Remembering Me – Part Two – Canyons
Bedroom – Bette
As Tina dozes on my shoulder, my thoughts drift back up the ceiling, lazily pausing on this thought and that, when a memory from my childhood settles in my mind. A piece of translucent honey-colored amber of my mother’s.
Before she’d died we’d hold it to the light and make up stories about the hapless beetle trapped inside. We’d imagine him, as he’d crawled along a tree trunk a thousand years ago, his armor tough and impervious to most things, until his amber moment happened.
Tina stirs next to me and my thoughts drift back to her warm breath on my shoulder. With one leg thrown across me, her wet patch pressing against my skin sends signals deep into my brain – never wait this long again.
I sigh as my thoughts drift back up to the ceiling.
What would I do if a Gypsy woman appeared right here in my bedroom? If she took out her casting bones and pitched them on the floor between us, looked me in the eyes, with her coal black ones, and said I had only two choices left before I died.
Be entombed like the amber beetle preserving this blissful moment with Tina forever? Or live until the stroke of midnight, with this sweet moment forgotten, gambling something better might come along?
But could it? Possibly?
“How long until we need to get our daughter?” Tina breaks my reverie, with a back-to-earth matter.
Hoping she means let’s go again, I remind her, “You see I’ve got quickies down.”
“You are kidding, right?”
“Mmmm,” I sigh, leaving her to wonder.
She kisses me up and down my belly. “Seriously Bette, do you need to call Shane and tell her the coast is clear?”
“But we’re not out of bed, yet.” I pull her to me and we enjoy a long, lazy kiss. “Please tell me, if you know, why haven’t we been together like this? I know the list of ‘what-elses’ that’s been going on…but still?”
“The ‘else’? It will not make sense to you,” she warns me.
“Okay, you think you know that, but go ahead. Try to fly something past me.”
“That’s the problem, Bette, it’s not an intellectual discussion, it’s an illogical one and we don’t have time.”
“This has been happening to you since you got home?”
“Please tell me.” I rise up on my elbow. “I need to know.”
“Bette, just don’t try to analyze me out of what I’m feeling.”
“You’re dominating, jealous and very possessive …”
My hands fly up and cover my face. “My God! What have I done now?”
“I knew you would go there,” Tina’s voice sinks.
“Fuck it, continue. I apologize.” I zip my lips shut.
“As I was saying, you are all of the above. Did I mention possessive?”
I nod. “You did.”
“And the way you are in bed with me is . . .”
“This part I do like.”
She strokes my cheek. “Baby, I want you to try to hear me. You are the only one who could ever reach me the way you do. I know that. Please, you know it, too.”
I look at her intently, because the bomb has yet to drop. “Okay, I feel better.” I lie.
“In the birthing tub, when the water turned blood red…”
“So horrible.” I flashback on the nightmarish scene…of just last week.
Tears drop from her eyes spilling onto my cheeks. Her chin quivers as she says, “I felt myself dying in your arms. Both me and the baby.”
I hold her beautiful face in my hands. “I was there with you the whole time. No one was leaving.” I wipe more of her tears away. “No one. Okay? ”
“But I’ve been stuck there, Bette! In a feedback loop of seeing your face, feeling an incredible pain I cannot describe and then, nothing.”
“But nothing ended! It wasn’t the end. See you came back.”
Tina turns away from me.
“Oh Jesus. So, this is why you’ve been avoiding me, by association? But Tina, I was there holding onto you!”
“It makes no sense saying it out loud.” She gets out of bed and begins picking up the clothing I’d thrown everywhere.
“No, please don’t dismiss this.”
“Bette, I can’t talk about it anymore, okay? I don’t want to ruin what just happened.”
Topanga Canyon –
People say running clears your mind. Good for them. Running causes me pain and when I can’t deal I push my body harder and harder to feel more than I can stand. It’s a temporary alleviation, but apparently everything else is, too.
Driving up to the canyon to run I realize I’ve hit my limits for coping, without pain or liquor or wanting to punch something.
I begin to stretch out my legs and then sprint full speed into the canyon.
Before she was furious at me about my idiotic diversion with Candace, Tina’s steady emotions were what I knew I was coming home to every night. I was the one who had the most daunting irritations. The most unbelievably important things to vent. Now, we’re at the opposite pole of extremes.
Tina’s feelings. The baby’s tender care, both of them far outweigh my own. They’ve needed and I’ve responded. Over and over I’ve done this, since they’ve been home. I’ve been on ‘it’. For once, I don’t think this is a fuck up of mine.
But the emotions she described haunt me and I keep running.
At the Trailhead
Tina’s POV –
“Shane, you may hike around here with only a pack of smokes and a beer, but there’s a bit more to going with me and Angelica. We don’t need a pack mule. Just take this backpack and I’ll take her.”
“I wasn’t laughing at all the baby gear. Isn’t that Bette’s car over there?”
“Hmm, I thought she was going to Yoga. We’ll run into her on the trail and she’ll carry the baby stuff back.”
Shane looks annoyed. “No! I’m carrying the baby’s nappies, and whatever else is in here,” she says slinging the backpack over her shoulder, “so, turn around and go up that trail.”
“If it’s not too off putting for your image?”
Shane pulls down her shades. “So, now I’m just your sex sitter?”
“About that…first of all, thanks, and I hope you’ll come to dinner with us tonight. Bette’s been cooped up a bit too much for her own good lately.”
“I don’t know, Tina, she seems really good, to me.”
“She’s exhausted, Shane. Are you kidding?”
“Okay, if that’s what you think, but I don’t see her turning it up to eleven anymore, do you?”
“Oh, her baby does that plenty. Bette’s got plenty of competition these days.”
Shane slows when she sees some friends coming down the trail. I wave and hike ahead carrying Angelica wrapped against my chest in her toddler knapsack.
Around us the canyon walls are turning a deeper color of dark orange as the sun lowers in the sky. I inhale the dry air and think of fire season that’s coming soon.
The baby’s head lolls from side to side as she nods off.
A group of teenagers jostle each other and pass me on the trail. I look back and see Shane still talking with her friends.
I knew maybe three people when I first moved here, to a city of millions and millions. Lost time after time, it’d taken me months to navigate its freeways, discovering only the surface of this city. Meeting Bette, who knew thousands of people, I was given entree into LA’s underground.
Dating her we’d taken our time, I say that now…I slept with her on the fourth date. I’d dressed so carefully to fit in with the artists from all over the world, who wore things I’d never seen, but in the end, it hadn’t mattered. Across any room, her eyes had undressed me with the fast sting of a zipper.
It’d stayed like for years and then, we’d drifted away – almost losing each other – and now, this under current of depression that feels so wrong.
My phone rings in my pocket, an old friend from my non-profit days. “Hello there!” I say to Catalina.
In her exuberant Spanish accent she gushes, “I just heard you had your baby! How is she? How’s Bette? When can I come see!”
“Bueno, bueno, bueno! Say three? I’ll miss some traffic.”
“Prepare yourself for anything.”
“What do you mean?” Her voice sounding concerned.
“I mean if at three o’clock this baby has other ideas…”
“Well! Bette can take care of it. She’s home with you right? On maternity leave, too?”
“Actually, her job imploded. She’s looking for a new one.”
“Lots of catching up to do! See you!” Catalina rings off.
Shane catches up to me. “Right, I know, we’ve hardly walked a hundred feet.”
“Not much of a hiker are you?”
She taps out a cigarette and lights it. “Not really, no, but let’s keep going. I’ve definitely made it this far before.”
As we hike up the trail Bette appears, running as if something’s chasing her. Seeing us, she waves and slows down and stopping beside me her shoulders heave as she catches her breath.
With a baby towel I wipe the perspiration from her forehead. “Aren’t you overdoing it a little?”
“Much better. It was stinging my eyes.”
“You could’ve stopped.”
“I could have.”
“Babe, I’ve invited Shane to come to dinner with us.”
Shane says, “She wants to tip me for being your sex sitter.”
“Very funny.” I push her sightly. “I can see you’re holding onto that line.”
Bette claps her hand on Shane’s shoulder and with the other she frames the business’ slogan. “Shane’s Sex Sitting Service – by the hour.”
“Baby has got to be somewhere in the title,” I offer.
Bette considers my rewrite for an instant. “But wouldn’t ‘Baby Sex Sitting’ land her in jail?”
“Definitely,” Shane says, “and living next door to you I already know too much.”
“Hey!” Bette says, while whizzing the hand towel around, as if she’s ready to snap it. “I can count on not two, but four hands how many woman you’ve fucked in my pool!”
“That you know of,” Shane adds slyly. Backing away she says, “I can meet you guys somewhere at eight.”
“How about Paella on Melrose? They’ll let me in with a long sweater, over my running shorts.”
“See you.” Shane waves ‘so long’!
Bette picks up the knapsack. “It’s getting dark, Baby.”
“I have to feed her before we go we dinner.”
“A very good thing for you, too, baby,” Bette says, as Angelica drools a little baby sputter back.
Around us, along the upper rims of the trail, people are gathering along its edges to watch the sunset over the Santa Monica Mountains.
“Here?” Bette asks, settling the backpack’s straps over her shoulders. “Or should we drive home?”
Trailhead parking lot –
Bette’s POV –
As the sun drops behind the Santa Monica mountains day turns to night in a matter of minutes. In the canyon outside my car, the night creatures stir in the shadows. I reach for the key in the ignition when Tina stops me.
“Let’s just stay here. She won’t take long.” Tina unbuttons her blouse.
With no where pressing to go, I recline my car seat and my exhaustion settles over me in a fog, holding within it, the faintness of Tina’s perfume, a whiff of me after exercising, but most of all the overpowering scent of our tiny baby.
How is that possible?
I’m twenty times her mass and yet, my body sweat is a half note in the score of scents surrounding us. There’s talc and lavender from her baby lotion. A citrus scent from her blanket and then, releasing into the closed interior of my car is the smell of Tina’s breast milk.
I close my eyes and listen to Angelica’s puckering sounds and Tina’s soft coo’s as she nurses.
Lazily, she brushes the side of my face with her fingers..
“Tee, I have a confession.”
Her eyes half closed she mummers, “Mmmm, I’m sure it’s a good one.”
“Hormones make you sleepy?’
“Floaty really, like a light-stoned feeling,” her voice drifting, giving me hope maybe, she’ll forget.
I whisper, “Instead of looking for a job I’ve been painting watercolors of you.”
She laughs softly, as if she’s known all along.
Relieved, I settle back in my seat. “Painting reminds me of my mother.” I pause, as my eyes search the gloaming light of the canyon. “In my mind she’d have been a wonderful grandmother.”
“Our baby needs a grandmother. Mine was wonderful,” Tina says, handing me our daughter.
I buckle Angelica inside her carseat in the back, and turning around I see the watercolor of Tina I will paint only for myself.
Her expression as she slips her blouse away from the breast the baby didn’t take, offering it to me.
“I know you love it,” she says, as her milk flows past my lips, and her hand slides inside my running shorts.
Paella, West Hollywood – Bette
“I heard you say Alice might stop by,” I ask Shane, while sending a warning look to Tina.
“It’s hard to tell with her these days,” Shane says. “Helena knows more than I do.”
At the mention of Helena I groan. “Will she ever go back New York?”
“Carmen says Alice is dating a vampire,” Shane adds nonchalantly.
“What?” Tina snaps. “Repeat that, please?”
The waiter appears with our steaming plates of paella. He smiles at the baby sucking on her pacifier.
“Carmen says there’s a vampire cult here in LA. It appears, one of them has found Alice. Uta, her name is, maybe?”
“For the love of God!” I exclaim. “This has got to be some sort of fucking joke!”
“Bette, you need to go see Alice. Take Shane with you,” Tina says, opening her mussels.
A spiral of steam lifts between us.
“What? You aren’t coming?” I ask, “In case vampires are real?”
“Vampires aren’t real, Bette, but…just in case, you do the recon and report back to base.”
“When? Again? Did I become the infantry?” I get no response from Tina. Then I ask Shane, “Where is this vampire of Alice’s, anyway?”
“Why do guys think,” Shane asks, looking back and forth between us, “that I know every weird gay thing that’s dragging around West Hollywood?”
Shocked, I look up from my dinner. “You mean, you don’t?”
“God, the only other person we do know to ask….would be Alice,” Tina says sadly.
Next, I ask something patently absurd. “How do you meet a vampire?”
“At Kit’s Bi-sexual Speed Dating Night.”
“Jesus Christ! We lose touch for not even two weeks and my sister slides into oblivion.”
Tina says, “This sounds more like Billy Blakely, than Kit.”
“Bisexuals are the last thing I need,” Shane says, catching the waiter’s eyes for another beer.
“I’m with you.” I nod.
“I take a little exception to that, Bette,” Tina says.
“Sorry, but has your wool not dyed yet, completely?” I stare back at her.
Shane taps my arm. “There’s Alice.”
Alice feigns embarrassment, when Tina makes a fuss about how we haven’t seen her for ages, and hugging her to me, I feel Alice shaking, and that worries me.
“I know I’ve been a terrible Earth Mother to Angelica. My job at the radio station, well, the producer is fucking driving me crazy.” Alice collapses in her seat.
Shane stares at her in disbelief. “Alice, you can’t mention Dana two hundred times in one broadcast and expect that to go unnoticed.”
“You think, huh? Everyone loves Dana Fairbanks! She’s a fucking tennis star!” Alice objects.
“Wait! Did I miss another tournament of Dana’s?” But I’m ignored.
“Alice, what do you want to eat? Our treat.” Tina pushes ahead.
Alice fidgets. Shane frowns a little at me and points to my chin.
“What?” I ask her, as I brush away a crusting of Tina’s breast milk.
“Bette, Bette, Bette.” Shane shakes her head, putting it together.
Busted, I flash her a desperate look that reveals my madness.
“Thanks, but I’m on a liquid diet these days,” Alice answers Tina’s question about dinner. “Fasting and losing weight. It’s all good.” She shakes a blue pill into her palm and swallows it.
“Alice, what’d you just take?” Tina asks, while Alice paws through her purse, extracting handful after handful of amber colored prescription bottles.
They hit the table in front of me, in a clatter. “Holy fuck! You’re pill shopping aren’t you? No doctor since Elvis would give you all these at the same time!”
“Actually, Michael Jackson’s doctor, a few years ago, remember?” Tina offers as another example of unintended suicide.
“Well, that was very sad, too,” I agree. “Alice, are you taking all these together, and not eating?”
I pick up the bottles one by one, “Take one every morning for depression. Take one every four hours for anxiety and take these for insomnia.”
Alice reaches for the last vial. “Oh, don’t worry, I don’t have insomnia anymore. I just quit trying to sleep at night.”
“You just quit?” Tina shouts.
Alice leans into the table, and in a hoarse whisper says, “I’m dating a lesbian vampire…at night, you know? That’s when she’s steamin’ hot.”
Why I felt the need to argue with her I don’t know. “But that’s counter intuitive, Alice. Vampires would have to be cold, because technically they’re dead.”
“Technically, Bette, and I know you don’t like being corrected, but the term is “undead”.” Alice ”air quotes” with her fingers.
“Okay! Whatever! We’d like to meet her, wouldn’t we, Tina? How about a double date?” At this, I feel Tina’s kick to my leg so, I glare at her.
“Hmm, would she like that . . .?” Alice muses.
“Oh God.” Tina gets up from the table.
I point to Shane and Angelica. “Watch her, please.” I hop up from the table and follow Tina.
“Are you okay?”
“Fine, just a stomach pain, not sure why.” She waves back at the table.
Then, clutching my arm, she leads me into the Ladies Room. “Bette, do not encourage this dating thing with Alice. You know goddamn well I’m not going out on a date with you and some fucking vampire.”
Two hours later – Bedroom –
Absentmindedly, open my power suit closet door and peer inside.
“Do you want anything while I’m up?” I ask Tina, lying on the bed.
“No, I believe you’ve heard me several times asking you to come here.” She pats the pillow next to her.
I sigh deeply and fall onto the bed staring up at the ceiling. “I don’t want to go on a date with a vampire either, Tina.”
“Of course you don’t.”
“In fact, I don’t want to get dressed ever again. I may start smoking dope and painting in my pajamas.”
Tina laughs and pushes at my shoulder. “Go get your paintings so, I can see if that’s in your future.”
In the bottom cabinet by the bed, I take out a medium-sized folder holding my watercolors. I flip through them and see the delight and surprise on Tina’s face.
”Beautiful! Bette, I love this one.” She taps the graphite sketch of Angelica’s face and motions for me to keep going.
I hand her one of her sleeping with the baby at her breast that I’d carefully painted with warm yellow sun tones next to the blue-green of her open blouse. Ever so carefully using a tiny, tiny sable brush I’d painted a rosy hue for her lips and nipples.
Holding it, she begins to cry and pulling tissues from the box, she says, “It’s so beautiful, Bette. May I keep it?”
“It’s for you.”
“Thank you.” She kisses me. “Do I really look like this?”
“You’re a very sexy sleeper, Baby. You always have been.”
Tina holds the small painting up, looking for a place to hang it on the wall. “This isn’t the kind of painting we show, is it?”
“No, it’s a private moment.” I flip to the one most recently finished. “Here’s the last one. The rest are studies only.” I hand her one I painted of the three of us. Our baby encircled in our arms.
Holding it Tina weeps again.
I wipe her tears. “I don’t know what to do for you,” I confess.
“You do, you just did.” She leans back against me and we look at the bird’s eye view painting of the three of us.
“I’ve watched you float up there, Bette, many times,” she says, putting her head on my shoulder. “Quite the conversation, I imagine?”
Smiling to myself I gather up the paintings and slip them back into their folder. “Never about you though.”
“Uh huh,” she leans past me and turns out the light.
In case the links are not in order and you missed the first story in this series, here’s the link to: Remembering Me – Part One