The L Word : Behind the Scenes

The L Word Bette Porter Tina Kennard


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My Last Nerve (25) – Bette Porter, The L Word

Bette & Tina's Remodeled bedroom

Bette and Tina’s Bedroom – Tina

Grief, and its disabling after effects, swim around me in this bedroom. A place where I’ve laid myself bare in ways only Bette will ever know.  Where is she?  Will she ever come home?  I stare across the room at our king-sized bed and collapsing forward, burying my face in Bette’s pillow, I sob into it until I hear the sounds of voices drifting in from the kitchen.

Ten minutes later –

Tina close up Cruise Montego Bay

The Kitchen – Tina

Shane opens the steaming containers of Thai food and fixes me with an worried but stony stare. “Tina,  you’re eating something. Sit down.”

With Angelica bathed and ready for bed, Mary enters the kitchen. “I could eat,” she says as Angelica drops from Mary’s arms and runs toward me.

“Is she still. . .asking?” I whisper to Mary, who shakes her head, no.

“We’re planning a horseback ride on my ranch and soon.” Mary emphasizes. “And after dinner, with no more questions asked, we’re reading “Black Beauty” at bedtime.”

“I love that book!” Kit says, “Maybe I’ll come read it with you?”

“Momma B rides horses!” Angelica barks.

Kit rolls her eyes. “Your Momma B rides mostly on my last nerve.”

“I wish, Kit. . .” Mary says, while setting the table around me, “that I’d met you all sooner.”

“It would’ve changed Bette’s life.”  Kit says as a matter of fact.  “Your “death” changed her.” Her voice becoming a bitter hiss.  “Melvyn.”

“Mary, If she’d known you were still alive. . .”

Kit embraces me and Angelica in a Momma Bear hug. “Always angry, until these two came along.”

“Chopsticks?” Shane breaks the room’s uneasy tension.

Mary clears her throat of emotion. “Fork for me.”

“Horseback riding!”  Angela says gleefully, as we take our places around the table.

Kit and Shane place bowls of soupy noodles and fried rice around the table.  Leaning across to Bette’s mother she asks, “Mary, has anyone told you that Bette wears the boots you gave her every single day”

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

Suddenly, there’s a rapid knock on the front door then, it flies open.  Alice barges in. “Full confession! I have a crush on Our Enforcer!”

Mary turns toward Alice. “You mean, Simone?”

Alice answers dreamily, “See moan.”

“Oh! Good Lord! Again!?” Kit shouts.

I push over a plate for her to join us. “Alice, you’re hardly serious enough for her.”

“That’s what you think she wants?” Alice shakes her head – not a chance. “That’s not it at all. She wants a sub. Plain and simple.”

simone red dress black chair

Mary looks mystified.  “She believes Bette’s offshore?”

Shane nudges Mary away from Alice’s S&M fantasy. “I rode horses when I lived in Texas.”

“Simone’s coming to the Labor Rights Rally.” Alice shutters pleasurably. “We need the muscle.”

I sigh, and wish Bette were here, amused by this.  Then, I wonder — what rally?

Kit douses her food with the Thai restaurant’s notorious hot sauce.  “That plan I like, cuz ‘dis bid’ness with the SheBar bitches is ’bout to get serious.”

Shane looks back and forth between me and Kit. “But that’s the point, isn’t it?”

“The point is finding Bette!  What’d I miss?”

Everyone stops eating for a moment and stares at me.

Kit explains, “Penny’s bringing her cantaloupe workers to the Labor Rights rally.  We’re protesting the SheBar bitches exploitin’ immigrant workers.”

“In Spanish?” I ask, trying to catch the new thread.

Alice bridge story

“Hmm,” Alice thinks before answering. “Does it matter?”

“Isn’t Simone’s focus supposed to be on finding…”

Mary cuts me off and points to Angelica sitting in my lap. “Soon as there’s a school break she’s coming to New Mexico to ride horses.”

“Comin’ to Mexico!” My child shouts.

“How many more hints can I possibly drop!?!  I want an invitation to Santa Fe!”

“I’m having a party before their wedding.  Of course, you’ll be there.”

Again, the table grows silent.

After a few moments, Kit says, “Surprise her when she gets home, Tina.”

“I know, I should set the date.”

Tears fall down my face, and taking my hands in hers Kit searches my eyes. “She’s coming home to you, Tina, and when she does, you should inject her with a tracking chip, like the dogs have. We’ll all feel better the minute she has one.”

homeless couple under bridge

Under the Bridge – Bette

In the thirty minutes since escaping, a plan has emerged for my survival. Put as much real estate between me and the SheBeast as I can, and two, whenever possible, stay in the shadows, and three, make it to the bridge – alive.

After walking nearly a mile, we approach the homeless encampment, and the woman slows her squeaking grocery cart. “I’ll vouch for you, as much as my word’s worth anything, but they don’t let just anyone in, especially after dark.”

“What’d you say your name was?”

“I didn’t, but it’s Danielle.”

“Danielle, I’ve got this,” I assure her.  And with one cowboot on and my other one missing, I limp past the gauntlet of bearded men at the entrance and enter the homeless camp, as if I belong.

homeless reading in tent

In the semi darkness, I thread my way past wood and twisted metal makeshift shelters that are straight out of a Jodi Lerner sculpture.  A baby cries nearby, a mother sings a lullaby, and the unsettling feeling of my nightmare breaks when Danielle stops near a woman reading in her tent.

She points to a faded piece of red carpet. “This is us. Make yourself comfortable.”

Sensing the irony, I ease my bruised body down on the rug covered concrete. “How long’ve you been here?”

“Under this bridge, three months.”

“Before that?”

“Down San Diego way.”

“How many miles to West Hollywood?”

“Maybe fifteen.”

“Eleven point three.”  The woman in the tent looks up from her book.

Mixed with the thrumming sound of cars passing across the bridge, I hear the muffled roar of jet engines overhead.  “And LAX is. . .?”

The woman in the tent points off to the right. “Three miles that way.”

Twinkie

Danielle tosses me a package of Hostess Twinkies. “Have you eaten?”

Tearing open the cellophane with my teeth, I imagine my three mile walk tomorrow to the Inglewood Mercedes dealership where – right after I call Tina and let her know I’m still alive – I’m phoning my banker and driving away in a misty silver Roadster, exactly like the one I’d envied speeding past me recently on the PCH.

Another wolfing bite and my entire Twinkie is gone. I lick the last of the sugar from my fingers. “I owe you dinner and more. How about supper at my place tomorrow?”

She sends me a disbelieving look. “You cook? But. . .”  she yawns out the distance in her answer, “. . .e l e v e n  m i l e s?”

“Eleven point three,” I correct.  “But once we hit Inglewood, I’m getting us a ride.”

Denbo pissed

The SheBar – Denbo

Slamming shut tomorrow’s run of show folder, eight by ten photos of swimsuit models sail toward the kidnappers.  “What the fuck you do you mean Porter’s gone!?!  She was tied to a chair! You were guarding her 24/7!  So, how the fuck. . .?”

“We’ve brought in more men tonight to find her, but it’s a desolate area,” Perez answers.  “Lots of places to hide.”

My Girlfriend Cindy states the obvious. “Which is why she was there in the first place!”

I pound my fists on the table. “You drugged her to capture her!  Why not keep her that way, until this was all over?”

Perez looks at a beastly pierced and tattooed woman, who’s straight out of an addict’s DT nightmare.  Coldly, they stare back at me.  Unapologetic and unblinking.

bikini close up ocean background

Miami!  Full of party girls spending Daddy’s ill gotten money. I wish I’d never left!

With a barely controllable rage, my eyes lock with the beastly tattooed woman’s still glued on me. “Once you find her, you’ll get your fucking money.” I slam my fist on the table again. “I need Bette Porter out of the picture, and her sister freaked out until tomorrow night. Not before!”

fake dr perez shebar

With stirrings of hatred, Perez glares back at me. “We know the men you owe. Never forget that. You pay us for the job, you pay us when we tell you to pay us, or worse things – for you – begin to happen.”

I don’t flinch. “You’re right, Perez, word will get back to people we both know – that you lost a fucking Art professor!”

My Girlfriend Cindy adds, “Until Dinah Shore’s LA venue goes to the SheBar, not The Planet, they’ll be hell to pay, but not to you.”

I dismiss my villainous brood. “Now, get the fuck out of my bar and go find her.”

Tina gesturing INDOORS lking up

7 am the next morning – Tina

I open the medicine cabinet and take out the Xanax I keep only for earthquakes, because all around me – it feels likes one. I gulp down the pill and surrender to Big Pharma. I’m done snapping at my daughter who keeps asking – The Question of the Hour –  which is why I need a tranquilizer, that I wish were the same as swallowing a clue, that I don’t have – along with any idea about when Bette is coming home – I just know: She must.

All that, and three urgent phone calls I must make before 8 am.

Then, a text hits my iPhone.

From Simone –

I’m at your front door.

This stops me in my tracks. I didn’t hear a thing. No car, no footsteps, no sound of her approaching. I peek through the spyhole, and see her holding a paper sack, but also looking gorgeous and mysterious, whereas I look and feel like a wreck.

I yank open the door.  “Good morning.”

Simone replacement Front Door Rescue story

“I figured it out!” Simone dumps the contents of mostly paper and spent matchbooks on the table.  Quickly, she divides them into piles.  Nearby, Angelica plays with her cereal.

At the table, I hold my breath.

Mary comes in wearing Bette’s bathrobe.

I pace back and forth in the kitchen. “How long is this going to take? What’ve you found?”

“Kit gave these bits and pieces of the SheBar’s trash to Joyce – Tuesday, when Bette was taken, but nobody knew it then.”

Mary leans over the receipts, studying them closely. “I’ve got to see this place, before we burn it down.”

“That might be weird.” My voice drifts, as I walk outside. I dial Joyce’s cell phone. It’s 7 am.

She answers on the second ring. “Any news?”

“Maybe onto something.  Did you call Linda Zurnich. . .about my taking over as studio chief?”

“Fuck! I forgot! With everything. . .”

“I know, believe me, I know, but tomorrow’s Friday.”

“I’ll do it and call you back.” Joyce’s line goes dead.

I dial my friend at Paramount, who plays tennis with Shaolin’s top guy.  “Marcus, Tina Kennard, I know it’s early, but you have children.”

“You’re not kidding. Twins and teenagers.  I hope you’re calling about an early drink. Like around ten?”

I smile despite myself. “The movie I’m producing, have you heard about it? Our chief’s in trouble.”

“And you want his job?”

“I would be better at it, and production would be seamless.”

“But only if they hire inside.” Marcus puts two and two together. “I like you for it.  I’ll make some calls.”

receipts from trash

Back inside the kitchen –

I stare down at my table stacked with sticky shopping receipts. Simone taps under the dingy pile in the center. “A gas station near the airport. Twice, in the last week, they’ve filled up there.” Then, Simone gives up a satisfied smile. “This bigger pile is from a Mexican place, three miles from LAX.”

“They’re operating somewhere right in that circle.” Mary agrees.

I grab my purse.  “I’m ready!”

“Wait!” Mary points toward Angelica, and her half-eaten bowl of cereal. “I’m coming to!”

“My car has a baby seat.” I toss Simone the keys.

In five seconds, foggy from Xanax, now shot through with adrenaline – with Mary wearing Bette’s blue bathrobe, and Angelica trailing in her bib – the four of us are out the door.

corner store rescue site

An hour later –

Industrial area near LAX – Tina

After driving around blighted neighborhoods for an hour, it dawns on me how ill prepared I am for danger, and shockingly, that I’ve brought my child along for the ride. From the back seat I call to the front, “Is it possible to make a carseat bullet proof?”

“You really should’ve thought of that.  Like an hour ago.”  Simone reminds me, from behind the wheel.

“Pull over. This is the first habitable place we’ve seen for miles. I need coffee and cigarettes.”  Mary waves us over toward the curb, when the door to the food mart swings open, and a homeless woman waving a sign runs in front of our car.

“Look out!” Mary braces her hand on the dash. Simone slams on the brakes, and next to me – with an ear piercing squeal – Angelica screams, “Eeeeeeeeeee!”

My head whacks against Simone’s seat in front of me, and out of my right ear I cannot hear a fucking thing.

The homeless woman’s sign scratches slowly across my window, then drops out of sight.

“Did we hit her? I cry from the backseat.

“Jesus! Is she under the car?” Mary asks.

Followed by shouting – that even mostly deaf I recognize.  “Watch where you’re going!” A pissed off Bette barges out of the store, and skidding to a stop – on one boot – she lands with her hands planted on my window.

“Tina? Mother? Is that my bathrobe?”

I leap from the car and into Bette’s arms. Simone helps the woman with the sign up from the pavement.  Mary lights a cigarette and exhales – exhausted.

“How the fuck did you find me? I’m still not sure where I am.”

“The airport’s that way.” Dusting herself off the homeless woman points east.  “Don’t you remember?”

“She saved my life.  You wanna come with us?  Get some breakfast? Get a shower?”

“Get a job?” The Homeless Woman suggests.

“Absolutely!” I offer her.  “We’ll definitely find you something.”

After another kiss with Bette, I lick my lips.  “Babe, have you been drinking?”

“Just a little eye-opener.” She points to her swollen socket.  “Did it work?”

Angelica fusses inside the car, calling Bette’s name.

“Oh my God! You brought the baby!” She picks up Angelica.

Simone’s arms wave us toward the Lexus. “Everyone back inside.  Time to go.”

“We haven’t met, but thank you.  I guess, you know who I am.”

“I do,” Simone says, while gently touching Bette’s eye.  “I have a cream for that swelling.”

“On you? I could really use it.” Bette wedges in the backseat with Angelica, followed by me, and the Homeless Woman.

“T, how much was my ransom?”

No one in the car says a word.

Then, Mary turns around in her seat and takes Bette’s hand. “You see dear, it never was about you.”

“Really?  You could have fooled me, Mother! It got very personal.”

Flicking her rearview mirror, Simone shoots a quick look to the back.  “We’re ninety percent sure this leads back to the SheBar.”

For an instant, Bette’s mouth drops open, then her jaw clenches shut. “The SheBar bitches?” She hisses.

Mary fixes her with concern. “How bad was it? Scale of one to ten.  Ten being excruciating.”

The car hits a bump and we all jostle together.  Bette plays with Angelica’s small hand in hers. “I can see why that matters, Mother, especially to you.”

“Just call out a number.  Simone and I need to hear it.”

“Give me the eye cream. I want in on what you’re planning.”  Bette demands.

“Just a minute!” I shout.  “Bette, you’re either going home, or to the vet.”

“What?” She looks at me, as if I’ve lost my mind. “You mean the doctor?”

“Here for your eye.” Simone hands over a silver dollar sized container.  “Won’t help though, if your retina’s detached.”

“Oh God! Bette, can you see? Are you blind? Where were you anyway?” I thread my hands through her hair, and pull her close to me.  “Have you slept? Have you eaten? Are you hurt?  I can put the vet off, until tomorrow.”

Bette frowns, then checks my forehead for a fever. “Are you alright?”

“Oh Babe, just barely.”

“And the coup at the studio? Have you pulled that off?”

Quickly, I glance at my watch. It’s eight-thirty. “After I get you settled, I have things I must do.”

Bette leans into the front seat between Simone and Mary.  “Mother, they know I’ve escaped.  I’ve put Tina and Angelica in danger, haven’t I?”

“I’m Danielle, and I’ve worked at a small town newspaper, and in an eye doctor’s office, too.”

Mary holds out her hand to her.  “Danielle, forgive us. We’re excited she’s home.”

“Let’s do resumes after pancakes. Can we start there?” Bette suggests.

Simone warns. “We can’t go anywhere near The Planet. Denbo will have eyes in there. Especially now.”

“Let’s play what they think they know back on ’em.” Mary schemes.

“A misinformation campaign. Good thinking, but can I go home?”  Bette lets out a yawn.

“No. I’m taking you to a safe house.  Danielle, you’re going with Mary.”

“As soon as I get out of Bette’s bathrobe, dear.”

“Tina, you show up at work, look distressed, pretend none of this is over.”

“I promise I won’t tell a soul.” Danielle volunteers.

“I had to get out of there.  I just had to.” Then, with a heavy sigh, Bette closes her eyes, and in ten seconds she’s sound asleep against my shoulder.

Billy with blonde hair

The Planet – Billy

I loved Kit Porter the first time I ever saw her do a number on stage, and from that moment forward, we’ve grown together and apart so many times, we know all the dance steps from Hell to addiction and back again. But today, I’m sober, taking one hour at a time, and along with being a bipolar evil genius – it’s just another sunny day in West Hollywood, when Kit walks in with bags under her eyes.

“You look like a meat truck hit you,” I tell her.

“Don’t start with me, Billy!”

“Sit down, I’ll be nice. Have some coffee.”

“Is this immigrant demonstration going to work?”

“Oh, it’ll work alright. By the way, that Claire is a genius. Where’d you find her?”

“The Clintons.”

“Well, we know how that turned out.”

“Again, don’t start with me. You know I love me some Hill and Bill.”

“I’m more of a Nader-man, flying the flag of Lost Causes.”

Helena walks in dressed for a safari. I pull a chair out for her. “Where’ve you been?”

“In the bush. . .figuratively and literally.” She smiles.

Kit puts her head in her hands. “Please don’t tell me.”

“I’m all ears,” I say to Helena, then Kit moans some more. “Sister, pull it together.  Here’s what I know.  I’ve ordered you a Food Truck for outside. Beans and rice, and pork “surprise” – I’m a Jew, I don’t get into that – but the cantaloupe people stay out there, after the rally.”

“No, we’re not segregating people!”

Helena calls to a passing waiter. “May I have a pot of tea?” Then, to me. “I heard your messages, is she still missing?”

“No time for that!” Billy slices his hand between us. “Salsa, calypso, and cantaloupes – all stay outside.”

“I’m too tired to fight with you, Billy.”

“Me, too, I’ve very jet-lagged.”  Helena sympathizes, in that way she has of missing everyone else’s apparent pain.

“In here,” I whisper with anticipation, spreading out my arms and setting the scene for tonight, “is where the signature moment that defines The Planet to Dinah Shore and to the world happens! The candlelight vigil for missing women and children.”

“You’re telling me, I just do my hair and show up?”

“I’ve planned it perfectly. Down to the Kleenex with aloe.”

“How much is this costing me?”

“Forty percent of net.”

“Fifteen.”

“You’ve got to be kidding! Thirty-eight.”

“Twenty.”

“Thirty?”

“No!”

“Twenty-two! Final offer, Kit, or I’m walking!”

“Done.”

Helena looks up from her phone. “Glad that’s bloody over. Now, how’s Tina?”

“Unlike me,” Kit groans, “she’s lost ten pounds.”

Five hours later –

Alice_Lesbo Land

The Planet – Alice

Max, my transgendering cameraman, who washed up in our midst drug here by Jenny, back when Max was a lesbian – I’m still not clear on all that – but the point is – Max is moody today, of all days, and I suspect hormones. A woman with a full beard doesn’t just get that way without consequences.

Finally, he focuses the camera for my live podcast and says, “Rolling.”

“It’s four o’clock, Lesbians!  Time to roll out of bed, and walk the dog, and get over to the rally at The SheBar, where our super hot Latino friends are demonstrating for fair treatment and equal pay!”

“Now! Some of you may like fair treatment, and many of you may like it rough, but first, you have to get here to enjoy it!”

SheBar sign

Max cuts to the SheBar graphic.

Wrapping up my live segment, he’s back to me. “The excitement is in the streets this afternoon people, and tonight at The Planet, with an open bar during the candlelight vigil for Missing Women and Children – featuring special musical guests – and The Planet’s very own Kit Porter!”

“A question to think about, until I see you lesbians later, who doesn’t look better in candlelight after a few drinks?”

Followed by a brief pause. “Everyone! This is Alice in LesboLand signing off with a kiss!”

The red recording light on the camera goes out, and Max fiddles with our equipment. “The kiss bit was new,” he monotones.

I unhook the microphone from my blouse. “That was for Simone!”

He laughs in disbelief. “You think she listens to your show?”

As the whooshing sound of my text to her flies into the ethers, I wave my iPhone at him. “She does now that she has the link.”

To Be Continued —

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.

 

Just joining the story? Here’s the first in this series – “Whereabouts Unknown” http://bit.ly/WhereaboutsUnknown, followed by, “Hotel California” http://bit.ly/BetteHotelCalifornia, then, “Ensnared by Guilt”  http://bit.ly/ensnared and now you’re up to date.


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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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#9 Touch Tones: Radar Love

Tina sleeping

Santa Fe Guest Room – Bette

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

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

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

Rattlesnakes on the Grill

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then I pause.

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

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

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

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

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

Bette Garden thinking white sweater

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

Bette drinking outside alone

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

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

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

CU Bette's boots Blood Moon story

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

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

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

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

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

Bette Phyllis party story image

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

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

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

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

Tina bedroom Santa Fe

Ten minutes later – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bette_Tina Season 5 06kiss

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

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

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

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

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

Bette_Lick_Tina's neck

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

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

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

Bette's Tongue.2 on top

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

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

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

“I know. I smell it, too.”

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

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

Maxine breakfast room

Mary Hardy’s Breakfast Room – Bette

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

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

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

Our Dinner Party. Theme was breakfast.

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

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

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

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

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

Maxine_Adoring w:Son

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

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

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

saints int santa fe church

Church – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The one that has the answers.”

Loretto Chapel santa fe staircase

Forty-five minutes later – Tina

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

santa fe staircase spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sarah Wilson?”

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

Tia CU torquoise necklace

Sanctuary – Bette

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Most of it.” I laugh with Sarah.

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

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

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

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

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

Maxine Blue window

Mary Hardy’s Art Studio – Bette

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maxine Painting RedWineBlueChairs

One hour later –

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

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

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

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

“Bette?”

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

Maxine self portrait.2 rear shot smoking

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

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

“Didn’t he try it with you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And you got shot.”

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

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

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

“I take it you couldn’t escape?”

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

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

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

Spooky GraveYard Gambino Family

“Survival springs to mind.”

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

“So the Inside Man literally called the FBI?”

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

“I imagine so!”

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

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

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

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

“And then you went away.”

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

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

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

____

If you enjoyed this story, please give me a little tip here at paypal.me/blackbirdwrites.  For $3.00 you’ll be buying me a cup of coffee, $7 is a cold drink I’ll enjoy and $10 and up is dinner.  A comment back from you I’d love, too.


_________

 


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#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.

You can find our links on Twitter @Blackbird_Write

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@thelword_FPAGE & @foreverthelword each have great pics, links and amusing thoughts.

Thanks always to Jacky at LesFan who hosts us there.


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#5 Touch Tones: The Kiss – Tina Kennard L Word

Bette_Tina Season 5 06kiss

On Stage – Tina

As the crowd around us chants, “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss her!” I wonder how to begin this final part of our performance. The moment our lips meet and the cameras start recording pictures of us will fly out of here and begin their own fanciful journey.

Whether she’ll ever admit to it or not Bette has loved being in front of all these cameras and people slowly seducing me with her marriage proposal and waiting on me now to consummate it with a kiss. Her dark eyes just beyond the planes of diamonds are streaked with gold this afternoon as she lifts my ring to her lips and waits for me.

I want our magical interweaving to happen again. I want the feeling of being held tightly by her strong and confining arms to return. I am tired and so weary of flailing without her.

Possession

What I haven’t decided about is the way she eroticizes her need for possession of me – an agreement we made one night long ago born out of a jealousy that shook me so deeply when she took me there I knew she was the kind of lover I’d always wanted but had never found.

Possession had appeared within our first year of being together and soon I wanted those needs of hers that searched me tirelessly to do it with an unending intensity and finally with greater and greater explosions of love. It was stark and revealing and our ultimate dynamic interplay. And now that she knows my secret I’m unsure if I can be that lover with her anymore.

I must have allowed the seals to be finally broken. It was along the way of fighting to get her back after losing her to Jodie that made me remember those things about my sister and myself. And when I feel into the hidden places they are wary of touch and trust, and I worry about Bette’s searching for me one night and finding me there.

Before meeting her eleven years ago I would have never conceived of this moment. Driving past the gates of Paramount back then I would’ve never imagined that one day in the future, several miles away playing happily at a daycare, would be our child. Or that farther beyond where I’m standing on stage would be the sets to a movie I’m producing, much less a film about lesbians.

Was she always in the matrix of people I would meet? As those lines drew themselves darker the more I explored finding intimacy were all my possibilities inevitably leading to this deeply hued and scored place that has become our history together?

Negotiation

Since we joined Gloria Bette has played to her stage presence flawlessly. To my awe she reached out and immediately touched the crowd with her anticipation and desire. I’m the one who’s been nearly motionless on stage, encircled by winds of emotion and memory.

The endings and beginnings between lovers fill this moment between us. Our kiss waits before coming into existence. A crowd surrounding us chanting for the consummation that moves us from partner to fiancée and says in an electrifying leap: “Yes!” to becoming her wife. I know I must reach over to her and accept her love for me. Then kiss, and jump, and trust, and fall with her. Always the last strap to unleash has been mine before being encircled and possessed and loosened of everything that has kept her separate from me.

Can I do it again? Survive the intensity of a life with her? I wonder as her eyes begin to flash the question that lies between us: What do you want to do, Tina? What do you want to do?

”I want you to kiss me.” I say as I lean into her and we begin with a hint of the hunger for what we have, and for what we’ve always guarded, and for what we nearly destroyed.

 

Backstage – Tina

As I hold Bette’s hand and we wave one last goodbye to the crowd she leans over and whispers, “My mind is blown, Tina. Truly fucking blown. I thought I’d lost you for a minute there. You were really starting to frighten me.”

“You have a talent for this, Babe. I don’t know what happened to me. I froze up on stage.”

“Except at the very end.” Bette sends me a sly wink. “You were selling it at the end, T.”

I squeeze her hand to follow me as the stage manager parts the curtain to let us pass. “You know we’re not quite done yet though, don’t you?” I point to the Press waiting backstage with Claire.

“I see that now.” Bette’s voice tightens a bit.

“Just a little longer and then I can meet you at home.”

“Dinner?” She asks as Claire motions for us to join her near the bar.

“Babysitter?” I answer.

I hear Kit’s voice a little below a shout. “What in the world is going on with you two people?” She vents then breaks into a huge smile before she hugs us both. “I knew you two could do it.”

“We needed a good beacon at times.” I say with a sigh.

“All I know is there’s a mule somewhere to thank for kicking you both in the head.” Kit blusters as she holds out her hand to me. “Now, let me see this ring. Just like the rest of Lil Sis’ understatements at lunch it wasn’t described worth a damn to me either.” Kit shoots Bette a cross look.

I lift my ring up to show Kit who nods her head “Now this is what I’m talking about. I’m so proud of you.” Her disapproval vanishes as she smiles at Bette and asks, “When’s the wedding?”

“Oooff.” Bette exhales. “We don’t know. We keep getting asked that, too.” She looks over at me with a slightly worried look.

“We’re going to have to answer it again and again in a minute.” I nod toward Claire and the reporters. “We have to go, Kit.”

“Can you start without me? I want to talk to my sister for a minute more.” Bette says.

“Sure. I’ll begin with the movie and Kit, thank you for coming, and thank you for all you do for Angelica.”

“Lemme just say I’m glad you’re back, and anytime about Baby Girl, you know that.” Kit sends me off with a big smile.

Bette catches my arm as I walk away. “Should we make up a date? I mean is it that important?” She looks worried.

“Eventually it’s important, but for now I can answer it for the reporters. I’ll tell them we’re setting the date in a week or two and it’s definitely after the movie finishes shooting.”

“Got it.” Bette nods and turns back to Kit.

Kit_Bette big smiles_ seated

Backstage – Bette

“Daddy always held out the hope you’d get married. That man wanted to walk you down an aisle,” Kit says.

“And same sex marriage was not what he had in mind.” I stress as we sit down.

“You felt you had to wait, didn’t you?” Kit asks putting it together.

I tilt my head toward Tina. “I told myself I didn’t care what he thought when we planned for the baby but she said let’s wait on California, and on and on. But by the end of Daddy’s last visit before he got sick he was making her mentally disappear even while she was still in the room.” I wipe my hand in front of my eyes to illustrate his magic trick. “Maddening! And it was going to be very difficult to marry her until he changed.”

“Tell me you’ve seen Mt. Rushmore and The Pyramids and tell me they’ve changed much over time.” Kit shakes her head in wonder at my unreal perspective.

“No, you’re right. I know, I know. She barely tolerated him not tolerating her. It would have been too much to throw Daddy as a log on the fire of why I never brought it up again. Then she left me, so the point was really moot after that.”

“Moot? That’s a little far south of what you got yourselves into but I see it now.” Kit adds thoughtfully, “And it had to be her. We all knew that.”

I smile as we watch Tina talking to the Press and Claire standing watchfully by her. “Gloria said something so interesting to me a few minutes ago.” I whisper to Kit as a friend from my days at the CAC approaches. “That Daddy’s in a different place about me and Tina now.”

“You can dream.” Kit says and shoots me a skeptical look.

“Listen, before this old friend of mine gets here I wanted to tell you more at lunch. I got a call from a woman in New Mexico late last Friday afternoon, Mary Windhorse was – is her name. She said my mother came to Daddy’s memorial,” I say to Kit’s utter astonishment. “And that she’s been in WitSec this whole time.”

“Hold on, hold on, hold on!” Kit waves her hand to slow me down.

“That and I need a babysitter and then I have to leave.” I finish in a rush before I bite my lip and wince that I’m sorry.

“Uh-huh. Tell you what, I got Baby Girl for tonight, but you and me?” Kit wags her finger between us. “We’re going to have a serious talk real soon. You can bet on that.”

Bette_Agent Porter Laughing at Table

 

Bette’s House – Bette

 

I did enjoy the brief after party backstage. I didn’t mind being the brunt of a few well-placed, “Bette Porter marrying” jokes coming from friends of mine who, frankly I was astonished to see there. But then on more than one occasion I had to mentally remind myself – the people who came did so because of Gloria’s politics and if not disastrously handled – the politics that should be in the movie.

I mean really, how can you separate the two? Any exploration into a tightly knit community’s sexual escapades becomes on the one hand, political and apparently on the other, dysfunctional and insane if Jenny’s telling it. But her bi-sexual awakenings and Tina’s counterpoint descent back into them were about power and status, and maneuvering and manipulation, and adding my own worst to their pile of sins – madness and blood thirst. Ergo: Politics.

After a few jokes at my expense and other subtle reminders from Tina I was able to keep in mind that my friends and hundreds of others had come today to honor the signing into law of “our” statewide freedom to marry. It had been a worrisome campaign all the way up to the final vote and that is no doubt is why so many people were there – to let off steam and cheer on something that had been a battle hard to win.

California really should have been the beachhead for the whole country and yet, we had such rocky and spasmodic beginnings. For all those reasons when I finally got my head around the big picture it began to sink in why Claire had created the rally and how truly brilliant it was to have us on stage.

Now, if everyone would just forget about my three minutes of fame I’d like my life to get back to normal where I can be happy with my family and perhaps find myself whistling again. As I steady the groceries in my arms and unlock my front door I realize how little conception I have of what normal for me and Tina really looks like.

I turn the water on in the sink and dump the vegetables from the market in to wash them. The red and yellow peppers bob back up at me, dinner at home with my soon to be wife would be normal.

“Wife,” I say out loud.

I’m not sure I’m the wife, too, though. I need to think about that. There’s something about two wives unless you’re Mormon that feels strange to me, but partner I had liked. I get we are moving away from that, but “partners” had a jostling feeling to it and a, “you and me against the world” kind of vibe. I’d always liked it and it had felt right – a duo, a united front, our relationship that was outside the law. Now things have changed.

“Hi, this is my wife, Bette Porter.” I say out loud and then decide I need a drink.

I take down the Scotch and pour a short glass. The sounds of this new re-phrasing I can’t quite tune my ear to. I roll the warm Scotch around in my mouth before I swallow it.

“Hello. I’m Bette Porter, Tina Kennard’s spouse.” I try out a husky, whiskey laced greeting on the floating bell peppers.

I like the sound of that. Sexually very neutral but attached. And why for the love of God am I having gender confusion about Tina, again? That business with two mothers for the baby when Tina was so clearly the breastfeeding all important one drove me to such turmoil only a steady diet of breast milk could set me right most nights.

I pour another finger of Scotch in my glass and think about those sweet milky days. I don’t know. Does one wife suck the other wife’s breast while she’s nursing? For the life of me that sounds like something only lovers do. I swallow more whiskey and wince as it burns me.

Okay, so wife’s more of a public name that happens with marriage vows and everything else stays the same, or does it? I look around the house and realize it could use fresh flowers. I walk out into the garden in the early evening light to find my clippers.

 

Post Press conference shot, Tina,Shane, Jenny

Outside Bette’s House – Tina

“What are you searching for?” Shane asks me as we pull up in front of Bette’s house and she sees me digging through my purse again.

“My keys. I have to unlock the front door. We’re here and thank you so much for the ride.”

“I have your keys, remember?” Shane takes them out of her pocket and dangles them in front of my face.

“No, you were right to take them away. Note to self: No tequila shots on an empty stomach before 8 PM.”

“Forget about that. You had a lot to celebrate and then some. I’d be smashed, too, if I didn’t have a headache from the smog out where I had to work all day.”

“We’ll get you on set soon enough. Ooops! I’ve lost my keys again.” I say as I bend over and search the floor to find them. I hear Shane’s door opening and then her walking to mine.

“Turn on your phone and use it like a flashlight. There they are.” Shane says as she leans into her car and picks up my keys for me. “You’re a mess. Put your arm around my neck so I can get you home.”

“Home.” I say as I look over Shane’s shoulder to the front of Bette’s house. “I live here again now. Back next door to you.”

“And I welcome you back to the neighborhood.” Shane laughs and puts her arm around my waist. “Okay, step one, two, three and nice going. All good?” She asks as she presses the doorbell and I fumble more with my keys.

“You liked Jodie, didn’t you?” I ask as I lean against the door to wait for Bette. “Are you pissed at me at all?”

“You’re kidding, right?” Shane rubs her face in wonder.

“No, I wasn’t.”

“You realize that for years and years I looked at you guys as the head of our family. We had holidays together and birthdays together and when you broke up?” Shane looks away and squints her eyes as she thinks. “It took away from me – and God knows what it did to you – but it took away from me a foundation and it made me sometimes really sad.”

I put my hand on her shoulder. “You told me once how it made you feel at Christmastime and a little about your stays in foster homes.”

“I’m not alone in that. Most foster kids don’t talk about how weird holidays were with hand me down gifts no one else wanted that were wrapped up anonymously for you.” Shane takes out a cigarette. “In a word: It sucked.”

“Do you ever hear from your mother?” I ask.

“Occasionally a postcard from Texas.” Shane exhales some smoke and smiles. “Always something she knows I’d like. You know, an old timey cowgirl picture postcard, or a joke with a giant jackrabbit with horns. We grow ‘em big in Texas type of thing.” Shane laughs.

“I don’t know where she is. Trust me. She’s expecting me.” I say as I press the doorbell again.

“I’m just glad Bette didn’t hang herself a year ago. I was such a fucked up friend. Carmen and all.” Shane ends with a few concentrated smoke rings that drift away slowly. “I wasn’t around to help much.”

“I don’t know what I’m thinking. Here, you can see to do the key or should I just call her?” I dig back into my purse before dropping my phone with a clatter.

“Clumsy. I get clumsy when I drink, thus the good idea not to let me drive.” I lean down to pick up my phone and my head whooshes as the blood rushes to it. I put my hand on Shane’s leg to steady my balance.

“Hey, let’s sit on the steps for a minute.” She says as she guides me down next to her. “Is everything, okay? Or did you just get carried away after the party moved to Nikki’s penthouse and the shots came out?”

“I should never do shots on an empty stomach, Shane.” I reiterate my dilemma.

“I find them very hard to avoid but whatever works for you. I’m just glad you’re back, shitfaced or not. You know?” Shane puts her arm around me and looks me steadily in the eyes.

I roll my head back toward the house. “You know I insisted we redecorate the bedroom. I mean, fuck it, Shane. God knows how many women have been in that bed since I left.”

Shane laughs and says, “You’d be surprised. They’re weren’t that many.”

“Well, anyway she agreed without blinking that she’d throw the bed out and that led to a very good prop we could use in that business with Jenny.” I nod toward their house. “So, gratefully all that happened in a hurry and quickly became less about who all’s been in there.”

“I don’t think the hot Senator ever even saw this place.” Shane says as she looks behind us to Bette’s front door.

“Surely she had enough sense to not bring the co-eds here.” I add with a slight snort.

“Bette, Bette, Bette.” Shane shakes her head.

“You see why we had to burn the mattress. We’re getting married for Christ sake!”

“Got it. You needed a new bed. I hope when they delivered it this afternoon they brought lamps, too, because Bette flew into some kind of “chewing the scenery” rage in there for awhile with her remodeling.” Shane laughs at her recent memory.

“My hope is she lights candles everywhere tonight.” I nudge Shane a little. “I mean look at the ring she gave me.” I hold out my hand. “And maybe they’re already lit and she’s waiting on me.”

Shane and I look back at the door as Bette opens it. Holding a vase of red and dark blue flowers she smiles down at us. “I thought I heard voices. Don’t you want to come in?”

I stand up and steady myself on the handrail as a frown flashes across Bette’s face. “Oh,” she says as she quickly hands the flowers to Shane and scoops me up. “I see the party continued after I left.” She smiles at me.

“And may it continue longer.” Shane says as she puts the vase down and waves goodbye from the porch.

 

 

Bette On top tongue kiss

Bedroom – Tina

The new soft sheets she peels back from the bed have the scent of lavender and it settles around me as she presses me deeper into the mattress.

There are candles, there are flowers and there is a very intense feeling of her kissing me now. The room isn’t spinning too much I realize as I let go and feel her long lick up my neck before she kisses me again.

“I want you before dinner. Is that crazy?” Bette asks an inch from my lips.

“Not tonight it isn’t.” I say as she teases my breast with her tongue.

“I remembered your milk earlier.” She says twisting my nipple. A look of lust rises between us and I feel my head rush.

“You want it tonight, don’t you?”

She closes her eyes and sucks my breast and doesn’t answer me for a long time.

“I just went back there. Very beautiful, very nice.” Bette looks up from my breast finally. “How are you feeling, Baby?” She asks.

“Would you laugh at me if I told you, dreamy?”

She smiles as she kisses me down my belly. “Maybe a little.”

I sigh when I feel her tongue hard then soft circling around me.

She pushes open my legs and I wrap them around her back.

Not known for ever accomplishing a “quickie” she surprises me at how intensely she drives me toward that edge. I feel her amplifying all the right places and staying there just long enough to make me ache for her to return.

I know this one. She sets out an array of pulses and then joins them all together in one nice long ending that turns afterwards into a much longer, pleasurable plateau where I can begin again. I will never tire of this I realize as her incredible tongue begins to lick inside me.

 

wolf_onRidge

Instincts

After bringing Tina her dinner on a tray and then rubbing her back with the lotion we love so much from Wales we had agreed – the new bed and its fresh, soft sheets were perfect. Tina lies across my chest now and barely traces her hand along my arm as I read a short love poem of Rumi’s I found.

“You look so different in glasses, Bette.” Tina says as I finish the last verse.

“Just wait. You’re younger than I am. It’ll happen to you.”

“The poem was beautiful. Rumi’s images spin around so much sometimes though. But I’m sobering up now.” Tina laughs at herself.

“Well, Sufis love their swirling dervishes as you know.” I answer as I turn the pages of the book.

“Whirling dervishes, Bette.”

“That’s what I said.” I look over the rim of my glasses at Tina.

“My mistake.” Tina smiles as she hugs me to her. “Babe, I’m closing my eyes, okay. Read on. Read out loud to me if you’d like but I’m drifting.”

One hour later –

While Tina drifted into sleep next to me I had stared up at the ceiling and relived my last several days of intense recalibrations. Over and over again my mind had drifted pleasurably from Tina and Angelica in Malibu, to the kiss on stage, and then back again to the phone call about my mother.

My mind had succumbed to a tangled dream fraught with desperate hunting and I had awakened watchful with a taste of the wind in my mouth. I had slipped out of bed and in the dining room opened my computer.

For the last half-hour I’ve searched the Internet for major crimes in Philadelphia that occurred the week my mother disappeared from my life completely.

When I found the Gambino’s I knew I had found the mafia.

Gambino FoggySt Hit

 

 

_____________

I hope you enjoyed Chapter Five, The Kiss. Chapter Six of Touch Tones, The L Word inspired Season 7 will post shortly.

Thank you for reading and let me know if you enjoyed the story.

 

Blackbird

 

 

Bette Porter Tina Kennard love scene, Bette Porter Tina Kennard love scene, Bette Porter Tina Kennard love scene, Bette Porter Tina Kennard love scene, Bette Porter Tina Kennard love scene,

 

 

 

 


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#4 Touch Tones: Kryptonite

Kit_Bette big smiles_ seated

Soundstage – Kit – 3PM

As I hurry behind the taillights of a limousine I’m nearly out of breath by the time I finally get inside the party. I do a quick 360 to look around me. Good Lord, when Bette came to see me earlier with news she was marrying Tina, and at three o’clock they were telling everybody, she didn’t describe anything like the size of this place. Not a word was mentioned about the scale of this venue, the movie stars I see standing by the side of the stage, or the hundreds of people all waving rainbow flags at one another. Little announcement, my ass. Sometimes I need a lie detector and a seatbelt to roll with these people.

Their sudden rises in altitude followed by their equally dramatic falls is what my sister and her friends do best. That or resemble a mangled freight train burning up at the crossroads. And unless I’ve just snapped out of a three-year coma, Bette and Tina act most days like they hate each other.

You blink and you can miss a year around here.

Coma or not, and daily it remains debatable if I’m losing my mind, I do know that my sister and Tina are crazy about their child, and as parents they’ll always be loving and unconventional. And every bit of that is good news to me. You just never know how some folks are going to be with their kids.

Just look at us. The human race is so fucked up. Eon after eon dumbass folk keep doing the same stupid things. And I’m plenty self-destructive. I’ll cop to that. Once, if you played me a real good sad song I’d finish the bottle with you. Fuck, who said anything about tomorrow?

When Bette was still young I had hit the road for the R&B Clubs between Kansas City, Detroit and Chicago. It was selfish of me, I admit it. But I swear to God I couldn’t take another second of Daddy’s stodginess. So, I left Bette motherless to grow up with the Methodists, and The Ten Commandments, and our overbearing father. I know it was complicated for her still brokenhearted over losing her mom. I saw it with my own eyes whenever I did drift back home.

And then for better or worse it became just how she was. Bette approached every one of her romantic relationships saddled with our Daddy’s wandering eye. Like the gallery owner she became she acquired the next one and then the next – each woman more interesting than the one before.

And that went on for years when finally after going through women like popcorn at a movie Tina had miraculously stayed. And it wasn’t too long after that I began to notice something: Tina was Bette’s Kryptonite.

At first I thought it was amusing as hell, and I had hidden behind faked fits of coughing just to cover over my trails. After a screed of over amped righteousness Bette would begin to feel the whammy of Tina’s Kryptonite. It was a switch only Tina had, and thank God, she wasn’t afraid to use it.

They’d exchange a look and something I never found the words for would pass between them. Then, they’d kiss each other like nobody’s business – whether anybody else was around them or not.

Someone really should sell tickets to this shit.

Bette_GREAT Kiss_Handbehind her headKiss

Limousine – Tina – 3 PM

I take another swallow of the brandy Claire poured me a moment ago. I know she hopes it will ease the gnawing uneasiness I can’t seem to shake. A nervousness that feels old, and clingy, and just won’t go away.

Maybe it’s because I haven’t had to manage Bette’s nerves that I’m feeling aware of my own so fragile and jangled. Until we drove inside the soundstage, and Bette got a look at the so-called, “wedding announcement” surprise Claire had in store for her, Bette had been uncommonly calm.

This staged event, in what I hope is not an overreaching of Claire’s, is brilliant from a PR point of view. My movie, our wedding announcement, historic gay marriage legislation, and the feminist icon, Gloria Steinem, all rolled into one. If I can get my shit together Bette and I will look nothing like the spoofs and impersonations of us in the movie. But now, even though I’m the one who started it, I’m finding it practically impossible to leave the bubble of this limousine.

What if I go up on stage with Bette and take her beautiful ring? Then like having a baby, something that was life changing and forever with her, it makes me lose my mind all over again?

Until recently, my life saving grace has always been my extraordinary ability to compartmentalize. In a box way, way down was where I’d kept the memories of those nights with my sister. When the seal to my secrets had been broken I’d fainted and whacked my head against the side of The Fortune Teller’s table.

I remember the last card I had drawn and turned over to her.

 

TheChariot

 

The Chariot

“There will come a time very soon with you, and the one you love, when neither of you can look away anymore,” the Gypsy had said. “You’ll know it because you’ll feel a great tension and a hundred things will be swirling around you.” And then, she had looked across at me with a warning. “To go forward together this is the moment for your union, Tina, and you can’t miss it.”

I let out an audible sigh inside the limousine and finish the last of my drink.

 

Bette_sincere_studio w:brother

I tune back into the conversation going on around me and hear Claire employing a well-placed piece of leverage with Bette who’s been having her own version of, “Do I stay or do I go?”

I smile at her reaction to Gloria’s personal message. With her on the stage with us, and Bette’s father looking down from a wiser place, Melvyn will absolutely bless this union of ours.

“God! She is so fucking right!” Bette exclaims before kissing me and throwing open the limo door.

Camera flashes temporarily blind me. There’s so much more I want to say.

Alice_Lesbo Land

Engagement Announcement – Alice in Lesbo Land – 3:05 pm

“Hey everybody! Whew! You’ll have to excuse me while I catch my breath. I’ve been running because the press conference for Les Girls,” I stop and pant a little as I point off to camera right, “we just shot for you outside. Now, we’ve set up again in a completely different spot. We’re actually coming to you from inside the big soundstage where shooting for the lesbian themed feature movie, Les Girls, began today. That’s right! The producer, Tina Kennard, confirmed that with me earlier.”

I stop and take a quick sip of water. “And so the excitement continues people because just wait for what I’ve got for you next.”

A beat in time passes before I continue. “Is Gloria Steinem someone you might like to hear comments from? About gay rights and human rights, and California’s freedom to marry legislation?” I shake my fists in a cheer.

Claire Vertical DarkGrey dress

Off camera Claire sends a signal for my attention. “Max is going to walk around with the camera and show you guys the movie sets and the crowd that’s gathered, and I’ll be back in a flash.” I unclip my mic and Claire whispers in my ear.

“I’ve been told they want to stop and talk to you before anyone else. As a thanks for what you did at Jenny’s yesterday, they insist that you are first.” Claire winks at me.

“Finally! And double friggin’ finally someone believes I can keep a secret.” I exhale with great relief.

“Okay, Alice. Bear in mind they have spent a considerable amount of money setting this into play, and the last thing they need is for this to go sideways.” Claire gives me her, “sexy but still plotting moves ahead” smile.

“But I’m still vetting you, Alice. What are your questions? Two minutes and two questions is what you get on their way to the stage.” Claire punctuates her fingers in a V for my two questions.

TinaBarebackKiss

Between the Limo and the Rope Line – Tina – 3:06 pm

“Babe, does my hand feel too sweaty for you?” I slow my pace and pull Bette back a little from walking toward the crowd.

“Warmer than usual more than anything, but I already know you’re nervous, T.” Bette whispers back through her unwavering smile.

“Do you remember how when I was trying to get pregnant? You would come home after work and sex me up?”

“Sex you up? Oh for the love of God, Tina, really? Are you fucking serious? You’re going to put that in my mind as we head into this thing.” She flashes me a stunned look.

“Well, it’s when we should’ve gotten married, Bette. I should’ve flown to Boston with you like you asked, and not been stubborn about it.”

“Maybe, but we’re doing it finally, and I hope really soon.”

I tug on her arm a little more to slow her down again. “Babe, I need to focus on something other than all these people looking at me. You stand in front of a classroom or a big lecture hall three times a week.”

“Trust me. This really couldn’t be more different.” Bette answers almost in a hiss.

“You have to kiss me like you would on those afternoons, Bette, because I can’t take another step without you.” I squeeze her hand and put her arm around me. “I love you so much, and also I’m a little afraid.”

Bette_Tina Early KIss for flashback

“About marrying me?” Bette asks with an anxiety that creeps in at the corners of her eyes.

“We are going to do it, aren’t we? I mean nothing is going to stop us. Is there?” I ask her.

“No, Baby, nothing is going to stop us,” she whispers before our lips meet and we fly back through the years.

Bette_Laughing studio brother

Engagement Announcement – Alice – 3:06 PM

We all have Rock star fantasies I realize as I watch Bette and Tina step out of their limousine and wave to the crowd. As camera flashes flicker on their faces I know I’d like to be exiting a limo right about now, and taking the stage with Gloria Steinem and her lovely smile. As I push Max with our camera toward Bette and Tina making their turn for the stage, I can absolutely picture it.

“You guys! What’s happening? I was out there at the press conference stage with the camera waiting for you.”

“Change of plans. Claire texted you and all the Press,” Tina answers as the crowd pushes closer. “Everything is moving a little fast for us right now, Alice.”

“Well, I can see that!”

“Hey, Max, are you guys rolling?” Bette asks and he nods that we are.

She turns up the wattage of her smile and holds Tina even closer. “Hello! Everybody we’re joining Alice in Lesbo Land inside the soundstage of Les Girls. I’m Bette Porter, Dean of Arts at California University, and this is Tina Kennard, the movie’s producer. I’m sure you’ve heard about her and the movie, Les Girls, from Alice.” Bette smiles as she looks at Tina.

“Tina’s my fiancée! And we’ve been invited by Alice to make a little Lesbo Land history and announce our wedding engagement to you before anyone else knows about it.” Bette shoots the camera an intriguing look.

Bette turns to Tina again. “Tina’s surprised me with a special guest. The pretty amazing Gloria Steinem is here!”

“Because I know how much you like surprises.” Tina beams back convincingly. “Gloria’s waiting for us, Babe.”

“Alice, no time for questions right now, but come on stage with us.” Bette reaches over and hugs me.

I honestly don’t know what to say to them at this moment so I stammer finally, “I really love you guys.”

Gloria.2 red curtain stage

Stage – Bette – 3:08 PM

As Tina and I wait in the wings by the stairs Gloria begins her speech.

“You know we may feel sometimes that good things take too long in coming. That we wait all too often and far too long for the meaningful changes we work so hard for. That’s so true, isn’t it? We do get weary of waiting, don’t we?” Gloria asks a crowd that responds with whoops and whistles.

She continues, “And yet we can never lose sight of days and moments like this one when we can all come together in celebration of something that’s so right! Legalizing same sex marriages in the State of California!” Gloria’s voice rises as the crowd rejoices and cheers.

“How many couples here this afternoon will get married now that you can?” Gloria asks as the crowd’s noise begins to die down. Then, a unifying cheer comes up as fifty couples raise their hands clasped together. Gloria turns to me and Tina and opens her arms in a warm welcome.

“Bette Porter and Tina Kennard, everyone!” Gloria signals our introductions. “Really great to see you both, and what an exciting day for you, Tina. Your movie sounds like a winner and now you can marry your longtime partner, Bette.” Gloria shakes Tina’s hand and then puts her arm around my waist.

“Bette’s father and I met during the Civil Rights Movement. We did some good behind the scenes work together back then.” Gloria nods at me.

“Daddy was very fond of you, Gloria.” I say not having the slightest idea if it’s true.

“Thank you for having us on stage with you.” I continue. “I was at Tina’s press conference, and I’m so excited for her. And now here you are!” I throw out my hands to present Gloria again to the crowd.

A wave of applause comes back to me. “They tell me that while you’re in town this afternoon you’ve volunteered to help me with something.” I intro our segue.

“As an old friend of your father’s, I’ll do anything I can to help you.” Gloria smiles at me and Tina.

I reach into my jacket pocket and take out the red leather Cartier box with Tina’s engagement ring. I crack it open so only Gloria and the people closest behind her can get a peek inside. She raises her eyebrows and mimes her approval. A collective swell of anticipation sweeps back to us as Tina acts her part – shielding her eyes from the ring, and playfully looking away.

“Tina,” I say seriously to draw her attention back to me while I hide the ring behind my back. “I know as Les Girls’ producer this is a wonderful day for you and the talented cast and crew of people you’ve assembled. And I want to say to you, and Gloria, and everyone out there that I’m so proud of you, and all you’ve done, and will do with your life, and your talent.”

Tina looks shy for a moment and the room grows quieter and much more still. I flash the ring in its box out at the audience again and they cheer me on. Taking a step closer to Tina I show her the ring inside.

“I bought this engagement ring for you, Baby. You do know that I love you with all my heart, don’t you?” I ask with the first catch of tightness and emotion in my voice.

Tina nods her head. I see the love she has for me in her eyes. “Then will you say, “Yes,” that you’ll marry me?” I take her left hand and I slip the ring on her finger. Her chin begins to quiver.

Gloria steps closer to us. “So beautiful, both of you,” she says softly. “And where your father is now, Bette, I’m sure is a place of greater wisdom, and that he’s happy for you both. Especially so for you, Bette.”

“I believe you. I think, I can even feel it.” I whisper back to her then raise my voice. “But Gloria and everybody wait! Tina hasn’t answered me yet.”

I look out at the hundreds of people who now begin to hold their collective breath. Max pans his camera slowly over the crowd. Me, them, Alice, Gloria, the mice that I’m sure live in here somewhere – we all take a deep breath and wait for Tina.

Her chin quivers a second or two more before she lifts up her ring to the crowd and says to me, “Yes, Bette Porter! I absolutely will!”

I send out a big smile of relief, and the crowd celebrates with me. “Kiss! Kiss! Kiss her!” They begin to chant and Gloria nods that she agrees. It just has to be.

I hold Tina close and whisper in her ear. “Baby, you start. Whatever kind of kiss you want I’ll follow. But for the love of God, don’t show them how much we both want a babysitter and to get the hell out of here.”

 

Chapter 5 of TOUCH TONES, the L Word inspired Season 7 will follow shortly. Thank you for reading and let me know how you liked this story.

Thanks always to Jacky at LesFan who hosts us there! You can follow them @LesFan.

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