Tuesday, December 10, 2013
“Do you want to watch TV?” Miriam asked.
“No, thank you.”
“It won’t bother me,” Miriam said. “My son has it on constantly.”
“I rather talk with you.”
“I’m not much of a talker. In fact, I’m not much company at all. You should really--”
“I’m fine, Miriam.”
“Okay.” She pulled the curtains together and fastened them with safety pins. “Are you sure you want to sleep here? My nervous habits annoy everyone else. Except Sy. He’s good to me.”
“They won’t bother me, Miriam. I’m quite adaptable. So, what do you think of San Francisco?”
“It seems nice. From what I’ve seen. I’m not sure how we got here. But it’s nice. I’m a little…well…big cities make me nervous.”
“San Francisco is very safe. And the people are gentle.”
“Gentle is good,” Miriam said. “Gentle is very good.”
“Not like other cities. Not like New York City.”
“No, no.” Miriam jumped up to test the door chain and secure the curtains with more safety pins.
“It’s push and shove in New York,” Alex said.
“Oh, yes. It’s quite uncivilized. Hideous and uncivilized.”
“You grew up on Long Island, didn’t you?”
“Yes. How did you know?”
“Did you go into the city often?”
“Not often. I don’t really remember.”
“What is it that you don’t remember?”
“About the city?” Miriam said.
“Yes, about the city.”
Monday, December 9, 2013
Miriam had been frightened most of her life. The entire two weeks we were in Rhode Island, she never ventured near the water. She didn’t even own a bathing suit. Cindy said she had body image issues. She was alarmingly thin, kept her hair shorter than most men and never wore makeup or perfume. She was a gourmet cook and would have an elegant dinner prepared for us when we returned from the beach, yet she ate next to nothing. She strived so hard to please, Cindy called her Saint Mirabell. Carol called her anal retentive. Sy accepted her quirks without question and that’s what mattered most to her.
Miriam avoided crowds and open places and, for some reason, detested trains. When Courtney began first grade, Miriam had a major breakdown followed by many years of therapy and hospitalizations. Over time, she withdrew deeper into herself, the skin beneath her eyes darkened and her hair thinned until she looked twenty years older than Cindy instead of two years younger. She was compulsive about certain night time rituals like checking door locks and bathing--she would shower three or four times a night. Through the years, Carol watched Courtney closely for signs of odd behavior, fearing Miriam’s condition might be genetic. Years of therapy and medications did nothing but frustrate Miriam. It had reached a critical stage when she struck Courtney, something that was anathema to Alex.
As requested, Courtney spoke with her mother before bed then ran to her room in tears. When Alex came into the room, Miriam had already begun her ritual of showers and hand-washings, intermittently scurrying out to examine the door locks, smooth the bed sheets and push the dresser drawers in. She finally emerged in flannel pajamas, buttoned to the neck, checked the door locks then washed her hands vigorously. She was especially agitated that she couldn’t find her sleeping pills. Alex had flushed them down the toilet before taking the women into the city.
Courtney twisted her braid nervously while gathering courage to ask her next question. “You’re not like us, are you?”
“I’m more like you than you can imagine.”
“I do know one thing. I love you more than anyone in my life.”
“That’s a good start. Everything else will fall into place.”
“I’m sorry for what happened at the cottage before we left."
“A woman is the most precious gift the Father has given this world. To treat one with disrespect is the most callous of sins.”
“I don’t think Cameron or my cousins will ever disrespect another girl as long as they live.”
“I should expect not.”
“I am worried about Jennifer. I’ve never known her to be scared of anything.”
“Fear is healthy. It can focus the mind like a laser. Don’t worry, I won’t let any harm come to her.” Alex took up Courtney’s hands and kissed them. “I could use your help in one very important matter. Your mother feels bad inside about the way she treats you. Especially about hitting you last night. Terrible things happened to her when she was young and she has struggled all her life to keep them from consuming her. When we return to the hotel please tell her how much you love her and that you forgive her. And tell her she doesn’t need to be afraid anymore.”
Sunday, December 8, 2013
Courtney laced her fingers into Alex’s small hand as they sat on an empty bench. “Thank you for taking us here, Alex. I’ve never been to a big city before. San Francisco is amazing. Not to mention how we got here.”
“You’re quite amazing yourself,” Alex said pulling her legs up and facing Courtney. “You’ve risked your life twice to save others since I met you. Your unselfishness inspires me.”
“You saved my life, Alex. If you hadn’t called me last night--”
“That part of your life is behind you now,” Alex said, pressing her fingers to Courtney’s lips. “You won’t even remember it when we return.” She tightened the gold thread at the base of Courtney’s braid and examined the ring on her finger. “It’s very pretty,”
“It belonged to my grandmother. She taught me how to sculpt. While I work I can see it sparkling through the clay and know my grandmother is watching me.”
“That’s beautiful,” Alex said. “You have many layers. And you’re very quiet about it. You knew we weren’t going to Newport, didn’t you?”
“Yes. But I thought you would take us to Florida. Kip told me how your boat ran drug smugglers out of his county thirty years ago. And Subby says you were driving it.”
“Goodness. That would be amazing.”
Courtney giggled. “Not that amazing, considering it brought us across the country in ten minutes.”
“Did that frighten you?”
“No. But Tina is nervous about it. So’s Jen. I trust you.”
“You are indeed a special woman. I chose wisely.”
Alex booked three rooms and assigned roommates with great care. Carol, Cindy and Jennifer would share the suite. Alex, despite Cindy’s protests, insisted on bunking with Miriam in the adjacent room. Courtney and Tina got the balcony room across the hall. Bethany would spend the night at a woman’s shelter in Oakland after accompanying Scarlett to the airport to meet Bruce Springsteen. Bruce gave Beth a macramé bracelet which she was still wearing three years later when he came to our town to do a benefit concert with twelve year old Amy Pierce, whom you’ll meet in Book II. The taxi driver asked all three of his passengers for their autographs at the end of their ride. They signed his clipboard: The Boss, The Black Widow and The Accountant.
“Miriam’s a bit quirky,” Cindy said as one final protest. “Perhaps I should stay with her.”
“We’ll be fine,” Alex said. “You will hear some disturbing things which may frighten the girls. I apologize but there is no other way.”
“I’ll see to them,” Cindy said.
She kissed Cindy’s cheek. “Thanks, Mom.”
“Why does she keep calling you Mom?” Carol whispered after Alex left.
“Because she knows,” Cindy said, fighting back tears. “She knows I’ve been a shitty one.”
Alex collected Courtney--Tina was splashed across the bed, sound asleep--and they walked to Fisherman’s Wharf. Ferries, brimming with tourists dressed in bright colors, traversed the choppy whitecaps on their way to adventures in Alcatraz, Sausalito and Oakland. A mountain range, vivid against an azure sky, formed a glorious backdrop for a trimaran with peacock sails. Nearby, at Pier 39, the sea lions barked a raucous harmony for tourists gathering on the walkway above. The scent of fresh baked bread from Boudins and steamed crab from The Crab Station saturated the air while the rhythms of a dozen different street musicians set the pulse as evening closed in on the Bay.
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds...Shakespeare
“She’s the friend you’re waiting for?” Drew said incredulously.
Bethany smirked at their boggled expressions. “This is Drew Olofsen and his fiancée, Bruni. I guess you know who Scarlett is.”
“You must be a Dane,” Scarlett said and took Drew’s hand. “One of my absolute favorite countries. And Bruni. Pleased to meet you.”
“Brunilda Swansson,” Bruni said formally.
“So, what have you two gorgeous ladies been doing all day?” Drew said. “Besides causing traffic snarls and heart attacks.”
“We’ve been visiting shelters,” Bethany said.
“Bomb shelters?” Bruni said.
“Shelters for abused and homeless girls,” Bethany said.
“What on earth for?” Bruni asked.
“To show them that they’re not forgotten,” Bethany said. “To show them that they’re loved.”
Bruni laughed. “You’re pulling my leg, right?”
“I’m sure they’re not,” Drew said abruptly. “What a wonderful thing for you to do. Does your foundation have web site so I can make donation?”
“Absolutely,” Scarlett said. “In fact, we’re hosting a concert for Foodshare in Oslo right next door to you.”
“I know people in Oslo who could be helpful,” Drew said. “I’ll ring them up when I get back and give them, how do you say, the 411?”
“You got it,” Scarlett said and bumped knuckles with him. “Well, we should be going. I have to meet some friends at SFO. Nice to have met you, Drew. And you, too, Broomhilda.”
“See you again?” Drew said, barely holding back his laughter.
“What a gallant young man,” Scarlett said to Bethany as they hailed a taxi.
Bethany wasn’t listening. She was nervously unfolding the note Drew secretly pressed into her hand.
Bethany was stricken. Bruni was the mirror image of her six hours ago, impatient, narcissistic and heartless. How could Drew think of marrying her? Bethany felt ill when she thought how cruelly she had treated Alex since they met. But Alex had returned her rudeness with kindness and, in doing so, caused a rebirth in Bethany which made her shine. Bethany didn’t know it at the time, but she was shining brighter than the sun in Drew’s eyes.
Bruni drummed her fingers on the table until her ring finger caught Bethany’s attention.
“Oh, what a beautiful ring,” Beth said.
“It was the largest stone they had,” Bruni said. “I didn’t want to wait for a custom order.”
“So, Ms. Sorenson, are you the CEO of a Fortune Five Hundred yet?” Drew said.
“Heavens no. I did get my Master’s in International Finance.”
“Bravo. Are you still single?”
“For heaven’s sake, Drew,” Bruni said impatiently. “All the best tables will be taken.”
“Just a few more minutes,” Drew said. “I want to meet Beth’s friend.”
“That’s fine,” Bruni said and slid her chair backwards violently, knocking into the person behind her and spilling his drink. “You can wait here with your working class friends and I’ll take a taxi to the landing.”
Drew stood and apologized to the man who graciously waved the incident off.
“Oh, my God,” Bruni shrilled. “I think that’s Scarlett Johansson. Oh, my God. She’s coming this way.”
“Sorry I took so long.” Scarlett kissed Bethany’s cheek. “Thanks for being patient, Hon.”