Being with Georgette #15


“The Human Condition”, 1933, by Rene Magritte,

Being with Georgette #15

Or I stare into the blank mirror, wondering what Georgette took of me this time.

And I gaze into the deep blue cloudless sky, wondering what she left of herself this time.

But I find only the vague reflection of my eyes staring back, wondering from the other side of the deep blue cloudless mirror.

Or I stand at the window, measuring the depth of the snow. Is it April or October? Winter’s belated farewell or early reckoning? The sun stares from the same spot in the same deep blue cloudless sky as the moment she had arrived. Was it October or April?

And I stand at the window, staring into the utterly empty living room full of her carefully (tediously) selected furniture and décor.

But I find only the vague reflection of my eyes staring back, straight into my deep blue cloudless eyes. Wondering from the other side of the utterly empty window. Searching for what she took of me. For what she left of herself.

This time.


<< Story #14 | Index of Stories | About >>

Being with Georgette #14


“Stormy Weather, Pas de Calais”, 1870, by Camille Corot

Being with Georgette #14

“Why didn’t you ever marry my mom?”

Monica had entered the kitchen with all the grace of a fifteen-year-old.

I dropped the plate into the sudsy water and looked out past Monica into the living room.

“It’s okay,” she said. “They went out to get their marriage license and watch a movie.”

I began washing the plate again.

“I never asked her,” I said.

“I’m asking why you never asked her. You’ve been friends since childhood.”

“We’ve been friends since the day we were born.”

“Mom said your mothers shared the same hospital room.”

“According to the story your grandma always told, Georgette and I shared the same incubator for a week.”

“How is that even possible?”

“Our rural hospital had only one.”

“Mom was a month premature, but what was wrong with you?”

“I wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t look around, wouldn’t cry. They put us together to help each other.”

“Did it work?”

“She improved and a week later they tried to remove her from the incubator. Your grandmother said the doctors had to pry our hands apart. That was the first time she went away from me. That was also the first time I cried. So it helped me indirectly.”

“Then why didn’t you ever ask her to marry you?”

“It’s hard to say.”

“Can’t be that hard. Just say it.”

“I mean I don’t know why not. I just didn’t.”

“You’re impossible.”

“What does your mother say?”

“She says you’re impossible too.”

“About why we never married.”

“She says because you can’t marry yourself. Whatever that means.”

Wuthering Heights was always her favorite book.”

* * *

Monica had tired of talking to my back. She overcame the compunctions of youth and started drying the dishes.

“What does the book have to do with what mom said?”

“Haven’t you read it?”


“Your mother never made you read it?”

“Mom never made me read anything.”

“Because her mother forced her to read all the time.”

“So what does it mean?”

“You’ll have to read it for yourself.”

“So you don’t force, you just manipulate.”

“I encourage. So don’t read it then.”

* * *

Monica had the attitude of a teenager but still the hands of a child. Her fingers clumsily rubbed the towel across the silverware. Her nails were small and splotched with faded and peeling nail polish of various colors.

“I did read Jane Austen, though,” she said, her hands getting lost in the folds of the dish towel.

“What Bronte sister wrote that one?”

She stopped drying and looked out the window into the gray sky.

“You must mean Jane Eyre,” she said.

“What did she write?”

Monica returned to drying, a little too vigorously, and said, “You’re teasing me, Uncle Cliff.”

“Maybe. Or I’m teasing them.”

I pulled the plug in the drain and rinsed the suds from the sink.

“You know my name is not really Cliff. That’s just what Georgette always calls me.”

“You always signed your letters ‘Cliff.’ And you always called her ‘Kitty’.”

“You’ve seen our letters?”

“I found them in a box in the garage.”

“I’d like to read them.”

“Don’t you have yours?”

“I gave mine to her before her first marriage.”

“To Heath’s dad?”

“Yes. Your mother was going to call her first son Heath and her first daughter Heather because of that book. Why did she name you Monica?”

“My dad’s grandma’s name. What is your real name?”

I told her my name.

“Cliff suits you better.”

Monica draped the damp dish towel over the handle of the oven door.

“I’ll go find those letters,” she said. Then she stopped and looked me coldly in the eyes and said, “Don’t you dare tell my mom I helped you do the dishes. She’d be very disappointed in me.”

* * *

Three days later, after I had served as witness at Georgette and Stewart’s civil wedding ceremony, I was doing the breakfast dishes before heading to the airport for my flight back home.

“That’s why Stewart likes you,” Monica said. “He doesn’t have to do the dishes as long as you’re around.”

“Nothing wrong with doing the dishes. It gives me time to think, and it’s useful.”

Monica had her school books in her arms. She came closer and gave me a half hug across my shoulders. Between two textbooks I saw a tattered library copy of Wuthering Heights.

Crossing into the living room, Monica turned back and said, “Don’t worry Uncle Cliff. The way mom goes through men, you’ll have other chances to marry her.” She paused and almost blushed when she added, “Not even death could end your friendship.”

I smiled and said, “But marriage certainly would.”

She laughed and ran out the door, ran off to school, ran off across the sweeping moors of timeless adolescence.


<< Story #13 | Index of Stories | Story #15 >>

Being with Georgette #13



Being with Georgette #13

I’ve not always welcomed Georgette back with open arms after one of her absences.

One night I opened the door to find Georgette standing on my porch dressed lightly in a skirt, blouse, windbreaker, and purple canvas shoes with two feet of snow in the yard behind her. A thumb was hooked under a strap of a backpack, the only physical baggage she had with her.

She fixed her black eyes on me, refusing–as always–to speak first. The moment froze as hard as that year’s winter.

“You always call ahead,” I said.

“I didn’t have time.”

“I don’t either.”

“You don’t what either?”

“Have time.” Her eyebrows furrowed before I added, “For you.”

“Why not?”

“You know why not.”

Georgette looked up the road into the darkness. She squeezed and opened the hand hanging at her side.

“Just give me a lift to town then.”


The roads were newly iced over, so I drove slowly, making the silence all the longer, all the more palpable. Georgette sat small and distantly in the passenger’s seat; my other Georgette’s spare winter coat hung loosely over her shoulders. It was much too large for her which only increased the caricature of her smallness.

“Drop me at the motel at the edge of town. I can manage from there.”

I drove past the motel and took her to a nice hotel downtown.

“I can’t afford this place.”

“I’ll pay.”


“How many nights?” the clerk asked. He was tall, thin, and young, in an ill-fitting maroon uniform.

“One,” Georgette said.


“Single,” we said in unison.

While the clerk processed my payment, Georgette asked, “When is the shuttle to the airport?”

The clerk and I both stared at her. Him because he was slow to answer unexpected questions. Me because I knew she knew better.

The clerk said, “You have to take the bus up to the freeway and over to Northaven where you can catch the shuttle.”

Georgette nodded curtly.

I fought back an impulse to ask if she could afford the flight. I didn’t need to appear over-concerned, and she always visited me with an open return ticket. She would manage.

I handed Georgette a hundred dollar bill, and when she hesitated I said, “For the bus.”

She took it, and the clerk winked at me. 


I drove home even slower than on the way to town. The silence grew still longer, but less palpable–more ethereal–as whorls of gritty snow danced briskly across the road.

The last I had seen of Georgette she was helping the clerk up off the floor and inspecting the sudden redness and swelling around the eye that had winked at me. I’m no different than you. I too abhor violence–except when it’s strictly necessary. Or when it’s useful. Or when it just plain makes me feel better.

Georgette had stiffened her back against me, and I didn’t wait around for elaborate editorials on her part.


Six years passed before Georgette stood on my porch again. The summer sunshine was more suitable to her light outfit of skirt, blouse, windbreaker, and purple canvas shoes, but she also had more baggage.

She had taken the time to call ahead, and I had the time to let her in, because by then she was my last remaining Georgette.


<< Story #12 | Index of Stories| Story #14 >>

Being with Georgette #12


Being with Georgette #12

When I finished preparing dinner, Georgette had disappeared. She wasn’t in the house. She wasn’t in her garden.

She knew her fish was almost ready, so I had no idea why I finally found her in the middle of the canola field across the highway holding a beach ball.


At golden hour, the yellow canola blossoms glow with an ethereal radiance. I had told Georgette the night before that the effect was due to over-saturation of yellow sunlight on the blossoms. Many colorful things look magical when over-saturated.

Georgette said, “It’s more magical if you don’t explain it.”

I did not say out loud that it’s even more magical when you understand it because you also understand how it connects to other magical things in the universe. I did not say it because she had already stopped listening to me before I could begin saying it.

Now Georgette stood among the glowing yellow blossoms that climbed to her waist. Georgette herself glowed with an ethereal radiance, but not due to over-saturation. Her dark hair and dark green dress contrasted with the glowing yellow blossoms around her. Her ethereal radiance came from within.


I crossed the highway and waved to Georgette from the edge of the field.

Georgette waved the beach ball over her head.

I shouted that her fish was getting cold, but she just waved the beach ball over her head again.

I stepped into the field. The canola stems and blossoms parted easily, but the leafy green plants on the ground grabbed at my feet.

When I was halfway to Georgette, I shouted again that her fish was getting cold.

Georgette turned her back to me and threw the ball as high as she could, letting it fall between us.

I approached the ball, picked it up, and took it to Georgette.

I said, “Your fish–“

“I heard you the first time,” Georgette snapped. She snatched the ball from my hands and ran away giggling.

I ran after her, and when I grabbed her arm, we fell to the ground in a clumsy embrace. What followed was even more clumsy, and perfectly silly, but suitable for the moment in a grown-up kind of way.


I said, “Your fish is probably frozen again by now.”

Georgette straightened her dress, still glowing with her ethereal radiance.

She said, “You’re the one who’s over-saturated.”

I said, “Why did you come out here when you knew dinner was almost ready.

She said, “All you think about is food.”

I said, “I think of other things too.”

“Not as much as you used to,” she said. “Even at sunset.”


The sun had set, but dusk falls slowly here in the weeks after the summer solstice.

As we crossed the highway to my front yard, I said, “Now what will we have for dinner?”

“You’ll think of something.”

Then Georgette stopped me and flung her arms around me. She whispered as though her life depended on it, “Go back and get the beach ball. I’ll make you an omelet.”

“Why do we need the ball?”

Georgette smiled and said, “Monica is pregnant.”


I took my time finding the beach ball.

When I finally returned to the house, Georgette said, “Your omelet is cold.”

She took the beach ball and cradled it like it was her first grandchild.

I said, “But it’s not over-saturated.”

“And it never will be, ” she said. Then she smiled at the beach ball and said, “And it’s even more magical because you also understand how it connects to other magical things in the universe.”


<< Story #11 | Index of Stories| Story #13 >>

Being with Georgette #11


Being with Georgette #11

The small trailer hitched to my truck bounced over the potholes in the grocery store parking lot.

“Careful,” Georgette barked. “That’s my stuff.”

“Why are we stopping here?” I asked. “We can come back after dropping off your stuff at your school.”

“Turn off the engine.”

I turned off the engine.

“I’m not going to school this year.”

“So why did I bring you up here?”

Georgette said, “I’m going away.”

A bird landed on the hood ornament of the truck.

“With someone?” I asked.


I honked the horn, and the bird flew away.

“Someone else?”

“Don’t say it like that.”


I unhitched the trailer and blocked its wheels.

Georgette stared straight ahead when I got back in the truck.

“When will he be here?”

She looked at me and said plainly, “You don’t have to wait.”

“I’m not leaving you alone in a parking lot with your trailer.”

Georgette said, “Please don’t make a scene.”

“I’m not making a scene.”

“I mean when he gets here.”

“I never make a scene.”

“I know.”

“But you always tell me to not make a scene.”

“I know.”

“I won’t make a scene.”

“I know.”


We ate burgers in the truck as the sun went down.

Georgette said, “Don’t tell my dad.”

“What will I say at Christmas?”

“He’ll know everything by then.”

“What about Thanksgiving.”

She said, “Don’t go home for Thanksgiving.”

“I have to go somewhere; they close campus.”

“You can come stay with me. With us.”

“He must be quite a guy.”


At eleven-thirty I said, “My dorm closes at midnight.”

“No it doesn’t.”

“I can call the floor advisor, but they won’t let you in.”

“Why would I need in?”

“He’s not coming.”

“He’ll come.”


At dawn, Georgette said, “Have you slept?”

“A little.”

“When does your dorm open again?”


“I’ll sleep when you’re in class.”

“My classes don’t start until tomorrow.”

“Can you drive me back home today?”

“Why don’t you just go to school? Your classes don’t start for two more days.”

“I thought our schools started the same day.”


“That explains it then.”

“That explains what?”

“He’ll pick me up today. We were a day early.”


By three in the afternoon, he had come and they had gone.

I didn’t make a scene.

I stopped by her college to see if they cared to know she wouldn’t be attending.

On a table outside the administration office was a table scattered with a few name tags of the freshmen who hadn’t yet arrived for orientation–and at least one who never would.

I took Georgette’s and tore it in two.

A sweet voice said, “That’s mine.”

I turned around.

She was taller and darker than Georgette.

I said, “You don’t look like Georgette Jaynes.”

“I’m Georgette Gray.”

I put the two pieces of torn paper together. In a smaller font, centered under the large first name, was the last name “Gray”.

The name tag for Georgette Jaynes stared at me from the table with the same screaming silence Georgette had mastered long ago.

I handed Georgette the pieces of her name tag and tore the other one to bits, muting the silence.

“Were you waiting for someone?” she asked.

“I’ve learned not to wait. I just exist while others are deciding when to show up.”

She smiled and said, “Do you believe in happy coincidences?”

“No,” I said, unable to return her smile. “But that doesn’t stop me from pursuing the interesting ones.”

And that is how I ended up with two Georgettes in my life.


<< Story #10 | Index of Stories| Story #12 >>

Being with Georgette #10


Being with Georgette #10

I touched my fingertips to the window and felt the vibrations from the music within.

Georgette stood singing on a small stage in a corner of the coffee shop connected to the bookstore. She wore a long, olive green dress and a necklace of large wooden beads. Matching bracelets with smaller beads danced up and down her forearms as she gestured half-passionately to the music.

In the years since, when I remember that night, I have the distinct but certainly wrong memory that Georgette was singing into a banana rather than a microphone. I was probably influenced by an album cover in the window of the used record store next door.

A few listeners were scattered across the room at small tables thumbing through books, but at one table a man sat in rapt attention, mooning at Georgette when she looked his way and glaring critically at the young man playing the guitar when she looked away. She had told me she was with someone. That must have been the someone.

Georgette had always dreamed of being a professional singer, and I wondered where this fit on her scale of dreams come true.


The night was pitch black. The moon was full, but heavy clouds obscured any moonlight. At least it wasn’t raining like it had the night before.

I’ve always hated the city, but a book signing across town had brought me down from the mountains.

Georgette had phoned to tell me about her divorce and her new chance to sing which would cause her to miss my book signing and that the new someone would keep her from spending some time in the mountains with me for now but maybe she’d come up if things didn’t work out and she would reserve a table for me if I wanted to come watch her perform.


A man and a woman sat at the table just inside the window from me. The woman chattered, oblivious to the music. The man glanced at a card that had been left on the table and then tossed it onto the window sill.

The card read, “This table is reserved for __________.” And in Georgette’s neat handwriting, my name filled in the blank.


The door opened, and a woman left the bookstore. She held the door, glancing my way, but I shook my head and she moved on. The door stayed open a moment, extending the invitation, and then it began to close slowly on its own.

A voice in the dark said, “You have some change?”

Without looking, I said, “I’m all out of flowers.”

The voice muttered and started to walk away.

I said, “Here.”

The voice snatched the five dollars of coffee money I had pulled from my front pocket.


The door had closed, Georgette was still singing into the banana, and home was a long way away.

I sat in the dark doorway of the used record store next door, but before I fell asleep, I began to understand just how long I’d been all out of flowers.


<< Story #9 | Index of Stories| Story #11 >>

Being with Georgette #9


Being with Georgette #9

Georgette kills me with her sense of humor.

She walks out the door, saying she’s going to get milk and eggs, but the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end when she adds, “I don’t know when I’ll be back.” Sometimes it can be years.

But I am comforted by how her presence lingers in every room during her absences.


Sometimes I sleep on the floor in her sewing room. In the summer I sleep in a sleeping bag out in her potting shed.

Her garden dies. Cobwebs form on her indoor plants. Dust collects on her books.

I never write more–or more vividly–than when she is gone, and I can’t help feeling that she leaves me now and then for my own good.

Her friends continue to visit, but they are too polite to talk about her. No one calls from the place she works. I fancy that’s because her presence lingers at work too. Perhaps she even gets her work done in absentia.


We’ve been together since childhood, but in fact we’ve been apart far more than we’ve been together. We enjoy a shared continuity of being that persists across these pervasive discontinuities in time. Don’t call it love. It has nothing to do with love. It’s just that we were both always good at playing connect the dots.


And then one night, three years later, she walks back through the door.

I laugh.

She is almost offended. She might even walk out again.

“What’s so funny,” she says.

“You remembered the milk and eggs.”

All she has with her is her purse, a gallon of milk, and a carton of eggs.

She takes these to the kitchen and starts making dinner.

“Would you like an omelette?” she asks.

“I’ve already eaten.”

I go put fresh sheets on the bed, because someday soon I might sleep in my own room again.


<< Story #8 | Index of Stories| Story #10 >>

Being with Georgette #8

“Speeding Automobile”, 1912, by Giacomo Balla

Being with Georgette #8

I was the only one around the day Georgette’s mother died.

Georgette was away at her private school, which would be in session for another week, while my public high school had already let out for the summer. Georgette’s father and my mother were both at work.

I was mowing our front yard and had waved to Mrs. Jaynes when she passed by on her walk.

Only when I made a turn and was mowing back toward Georgette’s house did I see Mrs. Jaynes lying broken in the middle of the road.


She was still breathing when I arrived.

“I’ll go call the ambulance.”

“Don’t leave me here,” she said.

“I shouldn’t move you.”

“Don’t let someone else hit me.”

I picked her up and was about to put her on the grass in front of her house when she said, “Just take me inside.”

So I took her inside.


Mrs. Jaynes said, “You must take care of Georgette.”

I said, “Georgette takes care of herself.”

“Just be there for her if she needs anything.”

“She wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Mrs. Jaynes looked at me and said, “What happened to you last year?”


Mrs. Jaynes looked at me with the penetrating glare Georgette had inherited from her.

I said, “You know very well what happened to me.”

Mrs. Jaynes turned and looked at the back of the couch for a while, and then she said, “You need to work on your bedside manner.”

I said, “I’m not going to be a doctor.”


By the time the ambulance arrived, Mrs. Jaynes had finished her finest bottle of wine and had died.

The paramedics said massive internal hemorrhaging and that there was nothing I could have done for her. That was confirmed in the official report.

But that never stopped Georgette from reminding me in my most vulnerable moments that I had killed her mother.

I just wonder what Georgette would think if she knew of the two deaths I actually am responsible for–including that of her first husband. But that had been for my own satisfaction, not to fulfill any kind of death-bed wish of Georgette’s mother.*


* Georgette has insisted I clarify a few points in this story. For legal reasons, I must say that her first ex-husband is alive and well, living in Florida, and leaving her alone. Anything else about his biography is open to your imagination, as is the fate of her second ex-husband. And while Georgette’s mother did die after being hit by a car while we were in high school, she died three days later with her family–including Georgette–around her. In fact, I was the only one of those close to her who was missing, having been sent away because that was during the time I was, as Georgette says, not well. Finally, I am to note that Georgette does not appreciate the innuendo about her mother’s role in whatever made me “not well”. It seems that I will only be able to share the truth about that with you the next time Georgette leaves me and I am no longer under her editorial oversight. I have assured her that you readers are sophisticated enough to understand nuances in fiction and don’t need such clarifications, but Georgette can be a little sensitive at times, and I try to keep the peace whenever she is around. She says that while I’m at it, I might as well also confess that the potting shed is still standing, that there never was a letter, and that I don’t know the first thing about making Chicken Ballotine and that she’s surprised I even know such a thing exists.

<< Story #7 | Index of Stories| Story #9 >>

Being with Georgette #7

“Interior With Ida in a White Chair”, 1900, by Vilhelm_Hammershøi

Being with Georgette #7

The letter sat on the kitchen counter for three days before Georgette opened it.

When I deboned the chicken, the letter was there. No return address.

When I trussed the chicken roll, the letter was there. Georgette’s name, with the last name from her first marriage, was scribbled in a sloppy hand; the rest of our address was precise enough.

But when I pulled the roasting pan with the ballotine and vegetables from the oven, the letter was not there.

Georgette had come in while I was cutting the vegetables and asked if I needed any help. I hadn’t. She had wrapped her arms around me and kissed the back of my neck as I sliced the carrots. She laid her head on my back and held it there for a moment, and then she must have taken the letter with her when she left the kitchen.


Georgette was not in the house. I had checked every room. I had checked the basement.

I put on my garden shoes and rain jacket and went out into the gloom of the rainy twilight.

The light was on in the potting shed at the bottom of the garden along the creek that forms the southern boundary of our property.

I never know where to step in her garden, especially in early spring before anything has sprouted. I don’t have a green thumb of any kind nor any awareness of what a mound or trench represents. They all look like paths to me.

I followed what looked like Georgette’s freshest set of footprints down to the potting shed.


The clear acrylic panel in the door showed Georgette sitting in the old wooden chair with her back to the door.

The back of her neck was bare. I wanted to kiss it.

I tapped on the window and said, “Dinner is ready.”

Georgette turned her head a quarter turn and nodded once. Then she resumed reading her letter.


I had finished eating and was doing the dishes when Georgette returned to the house.

“It smells so good in here,” she said.

“Your plate is in the oven.”

Georgette wrapped her arms around me and kissed the back of my neck as I scrubbed the roasting pan. She laid her head on my back and held it there for a moment.

Her hands bore the acrid smell of charred paper.


The next morning, on my walk around the property and along the creek, I found the remains of the potting shed still smoldering. The acrylic window was partially melted and entirely white, as white as a piece of paper waiting to bear a message of some import, or perhaps to record the recipe for Chicken Ballotine.


<< Story #6 | Index of Stories| Story #8 >>

Being with Georgette #6

Being with Georgette #6

Georgette stood on the small bridge over the outlet of the lake. The fall wind rippled the water’s surface. It fluttered her skirt and wisped her long brown hair. She pulled my red and black checked flannel shirt tighter around her shoulders and leaned forward against the railing as I approached.

The wind at my back brought me closer to her with each stroke of the paddle.

Georgette smiled a smile full of teeth. She glowed like a reluctant angel unable to resist some unexpected charm.

I’ve been working on such spells since she returned to me this time, although her spells remain stronger.


Georgette helped me pull the canoe up on the sandy beach just down from the bridge.

As I stoked the fire, Georgette said, “This shirt is permeated with smoke.”

I said, “It’s part of the standard-issue uniform they give you when you move up here.”

“Maybe I’ll just keep this one.”

“It looks good on you.”

She poked at the fire with a stick and said, “Did you catch any fish?”


“Did you try?”

“Only enough to remember being here with my grandpa.”


And like that, Georgette was going away from me again.

The canoe wobbled as she shifted her weight to turn around and smile at me. She grabbed the gunwale until her world steadied.

“I’ll be right back,” she said, and she blew me a kiss.

Georgette fumbled with the paddle at first but soon found a smooth rhythm, and she set off across the now entirely placid lake.

You couldn’t tell the difference between the jagged, abrupt mountains and their reflections in the mirrored water except where Georgette’s wake revealed the substance of their dreams.


Beauty takes many forms and is often in the eye of the beholder. But absolute beauty also exists, and this is exhibit A.

As I tended the fire, it took all the magic I could conjure–and I had to borrow some of hers–to hold that world together until Georgette returned with her smile.


<< Story #5 | Index of Stories| Story #7 >>