Sunday, September 02, 2007
Nothing Keeping Us Together
Here's the last part! Thanks for reading!
In the car, it’s difficult to think of safe topics. I have done my best to block my parents’ lives from my mind, tuned out and flipped through magazines during their weekly phone calls. Now I try to recollect what they do in their relatively early retirement. The radio blares on easy listening station and Neil Diamond sings about being a solitary man. Lucky Neil.
"Does anyone need more heat?" Father asks.
"Are you feeling anything back there?"
"I’m comfortable," Mother says, managing to make the word comfortable sound like a threat.
I give my Father a thumbs up signal, everything’s fine here, no worries, it’s all good, a phrase that gets bandied about at work, especially after a major snafu.
I signal to Josh with my eyes -- what gives? I’m still not entirely used to the fact that his face doesn’t have much of a range of expression after the cutting so I resort to our childhood hand signals -- one finger means yes, two means no. It’s a yes, I think, as he lifts his middle finger right behind my parents’ heads, both of them too engrossed by the snow and traffic to notice.
We walk into the restaurant, and I am flooded with memories of Kevin and I here and wish that somehow I could magically transform this occasion into that one.
"So do you know what you want?" Father asks, after the waiter takes our drink orders, vodka martinis for me and Josh, scotch for Father, and a glass of white wine for Mother. "You two work so hard for almost nothing, you should order what you want."
"I can do anything," I say. "It doesn’t make that much difference to me."
"I think we should all get a fried lobster. Isn’t that the point of this place?" Mother asks.
"They’re expensive," Josh says. "And there’s not that much to them."
"We can order some other things too. Mother is right. I love the idea of a deep-battered lobster," Father says.
I’m feeling a little battered about now and can only hope the waiter arrives with the drinks in a hurry. I’d put my head in a vat of vodka at this point.
"So how is school?" Father asks. "Has your injury made a difference in your ability to teach over-privileged little shits or do they accept you as differently-abled?"
"Nobody says anything," Josh says. He’s picking at his nails and mumbling under his breath.
"And the ghetto, Josette? Still enjoying helping the Negro?"
"I believe the term in African-American, Daddy. And I see all races of people. You don’t have to be black to get pregnant," I say, thinking of Coley.
Our drinks come, and we all start into the bread basket. Time, I do believe, has officially stopped. So here we are in the paradise . . .
Father touches my knee under the table, and I give him a smile before moving away. It’s always this way. As he drinks, he gets happier and less able to control himself. Mother’s mouth becomes a tighter and tighter line and her wine remains mostly untouched unlike my drink which is almost gone. Same goes for Josh.
"You two can certainly put them back," Mother says. She doesn’t say anything about Father’s scotch which is drained to the bottom. He motions to the waiter for a second round and orders the fried lobsters.
"So are there any serious romantic interests for either one of you?" Mother asks.
I look at Josh. "No," he says. "Unless Josette wants to tell you about her boyfriend."
"That’s over," I say. "There was nothing keeping us together."
"I hope you didn’t sleep with him right away, Josette. That’s a fatal error when it comes to men."
"It wasn’t that kind of thing," I say. "He wasn’t really all that available."
Josh laughs a little, a small snorting sound. "Some men don’t want all the drama of a relationship," he says.
"But drama happen anyway unless you’re sleeping with a potted plant," I say.
"Better just to sleep with someone who is potted," Josh says.
"You two, behave," Mother says. "We’re not even to the appetizers yet."
"Do they give you an appetite?" I ask. I’m starting to feel drunk, thank God.
"Something needs to," Father says. "You look like you’ve been liberated from the camps by the Americans." He holds up my wrist. "Look at this tiny little wrist. You look like you did when you were a child."
"Stop," Mother says. "She’s fine. Would you rather her be a huge thing like your mother? Thank God she didn’t get those genes."
"Josh, I just want to tell you, you’re still my beautiful boy," Father says. He’s drunk, too, I’m starting to see. "You can cut yourself all over, and you’re still going to be perfect."
"Just like it is when we’re together," Mother says. "I like that feeling. It’s so strange to imagine that your father and I created all of this."
"Not that difficult," I say.
After Mother and Father drop us off and take off into the night for their bed and breakfast, I kick off my shoes to collapse onto the couch, using my coat as a blanket.
"Are you cold?" Josh asks.
I tell him I’m fine, but he retrieves an eggplant colored blanket from Banana Republic, removes my coat, and tucks me into it.
"Three more days," Josh says, like he’s talking about prison sentences that he can’t commute. I think of time with our parents as more like community-service -- being at a place you don’t want to be, doing something nobody wants to do, everyone pretending how glad they are to have you there.
Josh sits on the chair next to the couch and gazes at the television that isn’t turned on. I think of the set from our childhood, an enormous number that took about fifteen minutes to see a picture, usually Jimmy Carter in a greenish tint. By the time Reagan came on the scene, Father had made a fair amount of money, and we’d ditched the old one for something that you didn’t have to wait for. My father once told me that I did not have to deal with decay, one could actually eradicate it. All evidence to the contrary.
"You look great tonight," Josh says. "I wish it had just been us. The fried lobster," he says, trailing off.
It was not lost on me that Father had spent more than a third of our monthly rent on this dinner, what with four fried lobsters and drinks, Father getting progressively drunker, toasting to his beautiful children, telling Josh -- you couldn’t fuck yourself up if you tried, you’re always going to be my beautiful boy."
"Better that Father should pay," I say. "It’s about the only thing that makes these nights endurable."
"That and that they end," Josh says.
"There’s room on the couch," I say. "I could make room for you."
He lies down next to me and neither of us says a word. We only turned on one light when we came in, enough to make our way through the dark to where we landed. I didn’t even bother to light my novena candles, and now I wish there was some light flickering on the walls, making patterns to distract us from the dark. I knew Josh had an erection, impossible to ignore lying so close to him. I tossed my leg over it and pretended not to notice when he started to move. The room started to spin until I thought I might be sick from all that I had swallowed down without thought, eating until I couldn’t stand it. I had unbuttoned my skirt to release the pressure, a decision I felt I might regret.
"This doesn’t count, right?" Josh ask.
"Not if we stop where we are," I say. He slips his hand down the back of my skirt and retracts it. He gets up and says. "I’m calling it a night," As he walks to his bedroom, I watch him, thinking how his face looks almost normal in this dim light.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"Vertigo is the conflict between the fear of falling and the desire to fall." Salman Rushdie
Drinking movie suggestion: The Year of the Dog
Benedictions and Maledictions