Dallas, Texas – In a Hospital Corridor Near a Stairwell – Bette
I should’ve known better, but when has that old adage ever saved any fool from themselves? So now, here I am hanging out in the hallway being Alice and Shane’s lookout.
Tina has disappeared for the moment, wanting nothing at all to do with this plan, and as she walked away over her shoulder she threw back a look that was meant to wilt my resolve, but her heart wasn’t really it in, and I can take a lot, lot worse.
It’s always amazed me how life can appear to be moving in one direction, as certain as an ice floe, and then slide off a cliff you never saw coming. I wonder if that’s how Jodie feels, three weeks away from me?
And who was she in the mystifying game of cat and mouse Tina and I played with relish against each other? Strange as it sounds, because she truly hates my guts right now, Jodie was both the curse and the cure that changed my Fate. As I was disappearing over the horizon line, Tina woke up from the sleepwalking state of believing that dating around West Hollywood was the way to the Well of Happiness.
A folly of hangovers ten thousand before her had tried.
Art saved me.
There was a painting that hung in The Provocations show, and I had walked by it everyday for months, but when I call it up now – the image of The Wraith of Temptations’ canvas – I can see her face of duality. Half vixen and the other half, not chaste, but one of serene delight – I finally have a whole picture of myself, in a way I’ve never had before.
I am both bliss and the hungry complications of human nature.
I know this deeply when Tina is sleeping next me. Lying on my back, staring up at the ceiling I’ve edged right up to the duality of myself. When the night outside is especially windy, and the chaotic reflections from my pool flash wildly across my ceiling, they entrance me. The lavender scent of our sheets, her sometimes still sticky on my fingers, leads me to imagine myself as healed and golden, and not quite real. In these transcendent moments, Tina has a body of quicksilver, and I can’t tear my eyes away from her beauty and nakedness.
I feel it as deeply as my own skeleton of interlocking bones. Something terrible has been swept away from us, and Hell has been avoided.
As much as I detest Dawn Denbo, and to a lesser degree, My Girlfriend Cindy, I will always have reverence for the magic that happened in the SheBar, even though it was mostly my tongue that led me all the way Home.
It’s a well known fact, I had realized after Alice made me sit down, and read all the comments about me on her blog, that Tina and I are an Internet “kissing sensation”.
“Is this one from the SheBar’s security cameras? This is unbelievable to me! Who the fuck posts all these things?” I had nearly spilled my beer all over the computer when the long tortured video of me, bereft of even a single word, had shown me desperately rolling my lips with Tina’s until finally my mind had broken.
It was then she had whispered, “Don’t, Babe. Please don’t cry anymore.” But still I hadn’t stopped, or maybe it was that I didn’t really believe her until she’d answered all my hows and whys with the only words I’d needed to hear, “Because I love you.”
Only then, did my breath return to my lungs, and my heart to its rightful place inside my chest, and finally her hand over its too fast beating, she had whispered in my ear, “Take me home, Bette. I’m ready to go.”
I feel it. The way the pieces that shattered have come back smooth and knowing their place, and how there’s a profound kind of peace in that.
In New Mexico, I’d seen it again most recently, when something old, and very fierce, had burned through my Mother, and her friend, Mary Windhorse’s eyes. When rape and attempted murder didn’t defeat them, they became Mothers of Re-Invention. It’s what we do.
“How did this one get out on the Internet? Jenny has cameras in my house! I’ve sworn to Tina they’re in here.”
Alice had convinced me Jenny was not to blame for this one, but Dana’s bizarre selection of wife material, the marketing girl with the thick thighs, Tonya-what’s-her-name, had probably snapped this one night when she was over.
What it all stacks up to, the Internet revelry about us when we kiss, is that we make women’s knees go weak when we get lost in each other. And infamous or not, I’m just like every other lost and confused lovesick idiot, but perhaps with better shoes, and a permanent tan. My thanks always to my black ancestors, who kindly tinted me so nicely.
Fourteen days and five hours later, after Gloria deftly coaxed us all the way across the studio stage to the delights of a cheering crowd, I’d have to be blind and dumb not to see that my soon-to-be-wife of forever is not pleased with me at the moment. Her aggravated arrival puts the sudden brakes on my windmill of thoughts.
“My guess is this is so illegal. Have you even considered we might all end up in jail?” Tina stomps up to me.
“I’m innocent!” I throw my hands up to show — I’m clean of most recently committed crimes. “I was standing there one minute, same as you, and it all happened, so fast.”
“But you didn’t try to stop it.” Tina points out as she blows away a piece of hair that has fallen across her eyes.
“What would you’ve had me do? Stick my leg out, and trip the old lady as she made for the door?” I consider walking away toward the elevator, but wisely I stay put. “What if she has osteoporosis? Then, what? We all pitch in tomorrow with our bone marrow?
Tina puts her hand on her hip to tell me: The Game’s Up. “Look me in the eyes, and swear to me – poor bone density was why you didn’t stop her.”
I paste a thoughtful, compassionate look on my face, but Tina sees right through me. “T, bone marrow harvesting hurts like a sonuvabitch, Baby. You really don’t want any part of that.” I lean over and kiss her lightly on the lips, and then another kiss, and then we’re fine.
“I honestly don’t know sometimes why I put up with you,” but Tina squeezes my hand, as she says it.
I press the elevator button down for the Lobby. “I’m thinking whiskey first, then a ribeye, you?”
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Alice
Real Girls with big hair, I’m not accustomed to. Drag Queens, check. But thirtysomething women, who actually teased their hair way up high before driving over here to drink all night – not so much. Take Miss Laredo over there, who’s throwing her head back in peals of laughter, as if the brunette next to her has just told her the funniest joke in the world. I want some of that, shellacked finishes and all.
Life has been too sad, and far too weird lately with Tasha, who likes things regimented and marching forward with nice, neat squared off edges. I’m an oval person, and I’ve never met a hard angle that didn’t upset and later, offend me. I blame it all on Shane’s dying mother, who’s looking more and more slightly green around the gills, as the one who ignited my heroic sense of carpe diem – Texas style.
“Bette, I’ll buy the first round if you’ll come with me to the bar. Help me carry back our cocktails.” Her knee high cowboy boots, and sly smile are the perfect commodities I need to obliterate my urban footwear, Jewish ancestry, and catch me a much-needed date for the evening.
“Single malt or bourbon?” Bette calls back to Tina, as I lead her away.
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Shane
It’s true. I haven’t thought this whole thing through in all the ways I should have with my mother.
I forgave her leaving me for months with our neighbors, who finally put me into foster care, saving me from their teenage son, who looked like he was going to hop on me, and not get off. Wrestling, he liked to call it.
I’m strangely bent when it comes to sex. Turning hand job tricks on Sunset Blvd was my first chosen source of income when I blew into town. That, I realize, says something about me. Words like gender bender, and the hard rubber cocks I strapped on and slid down the tight legs of my jeans were things I never knew existed before I stuck my hand out, and hitchhiked myself as far away as I could get from the Great State of Texas. And now, I’m home.
My mother, who looks like she might be in need of a plastic bucket to vomit in, is reaching in her purse and taking out medicine and I hope not bad pills. Whatever they are, she’s washing them down with Coca-Cola, and Tina’s watching, too, as the pills disappear by the handful.
Tina’s eyes meet mine for a moment, as she sips her drink, and leans closer into Bette. They love each, it’s so obvious, and my mother looks beautiful, but dying – ever so slowly.
“Shane, should you be drinking tonight?” Tina looks at me with a warning. “Aren’t they taking tissue from your liver tomorrow to test for a good match?”
“What does testing my DNA, and something called gene panels, have to do with alcohol?” I punctuate with a swig of my Lone Star beer.
Alice barks a laugh, “You may be the only person in LA who’s never been to a 12 step meeting.
“I haven’t,” Bette offers proudly, “Although Kit’s invited me plenty of times.”
“Do what you want, I say,” my mother chimes in with what I can see on Tina’s face is registering as the kind of guardian she might have been had she stayed around, had a thousand things gone differently, had she not been a drug addict all my life.
“So, let me get you all straight, because my daughter’s postcards are usually just a few lines scrawled. You’re the ones she has breakfast with every morning? What does that make you? A book club, a coffee klatch, some kind of women’s group?”
Alice cocks her head up and stares into the antler chandelier above our table. “This is hardly the 50’s. Do you know anything about Shane’s, uh-mm, life?”
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Tina
“Bette,” I whisper, as the waitress hands around menus that are printed on the backs of Wild West Wanted Dead or Alive posters.
“They had the greatest outlaw names,” Bette says admiring the old photo of “Deadeye” Rick Malloy. “Look at this guy, damn! He’d scare me to death if he walked in here right now.”
“Most of them had syphilis, and the spirochetes had corkscrewed through them.” Alice taps the side of her head. “Swiss cheese. Gooey, mushy brains, if you can imagine.”
Sue Ellen looks a bit more ill, then a shiver jumps up her shoulders.
“Bette,” I repeat again, digging into her with my elbow.
“What, Baby? What?”
I whisper in a low voice very near her ear. “Do you remember the Xanax and Valium pills I keep for whenever we have an earthquake?”
“Ah, ah, of course I do, but I certainly don’t have any. What’s wrong? Are you suddenly nervous?”
“I’m not nervous, at all, but they’re both blue, but Valium can also be yellow.”
“And grass is green. All good to know, but did you get a look at the size of that Porterhouse that just went by?!”
“You probably can’t eat, can you Mom?” Shane peers over her Wanted Dead or Alive poster.
Alice offers her medical advice. “My mother, who has the maternal instincts of a spider, would prescribe you Chicken Soup. It’s the Jewish cure all for anything.”
“But not Hitler,” says Sue Ellen, “Do you all really believe there was a holocaust?”
“What!?” Bette shouts way too forcefully.
Sue Ellen stares back at Bette. “Pee-ah-zec-ee, that ain’t Irish, sweetheart. I know from whence I speak.”
Alice, to her credit is taking none of this seriously, and she begins to smile, “Does everyone in your family have a double name, Sue Ellen? And how’d you escape Virginia and North Carolina without one, Tina?”
Shane leans across the table to Bette. “Guys, I can’t eat a whole one of these monster steaks, maybe, I am a little worried about the tests tomorrow.”
Alice comforts her, “Drink some milk, Shane, that will coat your stomach.”
“She can make up her own mind what to eat. I think that should be plenty obvious.” Sue Ellen snorts, and lolls her head back against the soft red leather banquette. “What do you know about it, anyway? Milk.”
“Pasteurized, or unpasteurized, or straight out of the teets? I freelanced for one of the farm co-ops back when everybody was on about making their own yogurt. You can’t stump me when it comes to dairy.”
”Right.” Shane says quickly. ”Mother, let’s go back to your room.”
Sue Ellen waves a Wanted Dead or Alive poster back at her daughter. ”Don’t-cha mean, Death Row? And here you are, after twenty years back in Texas, taking me to dinner with your LA friends, hiding their unnatural attraction for each other with lipstick and fake wedding rings.” She looks disgusted as she stares at Alice, avoiding Bette’s and my eyes. ”You must think I’m blind. Trust me, I’m not.”
With a dead-eye lock into Shane’s, Bette tosses back her whiskey in one long disappearing swallow. “This is fucking ridiculous, and this has got to stop.”
“Tourette’s, maybe?” Shane looks oddly hopeful.
I shake my head, “Well, I’m just stunned she didn’t know.”
“Know what?” Sue Ellen leans in on her elbows.
“Something very hard to write on a postcard.” Shane defends herself.
Then, the waitress arrives. Thank God.
The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Bette
The ample chested blonde waitress leans so far down, and comes so close to my face, that I can’t help myself so, I smile.
“I know what I want,” Alice begins.
As I lean in closer to Tina, I hold up the menu to hide my face. “We don’t have to sit through this bullshit, Baby. Just say the word, and I’ll take you out of here.”
“She’s hopped up on something. Remember when I was asking you about blue pills?”
“I just know about Heroin, Kit’s drug of choice, if you don’t count Tequila, Rum, Gin, Vodka…”
“I get it, Bette, but something’s very wrong with her.”
“She’s a bigot, that’s mostly what’s wrong with her!” My attention flips back to the D cup waitress. “I’m going straight to the beef, no salad, no spinach, just a baked potato and straight to business with the steak, but I am definitely ordering another drink. What are you doing, T?”
“If Alice’s ever left California, and landed in a flyover state, she’s heard it all before, but I didn’t see this coming,”
“And Shane’s not, Out?” I begin to laugh. “Absolutely, so ridiculous.”
“Babe, have you forgotten that you didn’t exactly get on so well when this happened with your father?” That stops her laughter, and I wish I could take it back. Then, my phone rings.
“Hey, sweetheart, it’s Momma T. Are you all tucked in?”
“Who’s that calling during dinnertime?” Sue Ellen starts up again.
Alice flips through our family pictures on her iPhone, and leans over to Sue Ellen, “Oh, and the fake straight women? They have a baby girl together. A cute little brown one. Wanna see?”
Part Three of this tale I hope you’re enjoying will post soon.
Love to hear from you, if you’d like to drop a comment.
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