Settle in for "Streetcar Named Desire" and a tornado.
| Check out Chapter 1 "Per Diventare"
"Nobody does drama like Vivian Leigh," she said as she pulled the pink afghan over her shoulders, its ratted fringe draping over her sloppily painted toenails. She lifted the steaming mug of tea to her lips, blowing on the steam as she watched Blanche Dubois stumbling around the New Orleans train station. The past year had wreaked havoc on the bank account and cable was the first to go. Karl had thrown fits about it, complaining every chance he found, but she liked the peace silence brought to the house. The old collection of movies she'd gathered over the years waited for her, lined up in alphabetical order on the shelves, knowing that their replacement would only last so long. At night, when Karl was out with his friends, she slipped a movie into the VCR and settled in for a night with her old friends.
Blanche and Stella were two of her best friends since the cable company shut off service. They never failed or left her. They never changed.
As the wind thrashed the trees outside the rickety old windows, scratching at the glass, she didn't notice. Nor did she notice the stack of bills from debt collectors on the stand by the door, or the scattered Coke cans underneath the coffee table. She forgot about the growing pile of laundry and the dishes overflowing in the sink. Even the bleach stain on the carpet that she'd caused the other day trying to struggle a basket out the door while carrying bottles of detergent didn't bother her. Stella and Blanche helped her forget as they ran about in the romantic fog of New Orleans. In their world, everything was black and white. Windows reached from the ceiling to the floor. Staircases dripped with wrought iron steel work, winding its way to another scene. Music illuminated every emotion.
Most importantly, Stella loved Blanche despite the trouble she caused or the mixed up, jumbled world that wove a complicated tapestry in her head. Stella loved Blanche like a sister should.
She always wished she'd had a sister growing up. Someone to set up a tea party in the basement, so they could pretend to be mothers, burping their dolls against their chest, like it mattered. She wished she'd had a confidant when Jared Richardson first kissed her by the river and then shoved his hand up her shirt, grabbing her breast. She wanted someone to tell that she didn't want him to but wouldn't tell him no, so she just sat there while her heart raced. She always wanted a sister.
"Don't, don't stand back with the brutes," Blanche begged.
She understood Blanche's despair and dislike for Stanley. She hated him herself, the primitive beast of a man ragging from one tantrum to another. Smashing their belongings as if he had the money to buy more. Cursing at Stella like she was responsible for all his shortcomings. Oh, how she hated Stanley, screaming at the bottom of the stairs for Stella, desperate and needing, in his ripped white tee-shirt with the lean muscles drawn with fine lines. "Stella. Stella." And she would walk down the stairs by Stella, feeling every sway of her hips until Stanley fell against her stomach. She imagined running her hands through his sweaty hair and his fingers clutching her back. Damn Stanley and his blunt indifference towards Blanche's feelings and mishaps. Damn him and the way she longed to have a man who wanted her as much as Stanley wanted Stella. Damn him.
She emptied the last drops of tea and set the mug on the coffee table, her gaze on the television unwavering until something slammed into the window. Her throat froze and her hands gripped the mug. She gazed through the shadows of her living room, watching for a figure in the shadows. Seeing none, she took a deep breath and set down the mug. Pulling the afghan around her shoulders as a cloak, she walked into the front porch and opened the screen door, sticking her head into the storm. "Hello?" The wind ripped the word from her mouth and tossed it into the night. "Hello?"
Seeing nothing, she grabbed her flower pots sitting on the stoop. "The wind'll take you to Kansas," she said, setting them side by side in the porch. As she stood up, ready to return to New Orleans, the sirens started screaming, muted by the storm. "This is a tornado warning. This is not a test. This is a warning."
She grew up listening to that voice every Friday at noon. Only normally it said, "This is a test of the emergency system. This is only a test."
She slammed the door closed and switched the lock closed. As the wind pounded on the windows, she ran up the stairs, her feet tripping on the narrow path, until she reached the top, dropping the afghan on the floor. She pulled Jack from his crib, startling him awake. He started crying immediately. She grabbed a pile of blankets from the floor and headed for the basement with Jack's cries echoing with the sirens. "Shh, honey. It's okay. You can go back to sleep in a minute."
She stopped at the basement stairs. She'd avoided the basement since moving in, hating the cold, damp darkness. Glancing over shoulders, she hoped to see Karl standing in the living room, ready to take up down to safety. There was only the glow from the paused television.
She ran back to grab the phone and headed for the basement, taking her time on the rickety wood stairs and brushing the cobwebs that stuck to her face. When she reached the bottom, she remembered all the lessons they’d learned as children. Find a place away from any windows. She saw no place, save a door in the back. She shuffled across the floor, dirt sticking to her feet. Reaching for the door handle, she remembered every horror movie she'd seen about the dark room in the basement. A burst of thunder forced her to pull the door open.
Shelves lined the walls, covered in old paint cans with their colors dripping down the front. Some plastic sheets, no longer transparent thanks to the blanket of dust. A single light bulb hung from the ceiling, naked and swinging as she pulled the chain.
She spread the blankets on the ground and laid Jack on top, hushing him as she pulled the door closed. Lying beside him, her heart pounded. "It'll be fine," she whispered as she pressed a kiss to his forehead. The wind rumbled above the house. They always said that a tornado sounds like a freight train. It definitely sounded like a freight train and she tried to catch her breath. All the years she'd heard about it and feared a tornado plucking her from the ground. This might be the one.
Jack started to calm and she pulled a blanket over their heads, breathing in the lovely smell of a baby’s newness. "This little light of mine..."
Where was Karl, she thought as she sang. He should be here with his family. She shouldn't have to do this alone. She shouldn't have to die alone. "I'm going to let it shine."
The rumbling grew louder and she could hear the windows shaking. "This little light of mine..."
She curled her body around the baby and closed her eyes, singing under her breath. Her voice steadied with each phrase of the song and she changed songs. "There's a somebody I'm longing' to see. I hope that he turns out to be someone to watch over me."
She could hear the accompanying piano as she sang and the smell of the dying lilacs overwhelmed her memory. She stood in her wedding dress peeking out the window at the crowd gathering in the back yard, few of which she knew. Her hand shook and she sat down on the arm of the couch, clutching her bouquet of silk flowers from Wal-Mart that she'd arranged in a tight bundle. "Breathe," she said to herself. "Just breathe."
It wasn't the picture she'd imagined as a child in her pink lace bedroom the night after Luke and Laura's wedding on General Hospital. She imagined a swell in her chest and tears welling in her eyes as she waited to walk down the aisle on her father's arm. Her eyes were supposed to be wide with excitement until she felt her eyelashes brush against her skin. In the dark of her room, she could feel her hair falling on her shoulders and the swish of her dress against her ankles. A large church wedding with illuminating rays of sunshine beaming down on only her as people who loved her watched with anticipation as she walked towards the man who loved her with undying love.
She felt a swell in her chest, but it wasn't from joy or anticipation or anything other than fear. Her stomach twisted like the rags she used to wash the floors, squeezing out every bit of courage she had. Her hair didn't brush against her shoulders because it was pinned so tight to her head that blinking sent shocks of pain down her neck. There was no church because it was cheaper to have the ceremony in the back yard of his parent’s house. She sucked on her lower lips, tasting the lotions in the lipstick, but it was all she could do to keep from crying.
"You ready?" her maid of honor asked, prancing into the room. "It's time."
She stood and straightened her own poor excuse for a train and peered out the window one last time. "I wish my dad had come."
Her maid of honor, a friend she'd known for less than six months, took her hand and led her towards the door.
"Let me check in the mirror once more," she said, stopping by the bathroom door.
"You look fine. A bit skinny, like a holocaust victim, but you're makeup is fine."
"I'm a little lamb who's lost in the wood. I know I could always be good to one who'll watch over me." She sang, pressing her nose against the baby's head. Beneath her hand, she felt his sleepy breathing, leading the pace of the song.
The wedding attendee's all turned as she stood at the end of the aisle, looking dead ahead at Karl, standing by the makeshift pastor he'd found. His eyes didn't meet hers as the music started, and he turned to whisper something to his best friend. She began the walk, taking each step in turn, like they'd practiced the night before. Step and wait. Step and wait.
All she wanted to do was run down the aisle; exchange rings, and say the vows so that everyone would stop staring at her. But she did what she was supposed to, step and wait. Step and wait until she stood by Karl's side. He didn't glance at her, standing with his arms straight at his side as the pastor began the ceremony. She clutched her flowers so tight that one of the wires dug into her skin. She didn't ease her grasp. She kind of liked the pain.
The rest of the ceremony was a blur, except for the vows.
"Do you take this man..."
She couldn't hold back the tears any longer and she choked on the words. Glancing over the crowd, she was glad to see that they thought she shed tears of joy.
Karl didn't notice.
"Although he may not be the man some girls think of as handsome to my heart he carries the key. Won't you tell him please to put on some speed? Follow my lead, oh, how I need someone to watch over me."
It was just wedding nerves. That's what she told herself. The crowd. Her missing parents. The outdoor ceremony. Just wedding nerves because she loved him and his silly cleft chin. She loved the long hours they spent talking about everything and nothing at night. She loved those moments when he sits, silent and staring, his mind processing some great idea that she would hear about sometime in the near future.
It was just wedding nerves.
" Won't you tell him please to put on some speed. Follow my lead, oh, how I need someone to watch over me." She opened her eyes and watched the darkness beyond the door while smoothing the baby's fine hair to his head. "That's the song your daddy and I danced to at the wedding," she whispered to the sleeping child.
He'd held her close beneath the swaying trees overhead. "I'm glad it's over," he said, pulling her close.
"Me too," she said, falling against his chest and clutching the lapel's of his rented tuxedo.
They danced to Etta James singing to convince the world of the lyrics. As it finished, he kissed her cheek and then whispered in her ear, "I love you."
It was just wedding nerves.
The phone rang beside her and she jumped. The baby shifted and started to whimper, his lips puckering into a perfect "o". "Shh," she said, rubbing his stomach while grabbing the phone and turning it on. "Hello?"
"Did you make it?" Her mother's voice was tinted with laughter and her words bounced trying to hide it.
"Is it over?"
"There's still a warning until ten forty seven, but it seems like the storms passed. It should be safe."
"Were there any hits?" She wrapped the blanket around the baby like a cradle and lifted him and the pile into her arms. Outside, she could hear the patter of rain drops against the house.
"They said on the radio that someone saw a funnel cloud out by the lake, but nothing touched down. How's my grandbaby?"
He snuggled against her chest and sucked the air. "He's oblivious that anything happened." She managed a chuckle as she made her way up the stairs, her neck aching from holding the phone with her shoulder. 'You know how he is. Sleeps through anything."
"Don't worry. He's got our genetic code. It won't last forever."
"Yeah, he'll walk the midnight mile with the rest of us if he takes after me. Let's hope he takes after his dad. Hold on just a second." She dropped the dinette table and took the baby up stairs, easing him into his crib as if he'd never left. Before she left, she kissed her fingertips and pressed them to his forehead. "Night, sweetheart."
Downstairs, she grabbed the phone and shuffled into the kitchen. She could hear her father's belly laugh through the phone and stayed silent, listening to the sound that comforted her as a child when the monsters hid in her closet. "Sorry. Just wanted to get Jack back to bed."
"You're dad was just telling me that I should let you know what he said when the sirens went off."
"Oh, what's that?" She set the tea kettle back on the stove and flicked the burner to high.
"He said, "Karl's sure gonna have fun tonight with a baby and you crying your eyes out." He realized that it was the first tornado since you've been together."
She grabbed a rag from the sink and reached to wipe the dust from the top of the avocado green refrigerator. "Except that Karl isn't here."
She threw the rag into the sink, watching it catch the edge then fall to the floor. "Out with the boys." There was no point in hiding her frustration.
Her mother didn't say anything and she could hear her father talking about a funnel cloud that nearly touched ground by Florence.
"He should have been here," she said. "He knows I'm terrified. He should have come home." On the stove, she could hear the bubbles erupting as the water began to boil.
"So, you'd have rather had him drive home during a tornado warning?"
Her mother's rationality rubbed her anger like two flints ready to ignite. "No, that's not what I'm saying. I'm just saying that if he'd ever stay home..." It'd been months since they'd sat and watched a movie. He was always out with his friends until three in the morning, drunk and stumbling into the bedroom. He usually made a grab for some action, his hand wandering down to her crotch. There was a time when she'd argue with him, but she found it's easier to pretend that she's asleep.
"Honey, he's a young man and wants to spend time with his friends. Don't be so hard on him."
"But he's on the road all week." She could hear the whine in her voice, but it didn't matter. She filled her mug with boiling water and dropped dropped in a new tea bag, watching it bob on the surface until the water saturated it and drug it down. "I just want to see him. That's all."
Her mother sighed. It was a sigh that she'd grown up hearing. Why do we need a recipe? Can't we just mix it all together? Sigh. Why can't I go to the party? Just because some boys are there? Nothings going to happen. Sigh. Why can't socialism work? Sigh.
"He's not perfect, honey. No man is. Do you think your dad was Mr. Wonderful when we first got married? I don't know if you remember the weekend poker games that would keep him in the garage with his buddies until all hours of the night. I would get so mad at him and we'd fight the next day."
She remembered the fights clearly, her mother banging the pans against the stove. "Of course you're too tired to mow the lawn. You stayed out until six o'clock this morning. But that doesn't mean the lawn suddenly shrunk overnight." She used to run to her room to avoid becoming a target.
"Eventually, they get tired of it and stay home every night. Trust me, when you do, you'll wish that he'd just leave you alone."
What'd you say? her father yelled in the background.
"I said that I wished you'd leave me alone like you did in the old days."
"You two argue it out," she said, wishing for her old room again as her father's mumbling broke into spurts of well dictated words that included damn, complain, pleasing you. "I'm going to bed."
"Alright, honey. Sleep good and be nice to Karl when he gets home. You have to spend the rest of your life with him, so keep it as pleasant as you can."
She hung up the phone and dumped the tea down the drain as her eyes started blurring the wallpapered fruit border above the stove. She shut off the lights and turned off the television, then walked into the bedroom, pulling the blankets straight on the bed.
Tugging off her clothes, she climbed beneath the covers. The cheap sheets scratched against her dry skin and she pulled the blanket over her head, closing her eyes to the world but leaving her thoughts to fill the silence.
She smelled him on the pillow beside her, that strange stink that he filled the room with when he sweat through the night, stink like rotten tomatoes and milk. She threw the pillow across the room and turned away, determined for some peace. To stop her thoughts and the pounding in her heart, she ran through the Stella's lines, imagining that she was in steamy New Orleans with a light mist of sweat on her face, holding Stella's hand.
I want a rest. I want to breathe. I can go away from here and not be anyone's problem. I don't want realism. I want magic. Yes, yes. Magic. I try to give that to people. I do misrepresent things. I don't tell truths. I tell what ought to be truths. Very simple, only to be punished for it. Don't turn the light on.
Be sure to read the beginning of Chapter 3 "Per Diventare Tre" Let me know if you'd like to know when I add onto this story.