The Planet – Shane
As I stare at the unknown number on the screen of my cell phone, Tina and Alice’s attention drifts back to discussing Molly Kroll’s unexpected appearance outside The Planet a few minutes ago, but more astonishingly, why she drove away with Bette.
The phone vibrates in my hand once more. It’s a Dallas area code, but my Mother never calls me this early.
First, a southern sounding woman’s voice, soft but direct asks, “May I speak with Shane McCutcheon?”
“I’m Shane.” I sip my expresso. Dammit, how quickly it grows cold.
“Ms. McCutcheon, I’m Dr. Matthews from St. Francis’ Hospital in Dallas. I’m calling about your mother. Is this a good time to talk?”
I wave my hands for Alice and Tina to look at me as I mouth the words, ‘hospital’ and ‘mother’, and we all wait as I hear the news: My mother, the on and then off again drug addict, needs a liver transplant, or she’ll die.
Alice breaks our frozen silence, “Wait a minute! Do they even know how dangerous that is?”
Tina comforts me, “It’s not dangerous for you, Shane. Painful to give the necessary tissue, sure. It’s surgery after all, but not dangerous per se.”
“Thank you, Meredith Grey,” Alice snaps. “but I was talking about for Shane’s mother. I mean, would you want Shane’s kidney?”
“Liver.” I correct.
For a second too long my best friends look doubtful. Quickly, Tina leans over and kisses my cheek. “Guys, I’ve got to get going. Shane, find me on set later if you want to talk.”
Stunned, I walk out of The Planet, and as I climb the hill back to my house my mind feels adrift and buzzy, when it should be clear and planning and my fingers tapping around online for a cheap plane ticket to Texas, but instead I listen the incessant humming in my head. A thousand bees circling again and again – a disturbed hive of thoughts.
California University – Phyllis’ Office – Bette
After Molly Kroll’s unexpected ride to work with me, I had hoped to dash past James, and straight into my office, but Phyllis ‘Shanghaied’ me in the parking lot. At this point, I’ve given up and settled in with her and Molly, and a morning tea tray for what I suspect will be an annoying conversion that will touch upon, “being a lesbian, being a mother”, and most dreaded of all: “What do I think about it?”
But instead, she wants to talk about the boots I’m wearing.
Suddenly, she grabs me by the tip of my slightly squared toe and fixes me with a stare of undeniable envy. “Bette, you both frustrate and fascinate me.” Followed by a long sigh I’m not sure I like the sound of coming from her.
Over the rim of my china cup, I stare back at Phyllis, and burn the holy crap out of my lip on the too hot tea. She pouts a little which is unnerving, and Molly, with lips of asbestos, takes a deep swallow, rolls her eyes, and stares up at the ceiling.
Like a pin prick into my forming blister, I suddenly spill out the whole story of my recent night in the moonlit canyons of New Mexico shooting off my mother’s Colt six-shooters at big fat rattlesnakes.
For once in her life, Phyllis is speechless.
Beverly Hills Rooftop Pool & Bar – Late Afternoon – Tina
It was inevitable that sooner or later I was going to run into the director, Kate Arden, again. I’d had to fire her, after Jenny’s massive sucking up to William made it clear – an opinionated director like Kate was never going to work on Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story – I only wish.
Kate motions to me in that too cool way of hers. “So, how’s the picture coming?”
“We’re just starting principle. Any big news with you?” I breeze back at her.
“My big news? Hmm, I’m headed to Ireland in a few days to start a movie, but I think yours is probably more interesting.” Kate cocks her head, and stares at me from under her hipster cap.
“Mine?” I feel a dry patch starting at the back of my throat and creeping over my tongue. Industry people are horrible gossips, and William and Aaron have been slipping away everyday at lunchtime. I had guessed seeking more investors, but the way Kate says it unnerves me.
A pregnant pause, as she lights a cigarette. “I guess you could say, I was surprised when someone sent me a YouTube link of you and Bette and Gloria Steinem.”
“Oh, that.” I look around me for other possible ambushes.
Kate presses on, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were an actress.” A smoke ring exits her lips. “It was great theater, your surprise when she showed you the ring. And I mean that in best of possible ways.”
“Of course you do.” I lift it up for Kate, and we watch as it sparkles in the California sun.
“Interesting, when you think about,” she rolls my ring finger between hers.”because two months ago you had a thing for me.”
Four Days Later –
Los Angeles to Dallas Flight – Alice
It didn’t take us long to make friends with the flight attendants, a Dallas based crew who were on their way home after flying God knows where all day long. Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Smile and smile and say the same things over and over, but drawl on they did, and I’ve never heard directions about seat beats and tray tables sound so sexy, but then again, I was in a rare mood. It had felt good, very good, in fact, to send Tasha an email saying I was off to Dallas on business for a few days. Really. Screw her.
Shane, however, was not so brimming with cheer, and it was with some relief when I watched her across the aisle sprawl in her seat, take out her earphones, and close her eyes to the world.
Tina’s final words were, “Thank God, Nikki Stevens sprained her stupid ankle,” before she fell asleep on Bette’s shoulder, which made us look only slightly less like complete alcoholics, when we ordered a double vodka tonic for her, along with two for ourselves.
With our tray tables awash with cocktails and peanuts, and barely enough room for a game of gin rummy, I’m suddenly beginning to remember, Bette is very good at playing.
I like to know it all. Bette likes to be absolutely right about everything, and Tina gets difficult when pushed too far, but today – with the control of our lives handed over for the next two and half hours to the pilot, and his lovely flight crew – we’ve given ourselves over to the inebriating effects of vodka, and matching wits at playing cards.
“I don’t know if I’d do it.” I blurt, and Bette flashes her eyes at me.
“What!?” I cry, causing Tina to stir.
“Dammit,” she hisses, “Are you looking at my cards, again, Alice?”
“Give my mother my kidney.” I set the record straight.
“Liver, Alice. Liver.” Bette corrects me as she snaps a card into her hand before laying down another fucking rummy. “Damn, I wish we were playing for money,” she smiles at me. “You shuffle, I can’t do it with her asleep on me like this.
“What’s up with her?” I nod toward Tina.
“Sleep deprived, I think.” Bette says as she cuts the cards.
“Newlyweds! Well, soon anyway.” I smile as I fan out my hand, and see that I have a fighting chance with this one. “Bette, drink up. The cart’s rolling back this way.”
“Not my fault,” Bette smirks in a rare form of sexual disclosure. “This time.” Followed by a tender kiss on top of Tina’s head. “All week they’ve been shooting at night. Stupid movie. She’s exhausted.”
“It’s the redheaded flight attendant, again.” I lay down my discard. “I wouldn’t mind another round, you?”
“I’ll play you for it.”
“Okay,” I nod.
“Gin!” Bette announces, as she lifts up the Queen of Hearts I just discarded.
“God dammit! How do you keep doing that!”
“Skill. Sheer skill, Alice.” Bette pushes the cards at me to shuffle.
Tina’s hand drops into Bette’s lap, and begins to rub her thigh. “Babe, are you and Alice getting drunk?” Tina whispers into her neck.
“I think so. Is that okay with you?” Bette winks at me.
“I’m not driving.” Tina sighs.
“Okay, but right now we’re flying – so, we’re good.”
“Who’s winning?” Tina asks drowsily.
“As if you need to ask,” Bette drops a six of clubs on the table. “Eight to nothing. My favor.”
Dallas, Texas – Outside the Hotel – Alice
Leave it to Bette to choose a hotel where a giant modern eye ball sculpture peers constantly into our windows. Awash with airplane vodka, I’m finding it particularly unnerving. That and the fact that Shane keeps visiting it, as she is doing now, and stroking the red vessels that crawl up its sides. But, we’ve got a silent, and as yet unbroken mantra going while we’re in Dallas. Let it Be. Let it Be. Let it Be.
So far, so good.
Tina pushes through the glass doors from the lobby. “We’re very close to St. Francis.” Tina says as the valet appears with our rental car, and she hands Shane the driving directions. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”
“Are you guys sure you want to come?” Shane looks at us one by one. “I can do this alone. They’re not sticking me with anything tonight. I’m just visiting her.”
“Unless you don’t want us to, I think we should all be there.” Bette says resolutely.
“I agree,” Tina adds, as Shane falls in line with us at the curb.
“Shotgun.” Bette calls as she opens the sedan’s back door for Tina.
Shane looks around the car before she turns into the early evening traffic. “Thanks, guys. I really mean it.”
“Dallas, Texas,” Tina muses from the back seat. “Last time my father called me, an Easter or two ago, he said my sister lived here now.”
And I watch as Bette’s knuckles turn white as she grips the dashboard in front of her.
Outside the Hospital – Shane
I stare at the signage out front, “Presence? What the fuck does that even mean?”
“I wouldn’t think about it too much.” Bette offers, and then clears her throat, as Alice skips up beside me.
“When was the last time you saw your mother? I’ve known you for eight years and I don’t remember you ever going anywhere, except up to the vineyards in Ojai.”
“And that’s not far.” Tina adds.
“Today was the first time I’ve ever been in plane.”
“What?” We all shout at once from under the glowing Presence sign.
“Do you think the nuns who ran the foster homes I lived in had money for plane tickets? It was bus rides to the county fair, and only if the tickets were free.”
“Did you like flying?” Tina asks me.
“It was fast.”
Bette stands at the elevator in her cowboy boots as several couples walk past admiring them.
“Hey! We’re in Texas.” Alice spurts cheerfully as a family in ten gallon hats saunters past.
I press the button for the transplant floor, and as the elevator whooshes us upwards, I feel my liver, along with my stomach, staying somewhere two floors behind.
When Sue Ellen McCutcheon turns away from her wistful stare out the window, I feel a hammer of ache hit my chest when I think of all those missing years without my mother. She opens her arms to her daughter, and for a moment our friend disappears as we watch tears stream down their cheeks. I begin to back out of the room, but Tina’s firm hand stops me. She whispers, “This is going to be okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Keep walking.” Tina nudges me again, but I still feel trapped in something like a dream, as she gently pushes me farther inside.
“Lord, I must look nearly one foot in the grave.” Sue Ellen brushes her hands over her face. “Thank God, I put on my lips to meet you all.”
We all beam our best smiles back at her, as Shane begins to introduce us,
Tina’s the first to take Mrs. McCutcheon’s thin frail hand, and finally, it’s my turn.
“Bette Porter, nice to meet you.” I feel the papery texture of her skin.
“Bette?” She looks at her daughter, “The swimming pool, right?”
Shane nods as she looks out the window, and wipes the tears away with the back of her hand.
“Yes. The swimming pool.”
“There’s not too many places to sit.” Sue Ellen apologizes.
Alice drops down on the end of the hospital bed. “So, what’d she say about me? I’m her best friend.”
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The site doesn’t send you to this story following story when you click —–> Next Post. So, to read in order –
12. The New Mothers of Invention – Bette opens this story with a long windmill of thoughts and musings that was incredibly fun for me to write and imagine. Being in her head amuses me completely. Then, the story kicks off into a speedy sequence of events as Tina finds Bette in the hospital corridor and off they go into the humidity of a Dallas, Texas night. http://wp.me/p4AUvc-lB8
P.S. To catch the thread of this four part series again you may want to read the very amusing story preceding this one, Alice Surmises found here: http://bit.ly/AliceAmuses
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