Thursday, February 21, 2013
A Letter From WHO? White Trash in the Snow Chapters 97, 98 and 99
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.