The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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Feeling Bound – Tina Kennard

TinaFABulousPortrait

I was raised to want a ring on my finger and to keep it there. It’s unheard of in my family of Virginia and North Carolina cousins for anyone to ever get divorced.  As proof, family marriages have survived a spouse losing all the tobacco crop money in a poker game at the club.  And I do mean all of it.

Does this make my family one of incredibly forgiving people, or is it solely their aversion to the shame they associate with divorce?  I wonder, more than I’d like to, what deep roots and archaic traditions of my upbringing are still buried way, way in the back of my mind.

I’m a wolf in sheep’s clothing whenever I go home to North Carolina, where no one suspects me of being anything other than their happy cousin, living all the way out here in California.  Where I’ve told them I have a job I love.

It’s a tale I’ve spun gladly. I date and go to the beach and from 9 to 5 everyday I work to save the environment, from all kinds of horrible people threatening the food we eat, the very air we breath.

It was so natural, as if running the scales on a piano, how I went from straight to bi to falling in love with Bette.

Is that why I’m still uncomfortable, all these days later, when the topic of bisexuals had entered our conversation with Shane?

“What Tina?  Your wool’s not completely dyed, yet?” Bette had asked, before moving onto another ridiculous topic.  Alice dating vampires.

As if…

So, why am I still in the closet?

I’d like a drink, but it’s too early and I’m riding my bike, getting much needed exercise.  Unsteadily, I turn into the parking lot of a coffee shop.  While locking my bike, I consider calling my cousin Susan or Meredith or my cousin Sam and saying – after the hellos and how’s the crop this year – Guess what?  Ten days ago I had a biracial baby with my lesbian biracial lover.

Then I imagine the line going dead or them taking the first Delta flight out of Raleigh to give me a good old fashioned talking to.  Or worse, trying some kind of Protestant intervention.

All I could withstand, but we’d never speak to each other again.

I push open the door to the cafe and the barista, with rings in her nose and a spike in her tongue – a being so foreign my family would turn heel, run and never order – pours me an iced mocha with a shot of espresso.  Am I hiding out in the land of ’anything goes,’  because for me, it’s more comfortable?

To her credit, Bette has never asked much about them.  Suspecting I guess, they’d be just as awful to her as her father had been to me, and when, she’d finally accepted the fact – that he really was dying – she’d made certain he was going to do it right in front of her.

Taking his last breaths, he’d said his final words, surprisingly to me, “Take care of my baby, Tina.  Take care of her.”  And then he was gone.

Leaving me to wonder how strange it was, living in the gayest part of West Hollywood, that we had these kinds of skeletons in our closet.

I take my phone out, daring myself to call North Carolina, but instead I pay for my coffee and slip my phone back into my purse and lean against a lamp post to people watch.

I know I didn’t come to California to hide who I was, did she?

Arriving here I was a twenty-something blond, who blended in with the millions of others my same age with similar looks.  I had an interest in the environment, as seen by my resume of working for NGOs.  I was single. I paid my taxes on time and I’d never been arrested.  Period.

I was comfortable living behind my mask of vanilla.

Bette, on the other hand, while I was pregnant with our first baby, had been pushed a mile too far down the road by the bigot-in-chief, Faye what’s her name.  It had unspooled itself – their final showdown – in a very public manner, with what felt like loaded pistols pointed at each other’s brains.

Bette’s final punch and the humiliation Faye had shot back, all captured by the glaring lights of television.  Afterwards, she never was the same.  It must feel very differently when the enemy’s blade is right against your throat, but Bette hadn’t choked.

I, on the other hand, had miscarried.

Her heart had broken too that night.  I’d felt it break with mine, while I’d lost my mind on the floor of our bedroom.  Where my howling grief had never caused her to flinch or loosen her hold on me one inch.

She’s changed since Faye tried but failed to do her in.  And after we lost the baby that horrible night, and now, last week when, my God, it felt too close. My life…so faint, as if I were no longer there.  I’m not going to push her to suit up and go back to work. No, not yet, I want her home with me, watching over us.

I’ve loved so many sides of her and now this gentle new one, who paints me and the baby as the most cherished beings on earth.  I want her again,  like that tonight…watching me carefully, waiting to see if I want the tingling feel of my milk flow while she kisses my lips and stirs me into wanting…and I do, slowing my bike, I bounce into our driveway.

I do want hers as the wedding ring on my finger and I want it soon.

Long ago, and I’ve not forgotten the lesson that was imprinted on me forever in a very, very private moment.  After I’d been dating her for six months, she’d invited me on a trip to New York.

My answer had been breezy, while inside I’d set off fireworks.  I’d told her I’d  check with the staff of people I worked with, but taking a few days off…I didn’t think it would be a problem.

That had been a Monday and by Wednesday I was opening the door of a hired town car and we’d whisked off to the airport.

On the way I’d imagined what flying with Bette would be like.  Either she’d be a great adventure planner,  the New Yorker and the Times spread out on our seat trays to decide what we were seeing on Broadway.

Or she might be one of those a too long-legged passengers who bitch and complain about  absolutely everything.

She was neither.

Two First Class seats had solved the leg room issue.  Then champagne that had bubbled somewhere over Utah and she’d threaded her fingers through mine and had announced she was going to close her eyes…for a minute, if that was okay?

Hours later in rough air over Pennsylvania, she’d bounced awake.

Looking over my paperback I’d welcomed her back with a smile.  A moment later, she’d stretched and to my surprise had unbuckled my seat belt.

“Bette! You’ve got to be kidding!” I distinctly remember saying crammed into the small toilet space with her near the front of the airplane.  “I won’t have sex here.”

“Any issues you have with these tight quarters, our suite at the Peninsula will make up for.”  One hand had unsnapped my shirt and the other had  tried to disappear my underwear.

“Or the smell,” I’d said just before she’d kicked closed the airline toilet seat.  Sitting on it she’d pulled me to her.

“I just had the sexiest dream about you, Baby and I have to have a taste.”

It had been rough sounding and I’d resisted, but my mistake had been not leaving.  That move had felt dicey to me, at the beginning of our first trip away.

She’d looked puzzled for about a split second, before the four inches she has on me, make that nearly seven when she’s in heels, which she was that day. She’d stood above me, taking my head in both her hands.

The closeness of her kissing me hard against the bathroom door.  The awareness that this was really happening.  The roaring of the jet engines I’d hoped would hide any sounds of us against the door, almost toppling into sink.

There she’d bent me over and I’d watched myself coming and coming in the mirror.

I may have had boundaries two thousand miles and some six hours ago, but they were becoming a memory, replaced by my first acting lesson in New York.  Pretending nothing was going on under the dinner table.  I’d sipped my wine and I had smiled to myself, especially when she’d whispered, “Move your hand down here and feel me taking you.”

Up in our suite the room service waiter had pushed in a cart with a double-sized piece of chocolate cake and together they’d conferred over a bottle of red wine, before uncorking it.  I’d excused myself to the shower, where she’d joined me with hands that had been soapy and we’d washed and touched each other in anticipation.

We’d stretched out on a couch,  our view overlooking the city.

“You ordered an enormous piece of cake, may I get you some?”  I’d asked.

“It smells good, doesn’t it?”

Returning with the cake,  I’d sliced off a piece and brought it up to her lips, where it had disappeared in an instant.  She’d licked her lips and our eyes had locked.

“Not yet, you and I have more cake to eat.” I remember saying, as I’d fed her another bite to keep her occupied.

“This is nice, Tina.  I’m glad you came.”

“Are you different out of town?  What is going on?”

“More cake, please,” she’d said.

“Okay, are you finished with me?”

“What do you mean?”  she had looked shocked.

“I just…ah, crazy thought,”  I’d stumbled, “that maybe this business of having sex with me in airplanes and under tables in restaurants is some kind  of last thrill fucking trip, because in your mind we’re over.”

“Put the cake away.  We need to talk.”  She’d sat up on the couch.

If I’d learned one thing in the six months I’d been dating her it was during her sensual moods, talking has very little interest to her yet, riled she’d prevailed.

“Why on earth would you think that?  Am I not being a good host to you in New York?”

I’d gone over to the tray with the wine and poured myself half a glass, keeping my back to her.

“Tina, bring me one, too, please and on the way over – do answer me.”

“You’re always going to be like this, aren’t you?  Highly sexed, always waiting to pounce, you can’t be that one dimensional.”

She’d laughed and had taken her wine. “You’re about to talk yourself out of something really fantastic later.”

“You realize you made my point?”

“Do you realize I have no intention of arguing with you?  About what?  That I’m crazy about you and brought you to New York to…well, I was going to wait until fucking later, but…” her voice had grown agitated, “do you want to live with me?”

“Huh?”

“Goddammit!  You’ve got me mad now.”  She’d started pacing the suite, her bathrobe flying open at times, showing me her shaved black patch that went straight down in a perfect black line.

I’d taken a huge swallow of wine realizing it was amazing and probably had cost a small fortune and maybe this suite, the First Class tickets, the entry into the Mile High Club, all were the staging for some kind of proposal.

“Bette the wine is delicious and I’m two things, really stupid and really sorry.”

By then she’d stopped in front of the cake and was fingering the icing, disappearing her long index finger into her mouth.  “Hmm, sorry.  You know Tina, that’s a very underused word between people. I rarely hear anyone ever say it.  Thank you.”

“I am sorry. Bette.  This room is beautiful, dinner with you was,” and I’d begun to laugh,  “fucking  unbelievable. Quite literally.”

A sly smile had flickered, as more chocolate icing had disappeared from the tip of her finger.  Sucking it off she’d looked at me. ”That wasn’t on the menu, but I’m glad you liked it.”

I’d walked past her and into the bedroom of the suite.

She’d followed. “Tina, I’m very high on wine and cake and completely yours for the evening.  To do with me whatever you’d like…I presume you have ideas of your own?”

I’d pulled back the sheets on the bed and tossing my robe away I’d motioned for her to come.  “Bring the wine.”

With two glasses she’d walked to the bed and handed me mine and had fluffed up the pillows.  Lying on her side of the bed, her robe belted closed,  she’d leaned back against the pillows and had taken a long sip.

“God that is fucking good,”  she’d said with a light smack of her lips.

I’d left mine on the bedside table and nude I’d tucked myself under her arm and settled against her.

“A story?” she’d asked, before taking another sip.

“Please.”

“First, a question, so I’ll know my audience.”

I’d laughed.

“Why’d you chose me?”

“How do you figure?  You’re the most unstoppable pursuer.”  I’d untied the knot on her robe and rubbed her belly in the way I knew would make her slowly growl.

The growl had come along with a series of deep sighs.  “I’ve satisfied two of my fantasies today, tell me yours?  I’m your sex slave for the night, let’s say.”

“Oh, hmm, pretend you’re the woman who sat next to me on the plane.  She’s a stranger, but I’ve brought her up to my room.”

“Daring of you.  Do you pick up a lot of strangers?”

“No, just you.”

“I hardly believe you.  But I’m here only for the night and then, I’m gone.”

“Have you ever tied a woman up?”

“Yes, is that what you’d like?”

“So I’m face down.”

“You want a blindfold to go with that?”

“Asked the stranger,”  I’d added, rolling onto my stomach.

Nearby suitcases had unzipped and coming back to bed, I’d felt her hands spread my legs out to each corner of the bed followed by scarves and belts that had held me fast.

“Tight enough?”  She’d asked checking the binding on my ankles and then running her tongue all the way up the inside of my leg.   “Is this your first time?” She’d asked tying my wrists to the bed.

“Yes.”

She’d kneeled behind me and with one arm under my waist she’d raised my hips off the bed and held my wetness against her.  “You’re so ready.”  She rubbed us together.

“You have no idea.”

Her hands had parted me and much more of her than I’d ever felt had come inside.

I’d cried and pulled against the scarves she’d bound around my wrists.

“You can’t get loose.  You wanted it this way.”  Her hand had gripped the back of my neck holding me down, but  inside she’d slowed and my knees had steadied.

“I’m not going to hurt you again, unless you ask for it.”

Raw is how I remember feeling, as I’d braced for being pierced to the other side.  “Not so hard this time.”

Spreading out inside me her knuckles had ribbed against me in growing friction.

“Touch yourself while you fuck me,” I’d said to the stranger.

She’d moaned as her pressure inside me had rolled back and forth and in and out and I’d begun to catch fire and burn.

”Jesus! Fuck!”  My whole body had vibrated and she’d knocked my legs out from under me and lying on top of my back, she’d bitten into my shoulder and fucked me with deep strokes.   A burning like I’d never felt consumed me.  I’d pulled tighter and tighter against the restraints.

”Take yourself there. Quit fighting what you want,” she’d said,  holding me down, as I’d struggled against the thing coiled inside me.  Crying, being leashed to it for so long.  Forever…finally it had snapped and freed itself and had come galloping out of me, taking part of me along with it.

I’d gone too far.

Minutes had passed, as I’d laid bare and spent on the bed, until I’d felt the silk untied from my wrists and the belts loosened around my ankles.

“Did you like that?”

“I don’t think we should do it again.”

“I agree.  I like you better this way, with your arms around me.”  She’d brushed my forehead with her lips. “So, I guess…is this moment to ask? Are you moving in with me?”


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Secrets I Keep – #TheLWord – (19) Touch Tones

Tina_Phone_ArmLifted_MovietrailersStudio City — Tina

Being neurotic in broad daylight takes energy and resolve and a certain focus to keep moving in order to hide it. Falling into a heap – which I’m teetering on doing now, and continually reminding myself to breathe to keep from freaking – means I’m done, means I never was worthy, means I never got my turn to go for The Brass Ring. Means I never make it to the top of . . .

Hollywood sign - clouds

Hollywood.

I pray that’s not me. A washed out one-race-streaker, who’s let horse’s asses – like Jenny, Aaron, and William – fuck me at the starting gate.

I bite my lip, a facial tic I know I have that betrays my lack of confidence. I need more days to maneuver before Aaron gets his knees broken – one by one – by a giant scary man, The Enforcer for The Bookie, who I hear is coming by on Friday.

On my end of grabbing onto Aaron’s woes, I’d like to catch my Studio Chief sneaking money for himself out of the free-flowing catering accounts, or from transpo, or locations. All places I’ve flagged and know to watch . . . but I want someone to ride shotgun with me. A partner to test my strategies, and run my five-steps-ahead-of-the-game theories by.

I need someone borderline crazy, and evilly smart. I need Bette, but I know she’ll never agree.

Helena_HairBackHeadTilt

It might be Helena.

Recently out of Federal custody, and away from exotic fruit plantations, and Dusty, her jailhouse lover — Helena’s very possibly a wise casting choice for my Hollywood Mobster drama.

My mind dials three lovers back, and Helena’s fuck-out-of-doors, in the most barely hidden, and unusual kinds of places, returns to me in a body memory, I blush at remembering.

Leaving Peggy’s hotel suite in San Francisco one night, instead of the spacious rooftop garden – where I thought we were headed – Helena took me to the edges of the bay, then into a park where a labyrinth was glowing threaded through the trees.

labyrinth - Secrets story

In the maze under the cliffs, at first I’d thought I’d be chilled by the breezes coming off the water. The lights surrounding us had flickered and seemed to swim out in all directions.  My dress had disappeared over my head, and my eyes had closed to the possibilities of hidden onlookers, and I’d given myself over to the rolling spasms of my rawest desires.

Those were the months I’d seen Bette as the most perplexed. Her hating me, but fighting for me anyway, had sent Helena into overdrive, and anything I could dream up – even things I didn’t want – were mine, regardless of the hour.

Maybe Bette and I had gotten what we came for, out of the bloodsport of trying to conquer each other willfully, and as painful as it was, living alone now I had sometimes wondered, if the consuming chaos of Helena, and my elliptical trip to another land with Henry, weren’t spotlights on how my loneliness had replaced our intimacy?  How dinnertime had become TV, how bestsellers by my bedside had replaced sex, and that I’d had about all that I could take, when I’d seen the cracks first appearing between her and Jodi.

First, I’d glossed over any offhanded mentions or any gripes that things weren’t going well between them. Next, I’d gathered intel, and Alice had plotted Jodi’s relationships on The Chart, so we could see the names of her exes fanned out around her own.  Those we’d interviewed for clues.

After a few emails, Alice had compiled our notes, and a picture had emerged, along with a timetable that I knew I could exploit.  Jodi’s, set your clock to it wanderlust – always about six months in – had been confirmed by the many women she’d left behind.  By my calculations, the suggestion to keep their relationship open would be ‘Coming Soon’ to a volcano near me, and I’d laughed out loud all the way home — just thinking about it.

Bette Power suit unhappy NEW image

To have been a fly on Bette’s wall, as Jodi’s sign language and hand gestures had insinuated . . . that her necessary infidelities were coming soon . . . and to have seen Bette’s face, as it had dawned on her that Jodi – the also Alpha-lover – by way of signing with her fingers and otherwise,  intended to fuck someone else . . . to this day, I’m still sorry that I missed.

Yet, I’d worried anyway that maybe they did have great chemistry in bed, or that unbeknownst to me Bette had somehow changed, and possessiveness wasn’t her ‘go to’ leach any longer for control. Maybe, they’d get into threesomes to liven things up, and that image had unnerved me.

They were an interesting couple to be sure. They could’ve certainly pulled it off, and drawn in lots of takers for the sex, and the nude skinny dipping in what I’d still thought of – as my and Angelica’s swimming pool.  Their ménage à trois could’ve gone on for years, with Bette having the time of her life, with her tongue that I had wanted back with me.

Nighttime sky spiral

In my own fog of possessiveness, I’d returned to doubting how the many women, coming and going and coming again – but mostly her sharing them all with Jodi – was really possible in the closed universe of her being The Star, and the only one who could ring her lovers far out past the farthest moons of Saturn, before bringing them shivering back to Earth again.

When my haze had lifted, I was able to see this scenario as never working, and I’d consoled myself that she’d never endanger her sexual prowess, but I’d gone to the Gypsy’s house in Hancock Park, and I’d left there with a Love Charm — just to be sure.

It’s not that I wanted Bette returned to me twisted off and wracked with pain and confusion, but that she would be miserable was step four, and step five would be her home with me.  My plotting – alongside her swings from certain to uncertain behavior – had made me trust in my readings with the Gypsy more and more.

Gypsy's Love Charm Spell

When the spell had been cast, and a piece of silk had been wound around the magical ingredients and tightened, to draw in the magnetism I’d been assured still existed, but was yet to come; I’d secreted the Love Charm behind a zipper in her luggage packed for Big Bear, and had waved so-long with utter confidence, as she drove away.

Since then, I’ve wondered more than a few times, if I should tell her about the Gypsy. Let her know – in words – that I’d wanted her back, just as much as she did in the end? Or if I should let it be, and let it go, and let us roll on with my secret kept for a little while longer?

As I walk myself back through my treacherous steps, and how I’d waited for the right combinations of things to appear in my love life, I’m convinced I have the same cunningness for the movie business. My takeover of Shaolin feels imminent, and I need Joyce for a new contract, and me, and everybody else? Needs to have a little faith.

I stop by the studio canteen for an iced latte, and taking a deep breath I call James. When seven had been inked into Bette’s calendar, Joyce’s battle-hardened gatekeeper, Jean, was my next call.

“Joyce Wischnia’s office, Jean Rawlins speaking.”

“Ms. Rawlins, Tina Kennard calling. It’s last minute I know, but is Joyce free for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, let’s see Tina. She doesn’t tell me everything.” I hear Jean tapping keys, and I have a hard time believing she’s in the dark – for even one minute – when it comes to Joyce’s billable time. “What did you have in mind?”

“Joyce loves which red wine again?”

“Oof! Tina that stuff’s hard to find, and very expensive,” Jean emphasizes.

“Consider me warned. What’s her favorite though?”

“They’re two of them actually. From consecutive years, 1968 and 69.”

Joyce's favorite wine

“Any clue who carries it?”

“At two hundred and fifty dollars a bottle? The Wine Shoppe on Beverly.”

“I’m on it. I have an account there. Can you get her to my house by seven?”

“Yours and Bette’s place, right?”

“God, yes! I’m back home!” I realize I’m shouting. ”Can she come? At seven?”

Jean’s voice sounds amused. “She’s nodding her head, yes, Tina.  So, looks like she’ll see you then.”

Joyce garden - dinner party

Bette and Tina’s House – 7:15 pm – Tina

The closer to three hundred dollar bottle of wine is breathing, Bette is late, and Joyce and I are touring the garden with Angelica. ”Did you know I have a house in Santa Fe?” Joyce asks.

”Did I? No.”

”I was there last month, and I gotta ask you . . . what was Bette’s mother like?  I can’t imagine.”

”Lovely, really. A very talented, interesting woman with, as you know, a very unusual story.”

”No signs of shadowy gangsters disguised as Indians?” Joyce smiles down at Angelica who spins streams of bubbles out of a wand.

Soap bubble - Secrets story

Then one lands inches from me, and I stare into it amazed and whisper, ”Bette’s mother’s an older lady painting in the desert, and friendly with the Native Americans. She fits in.”

”A perfect camouflage!” Joyce booms, which makes Angelica rush up to her, and the bubble bursts.

”Alligator!”

”I don’t know about that.” Joyce laughs. ”Can’t you think of something scarier?”

”Alley-ga-tor! Alley gator took a bite out of Mommy.” Angelica pats her stomach three times.

Inside the house Bette throws open the front door, and Joyce looks at me puzzled. ”That sounds impossible,” Joyce muses, “even for her.”

I wave away my daughter’s indiscretions. ”Should we try the wine?”

”I’m home! God! I’m so sorry I’m late!” Bette calls from somewhere inside.

”Let’s go in.” I motion Joyce toward the French doors that lead into the kitchen.

”The wine’s not the only reason I came tonight.” Joyce lifts up her goblet for a sip.  ”But this is very nice of you. I’m curious what’s up? Wasn’t that her coming in?”

”Actually, I need to talk to you both about . . .”

Bette_Tina CU Atlanta Kiss

From around the corner, Bette zooms into the kitchen with a vase full of flowers for me, and placing them on the counter, after a warm hello to Joyce, she sweeps me into a kiss.

”How are you?! I had the most incredible day! I got a Building Fund check for so much money! ”  Then, she lets me loose, and over her shoulder calls, ”Hang on, there’s more, but wait!  There’s a crate of cantaloupes in the car.”

”Why a crate?” My voice sails out after her.

Leaning against my kitchen counter, with a look of amusement on her face, Joyce asks, ”What’s for dinner? I don’t smell anything cooking.”

Bette kicks back open the front door, and sure enough, she’s hauling in a crate of cantaloupes. ”Joyce, please take some home.” Then to me, ”Baby, I’m thirsty, and I’m starved. What’s for dinner?”

Joyce pours her a glass of wine, and then winks toward the label. ”Take it slow, not your speed I know, but try to savor it.”

Bette blows back a lock of hair from her face, then locks her eyes onto Joyce. ”You do not need to lecture me about how to drink wine.”

”We’re ordering in from Puccini’s. I hope that’s alright.” I fetch the menus from the drawer.

”Puccini’s?”  Joyce opens the refrigerator, and sticks her head inside. ”Do you mind if I see what you’ve got in here? I’m a great cook.”

”Actually, so am I.” Bette opens the door wider, and standing side by side, I can sense between them a developing competition. Joyce tosses a package of uncooked pasta onto the counter, while Bette unloads produce from the drawer.

”What are you thinking Porter?”

”Hmm.” Bette takes a sip of wine. ”I challenge you to a linguine. You can make any kind you want, but mine is clams. What’s yours?”

”I’ll run get whatever you guys want,” I offer.

”You’re on, and you’re going down.” Joyce rolls up her sleeves. ”Tina, one second before you go.  I’ve got a few things for your list.”

________

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.

Bye for now,

Blackbird


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Countdown – #13

Exterior – The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Tina

With my cellphone pressed up to my ear, I move my lips silently along with Kit’s, as she reads Angelica her favorite bedtime story. Putting the book away Kit asks, “How’re you and my Baby Sis getting along in Texas?”

I struggle to find the answer.

How can I describe my evening with a drug-addled bigot, and not press every one of Kit’s 12 Step buttons? Sue Ellen, and this glimpse into Shane’s past, has convinced me all over again that even though Bette’s mother wasn’t there for much of her childhood, my mother was in the beginning, mostly there for me, and we must do better for our daughter. We have to.

wolf_onRidge

When we lived in the old house with the high cliffs behind it, I remember her reading, “Wind in the Willows” to me at night. There was an orchard I played in to the east, a creek I explored to the south, and to the west a gentle curve of cliffs topped by very tall trees that threw shadows over the whole house at sunset.

There were wolves back there, too, and one in particular who watched over me, but by then, it was too late. My sister had already found me.

The front door of the bar swings open, and Bette waves to me. “Odd as it may be, our family pictures are a hit. The dial is way down on her.  I think it’s safe, you can come back inside.”

I hold the phone up to her ear, “Say goodnight to the baby.”

“Goodnight sweet baby, I miss you!”

Shane's baby picture

“Shane, if you can believe it, was once chubby!” Alice greets our return. “Sue Ellen is telling me baby Shane stories.

“I was just asking, if she remembered that old pink blanket of hers?” Sue Ellen leans into Shane, “I couldn’t pry it away from you. It’s like you thought it was your own mother.”

“See. Lots better,” Bette whispers sarcastically in my ear.

“I remember, Blankie.”

Then, Alice just can’t leave well enough alone. “Sue Ellen, where’d you grow up?”

And Bette says, “Fuck,” under her breath. “Memory Lane with Sue Ellen.”

Rabbit skinning Texas

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Bette

“Shane knows this. My coming up wasn’t easy.” Across the table, Sue Ellen shifts in her seat, hesitating whether to go on.

Then, with a deep inhale she begins, “My daddy was a circuit judge, any of you gals know what that is?”

But we all stay silent, should a wrong answer cause another outburst.

“Someone who covers a goodly piece of Texas territory, and decides whether or not to hang a man. That was my daddy,” Sue Ellen answers.

“A Hanging Judge?” Alice cries out. “You had a hanging judge for a father? Shane did you ever meet him?”

Shane shakes her head, as Sue Ellen laughs mostly to herself, “Oh, how he hated that name, too.”

Now, I find myself curious, “And did he actually hang people?”

“He sure did. Hung lots of people. Rustlers, murders, Mexicans…you name it.”

Behind her hand, Tina whispers to me, “Do not argue with her about capital punishment, Bette.  Just let it be.”

Then, our steaks arrive, and sure enough, Sue Ellen had given in and ordered a cup of the healing chicken noodle soup Alice had recommended.

Dipping in her spoon, Sue Ellen continues. “But it meant he was gone a lot. You ever hear of laudanum?”

Cutting into our bloody steaks, we all shake our heads. No.

“The housewives back in my day got hooked on it. Hell, I don’t even know if there was an FDA back then, but out west we still had those roaming Medicine Men, and Indian cures that would pull up in wagons. Amplify a valium a thousand times, but with dreams, and that’s opium. That’s laudanum.”

Sue Ellen licks her lips, I guess at the memory of the taste of it. “A cure for being lonely, and my mother was hooked on it.”

“What’d my grandfather do about it?” Shane asks.

“Nothing. Kept on hanging people, I guess.”

“Now, I’m starting to worry about you.” Alice eyes Shane, who’s sipping away on her beer, the night before she’s to give liver tissue samples to save her dying mother’s diseased one.

Shane gives Alice her best, ‘Get Lost’ look, and continues chewing all the way down a long french fry.

“Still, I hope you take my point.” Alice warns her.

Tina looks over at me, suddenly very serious. “I don’t need a Mother’s Little Helper to care for our baby, do you?”

I look into Tina’s eyes, “You don’t think everything’s fine?”

“No, everything’s fine.”

I lift up her hand and kiss the engagement ring I gave her, “Now, that you’re back, my life is perfect. Everything’s fine.”

“Everything’s perfect. Absolutely everything,” she agrees, but I watch Tina for a moment more, just to make sure.

Hang Man's Rope

“And we used to keep a cooking fire going all the time, even in the summer.” Sue Ellen starts up again with her memories, and then, with a brittle sadness, “And I had one dolly, and I had an older sister, who’d lost hers.”

At that last line, Tina’s complete concentration on her dinner breaks, and lowering my fork, I begin to hope, with all my heart, that the moral of Sue Ellen’s story is about sisterhood and sharing.

“She’s dead, now – mean as she was, just like a snake – fitting it were them’s that got her.” Sue Ellen holds a momentarily satisfied look. “Rattlers. Different times back then, I can assure you.”

“Sounds like it.” Alice nods, very convinced she’d never survive.

“Bette, our Santa Fe party?”

“Mother says there’s a powder they can ring around the whole barn that keeps them away.”

“Oh, Jesus.” Tina’s head sinks into her hands.

I motion to Tina’s half-eaten ribeye. “The sooner you eat it, the faster we can get out of here.”

“Angry, I suppose for me taking what little attention came from our mother, once the dickens got into my sister real bad, and she threw my Dolly into the fire.”

Sue Ellen lifts up her right leg, and pulls off her boot. “I was just a small child, with a mother way off in LaLa Land, not a soul to stop me from crawling into the fire after it.”

burning baby doll

At the sight of once melted toes, and a leg with a long goose leathered scar, Alice jumps up from the table crying, ”Holy fuck!”

Sue Ellen rocks her deformed leg back and forth on the seat next to me. ”Unlike you,” she stares at me, ”this is why I wear cowboy boots.”

“Jesus, Al, I’m sorry! She told it way too much like a ghost story tonight.”

Alice whimpers, “I think I peed a little on myself.”  Shane throws a look over her shoulder back at me, as she walks with Alice to the Ladies Room.

Sue Ellen smiles with a queer satisfaction, and slides her boot back on. “So, what’s your story?”

I think Tina may still be speechless, so I begin. “I only recently reunited with my mother. She spent most of my life in federal custody.”

”I know it’s hard on kids when their parents get locked up. Don’t think too much about it, Bette. I was in jail a few times, when Shane was little.”

CU Bette slySmile

“It was a long stretch,” I play along with her thinking my mother was in prison. “I only recently caught up with her again.”

Tina pokes at her baked potato. “Babe, I’ve been thinking some more about the rattlesnakes.” Then, her face freezes in shock.

“Look! At this nearly identical twin of yours we met in the Ladies Room!” Alice waves her arm by way of an elaborate introduction.

Shane notices Tina’s reactions, and begins tugging on Alice’s arm. “Ah, Alice…”

Dead. Without feeling, “Tina,” is all the sister says.

“Janet,” Tina says very cooly.

“Who’s this cause of such a stir?” Pipes in Sue Ellen.

Tina scoots her chair back from the table, and walks toward her sister, “Our father said you lived here.”

“How is the old man?”

“No idea. He calls occasionally – on holidays.”

“Says he’s the Mayor of Yuma, Arizona, unless he’s lying.”

“That was more your thing, Janet.” Tina steps even closer to her.

“Or your imagination.”  Janet doesn’t budge.

“So like you to twist things.” Tina spits back.

I point at Alice, “We should get the check. Go get the waitress, Alice.”

“And miss this?” Alice refuses to move.

“What are they going on about?” Sue Ellen wonders.

“I’ll do it.” Shane offers. “Come with me, Mom. Let’s get the bill.”

“Well, I don’t have any money.” Sue Ellen shouts, and stays put at the table.

“Nice company you keep,” Janet smirks.

Then, I step in and jab my finger in Janet’s face. “You know, what? Fuck you! You owe your sister, at-the-very-least, an apology.”

“Who’s this?” Janet looks me up and down degradingly. “I told her, it was you all along, and Mother should’ve punished you! Not me.”

Then, Tina slaps the shit out of Janet. Smack!

Followed by Janet’s strike back. Whack!

Now, we have the whole restaurant’s attention.

The reddish mark of Janet’s handprint appears on Tina’s face, and back again, I step between them. “Look, just apologize to her, and get the fuck out of here, or else.”

Sue Ellen claps her hands together. “Sounds like a dare, to me!”

“You! Keep your unclean hands off me.”  Janet swats my finger away, but I point it right back into her face.

“But I insist. I said apologize to Tina. Now, do it!”

Tina tries to move me aside. “Bette, I can handle this.”

“Well, your girlfriend, I guess is who this is? She ought to thank me.” Janet stabs her finger right under my nose. “You should thank me!”

Alice looks at Shane.  “I have no idea what’s going on. You?”

I supply them my answer, “This pretender is getting off her high holy horse, and apologizing. That’s what’s happening.”

Enraged Janet screams at me. “Okay! Here’s the Truth! She liked it! So, now you know! Is that what you wanted to hear?”

Alice disapproving

The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar – Alice

And fast as you can say, “You just pissed off the wrong person.” Bette’s hands are around Janet’s neck, and she’s squeezing the fucking life out of her.

“You crazy, miserable piece of human shit!” Bette hisses, as she clutches Janet by the throat.

“Bette! Stop it!” Tina shouts, “I’ll beat up my own sister, if I want to.”

Bette shakes her head, “No!” as Janet flails and gurgles. “I’m not fucking letting her go, until she says she’s sorry.”

“Hey! You gals need to take this outside!” Miss Laredo calls from the bar. Then, to her friends, “Come on!”

Shane sends her mother a warning look. “Mom, don’t bet against my friends.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it! Hand over your billfold, sweetheart, I’m betting whatever you’ve got, on the tall one.”

And then, just as quick, Bette lets out an, “Ooof!”

bloody knife

And my steak knife is sticking out of Bette’s stomach!

“God!” Tina cries at her sister, “What’d you just do?”

Miss Laredo shouts that she’s a nurse, and Bette staggers backwards in pain. Tina’s hands close around hers to stop Bette from pulling out the knife. “Don’t! You’ll bleed to death!”

Bette goes for her steak knife on the table. “Goddammit! This shit just got serious.”

Then…

“Ugh. Wait a minute, Baby. This really hurts.” She drops down on one knee.

“Oh God, Bette!” Tina lunges at the table, and I have just enough time to grab my ribeye off my plate before Tina zings it into Janet’s forehead.

Conk!

“You’ve always been crazy. You’ve always been such a liar!” Tina screams as she throws platters and dishes and ketchup bottles at her sister. Everything’s flying through the air, when overhead I see a wine bottle in Janet’s hand heading straight down for Tina.

“Look out!” I shout, and Bette springs up, and grabs Janet’s arm, holding it in mid air.

Nose to nose, they strain against each other. With my steak knife sticking out of Bette’s guts, she forces Janet’s hand back and back, looking like any minute she’s going to snap the woman’s wrist, and Tina, finally seeing only salt and pepper shakers left to throw, kicks Janet’s in the back of the knee.

And down Janet goes.

A cheer erupts!

Sinking into a chair, Bette shoots the crowd a thumbs-up, and with a grimace looks down at the stream of blood leaking out of her abdomen.

“I’m starting to understand you gals a whole lot better.” Sue Ellen looks at us with true appreciation.

With Tina hovering, Miss Laredo cleans Bette’s wound with whiskey.

bottle of whiskey pouring

“Ouch! Ouch! Give me some of that to drink if you’re going to do that to me.”

“Where’d Janet go?” I ask Tina, but she seems to have forgotten her lifelong foe completely. She strokes Bette’s face, and whispers to her. But I can hear things people say a mile away.

“You’re coming out of this with a scar, Bette, on that hard stomach of yours, you’re so vain about.”

Torso Sheba story picture

Miss Laredo, with a sweet wink to Bette. “You’d be a tough one to cut through, Honey.”

Tina rolls her eyes, as she hands Bette a whiskey for her pain.

By now, a small crowd has gathered, and Miss Laredo offers her friends a peek at Bette’s enviable abs. “Meet Bette, Ladies, and her soon to be wife, Tina.”

Bette shoots Tina a sly smile. “Miss Laredo, can you stitch Tina’s name on me, like a tattoo?”

Tina threads her fingers through Bette’s. “You need to quit telling everybody what to do. When we’re alone, I’ll talk to you about this.”

“Guys, we’re going right to a hospital with my mother. Anybody thought of that?”

Miss Laredo calls out, “Okay, the wound’s lookin’ good, but stitching you back together is going to hurt. You up for this?”

Bette ignores Shane’s saner idea. “Are you really a nurse?”

“Yes.”

“Is there any chance you’re operating on me sober?”

“Not a chance.”

“Is your name really, Miss Laredo?”

“Yes.”

“Then, I say do it.”

And when the perfect look of pleasure and pain settles onto Bette’s face, I can’t help myself. I just have to take a picture.

Bette Tina Kiss New One

Two hours later –

Bette and Tina’s Dallas Hotel Room – Bette

Whatever there’s left to talk about, Tina has decided it’s going to happen tomorrow, because once we hit the door of our hotel room, down I go on the bed.  I can’t ask her if she’s glad she got to smack the shit out of her sister, or if she’s sorry the whole thing happened. I’ll never know the answer until whatever is happening between us plays itself out on this bed, and that’s fine with me.

I slip my tongue back and forth in her mouth, and she sucks on me, and rubs painfully on top of my bandage. I know she’s doing it on purpose – a lesson in here somewhere I’ll have to sort out later.

She moves my hand from her breast down between her legs. “Come inside me.” Is all I hear.

I roll her over, and begin to make love to her. Her legs wrap around me, and she rocks back against me, and blue shots of pain start to streak through my mind.

Down my back she digs into me with her fingernails, and I cover her mouth and her body with mine, and we blend like ocean waves, far out to sea, that don’t break, only rise and fall – over and over and over with each other.

Bette_Kiss_goldtoned

I lift her up to hold her against me, and taste only the whiskey and want of sex in her mouth.

She begins to shake. “I’m so close, right on the edge.” And her muscles close tight on my fingers, and trembling more, she begins to come.

Bette_Tina CU golden toned KISS

And for long, long moments, we’re falling over the edge of orgasm, and moaning, with our tongues sliding together, as a slick sweat breaks between our bodies, and…………we fall back into each other’s arms, the waves break slower and slower, and we breath together, and look again into each other’s eyes, and kiss softly.

Tina runs her fingers down my body, making little curves in my sweat between my breasts. “This is Texas, I do realize, but take a guess. Since we landed this morning, how many laws have you broken?

“Two, maybe?” I begin to laugh.

“Try ten.” She licks up my neck. “You’re very salty tonight.”

“You like it?”

“Hmm,” she settles against my chest, and plays her fingers around my long white bandage. “I like you.”

I rise up a little to look in her eyes. “I’d hold out as long as could, before I took a prison wife. I want you to know that.”

“And I want to believe you. I really do.” She licks me a few times inside my legs.

“Marry me, soon, won’t you? Why we do have to wait?” But her mouth on me is causing me to lose focus. “All the parties, can’t they come after we’re married?”

But no answer back is forthcoming, and soon, she’s taken all my concentration.

And then, I let myself go.

_________________

I hope you enjoyed the story!

Blackbird

//


9 Comments

The New Mothers of Invention – Touch Tones #12

Bette Close Up profile anticipation

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.

Bette_Tina_looking ahead, Powersuit

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.

SheBarKiss

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”.

WITH FOLLOWERS.

“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.

Women transform.

Bette_Tina CU Atlanta Kiss

“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.

Tina verticle arguing Brazil

“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?”

dallas steakhouse cowboy bar

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.

Shane_Med_bluegreen bckgrd

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?”

Antler Chandelier - Dallas

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.

dead or alive poster

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.

Blackbird

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#9 Touch Tones: Radar Love

Tina sleeping

Santa Fe Guest Room – Bette

The early morning light streams through the windows of my mother’s house, and as I stretch my lingering dreaminess disappears and I realize suddenly: Everyone missing has been found. My long lost mother is upstairs with Angelica and Tina is lying next to me. The inner searcher inside me with no place left to look, and no where else to go vibrates restlessly under my skin.

Then I wonder, was blasting away at rattlesnakes with my mother’s six-shooter an initiation of sorts? Was cutting their heads off with the Bowie knife I’d bought to stab into Henry the real threshold I had to cross to find peace instead of prison?

I wonder for a moment if it could possibly be true. I’d happily grill snake every day if I have to. Just point me to flames.

Rattlesnakes on the Grill

A semi-delectable transformative host, an unbelievably coincidental crossroads, or a strange mystical fact? I stare up at the ceiling in wonder and soon the rattlesnakes disappear, and the blankness mirrors back my father’s face as he had gripped my small shoulders and told me, “Bette, your mother has died.”

But she hadn’t, and this morning I playback the events over and over again in my mind. It had been just another day at school. Classroom lessons and a chill in the air at recess before the news that afternoon. Before I’d smelled the lies on him.

That must have been its origin. When the part of me that unconsciously believed had remained vigilant, but always anxious had split off and been born.

This is why I wake up first. This is why Tina always gets her coffee in bed. And this is who’s been sending out those endless radar pings that eventually melded into my mind.

And now that I’ve prevailed? Found my mother and won Tina back? I’ve no clue whatsoever how to turn this uneasy inner watcher inside me off.

“Un-fucking-believable.” I mutter under my breath, as Tina stirs next to me. Everything about my life would’ve been different. It all would’ve changed if only he’d told me the truth that day instead of lying.

And then I pause.

What if I had spent my whole life in WitSec with my mother? How likely is it that while hiding and on the run from the murderous Gambino Crime Family I would’ve ever ended up at Yale? Ergo, no exotic artistic lovers; ergo, no lust for the fairer sex; ergo, no women whatsoever. That last bit is impossible, isn’t it?

Well, almost certainly in this scenario I never made it to LA, so no Tina. And that thought depresses me. But wait a fucking second! If I’m in WitSec with my mother then there’s no Bette Porter. Because Bette Porter has disappeared.

I swallow hard and taste the dry panic in my mouth. I don’t ever recall wanting a drink quite so early in the morning, and I need to be very careful about what I wish for.

I rub my face and try to crawl down from the ledge and back into the sheets where it should feel safe but doesn’t. Other paths, alternative destinies, different fates. These words feel perilous to me and impossibly hard to define, and I’m not sure I really want to anymore.

After Tina had left me the second fucking time I’d tried to make sense of things. Hours I’d spent staring at the reflections in my pool, drinking old Scotch, and wondering why the woman I loved had left me.

Bette Garden thinking white sweater

In this tortured reverie I was a beautifully tragic vision of my self pity. Broken but incredibly talented with a sly charismatic look that could net anyone for awhile, yet I remained incurable and fatally flawed. And the more Scotch I drank on those nights the more my outcomes never changed, and I’d fall into bed pissed off and usually alone. Unless I wasn’t.

Bette drinking outside alone

That would the same bed Tina had insisted two weeks ago I throw out to further perpetuate our ruse with Jenny, when the truth was for both of us – it was an important symbol of our starting over.

I look away from the ceiling and out through the windows and think of soft new mattresses, and then the rough prickly landscapes of snakes and cactus plants that thrive outside my mother’s home.

Everything is different here and it all started with these boots. I swing them out from under the covers and knock them together a few times and wonder which do I prefer? Long leather sheaths of protection from this unpredictable environment, or my expertly tailored power suits that do the same things in a very different setting? And what could possibly be next?

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Then an answer springs forth. I’m definitely wearing these to faculty meetings. One look at me striding in with these on will definitely snap the infuriating and willowy-spined art professors in my department into submission, and then, uncontested my plans for the new building and my department can definitely unfold!

Or not, I realize grimly. As long as Jodie Lerner is in my department’s nearby studio space screwing society’s discarded debris into disquieting sculptures there’s an obstacle with very powerful friends on my faculty. And this is why I should never sleep with people at work! And yet, I knew this gem of wisdom at the time. Still, I did it anyway.

I look over at Tina sleeping next me and wonder if Phyllis is playing power games with me? Is it a control thing with her that she keeps Jodie on, or is it that Phyllis is simply a woman who adores her drama?

My mood had been so dark and desperate the night of her “Coming Out” party. When I had heard my name whispered along with the susurrant title of Jenny’s movie I had cringed and headed for the shadows. On my way to the edge a waitress had brushed past me carrying a tray of champagne and Phyllis’ black brassiere had begun to spin over her head where it became the quantum wings of the butterfly that caused the tsunami. An hour later my clothes were in a heap on the floor by Tina’s bed.

But what if Phyllis had never stripped off her blouse and flagrantly waved her brassiere over her head? What if she’d never stood half naked at the end of her diving board whooping and crying up to the stars for her freedom? What if I hadn’t caught Tina’s eye just as she’d turned away smiling from Phyllis’ amusing spectacle? And if I’d never had the chance to ask, “Do you want to get out of here?”

Bette Phyllis party story image

Thinking back on it – it was more of a plea really. And what if she’d said no?

I tiptoe in my boots from rug to rug toward the closet and my bathrobe, and then silently behind me I close the bedroom door.

Time had stopped for a moment when we’d made love that night after Phyllis’ party. For the second time that day – after months and years apart – we’d found each other, and desperately at times – we couldn’t get enough.

I pour her coffee and make my tea. For the love of God how quickly can I marry her and be with her forever?

Tina bedroom Santa Fe

Ten minutes later – Tina

“Oh, Bette, thank you for this,” I smile at her as we lean back against the rustic headboard and I take my first sip of coffee.

“It’s good isn’t it? I had a taste to be sure I was doing it right. They like it out here with the smoky flavor of roasted chocolate in it.”

“How’d you sleep, Babe? Did you stay up and watch more of the Blood Moon?”

“Not too much. Once the animals had quieted down outside, and you were asleep I drifted off.”

“I don’t hear our child. While you were up did you look in on her?”

“Peaked in. I wasn’t quite ready for them yet. In a few minutes I’ll send up a flare that we’re awake, if that’s what you want.” Bette’s voice drifts as she looks over at me.

I smile before I blow on my coffee and take another sip. “I could say good morning to you if you’d like.” I lean into her kiss.

“I might. It’s awfully hard to turn down vacation sex, don’t you think?”

Bette_Tina Season 5 06kiss

“And you’ve barely debriefed me. How’s reuniting with your mother been?”

“Fine. No more than fine. And she obviously likes you, whereas, I obviously love you.”

I place my cup carefully on the bedside table when I feel her hands begin to search me. Her head disappears under the sheet and rolling over my nipples I feel her tongue. I hold behind her neck as more and more pleasure comes from her mouth and then another long lick deepens my burning for her.

“You are so good at this,” I sigh and lie back.

She comes up from the sheet and rolls me on my side. Her tongue slides along my ear and she whispers, “I love you, Tina and I really want to marry you. Let’s do it soon.”

Bette_Lick_Tina's neck

“You woke up hungry and stared at the ceiling for a long time, didn’t you?”

“It’s true. I’ve been all over the map this morning.”

I slide under her. “Obviously someplace interesting.” I manage before she opens my mouth to her again.

Bette's Tongue.2 on top

“I can’t live without you. Being away from you unravels me, and drives me a little crazy. You came back to me at the perfect time, and just before I lost my mind.”

“Babe, I was miserable, too.” I hold her close to me as we make love.

“Are we in heaven?” Bette asks after several minutes.

“I know. I smell it, too.”

“Bacon,” she says before she disappears again below the sheet.

“Babe, I don’t mind if you want to make it fast. It wouldn’t bother me at all if you did.” And without words she begins to answer me.

Maxine breakfast room

Mary Hardy’s Breakfast Room – Bette

“Mother, we’d like another ride out in the desert before we go to the airport this afternoon. Do we have time to drive up in the canyon and see your art studio?”

“After church we’ll go. It’s not far but dusty out there. And it doesn’t matter what we wear to church.” She turns away and opens her oven. “Put on whatever you want.”

“Church?” I ask as she places a tray of bacon wrapped poached eggs on the table in front of me. I look across at Tina who steadies Angelica’s cereal spoon.

Our Dinner Party. Theme was breakfast.

“Yes, it’s what I do on Sunday mornings. You don’t?”

“We’d love to,” Tina answers quickly. “How will you introduce us? Does your disguise after all these years include a family?”

“It does and Bette I need to tell you two things before you leave.”

I slice into my eggs. “Now or later? And this breakfast is delicious. Thank you so much.”

“First, I want to tell you about your brother.”

Maxine_Adoring w:Son

“My what?” I blurt and a few crumbs spew out of my mouth. I drag my napkin quickly across my lips and stare in disbelief at Tina and then my mother. Tina sends me a warning look as Angelica stops eating and begins to fidget.

“He’s a good boy, Bette. Well, he’s thirty years old now, and a journalist. He travels a lot. He was here just last month to see me.” My mother hands me a photograph.

“His name is Sam. Handsome, isn’t he?” My mother smiles at Tina as I hand her the picture to see. “I may have had a screwy, screwy life but God blessed me with beautiful children.”

saints int santa fe church

Church – Tina

As we enter the spacious church on the site of an old Spanish mission Bette’s mother stops inside the doors of the sanctuary and we take in the pinyon scented beauty of the place. “Thank you both for hurrying so we could get here early. There are friends of mine I want you to meet before we all sit down.”

“Take Angelica ahead, Mary. There’s a candle Bette and I want to light for someone first.” Then, I add in a whisper, “My first baby didn’t come to term. May we catch up with you?” I let loose of Angelica as Bette turns away.

Her mother’s face shows a stab of pain at my news. “I always sit in the seventh row on the left. Come find me when you’re ready.”

“We will.” I tap Bette’s arm and guide her toward the prayer candles by a shrine to the saints. “Babe, I appreciate the self control you showed after hearing you have a brother and not upsetting our daughter and your mother at breakfast.”

“Was she blasé about telling me this mind-altering news? Or was it my imagination that for her it was a “pass me the eggs and bacon, and by the way, you have a brother” kind of moment?”

“It was a soft bomb, Bette. No doubt about it. But I don’t think your mother has had much practice telling her secrets. She hasn’t been allowed to, don’t forget.”

“I’m in shock.” Bette shakes her head as she puts a wooden stick next to mine against the flame of a tall devotional candle.

“I know. I can see it on your face. And brace yourself, too, Babe, she apparently has another shoe to drop.” I fold up a dollar bill and slip it through the iron slit for our offering. “She said there were two things she wanted to talk to you about before we flew home.”

“Look, I’m not against the idea of having a brother. I mean it makes perfect sense that she had other children. She was your age when she left after all. Plenty of time to start another family.” But I hear a slight catch in Bette’s voice when she says it.

I slip my arm around her waist as we stare down at the rows of candles flickering up at the faces of saints. “Which candle should we light for the baby, Bette?”

“The one that has the answers.”

Loretto Chapel santa fe staircase

Forty-five minutes later – Tina

After the service Mary Windhorse walks me toward an incomparable spiral staircase where a number of women have gathered. “We have a group that meets here once a week. Knowing them and having a group when I needed one over the years has been helpful.”

“For so long, years really, I’ve barely thought about my sister. But now, the memories are coming back.”

“It happens for many reasons. We block things out and then, mysteriously something opens the door and it can be overwhelming. Knock you right off your horse because you never saw it coming.”

“Bette and I, we’ve been separated for a few years, and very recently we got back together.”

“And now, you’re getting married. Big changes stir up things. You’re old enough to know that.”

“I just don’t need disturbing, inner reflections right now. I’m in the middle of a movie, things are finally going so well with my family.” I stop and look in Mary’s wizened face. “I know that no one ever schedules themselves for prolonged periods of mental meltdowns, and I’m sure this denial is one of the great faults of modern society.”

“Do you feel unsteady still, Tina? Because yesterday I found you on the ground outside the Medicine Man’s tent and picked your ass up out of the dirt.”

“You’ve heard stories from the women in your group. You’ve been around women who remember, haven’t you? What happens to them when their memories start to rush back and return? Am I headed for something – I’m telling you in no uncertain terms – I don’t have time for?”

“How much of my help and advice do you want? I was all set to forget about it but you talked about your sex abuse last night around my campfire.” She stops and looks up the staircase. “You’re in Mary’s family now and she’s in mine.

santa fe staircase spiral

“I’m an old Indian woman who believes in the power of the memories and dreams. The Sweat Lodge, for example, it’s a very sacred special place to hear from the Spirits.”

“Yes, I’ll do that with you.” I find myself saying too quickly before my reasoning can catch up.

Mary nods her head and looks at me, “It’s a way in and I will do it with you, be as much of a guide for you in the beginning as I can.”

“There’s another favor I want to ask of you.”

“Go ahead, I can see you’re on a roll.” She smiles at me before her wrinkled face returns to its usual sternness.

“We’ll be spending a lot more time here; I can see how much Angelica is over the moon with her new grandmother, and we’ve given her zero spiritual training or insight. We think it’s time, and yesterday I asked Bette if we should ask you to be our daughter’s Godmother, or whatever your elder term of stature is for what I’m asking you to consider. What is the word I’m looking for? I honestly don’t know, but we’d like to extend this to you as a honored person in our daughter’s life, in our lives, too.”

“She’s a beautiful little soul, isn’t she?” Mary Windhorse and I look across the church at Angelica. Bette holds her in her arms and from here, I can see their playful love for each other as something makes them both laugh.

Mary Windhorse turns back to me. “Godmother is fine. I know what you’re asking and I’ll do it, and I take this seriously even though you haven’t thought it all out. I see what’s needed. Now, come meet my friends. You don’t have to say or explain anything. Just say, Hello, and then, I think you’re headed out for the art studio.”

“We are and then we’re flying …” I’m interrupted when a woman’s voice calls from across the church, “Bette Porter is that you?” I turn to see Bette’s expression of utter surprise as she spins around toward an attractive woman walking swiftly toward her.

“Sarah Wilson?”

“Yes! Sarah MacPherson now, but yeah, it’s me! What on earth are you doing here? And is this your child?” She reaches up to Angelica. “Wow! I would have never imagined.” Sarah looks quizzically at Bette.

Tia CU torquoise necklace

Sanctuary – Bette

My mother’s eye catches mine before I answer my old friend from Yale. “Vacation with my daughter and my fiancée, Tina. She’s walking over there by the staircase.” Sarah and I wave at Tina.

“Pretty, but of course, she would be.” Sarah smiles as Tina waves back. “I’m in DC now. Part of my job is dealing with tribal land rights and the bureaucracy in our “overly happy to study the matter further” government.”

“Hmm.” I mummer as I wonder what land mines await as she encounters my mother and Mary Windhorse some where down the line on this issue. “Have you been doing this for years? Do you come out here often?”

“My second trip. It’s a new job and my first tribe was the Crow and sometimes the Apache came to the table. North and west of here but God, it feels nice to able to fly into a nice little city and stay in a good hotel for a change. But what about you? Where are you living?”

“LA. I’m a dean at CU and Tina’s making a movie. We’re busy, and you remember my sister, Kit?”

“Impossible to forget. And that the night we had? When we took the train up to Boston, and Kit was on stage in a cherry red dress.”

“Most of it.” I laugh with Sarah.

“I have no idea how I got out of college.”

“Funny you mention it. I was just thinking about Yale this morning.” I look up into the arches of the church ceiling before I continue, “I’m getting married soon. I should be thinking more about the future, I suppose.”

“My work on the land rights – all those old claims with the territories and the tribes – it’s all about the past. Who said what, and when, and what they traded it for. Sometimes, you have to go all the way back before you can take the right way forward.” Then she laughs. “In theory, anyway.”

“Exactly. Well, look give me your card, do you have one on you?” I pat my pockets as I balance Angelica in my arms. “I don’t have mine with me today, but LA, Bette Porter, CU – Google that and you’ll find me.”

“Here, I have one. Let’s email or something and when, or if, you come back to Santa Fe in the next six months please look me up. That’s how long I expect to be in and out of here.”

Maxine Blue window

Mary Hardy’s Art Studio – Bette

On the drive out into the desert I notice that Tina is unusually quiet. She doesn’t seem upset just pensive, and as I steer my mother’s old truck up through the canyon I wonder what she’s thinking about. I feel a twinge of sadness, too, that I’ll be leaving New Mexico soon, and rejoining my somewhat erratic life in LA.

“Mother, after our little picnic at your studio is there a place we can put Angelica down for her nap? I want her to sleep on the plane, but we should talk a little before I leave.”

“We should. It’s been on my mind for awhile how to tell you the story about what happened.”

“The medium long version is all I need. Or really, whatever you want to tell me is fine.”

“Any questions about your brother? I know I sprung that on you.”

“You spring a lot of things, Mother. Most of my first night here I was hyperventilating.” I laugh as I look across the bouncing truck seat at her. “But I haven’t formulated my thoughts on the bombshell that I have a brother.”

“Well, think about it, and I need to some more, as well. When you’re ready to meet him I need to break it to him, too.”

“He has no idea about me, either?” I asked shocked.

“None.” She shakes her head. “To keep my sanity I had to become very good at compartmentalizing, but everyday I thought about you.” She lifts her hand up to my cheek. “I really want you to know that.”

“Likewise,” I nod my head. “I can say the same.”

Maxine Painting RedWineBlueChairs

One hour later –

As Tina packs up the picnic basket from lunch and my mother talks softly with Angelica who’s fighting a little with falling asleep, I look through more of my mother’s paintings stacked against a wall. “This one I like, too, Mother. When did you do this?”

“Last spring it stayed cold, too cold for my hands, and I hate to say it, my arthritis, to paint much outdoors. So, I started some still lifes. Quasi-still lifes, anyway. That’s the only one left from that series, and I definitely could’ve sold it.”

“I can take a walk if you’d like me to, Mary.” Tina says as she snaps the picnic basket shut.

“No, you’re to hear this, too. If you want to that is, I’m not forcing this story on anyone.”

“Bette?”

“Of course, I want you here with me.” I slide down on the leather couch and hold my hand out for Tina’s.

Maxine self portrait.2 rear shot smoking

“Of all the things I had to bury that afternoon how much your father irritated me has never been one I successfully put to rest.” She adds with a deep sigh, “You did know your father and I didn’t always get along, or did you know that?”

“I think I did, but I’ve papered over a lot. After knowing you a few days I can only imagine he must’ve been attracted to your free spirit and then tried to crush it.”

“Didn’t he try it with you?”

“Repeatedly, but I got better at it as I got older.” I glance at Tina when she clears her throat. “Well, maybe I didn’t after all.” I admit as my mother and Tina laugh with me.

“I had a great friend, Wendy was her name, and she had a place down by the river with a great big chaotic kitchen where we’d make dinners, and then later drink wine, bitch about our husbands, and try to beat the crap out of each other at Gin Rummy. She was a great card player and she never cheated.”

“Commendable but that should go without saying, don’t you think?”

Tina leans forward. “True, but you know how it gets sometimes with our poker group?”

“No, you’re right. You hate to think your good friends are cheating.”

“Well, mine didn’t and that was one of the reasons I really liked her. So, I was on my way there and I stopped in this liquor store, and it got robbed.”

“And you got shot.”

“And I got shot along with everyone else. I was the only one who survived and I did because I played dead.”

“What was the mob doing robbing a liquor store? That doesn’t make sense to me.”

“It was the younger son of a Capitano who was high up in the family. The kid was trying to prove himself, so, he robbed the place, and then started shooting everybody. It all went to hell real fast! One minute they were yelling about money, and the next minute he flipped, and starting gunning everyone down. Wine bottles were breaking all around me and a bullet zipped into my shoulder.” She points up to her right and her thin fingers pat her old wound, “Just up here.”

“I take it you couldn’t escape?”

“Word travelled very fast about what this kid had done and within minutes some very serious men came in to clean up his mess. And that meant, of course, dispose of our bodies. I hid under this poor man who wasn’t so lucky. I let the red wine that had spilled along with the blood all over the floor sink into my clothes, and I crawled under a dead man. Then, I smeared his blood and a lot of mine all over me, and they dumped me in the back of a laundry truck with the four dead bodies. We drove around for what seemed like hours. I was sure I was done for.”

“Jesus Christ! How long were you in that truck with them? Bleeding the whole time?”

“No, definitely not bleeding the whole time. When they slammed the door shut I took the belt off the man who’d been behind the register and made a tourniquet for myself, and then I didn’t know what I was going to do when the doors opened again.”

Spooky GraveYard Gambino Family

“Survival springs to mind.”

“That was definitely on the list. Luckily for me, the FBI had a man inside the family. When we got out to their farm where the plans were to bury us – he decided when a laundry van full of dead bodies showed up – it was time to break his cover.”

“So the Inside Man literally called the FBI?”

“He did and I don’t know how much longer I could’ve lasted. They were going to bury me, and I was very much alive. I kinda panicked about that.”

“I imagine so!”

“But this inside man, I think he knew I was still breathing. I must’ve looked different to him when he opened the door.”

“As in not turning grey, I’m sure.” I put my head in my hands. “All this I can’t imagine, but what was so important about your testimony? It was some kid, right?”

“And that’s called leverage. The Feds got his father to flip and inform on the Family for a few productive years while the Feds built an even bigger case. But they knew pretty quick they needed me, if they were going to twist him.

“Maybe I could’ve escaped into the arms of the Feds unnoticed, but when the Coroner came, and I was discovered still alive – it wasn’t handled so well. The Gambinos knew I was still kicking after lots of shouting from the Coroner’s staff, “We’ve got a live one here!” And then, an ambulance came. By then everyone had seen me.”

“And then you went away.”

“Yes, and then I went away. And I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry I had to do that to you, Bette, and that I’ve missed so much of your life.”

“I know. I know you are.” I take my mother’s thin hands and we cry together for a minute before she wipes away my tears. “And I’ve missed you everyday since, Bette. And you and Tina, along with this little one that you’ve brought into my life, I can’t tell you what it means to me.”

I lean back on the couch and look over at Tina. “I have some idea. There’s a grace to starting over, and this is ours.”

____

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.


_________

 


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#8 Blood Moon Rising

Tina_Phone sunglasses standing

Santa Fe – Saturday – Tina

It was luck really that Angelica and I had been sitting in the exact spot Nikki Stevens had walked past on her way to board a private jet to Santa Fe. She was hungover, her friends on board flying east with us were all hungover, and once the pilot had leveled off and pointed the nose of the plane due east as if on cue – all of its passengers had fallen into a deep slumber, including me.

It’s been a very long week.

When my eyes had opened hours earlier this morning the house around me had been quiet and still. I had fought off a nearly irresistible urge to roll over and fall back asleep again. But if I had closed my eyes for a second more I knew I would miss my flight to join Bette and meet her long lost mother. The horror of telling her that I had overslept and missed yet another plane had dragooned me to throw off the bedcovers and make haste for Santa Fe.

Now that I’m here I realize no distance was too far to have travelled to witness Bette rolling out from under Mary’s old Chevy with a wrench in her hand. For an instant, I had flashed on Kit’s former love interest, Ivan, scooting out from under one of his vintage trucks and squinting up at me. It had startled me and felt weird, but in a wonderful kind of way.

I pull out a breakfast room chair that has been set up all ready with a baby seat for us. I lean down and kiss Angelica. “I believe we’re going on an adventure with your Momma B and your new Grandmomma soon,” I say as she tugs on my hair. We smile at each other in love with the moment and the morning. “That was your first airplane ride, too. And you were such a good girl.”

The back door opens off the kitchen and Bette, free of her greasy coveralls, appears in jeans, a dark green shirt, and cowboy boots.

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

My eyes begin their drift up from the scuffed leather when I feel her hand on my shoulder.

“A proper welcome now,” she says reaching down and gently touching Angelica’s face before she folds her arms around me. Along the sides her neck I can smell traces of pinyon wood, sage and something else that reminds me of fire.

“What have you all been doing?” I ask Bette curiously as I hear her mother coming inside.

“Eating and drinking mostly.” Bette says as she pats her washboard stomach. “My Mother’s an interesting cook. But no worries! I have personally seen to lunch and we’re eating out tonight with Mary Windhorse – a bit of desert-styled potluck it sounds like. We’ll be fine.” She dismisses. “We are not required to eat the fried cactus.”

“Baby meals are un-spiky and very un-spicy. We’re all on the same page about that, right?” I ask.

“All reading from the same menu and prayer book. We are ready!” Bette reassures then claps her hands and picks up Angelica. They kiss each other playfully. “Now, do we need anything from this kitchen before I bring your suitcase back to our bedroom?”

Maxine guest room

Guest Room – Tina

“I do like a queen-size bed on vacation, don’t you, Bette?” I ask as we enter our quarters down a long hallway. I bounce the mattress and feel the wool of the old Indian blankets. “But where’s our daughter sleeping?”

“We have two options on that actually and they were Mother’s idea.” Bette says as Mary appears in our doorway.

“We set up a sweet little child’s bed in my room for tonight but we can take it down and put it right in here if you’d rather,” Mary says. “And I do appreciate you switching over to Mary and leaving Maxine in the past. Bette and I talked about it last night. It’s been nearly thirty years with the Feds and WitSec. I really am Mary Hardy now.”

”Without prying may I see it?” I ask from near the windows. “Where she’d be sleeping?”

”Tina, it’s very comfortable and I’ve been having a wonderful time.” Bette adds as she points to her new cowboy boots.

”Repairing old trucks and eating. I heard you.” I say as I study them for their familial resemblance.

“That, too, but we went out last night. And tonight there’s something called the Blood Moon we’re going to see.”

“A play in Santa Fe?” I ask.

“No, actually, The Moon.” She whirls her finger around in the air. “It turns really red tonight during a lunar eclipse.” Bette looks back to her mother who nods. “And Mother’s friend, Mary Windhorse, has a special place to watch eclipses apparently. Who knew? So, for dinner we’re going over there.”

“Whatever you both want to do – Blood Moons, Blue Moons – it’s fine with me,” I agree. “And Mary, this is your granddaughter, Angelica.” I walk them closer together, and Mary kneels and gently extends her hands.

“You have no idea how happy I am to meet you both.” Mary watches Angelica taking baby steps closer.  For a moment, Bette looks as if she might cry, but she smiles instead.

I put my arm around her waist. “A lot is happening.” Bette confesses, as Mary and Angelica’s voices drift up from the floor.

Bette close up. pensive look down

She takes a deep breath and points me toward another room. “We have a nice bath that’s through here. Come see.”

Maxine Home Bath

“The bathtub, and this view alone, makes me officially glad I came.” I lean back into her arms as we look out the window.

“But weren’t you always coming?” She asks suspiciously.

“Yes, I was always coming. But now I’m saying unequivocally – I’m now officially glad to be here.” I lean up and kiss her neck.

Her hands take mine around my waist. She whispers in my ear, “You know I’ve tried to rein myself back and not overload this weekend with expectation. Plus, we’ve had so much going on.” She lifts my engagement ring up to her lips. “I love you, T, and I’m so relieved, happy, and all of the above, that you’re both here.”

“Babe, I was always coming for the weekend you met your Mother.” I let her know.

“Back where you grew up, did you ever shoot beer cans off rocks or fence posts?”

I laugh softly as I sway gently with my back against her. “All the time with .22 rifles mostly. Why Bette?”

“We did it last night. Drank beer and shot cans off rocks with six-shooters. And we talked, of course, until pretty late.” She says as she walks over to the sink. She splashes water on her face and reaches for a towel. ”Completely could not have been further from how I ever would’ve pictured a reunion with my mother.” She pats her face dry and watches me for a reaction. ”I last saw her in Philly, remember?”

“Six-shooters? That sounds fun. Did you strap one on, Bette?”

“Absolutely, a big one, too. Very loud, just like I can be.” She smiles at our double entendre, and fires her finger pistols out the window. She looks back at me as she pretends to blow the smoke off the barrels.

“Bette, please don’t do that.”  I hook her fingers down. “You in those old cowboys boots, smelling like leather and wood smoke.”

She smiles slyly back at me. “I’ve missed you, too, Baby.  “She says before kissing me. “Mother has questions about our wedding that I can’t answer, but kiss me again first.”

Bette Tina Kiss Sepia.1

Ninety minutes later –

After lunch and a tour of Mary’s house and barns we slide into her old truck to drive to a pueblo nearby.

1957 Chevy Driver's side front

“You’ll enjoy this little community and the festival will be just locals and the tribe. ” Mary says as she and I slide across the seats of her truck with Angelica on her lap. Bette gets in behind the wheel and cranks the old Chevy to life.

1957 Interior

“Your boots match this great pick up truck, Bette,” I say as we bounce down a rural road through the desert.

“Honestly, I don’t ever want to take them off, ” she says as she smiles at her mother. “Phyllis had better get ready. There’s a new Dean Porter in the house.”

I laugh along with her. “Something happened, that’s for sure.” Then to her mother, “Mary, when you come to Los Angeles I’m sure you’ll meet, Phyllis, Bette’s boss. She’s off and on a real handful.”

“In more ways than one.” Bette sighs. “Mother, we have a host of characters for you to meet but I think we can all agree,  you’re rather offbeat and unusual yourself.” Bette smiles over at me. “She’ll fit right in, don’t you think, Tina?”

“Maybe Mary should come at Christmas time, Bette?” I ask as Angelica bounces happily in her grandmother’s lap. “I know our friends would love to have dinner at our house this year.”

“Let’s do it!”

“Will you come, Mary?” I smile at her.

“Wild horses could not keep me away!” She says before kissing the top of Angelica’s head.

CU Maxine

“So, you have these wedding planners who are friends of yours, Helena and Shane?” Mary asks.

“Shane?” Bette wonders suspiciously. “I thought it was Helena and Alice? How did Shane get in there? Don’t I have a vote?”

“She didn’t.” I pat Bette’s arm. “Mary, I threw a lot of names at you at lunch, I know.”

“I realize you’ve got to physically get married in Los Angeles County but couldn’t I have a party out here for you, too?”

Diablo Canyan Maxine studio

“That would be fun!” Bette says as she follows the arrow on a small dusty festival sign and turns off the highway and down a one lane dirt road.

“Tina, we can work out the details later and figure out how to house our friends without it getting extravagant.” She says then smacks her hand against the steering wheel. “Wait! I know! Those luxury RVs – they can sleep in there.”

“Are the marijuana laws strick here in New Mexico?” I ask Mary tentatively.

Mary rolls her window up as dust from the road blows in waves from under the tires. “Being in the position I’m in with WitSec I know a judge or two. In fact, I know three of them quite well. I’ll hire some great musicians and you smoke all the weed you want. Nobody’s going to jail.” She says confidently. “I’ll plan a BBQ and a party. We can do it in my big barn.”

Bette shifts the truck into fourth gear as the red dirt road evens out. She runs her hand along the wheel of the truck and then across the chevron on the dashboard before she says thoughtfully.”If anyone had said to me as recently as three weeks ago that I’d be speeding through a desert in an old truck with you, our daughter, and also my mother I would have said only in my dreams.”

1957 Chevy 3100 speedometer view

I touch the side of Bette’s face and stroke her cheek. “Well, Babe, you’ve got several things going for you if we have a party out here in Santa Fe.”

“That’s always good to hear.” She says and shoots me a sideways curious look. “Go on.”

“Well, of course, you’ll have me as your wife,” I stress, “plus the jump on everyone else with your cowgirl drag.”

“And I’m never taking these boots off.” Bette emphasizes as her mother looks out the window amused.

“Okay, I can’t keep it to myself any longer. What is it with you two wearing hunting knives on your belts out to this festival? Is there a competition you’re planning on entering? A Mother Daughter Deer Skinning contest or something?” I ask Mary as Bette makes a face.

“No contest. But you saw the knife she brought me as a present, didn’t you? With carved white wolves on it?” Mary asks.

“And I’ve seen this knife before.” I say as I tap the handle hilt of Bette’s Bowie knife. “I just brought a purse today, ladies.”

“And so did I.” Mary says.

“I have a knife, money and great sunglasses. That’s all I brought except my wonderful family.”

Mary stirs in her seat as we near the tribal festival grounds. “Tina, who in your family will I meet at your wedding?”

I stare ahead and feel the twinge of pain of saying probably none of them. Bette’s hand appears in my lap and I thread my fingers through hers. “I have two married brothers who are attorneys in the town we grew up in near the border of North Carolina and Virginia. They farm tobacco, too. Our family still has a lot of land and tobacco with the subsidies to grow it and sometimes not to plant it at all apparently both pay them pretty well.”

“Beautiful green country.” Maxine says, “I’ve been down there before. The people were very nice.”

“I might invite them. And then there is the sister I don’t speak to, my mother who’s deceased, and finally my father who I haven’t spoken to in ten years. He, my late mother, and my sister are definitely not coming.”

“He lives one state over. Right, T? In Yuma, Arizona?”

“I’ve been there, too.” Mary nods her head. “So, you don’t talk to him or your sister?” She asks as I shake my head, no.

“Changing the subject slightly.” I burst out with an idea. “I’m going to ask Shane to give me away, Bette!”

“No, no, no you don’t. Shane is my Best Man.”

“Have you discussed this with her?”

“Yes, we have an agreement.” Bette says absolutely.

“I’m not sure I think you’re really telling me the truth, Bette. And we made a promise about that very recently.” I chide her as Mary sighs next to me.

“Excuse me, Tina.” Mary says. “Bette park over there in that line with the other old, restored pick ups. The festival people make a nice row for those of us who have these sweet old horses.” Mary says as she pats her truck.

“And here’s a festival tip.” Mary continues, “They have a good apple-flavored cactus juice drink here that they add honey and a little desert root spice to. It’s very unusual and good. But stay away from all those melon and squash drinks and the dirt tasting teas they make. They are just dreadful.”

maxine festival canyon site

Ninety minutes later –

Enclosed by the tall stratified canyon walls the small Navajo festival has attracted several hundred Indian people and a sprinkling of white visitors from the nearby western towns. Families and couples drift in and out of the acre sized grounds that awhile ago we had walked around the tents and crafts stalls of before sitting around a ring to watch the Native American performers and their trickster, the Coyote, do his loping dance. A few young boys and girls who had gathered too close to the edge of the ring were good-naturedly chased away by him. We wait now for the Medicine Man and his dancers to appear.

I tap Bette’s arm and say, “Babe, it feels a little too hot in the sun for me. I’m going to walk back around back by the crafts. Okay?”

“We won’t be here much longer, I promise. But Mary says this Medicine Man has thirty-six, or something unreal like that, grandchildren and Angie will like them as his tiny Medicine Crows.” Bette shrugs her shoulders. “Look, it’s all new for me, too. I’m surprised Angelica’s not having bikini beach volleyball withdrawals because that’s what she sees on my weekends with her.”

I laugh at Bette. “Well, are you having bikini withdrawals, too?” I ask.

“I am, in fact.” She smiles. “And I want you to go into one of those tent over there and put yours on.” She winks at me. “Just saying.”

Then, she catches my wrist as I turn away. “T, I guess bring me back another one of those cactus drinks.  It’s not blistering hot but I know what you’re feeling – the sun does feel right on top of us.” She shields her eyes and stares up at the sky. “Since we’re going to be spending time in New Mexico I better get us all cowboy hats. Mother says she knows just where to go.”

“Of course, she does, Babe.” I say as I squeeze Bette’s hand before walking back toward the tents and the shade.

navajo rug design

It’s a question I’ll have to answer many more times I have no doubt. But who from my family will be coming to my wedding? I have an aunt and uncle and cousins. I have nephews and nieces. But inviting those people to my gay wedding? I give a resounding, “No” to that idea. If other people want to have a big Gay wedding with their big ole straight family looking at their big ole Gay one, then please do. I have my own quirks and neuroses that make me absolutely object to the thought. And no hopping into therapy between now and my wedding day I realize will release them from me. So why bother? I’ve resolved it in my mind: I’ll never be free of the weirdly defining things that shade me from the shadows.

People hang on to what deflects and distracts us from ourselves. I have masks I wear to work and I have different masks I put on sometimes to wear around Bette. And certainly, when we’re out as a family, and most definitely today in this ancient tribal setting where my walking any closer to her would have been taboo.

So, today it’s New Mexico, my soon to be mother-in-law, and lots and lots of cactus everywhere. Plus, I’m pretty sure I’m sunburned from sitting around the ring with them. I forget what it feels like to leave the bubble of West Hollywood sometimes until I do.

I slip inside an animal skin tent to look at the leather bags, Indian rugs, and colorful blankets the young Navajo woman is selling.  A group of children run past the tent. Stopping for a moment to peer inside stands a tomboy girl. Our eyes meet for an instant, and then she’s gone. My head begins to ache as an uneasy feeling sweeps over me and the Navajo designs begin to cross and blend together.

Tina Tomboy memory

After going to the Fortune Teller and the unintended consequences of having my sexual memories unearthed about my sister I had finally decided, she had been very shrewd with me. The imaginary plays she staged where I’d been a knight with a sword we’d cut from a cardboard box and she’d covered with aluminum foil. And now, in the claustrophobic swelter that has become this tent, I remember the times she had dressed me as an Indian boy.

Maybe it would’ve never started if we had not found the small cave in the woods that even our brothers hadn’t discovered. So twisted, too, was that she’d had me turn it into our “Fort” against all who would invade. Soon the privacy inside the earth became the focus of our playing together.

Hurriedly, I push through another tent flap hoping for fresh air but instead a pungent smell of sweat and earth make me nauseous and my eyes strain to see into the much dimmer light. A few feet away an older girl leans over one of the Medicine Crows and carefully paints her before her dance. Around my nipples I feel the cool sticky paint and my sister circling and circling the dark tinctures into me.

Indian girl being Painted STORY image

I open my eyes to the face of an elderly Indian woman standing over me and toeing me with her boot. “You must be Tina. Mary Windhorse,” she says as she leans down next to me. “I saw them by the ring and Bette said you’d taken a walk. Some walk. What are doing on the ground outside the Medicine Man’s tent?”

Mary Windhorse pink shirt turquoise pin

“I’m just not sure.” I say brushing myself off from sand and straw as stand up. “I felt too hot and then dizzy for a moment.”

“Can’t be menopause. You’re much too young for that.” Mary says as we walk back toward the ring together. “Sometimes people feel something different when they come to our ceremonial grounds and tonight’s the full Blood Moon followed by an eclipse.”

“Well, those always do make me a little dizzy.” I laugh softly as Bette and Angelica wave at us from the ring.

Blood red clouds before Blood Moon

The desert air is cool finally and feels good against my skin. There’s been no time alone with Bette where I could lean into her and feel her body bringing me back from my upsetting memories with my sister. Since the festival there’s been one thing after another – a little last minute shopping in Santa Fe for Angelica, and the need for lotion for my skin that’s beginning to dry and change.

Soon, we’d stopped alongside the desert at a beautiful open spot and Bette had pulled off the road to watch the blood red clouds that were spreading out overhead. With a few too many looks between them Mary and Bette stayed close to the truck, not venturing off into the desert. I thought it odd after I’d taken a few steps with Angelica in my arms that Mary had quickly called me back and suggested we watch the sunset from the side of the road.

As the brilliant hues paint over the desert sky, the three of us sit along the rim of the truck bed as Angelica toddles back and forth between us.  “Incredible colors, Mother,” Bette sweeps her arm across the sky. “It must be so wonderful to paint out here.”

“It is. Within a half hour of my house the landscapes are all so different. The canyons, the open desert with brush and cactus, and always such incredible skies.” Mary catches Angelica, as she plops down against her boots then, crawls toward the closed tailgate.

Suddenly, I hear a rattle and watch as Bette twists around so quickly she slips off the side of the truck and skids in the loose gravel. She grabs the sides to fling herself back in, as we all look toward Angelica playing with the severed piece of a rattlesnake’s tail.

Rattle Close Up

“Oh my goodness!” Mary exclaims as Bette reaches slowly over to our daughter. “I thought I’d washed the truck out really good. My eyesight must really be going.”

“Apparently you need glasses.” Bette says to her mother, and then to Angelica. “You’ve found a little treasure there haven’t you?” She eases the snake’s rattle from our daughter’s hands.

Tina incredulous back up pick up truck Story Image

“Do I even want to know how that got in here?” I ask.

“The short answer is it must’ve fallen off a snake.” Mary summarizes.

“I’m going to have trouble with you, two. I can just feel it.” I shake my head. “As if your daughter weren’t enough.” I open my hand for Bette to hand over their secret.

Tina_Moon_silhouette

Mary Windhorse’s Ranch – Tina

Around a warm campfire behind Mary’s adobe house I sit in canvas chairs with the elder Marys as Bette makes a bed of quilts and Indian blankets for her and Angelica. She stretches out on the ground with our daughter and waves away the occasional spark that flies out from the burning sticks and flames. When I tune my ear to listen under the soft tones of the two older women talking I can hear Bette whispering to Angelica a children’s story we both know by heart.

“The Blood Moon must have a story I hope you’ll tell.” I say missing I suppose one of my own.

“Careful what you ask for, Tina.” Mary Hardy warns with humor. “All the Indian legends that have to do with blood are mostly gruesome and scary.”

“And that business with Jesus wasn’t?” Mary Windhorse barks a laugh.

“Of course it is. Nailing people up on crosses as punishment is barbaric and disgusting. And a few hundred miles from Jerusalem you can probably get your hand cut off tonight for stealing a piece of bread.” Mary Hardy vents.

“Or some fucker cuts your head off.” Bette says as she covers Angelica’s ears.

“As if that helps.” Mary shakes her head at Bette. “But she’s right it’s a story about murder,” Mary Windhorse admits. “Still want to hear it?”

“Tina, it’s very comfortable over here with all these blankets. Won’t you bring the wine and come over here with us?”

“Sure.” I pick up our wine bottle and kneel down next to Bette and Angelica lying by the fire.

Mary Windhorse begins. “Before the year 1900 Blood Moons were rare and our old calendars showed they hadn’t occurred in more than three hundred years. But when they did my people marked the legend of the White Painted Woman.”

Mary draws her calloused fingers down her own weathered cheeks and says, “She wore long red painted feathers like blood streaks down her face.” I close my eyes and imagine the White Painted Woman. Bette slides her arm across my waist and I rest my head on her shoulder as we watch the full moon rise.

1 white painted woman

“She was said to be an expert hunter, far better than any of her brothers and superior to the other hunters in the tribe. The men were jealous and envious of her skill and prowess. And said she was a shapeshifter and her hunting was no more than a trick and a dishonest lure.

“To these taunts and others she was said to have ignored them until one night when the party went out hunting, and time and time again her arrows were truer than theirs for the kill.

“Enraged and coming upon her alone one of the huntsmen had turned on her. Knocked her to the ground and tore at her clothes to rape her. All night she had fought fiercely and held him off. They had thrashed back and forth against each other as the full moon rose higher. Toward dawn his arm slicked with sweat he had finally slipped in her grip and his flint knife struck a cut deeply into her. Around her as she died slowly bleeding into the earth a perfect circle of blood had formed.” Mary says as she finishes her story.

The fire crackles back to life as Bette’s mother tosses on another log. Lying with my back against Bette I pull her arm closer around me. She lightly kisses my neck and whispers, “I love you.”

“I feel lucky I was never raped.” Mary Hardy points back and forth to her friend and shakes her head sadly, “We hear too many stories of rape and abuse from the women on the Res.”

“Well, for God’s sake, Mary, isn’t being shot up and nearly tossed in a mass grave enough torture for you in one lifetime?”

“Wait? What?” Bette had gasped behind me.

“Not now, Bette.” Her mother had warned.

“I was raped at the missionary boarding school back when I was a girl. During World War 2 a practice of moving us off the desert near Los Alamos began and I was sent away from my family to a mission school in Montana.”

“How long did it go on? Or was it just once?” I ask and feel Bette’s whole body tense behind me.

“Too long is, of course, the short answer, but for months when I was twelve the older son of the farmer who minded the sheep and milk cows for the nuns would stalk me when I was out on the farm doing my chores.

“Did you ever forget about it?” I ask. “Because for years and years I didn’t remember my abuse.”

“Of course, I did. Hell, I’m nearly ninety years old. I’ve forgotten a lot of things!”

“I had a vivid memory come back to me today at the fair.” I lean back and look into Bette’s eyes. “I remembered a role playing game with my sister. She used to dress me up as an Indian boy to have sex with me.”

“And you were always the boy to her girl?” Mary Hardy asks.

“Yes.”

“But that’s not how we do it.” Bette confides to her mother.

“Babe?” I ask not believing my ears as the older women’s laughter overtakes them.

“Well, what should I have said?” She asks before her kiss overtakes my lips.

Three Blood Moons Maxine

Guestroom – Tina

The air in the house had felt chilly when we’d put Angelica to bed in Bette’s mother’s room.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had a baby sleep so close to me.” Mary had said as we stood around Angelica’s bed and I had adjusted her Indian baby blankets one final time.

“Mary, we didn’t give you much time at all to get ready for your granddaughter’s visit and yet, you’ve found all the things needed to make her comfortable.” I had said before Bette and I had walked down the stairs after saying a warm good night to her mother.

In bed now with Bette, I feel her hands against my back as I kiss her.

CU Bette Tina Kiss.T on top

“I feel incredibly happy and to be finally in bed alone with you. But how are you?” Bette asks.

“In some ways this day has felt like a year.” I say before kissing her again. “Touch me when I tell you to.” I kiss down her neck and inhale the lingering smoky scents from the fire.

“Okay.” She says tentatively before I kiss her again and close my lips around her tongue that slides against mine.

Her hand cradles my head as my leg moves between hers. The heat coming from her feels warm against my thigh before it spreads and then burns a place inside me.

“I need to feel just you and not any place else tonight.” I whisper to her as I rub her clitoris and feel it harden.

“Baby, I love you.” Her quickens, and my tongue circles around her.

Bette_passion in bed. Story image

I feel a fierceness rushing through me and my need to push inside her, and back and forth we rock harder and harder together.

The ranch bed creaks louder as she calls out to me. “Jesus Christ! We need to come to New Mexico more often. For the love of God, Tina, fuck me right there!”

Lunar eclipse

Guestroom – Bette

Outside the window the lunar eclipse is underway and far off in the desert come the unsettling cries and yelps of coyotes and the wind and noises in the trees outside our bedroom window rustle with movement and sounds. The shapes and cries of hawks and other night birds swing through sky.

I stroke Tina’s back as she lies on my shoulder. “I know you feel it, too. It’s strange here.”

“It is but I like the idea of Mary Hardy as my mother-in-law, and perhaps Mary Windhorse as Angelica’s godmother.” Tina says.

“Yes, or something akin to that name she would like.” I agree. “How are you? Aside from what just happened,” I ask as I kiss her forehead.

“It’s been a long, very different kind of day.” Tina says. “I had a moment of something that felt suffocating when I went into a tent at the festival. It caught me off guard. I don’t know when to expect them but the memories seem to be returning to me.”

“I have zero experience with this. What should I do?”

“I do have a request.” Tina says rising up slightly.

“Anything, Baby.” I kiss her slowly. “Just ask. Please just ask.”

“I get it that you love your cowboy boots, Bette.”

“I know they are pretty great aren’t they?” I say as I knock them together at the foot of the mattress.

“But when we get back to LA, Babe, you can’t wear them in bed.”

antler candles bedside Story Image

_____

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#7 Touch Tones: Flexibility

Bette_leather Jacket Smiling

Maxine’s House – Bette 7:15 PM

“Are you about ready to go, Bette?” My mother calls down the hallway as I pull on my leather jacket.

Five minutes earlier we had no sooner sat down in her comfortable living room for a drink by the fire than my mother had popped up out of her chair and announced that we should drive east into the desert to watch the moon rise over a canyon. This has required a wardrobe change on my part, a packed picnic basket on hers, and now we are just about ready to leave.

“Close, I’m lacing my boots now,” I rejoin loudly from the guest room. I honestly can’t ever recall driving somewhere to watch a moonrise but lately I’ve been practicing the art of flexibility with Tina, with myself, and I’m working up to everybody else – so tonight with no argument from me – moonrises are in.

I stand up and pat my pockets to see what’s in this jacket I haven’t worn since last Fall. I wonder if I should give her the present I brought her now or when we get back from our lunar gazing? Once again Mary Windhorse had been helpful and steered me away from mistakenly bringing Maxine objets d’art from LA that would have had no coherence in her beautiful New Mexico home.

“Tell me a little about her, Mary. Surely, you can do that.” I had coaxed a few days ago during one of our Skype calls.

“Well, what comes to mind because I just helped her child proof her place this morning, and had to move several dozen of them, are knives. Your mother has a large knife collection and pistols, too, but those were already up high.”

“That sounds promising,” I had perked up. “I have an interest in them, too. Did for awhile any way.” I had smiled up at the ceiling and imagined for a moment finding my mother a unique bone or antler handled knife as a gift.

I feel her presence at my door before she says. “You can’t wear those out to the desert, Bette.” She leans against the wall of my room but points toward the guest room closet.

“Why not? I wear these in the canyons all the time. That’s what they’re for. Hiking.” I point down to the ankle high leather boots I’d just finished double knotting.

“Out here we wear high boots out in the desert and I put a pair in the closet for you.” She opens the door to show me. “A present for you if you like them. I hope you do.” She smiles back at me.

I peer around where she’s standing and see the vintage pair of cowboy boots she’s offering.

Maxine's loaner pair cowboy boots

Surprised a tremendous smile breaks across my face. “Those are for me? And they look like the right size, too. I’ll definitely put them on! Are you kidding?”

Back at my suitcase I find her wrapped gift box down inside my leather overnight bag. I lean in to kiss her cheek as she unwraps the package and I slip my Bowie knife through my belt. “I hope you like it. I saw the carver’s work featured in the Smithsonian Cultural Arts catalogue not too long ago. Fortunately, I was able to get this for you in time.”

Bette's present to Maxine Wolf Knife

Pensively with a curious smile she examines the carvings on the hunting knife and runs her finger lightly down the edge of the blade testing its sharpness. “White wolf. This is extraordinary, Bette.” She returns a light, warm kiss on my cheek. “Thank you.”

“It’s beautifully carved, isn’t it?” I pull on my cowboy boots and watch her testing the balance of the knife as she grips it. “And I hope it’s the biggest hint in the world that after a few drinks you’ll tell me exactly how you got your WitSec code name, White Wolf.” I wink at her and she smiles knowingly as she flips the blade back and forth in her hand to examine the wolf engravings.

“I have a pistol collection, too. Did Mary tell you?”

“She did and that they’ve all been child proofed.” I look closely at her for confirmation. She nods they have.

My cowboy boots strike against the hardwood floor as I follow her down the hallway toward her kitchen.
Maxine kitchen

She calls over her shoulder, “We should load up a couple of my favorite pistols in case we want to shoot tonight.” And with that California disappears into the distance.

“Shoot? Tonight?” I finger the grip of the pistol she straps around my waist. Then another gun drops inside our picnic basket, and she tosses the keys to her truck toward me.
CU Maxine

“You know how to drive with a clutch, right?”

“Of course.” I open the back door for her. “What kind of pistol did you say this was? And you know I have very little idea how to shoot it, right?”

“The truck’s name is Queenie, and she likes it if you talk to her if she begins to act up. And the first lesson of pistols is this,” my mother begins as we walk out to her truck. “Whatever is beyond the sights and that barrel is getting a big hole put in it when you pull the trigger. If you don’t want to shoot that then move the barrel to what you do want to hit, and don’t ever squeeze your shot off ’til you see exactly what you want to kill,” she emphasizes.

“In a nutshell.” I look down at my gun again.

“Yes, in a nutshell.” She points to her old truck. “Queenie’s waiting. Let’s go.”

1957 Chevy Driver's side front

The Drive to the Desert – Bette

“So, tell me if you were at home in California tonight what would you and Tina be doing?”

“Hm.” I drum my fingers against the steering wheel. “Maxine, I admit that should be a simple question to answer.”
Bette Tina couch Close up color corrected
“Or not.” She pans and she pushes in the cigarette lighter. “Seriously though, I don’t know what to do about you calling me, Maxine.”

I shift up to third and turn onto a two lane highway that heads east out into the darkening desert. “You’d like me to call you, Mother, right?”

“Whatever you feel comfortable with, Bette, but I haven’t been Maxine in a long time.”

I register the reality. “What is your name, now?”

“Mary Hardy.”

“That’s very English and to the point, isn’t it?”

“Simple, too. I’ve really grown to like it over the years. Everyone can spell it. It fits on a name tag. Mary Windhorse and I are on committees and things so we’re always in the name tag business when organizing events for some cause or other.”

“I did a little research online. Your paintings are wonderful.”

She lights a cigarette and rolls the window down. “Did you pursue it or let it drop?”

“Once I left college, I began to sell art more than I made art.”

“I have a nice little studio.” She pats the dashboard of her 1957 Chevy truck. “It’s a very short hop in Queenie.”

“Love your truck, Mother. I’m game for a ride out in the desert, shoot pistols, and look at the moon.  And I’m really ready for a drink.”

“I’m dying for one actually.” She nods in agreement. “Bette, drive past those rocks and down into the canyon.”

Art. The Black Mesa Ceremony

Canyon Fireside – Bette

The dry desert tree limbs catch quickly and around a very old, perhaps ancient firepit my mother and I spread out blankets and our dinner picnic basket. The cool evening air begins to sink lower into the canyon as the moon my mother wanted us to watch crests at the eastern tip of the cliff. I have to agree, it is beautiful out here.

“This part of the desert is my favorite. Something feels comfortable to me here. Do you feel it?”

“Comfortable, very.” I add from my side of the campfire as I stretch out on the blanket. “This beer tastes fantastic. You’re here. I’m crazy about my new boots, and I’m strapped with weaponry.” I take a long swallow of cold Mexican beer. “What’s not to love?”

“How far along are you along on finishing that can?”

“Why? I was just starting to relax.”

“For target practice, Bette.” My mother hands me her can. “Put them on top of those rocks about twenty feet over there, and watch out for snakes when you get too far away from the fire.”

“Oh?” I stop dead in my tracks. “They don’t like fire?”

“Rattlesnakes have heat sensing pits above their eyes to track their warm blooded prey. They’ll sense this fire as a very large foe, and they won’t come too near it.”

I watch my step around the boulders and brush grass before placing our beer cans waist high on a rock.

My mother pats the blanket near her. “We’re going to shoot those cans off that rock. You watch me and then you go next.”

She takes a tissue out of her pocket, tears it in two, and motions for me into stuff it in my ears.

I pop open the beer and lean back so I can watch how she aims. “I understand the principle of the thing. You line up the sights and pull the trigger.”

“Aiming is very easy, Bette, once you get the hang of it. The other important thing is remembering the safety on the gun. You always have it on.” She flips a notch on the side of her long barrelled pistol to show me how she can’t pull the trigger now. Then, she slides the safety off, and shows me the little red marker that means the gun is hot.

“Now, my safety is On and now I’m flipping it Off because I’m ready to aim and shoot.”  A loud report echoes for a second or two around the canyon after she fires.

Past the curling grey muzzle smoke only one beer can remains.  “Jesus Christ! Mother! I don’t even know if I can hit that can at all.” I rise up from the blanket and shuffle my boots around in the gritty sand to get a balanced footing.

“Just take your time, sweetheart. If you miss on your first attempt, don’t worry about it. You’ll see what you did wrong. Just correct it the second time around.”

“Second chances. If you only knew how close to home all this sounds.” I close my left eye to concentrate my aim.

“So, I’m curious about so many things. I know you are, too, Bette but what’s with the hunting knife?” My mother asks without sarcasm.

“Have you ever felt a murderous rage?”

“Being the target of Mob hitmen most of my life, what do you think?” She laughs at herself. “That’s why I have so many knives and pistols. I don’t have one for every time I had the urge. That would be rather sick, wouldn’t it?”

I flash on Helena and back to Henry. I should have a switchblade with me, too. “Tina and I have had some problems over the years. I was in a very dark mood one day. I desperately needed a sippy cup for Angelica, and I went into a Wal Mart – if you can believe it – and came out with baby supplies and this huge skinning knife.” I sight back down the barrel of the gun.

My mother sighs with a laugh. “America is commercially diverse in the most uncanny of ways, isn’t it? Your safety is on, right?”

“Check.”  I close my left eye and sight squarely down the barrel. “I wanted to kill the man she left me for. I really did.” I pull the trigger and the can zings up into the air before falling back to earth.

“Just as I thought.” My mother says proudly. “You’re one of those rare people who can focus on new things with confidence.”

I holster my pistol and I walk back into the shadows to set the targets up again.

Maxine Bette Campfire

Twenty minutes later –

I lazily knock my pair of cowboy boots together, and stare into the flames. After drinking more beer and shooting more cans off rocks my mother and I grew quieter a few minutes ago.

Maxine, aka, Mary Hardy certainly is a very easy person to hang out with, but what would’ve happened if I’d been the hyper-citified type who wouldn’t leave the pickup truck for fear of … what I wonder exactly?

The dark?

Which is everything.

Darkness, I’ve finally realized is something that is inescapable. There’s no point in berating yourself when you flame out on the track. Endless inner recriminations are a waste of time. When the twisted paths that inevitably follow disappointment appear, and you get lost down those for awhile the wise thing is to roll with it.

I wince at the grimace, and grimace at the wince. Inner wisdom like this is so hard for me to practice. Bad Luck is. Carelessness is. Being blind to what’s right in front of me is, and happens far too often to me. It’s unstoppable.

I look up at the infinity of the stars, and think about ceaselessness. If I could figure out how to see far enough ahead to know when a calamity is just about to befall me I could change the world.

Foresight would be amazing. I wish I had more of it.

Across the campfire my mother stares into the flames. “Maxine? What was it like for you to become Mary? I’ve tried to imagine what it must’ve been like to lose your identity, to be one person one day, and then the next in a flash everything familiar is gone. That would freak me out.”

“My guess is it would. Are you getting hungry over there?”

Extreme CU BETTE fireside NM

“I could eat. Whatcha got?” I move around the fire to her blanket as she opens the picnic basket. “And if you don’t want to get into it I’ve waited nearly thirty years – another hour or day isn’t going to kill me.”

“I’ll fix you a plate, and while you eat I’ll tell you what I can. I might be up for all of it but it’s a horribly long story filled with such a load of assholes.” She laughs sardonically as she puts plates and silverware out on the blanket in front of me.

“Let’s start with the identity business, Bette. Who would you be tomorrow if you woke up all alone in WitSec? Your name wouldn’t be Bette any longer.” She whisks her hand between us. “Your name is gone and becomes a sound you’ll never hear anyone ever calling you again. But you’re corporeal. You have your thoughts, and you have your body, and you wake up alone in a strange bed only with those next day. So, what goes through your mind?”

“You don’t make things easy, do you?” I pick up a fork and bob it between my fingers.

“Fine. We’ll talk about me then.” Maxine brushes away my question as she looks down into the basket. “You’d understand better how it felt if you’d use your imagination and try to experience it with me.”

“No, wait! I understand. You’re not deflecting, then?”

With a steady gaze she looks back at me. “I wasn’t, no.”

I stare up at the stars then, close my eyes as I take a deep breath in and begin to imagine myself waking up in a place far, far away from my life and family.

There’s daylight behind the shades so I sense I’m in an open place, not closed in by other buildings or a forest of trees. I describe how I feel. “My eyes open and I notice how I want to look to my right, the side of the bed where Tina sleeps.”

My frown grows deeper as I continue. “She’s not there and next I realize my daughter is not down the hallway of this – wherever I am place – either, and I wonder: What’s the point of getting up? Nothing I know or love is outside that bedroom door, is there?”

“No, there isn’t. It’s unbelievably depressing. You cannot know how much I missed you. It crushed me.” My mother begins to cry softly, and I catch a tear and then another of my own. I wipe them away, again and again.

Finally she says, “As it turns out, identity is a very interesting thing, and to rebuild it I finally looked to my preference for things – opinions, likes, and dislikes.” Her silver bracelets jingle down her arm as she emphasizes this point of her journey. “Some of those I took with me. I had to. I had to have something familiar.

“As an example, I’ve always identified – and this drove your father crazy, by the way – with anyone who didn’t want to stomp the ever loving sparks out of life and consequently, of course, art.”

Her face searches mine for recognition and finds it. “So, one piece of my identity that I decided to cross over with was pretty much anything that appeared strange to everybody else I was for it one hundred percent. I felt so off, you see.” She laughs at herself. “If it was unusual, I was game.”

“Believe me when I say, I’ve been through that gauntlet quite a few times.”

“You mean several years ago? Bringing the Provocations show to your museum? Now, Bette that was very unsettling and bizarre. I saw the catalogue. Much of it made me cringe, and of course, that was the point.” She shudders as she drops little mounds of green salad onto my plate. “And I was so proud of you!”

“You were?” I spear a mound of lettuce with my fork. “But personally, too, Mother – I have a bad history of walking into traffic.” I feel my throat tighten. “You might not be so proud of me there.”

She laughs with me and then her tone grows serious. “But back to my leaving you and joining WitSec – there’s this nakedness that creeps over you when everything’s been stripped away. It’s a very painful feeling, Bette.” She dashes away a quick tear. “When it begins to dawn on you that your heart and all your guts have been removed.”

Maxine night canyon

“I walked around with an emptiness – from my throat down to my waist – for probably a decade after the Feds kind of captured me, I guess. They gave me so little choice in the matter – as in none really.” She says pensively then looks straight back into my eyes.

“The mob would have killed us, Sweetheart. We would have all died. Our throats cut or bullets to the head. I became very convinced of that.” She finishes with a regrettable sigh. “And for awhile, ten years or more, losing my identity as Maxine and your mother, as Mary Hardy I also lost a sense of time I once had.”

“I don’t understand what you mean.” I confess as the dry wood I put on the fire catches and crackles. A twisting swirl of orange sparks lifts up from the rising flames.

“You’ll understand this the longer you’re a mother. There’s another way of pegging time. For me, it started right around that the period between September and February. That was when you started school, and included Halloween, then Thanksgiving, followed by your birthday, then Christmas. And thinking farther ahead every year I’d wonder after the New Year celebrations were over – what does Bette need to start up school?

“When I didn’t have that to do in reality, make a list and take you to the department store, I did it anyway. Over and over again in my head, year after year as you grew up so far away from me, I’d count off the things I’d looked forward to doing with you – like carving pumpkins every Fall.”

“You were very good at that as I remember.” I take her hand with long fingers like mine. “To lose the connection to your family – it sounds shattering to me. Truly. What I’ve been through lately sounds similar, and it was horrible, and mostly self-inflicted.”

I sigh and she smiles at me through our veils of sadness. “You turned out so beautifully. Do you know that about yourself? That you have a real warmth that radiates out from you?”

“Yes, I most definitely feel it. Sometimes it zooms away from me, too.”

I look at her curiously when she nods at me with complete understanding. “The wild horses inside? I know, I was the same way.

“To boil it down though, Bette, I guess identity isn’t what you think it is until you don’t have it anymore. Then your imagination – finally when you’ll let it – begins to fill in the gaps slowly and you create something else. Mary Hardy, for example, a painter and community activist who lives outside of Santa Fe.” My mother picks up her pistol and aims out into the dark open canyon.

“The imagination’s patchwork role is no doubt some kind of last-ditch-before-the-cliff coping strategy. After years of thinking about it that’s all I’ve come up with anyway.”
gun blast story image
She fires a single shot into the canyon. “Do you know who you are?”

With my ears still ringing a bit I lean back and look back up at the sky. “I know myself more lately in contrasts. I’m on a self-improvement kick these days.” I laugh out loud.

“My life Mother was a catastrophic mess until a month ago. You probably won’t have even liked me – I don’t know – as recently as two years ago, maybe?”

“That’s the first crazy thing you’ve said,” my mother shakes her head as she rises up from the blanket. “I’m going behind those rocks over there for a little privacy.”

I lean over and pick up a paper napkin. “I never thought about the origins of that, but you’re right – nature calls.”

I turn back to her as I’m walking away. “Mother are we planning on going back to your place and having dinner or should I eat more cheese and salad out here?”

“No, we’ve got a nice Mexican-styled stew for when we get home.”

I walk a few feet more looking up at the moon and stars, and then I hear a loud rattling sound. I look down to see the snake before I step on it.

CU rattlesnake

The feeling of needing to pee suddenly floods into my brain as I watch the big snake coiling to face me. It lifts its tail and rattles at me menacingly. God, I hope sound waves don’t set these things off more than those heat sensing pits of theirs. “Mother! Mary! Maxine! Dear God! There’s a big fucking snake over here.”

“Sweetheart, you’re catching me in kind of a mid-stream situation. I’ll be there in a minute. Just don’t move but if it strikes at you – you jump the instant it does. Okay?”

“Got it. Jump. But stay still.”

“Something like that. Damn, it’s hard to pee and worry about you at the same time.”

“Should I apologize?” I look up at the sky with a grimace of desperation and then fast back down to the snake still rattling at me.

“Okay, I’m coming. How many bullets do you have left?”

“You’re serious?” I glance behind me to see her picking up her pistol from the blanket.

“Can’t I just hop backwards and then take off running?”

“I tell you what I’d do if I had your Bowie knife and I was standing that close.”

“Arrgg.” I strangle out a breath of frustration as I unsheath my hunting knife. “This feels a bit more real to me Mother than my speculatively plotting to kill Tina’s boyfriend with it. Although I was convinced of its necessity at the time.” I add as I pat the knife against my palm and eye the snake rattling in front of me.

“That’s funny, Bette, but you should see yourself. Damn fine pair of my boots on, my favorite Colt six-shooter – all you need is a cowboy hat, kiddo, and we’re getting you one tomorrow.”

I roll my eyes up to the heavens and ignore her description. “Can’t you see well enough to shoot it from there? Please? Mom, Mary, Maxine? I’ll call you whatever you want. Better yet, all three of you come over here and take your best shots at this snake, or I’m jumping and hoping.”

“You’d risk all the pain that goes along with getting snake bit to spare its life?”

“How much pain are we talking about?” I begin to reconsider as the snake rattles furiously.

“I lost part of my right foot to snakebite about eight years ago. Toes just necrotized, died, and then, fell off. Well, were cut off but you get my point.”

“You’re convincing me.” I sheath my knife and take my pistol out of its holster. I pop open the chamber. “Not good news on this end, Mother. Only got one bullet left.” I bite my lip.

“One shot should do it, but I’ll throw you a few more bullets. It’s your job now to make sure it’s really dead. Got that?”

“I still don’t understand why you’re not so trigger happy anymore.” I try one last ploy. “Shooting cans can’t be as much fun as killing the cousin of the rattler that bit your toes off, can it?”

“How about you feel how it wants to sink it’s fangs into you now?”

“You have a very curious habit of always answering a question with another one. I remember this tactic of yours – imprinting curiosity on a young, impressionable child, but not now, Mother. Tell me you get the difference.”

“Behind you – between us and by that boulder – there’s another one, not as big as the one in front of you, but big, and it would hurt.”

I look between us as she points to the rocks nearby. “I didn’t want to alarm you, Bette, but we have to shoot at the same time. I’ll take care of the one by me and you do the same with yours. We can’t leave one of them wounded, unpredictable, and dangerous.  Here, catch these bullets. I’m throwing you three, one at a time. Then, we have to kill these rattlers and get the hell out of here.”

“I’m convinced. It’s been fun but…” my voice trails as I look away from the rattlesnake and back to Maxine for her pitch.

“Okay, sweetheart here comes a bullet. Now hand to eye coordination is key and you gotta be quick about loading up, too. I’m throwing right to the center of your chest. You won’t have to put your hands too far out to catch and alarm the snake.

“Go. I’m ready. I never peed by the way.” I look at her with a desperate expression. “And now, it’s killing me. Throw me the ammo.”

bowie knife rattlesnake

A minute later after the smoke clears, but the ringing in my ears hasn’t my mother says, “I’m really proud of you, Sweetheart.”

“Thanks, Mom.” I lift the lifeless rattlesnake a few inches off the ground with the toe of my boot. “Like you said, squeeze the trigger and on the other end of the barrel big holes appear in things. Looks like I hit it every time, too.”

“You’ve never killed anything before, have you?” She walks over to where I’m toeing my dead snake.

“No, I haven’t, but I’m not torn up about it. Believe me. These things are ugly, aren’t they?”

“Agreed. Rattlers are not pretty snakes at all. Now, we cut their heads off, and take them back home for our stew. You have to eat the meat of your first kill, Bette. It’s unlucky not to.”

“You think so? Why is that?” I insist not buying her idea. “And another thing – don’t suggest we stop and scoop up any road kill on the way back home to your place tonight, either.”

“First kill. It’s a ritual. A rule. You must do it.” She shrugs her shoulders that it’s a given. “I’m not saying you have to eat the whole damn snake, Bette, but definitely a bite or two.”

With a long stick she hands me I lift the bloody snake off the ground between us. “Mother, have you eaten one of these before?”

“People lie when they say it tastes like chicken but I smother rattlesnake meat with onions and chilis and other things. If you didn’t know better you’d think it was chicken, probably.” She explains, “I guess what I’m saying is – I could fool you into eating that snake for dinner tonight, but I’m not. It’s your choice, I’m simply strongly advising.”

“I couldn’t be more relieved, really for the lessons on the customs of the land.” I shoot her a look as I throw the dead rattler into the bed of her pick up truck. It lands with a lifeless thud. “Mother, an idea just came to me. Let’s get whatever “going native” initiations I seem to be having over with tonight. Tomorrow when my future wife gets here we can’t be having this kind of fun around her and the baby. If I eat part of this fucking snake, we can agree on that, right?”

“When she gets here tomorrow at noon we’ll act as right as rain.”

“And in a desert that sounds unusual, but fortuitous.” I side step to give her room. She drops her dead snake in the truck next to mine.

“Here’s what I’m thinking. Tina is a much more relaxed person than I am. She’s lovely and people adore her, but you’ve already spooked her with WitSec and the Gambinos.”

I continue as I lean against the truck, “Here’s my vision – an evening at home tomorrow night with no guns or knives to speak of, and no snake meat snuck into our tacos.” I look across at my mother for a promise. “What’d you say? I’d like for you to get to know my family, and I promise you we can’t do that if Tina gets rattled, so to speak.”

“I’m looking forward to being a grandmother tomorrow, Bette, and meeting Tina very much. Follow me. We have to put out the fire, and needless to say, both of us need to watch our step.”

Santa Fe mystery dinner

Rattlesnake Dreams

After dinner we had pulled off our boots and had sat by the fire sipping whiskey. My eyes had begun to feel heavy, and finally I had tossed back the remaining swallow, and had kissed my mother goodnight.

Lying in bed now I have visions of the stars, and the canyon behind my eyes. I feel the twisting, digesting snake inside me, too. It had been alive slithering in its canyon when I had landed in New Mexico earlier today.

Then, my mind drifts off into a dream that soon finds a doorway that lures me through it.

Maxine_painted Door way HOME

The clouds around me are rhythmic and scarlet, and sailing closer to earth I skim above a red desert, and I hear my mother’s voice reminding me how I was warm by the fire, and sleepy from adventure.  She had read aloud the Navajo legend, The Tale of Two Trees Twisted Together.

The air high up here in the Grandmother Wisdom Tree is sweet and warm and singing birds join me in the branches as I float into one of the leafy crowns and rest in the limbs where I dream on about journeys that take a lifetime to go from one place to the next, and what to do when you finally arrive.

Art. Grandparent Trees

A Dream Within a Dream

I slide down one of the rough and weathered trunks of the trees in my mother’s painting, and feel the depth of its root’s, and the strength Life requires of us.

A low desert wind brushes across my bare back as my dream settles me face down against the warm rocks and sand at the base of the Two Twisted Trees.

Bette_Back_in Bed

I see the snake that’s becoming a little part of me. It lies flat, warming its belly like me against the earth. Then past the one rattlesnake appear many more and we all stretch out and elongate and the rattlesnakes’ length of spine becomes mine. I feel bones.

A tongue flicks out of my mouth to taste the air and comes back with sensations that are familiar. I slide to the left and then back to the right, and feel the coarseness of the earth as it rubs back and forth against my new skin.

Ouroborous

Eight hours later –

Maxine’s House – Morning – Bette

“How’d you sleep?” My mother asks as she pours my tea.

“Grandmother Trees? I think I remember that much, plus I feel like I walked a great distance yesterday but that’s impossible.”I arch and crack a vertebra or two in my back. “Dreams.” I shake my head.

“Do you like to eat in the morning?” My mother asks.

CU Bette tank top JPEG

“I can eat but only something normal, Mother. I’m remembering. I had snake dreams last night. Remember, we’re not bringing up snakes again, okay?”

“If you can forget about it, then I can forget about it. It’s our secret. Fine.” My mother nods as she begins separating eggs into bowls.

“Do you need me to chop anything? Do anything?”

“After breakfast I have some chores around the place. Doing those with me would help.”

“Yes, count me in and I’m pretty good at anything up high, too.” I smile.

“And you don’t have to eat it but I’m frying some more rattlesnake with the bacon this morning. It’d be good for you to eat it once more.” She nods at me, as I smile guardedly across the stove at her. “Make you strong, like milk used to.”

Maxine HOME

Maxine’s House – Tina

I hear the muffled tunes of a Country and Western song coming from beyond the wall as my taxi stops in front of the address Bette gave me a half hour ago when I called her from the airport. I call her name as I push open the gate, and look off to the side where I see a beautifully restored 1957 Chevy truck, and hear her voice.

Before our commercial flight Angelica and I had been biding our time people watching in the Burbank airport when out of blue Nikki Stevens had walked up and offered us a lift to Santa Fe.

As we walk toward the rear of the house, I hold Angelica’s hand and breath in the heat baked scents of desert sage that wafts around me

Tina_Maxine Story Picture

Bette had seemed happy on the phone. All had been forgotten about my delayed arrival. “Bette. We’re here.” I call again, as I near the old truck and more plainly hear the radio.

1957 Chevy Driver's side front

In a moment out from under it rolls Bette and Maxine zipped into faded khaki shop coveralls. Bette holds a wrench in her hand and smiles up at me. “Takes two people to bleed a brake line, Tina. Did you know that?” She pulls off her greasy gloves and gets up off the ground.

“Tina, I’m Mary Hardy, not Maxine anymore, if that’s okay?” Bette’s mother says with a wave. “And I’m dying to meet you, too, Angelica, just as soon as I clean up.”

Bette knocks a wrench against her thigh. “We thought we’d be through before you got here. Great you got an earlier flight.” She takes Angelica’s other hand. “I’ve missed you.” She kisses me quickly on the lips. “And now! It’s perfect that you’re here.”

“How greasy are you? I know you want to pick up your daughter.”

“Tina? Are you two hungry? How was your flight?” Mary calls from back under the truck.

“Aren’t we through? We aren’t? Are we?” Bette kneels down next to the big front wheel where Mary is working.

“Tina, excuse us. This is the worst welcome! I have the best lunch prepared, and a great afternoon planned, but we’re going nowhere unless I get my daughter back under Queenie for another minute or two.”

I sit down on the driveway with Angelica in my lap. We watch Bette and her mother scoot around on their sleds under the big blue truck.

“I guess it was dumb of me to attempt this little brake job the day we needed the truck. You’re probably thinking that, aren’t you?” Mary asks.

“Not really. I admit to being a little thunder struck seeing Bette repair a car. Mary, our toolbox in Los Angeles is the telephone.”

She laughs. “She understands she’s not to try this at home.”

“Trust me!” Bette calls back.

“We’re going to walk around a little.” I get up and let loose of Angelica’s hand to explore around me.

“Okay! We’re done.” Bette’s mother exclaims as they both roll out from under the truck. “Meet us there in the breakfast room. She’ll get your bags. And I’m sorry! We have a sink we wash up in out here in the barn.”

“Inside this door is the breakfast room?” I ask as Mary nods. “See you inside. And Babe?” I say to Bette who turns back, and flashes me a great big smile. “You look really good in that mechanic’s suit.” I give her a wink. “And I’ve missed you, too.”

Maxine breakfast room

Stay tuned for Chapter 8 of Touch Tones, The L Word inspired Season 7. It will post shortly.

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