Story Series: Being with Georgette #11

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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.

“Yeah.”

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?”

“Seven.”

“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.”

“No.”

“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.

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #10

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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.

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #9

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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.

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Story Series: 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?”

“Nothing.”

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.*

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* 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 Series: 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.

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Story Series: 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?”

“No.”

“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.

 

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Story Series: Being with Georgette #5

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“Sunflowers” 1888, by Vincent van Gogh

Being with Georgette #5

The tempest had passed, and Georgette had finally gone outside to air her grievances to her sunflowers. She always says they listen better than I do.

The rain had not yet stopped, but it had slackened to a drizzle.

I hesitated before entering her studio, but someone had to face it sooner or later, so I went in.

Canvases were torn and strewn about the room. Paint brushes were broken into two and sometimes three pieces. Paint oozed from crushed tubes.

One painting remained intact. On the easel was my favorite so far, the one with the dog under the tree by the lake.

A palette with fresh globs of paint remained untouched on the table by the easel.

The rest of the room was in shambles.

***

You need to make her clean it herself. You need to hold her accountable for her actions.

But she is not a child. She is who she always has been, and you’ve always accepted every part of who she is. You believe in grace and mercy and compassion.

***

I began cleaning the room.

I started by scooping what paint I could into small plastic containers. I lined them up neatly and evenly on the table next to the palette, which I then cleaned so it would be ready for the next session.

I stacked up the broken frames and stretchers, and I rolled up the torn canvases. Georgette could decide what to do with them tomorrow.

***

When the studio was functional once more, I went to the kitchen to start dinner, but I stopped when I looked out the window and saw Georgette tending her flowers in her glistening rain jacket.

By now even the drizzle had stopped.

I went outside.

***

“I cleaned it all up,” I said.

Georgette froze. Then she turned and looked at my wet tennis shoes. I was sure she would tell me I should be wearing my garden shoes outside in the wet. She always does.

“You frightened me,” she said.

“I thought you would have heard the door slam.”

“No, I mean before.”

“I don’t handle those situations very well,” I said.

“You never have.”

“I’m sorry.”

Georgette looked at her sunflowers for reassurance. They had grown to her shoulders.

She said, “What about the one with the dog under the tree by the lake?”

“It survived.”

She said, “It’s my favorite.”

I nodded. I said, “I’m hungry. I’ll go make dinner.”

Georgette said, “You won’t forget?”

“Why would I forget? I’ll go in right now and get started.”

Georgette looked at me funny.

“I promise,” I said.

“I’ll be in shortly,” she said.

***

Just before I reached the back steps, a break in the clouds let the sunshine fall on my face. The joy of small comforts.

I closed my eyes and looked up and smiled back at the sun.

I could have stood there for hours, but I had work to do.

***

I took off my damp shoes and put on my slippers.

From the hallway, my eyes fell on the painting of the dog under the tree by the lake, and the leaves of the tree needed a little more green.

I entered my studio and found she had already cleaned it for me. She must have done it while I was outside blowing off steam. I decided to accept it as a gesture of her remorse.

Small plastic containers of spilled paint sat neatly and evenly next to the clean palette on the table beside the easel.

She always had a good heart. Just requires a little patience now and then.

I found a broken but functional paint brush and set about fixing the green in the foliage of the tree.

***

The back door slammed and I could hear Georgette in the mud room noisily shuffling off her rain jacket and garden shoes.

I hoped she would like the changes to the painting, but I didn’t want her to see it until I was finished.

When I could feel her standing in the doorway looking at my back–trying to look at the painting–I didn’t turn around. It’s a little game we always play.

Finally, she gave in and said, “I’ll make dinner.”

“Thank you,” I said. “I’m hungry.”

Then I quickly turned around and said, “Georgette.”

She looked at my feet and I was suddenly aware that I was wearing my garden shoes and not my slippers. I was sure she would tell me I should not be wearing my garden shoes in the house. She always does.

Georgette said, “What?”

I said, “I forgive you.”

***

At moments like these, I just can’t describe to you the kinds of looks Georgette can give me. A photo would never do justice to the array of emotions that flit and surge and rage across her face one after the other and all at once. If only I could paint quickly enough and with enough skill, you could see for yourself what a magical being has captured my heart.

 

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