Thursday, February 28, 2013
Hello friends. This is the next-to-last installment of my novel, White Trash in the Snow. This book was written during free time as I could find it and it took me about one year. I finished in August, 2010. A year and two months later I began writing this blog and after 80 posts in about six months, I had to cut back and tackle personal and family challenges. Big challenges. That was when I began publishing the book that next week will be fully released. Thank you for following the story of the fictional Saplin family and thank you for catching some of my typos and mistakes. Your greetings and comments have buoyed me, and repaid me for my weekly efforts. I feel we have been a team.
Next week will not be good bye. It will only be "the end" of a book. The blog will have another metamorphosis. Can't say yet exactly what it will turn into. Please stay tuned.
By the way, I have used very few real names, but the actor Colleen Boag is a young woman of my acquaintance and the two movies mentioned (Wrangler likes them) are available from Amazon or for rent through Blockbuster. Bled White and Plastic are independent films from the same director, Jose Gomez, also an acquaintance. Your support, whether it's renting, buying or even if in the form of a "like" on Facebook, would be a wonderful way to give encouragement to some talented and hardworking young people in a very competitive field. Colleen also has a blog. If you check out Fear of Flying or her Facebook page, let her know you're a friend of Allison.
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED
Wrangler poured himself a bowl of generic frosted flakes, doused them in milk and set them on the kitchen table. Returning the milk to the refrigerator, he grabbed the quart of orange juice and was ready to take a swig straight from the carton when his sister walked in.
“Don’t or I’ll tell Mom,” she threatened like an eight year old.
“And I’ll deny it,” he shot back in kind.
“You’re such a baby. Grow up.”
“Just sayin’, you need to start acting right so’s when you have a son, you won’t let him drink out of the carton. ”
“Yeah? Well, I don’t have a son. ” He put the juice back on the shelf and slammed the refrigerator door.
“But before you do - “
“SHUT UP!” God, he thought, Cristol was right. His mom and Porsche don’t know when to shut up.
Porshe stood wide eyed and motionless except for a trembling lip and wet lashes splashing in pools of tears. Wrangler wanted to cry, too. “Sorry,” he began, “This isn’t your fault.” He sat down and shoveled cereal into his mouth. She stood over him.
“You know, Wrangler, you’ve been real jumpy since people found out about, ummm, about those plans…”
He raised an eyebrow and kept eating.
“… and uh, maybe, um, maybe you and Cristol aren’t ready, you know, maybe you should wait..”
He stopped shoveling, finished chewing and then asked. “Did you come in here to get breakfast?”
“Yes,” she answered.
“Then go get it.”
“Fine,” she said, mistaking it for an invitation. She fixed a bowl of frosted cereal for herself, and added two teaspoons of sugar. “So,” she said as she pulled out a chair, “I can’t wait to be an auntie.”
“Will you just sit down and shut up?” Wrangler snapped. It was a crude phrase he’d picked up at the Saplin house. Someone there was always telling somebody else to ‘sit down and shut up.’ In some ways, he was becoming one of them.
But Porsche was not a “sit down and shut up” kind of girl. She was stubborn, and she was smart, and she almost always spoke her mind. Her smarts were not Harvard scholar level smarts, but she scored solidly in the average IQ range, a good twenty points above anyone else in her family. “You and Cristol are going to get married some day. That makes us almost in-laws.” She took out a spoonful of her breakfast and talked through the chewing. “And it makes Calc my baby brother-in-law. When will you take us in-laws over there to see the baby?”
“In-laws? To Calc?”
“Yeah, almost anyway. Pretty soon we’re going to be related.”
Wrangler snorted. “Don’t bet on it. Cristol and I had a fight last night.”
“Another fight? You guys need to grow up.” It was out before she thought about it, telling her brother again that he was not mature enough to be thinking about having a baby. He looked very angry and she hurried to smooth things over. “Sorry, I just meant that you two fight an awful lot. But it never lasts ‘cause you two are crazy about each other. By tomorrow whatever you had a fight about will be forgotten. Like always.”
She changed the subject, something she thought was safer– “Is Calc cute? Who does he look like? Mom says babies looks change quickly; that’s one reason we really should get to see him soon. Before he changes. He’s gonna be my baby brother and I want to know all about him. How he looks. How he looks when he cries. And when he sleeps. And –“
“God, Porsche, give it a break.”
“I’ve never had a baby in my family. Hey, can you tell he has Downs Syndrome?”
“It’s not Downs, it’s Down. There’s no ‘s’” he corrected her, avoiding the other questions.
“Are you sure it’s not Downs? Everybody says Downs.”
Girls! They always have to argue! At least there’s one less girl in my life this morning.
The thought made him hurt inside, a heavy aching like a hole had been opened up below his heart. Wrangler pushed his chair away from the table and headed for the back door. He stomped down the porch stairs and took off in his truck.
When he saw golden arches up ahead, his stomach reminded him he’d left half his cereal on the table. He pictured a soggy mess. Let mom or Porsche throw it out. That’s all women are good for – picking up after men. He pulled off the street, into the drive-through, and ordered a man- size breakfast.
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED ONE
After five days hanging out with friends and hunting his mind was still on Cristol. Tonight was changing things up. He had stopped into the movie rental place and picked out a couple of horror flicks, then gone home and ordered delivery of a large pepperoni and sausage pizza. Midway through the first movie someone pounded on his bedroom door.
“Yeah, what is it?” He pushed the pause button on the remote and the screen froze showing that pretty blonde actor, Colleen Boag, entering an alley.
“Wrangler, let me in, it’s real important.”
He rolled over and swung his feet off the bed, lumbered slowly to the door, and opened it wide.
"Okay, you’re in. What is it?” he said.
Porsche was visibly upset “I think Cristol’s going to defriend me!”
Wrangler didn’t “do MySpace” or any other social networking site, and he didn’t give a rat’s ass who was in whose top ten friends, who got friended, defriended, poked, or who gave who a pig. Even Mafia Wars couldn’t hook him, it sounded too much like life in Azzolla. But, if Wrangler had been a MySpace or Facebook kind of guy, his status right then would have read “miserable, go away and leave me alone.”
“Porsche, that’s bullshit. Get outta my room. I’m busy.”
Porsche was not to be deterred. “But I’m talking about Cristol! If you two ever have a baby, I’m gonna be the auntie. If you two ever get married, I’m gonna be her sister-in-law. So, we’re family and we need to get along. She can’t defriend me! Don’t you see?”
Details! Why do girls always have to give so many details?
“No, I don’t see. And. I want to get back to my movie.”
“Wrangler! Nothing’s more important than family!” To his annoyance, she sat down on his bed. It was obvious she planned to keep at this. “I called Cristol yesterday, just, like, to let her know that I was real happy for her, being a new sister again. You know, uh, excited for her, and all that.” Porsche’s head was down, she was wringing her hands. She didn’t see that Wrangler was stealing glimpses at the TV screen. . “And I told her I had some presents for the baby and her that I want to take over there, and she was like, all cold and stuff. I couldn’t figure why she wasn’t happy, I mean, I said I had gifts, and maybe they have a lot more money than we do, but still, these are nice things!”
Wrangler said nothing, but he gave her a look thatshe started again. “And I invited her to come over here Saturday night and see me in my prom dress. Told her how Mom worked real hard makin’ it and it’s going to be one of a kind.” She didn’t see that her brother’s eyes had glazed over. “Now, I know Cristol might be feeling bad about not going to prom too, but that’s not my fault.” With each of the last three words, she pounded her fist on her thigh. It made Wrangler refocus. “Then, you know what she did?” She waited again, as if her brother actually might guess, which, of course, he didn’t. So after a few beats, Porsche told him what terrible thing his girlfriend had done - “She snorted!”
“You know, like the time she read on MySpace that that girl was going to beat her up. She snorted, remember? You and me we laughed so hard when she snorted! Maybe it’s weird to remember something like that, but I do. Anyway, do you think she’s going to defriend me?”
“Don’t know. Don’t care.”
“Well, would you ask?”
“How’m I gonna do that? We ain’t spoken in five days.” It was true. They were both being stubborn. “S’could you leave now?
Porsche finally saw the pain on Wrangler’s face. She shifted her mode to “Best Sister” and got up and hugged him. “Awe. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t dissing Cristol when you are missing Cristol. Oh! Ha! I made a rhyme. Well, anyway, can I help?” Her own problems were momentarily set aside for the opportunity to be important to Wrangler. It had been a long time since they hung out, shared secrets, drunk together or gone camping. Much too long.
“Nah, it’s nothin’ I ain’t been through before. It’s just Cristol being a pistol.”
“Well I hope you work it out real soon. I want to see that baby.” She left, and he returned to watching the movie.
An hour later, as the credits were rolling, he got a text from Cristol. It sounded like she was ready to make up. He was all for it. Either they were going to make up real soon, or he was going to start dating again. He wasn’t going to be without a girlfriend this coming summer. Summer nights were meant for camping and partying, and both required the opposite sex for maximum pleasure. He felt he’d been cheated out of a lot of fun this past year, times with friends that he couldn’t make up. He wasn’t going to miss out on summer’s best this year. No way.
He looked at the text again. “hav BIG suprize for u”
He suspected it was and early present. He was turning eighteen in another week. That’s a big deal.
“Wat is it” he texted in reply.
“hav 2 see u 2 give it 2 u”
“2nite!!! Pick me up?”
“No not till 9 cause I hv 2 put Calc 2 bed 1st”
“C U @ 9”
Maybe I should go to the grocery store and get her some flowers, he thought. He closed his phone and put it in his pocket.
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED TWO
Helen extended her stay to help with the deluge of thoughtfulness being shown the Saplin family. So many calls, presents and casseroles. Both the Saplins and the Heats were overwhelmed. It was full time work cataloging and writing thank you notes, and Rachael’s sisters were doing most of it.
During a lull, when Calc was having a nap, and Cristol was in her room trying to catch up on French lessons, Helen and Sally agreed to take a break. Sally put on a pot of coffee and cut two large slices of chocolate cake that some thoughtful Azzle had dropped off.
“How is Rachael getting away with this?” Helen asked, getting out forks and spoons. “The rumors are everywhere. Just read the comments posted online, you’ll see.”
Sally agreed. “I think a lot of people know. There’s that gossipy nurse at the hospital – she must have told somebody. And the news people - they have photos. Her figure went from flat to humongous inside of two weeks.” She put a big forkful of cake into her mouth and tried to savored it in spite of the distasteful reality of their sister’s life.
Helen said, “I know. I know. That big fake empathy belly she wore only once? My God! One week she was using a throw pillow off my sofa, the next week she looked like it was going to be twins.”
Sally sipped her coffee, then said,“That story of going into labor in Texas and flying home to deliver - Dad really outdid himself on that one,”
Helen smiled, remembering her sister’s reaction. “Rachael wanted to kill him. And then Mom and Dad with the baby in the hospital corridor? I mean, really. What hospital allows babies to be carried around the hospital corridors picking up germs?” She sipped her coffee and continued, “They don’t. And that one was supposed to be a preemie with special needs and a hole in his heart. Totally absurd.
“Why isn’t this front page news? She’s the governor, for Pete’s sake. The media isn’t doing it’s job.”
Neither said anything while they enjoyed the silence, the cake and the coffee.
“Maybe we see it because we know,” said Helen. “Unless you have some reason to be looking for this stuff, you probably can miss it.” She shook her head, “The story of the year, hiding in plain sight. Un-f’ing-believable.”
“Rachael should be happy that publicity plan of hers fizzled. What if she had become a national figure?”
“Ho, ho! She’d have been reading about herself in “Who”! They just had a story about that woman who had the politician’s baby…”
Helen interrupted, “That’s the answer, you know. Really. That’s it - this isn’t real news, it’s tabloid stuff. Supermarket tabloids are where you read about celebrities having babies. But, like you just said, she’s no celebrity. Hence, no story.”
“And even though there’s a twist, the faked pregnancy, Rachael Saplin isn’t a recognized name. The story’s just not that good – after a month, Rachael and Tad will be just another set of parents whose teenager got knocked up and they are raising the kid, Who cares?
“Who cares? Who cares!” Sally sing-songed the magazine’s effective slogan, then she laughed. Poor Sally, needed to laugh. The antidepressants that helped her get through the messy dealings of divorce also kept the synapses from firing like they should. Most of the time she felt emotionally numb.
Helen had already thought this through, and she was ready to talk with another adult. Sally would do. Helen said, “Each news outlet has a slant, from the city paper to “Who” to Fox to MSNBC.”
Helen sighed, “You know, Hardball? Chris Matthews?” Nothing but a blank look from Sally. “Countdown?” still nothing registered. “Never mind, you’re probably lucky not to know.” Helen was a closet Countdown watcher, tuning in to hear what Keith had to say on evenings when her husband wasn’t home.
“Kevin Olbermann, he has this “Worst Person” of the day award, and if Rachael were a known name and her supposed in-labor flight…”
“I’m sorry, Helen,” Sally interrupted. “Kevin who?”
Helen realized she was dangerously close to coming out of the closet and exposing herself as Countdown watcher. For her own safety, she switched the focus to newspapers. “Never mind. So, anyway, yup,the editors at the Daily News can ignore the story. It’s trash. Only tabloids would want it. And, like white trash in the snow, it’s easy to ignore, easy to pretend you don’t see it.”
“You know, white trash in the snow – stuff like styrofoam cups and crumpled Kleenex laying there on the street with no body paying any attention. White trash is easy to ignore ‘cause it blends in with the snow. That’s Rachael’s phoney pregnancy. A story that’s laying right in front of everyone and yet easy to ignore, too. Sure, it’s there, but if you don’t want to see it, …well, you get it.”
“I get it, yeah, but at first, I thought you were calling Rachael white trash.”
“No.” Helen chuckled “ But, if the shoe fits…” . They smiled at each other.
“So, you don’t think reporters noticed,” Sally stated.
“Oh, they see it, the whole story. They know Cristol disappeared for months. They know she was sent to live with me. They know Rachael didn’t stop running, didn’t stop drinking coffee, didn’t act pregnant. They are ignoring it. They have pictures of Rachael with her flat stomach claiming to be seven months. They’ve got pictures that show that silly, rectangular pillow shaped stomach. I told her not to use that one.”
“She never takes advice,” Sally frowned.
“And then, too soon, that that huge strapped on stomach; we both said she wouldn’t waddle around wearing that thing for another six weeks. Yup, that was when we predicted a premature delivery. We know our sister.”
Sally nodded agreement.
For a minute, they both looked thoughtful. Sally spoke next. “And then, there was the wildest story ever - “oops- my- water-broke- I’ll- stay- and- give-a-speech- standing- at- the- podium-in-front-of-hundreds-of-people-not-go-to-a-hospital- fly-eight-hours-take-another-flight-and-fly-three-hours…” She stopped to catch her breath.
Helen took over, “pass- up- another-big- hospital- equipped-to-handle-an-at- risk-delivery- and-drive-an- hour-to-get-to-a-family-doctor- who-only-delivered-three-babies-last-year-so-I-can-be-induced-and-have-my-Downs-Syndrome-child.” She was out of breath, too.
“ with-a-hole-in-his-heart-born -in-a-tiny-hospital-with-no-neo-natal-care-unit,” Sally finished. “That story is harder to swallow than Dad’s spicey moose ball nuggets.”
“Yup, but reporters ignore it. Pulling it apart would get too sticky.”
“Ha, like opening up a crumpled Kleenex you pick up from the snow.” Sally started to giggle. “Haven’t we always said our sister was a snot?”
They laughed together.
“Gross,” Sally said, wiping a tear from her eye. “White trash in the snow,” she said again, and another round of laughter began.
Minutes later, their plates held only crumbs and the last drops of coffee had been drained from their cups. “Time to get back to work,” Helen said. She picked up the dishes and moved them to the sink.
The red message light on the phone base caught her attention and when she pressed the button, a young woman’s voice said, “Hello, this is Francis Decker, Myleen Decker’s daughter. I’m calling all her Luna Moi customers to let them know she won’t be able to fill orders for a while. She’s had a stroke.”
There’s the first casualty,” said Sally. With a look, her sister sought an explanation.
“She’s that gossipy nurse. The one at the hospital the day Calc was supposedly born. Guess the pressure of keeping this secret must have been too much for her.”
“Or the opposite,” suggested Helen. “The stress of having told someone, and knowing she’s going to pay a price…”
“Ooooo,” Sally caught on, “I wouldn’t want to be Myleen Decker.”
CHAPTER ONE HUNDRED THREE
It was Wrangler’s eighteenth birthday and as a gift to Wrangler, Rachael was going to let Jerrie and Porsche meet Calc. Jerrie had told herself that it would be a good day to begin to cut back on criticizing her son and his future in-laws. That was before she learned that the baby had accompanied the Governor that very morning to a ribbon cutting ninety miles away.
“All these weeks we’ve waited to meet him, all these weeks you’ve been sayin’ he can’t be exposed to germs, and making Porsche and me wait. Us not getting to hold him before now…” The confrontation was taking place as Wrangler drove his mom and sister to the Saplin house.“We been real understanding, Wrangler. Real understanding.”
It was a short distance between the two houses, and Wrangler figured he’d let her get this out of her system before they rang the doorbell. Besides, she couldn’t say too much because Porsche still didn’t know the full story. Chewing tobacco and staring straight ahead, he ignored the rant.
“It isn’t right, her dragging that baby all over the place. He’s got problems, he’s delicate. I might not know how to run a state, but I know you don’t expose a little baby with a hole in his heart to all the germs in the world.”
“How could he be getting proper care when he’s all over the place? What about naps? Babies need routine. Routine comforts them. And what about him getting the therapy that Porsche’s been reading about? That’s real important.” She turned and looked back at Porsche. “Isn’t that so? Isn’t that what you found out?’
Wrangler looked in the rear view mirror and exchanged glances with his sister, who was riding in the rear seat of the double cab. When Jerrie turn forward again, Porsche rolled her eyes. She wasn’t going to risk getting her brother pissed off. He could still turn the truck around and call off this visit.
What was past was past. In a few minutes, she was going to get to hold a baby! She’d never done that. Not a really little one. Nothing else mattered to her tonight. She checked her bag and confirmed that she had brought her camera. Porsche planned to post pictures on her MySpace later tonight, and didn’t want anything to come in the way of her plans.
Jerrie was tightly wound. “He isn’t a political prop. He’s a baby.” Jerrie said. “She should stay home and take care of him.”
Wrangler spit into an old soft drink cup before he spoke. “It’s complicated, Mom.”
“What’s complicated about staying home?”
Wrangler didn’t want to get into it. He was tired of defending Rachael’s treatment of the child who started out his son and was now his girlfriend’s parent’s son.
“It just is,” he reiterated, “It’s very, very complicated.”
Thursday, February 21, 2013
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
Helen and Kurt agreed that they were going to miss having little Calc in the house. If it didn’t work out with Rachael and Tad, the baby would be welcome to come back and live with them.
“Do you think he’ll be okay?” Kurt asked his wife for the fifth time. Not expecting an answer, he asked what was really on his mind. “What was that all about just before we left? Rachael and Tad and Dr ABC talking in the hall. Something about samples. I heard ABC say ‘she won’t agree to let us take samples.’ Why wouldn’t Cristol agree with whatever the doctor prescribes for Calc?”
“I don’t think it was about Calc,” Helen said. Kurt looked at her quizzically. “It wasn’t about Calc or Cristol. At least, I don’t think it was. I heard Field’s name in the whispering.”
“Field? Hmm,” Kurt said, “Army grunts get exposed to all kinds of stuff, sometimes on purpose. Our country’s got a history of doing pretty bad things to our men in uniform. What kind of tests...I hope he’s okay.”
“Me, too. All I heard was that there was no reason to get a sample from Field yet because ‘she doesn’t want’. Then Tad saw me and gave the doctor a signal to be quiet. She stopped in mid-sentence.
“You know,” Kurt said, “Maybe Field caught a sexually trans-“
“An STD? Yeah, I thought of that. And Rachael, drama queen and control freak, has her nose in his business, too. She doesn't know when to let something go. ” Helen sighed. “It would be great if she took the whole summer as maternity leave. She needs to let go of some things and concentrate on the baby.”
Kurt laughed. “Dream on, girl. She’s not the maternal type. If anyone in that family is maternal, it's Cristol. So, how do you think Cristol’s doing with all this?” In the months she’d spent in exile with them, Kurt had begun to think of her as another daughter. “I feel sorry for that kid. She looked lost and alone back there. Her mom getting all that attention. When that Krebbs woman got in, and started talking about throwing a baby shower, did you see Cristol’s face? I thought Cristol was going to cry. ”
“I think she'll be okay. She seems to have accepted this as good for Calc and best for herself. I’ve been thinking. Maybe this is whole thing is part of God’s plan to heal the relationship between Cristol and Rachael.”
“Heal it? Are you kidding? Cristol is in mourning and Rachael’s pissed. All these months with the evangelical crowd courting her; them helping her get positioned in case McElwain wants a woman for a running mate- all that for nothing.”
“We don’t know that yet, Kurt. Rachael thinks she can make this work. This is a very different election. The opposition is running a woman or a black man – it’s not a normal year. Rachael could be the answer for McElwain. He can’t pick another pasty-faced white-haired old dude. Or even that underwear model governor whose dad was a governor. They need someone different. A game changer.
“Helen, no one’s going to vote for a woman with a baby – any baby – to be in charge if that old man doesn’t last out his term. I know how that sounds, and don’t shoot the messenger.
“Kurt, I’ve had that discussion with Rachael. She made a good point. A baby with special needs is a baby that gets special help. No one will expect her to be his 24 hour a day caregiver. It will be accepted, even assumed, that while she’s the mom, his ‘round-the-clock care is in the hands of capable professional people. It’s a win-win.”
“She thinks that? A disability is an advantage? Ha! No way. No sir. The only families Americans want in the White House are ones that are pure, white, and perfect.”
Helen wasn’t invested in arguing. “Time will tell,” she said.
Kurt returned to his real concern. “Cristol ruined her mother’s chances to run with McElwain and now, Rachael can’t even be civil to her. Have you noticed?”
“Yes, but that’s just Rachael. When she’s upset she’s…she’s…”
“She’s more of a bitch than usual,” he said.
“ Cristol’s in a tough spot. Poor baby,” she said.
“Poor Cristol, and poor little Calc.” Kurt replied. “And poor Maple and Pride. It isn’t easy being a Saplin kid.”
“What about Field? You left him out.”
“He’s not a Saplin kid,” Kurt said.
“ That’s not nice!”
“That’s not what I meant you know me better than that. I meant he’s a young adult, a man. Heck, he’s a man with an STD.” They both grinned. “And he’s found a way out of the madness of Rachael’s lifestyle. That’s all I meant.”
“Even in the army, it can’t be easy being my sister’s kid.” Helen said. “God bless him.”
“God help them all.” Kurt said.
Helen nodded. “Amen. And speaking of helping them, I promised I’d spend next week at their house to help them get Calc acclimated. Rachael has no idea how much work she’s in for raising a special needs child. ”
Sunday afternoon at the Saplin house was chaotic. Cell phones and Blackberries ringing from people who had heard a rumor or had read the happy news in the Sunday paper. Helen and Betty had arrived with supplies of formula, bottles, diapers, and baby strength Benedryl.
Helen was about to change Calc when Rachael entered the bedroom looking for her reading glasses.
“World’s biggest preemie right here on the changing table,” Helen joked to Rachael. “Look at those chubby cheeks.”
“Don’t get your panties in a wad over it, Helen. No one cares.” She walked over and looked at the baby. In baby-talk she said to him, “Mommy’s going to give them her Scarlet O’Hara at the picnic smile. Yes she is.” she tapped the baby’s nose with her forefinger. Looking up at her sister she said, “When I hold this little bundle out for the reporters to take some pictures, they aren’t going to think about his size. They won’t have time. I’m going to say we have three minutes for them to scribble down what Tad and I say and then they get ushered out.”
“I don’t know,” said Helen. “You can almost bet that awful columnist who writes “The Nose” will make some innuendo, that woman’s always been out to get you.”
“Stop worrying, the papers have to print what we give them. I’m a journalist. I know these things.” Rachael caught Helen rolling her eyes. “Cut that out! I am, too, a trained journalist!”
“Oh, is that the degree you were working on last? I lost track the fourth time you dropped out of college.” Helen was tired of Rachael misrepresenting her education.
Rachael put her hand hip and gave her sister the squinty-eyed look she knew so well. “Listen, here’s how the news cycle works. The story gets sent out over the wire. In a week it’s old news. Tad and me, we have a game plan for that. We’ve picked out a couple of reporters who support me and we’re gonna give exclusive interviews. One will be how wonderfully Calc fits into our lives and the other will interview with Tad and cover his being a stay-home first daddy dude. Later, some other loyal supporter will get an interview with me about how I’m juggling blackberries and bottles. Isn’t that a cute line? Juggling Blackberries and bottles? Maybe it should be Blackberries and baby bottles. What do you think?”
“I think it might make the real – uh, the other journalists – dig deeper. What if they uncover the… the untold story? What if they already uncovered something, and ask you to comment?”
“You under-inflate my abilities dear sister. If they begin that stuff, I’m going to smile sweetly and excuse myself saying I have a date with my breast pump. That ought to shut everyone’s trap.”
“Rachael! That’s perfect. Will you really do that?.”
“Better believe I will. Yup, I’ll bring up leakage and pumping… and if that doesn’t keep them from askin’ inappropriate questions then maybe I’ll even tell them to stop tryin’ to look up my skirt, figuratively speakin.”
“That ought to do it,” Helen agreed. She admired feistiness.
“And if anyone dares to press it with one more question, and I also hope, too, that they do, I’m going to excuse myself. I’m going to say ‘This interview is over. I have to go change my sanitary pad.’”
“Oh my god, those reporters will run away screaming.”
“Yup, yup, their gonna wannna find a cave and crawl in.”
“You know, you might get away with this after all. Rather than press you with questions about your body, they’ll probably zone in on the baby’s disabilities. When are you going to let people know about the Downs and the F-“
“I’m announcing that – the DS – tomorrow when I go to work. My son has Down Syndrome and he’s a perfect fit for our family..”
“Is that all you are going to tell them? Oh, I see. You aren’t going to mention…of course not. You can’t because he’s suppose to be yours…” Her voice trailed off.
“Helen, Calc’s distinctive features come from an extra chromosome. Whatever his challenges, they are because of that. Only that. Got it?”
Helen pursed her lips and finished diapering the baby. She picked him up and rocked from side to side, holding him closely. Rachael started a search of the room. “What did I come in here to look for? I forget.”
“Do you want to take him, now?” Helen stopped rocking and waited.
“Nah, you’re doing fine with him. I’ve still got to read over some – That’s it! My reading glasses. Where are they? I need to read some documents before I get in there tomorrow and I’m asked to sign-“
Helen couldn’t believe her ears. “You are going to the office tomorrow?”
“Yup, I’m goin’ in the office tomorrow. Told a couple of my loyal reporters to be there to see my signin’ stuff.”
“Wont’ people criticize you for returning to work two days after having a baby?”
“The doctor said there’s no reason I can’t go back.”
“That’s very risky,” her sister warned. But Rachael misunderstood.
“Yeah? Well, that’s perfect, you see, it will, ideally get me a lot of attention. I’m going to show people I’m the healthiest, strongest, most can-do workin’ mom in the whole country.”
Pretending to be Superwoman was one thing, but exposing Calc to germs was another thing entirely, and Helen tried to argue for the little guy with reasons even his narcissistic mother could understand. “You’re taking a special needs baby, with a hole in his heart, and supposedly two days old, in to the office? He might get very sick. Think about that. It doesn’t look good and it could really backfire on you. Besides, I think a lot of people will have a problem with –“
“Most people will NOT have a problem. They will be amazed. Which, in the great scheme of things, should put me right back in the running for that VP nod now, that I’m a new mom with a retarded–“
“What now?” Rachael was perturbed.
“Calc needs you.” Helen began to tremble. Instinctively, she held the child tight against her own chest. “You obviously have no appreciation of the work it takes to raise a child with special needs.”
“I’ve seen you do it. If you can do it, I can. Actually, there’s really nothing I can’t do. Or, if there is, I haven’t encountered it yet.” She smiled. “Of course, Sally and mom and dad will help. And, there’s Cristol and Wrangler doing most of the at home stuff. How hard can it be?”
“Oh. My. God.” Helen sat down on the bed, “You have never been more arrogant.”
“I don’t see the big deal. I’ve raised four kids already, this is just one more.”
“One more with an extra chromosome. You don’t know yet what all his challenges are. His sight, his hearing, his …oh, honey, you have no idea. There will be so much you will need to do to help him become all that he can be. So much work. You shouldn’t go back to work tomorrow. You should take off the next six months. Even then you’ll need to find a really good caregiver, and that’s after you’ve found a therapist and a pediatric -.”
“Well, I’m going to work tomorrow.” Rachael flicked her wrist, as if she were Scarlet O’Hara at the picnic brushing away a gnat.
“I have God’s help. And with God’s help I can do anything. Oh, have I told you about the letter?”
“The letter from God. Tomorrow, after Calc and I leave the office, staff will send out a nice little press release I wrote. I wrote it from God’s perspective, so clever. I worked on it for weeks.”
“What does that mean, ‘from God’s perspective?”
“It’s clever, everyone’s going to love it. God, himself, wrote it and it’s all about love, and joy, and blessings...” She’d become cutesy/ perky again. “Yup, love and joy, so true - Calc’s a blessing. It’s a masterpiece. Or should I say Master’s piece. Get it?” She laughed.
“Wait a minute.” Helen said, still holding tightly to Calc, “I think I misunderstood. You mean you wrote something in your own name, right? Saying God has blessed you with this baby?” she asked.
“No, it’s a letter to the editor signed “Calc’s Father in Heaven.”
“No, you didn’t do that! Rachael!” Helen had seen her sister’s opinion of herself get bigger and bigger since becoming Governor, and it had soared when she started being courted for a VP run, but this was taking things into a whole new galaxy.
“Oh stop worrying, Helen. God gets all the credit and the glory. Cristol getting pregnant last summer may have seemed, of course, at that time, like a tragedy and also, in the course of events, with Calc being born early and we find out about the Downs and it being a blessing in disguise because it makes it reasonable to think I am his mother because more people over forty have Downs babies than teenage girls do so of course that was a sign that I was meant to be his mother and it made it easy to say, too, that I had him and not her.” Rachael didn’t notice the look of horror on Helen’s face. “God has given Tad and I our fifth child through Cristol, which, also, it being perhaps like an Old Testament story where a young woman gives birth and an old…I’m young, also, but still…God knows everything, He knew about the alcohol and the ruffled ear being a sign of FAS so He added a chromosome. It’s clearly God’s plan.
Rachael was smiling. Helen groaned and sat down on the bed.
She thought her sister must be tired because Helen was usually quite quick to give God the credit for His blessings. “It’s really simple, see, at first, Tad and I thought, ‘Hoo boy, there goes the White House.’ But we were wrong. God is so smart! This is how God is going to make me famous, telling how I chose life and knowing the baby had Downs…it’s never been done by a politician, because, of course, they are almost all men and they haven’t been pregnant. See? I’m gonna be a hero! Queen of the pro-life movement!”
“This is about you getting another crown?” Helen asked, incredulously.
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!”
Helen looked down at the child in her arms. Poor little tyke, thought Helen, I wish I could run away with him.
Rachael barreled on, “Everyone is sayin’ this election year is the year of the woman! Where is there a conservative woman with the experience and credentials I have? There’s just me! I’m it! God is working through me.”
Rachael was in top form, hands clenched (one around a Blackberry) and held parallel and chest high. Almost like a fighter’s stance, punctuating her declarations with fist jabs. “I have a baby with special needs! Thank you, Jesus! It’s God saying ‘Rachael, you have done well. I am opening up the path to the Presidency to you.”
Helen began shaking her head. No, no, no! This isn’t right. Lying and misrepresenting are not things God honors.
“I’m so proud to be a humble maid-servant of the Lord.”
Proud to be humble? That’s crazy.
“Yup, yup. When God talks to me, I don’t blink. I plow through. How many times have I said that?”
“About a million,” Helen answered.“But most of the time I doubt that what you heard is from God.”
“Get thee behind me, Satan!” The well-worn evangelical admonishment stung Helen like a slap in the face but, again, Rachael didn’t even notice. “Doubt and fear are the Devil’s tools. I won’t listen to that talk. You’ll see. God is going to put me in the White House!”
With that, Rachael returned to the mission she was on when she’d first come into the room. She pulled out a drawer in the nightstand, found a pair of reading glasses, and turned on her heel. She didn’t even bother to close the draw, but rushed toward the door saying, “Gotta get back to work. Thanks for changing the baby. Ya know, he might be getting hungry, so ask Cristol if you want help getting a bottle ready. ”
Helen gave her a look of disbelief.
“You look tired, Helen. Maybe you should be drinking Luna Moi. I think we have some. Help yourself.”
Confused, Helen asked, “Help myself to what?”
“To some Luna Moi - you know - the $45 dollar a bottle stuff we call God’s energy drink? It’s another example of God’s plan working for good in my life. I need the energy, He gives me free Luna Moi.”
“Free?” Helen was totally confused. “God’s energy drink? That sounds like a scam.”
“It’s not a scam, it’s a pyramid scheme. Lot’s of people in our church sell it. There’s a phone number by the phone. Myleen Decker is the woman who gives us that stuff for free. Give her a call and ask for two cases. Then drink all you want. It ain’t costing us nothing. ” With that, Rachael left the room again, thumbs simultaneously scrolling Blackberries.
The Saplin house was quiet, even Calc was asleep. Cristol and Wrangler had turned in for the night, but neither was sleeping. Wrangler wanted to make love, but Cristol had rebuffed him. They were not touching as they lay in bed.
Cristol was chewing peppermint gum, the kind with a liquid center. It was a habit that began when she was barely into her teens. Back then, it was to cover the smell alcohol on her breath. She imagined that her parents would find her empty bed, and then, after she’d snuck back in late at night, they would come in and give her a vigorous grilling. “Where have you been? We worried about you! Let me smell your breath.”
Years passed and Cristol never found out if the gum worked. Over time, wishful thinking replaced fear – she wished someone cared enough to take her to task for her “youthful indiscretions” (the archaic phrase she imagined other parents might use.) The peppermint gum became a habit and nothing more. Until, Wrangler Strauss and she became lovers.
Last year, when Wrangler was in her bed for the first time, she’d given him a piece of gum. He thought she was being practical. After all, they both smelled like Colt 45.
“Want some gum?”
“What?” He was distracted, fumbling with his buckle.
“Gum, want some?”
“Sure,” he said. He punched out a piece and popped it into his mouth. He hadn’t expected the liquid burst and he gagged. Gum isn’t supposed to cum. “Shit! Gross! What is this stuff?” He looked around for a place to spit.
Cristol laughed. “It’s got a flavor burst in the center. What a pussy you are! Crying over a little squirt in your mouth.”
“I’ll give you a little squirt in the mouth,” he said climbing into bed.
“Talk is cheap,” she challenged.
After she’d taken him up on his promise, they lay next to each other, smiling. He pushed her long hair back from her face. “You and your gum,” he said, “I suppose now you want to get married.”
“Nope. I’m a slut,” she said, then started laughing again.
She looked back on that as “the first time Wrangler proposed” and since that day, a chance scent of peppermint in the air can cause a physical reaction that is potentially embarrassing for him.
This night was far removed from those carefree and reckless days. Cristol was loudly snapping her gum as she lay with her back to Wrangler. She was aching with burdens. Their unplanned pregnancy, their son born with defects, keeping it a secret from family and friends, her mother pretending to be pregnant to cover for her, and now being a sister instead of a mom. If she could, she would change it all.
Could everyone who knew be trusted? Would someone figure it out?
“Can your mom really keep this secret?”
“Yup,” he wasn’t concerned.
“Do you think Porsche will figure it out?”
One minute later, she needed reassurance. “And you’re sure, positively sure, your mother won’t tell Porsche? Cause you know your sister’s baby-crazy…”
“I’m sure. Go to sleep, okay?”
“But, Wrangler, you know how she can be…” Obviously, she wasn’t going to let this go.
If they weren’t going to fuck, Wrangler saw no point in being awake in bed.
“Shit, Cristol, would you just go to sleep? Listen to me - Porsche thinks we are trying to get pregnant. She doesn’t know we already have a kid. She’s got nothing to tell.” They had been over this last night. Same old stuff. When would it end?
“And mom doesn’t say anything at all.” The tenor of his voice told her she better not ask again.
“Your mother is so stupid.”
“Hey! She is not!” Now, he was angry.
“And Porsche is an airhead.”
He began to protest. She cut him off. “No, I take that back. Porsche is obsessed. She thinks you can walk on water. She believes anything her big brodder Wang-ler tells her.” The combination baby talk and mispronounced name was a double zinger, it put down Porsche and it embarrassed Wrangler. She’d used it before. Cristol was jealous of the close friendship between Wrangler and Porsche. She and Field didn’t even come close to matching it, and they never would.
“That’s it! I’m going home.”
“Good! Go home you dumb jock.” But she couldn’t let that end it. She continued spewing as he got dressed. “They won’t let it slip, huh? You are soooo wrong. You know how I know? Because, it takes brains to be able to keep secrets.”
Wrangler gathered his stuff off the bedside stand. Filled his pockets, unplugged his iPod from her computer where he’d been downloading some of her music, and went out the door without looking back.
When he put the truck in reverse, he saw her running out of the house wearing only a large tee-shirt. In the headlights, her big boobs bounced as she ran. It was amusing, he found himself smiling. She stopped three feet from the driver’s door, crossed her arms and blocked the lettering on the “Hot Governor” themed tee-shirt.
So, he thought, she’s sorry already. I ought to stay mad just to show her she can’t talk about my family like that. Then, in quick succession three short visions played out in his head – Cristol apologizing, he, himself being magnanimous, and the two of them in bed having make up sex. He rolled down his window, “Hey,” he said softly.
“I only came out to tell you this,” she said. “If you are right, then they ARE SOOOO STUPID that they don’t even know enough to worry about letting it slip.”
She looked like her mother – jaw set, eyes filled with hate, hands making fists and held up protecting her chest. He looked into the rearview mirror, took his foot off the break and began backing down the driveway.
“You tell them I said they better not…” With the press of a button, a mellow mechanical whir raised a glass sound barrier.
He thought about gunning it, but showing anger might have given her some satisfaction. When he passed the gate, with its hand lettered warning, he heard her shout something. He was not sure, but it could have been “I hate you!” But maybe it wasn’t. He turned up the CD player.
On the short drive back to his mother’s house he wondered what had become of that cool, laid-back girlfriend he had had so much fun with last summer. Cristol’s really changed, he thought. He wasn’t sure if he ever wanted to see her again.