hand on hip, and watched him add more crushed cookie to a mushy mix. “Tell your mom I’m going to write that letter for you. Family needs to stick together. She understands that, right, son?”
Son? As in “young man”? Or "son-in-law”? He’d had enough. Enough cookies. Enough threats. And too many promises to keep. “Gotta go,” he said. He hurried to the sink, rinsed his bowl and glass and zipped the jacket he had never taken off. “G’ bye Mrs. S.”
“Take care, Wrangler,” she said, and shaking her finger at him she added, ”remember, I’m going to help you.”
“You too, Mrs. S.” he said.”Take good care of your pillow.”
His truck was out of sight before she thought of a snappy response.
Sally and Helen were talking on the phone while reading from the Daily News, the only large circulation newspaper in the state. Yesterday the banner headline declared “Saplin Announces Expansion” with a sub-caption “Baby due in May.” Tonight they ran “Gov Says Won’t Take Leave” on page one, and inside, the “Community” section had quotes elicited from common people interviewed on the street and public comments from political folks in the capital. Not all the commentary was congratulatory.
Sally, was stressing.“Listen to this,” she said, then read aloud to Helen, “Everyone was shocked. Even her closest staff said they hadn’t seen any signs. ‘It’s unbelievable’ said a prominent female political figure who asked not to be named. ‘Rachael Saplin is carrying her fifth child and not showing? This is her seventh month? Unbelievable.’ “ She stopped reading and took a Prozac. “Who do you think said that? It sound like Lydia. Everyone knows she’s Rachael’s biggest enemy in the capital. Do you think she’ll call for an investigation?” Sally was getting more worked up by the minute.
“ It’s probably her,” Helen agreed, “ But don’t worry. Even Lydia knows this isn’t a partisan issue.”
“Even so, that woman should be ashamed.”
“Relax, Sally. If Dr. ABC finds a family for Calc soon, this is all going to go away. And if not, well…”
Sally wasn’t listening. She was talking again, “Further down the page are interviews from regular people. Some of them really are pregnant. Wow! They hate her! Listen, ‘Being pregnant isn’t like having a wart removed. You don’t go back to work the next day. The Governor’s plan is reckless.’ And this one, ‘I’m a waitress, I’m only twenty, I’m in my sixth month and I’m so big, I’m going to have to quit soon to get off my feet. How can Governor Saplin still be thin as a rail? Is that healthy for the baby?’”
Helen caught up and followed along.”God. And all those people who criticize her for not being home with the kids are out in force again.” She scanned the page. “Each person makes a good point. Rachael better be very careful.” Helen was being completely honest. “Rachael’s cavalier attitude may be her downfall. “
Sally found herself nodding. But then she remembered something that her father always said when other people had a problem with one or more of his the family members. “We are the Heats and if we stick together, we can do anything.”
“Sally, I think in this case, it’s going to be ‘We are Heats and if we lie together we can get away anything.”
“Nothing new about that,” Sally quipped. For the first time in weeks, she smiled.
CHAPTER SEVENTY NINE
Wrangler’s truck turned the corner of Aunt Helen’s street and he saw Cristol waiting outside in front of the house. He thought it was a good sign. She’s anxious to get together.
He pulled up to the curb slowly, expecting that when she opened the passenger door she would lean in for a kiss. Girls like to kiss. Even after they have a baby, you can’t get them into bed without a lot of kissing. Wrangler felt very worldly knowing such things.
The door opened, but no kiss. Instead of amorous, she was huffy. “Did you see Mom’s interview with that guy from Canada? God, she’s phoney. Sometimes I just want to scream.”
Cristol climbed up into the cab and he noticed how fat her thighs were. I wonder how much longer it will take her to get thin again. Will I ever see her in something hot again? I’m so tired of those sweatshirts.
“Wrangler, I could just scream! He asked her how she stayed so trim being almost eight months pregnant and she did this flirty thing, licked her lips even! and – get this – she said “I have tight abs”. What the fuck, Wrangler! Tight abs!!! First of all, she ISN’T pregnant! And second of all, she’s had liposuction! God, sometimes I just hate her.”
Wrangler could see there would be no getting her out of her pants unless he made her feel better.. “Hey, Babe, don’t let her get to you. She’s crazy. You know she’s crazy.”
That was one good thing about all they’d been through together - Cristol no longer took offense when he criticized Rachael. On the contrary, she was glad he didn’t have stars in his eyes, thinking her mom was a celebrity. She thought Wrangler was really smart about emotions and intentions and stuff like that. She praise him for seeing through Rachael most of the time.
Wrangler didn’t deny it. He sometimes felt as if he knew her soul. If Mrs. S realized how well Wrangler understood her, she’d make his life miserable. But that wasn’t going to happen now. Not now that he knew her biggest secret.
Wrangler wanted the Cristol he’d anticipated, not this angry version of Cristol. He touched her cheek and then her shoulder. “ C’om’ere. Lemme rub your shoulders.”
She shook him off. “No! I’m not in the mood.”
Wrangler sat back and heaved a sigh, rolling his eyes toward the roof of the cab.
“Right now, I hate my mother!” Cristol snarled.
Not as much as I do, Wrangler thought.