Introducing Clare

Cat opened the door to her house and paused to listen for a moment before proceeding.  She could hear the strains of Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon and she knew her mother had at least had a peaceful evening.  After a moment, Cat moved forward into the house and closed the door softly behind her.  A haze of cigarette smoke hung in the living room and Cat waived her hands around her head as if to clear a space to breathe through as she moved towards the stereo. She knew better than to turn the music all the way off, but she rolled the volume dial back a few clicks.  Her mother lay on the couch, near the entrance to the kitchen. Cat moved quietly to the foot of the couch and removed her mother’s slippers.  Pulling a blanket from the back of the couch, she took care to make sure that it draped over her mother’s body from toe to neck.  Lastly, Cat gathered up the pile of pills that had spilled from the mouth of the pill bottle whose descent had brought it to a bouncing halt onto the floor.  She stuffed the pills back into the bottle and tossed it on the floor, watched as it rolled under the couch.  “Good.” She thought, and she didn’t feel bad about the vision of her beautiful mother, bent over and scratching through dust to retrieve her precious prescription, her weakness exposed in the light of the morning sun.

The next morning, Cat rose early and sat dutifully near the phone.  When 9:30 came and went, Cat made some eggs and tried to the fill the hole in the morning with food.  Her grandmother’s calls had gradually ceased, but Cat still waited every Saturday.  “You never know,” she thought to herself, but as she stared out at the apple tree she knew. As surely as she knew how it felt to fall from the highest branches of that tree and lay on the ground trying to suck wind back into an uncooperative rib cage, that talking to mom hurt Grandma in pretty much the same way.  As she sat alone at the table, Cat let her mind wander around her dad’s house for a moment.  Loud and busy, her brothers rushed about, the little ones all crazy and messy and playful, the older one always pensive and perpetually distracted.  She stopped her mind from wandering when it came to the image of her father, sitting at the kitchen table and staring out the window, wondering what he did to make his daughter forsake him.  Cat got up, washed her dishes and filled a glass with ice water. She knelt in front of her mother’s body on the couch and lightly shook her awake. Clare’s eyes were ringed with red, bloodshot and grateful.  She reached a thin hand out and stroked Cat’s cheek after taking several deep gulps.

“Thank you, my girl, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”  Clare’s beautiful white teeth flashed as she gave Cat a quick smile.  Cat wondered if her father would understand why Cat had to stay with her mother if only Clare had shared more of those smiles with him.  Clare’s jet black hair spilled forward onto the floor as she suddenly jerked forward.  Her hands flew to her chest, patting out a desperate search that ended in her lap. Then her eyes turned into dark clouds.  “Where are my pills, Cat, what did you do with them?”  Clare moved more quickly than Cat had thought she’d be able to and she snapped up her daughter’s scrawny upper arm with one hand, her nails digging painfully into the tender skin near Cat’s armpit.

“Jesus Christ, Clare, you probably dropped the god damned things.”  Cat jerked her arm away, wincing as Clare’s nails dug long strips of raw skin that wrapped quickly in a red glow around her arm.  The raw strips on Cat’s soul wrapped a little more slowly, the burn significantly worse.  Cat stood up and looked down at her mother.  “You should get up and eat something.  Maybe take a shower, huh Clare? I’m going to go see what Tony is doing.”   Cat could hear her mother’s knees hit the floor as she opened the door, but she didn’t really care to see the vision she’d imagined the night before, so she just stepped forward into the sunshine on the porch and closed the door behind her.

Running to love in a Datsun 210

When I met my husband, I was freshly 19 and he was 21. He had come home on leave from where he was stationed in NC as a soldier with the 82nd Airborne, 3/4 ADA. He was supposed to be home visiting family and friends and I absolutely stole every extra second he had. (Sorry, Della!) When he went back to NC, the amount of time I spent thinking of him was unbelievable- so was the long distance phone bill (Sorry Amber!) Luckily, I had an adventurous friend who had been planning to travel to New Mexico with me to stay with my Aunt and help with a new baby. We quickly modified our plans to stop by North Carolina. You know, on our way to New Mexico. Because 19 + hopelessly in love = really, really smart and rational. (Sorry Auntie Toni!)

We rolled through Wolf Point to say goodbye and left my dad in an utter state of desperation after he learned we had less than enough $ to actually make it across the nation. (Sorry Dad!) “Oh well! YOLO!” We yelled and drove our rickety 1980’s red Datsun 210 right outta MT and into the great unknown. (OK, we didn’t yell that). It took us two weeks to get to Fayetteville, NC and when we got there, we had just enough money left for a hotel room for one night. Marty came to our rescue. Two weeks later we had moved from temporary lodging (an empty trailer in a park where he was friends with the manager) that had almost melted us to death because it had no power or AC and it was July. And we were Montanans. In North Carolina. We now were living in our own tiny trailer that had 8 layers of dog hair and cockroaches in the walls. We had eaten no other food than bowling alley food because Marty fed us by charging it all on his commissary card. I’d managed to scrape my way into a job at a steakhouse, thanks to his friends, where I was a TERRIBLE waitress.

Everything was crazy, and everything was perfect. Two weeks after arriving in NC, Marty asked me to marry him. My first response was to tell him that he didn’t even know me. (See? I tried to warn him.) We were wed the next weekend, in a little roadside chapel that had seen countless young soldiers and brides come and go. I picked our wedding song without even knowing what song it was- I just liked the title- Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers. I wore the dress I’d worn for my high school graduation. I stood next to that handsome, sweet, kind young man at the alter in borrowed shoes that were too big for me and vowed to be his wife. I knew virtually nothing about life, but I knew one thing for sure- that I could never be thankful enough for having found him.

Another Beginning

“Hey Cat?” Tony turned his blue eyes to the sky, leaning his head back, blonde hair shuffling and falling over his ear and cheekbone.  They were sitting on the picnic table in his backyard; an after school ritual.  Cat was perched on the table top with her legs crossed. Tony sat on the bench, reclined with his back against the top of the table, his legs stretched out in front of him.  Over the years, that table had served as many a different setting in their games as they grew.  When they were eight, it was often a pirate ship, or a space ship, a car, a covered wagon.  Last year for awhile it had been their stage during their lip-synced air guitar performances as a rock and roll band.  They’d gotten in trouble for playing the radio too loud and so… the band had to quit, man.  This year they’d both turned thirteen, and so far, the table had only been used as a table.  The tree it sat under, of course, was a different story.

“Hey what?” Cat was quiet these days, her dark eyes often glinting in a way that Tony didn’t recognize.  When she’d first moved into the house next door, she officially became the only girl on the block. The very first day she was there, she’d caught him lurking in the lilac bushes that separated their front yards.  He’d been spying as she helped carry boxes and bags into the house.  Truthfully, he’d been staring because he couldn’t believe how much she could carry considering how skinny she was.  He’d been lost enough in his thoughts about the subject he hadn’t even registered that she’d seen him and made a turn in his direction.  He’d almost jumped out of his skin when he realized that suddenly, she was standing right in front of him, holding a box of clay. She’d dropped the box and put her hands on her hips.  Then, seeing the look on his face, she laughed, reached through bushes, tapped his shoulder and exclaimed, “You’re it!”.  That game of tag had lasted six years so far.

“I haven’t seen Dane for a couple weeks.  Where is he?”  Tony liked Cat’s older brother; he was mysterious.  Dane had always seemed like he was only half present in everything, like part of him was wandering somewhere else.

“He’s in Great Falls with Dad.”  Cat tossed her head back and jumped up, latching on to a bottom branch of the tree with both hands.  In two fluid motions, she hauled her body up and curved it around the branch, coming to a rest in a sitting position on the skinny limb.

“Monkey.”  Tony said as he raised his body from the table and hefted himself up the trunk.  “I have to get on a bigger branch.  That one’s gonna break if I sit on it.”  Cat began to climb to the top of the tree, living up to her name.  She was a fast climber, fearless in that tree, always moving like if she fell, she’d land on her feet for sure.  Tony had gotten less adept at climbing. By the time he reached their spot at the top of the tree, she’d been gazing at the sunset for four minutes.

“Old guy,”  Cat said with a smirk.  He smiled and looked at her, as he’d done hundreds of times since they’d been friends.  Her long black hair always floated around her face as if there was a breeze even if there wasn’t.  Tonight, though, as the sun cast brazen colors into their tree top vantage before fading into a starlit evening, Cat seemed to be shadowed.  Tony quietly sat beside her, wondering what the secret could be.

A Beginning

Dane leaned his forehead carefully against the window of the passenger back seat, the dry summer plains passing before his tired eyes in a yellow-brown blur.  His face throbbed with pain, and his mind ached with regret.  Why hadn’t he just kept his mouth shut and walked out of that bar?  Great Falls hicks’,  he thought.  That town sucks.

His father smoked cigarette after cigarette in the front seat as he drove.  Every once in awhile, the car threatened to die, lagging or jumping a little.  Each time it did, Dane just prayed that he and his father wouldn’t find themselves on the side of the road.  Dane had already suffered almost 48 hours of mind-numbing pain.  If the car died, he figured he might just try to join it.  At this point, he resented his dad for insisting on driving to the Indian hospital in Bozeman almost as much as he resented the hicks who jumped him outside the bar and shattered his lower jaw.  The people at the Indian hospital had refused to accept him, and for whatever administrative reason that his pain-addled brain could not comprehend, they had sent him back to Great Falls without any treatment.

He sighed, leaned back and pretended that he wasn’t where he was. He pretended that his brown skin and long hair hadn’t contributed to the situation at all.  He pretended that he was the one smoking cigarettes and driving, not the one broken and out of control.  As the miles passed, his mind grew calm.  The smell of cigarette smoke began to smell more like burning sage.  He kept his eyes closed and fell into a dream of days when buffalo crossed these plains.  Behind his worn eyelids, he watched the sun drop out of sight as he sat atop his horse, 150 years in the past.  In his dream, he was whole and strong. He felt the lack of nothing.