Thursday, February 7, 2013
To Texas and Back - White Trash in the Snow CHAPTER 90, 91, 92, 93
If the name Larissa is not familiar, you might want to read Chapters 83 and 84 (January 24 posting "Like Father, Like Son?") for maximum enjoyment of the chapters below.
WHITE TRASH IN THE SNOW
It was mid-April, six weeks since the Governor’s cleverly phrased announcement that “The Saplin family is expanding.” It had never been credible. The reporters called in for “a scoop” had looked with puzzlement at the grinning first couple. One was thinking, They got a dog?
“I’m pregnant,” she blurted out. Their eyes dropped to her flat-as-board tummy, and she thought Go ahead, dare to talk about my hips, my uterus, and my menstrual cycle!
Since that day, Rachael had kept up an exhausting pace. If she were pregnant, would she would have been risking the child’s health and her own. But, again, no newspaper questioned it. That would require a discussion of female anatomy and raise questions about working women. The city editor said, “Don’t touch this. I’d be called a caveman.”
In private meetings, people of the press conjectured that Governor Saplin was pulling an elaborate hoax. She flew (“My doctor says there is no reason I shouldn’t fly”), she drank coffee and Red Bull, and she wore high heels. She did not act like a pregnant woman. And there was something odd about the shape of her mid-section…
Now, God wanted the Governor to go to Texas and speak at the Governor’s convention, there was no doubt in Rachael’s mind, the political invitation was an act of the Almighty. Her staff questioned whether she should take the long trip, in light of her “delicate condition.” The question gave her a chance to make a public declaration of her trust in Jesus and remind her once again that religion can be a handy thing in politics. “God opened a door and I’m plowin’ through,” she told her staff. “He wants me to go, so He will bring me home safely, which, of course, means that the baby will be safe, also. Too, I mean.” No lie. No harm. No foul. A simple and honest explanation.
Intellectually, Rachael Saplin was capable of intricate thought, but her default was set to simplicity. In politics, she let others wrestle with the tough issues. After the gouging subsided and the blood washed away, the weaknesses in proposed legislation would be evident and then she’d issue a statement. It was easy, or at least simple. Invariably, her office spokesperson would declare her to be “a real fighter,” or some such moose crap.
How did she get away with such mediocrity? Again, it was simple. And, she had Lydia Krebs to thank for the opportunity that led to the most important lesson of her life.
It was years ago. In an instant, Rachael had figured out what the public liked. She hadn’t worked on political prowess, she stumbled into it while wearing a red evening gown and recognized it’s value when she walked across a stage swishing her hind end. Yes, it was competition for the Miss Azzolla pageant when she was only nineteen where she discovered that education, intelligence, talent, and perseverance were not important to the general public. Miss Heat won that contest, and collected gifts, money, praise and attention because her butt looked good in a swimsuit. Lesson learned. Twenty years later, she dressed in four-inch heels, had a naughty-librarian up-do, and made commercials that would cause people to think she knew how to hunt, the latter to entice tourists to come into the state and shoot beautiful animals. To make herself likeable to the conservatives, she talked about being a mom, having children, appreciating her family, and having grown up with siblings. Men assumed she was dumb, but voted for her because they were aroused by the ad with “the pretty woman shooting a gun.” Women found her stylish, but they voted for her more often because she told them (and told them, and told them) that she’s a good mom. Evangelicals were the most powerful voting block she courted, and using code words to let them know she was “one of them,” she made anti-abortion statements at every opportunity. “Right to life,” and “the rights of the unborn” were causes she claimed to support. With these strategies, Rachael Saplin was able to maintain a high approval rating. She didn’t have to know much about policy, law, national issues, and international affairs. As she said to another candidate running for governor, “Know one cares about those things.” Sadly, she was right. Simple worked for Rachael Saplin. And she was sure that a simple plan would be the best plan this time, too.
Rachael was psyched to “have” this new baby. As the mother of a child with Down Syndrome, she wanted to become known as the epitome of the pro-life woman. In any election, pro-life voters were a valued group. If she got those votes, she could defeat any male opponent at the voting booth. She could run against any man and win. Yup, any man! Since it was premature to run for President of the United States, she wanted to run for Vice President. That made sense. It would set her up to become President either by default – McElwain was very old – or by election in four years. He was a one-term guy in her opinion. If he didn’t see it that way, she would have to challenge him for the top of the ticket. She was a maverick, after all.
In the climate of this year’s presidential race, the Lord knew McElwain needed the help of a woman in order to win the female vote. She could do that. And she could bring fundamentalists over to the ticket, too. Simple. Perfect. There was no one better to help the party win this important election than Governor Rachael Saplin.
McElwain’s team would be at the convention in Texas, looking for potential running mates. She, a female governor with a still-decent butt, would give a speech that would present her assets. Fortunately, no one knew much about her state, and she could embellish her weak policy and program accomplishments. Her speech was a brilliant piece of propaganda her writers came up with, claiming that she was an energy expert, pointing to the fact that she was from a state with a good amount of oil drilling and gas production. (As if merely being from a place makes one an expert on it’s natural resources. ) There was no shame in using this speech, making these claims, and, in effect, relying on her team of advisors to make her look good. After all, that’s what the President has to do, too – get good advice, surround himself with good people. The secret to governing was as simple as that. Which meant she was as qualified, absolutely, without a doubt, qualified to run with McElwain as the party’s Vice Presidential nominee. Even being POTUS was simple. She might be the only person in the world who knew that. Which only proves that God works in mysterious ways.
Rachael’s worries were not about God or about her ability to handle a job as big as VP or President. Her worries were that there are a lot of doubting Thomases and plenty of liberal anti-Christians. The challenge would be overcoming the doubts in the heads of the country’s Neanderthals that a woman with a baby could handle the role of Vice President. This was tricky. Her base would be torn - Evangelicals would have a hard time with that. Which, of course, another reason Calc’s disability was so very obviously part of God’s plan. When it came down to it, working moms were a fact of life. A pro-life mom as VP would be a coup for the conservative movement. And a pro-life mom raising a child with a disability? That was the opportunity of the century.
It was clear, God had sent her into politics for such a time as this. She was McElwain’s best chance to win the presidency, surely the McElwain camp would see that when she was in Texas. He was a maverick, she was a maverick. A long-shot one-of-a-kind, she could shake things up. Lord knew his boring campaign needed that.
And, thanks to Tad, she had proof that people liked her and wanted her to run. It had taken some work, lots of time, and some under the table money, and it was working. Behind the scenes, Tad had orchestrated some “grassroots” support for her candidacy. Rachael didn’t have the details and didn’t want them, but somehow, Tad had provided services to some big business people and some military big-wigs and they, in turn, were drumming up donations and support for Rachael as a national candidate.
In one case, the support really had started out as grassroots and Tad, through the governor’s office, simply provided some fertilizer. It came unexpectedly. One day Tad took a call from some out-of-state college student who said he wanted to start a Rachael Saplin for Vice President blog. “He says he found you by searching on the Internet. His blog will talk about your one-of-a-kind combination being exactly what the party needs – a pro-life, pro-gun, fiscally conservative woman who will go toe-to-toe with the corrupt bastard’s club.”
“He’s from outside? And he gets it!” Rachael was thrilled. “But, just one question,”
“What? I already gave him the go-ahead for the blog,” Tad said.
“That’s okay. But, Tad, what’s a blog?”
CHAPTER NINETY- ONE
Plans were finalized. A couple weeks after the Texas trip, and a couple weeks before Rachael’s “due date,” the baby would be “born.” At the core of the plan was Dr. Abigail Barten-Curtain’s favorite medical facility, the tiny valley hospital where there were always empty beds. As a member of the hospital board and a doctor on staff, it was normal for ABC to come in at any hour. Friday was also key. More patients were released on Fridays than other days, it helped to keep insurance costs down. So on the upcoming Friday, just before it turned to Saturday, the facility would have any number of beds empty. That, and the dimmed lights of the dimmed lights of the hallways would give cover to the handful of players in the impending Saplin family dramatic production. It would be a play in two acts.
Act I, Scene I: Wrangler and Cristol and Helen were to bring Calc in; Dr. Barten-Curtain would meet them at the staff entrance after the night-shift had arrived. The three would have a private room on the maternity ward in which they could wait, undisturbed.
Act I, Scene II: Tad and Rachael would go to the hospital in the early hours of Saturday and get in the same way as the others.
Act I, Scene III: Sometime in the night, Dr. Barten-Curtain would take Calc from Cristol and “deliver” him to Rachael, allowing her to later say she delivered a baby to Governor Saplin at that hospital that day.
Act II, Scene I Saplin and Heat family members would assemble at the hospital. Word would be sent to the governor’s staff that the baby had arrived early.
Act II, Scene II Reporters would descend upon the hospital. A family member would be chosen to make a statement and/or presentation to the media. Depending on whether the baby was cooperating or not, a picture of the baby might be allowed. Staff from the administration would be seen bringing papers for the governor’s signature. They would report that she was fine, and was back at work from her hospital bed.
Everyone had memorized their parts. Tad, the “father,” would remain in the room, Cristol, Wrangler and Helen would head for the waiting room, where, if they were lucky, they would be seen buying snacks from the vending machines, reading old magazines, and be overheard talking about “early labor.” Lines had been written, and if they couldn’t be remembered, silence was the only acceptable option.
Maple and Pride would be staying with Betty and Buck, and an after-midnight call would summon them all to the hospital. Betty and Buck were not to be told the exact date because Buck Heat couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Not that he told secrets, no, not at all. He told lies. He told them often and he told them poorly. He’d lie even if the truth were better. Secretly, Cristol let Maple in on the plans so that she wouldn’t climb out the window Friday night and be who-knows-where doing who-knew-what. An empty bed where a sleeping granddaughter should have been would have played havoc with the carefully timed plans.
It would come off without a hitch because it was a simple plan. Rachael was certain.
Rachael and Tad were half way through the eleven hour flight to Texas. Rachael was relaxed, smug and confident that the shelf life of any criticism would be less than a week. The “baby” wasn’t going to be “hurt;” the situation was like cotton candy in the rain - sticky for a short time, then gone without a trace. She was tired. She slept until the plane began to descend.
On her way through the airport, the cover of “Who” caught Rachael’s eye. “Wait, Tad, I got to keep up on political events.” She bought the magazine, the one with a cover shouting out a politician’s denial of an affair. This particular public servant had purportedly been photographed and fuzzy cell phone pictures showed someone embracing a pony-tailed blonde in a beer tent at a country and western concert. Rachael couldn’t wait to curl up in bed and read the details.
In the hotel, Rachael put on a butter yellow two-piece pajama set from Wal-Mart. It was a routine she had at home and when she traveled. Pajamas signaled the end of each workday; she put them on immediately, even if she got home at noon. Wrangler had been amazed at how many colors of them she owned. She smiled to herself remembering how he once asked, “Geez Mrs. S, did you leave any on the rack?” and she’d responded, “Would you rather I didn’t wear anything?” That shut him up.
Getting comfy, Rachael got out the magazine, propped up the big pillows on the big bed, and opened a box of Crunch and Munch. The clumps of caramel were part of her strategy for packing on some weight fast. As she looked at the photos of the couple embracing, kissing, laughing, she could see that the passion was real.
Suddenly, she flung aside the paper, startling Tad, who had been resting in a recliner, eyes closed, feet elevated. “Tad, let’s talk.”
Not being able to talk freely in public, they had to talk when opportunity arose, like it or not. Though he wouldn’t like it, Tad was going to have to stay awake for a while.
“Scripture says a laborer is worthy of his hire,” she started out. He hated when she tossed around Bible blurbs. “So, what can we do to repay ABC?”
Tad had no clue what this was about. Heck, Rachael had done plenty for her friend the doctor in the past, helping with Calc and all was just repayment for what she owed the governor. Six years ago, Oil Regulation Chair Rachael Saplin had called in some favors to get the doctor named State Physician of the Year. It was accompanied by a large monetary award. She’d used it to open an office to serve victims of abuse, incest, and rape, and to help minors and their families deal with unplanned pregnancies. These problems were as common in the valley as Rush is Right bumper stickers. In an interesting display of social behavior, a majority of Azzles vote the family values ticket yet more teens in the valley have babies than iPhones. Dr. ABC was deeply alarmed about the growth in numbers of girls having babies without prenatal care and hurting their babies with drug and alcohol use. That was partly why she was helping the Saplins now. It was also because she was Rachael’s friend. So, wasn’t -
A pillow hit Tad in the head. “Hey!” Rachael said. “Pay attention, Tad. I said, a laborer is worthy of his hire,” Rachael quoted the scripture again. Long ago she’d stopped learning scripture, but early years spent attending youth group had given her a lifelong repertoire. Tad had no such storehouse of wisdom. He was street smart and self-taught. Though he had once prayed “The Sinner’s Prayer” at a Christian-run athletic camp when he was fifteen, he’d never gotten into religion the way Rachael had. It was that prayer, though, that sealed the deal for Rachael Heat when chose Tad Saplin for her boyfriend. Young Rachael had promised herself she would marry a Christian, and Tad didn’t appear to be one. But when she suggested he become one, he told her about that prayer. At that moment, Tad became an acceptable boyfriend-slash-future-husband.
To this day, Tad was confused that Rachael wasn’t looking for Christian behavior, church attendance, memorization of scripture, or anything that took time, effort, or commitment. Nope. Nothing real was required. Under peer pressure and threat of eternal damnation, he’d repeated, phrase by phrase, some prayer one night around a campfire. Glory Hallelujiah, he passed the Rachael sniff test. Amazing! But, at times like this, that did him no good.
“Tad! Are you listening?”
“Rachael, Dr. Barton-Curtain is getting paid .” He was tired. With all the patience he could muster, he reminded her that expenses were not their problem. “That’s what insurance is for. Everything’s covered. Let’s get some sleep.”
“Tad! Yoo hoo!”
Snide remarks - they grated his nerves as much Bible blurting.
“I’m not talking about money, Tad.”
If she wasn’t talking money, she wasn’t talking Tad’s language. With Tad it was always about money.
Tad looked tired. Rachael looked annoyed. He stayed quiet, she kept talking. “Abigail’s done a lot . She has helped Cristol come to terms with having a baby that isn’t perfect and, also, too, not blame herself for the drinking and his problems even so, Cristol is still a good person and then, too, she arranged to keep all the pre-natal visits a secret…” Rachael was zig-zaggy her way through an explanation while Tad grit his teeth. “In less than ideal circumstances, I’ve got great respect for the way she single-handedly took control, also too, the whole neonatal intensive care unit up in the city, with exactly the privacy needed for us and then that team of pediatric-”
“I know, I know,” he stopped her. The monologue was just overused phrases, same things over and over again; “less than ideal” and “great respect” and “also, too” were all meaningless. “Make your point,” he grumbled.
“Well, honestly, Tad. Don’t you appreciate that she’s risking her reputation? First Cristol, but now Larissa’s delivery? Even if Field says it’s not his, there’s got to be tests. Abigail got her to agree to it. If anybody can guide a new mom toward doing what’s right for her baby, it’s her. When Larissa goes into labor, we are high-tailing it to that hospital. Did I tell you that?”
“Many times.” He slouched in the overstuffed seat, trying to get comfortable. The chair was much bigger than the one at home.
Rachael picked her hairbrush up off the nightstand and flung it at him, striking him on the shoulder. “Ouch, cut it out.”
“You don’t act like this is a big deal Tad, but she’s really stuck her neck out to keep our secrets. I’d even pay her off if it came to that.”
“People don’t care, Rachael, it’s not the same as when Field was born. Azzolla is full of young unmarried girls with babies. Only your mother still uses that phrase “Born out of wedlock.” You need to pay more attention. Probably twenty girls are pregnant at AHS right now. The Valley is like a third world country, and no one seems to care. They don’t care.” He’d said it three times.
“Well I care. And Abigail helped me come up with some ideas to protect me – and us – and, of course, also, the kids” Rachael said. “Boy oh boy, it’s a good thing Dee Dee is studying abroad right now. If that’s not Field’s baby, she doesn’t ever have to hear any of this. I want those two kids to get married. If Field marries a minister’s daughter, it will look real good for me. ” Rachael said. “And, besides, this summer I’m going to need her for child care again. This time she’s going to be Calc’s nanny. Man, that Larissa could really mess thing up for me if… Well I can’t think about that right now.”
She got up and picked up the pages of the magazine. Noticing the pictures of the tryst, she began to fume anew. “So unnecessary. Why can’t men behave? This stupid pol got caught, Field’s made a baby, and there’s that bun in the oven of yours. “
They glared at each other for a few seconds, then Rachael turn her head so he wouldn’t see her tears. “God Tad, how could you?”
“I know, I know.” He looked up at the ceiling, praying for divine intervention with the same depth of religious conviction he’d had at fifteen.
Shrugging his shoulders, he looked at Rachael, but she still had her head turned. He crossed his arms, closed his eyes, and tried to shut everything out. Babies were complicating his life. All he wanted was to go back up north and work for two weeks, come home, work on his snow-machine and take it for long rides all by himself.
After a while, she heard him snoring. It took her another hour to fall asleep.
When the phone rang, Rachael was asleep in one of the queen size beds. Tad was asleep in the recliner. Both reached toward the night stand where his cell phone was vibrating and shining and playing an electronic version of an 80s punk song.
“Hello,” Tad croaked.
Rachael threw the covers off and swung her feet onto the floor. Groping, she found her glasses and put them on. She moved over and put her ear close to Tad’s. It was Lydia, reporting that Larissa was in labor, but the doctor said not to go to the hospital yet. It would be hours before anything happened, and contractions might stop.
Lydia didn’t know they were in Texas. When Tad told her, she apologized for bothering them. “I’m sorry, Rachael asked me to keep you informed – said you want to be there. But now you can’t. I’ll be there, though, I’ll be there for us all. By the time you get back, you might be grandparents.”
“Keep us posted.” Rachael looked at Tad. They were both exhausted. Neither wanted to talk about it, they just wanted to try to get more sleep. But they stayed up and made a plan. A call was put in to Dr. ABC. It was a Friday. The plan would have to be put into action. This day and the weeks ahead were going to be very busy.
Tad had booked a flight leaving two hours after Rachael’s scheduled speech. Close, but doable. Now the speech was history. It had been exhilarating -the standing ovation, her coy exit as Gov. Barry called out asking her to stay. Explaining confidentially to his aide that she had gone into labor and asking the shocked young man not to tell. It was fun. It was working for her.
The only hitch so far was the unexpected offer of Governor Barry’s private jet. It would have been nice, but getting home early would mess with carefully timed events negotiated with Dr. ABC to provide minimum exposure. Tad hadn’t known what to do when the offer was made, and had quickly deferred to Rachael. ”Thanks, but no thanks,” she’d brushed away the suggestion as if she’d been offered a stick of gum. “I’ll be fine.”
When her colleague insisted, she told him it was a matter of integrity. After all, she’d gotten rid of the private jet her predecessor bought – it was one of her campaign promises- put it up on eBay. “It would be wrong to let the good people of your great state pay to fly me home when I already have a perfectly good ticket ...” The limo pulled up and she climbed in, leaving Governor Barry wondering whether he’d witnessed true-blue conservatism or a grossly cavalier negligence. Either way, Governor Rachael Saplin made an unforgettable impression.
Rachael had been wearing her faux maternity pillow during the conference. It was more comfortable than the bigger and more realistic belly she’d put on a few times back home. That thing was too awkward for travel. Once they arrived at the airport, she going to remove even this pillow in a bathroom stall and store it in a carry on bag. No big belly on the plane – nothing to call attention to themselves.
Chances were slim that they’d be recognized by anyone. It was a good thing God was holding off on making her a household name. He’s in control, the thought was comforting.
Once on the plane, Rachael ordered a drink. It was a bit out of character for her to drink in public, she was very careful not to tarnish her evangelical Christian creds, but she on this trip it was medicinal. It was a sleep aide, and it worked.
Waking her up as the plane approached Seattle, the attendant asked her to put her sear back into the upright position. It was dark out, and looking down at the lights of the city, she wondered at how vast this country was, at how many people there were in the lower 48. Probably more people in that city right down there than in the entire state of –“
“So far, so good.” Tad said. “We’re landing on time.”
The weather was clear. She looked at the buildings growing larger as they descended. I wonder if any are hospitals? I wonder if there’s a baby being born right down there, right now.
Tad had his cell phone out and his finger hovering over the “on” button. “Electronic devices may now…” he pressed down and the phone cycled through the connection phase. “Hello? Lydia? Has it happened?” He was keeping his voice low, not out of respect for others, but to minimize the chance that anyone was listening. “Oh, good.”
What the heck is it that’s good? The suspense tortured Rachael.
“We’ve just landed in Seattle. We’re going to have a two hour layover.”
Still, not able to hear what Lydia was saying, Rachael nervously began chewing the inside of her cheek.
“Okay, sure….three and a half to four more hours before we…yup, I will. Bye.” Rachael grabbed for the phone, but Tad had disconnected.
“Well? What’s going on?” Rachael whispered. It wasn’t necessary, all the passengers around them were pre-occupied, standing and stretching, opening up overhead storage bins.
“Soon, but not yet.”
“An hour, maybe.”
“Crap, this is getting complicated. I wanted it to be simple. Shit.” Rachael hadn’t meant to say it quite so loudly. She looked around to make sure no one had noticed. A woman in the aisle with a little boy gave her a cold stare.
“Hello there. May I help you?” Rachael said with an insincere smile.
The woman scowled and turned away.
“Bless your heart.” Rachael sneered.
The flight out of Seattle went smoothly. When they landed, they grabbed their bags off the carousel and started through the terminal. Rachael held a duffle bag in front of her and they walked to the parking lot, easily locating the black Suburban Tad had parked only two days before.
“That guy in Seattle has me worried. I hope he forgets he saw us.”
“Yeah, what a coincidence.” Tad put emphasis on the forbidden c-word. “We never run into anyone else from the Valley in the VIP lounge.” He was baiting her. The fisherman in him couldn’t help but cast off one more time. “Untimely coincidence.”
She didn’t bite. She stayed with the program. “In a few weeks, this trip home will be old news. As long as the media don’t find that guy.”
”He’s a guy, Rachael. Guys don’t comment on that stuff. He wouldn’t be able to say how pregnant you look. Or should I say, don’t look.”
“I hope you’re right.” She wanted to believe it.
“Believe me, there’s no fucking way.” She cringed at the profanity, but still found the message reassuring. She needed all the reassuring she could get.
“You’re probably right. Still, I wish I’d gotten his name… But, I won’t think about that. If I have to, I’ll think about that tomorrow.”
Tad’s phone rang and he looked at the lit screen.“It’s Lydia.”
Rachael snatched the phone from him. “Larissa had a baby boy,” she repeated. “Everything went well.”
Mother and child were resting. Field, still denying paternity, hadn’t been there. A test would have to be done. No matter how it came out, Lydia had developed a fondness for the young woman and she hoped they would remain close.
Lydia’s husband Kenneth wasn’t interested in charades. He’d tired of lies and pretense and paternity problems long ago. He’d been friends with Rachael’s parents most of his life, but as for Rachael and Tad, he could do without the drama they brought into people’s lives. He was hoping Field’s paternity test would be negative.
Driving in the dark, going only ten miles over the speed limit so they wouldn’t draw any attention to themselves, it took Tad and Rachael an hour to get to Valley Hospital. As she had promised, Abigail Barten-Curtain met them at the staff door toward the far end of the parking lot. A light above the door provided safety to employees, and made silhouettes of the couple as they slipped inside.