Hancock Park – 3pm – Bette
Walking up the steps to the Hancock Park address – I’m always late, she’s always early – I dutifully knock on the red door. If this mysterious request to meet here is about our wedding plans, I wonder: Is it possible that no one heard a single word I’d said, when our ersatz wedding planners, Alice and Helena, had suggested their half-cocked idea of me and Tina ensconced in the back of a pink convertible – as Grand Marshals, if you can believe it, waving at the crowds during a four hour long Gay Marriage Day parade!?!
There’s not enough vodka in the world!
With my mood swinging from guilt at being late, I pivot over to feeling aggravated and misunderstood. I knock on the red door even harder. It flies open, and a woman in her sixties, sweeping a vintage Hermes scarf around her neck, steps aside. With a flourish she ushers me in.
Beyond me, and through an antique furnished parlor, Tina waves to me from a room at the rear of the house. Waving back, I follow behind my designer clad hostess.
There are paintings around me that are dreamscapes of mythical beasts dancing with masked human forms, and everyone of them much paler than their animal companions. All canvases depict moonlit nights. All with dancers and fires burning. All with moons and blue black darkened skies, and clouds and stars overhead. All exquisitely painted, but moody, and with the feeling that one misstep could trip you into the Dark Side – until it was good and done with you.
Interspersed, within the gallery of surrealism, are elaborately framed oils from the European eighteenth century Romantic Period, and in these the artist has expertly painted large breasted, luscious looking women, all nude, or barely clad. They lie in sultry repose with their friends, goblets of wine in their hands, they celebrate being together with a feast laid out before them. Beyond them, in the darker parts of the painting, stags and other hungry creatures watch their bacchanalia from the shadows.
My hostess, the collector of these erotic paintings, interrupts my inner critique. “In the library, I have a series of these lovely ladies, but with Pan spying on them, hidden behind the trees.”
And to think, I’d had his famed look of lust and hunger, well . . . just yesterday.
“I see, he speaks to you.” She reads my mind.
Before I can object, or qualify, or discover – truly what the fuck I’m doing here – I come to a full stop, and gasp at what’s in front of me.
A Spanish painting I’ve loved for years from La Belle Epoque’s Era. “But . . . the original’s in the Prado,” I stammer.
Ignoring me she says, “Tina, here’s your fiancée.”
Tina slips her arm around my waist. “Bette, I’ve wanted to introduce you . . . for such a long time.”
“Really? How long?” I ask suspiciously of Tina, while taking the mystery woman’s hand.
“My name’s Angelica, too, but Romanian people say it, “Ong’ gee -leh-ca.”
I practice saying it back for her, and finally she lets my hand free.
“Bette Porter, nice to meet you.” Then to Tina. “Is this about our wedding?”
“Back here, Bette, she’s invited us for tea.”
“Please join us.” Angelica leads the way.
“Bette.” Tina shakes my arm to take a sip. “Angelica’s a Gypsy, and she’s my Fortune Teller.”
This news stuns me. Then, it hits! “I’m here for a psychic reading before we get married.” I sigh with relief. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
Followed by doubt striking me cold, when she doesn’t immediately answer. “Tina, are you having doubts? You’re not sure anymore, are you?” I stare suspiciously at the Gypsy, and convict her. This is all her fault.
“Oh, no, no, no! Don’t worry, I’ve been seeing her for months now.”
“Doing what?” I frown at her unusual secret. “And when?”
“Talking, listening mostly . . . learning things about myself.”
“Do I know these things?” My eyes must be slits by now. “Do you talk to me about them?”
The Gypsy’s east European accent focuses me back on her. “Drink another sip of the tea I poured for you, and first I’ll read your leaves.”
I slide a look over to Tina, and, as ordered, we lift our cups up to drink.
The leaves settle and then, she peers into mine and begins.
“There are many believers of the Old Ways.” She looks around us, as if they might step out of the walls for tea and a séance. “Might you be convinced – for a little while – to be one of them?” She cocks her eyebrows at me quizzically, and Tina lights the candles around the room.
Soon, every shape has softened.
On the table by me is the last candle, and as Tina blows out the match, my eyes shift out of focus – for only a moment – but when I come back the Gypsy has taken my hand in hers. Her thumb brushes across the plane of my palm. She shifts in her seat to get a better look, and draws the candle closer for light.
I feel the warmth from the flame, and the Gypsy’s cool fingers, as they trace over every inch, and somehow that relaxes me. I look over at Tina, and she meets my eyes with such love.
“It’s going to be fine. You’re fine.” She squeezes my other hand, and I wait for her to bite her lip in doubt, but she doesn’t.
“There’s so much here. Close your eyes, Bette, and wait to see an animal. Then, tell me what it is.”
I do as I’m told, and a bird flies by in my mind – on its way to somewhere – and below it’s wings, the bushes shake in a dark green forest. A black animal, with ruby colored eyes, stares back at me.
“Oh!” I suck in my breath too fast. “A black panther.”
“I see.” The Gypsy says.
My eyes flash open. “You do?”
“Bette!” Tina cries exasperated. “Come back down with us.”
“You’re there, too?”
“Yes, above you.”
“Okay, if you say so.” I close my eyes, and the panther stares back at me.
When I was a motherless young girl, the women in our Baptist church were superstitious old crows, all of them. They had looked at me, as if I’d been cursed. My Mother had just died and disappeared suddenly. I had a busy father, who slept around, and out of the blue, Kit’s mother had cycled back for another go . . . but I was not her child.
A strange woman in my house, the evil eyes from the women at church, and my isolation was complete. When I had cried, I had cried alone.
“This red-eyed animal of yours, a he or she?” The Gypsy asks.
“With a pretty good sized pair of balls on him, too.” And saying so, I follow him through thick underbrush, and come upon a white church, where my father and I had stood outside – for a long time together – as we’d watched my mother’s hearse drive away.
The Gypsy continues tracing my palm with her fingers, lulling me back to that afternoon, floating me back down to earth again, when I see the black shoes, I’d spent a long time before her funeral polishing.
I knew something wonderful had ended for me then. Whatever soothing from the meanness of life had gone, vanished, and was never to be mine again — until I’d had my own family. Then, the hole had scarred over. Only then, had I begun to calm down, and breathe with a rhythm that had begun to heal me.
I hadn’t thought – or not thought – much about marriage for most of my adult life. Who was there to marry, and when? Nobody! Who was there to date, and where? Anyone I’d wanted.
But finding it in myself for a commitment? A whole different story.
The underbrush in front of me moves, and the panther picks up his pace.
A dark place we go next, and his tail flicks sharply from side to side. Wary, too, I hunch down on the ground next to him. We peer through the windows of my bedroom, and tearing the clothes out of my closet is Tina. My mouth goes dry, as I witness her anguish, and my stomach wretches with hers as she crawls across our bedroom floor and vomits into a waste can.
Alice appears in the bedroom doorway with a glass of water for Tina, and seeing her on the floor sobbing – Alice rushes into the bathroom, and returns with a moist wash cloth.
Crumbled on the floor, Tina holds the cloth – like a blindfold over her eyes – and over the pounding of my heart she screams my name.
My head falls into my hands, and I weep, and nothing she says – no words that she’s forgiven me – can stop me from my shame.
The Planet -5 pm – Shane
Folding my newspaper down in front of me, I look over the tops of it at Alice. “You know what we should do?”
“Oh, sure, I can think of a lot of things we should do! Like you should quit reading the movie reviews and figure out how to get us backstage passes for Jennifer Hudson’s concert in the Bowl tomorrow night.”
“How about a little higher?”
“You mean like plane tickets somewhere?”
“Something unselfish for a change.”
Alice is uncharacteristically quiet.
“We should surprise Bette and Tina and cook them dinner.”
“Really?” Alice taps her pen thinking. “But what do you know how to cook? I can only make latkes.”
“I don’t think Bette likes those.”
“Neither do I, so I don’t cook.”
Leaning over I search through the Times to find the Food Section. “Here’s a recipe! Look!” I open the LA Times’s full page spread on, “101 Things to Do with Bacon”.
“Shane, you’re a genius!”
At that moment, Kit walks up. “Hey, you’re her sister. What’s Bette’s favorite food, and do you think she’d like it better with bacon?” I ask.
“Girl, if she doesn’t, she’s an idiot. Where is she anyway? I’ve been calling her phone for hours.”
“I am the shittiest Earth Mother. I can babysit.” Alice offers.
“Wha. . .no, Baby Girl’s fine, it’s those fucking whores from the SheBar that’s put me in a mood.”
“I thought Joyce was helping you with that?” Alice looks hopeful, but Kit shakes her head.
“I don’t know what she can do, but she’s coming here in a minute anyway.”
“Kit let us know.”
“You all good with drinks? Need anything?”
“But what about the bacon topping?” I call after Kit, as she’s walking away.
“Oh!? Whatcha wanna know for? You cookin’ might burn down the house!”
“As long as I smoke grass, I’m fine.”
Kit laughs at me. “Sounds like a plan. Crumble it on top of baked yams with lots of butter. She’ll never forget you. I used to make it for her when she was a kid.”
Then, Joyce walks through the door, and I wave at her. “Joyce is an amazing cook. Alice, we want her over here.”
“Joyce, Joyce, Joyce! Just the woman we need to solve a riddle.”
“What riddle is that Alice?” Joyce peers down at us earthlings.
“What’s the most delicious dinner that you can imagine cooking with bacon?”
“Whoa!” Joyce rocks back on her heels and stares up at the ceiling, really giving this some thought.
“Now, wait a minute! You aren’t on the clock yet, are you? Because I ain’t payin for dis!” Kit chides us.
“Here’s what you should do – fry some soft shell crabs and pour a creole style shrimp and crab seafood sauce over them, and on top of each one put two crispy strips of bacon.” Joyce claps her hands that she’s given us a winner, and off she goes with Kit into her office.
“Yum-fucking-yum!” Alice, I can tell, is in. “You know, I think we can handle the yam part, but I know this sweet little chef who cooks just around the corner . . .and Shane, she’s gonna love you.”
Two hours later –
When we hear Bette and Tina pulling their cars into the driveway, I push Alice out my front door. “Okay, let’s go!” And we run out with our platters of food.
Tina closes her car door and with a surprised look on her face, waves at us. Bette lifts up out of her car, and it’s obvious she’s been crying. Alice and I skid to a stop. “Ah, bad time? We made you guys dinner.”
Alice peels back the foil to show Bette her baked yams with butter and bacon. “Will this make you feel better?”
Tina comes over with their daughter. “Babe, look at all this!”
“Yeah, Bette, man what’s wrong?” I ask.
Bette takes a long whiff of the yams, then the crab dish, and finally, I show her a whole tupperware container full of fried bacon. “You have no idea how much I . . . ” But her throat closes up on her words, and she looks pleadingly over at Tina to finish.
“It’s perfect timing,” Tina says for the both of them. “You guys are just amazing, and right on time. Come in.”
If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites. For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner. A comment back from you I’d love, too.
This story begins a mystery series that goes in this order. “Bette Meets the Gypsy” is followed by, #22 “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown then to #23 “Hotel California” Hotel California and #24 “Ensnared by Guilt” Ensnared by Guilt
As a little pick me up, you might want to read a lovely story from the past, “The Fugue of White Noise.” It has a nice love scene in the middle – that’s sure to restore you equanimity. :~) Click here: The Fugue of White Noise