The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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Shanghaied! –Touch Tones #11

Shane_reading paper serious look

The Planet – Shane

As I stare at the unknown number on the screen of my cell phone, Tina and Alice’s attention drifts back to discussing Molly Kroll’s unexpected appearance outside The Planet a few minutes ago, but more astonishingly, why she drove away with Bette.

The phone vibrates in my hand once more. It’s a Dallas area code, but my Mother never calls me this early.

First, a southern sounding woman’s voice, soft but direct asks, “May I speak with Shane McCutcheon?”

“I’m Shane.” I sip my expresso. Dammit, how quickly it grows cold.

“Ms. McCutcheon, I’m Dr. Matthews from St. Francis’ Hospital in Dallas. I’m calling about your mother. Is this a good time to talk?”

I wave my hands for Alice and Tina to look at me as I mouth the words, ‘hospital’ and ‘mother’, and we all wait as I hear the news: My mother, the on and then off again drug addict, needs a liver transplant, or she’ll die.

Alice breaks our frozen silence, “Wait a minute! Do they even know how dangerous that is?”

Tina comforts me, “It’s not dangerous for you, Shane. Painful to give the necessary tissue, sure. It’s surgery after all, but not dangerous per se.”

“Thank you, Meredith Grey,” Alice snaps. “but I was talking about for Shane’s mother. I mean, would you want Shane’s kidney?”

“Liver.” I correct.

For a second too long my best friends look doubtful. Quickly, Tina leans over and kisses my cheek. “Guys, I’ve got to get going. Shane, find me on set later if you want to talk.”

Stunned, I walk out of The Planet, and as I climb the hill back to my house my mind feels adrift and buzzy, when it should be clear and planning and my fingers tapping around online for a cheap plane ticket to Texas, but instead I listen the incessant humming in my head. A thousand bees circling again and again – a disturbed hive of thoughts.

Bette_PowerSuite.2king down

California University – Phyllis’ Office – Bette

After Molly Kroll’s unexpected ride to work with me, I had hoped to dash past James, and straight into my office, but Phyllis ‘Shanghaied’ me in the parking lot.  At this point, I’ve given up and settled in with her and Molly, and a morning tea tray for what I suspect will be an annoying conversion that will touch upon, “being a lesbian, being a mother”, and most dreaded of all: “What do I think about it?”

But instead, she wants to talk about the boots I’m wearing.

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Suddenly, she grabs me by the tip of my slightly squared toe and fixes me with a stare of undeniable envy. “Bette, you both frustrate and fascinate me.” Followed by a long sigh I’m not sure I like the sound of coming from her.

Over the rim of my china cup, I stare back at Phyllis, and burn the holy crap out of my lip on the too hot tea. She pouts a little which is unnerving, and Molly, with lips of asbestos, takes a deep swallow, rolls her eyes, and stares up at the ceiling.

Like a pin prick into my forming blister, I suddenly spill out the whole story of my recent night in the moonlit canyons of New Mexico shooting off my mother’s Colt six-shooters at big fat rattlesnakes.

Phyllis - pink suit

For once in her life, Phyllis is speechless.

TinaSmilingPortriat

Beverly Hills Rooftop Pool & Bar – Late Afternoon – Tina

It was inevitable that sooner or later I was going to run into the director, Kate Arden, again. I’d had to fire her, after Jenny’s massive sucking up to William made it clear – an opinionated director like Kate was never going to work on Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story, Jenny’s story – I only wish.

Kate motions to me in that too cool way of hers. “So, how’s the picture coming?”

“We’re just starting principle. Any big news with you?” I breeze back at her.

“My big news? Hmm, I’m headed to Ireland in a few days to start a movie, but I think yours is probably more interesting.” Kate cocks her head, and stares at me from under her hipster cap.

“Mine?” I feel a dry patch starting at the back of my throat and creeping over my tongue. Industry people are horrible gossips, and William and Aaron have been slipping away everyday at lunchtime. I had guessed seeking more investors, but the way Kate says it unnerves me.

A pregnant pause, as she lights a cigarette. “I guess you could say, I was surprised when someone sent me a YouTube link of you and Bette and Gloria Steinem.”

“Oh, that.” I look around me for other possible ambushes.

Kate presses on, “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were an actress.” A smoke ring exits her lips. “It was great theater, your surprise when she showed you the ring. And I mean that in best of possible ways.”

“Of course you do.” I lift it up for Kate, and we watch as it sparkles in the California sun.

CU Tina's ring

“Interesting, when you think about,” she rolls my ring finger between hers.”because two months ago you had a thing for me.”

Four Days Later –

flight attendants

Los Angeles to Dallas Flight – Alice

It didn’t take us long to make friends with the flight attendants, a Dallas based crew who were on their way home after flying God knows where all day long.  Frankly, I don’t know how they do it. Smile and smile and say the same things over and over, but drawl on they did, and I’ve never heard directions about seat beats and tray tables sound so sexy, but then again, I was in a rare mood.  It had felt good, very good, in fact, to send Tasha an email saying I was off to Dallas on business for a few days.  Really.  Screw her.

Shane, however, was not so brimming with cheer, and it was with some relief when I watched her across the aisle sprawl in her seat, take out her earphones, and close her eyes to the world.

Tina’s final words were, “Thank God, Nikki Stevens sprained her stupid ankle,” before she fell asleep on Bette’s shoulder, which made us look only slightly less like complete alcoholics, when we ordered a double vodka tonic for her, along with two for ourselves.

With our tray tables awash with cocktails and peanuts, and barely enough room for a game of gin rummy, I’m suddenly beginning to remember, Bette is very good at playing.

Competition.

I like to know it all. Bette likes to be absolutely right about everything, and Tina gets difficult when pushed too far, but today – with the control of our lives handed over for the next two and half hours to the pilot, and his lovely flight crew – we’ve given ourselves over to the inebriating effects of vodka, and matching wits at playing cards.

“I don’t know if I’d do it.” I blurt, and Bette flashes her eyes at me.

“What!?” I cry, causing Tina to stir.

“Dammit,” she hisses, “Are you looking at my cards, again, Alice?”

“Give my mother my kidney.” I set the record straight.

“Liver, Alice. Liver.” Bette corrects me as she snaps a card into her hand before laying down another fucking rummy. “Damn, I wish we were playing for money,” she smiles at me. “You shuffle, I can’t do it with her asleep on me like this.

“What’s up with her?” I nod toward Tina.

“Sleep deprived, I think.” Bette says as she cuts the cards.

“Newlyweds! Well, soon anyway.” I smile as I fan out my hand, and see that I have a fighting chance with this one. “Bette, drink up. The cart’s rolling back this way.”

“Not my fault,” Bette smirks in a rare form of sexual disclosure. “This time.”  Followed by a tender kiss on top of Tina’s head. “All week they’ve been shooting at night. Stupid movie. She’s exhausted.”

“It’s the redheaded flight attendant, again.” I lay down my discard. “I wouldn’t mind another round, you?”

“I’ll play you for it.”

“Okay,” I nod.

“Gin!” Bette announces, as she lifts up the Queen of Hearts I just discarded.

“God dammit! How do you keep doing that!”

“Skill. Sheer skill, Alice.” Bette pushes the cards at me to shuffle.

Tina’s hand drops into Bette’s lap, and begins to rub her thigh. “Babe, are you and Alice getting drunk?” Tina whispers into her neck.

“I think so. Is that okay with you?” Bette winks at me.

“I’m not driving.” Tina sighs.

“Okay, but right now we’re flying – so, we’re good.”

“Who’s winning?” Tina asks drowsily.

“As if you need to ask,” Bette drops a six of clubs on the table. “Eight to nothing. My favor.”

Eyeball sculpture Dallas hotel

Dallas, Texas – Outside the Hotel – Alice

Leave it to Bette to choose a hotel where a giant modern eye ball sculpture peers constantly into our windows. Awash with airplane vodka, I’m finding it particularly unnerving. That and the fact that Shane keeps visiting it, as she is doing now, and stroking the red vessels that crawl up its sides. But, we’ve got a silent, and as yet unbroken mantra going while we’re in Dallas. Let it Be. Let it Be. Let it Be.

So far, so good.

Tina pushes through the glass doors from the lobby. “We’re very close to St. Francis.” Tina says as the valet appears with our rental car, and she hands Shane the driving directions. “Are you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“Are you guys sure you want to come?” Shane looks at us one by one. “I can do this alone. They’re not sticking me with anything tonight. I’m just visiting her.”

“Unless you don’t want us to, I think we should all be there.” Bette says resolutely.

“I agree,” Tina adds, as Shane falls in line with us at the curb.

“Shotgun.” Bette calls as she opens the sedan’s back door for Tina.

Shane looks around the car before she turns into the early evening traffic. “Thanks, guys. I really mean it.”

“Dallas, Texas,” Tina muses from the back seat.  “Last time my father called me, an Easter or two ago, he said my sister lived here now.”

And I watch as Bette’s knuckles turn white as she grips the dashboard in front of her.

hospital logo Dallas

Outside the Hospital – Shane

I stare at the signage out front, “Presence? What the fuck does that even mean?”

“I wouldn’t think about it too much.” Bette offers, and then clears her throat, as Alice skips up beside me.

“When was the last time you saw your mother? I’ve known you for eight years and I don’t remember you ever going anywhere, except up to the vineyards in Ojai.”

“And that’s not far.” Tina adds.

“Today was the first time I’ve ever been in plane.”

“What?” We all shout at once from under the glowing Presence sign.

“Do you think the nuns who ran the foster homes I lived in had money for plane tickets? It was bus rides to the county fair, and only if the tickets were free.”

“Did you like flying?” Tina asks me.

“It was fast.”

Bette stands at the elevator in her cowboy boots as several couples walk past admiring them.

“Hey! We’re in Texas.” Alice spurts cheerfully as a family in ten gallon hats saunters past.

I press the button for the transplant floor, and as the elevator whooshes us upwards, I feel my liver, along with my stomach, staying somewhere two floors behind.

Shane's mother looking out windowThe Hospital Room – Bette

When Sue Ellen McCutcheon turns away from her wistful stare out the window, I feel a hammer of ache hit my chest when I think of all those missing years without my mother.  She opens her arms to her daughter, and for a moment our friend disappears as we watch tears stream down their cheeks. I begin to back out of the room, but Tina’s firm hand stops me. She whispers, “This is going to be okay.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Keep walking.” Tina nudges me again, but I still feel trapped in something like a dream, as she gently pushes me farther inside.

“Lord, I must look nearly one foot in the grave.” Sue Ellen brushes her hands over her face. “Thank God, I put on my lips to meet you all.”

We all beam our best smiles back at her, as Shane begins to introduce us,

Tina’s the first to take Mrs. McCutcheon’s thin frail hand, and finally, it’s my turn.

“Bette Porter, nice to meet you.” I feel the papery texture of her skin.

“Bette?” She looks at her daughter, “The swimming pool, right?”

Shane nods as she looks out the window, and wipes the tears away with the back of her hand.

“Yes. The swimming pool.”

“There’s not too many places to sit.” Sue Ellen apologizes.

Alice drops down on the end of the hospital bed. “So, what’d she say about me? I’m her best friend.”

______

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.

The site doesn’t send you to this story following story when you click —–> Next Post. So, to read in order –

12. The New Mothers of Invention – Bette opens this story with a long windmill of thoughts and musings that was incredibly fun for me to write and imagine. Being in her head amuses me completely. Then, the story kicks off into a speedy sequence of events as Tina finds Bette in the hospital corridor and off they go into the humidity of a Dallas, Texas night.   http://wp.me/p4AUvc-lB8

P.S. To catch the thread of this four part series again you may want to read the very amusing story preceding this one, Alice Surmises found here: http://bit.ly/AliceAmuses

Writer’s love comments, please drop one if you’d like.

Enjoy, Blackbird

@Blackbirdwrite and on Facebook, L Word Behind the Scenes. Thanks to Jacky at LesFan.com who also hosts these stories there.

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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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#10 Alice Surmises – Touch Tones – The L Word S07

Bette Tina with Alice

The Planet – Monday morning – Alice

When I look up from the Alice in Lesbo Land blog post I’m struggling to finish before nine I notice how surprised I am to see Bette and Tina walking through the doorway of The Planet on their way in for breakfast. This scene, on the one hand so familiar, and before the unpredictability of their Big Wars years, had happened like clockwork every Monday morning – usually on the nose of 8 am – today feels unusual.

It’s sad but true how their break up and ensuing battles decimated my morning coffee routine, and our poker night “set your watch to it” rituals. And that their “divorce” tore into everything I’d mistakenly thought of as “always and forever”.  I had guilelessly trusted Bette and Tina with the things that were the most important. The fucking wishes I had had. The ones I didn’t even know lived in my dreams – that we could be in love with each other for our whole lives, wear great shoes, and look fabulous doing it.

Add to that it was happening in LA. My hometown! Where I grew up too nervous, and bad at sports, and until I learned how to bang on a guitar I was THE terribly weird looking nerd-girl with glasses. So, yeah I resent that I’m an untreated co-dependent mess, and that their dynamite blew away so many special things for me. Didn’t they think for a minute what the fuck they were doing? To any of us, and to all of us?

For Shane though it was the holidays that left her the saddest. Without all of us seated around a long table, and the predictability that something would always burn up and catch on fire in Bette’s kitchen during Christmas dinner were especially hard on her.

But remarkably, as if back from Lourdes, or in a more exact geographical match: Santa Fe, yet, here they are, as if DEFCON 2 had never happened, and striding in like Lesbian versions of Lazarus fresh out of relationship triage.

I have to admit it: I’m cautiously optimistic about their chances.

After all two words: New Mexico, and another two: Lez Girls, and throw in that it was a trip I still know zero about, but more to the point: There’s nothing like the ongoing production of a movie written by a nutcase, and veiled in its depiction of your regurgitated love life that a weekend away might lead to something meaty, but poisoned that they could stew over while hiking around some godforsaken canyon.

Yet, here they are, the quasi-starring couple,  seemingly unfazed by the movie’s menacing gestalt. Maybe Claire’s strategy, and the part I expertly played in it, really has run Jenny into the ditch for a while. When she crawls back out of it I hope she’ll give us all a fucking break and get her own fucking life.

But lingering are the threats Kit got while Bette was away. Another ramp up in the territorial disputes let loose by those trashy girls from the SheBar.

Jenny smooching camera

You know, if I could figure out how to sic Schecter onto Denbo, which would insure me a ringside seat, the ensuing blog posts and traffic on my website would take off! The Steinem/Porter/Kennard clip soared past a hundred thousand hits last week. I know I could get really top notch sponsors with millions of hits. All I need is for Jenny, The Serpent, to coil around Dawn, The Lezzie Mobster’s neck, and Alice in Lesbo Land will chronicle the drama and hilarity of them killing each other.

While lacking merit in the classical sense, I think it has interesting possibilities.

But truthfully, it’s odd how those pre-Bette and Tina nuclear war days feel like their own special era now. A time when things felt more predictable, back when we all knew Iraq was total bullshit, and that with certainly someone high up in Bush’s Cabinet would go off to jail. And yet, we were mistaken.

Back when there were happier times, and we knew that Dana would win all her tennis matches, but in the meantime between tournaments keep us wildly amused with her sexual confusion, and her notoriously impotent GayDar. And on those mornings, too, just like clockwork, we could count on it: Shane coming in close to death until a triple expresso shocked away most of the roughness from her nights before.

Hand to God! I don’t know how we all survived much less remained friends. Their ongoing hostilities, all our disappointments, Dana’s death, Shane and Carmen, everyone’s lies, and the plentiful fuck you’s we vehemently traded with each other – they all seem gone now, forgotten, or miraculously healed.

Maybe we’re all chiseled together in some – as yet to be discovered – magical rock formation that’s mysteriously fated us all cosmically together. Or is it Jenny’s movie, aka Tina’s movie, aka Bette’s nightmare and ulcer that will enshrine us, and make us all legendary?

I’m just like everybody else in Tinseltown. I’m somebody waiting to be famous.

But Lez Girls might be a hit! The story has all the earmarks, signs, and red light signals of an eruption waiting to happen. The movie could go straight up like a rocket or fall into the Bermuda Triangle – never to be seen or heard from again.

Set actors Lez Girls

But I’d like it to succeed, and I also wouldn’t mind a walk-on part. But mostly, I need to find a way to sneak onto Tina’s closed sets so I can make damn sure Elise, my character, isn’t bombing as Alice.

Kit Vertical standing at window smile

Back up front I see that Kit has joined Bette and Tina now, and is making a fuss over missing Angelica for the two days she was away with her parents in Santa Fe. Kit takes her hand and they walk slowly behind the counter back to Kit’s office for a visit. Bette orders her and Tina’s breakfast – the likes of which she knows by heart – and Tina’s attention is taken up by a couple who have approached. Lawyers, I guess by their dark tailored suits.

Bette’s amperage begins, and I feel it as far away as my table. I wonder about my carping away at her for so many years. I did it with so little mercy. Prodded at her bear-like fury knowing soon the veins would pop out of her neck, and get up and dance with the scary blue curvy ones that pound at her temple.

Bette frustrated Hand on Chest color corrected

After all, to most everyone Bette Porter is kind of a legion, and they’d love to be her friend, swim in her pool, get drunk on her sex appeal, and laugh at her wit and sophisticated sarcasm.

No, better strike that – in her own field she’s too young to be legendary, but in the OurChart underground universe I can attest to the fact: She’s discussed. Tina, too, of course – they each have devoted fans.

For awhile the fact that they blindly ignored my fascinating new experiment into West Hollywood independent “Current Happenings” journalism used to irritate the crap out of me. It wasn’t until one of their semi-public flame-outs, and I stayed up half the night reading the hundreds of comments about them, that I knew other people had been hurt and confused, too. As once perfect symbols of something other gay women aspired to, I came to realize: Bette and Tina had disappointed far more than just me.

Somehow the details of their latest debacle would always get out, and almost to the word I knew if I were ever challenged I could blame all the leaks and mischief about them on Jenny, my god-gifted scapegoat. It helped me sleep at night anyway.

Jenny has, and no doubt will continue to be, very good for business. Not that Bette’s stopped her incessant ire long enough to think about it, but Jenny’s script turned into Tina’s movie will likely bring her well over a million dollars. That is if it doesn’t sink, but can swim. Or better yet – like the wild motherfucker “we” need it to be – takeoff and fly into the box office. Because if it does that we might all get rich.

I’m just saying.

It’s not my fault they make great copy, or that Tina used to sleep with a beguiling heiress named Helena, after her “to die for” Bette, to quote a frequent poster, had slipped off with the carpenter. That single, and I’m sure in Bette’s mind far from a class-oriented sexual decision, has ignited my blog with years and years of false hopes that Bette might once again lose her mind, and her morals, and slip down to lie again – amongst the lesbian proletariat.

At times I could have sworn I was more upset by their separation than they were, but I wasn’t dating a Peabody heiress, or a renown sculptor, or an Ad Man named Henry, or a carpenter known as Candace, who was sometimes referred to in code between me and Shane simply as Hell’s Beginnings.

I sigh sadly. It’s so true. The sight of them together again makes me miss the good old days. The ones I had no idea were even happening when my morning’s fleeting nostalgia suddenly dissipates, and I feel once more how incredibly pissed off I am at Tasha. Going on for three days now it’s unbelievable to me! Tasha and her over righteous, loftier than mine ethics can go fuck themselves in some faux ethical faux fuck-fucking place.

And just like a fool I’d bought into it! Nodded yes that her “core values” were so much better than mine. Then, it hits me. Tasha’s a Republican. She’s going to “earnestly” fuck me over.

God! I feel my eyes burning and then, they suddenly water and relax because here are Tina and Bette ordering breakfast, and I realize I’m dying to hear all about their mysterious weekend in Santa Fe. My gloomy depression immediately lifts.

“Alice!” Bette starts toward me before Tina catches her attention, again.

“Babe, Lis and Marilyn saw us on stage with Gloria, and have decided to get married, too. They’ve been together twenty years.”

And of course, up comes Tina’s hand so they can all admire her enormous engagement ring, and Bette beams another thousand watt smile at their new friends. It’s then that I realize – she’s either a masterful or very lucky sailor who’s managed to swing their bow back around, and once again, skillfully catch the sails with the wind.

Bette Laughing with2 woman

I find myself in awe as Tina’s ring flashes, and I witness their complete transformation from a month ago. I am mystified. How does anyone make any relationship work? I was certain they were done for.

CU Tina's ring

Finally, Tina makes her way over to me as the “order ready” bell dings, and Bette goes back to the counter to pick up their breakfast. “Alice! You look great this morning.” Tina smiles and looks incredibly relaxed.

Tina_small_picture CU

“Thanks! And you’re good after your weekend in Santa Fe? I love Santa Fe. I mean I really love Santa Fe. Maybe next time when you …” I drift when I realize I’m being too needy.

“Oh! They’ll definitely be a next time. We’re having a wedding party in a barn at the place we stayed. Bette took pictures.”

“A barn?!” I start off cross. “But Helena and I are planning your party!”

“Different party, Alice. At this one, you don’t have to do a thing. Just come and have a good time. Bette’s getting everyone Winnebagos to stay in – something like the movie trailers.”

“Winnebagos? Seriously? And here I imagined you all weekend in a great posada. Getting spa treatments or whatever.”

Tina calls over her shoulder, “Bette, come tell Alice about the barn and show her the pictures you took.”

Maxine's barn wedding party - before

“Hey, Bette.” I smile at her, take her iPhone, and begin to flip through pictures of a decrepit barn.

Tina leans into my shoulder and points, “Along the wall that you can’t see are nailed up rattlesnake skins – that I don’t even want to think about – and we’re definitely throwing a big piece of drapery over that whole area.”

“Okay, I’ve seen enough. This won’t work.”

“No, it will, Alice,” Bette takes her phone back, “as long as it’s not raining. There are a few pretty big holes in the roof of my mother’s barn, but in the desert they get maybe a thimble full of rainfall a year, if that.”

“We’re having a party in a barn.” Tina agrees.

“Thimbles of rain, huh? Sounds like a bad song title, but that’s not the only problem.” Resolute I look over my coffee cup and try to stare them down. Then, I frown. “Wait. Who’s barn did you say that was? And what were you two doing in Santa Fe, anyway?”

“Alice, something unexpected has happened.” Bette manages between wolfing big bites of her spinach omelet. I honestly don’t know how she does it and stays so slim.

“Like what?” I ask skeptically, unsure if I can take any more big surprises.

“We had to check it out first, Alice. Before we told anyone.” Bette cautions.

“Oh God! No! You’re moving away to Santa Fe, aren’t you?” I cry back at them, “Tasha dumped me – I know you called it – the third wheel thingy with Jamie. Fuck it, fuck it!”

“Jesus Christ! Alice! Calm down, I’m sorry about you and Tasha. I liked her.” Bette looks at Tina for her read, “We liked her, didn’t we?”

“Yes, the until recently reconvened “We” did.” Tina assures her. “Alice, I’m sorry. When did this happen?”

“Friday night that bled into a very fucked up Saturday.” I feel Bette studying me while she eats, and I look away from them for a moment. I know they wanted to institutionalize me the last time I had a nasty break-up. I realize I was saved from being tied to a bed and shot up with blue-colored drugs because with a new baby they simply didn’t have the time to commit me.

But they have time now. Unless, of course, they’re moving to Santa Fe. Dammit, I would really hate that, but I really don’t want to go into the psych hospital either.

“Well, I take back all my liking of Tasha. She’s persona non grata to me now.” Bette slices her hand to show me: Tasha’s toast.

“Babe, Alice is probably still in love with her.” Tina shakes her head at Bette, and then with a probing look to me. “But Alice, are you, okay? You look fine, but are you?”

“I’ll be fine. I’m fine today. Actually, when you came in I became fine. How long can you stay? God, I hate it that you’re moving to New Mexico.”

“Moving?” Bette looks quizzically at me before finishing off her bagel. “I’m lost.”

“Alice, are you mixing anxiety and depression-type pills again?” Tina looks down inside my purse, but doesn’t reach for it.

“I took a sleeping pill last night. I’m not the problem! Who came up with the idea of this barn Hoedown, anyway?”

Bette_Planet Jpeg

“Alice, don’t be negative. And I can’t talk to you about this if you’re on the verge of going crazy.” Bette looks away from me and locks eyes with Tina, “Too risky.”

“Don’t shut me out! Wait! What?” I object as Bette gets up from the table.

She tucks a five-dollar bill under her plate. “Alice, I’ll check in on you later. I’m headed to work.” She leans into kiss Tina. “T, I’m going back to Kit’s office. Time to pry her away from our daughter, who I know I’m taking her to daycare, but are you picking her up, or am I?”

“You’re picking her up because I’ve got a long shoot day. We could wrap by six, but then again.”

“No problem. I don’t even want to think about it.” She walks away then turns back to Tina, “But I know you’ll do a great job, and I want you to enjoy making your movie. I really do.”

Tina winking Bette color corrected

They share a look before Tina focuses back to me. “Alice, we’re not moving anywhere. You jumped the gun on that, as well as the barn. With some festive attention it’s going to be a cool place for a party. And a word of advice?”

“Go ahead.” I drop my chin and stare into my lap.

“On the topics of Santa Fe and Winnebagoes, Hoedowns and Barbecues, remain positive or expect trouble.” Tina jerks her head toward Bette turning the corner that leads back to Kit’s office.

“Okay. I got it.” I nod as Tina’s frown softens.

I lean in closer to her. “Forget all that though – what’s the story with Bette’s boots?”

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Exterior – The Planet – Bette

As Angelica and I amble to my car I hear a woman’s voice calling my name. It sounds far enough away that if I’m quick about buckling Angelica into her carseat I can probably speed away before another morning entanglement begins. My need to get to work – to a place where the thoughts of my unusual weekend with my mother will run quieter in the background of my mind – is beginning to enter the Red Zone.

It was an incredible weekend. One that I’m beginning to pick apart for more and more hidden meanings and this can only mean one thing. I’m heading into obsession. Never a good place for me.

“Bette!” The woman’s voice is now much closer. I turn around to see Phyllis’ daughter, Molly Kroll, nearly on top of me. God, she’s nearly as tall as I am.

“Molly!” I fake my enthusiasm. “What finds you in this part of town, or even in town? Why aren’t you in school?”

“Something my Dad asked me to go to with him is later tonight. Normally, Mother would go.” Molly says dismissively. “I was hoping to ask you a question. Your sister owns the place across the street, right?”

“Kit does, yes.” Relieved mine was such an easy answer. “Glad I could clear that up. Now, I’m on my way to work.”

“Mind if I ride with you?”

“With me? To the university?”

“Yes, I mean if you don’t mind. I should probably see my mother while I’m in town.”

“Hop in.” I say as steady as I can. “I drop Angelica off near campus.”

Shane_reading paper serious look

The Planet – Tina

Shane slides into an empty seat at the table with me and Alice, and opens her paper. “How was Santa Fe? You and Bette have a good time?”

“Did you think we were moving to Santa Fe?” I ask.

“No, why? Are you moving to Santa Fe? That’s kind of sudden, isn’t it?”

“Not moving to Santa Fe. Alice said something. I’m just taking a poll.”

“Poll away, I guess. Any other questions?” Shane drifts back to her paper.

“Why would Phyllis’ daughter be getting into Bette’s car?”

“Molly?” Shane looks up. “Is outside?”

“Was. Now they’re gone. What’s she doing way over here in West Hollywood at eight-thirty in the morning? Did you sleep with her last night?”

“Ha! Now, that’s funny.” Shane dips her paper down to peer at me.

“Maybe not sleeping with, but spying on Shane is my guess,” Alice suggests. “And you really should not encourage her, Shane, or you’ll get a very mean phone call from Bette like I did when I “dated” Phyllis.

“Or from Phyllis – no make that both of them,” I add my warning.

“Or both them and Joyce,” Alice emphasizes with a scary tone.

“Honestly, guys I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve barely talked to the girl. She’s a college student, right?”

“A straight Graduate student to be exact.” I nod at Alice, and we look expectantly over at Shane.

She shrugs nonchalantly. “Look, I’ve just seen her around the set with you guys. No biggie.”

La Cienega Boulevard – Bette

Molly looking seductive

“Angie, are you alright back there?”

“Momma B, go fast again to school!”

“Ah,” I stammer and look over at Molly. “We don’t ever go over the speed limit.”

She smiles. “Mother’s completely not expecting me. I’m in no rush.”

“And we’re in no rush.” I stress as I look back at Angelica who’s innocently gazing out the window now.

Molly clears her throat as I pull into traffic. “So, I saw somewhere that you’re getting married, but not to Jodie Lerner I take it.”

“No, definitely not to Jodie, but to Tina. You met her on the movie set a few weeks ago.”

“I did. She seemed nice. How long have you known her? I take it longer than a few weeks.”

“A respectable length of time. Trust me.” I think how much more to tell her. “Angelica is our baby. We were together back … well, Angelica’s almost three, and for years before she was born.”

“So, Jodie was what? An intermission? Mother talked like you two were serious.”

“Oh, Molly. I really can’t talk about that. It’s over. Pick another topic.”

“Okay, here’s one. Tell me about Shane. She’s working on the picture that’s apparently about you, and I’m putting it together now, you and Tina?”

I can’t stop an exasperated sigh before it escapes for Molly’s amusement.

“So, I’m right.”

I feel the sides of my neck growing warmer then hotter. “No! You’re not right!” I vent. “A foolish neighbor of ours wrote it. The script is about a couple. Yes!” I make a checkmark in the air between us. “Who live in West Hollywood – like tens of thousands of others gay women do – and the couple is trying to have a baby. That’s it for similarities.” I dash my hand toward Molly.

Then I guide my tone of voice down off the ledge. “The story is about a young straight woman who gets seduced by an older European woman, and she breaks up with her midwestern boyfriend…”

Molly interrupts, “That I can understand.”

When we stop at a traffic light I continue, “…thinking she’s found her Great Love in the alternate universe of gay West Hollywood. That’s absolutely not my story. I would have never done such a thing.”

“But it’s set in The Planet that your sister owns. You go there all the time, and it’s Shane’s roommate’s script? And they live next door to you.”

“What is this? Lesbian GPS? Look, I told you already. It’s a story about Jenny.” I press my hands earnestly against my chest to emphasize. “That’s what I’m explaining.”

“But Shane’s in it?”

“Molly, listen to me. Shane’s not an actress. Shane’s working on the movie.”

“The movie Tina is producing. Yeah, I got that much. So you and Shane and Tina are not in this movie?”

“Correct. Don’t believe everything you hear, Molly.  Especially at CU, but especially CU. It’s is an  fetid little place for rumors, and …” I stop myself suddenly.

“Gossip about my mother?”

“Molly, probably. Yes. People are probably talking about your mother – now that she’s come out.”

“Is that typically what lesbians do Bette, when you guys come out? I mean, Mother throws a big party, and her guests respond by taking off their bras in a conga line around our pool. Is that normal? I mean is that coming out?”

“Molly, I was only there a short time.” I flashback to my grateful reunion with Tina, and how we sped away from Phyllis’ fireworks for some long awaited ones of our own.

Molly jars me back to the present. “Well, obfuscate all you want, Bette. I’m certain you’ve seen plenty of women come out.”

I sigh feeling cornered. “It’s painful mostly. But unavoidable if you don’t want to go insane.”

“Full disclosure for this line of questioning – I’m rethinking my mother’s coming out. That’s all. We left it … actually, I left things very raw between us.”

“I’m sure Phyllis will welcome a calmer discussion about it.”

“Hopefully, there will be no more yelling.” Molly raps her knuckles against the window and gazes outside. “Mother has a high flashpoint.”

“That I’ve noticed, too.” We smile in agreement. The mood in the car lifts.

Then, out of the blue Molly says, “Bette, I’m interested in Shane. Tell me about her.”

“What?! Oh, God, you can’t be serious! Your boyfriend’s in law school, like you are, too. Right?”

“A boring boyfriend who’s going into corporate law with his father in Maryland. They just bought a massive golf course. Think about that for a second.”

“I am.” We ride along for a few more minutes. Molly shifts in her seat. I prepare myself for more probing.

“Shane’s a friend of yours, an old friend, right?”

I pull over in front of Angelica’s daycare, “Molly, let me think of how to say this as clearly as I can, because I’ve already read between the lines of what you are insinuating.”

The car jolts as I throw it into park. “Do not pursue this. It’s a very bad idea. Shane is categorically not a beginner’s Starter Kit.”

I open the door to fetch Angelica out of her car seat. “In fact, for a nice girl like you, she’d be a catastrophe.” And then with horror I watch as a sly smile creeps across Molly’s face.

___________

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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.”

____

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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.

Thank you for reading and commenting if you enjoyed the story.

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#6 Touch Tones: Meeting Maxine

Bette tea ColorCorrected_nice muscles

“Good morning, Baby.” I awaken Tina as I settle her coffee mug on the bedside table. She rubs the sleep from her eyes and smiles up at me.

“Hm, smells so good.” She scoots up on the headboard and lifts the cup to her lips. “What time is it, Bette? Did you let me oversleep?”

“Is eight oversleeping? How’s your head this morning?”

“I’ll be okay.” Tina smiles. “A few pinches here and there behind my eyes I’m noticing,” She shakes out two aspirin and then swallows them with her coffee.

I settle back into bed next to her. “But no throbbing?”

“No, you took care of all my throbbing last night.” Tina winks at me.

I smile. “There were a few but nothing I couldn’t handle.” I laugh softly and then stretch out next to her and yawn.

“So, we like the new bed, do we?” I ask hoping our christening has made it so.

“My foggy memories tell me we liked everything about it.” Tina agrees before closing her eyes again and wincing slightly.

I lift my arm so she’ll slide across next to me. “Come closer, T, I have something I need to talk to you about.”

“Babe, I promise you we can live our lives now. Claire did her job, Josh did his by spearing Jenny between the eyes, and you did yours masterfully.” Tina lists then leans against my shoulder. “I think we’ve done all we can do for the moment.”

“Tina, before you go to work today will you do something for me?”

“Anything but the pool,” she says as we both look out our bedroom windows to the garden and the water’s surface beyond. “I can never remember the right combinations for those tablets, Bette. I might turn it green again like last time.” She warns.

“It’s not the pool, Baby.” I kiss the top of her head. “I’d like for you to be here when I call Mary Windhorse this morning. Any questions you have let’s ask them together.”

“Okay,” Tina answers with a thoughtful tone. “When do you want to call her, Bette?”

“Soon.”

 

Mary Windhorse Home Ext

Home of Mary Windhorse

Skype Call – Bette

Tina’s morning routine has been the same as long as I’ve known her. While she has upon occasion caught me still sleeping and been the one to bring our first cup of coffee back to bed the rest of her movements between that cup and the breakfast table on any given weekday morning my guess are still the same.

Unlike me who showers and then goes into my closet still wet and dripping to figure out what to wear that day Tina does exactly the opposite. Before she baths she has in her mind exactly what she’s putting on. As I dial the Skype call I can tell by the sounds coming from our bedroom very nearly to the minute how long it’ll be before she appears behind me dressed for work. I don’t have long.

“Mary,” I say as the older Indian woman appears on screen. “Good morning, I hope it’s not too early to call.”

“Not at all, Bette. I have roosters,” she smiles when she sees my expression. “Don’t worry, your mother has much more sense than I do – no roosters at her place. You’ll sleep fine.” She laughs.

“About that.”

“Roosters?”

“Not unless that’s code for the Mafia.”

“Ah, so you know, then.”

“I know some. I couldn’t sleep last night and looked on the web. There was nothing the week Maxine disappeared, but the week before and after there were plenty of strange goings-on in Philadelphia.”

I continue. “First, a significant art heist from The Isadora Museum’s Rare Masters Collection followed six days later by the Feds raiding a farm owned by a Gambino Family Captain, Anthony Coccioni, south of Philly. Then nothing else in the papers. That was it.” I look into the screen for answers. “No more mentions of the FBI raid at the Gambino compound or the Fed’s ongoing search for the rare paintings either.”

“Bette, your mother wants to be the one to tell you her story.”

“Trust me when I tell you I want to hear every word of it, too, but I have a fiancée and we have a child. She needs to hear where the bad guys are now, and why you and my mother think it’s safe to poke your heads out now.”

I hear Tina coming down the hallway. “Tina are you ready? I have Mary Windhorse on the Skype call.”

 

Tina_redVneck_inKitchen listening

“I can hear you both from the kitchen.” Tina says as she slices peaches for breakfast. “Good morning, Mary, this is Tina.” She calls from behind the counter.

“I was telling Bette the new rooster woke me up earlier.”

“You live on a farm?” Tina asks.

“Ranches we call ‘em in the desert.” Mary corrects and then breezes on. “We have you flagged on Google and your names came up this morning. Your mother and I were just talking about you earlier.”

“So, she gets up with the birds, too?” I ask.

“It’s nearly ten here. We’re mountain time.” She points behind her out a window where a clear desert morning is in progress. “I talked to her a half hour ago. She was on her way out to the desert to paint.”

“Mountain time.” I acknowledge. “Yesterday was a long day.” I rub my forehead and reconnect my thoughts to the events at the soundstage. I look toward Tina busy in the kitchen. “I haven’t even looked at what eventually came out about us in the Press.”

“Your mother’s words were that you and Tina make a very attractive couple, and of course, she knew Gloria years ago.” Mary adjusts her seat and presses forward for a moment and elongates into the screen. “Another long story.”

“I’m pleased we’re favored, then. That’s a relief I hadn’t had the time frankly to be anxious about.” I look quickly up to the ceiling before focusing back to Mary with a big smile. “And I’m excited, really tell Maxine this please, that Angelica has a grandmother!” I finish in a hurry.

“Good! When are you coming?” Mary adjusts her long grey braid back over her shoulder and looks eagerly into the camera.

“We’d like to come on Friday, this Friday. But we have some questions, first,” I say as I look over at Tina who regards me with a curious look. I mouth silently at her, “It’s been thirty years.” She shrugs her shoulders and nods she gets it.

I focus back to Mary. “So, I searched the web for the rest of the year that Maxine disappeared but by then it was 2 AM and my brain was fried from pictures of mobsters I saw while searching for Gambinos and Philly’s major crimes in 1979.”

“I know the feeling.” Mary replies with a doleful expression. “For years the marshal’s kept a board in your mother’s home and updated it with the most dangerous ones still at large.”

Gambino Org Chart Maxine's trial

“A constant frightening reminder,” I add grimly, as I watch Tina walking toward me. “The crux of our question, because it’s getting on toward 9 AM here, and we both have jobs,” I glance at my watch “is our family’s exposure to any danger.”

I feel Tina walk up behind me and rest her hand on my shoulder. “Mary, are they all dead? Or in prison? The men who wanted to kill Bette’s mother?”

“The captains were all older men at the time of the art theft, and that as you may have guessed led the Feds to raid that old farm you mentioned, Bette. That’s where they found your mother.”

“As what? An unwitting dinner guest at a mafia don’s shoot out?” I ask baffled.

“The specifics are for her to say. I can’t go into them. But she was an “unwilling guest” which matches the tone of your question.” Mary sighs heavily before she continues. “She got tangled up in all this at the liquor store.

“Out of the twenty-five that were very dangerous back then while in control of The Family there are only three left living. And they are very old men now locked up in a high max prison outside Lexington, Kentucky.”

I feel Tina squeeze my shoulder as she leans back down to the camera. “Mary, we have a two year old nearing three. She’s a very sweet girl but does four days give you all time to prepare and kid proof the coffee tables and low shelves before we come in for the weekend?”

Mary stares back at us seriously and crosses her arms. I nervously clear my throat as she transforms into a stern Native American elder. “I suppose I could convince your mother to remove the peyote buttons and pistols from her coffee tables.” She finally says and doesn’t blink.

Tina’s hand grips my shoulder as she whispers, “What the fuck?” into my ear.

Mary begins to laugh. “We’re a couple of old grandmothers. We know what to do. And I was kidding about your mother. Sort of.” Her voice trails mysteriously at the end.

“We live in the western desert now ladies. We have guns cause we have rattlesnakes and rabid coyote and wild dogs. Any number of dangerous things can run up on you out here.”

Tina rolls her eyes up to the ceiling as I continue, “Before we fly to …” I pause to hear our destination and know Tina is listening, too, with the ears of a mother.

We both exhale in relief when Mary finally says, “Santa Fe.”

I feel a tightness dropping from my face. “I’d like to run the remaining names of the mob by our attorney and if it all checks out to our satisfaction then we’ll be there in four days.”

“Write these four names down, Bette. Are you ready?” Mary asks. “Salvador Galliano, “Sammy the Bull” they called him. Anthony Cagionetti, “Tony The Cage”, and Lou Bangeleo, “The Hammer,” and the place your mother was when she got caught up in all this?”

“The farm, right?”

“No. Not at the beginning.”

“No?” I ask.

“She had gone to the corner liquor store to pick up a bottle of chianti when it got robbed. The place was called, Little Tony’s, who by the way was shot that night, and one last thing.”

I look up from my pad as Mary finishes. “We think the fourth Gambino captain is in WitSec but we’ve never been 100% sure.”

“Little Tony? You mean “dead” like Mother was dead?”

“No, I don’t mean Little Tony, at all. I mean the fourth one that the trial notes and the marshals never say anything about. The fourth main Capodecina, Jimmy the Stone. The Feds claim he was killed at the farm raid that saved your mother’s life.”

“Okay, shoot.” I wince. “Bad choice of words. What’s his full name? I’ll put Jimmy the Stone down, and then Joyce will run these four names on her end. Tina and I will talk about this tonight and I’ll call you by tomorrow, no later than the evening. It might be from the car though. What’s your cell phone number?”

“Service out here is off and on terrible, so be warned. And I don’t need or want a Sat phone so don’t even recommend it,” Mary says. “My number is, 505-799-0444 and your mother’s is, 505-799-8313.”

“Tina, Baby? Do you have anything else for Mary?” I turn my head and kiss her hand that still rests on my shoulder. She bites her lip but smiles it away. She shakes her head, “No” as she rubs my shoulder.

“Bette, I know you’re anxious to talk to your mother. You and Tina do what you’d like. Phone her, too, if you want to now that you have her number, but I know she’ll begin to plan it all out in her mind the second I tell her you’ll be here on Friday.”

Bette Dark blouse LOOKING down

“Let her know I’m thinking about her, too.” I say softly.

Mary continues, “Think about letting her surprise you, then. Call me back with the details about your flight. Maybe don’t call her just yet.”

I smile back at the screen before I sign off. “I understand but her number feels good to have. I’ll leave it at that.” I tuck the paper into the pocket of my jacket.

The screen changes back to the Skype logo as the call ends. Behind me Tina says, “I loved The Godfather films, and you know how we all were when The Sopranos were on HBO.”

I twist my chair around to face her. She rests her hands on both my shoulders. “And the poker games afterwards?” I add with a smile.

“But to hear those men’s street names just now, Sammy the Bull and Jimmy the Stone, creeped me out, Bette.” Tina puts her arms around me as I stand up to hold her.

“Baby, I agree. They’re monsters. Let me assure you, I know that.” I whisper to her.

“See what Joyce finds out, Bette. This is huge for you. I get that.”

I look down at my watch again. “I’ve got my next ninety minutes planned, Tina. I hope you’re nearly ready.” I point toward the front door.

“First, we go to The Planet and get our baby, then I drive you to work, and take Angelica to daycare at school where finally I’ll sit down at my desk just in time to get up again and attend a tedious Faculty Luncheon I stupidly scheduled the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month.”

“Does that mean you’ll see Jodie?”

“And Tom. Don’t forget about him. I’ll get double-daggered glares from them today, unless they do their other move.”

Tina laughs at me. “Which is?”

“Ignore me completely like I’m an uninteresting piece of stone.”

”She’s a sculptor, Bette, she probably has some kind of diamond-bladed rock saw for that.”

“Actually, the Art Department just bought her a laser for those stages of shaping but your point is taken. I’ll watch my back.” I lean in and we share a lovely kiss in the kitchen. “I love you and I’m so glad you’re here. Home with me.”

I hear the soft buzz of a hummingbird’s wings as Tina and I begin the last kiss before starting a very busy day. I open my eyes to see the tiny green bird hovering a few feet inside my kitchen door. He dips down a few inches then quickly rises higher before turning and zooming away.

Bette_Agent Porter AIRPLANE seat

Four days later –

Burbank Airport – Friday 6 PM – Bette

“What do you mean you’re not coming with me?” I ask astonished into my phone while pacing back and forth at the gate of the commuter airline that jumps from LA to Santa Fe every morning and afternoon.

Tina’s voice sounds tense at the other end of the line. “I can’t make it tonight and your head would explode if I told you why so don’t ask me. There’s a flight tomorrow morning at nine o’clock and Angie and I promise to be on it.” I hear as I continue to stare disbelieving into my phone.

When no words for my confused state of mind come to me Tina finally says. “Call me later, Bette. You know I’m sorry.” And then she hangs up.

Once on board I settle back into my seat and try to adjust myself mentally to the significant alteration of my evening’s plans. Arguably a key night, a peak experience in my life is now happening without her.

Unsuccessful at feeling remotely good about Tina staying tonight in Los Angeles while I fly eight hundred miles over a mountain range the dossiers of the four Mafia Captains begin to take over my thoughts, and the menacing pictures of them float across my mind.

Gambino Color Photo Mobsters Handcuffs

 

Gambino Hit_deadmobster

It was true just as Mary had said. All but three of the once formidable mobsters were all dead and those who remained were the old men locked away in Kentucky. I had been assured over and over again: They would die there as the Devil and the Feds had intended.

The fourth man neither the Devil nor Joyce or I ever could get a good run down on. He was the missing and presumably defanged, Jimmy the Stone. There had been no mention of him during the Grand Jury hearings or any of the dozens of racketeering and murder trials the Feds had rolled out over the next ten years.

Between the four of us we had discussed the possibilities during Wednesday’s lunchtime call. “But his whereabouts aren’t nailed down one hundred percent.” I had said before Mary and Joyce had thrown out their theories as Tina and I had listened.

“He could’ve been scooped up by the Feds and put far, far away like Maxine was. Hidden in WitSec after the FBI turned him as an informant.” Mary had suggested.

Joyce had wondered, too, if the Feds hadn’t kept him as their secret weapon in case anything happened to my mother. If her cover had been blown and the Mob had silenced her Jimmy the Stone would rise up to be the key witness against his former family.

“It’d take some wrangling with the Federal Court Judge,” Joyce had assured us, “but at least their cases wouldn’t have completely fallen apart if they had The Stone on ice somewhere to back up your mother’s testimony.”

“How long did these trials go on for, Mary?” I had asked.

“Over ten years if you count their requests for new trials. Maxine always had those hanging over her head, too, until the last of the old Gambino guard was locked away for good.”

“And Jimmy the Stone is Mother’s age, seventy-three,” I had concluded. “If he’s still alive he’s had thirty years to find her and he hasn’t yet.”

The coast Joyce, Mary and more importantly, Tina and I, had all agreed looked clear. Now I was on airplane flying to New Mexico without her.

 

Gambino Art Vermeer heist

 

To everyone’s aggravation and now that I know about it certainly to mine, The Isadora Museum’s rare masters art heist has remained a mystery.

Reading between the lines of the Grand Jury’s transcripts Joyce, Tina and I had surmised the Attorney General’s office and the FBI had tried “behind legal curtains” any tactics they could to turn key witnesses into mob informants. But no one could or would disclose the missing hiding places of the paintings. Incredible pieces painted by Vermeer and Rembrandt for Christ sake! Gone! I shake my head in dismay.

The newspapers had hinted that the Gambinos, with their connections to the wharves and docks, were likely hired only as the thieves and smugglers. And that behind them, and who they ultimately did their bidding for, was the unseen hand of the caper’s mastermind. The hope of any trail leading to him or her had vaporized a long time ago.

I worry about mobsters as I look out the window and watch the clouds that stream up here miles above the earth. I sip the green tea the flight attendant brought me a few minutes ago. The heist’s unanswered questions pester me. Very likely at their final destination taking possession of the treasured artworks had been as simple as paying off a corrupt Custom’s Agent in a foreign seaport thousands of miles away.

In the end, the RICO Task Force, started years before by Director J. Edgar Hoover, had rounded up the most dangerous and sadistic captains and lieutenants that ran the numbers, the docks, and heroin in and out of South Philly. Losing hope of ever tying the museum job to the Gambino’s the Feds had gotten lucky in other ways.

Over a remarkable ten year winning streak, and with the help of my mother, the government had made their cases stick against all of the Gambino’s for crimes that included their style of vicious gangland murder.

The Lucchesi Family became the beneficiaries of the weakened Gambino’s disassembly, and organized crime did continue but it was quieter and less bloody, and seemed to everyone’s satisfaction tolerable, and much more tame. But before things had quieted down whatever had happened that night inside Little Tony’s Liquor Store my mother had been the sole and only survivor.

Bette_tinapix_Headset

Earlier in the week Joyce had called me to share an odd snippet of news. “Bette, you know how paramilitary guys all love nicknames?” Joyce had asked.

“Okay, I follow you. Desert Storm or Operation Freedom’s Hammer, something like that?”

“No, those are mission names and are mostly propaganda. Look it up.” Joyce had admonished me slightly. “Anyway, the Marshal Service, the Secret Service, and the FBI all have code names for the people they protect.” Joyce had paused waiting for me to catch on. “You know Bette like, POTUS.”

“Oh! I get it. What was Maxine’s code name?”

“White Wolf.”

“White Wolf?” I had asked puzzled. “How’d you find that out? My mother had beautiful blonde, straw-colored hair by the way.”

“Well, what she saw go down at Lil’ Tony’s turned her hair completely white,” Joyce had said. “Earning her the code name, White Wolf.”

“Jesus, Joyce.” I had exhaled into the phone. “Really? I’m getting on the plane with my family in two days.” Or so I had thought at the time.

Art. Maxine_redcliffs

 

Santa Fe – 6:14 PM

As the plane lowers taking us in for our high desert landing I look out the window at the brilliantly hued wilderness landscape. So much like a painting its beauty shocking and almost unreal to me. I do a quick inventory of my suitcase. I’ve got the right stuff to hang around a ranch for the weekend. A leather jacket, boots, a warm sweater for the desert at night – I’ll be fine.

What I don’t have with me is my fiancée. A name for her and myself I had liked the sound of saying over and over all week to people who had asked me about my engagement to Tina.

Phyllis had sent me flowers and an amusing card, and James, in particular, had seemed overly relieved to see me each day. Another blessing had been no uncongenial visits from Jodie.

Beginning late last Friday night in Malibu I had sensed myself flying through the air, a feeling similar to the flight of this airplane now as it lowers me closer and closer to the red desert racing below. I imagine the wind again on my face and arms as I lean back and close my eyes and spread my mind out to the wings of the plane.

I had felt during those nights at the beach that I had been sailing a hundred miles an hour over the ocean before circling back above the red tail lights of cars on the PCH. The dark canyon walls, the mighty Pacific Ocean, the shadowy cliff landscapes I had felt them all whistling by me.

Years ago someone at Berkeley might have suggested I’d astrally projected. Maybe I had. The astral plane as far as I can feel into it has just got bigger and weirder the older I’ve gotten. And sometimes while making love to Tina I do find myself out there in its wild wind streams.

I focus out my airplane window where the cliffs and sands are red and blood orange. So different from the sensations on Saturday night that had rolled over me with the blues of the ocean and deeper tones of midnight.

I know a part of me has set up a listening post inside this lovely mind bubble of mine. A place where feelings of gratitude sting my eyes sometimes no matter what I’m doing. But outside of it I’ve had to dually cope with the repeating and unanswerable daydreams of my childhood. They cycle back through my mind hour after hour to haunt me and now, as we descend to Earth, the mysterious answers to the only two prayers I may have ever honestly said are unfolding between me and Tina and soon with me and my mother.

The jet’s tires chirp to a stop on the tarmac in Santa Fe. My heart beats faster as the pilot stalls the left engine outside my window and the ailerons lift along the wing’s surface turning me toward a reunion I’d always dreamed of.

 

Maxine Blue window

 

Maxine’s House – 6:45 PM

The long Pueblo style home has a baked scent of sage around it I notice as I inhale deeply and walk with Mary up a dusty crushed rock path. I drop my bag in front of a weathered wooden door.

“We don’t lock up ‘til we go to bed. Knock on it hard and then push it open.” Mary says behind me.

No text back from Tina acknowledging my arrival or whereabouts I sigh as I knock and wish to God she were here with me at this moment. I mean, isn’t it part of the reason people bond together in relationships? So that at the moments our hearts beat to near explosion our partners, or lovers, or wives or whatever the right word is, may be here to touch us in that one way that always calms us down. For the love of God I know I’d beg her for it if she were only here with me.

As I push open the blue wooden door I hear her voice. “There you are, Bette.” My mother says as I step inside and see her waving at me.

Maxine_waving Interior

“Oh my God, I remember your eyes.” I say astonished, as I drop my bags for the second time in as many minutes.

“Please let me hug you close. And I’m so glad you turned out so tall.” She says as the smoke from her cigarette curls in the air as we embrace.

“And I keep waiting on Tina to walk in. Is she out by the barn looking at the early moon?” Maxine looks behind me.

“No, the movie business is haywire. She couldn’t leave early on Friday afternoon as it turns out, but she and the baby’ll be here by lunchtime tomorrow.”

“I had run a scenario such as this.” My mother smiles at me and motions to my bags. “Mary, won’t you come in and wash the day down with a drink?”

“Oh, thank God.” I blurt.

“Any other night but tonight I’d take you up on it.” Mary waves goodbye, as I turn around to thank her.

“Thank you for everything.” I drop my bags again and give her a big hug, too. “You’ve been my sure and steady guide through all this. I’m so grateful.”

Turning back to my mother “Maxine, you have the luck of a wonderful friend. I’m blessed that way, too. Most of the time.” I laugh softly as I pick up my bags and hear Mary closing the door behind me.

 

Maxine Home Interior fireplace

“This is my home and I want you to think of it as yours, Bette.” My mother and I stop at the entrance to a long hallway leading away from the living room. “Your bedroom is the third door and the bath connects. Wasn’t always so but over the years I’ve modernized this old place. I hope you like it.”

“Very much but I would’ve been happy meeting you in a trailer park.”

“Oh, what a relief!” She says to my surprise. “This house belongs to one of my wealthy art students and my old truck’s out back. Come on, let’s go to my little shack out from Taos.” My mother motions for me to follow her past the fireplace towards the side door.

“Wait! What?” I ask stunned.

“I’m kidding you, sweetheart.” My mother’s eyes flash a mischievous look I remember from years ago.

“What are you drinking?” She asks but ­her eyes tell me to get ready for an adventure. “Get settled, then come back, and we’ll sit by the fire.”

My perplexed look vanishes into a smile. I lift my suitcases and walk down the long hall toward my mother’s guest room.

Maxine guest room

 

______

 

The next chapter to the L Word inspired Season 7, Touch Tones, will post shortly. Thank you for reading and commenting.

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