Thursday, August 26, 2010

I'm so slack.

(I am just lazy. I'm having trouble going from the word document to posting here, all the little thingie things don't transfer and I have to go through the entire post and change everything. So this is just a cut and paste of some of the newest material.)

Maddie twirled spaghetti noodles around and around on her fork, but never really ate any. She felt raw and jangled. Tilly had been by every day for the past two weeks, asking when Maddie was going to tell Wyatt and bringing new information regarding adoption.
Now that her little secret was out, she found she couldn’t shove it to the back of her mind as easily. She longed for her mother’s calm presence, her mother would know what to do, what to say, how to make it better. Then she remembered that if her mother were here, this whole situation would have probably never happened.
Wyatt dropped his fork on the plate with a clang and stretching back, let out a huge belch. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.
Maddie twisted in her chair, a wretched shrugging of the shoulders. She put her fork down deliberately. “I’ve kinda got a problem,” she said.
Wyatt’s blue eyes locked on to hers. Maddie had a sudden memory of crying to her mother that it wasn’t fair that Wyatt had pretty eyes and hers were the color of mud. How old had she been? Four? Five?
“Kind of?”
For a moment, she didn’t think she’d be able to say it out loud to him. “I, um, I’ve got a plan.”
Wyatt leaned forward, forearms on the table. “A kind of problem that needs a plan? Jesus Christ, Maddie, what’s going on? You aren’t going to flunk out senior year, are you?”
Maddie almost laughed. If only. “Okay, I’m going to say this all in one piece and I don’t want you to start freaking out until I’m done.”
She looked up at him. Poor Wyatt. Just when he was ready to cut loose, head off to college and begin his adult life, he’d been saddled with her. It had been him who made the funeral arrangements, him who’d dealt with social services. They had no other family. Their parents had each been only children. Grandparents so long dead that Wyatt only barely remembered his mother’s mother.
He had a half smile on his lips, perhaps hoping that her problem was no date for the prom.
She drew in a slow, purposeful breath. “I’m pregnant. I didn’t want an abortion, so I didn’t have one. The baby is due in October. I’m going to put it up for adoption. I’m going to go see a lawyer when school is out. I’ve already arranged to delay entry to Duke until January. It will only affect one of my scholarships.”
“You’re what?”
“I’m going to get a job for the summer.”
Wyatt slammed his hands down on the table. “What the fuck did you say? You’re pregnant?”
Maddie burst into tears. “I’m not finished yet,” she wailed, sounding all the world like a six year old. “I said I was going to talk and you were going to freak the fuck out when I was done. I’m going to get a job as soon as school is done. I can save up enough money to cover what little bit I lost with the one scholarship. The adoptive family will pay for the cost of doctor visits and the hospital once I turn eighteen and don’t have insurance any more.”
“Are you finished now?”
Maddie thought, sure she’d forgotten something, but figuring she’d covered the most important points, she nodded.
“First of all, what the hell were you thinking? Who was it? Zack?”
“No, it wasn’t Zack. He won’t even look at me. Not since after the funeral.”
“Christ, Maddie.”
Maddie started crying again. “I’m sorry, Wyatt. I really, really am. I know I’ve screwed up all your plans. I know I’ve just been a burden on you. I know you could be out there, having fun and just being normal if not for me. But I’ve tried to fix it all the best I can.”
Wyatt slumped back in his chair, the anger visibly leaving him. They sat in silence for what seemed like a long time.
“Remember that year in Japan?” he asked quietly.
Maddie nodded. Their father had been recruited to teach English in a small town at the very Northern edge of Japan. The memory surfaced immediately and Maddie wasn’t sure how much was her memory and how much was the story that Wyatt told her of that summer day. She had been seven, too young to really remember so clearly that she could almost feel the warm breeze that moved the tall green grass in rippling waves.
“Do you think she’s dead?” Maddie asked.
They were sitting in the sun, enjoying wearing short sleeves, enjoying the feel of seventy-two sunny degrees shining down on their faces. The grassy field they sat in was on the other side of the town. The grass was over their heads when they sat down, Wyatt held the end of Maddie’s kite string, tied to a stick. It was strung out almost to the end in the gentle summer breeze, too far for Maddie to hold on to.
“She’s not dead,” Wyatt said with perfect big brother disgust. “If she was dead, they’d have to tell us.”
Maddie looked up at the dot in the sky that was her kite, a pretty green and red dragon that she had bought with real yen at a store in downtown Wakkanai only a few days ago. Her chin trembled and her lips twisted in to a knot.
“Then why won’t she come out of her room?”
“She’s sick, she has the flu. You don’t want to get the flu, do you?” Wyatt said, his words, right down to the inflection, the exact speech her father had given.
“But she’s been sick before and didn’t stay in bed for this long. Why can’t we see her?”
Wyatt concentrated on the kite string, reeling it in a little bit.
“Do you think she’s going to die?”
“Maddie! Shut up!”
Maddie shut up, but only because her throat ached worse than when she had had tonsillitis last year. Tears slid over her eyelids and she sniffed.
Wyatt drove the stick that held the string in to the ground. “Stop crying. Don’t be such a baby. She’s not going to die. She’s just, she’s sick.”
Maddie pulled her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them. “I don’t believe it,” she wailed and put her face down and cried.
Wyatt scooted over and put an arm around her shoulders. He leaned in close to her ear. “I don’t believe it either.”
She stopped crying, fear crowding out the pain. She lifted her head a little bit, enough so her voice wouldn’t be muffled, but not enough to see Wyatt’s face. “Do you think he hurt her?”
Wyatt made a sound and Maddie peeked over. He was crying. That made her cry again. She snaked a thin arm around his waist and he hugged her tighter. “It’ll be okay, Maddie,” Wyatt whispered. “I’ll always watch out for you, right?”

Wyatt stood and went to Maddie, leaning down to hug her. “I’ll always be here for you, Maddie. You know I promised you that in Japan, that you would always have me, remember?”
Maddie nodded, feeling for the first time since the damn pee stick had popped up positive that things just might work out.

Much later that night, Wyatt went outside and sat under the oak tree in the center of the courtyard. Purlee came out for a before bed cigarette and Wyatt bummed one from her. He didn’t smoke regularly, but would have one from time to time. Right now he enjoyed the harsh burn of the smoke along his throat as he slowly inhaled and exhaled.
Pregnant. For God’s sake. Fucking pregnant.
As soon as Purlee’s sliding glass door rattled closed and the light in her living room went out, Tilly’s front door opened. She came out quietly and sat on the bench she had set up on the small square of leafy lawn that belonged to her.
“She told you?”
Wyatt nodded, not surprised that Tilly knew. Tilly knew everything that went on in the complex.
“You didn’t yell at her, did you?”
“Just a little.”
Wyatt smashed the cigarette out in the dirt, grinding it down to shreds, feeling an incredible wave of sadness come over him. The same sadness he’d fought against after his mother died and Maddie needed him to be strong so she could fall apart.
He brought his hands up to cover his face. Tired, tired, tired. He was so completely tired of being a grown up.
“I just don’t understand,” he said to Tilly.
“It’s not that hard, honey,” she said quietly. “Not for a woman at any rate. She just needed to be held. Held the way only a mother or a lover can hold a woman. And since she had neither, she tried to create the illusion for just a moment.”
Wyatt thought for a moment. Thought about Marlene and the early days when she said she loved him, about the total peace of mind he could feel only when in her arms, locked away from the rest of the world. He stood up and moved closer to Tilly’s bench.
“How’d you get to be so smart?” he asked her.
She laughed, a surprisingly throaty and sexy laugh. “A lifetime of mistakes, honey, a lifetime of mistakes.
He waited for more, but there was only silence. He glanced up. Tilly’s round face was as pale as the moon, her gaze fixed on the ground in front of her. He tried to just see her features, her eyes, her nose, cheekbones and mouth. He thought she had probably been very pretty in her youth.
“Thank you for being a good friend to her,” he said, taking her hand.
She gave a little squeeze to his fingers, then pulled her hand away. “You’re a good brother, Wyatt. Don’t worry about this. It’s a huge mistake, yes. But it isn’t the end of everything. Maddie is a smart girl. She’ll do what’s right.”

The woman showed up early one Saturday morning. Maddie just happened to be washing dishes and saw the arrival. The woman had a worn out look about her. She seemed young, but her face was hard and lined. Her hair was bleached to almost white and had recently been chopped off short. There were two inches of dark root showing at the top of her head.
As the woman passed by the window, she turned her face towards the window. Various piercings glittered in the morning sun. Ears, eyebrows, nose, lip. Her eyes were black pits of liner and mascara. A cigarette dangled from her pale lips.
No sooner that the thought that she was looking at a twenty years younger Purlee had popped into Maddie’s mind, the sliding glass door to Purlee’s house was flung open.
Purlee turned to yell back into the house, “You two go watch Sponge Bob right now and if I see you at this door, I’ll tear up your butts AND there won’t be no pop tarts for lunch!”
Maddie turned off the flowing water and quietly slide the window up an inch or so as Purlee came storming across the yard and met the woman dead center in the sidewalk, right where it branched off to the two sides of the complex.
“What in the fuck are you doing here, girl?” Purlee said. Not at the top of her lungs, as Maddie would have expected, but in a low, warning growl.
“I come to see my babies, momma,” the woman said.
Maddie leaned over the sink, elbows on the window sill, oddly excited because Tilly was at the grocery store and for once, Maddie would have some gossip before her.
“You ain’t got no right to see them babies, little girl. Those are my babies. Court gave them to me.”
“Look,” the woman said, digging into her jeans pocket and holding up something. Maddie caught a glimpse of blue. “I’ve been sober. I’ve been clean for a month now. I’m doing real good momma. I just want to see my babies and tell them that I love them.”
Purlee reached into the pocket of her robe and pulled out a pack of cigarettes . Maddie could see her hand shaking as she lit up.
“No,” Purlee said flatly. “You go away. Them kids don’t need the likes of you hanging around.”
“I’m not going to do nothing! I just want to see them.”
“No. That was the deal with the social worker. You ain’t allowed to see them.”
“Fuck the fucking social worker. They’s all just a bunch of stuck up assholes anyway.”
“No.” Purlee jabbed at her daughter’s chest with the hand holding the cigarette. “There ain’t no ‘fuck the social worker’ here. You fucked up. You almost got your kids killed. You didn’t care enough about them to stop doing drugs and hanging with drunks and druggies. A dang dog on the street is a better mother than you.”
“And you were Miss-fucking-perfect-mother yourself. Maybe I was a bad mother because I had a bad mother.”
“Don’t be laying this on my porch step, missy. I never hit you. I never let drunk strangers into my house. I never left you alone with no food.”
The two women were screaming now, almost nose to nose and Maddie started to get a little frightened that they would start hitting each other pretty soon. She glanced over at the phone. Should she call 911? Where was Mr. Granger? He usually popped out of his house like a jack-in-the-box whenever Purlee lit up a cigarette.
Then Tilly came floating up the sidewalk, her bright blue caftan so long the hem dragged behind her like a train.
“Cassie!” Tilly cried, her voice pleasant and upbeat, as if she hadn’t just heard the two screaming at each other. “It’s been forever! How are you?”
Purlee glared at Tilly. “Don’t you be sweet talking at this girl. She’s just leaving. And she ain’t coming back.”
“Oh, that’s too bad, “ Tilly said, shifting her bag of groceries from one massive hip to the other. “Cassie, why don’t you come on in and have some lunch with me? We’ll talk over old times.”
Tilly stepped forward and put an arm around Cassie.
She pulled the girl forward, passing Purlee. At her front door, Tilly turned around and nodded at Purlee. “It’ll be okay, go on back in to the babies.”
Maddie leaned as far as she could, pressing a cheek up against the window pane to watch the two women walk to Tilly’s door. Purlee stood still on the sidewalk, the angry flush on her face fading to an alarming white. She folded her arms across her chest and just stood there, unmoving, until the cigarette in her hand burned down low enough to singe the skin on her fingers. She tossed it to the sidewalk, deliberately ground it hard into the concrete, then walked back to her house, drawing the blinds tightly across the sliding glass door. Maddie leaned back and watched as every window in Purlee’s house that faced the courtyard had the blinds pulled shut.
A movement caught her eye and she turned to see Mr. Granger standing on his patio, hands on hips, shaking his head. He leaned over and spit hard into the grass and went back inside. Now Maddie was dying to go over to Tilly’s. What excuse could she come up with? Oh, sorry, didn’t know you had company. She returned to the forgotten dishes. Wouldn’t do any good. Tilly would just clam up. Maddie would have to wait until later to get the gossip. Dang! Once again, Tilly had the scoop.

Once inside her near bare house, Tilly put the bag of groceries in the kitchen and returned to the living room to pull the blinds.
Cassie flopped down on the sagging couch, the only piece of furniture in the room except for the television balanced between two milk crates over which a lace cloth was draped. “Ya’ll ain’t gotta treat me like I’m some kind of elephant man or something. Running around pulling curtains like I’d kill you dead if you looked at me.”
“That’s Medusa.” Tilly said pleasantly, returning to the kitchen. “Come on in here so we can talk. Have you had anything to eat yet?”
Cassie got up with a huff and crossed to the kitchen where she jerked a chair out from the spindly dining room table.
Tilly began to put away the groceries. “So, what’s up? What’s new? Where ya been?”
“Fuckin’ hell and back, that’s where.”
Tilly kept her back turned, taking her sweet time putting things away. After the silence had strung out to a thin strand, Cassie spoke again. This time her voice was soft and hurt, like a little girl.
“I know I messed things up so bad,” she said, “I just wanted to see the babies. Momma didn’t even have to say who I was or nothing. I just wanted to look at them.”
Tilly left the kitchen and returned in a moment with some photographs. She handed them to Cassie. “From last Christmas,” Tilly told her, then turned her attention on making tuna sandwiches.
Cassie studied the pictures. “They’ve gotten so big.”
“It’s been two years.”
Cassie wiped at the tears that had brimmed over. “They won’t even know me.”
“Probably not.”
That brought on a crying fit. Tilly let Cassie cry it out while she finished making lunch. Then she took a handful of tissues to her. She left the young woman to fix herself up while she put the sandwiches on plates with chips and pickles. She took two sodas from the fridge and carried it all to the table.
“You getting yourself together?” she asked.
Cassie took a long sip of coke then nodded. “I know it’s only been a month or so, but Tilly, this time it feels different in my head. Every other time I tried to get sobered up, there was always a part of me, way down inside that just knew I was going to start up again. Just as soon as I got out of whatever jam I was in, I knew I’d be back at it.”
“What’s different this time?”
“Well, first of all, I ain’t in no jam. Nothing. I just woke up one morning and I was tired of it. I asked myself, ‘do you really want to live like this forever’ and the answer was no. I was tired of it all. So I went to the outpatient rehab and started back up with AA.”
“That’s wonderful, Cassie. Good for you!”
They ate in silence for a little while, then Cassie put her sandwich down. “I’m pretty scared, Tilly. I don’t know one person who ain’t doing drugs or alcohol. I’m afraid I’ll start back just because I don’t know how to be a normal person.”
Tilly smiled. “Girl, ain’t none of us normal. Everyone is weird in their own way. But I understand what you mean. You got yourself some good support at AA?”
Cassie nodded. “My sponsor is wonderful.”
“Okay, that’s one. I’m two. You call me or come see me anytime.”
“If my momma don’t shoot me for walking up the sidewalk,” Cassie said, her voice grating harsh on unresolved pains.
“Cassie,” Tilly said softly, “look at me. Hear what I am saying. Your mother is on your side. She was upset today because she understands how the world works. She wants you to be a part of those babies’ lives. But she knows ya’ll have to do it right. What do you think would happen if she let you see them kids on the sly today, then when you started getting visitation with the social worker’s permission, they knew who you were? The social worker would know you and your mother broke the rules and the kids would feel guilty for getting you in trouble because they told the truth.”
“I didn’t think of it like that.”
“I’ll talk to your mother. You do everything you need to do. Stay clean. Get a job, get away from your old crowd. Then call the social worker and ask her what you have to do to see your kids. Then do it. Without the smart lip.”

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