Friday, August 27, 2010
Vivian stood frozen for a moment, eyes wide, arms still full of extra clothing. Her mouthed opened and closed a couple of time before tears began running down her cheeks. She collapsed on to the chair nearest to her dropping the armload of laundry partially on the table and partially onto Susan’s lap. Vivian covered her face sobbing.
“I didn’t mean for anything to happen to her—you have to believe me!” Vivian cried, uncovering her face to look imploringly at Susan then Vivian. Her shoulders shook as she fell into another wave of tears.
Susan reached over and patted Vivian’s nearest shoulder awkwardly. She looked at Jackie and raised her eye brows making a face that said, now what?
Jackie reached behind her and retrieved a box of tissue from the counter, pushing it to Vivian as she rubbed her nose furiously with one sleeve.
“Vivian,” Jackie began gently, “why did you ask McKenzie to work for you tonight?”
Vivian looked up, hesitating for a moment as if she wasn’t sure how much to tell them.
“Vivian,” Jackie pressed, “we’re the only ones who can help you now. I think the people who killed your sister are after us too—they think I know who killed her. It’s probably only a matter of time before they decide you are a threat too. We have to report the crime to the right people before the wrong people find us!”
Vivian swallowed, “okay. I was planning to deliver another letter to Wayne and one to Max while they were working. I thought if they thought I was working too, they wouldn’t suspect me when they found letters in their rooms later. My shift would have kept McKenzie away from the dining room so they never would have had a conversation with her—they never would have realized it wasn’t me. They would have known from the schedule that I was working the outer bar most of the night. McKenzie would have confirmed my story if anyone had asked her later. We’ve done that for each other before; you know if we’ve been sick or tired or something…it was a good system.” Vivian dropped her head wiping another tear off her cheek.
“How late was she supposed to work the outer bar?” Vivian asked.
“She started at four. She would have worked until the last person left to go to dinner—usually around 7:30 or 8:00. Sometimes there is a straggler or two who wants to finish watching a game before they go into the dining room. The latest it’s ever been is 9:00.”
“And what time did dinner get delayed?” Jackie asked, turning to Susan.
Susan sat up a little straighter trying to remember six or seven hours earlier in the night. “I came and got you at 6:30,” Susan sad counting on her fingers. Her eyes searched the ceiling for her memory, “usually the dining room opens at 7:00 but when we got down there at quarter to, they had just announced that dinner would be delayed and they kept the bar open for an extra hour…or more.” Susan smiled as if remembering a very fond memory.
“So,” Jackie said leaning forward on her elbows, looking at Vivian again, “McKenzie was killed before she was off work. She must have been attacked before 6:30. But wouldn’t there have been witnesses?”
“Not necessarily,” said Vivian, her brow creasing with intensity, “the outer bar is across the Rose Garden. You have to walk outside to get to it—on a night light tonight; she may not have had a single customer—it wouldn’t have been the first time.”
“So someone attacked her while she was tending the bar, and brought her body to the dining room before the doors were supposed to open. Who is in the dining room before the doors open?” Jackie asked Vivian.
“Usually it’s finished being set for dinner by 5:00. Then the dining room is empty until 6:00 when Max comes in to do a final walk through before opening the doors at 7:00. He must have found her body around 6:00.”
“Unless,” Jackie said slowly, “he was the one who brought her body there.”
There was a long silence that was finally broken by a startling snore from Trevor, still sleeping soundly on Vivian’s small couch.
Vivian looked paralyzed. Her thick, dark eyebrows were knit together in sorrow. Her dark red lips turned down in a frown. She sat drumming the painted nails of her right hand on those of her left. The rest of her was as still as a statue.
Jackie cleared her throat softly, daring to go on, “You were leaving notes for Mr. Carson too right; about his affair with your sister? Might he have…?”
“It wasn’t for the money you know,” Vivian shook her head slowly, her dark hair fell around her shoulders, “I just wanted him to stop seeing my sister. I thought I could scare him into breaking up with her. I thought he would think it was Mrs. Carson—that she knew and maybe he’d get scared of being cut off from her family money,” Vivian ran both her hands through her hair, stopping with her forehead hidden in the palms of her hands.
“Then why blackmail Wayne?” Susan asked bluntly.
Vivian chuckled, her head still down, “I don’t know, I guess I was just sick of the lies, the secrecy. I just wanted the truth to come out—wanted to stop having to cover for my sister…” Vivian trailed off, still shaking her head. “I never meant for her to get hurt.”
“I know,” said Jackie soothingly, touching her arm.
Susan and Jackie looked at each other over Vivian’s bowed head. They were both thinking the same thing.
“Do you think it could have been Mr. Carson?” Susan pushed.
Vivian looked up. “It must have been. I mean who else…?” Suddenly Vivian froze, “Wait.” She got to her feet, pushing the pile of clothing across the table to Jackie and Susan, “Get dressed,” she ordered without explanation.
Jackie and Susan got to their feet, doing as they were told, Jackie began peeling her soaked black dress from her goose-bump covered legs. From the pile of fabric, Jackie selected a pair of Jeans that looked like they would fit and a black hooded sweatshirt which she zipped over her chest. Susan did the same, removing her high heels and the rest of her wet clothes.
Vivian was already at the door, tying sneakers onto her feet. She threw a pair of clogs and a pair of thick, brown sandals towards the two women who stepped into them gratefully.
“Where are we going?” Jackie asked meeting Vivian at the door.
“Vivian pulled a raincoat from her coat rack and zipped it on, pulling the hood over her hair, “we’re going to the outer bar.”
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
“Is Nicole my sister?” Twila asked when she was almost two and a half as I sat reading a magazine in our south Minneapolis home. When I looked up, Twila was holding a picture of Nicole holding her when she was a baby. I worried how she might feel about the truth of my teen-pregnancy before she was born. But as a mother, my duty is to convey the truth.
“She’s your birthsister.” I corrected, “That means you and Nicole both grew in my tummy. But you’re not really sisters now because she has a different mommy and daddy than you do.” I waited wondering what huge questions this might inspire from my deep-thinking toddler.
“Can I put this picture in my room?” she asked, totally satisfied with my explanation.
It’s hard to believe that this conversation happened almost eighteen months ago—just a couple of months before I got pregnant again. Now Twila has a baby sister and Nicole has two birthsisters.
Jada is almost crawling now. She smiles with the most amazing, eye-popping smile. At least three dimples appear as if from nowhere when she grins her gummy smile. She laughs at her sister and has two adorable tooth peeks popping up from her bottom row of rubbery gums. She glows with energy, passion and joy.
At almost four, Twila is beautiful and getting brighter by the day. She is bright in every possible definition of the word. She is smart as a whip, she is luminescent and spirited. She is fearless and energetic but also so caring and compassionate.
Twila wrote a letter to God yesterday and asked how to mail it. I told her God would be able to read it wherever it was. She decided to put it in the Sumac bush by the lake. A few hours later she asked if God had it yet. She told me that the good news about when she died is that she’d finally get to meet her grandma’s childhood dog, Spooky.
Each morning Twila wakes up with the sun shining from her eyes. She wakes up bright; smiling from ear to ear. Her skin is warm and soft, her blond hair streaming untidily around her face; her eyes bright and glasses-less. She comes out to the porch where Jada is laying on her tummy, merrily screaming away as I try hard to complete the morning pages, stretch and maybe meditate, like I used to. Each morning Twila finds us this way and the three of us cuddle and rock and whisper about the previous night, how we slept and what dreams we remember.
It’s so cool here in Minnesota now, as summer begins to wind down. Unseasonably cool breezes blowing off the lake enliven the spirit. And yet, life feels hard right now. It feels harder than ever to coax my creativity out. It feels somewhat futile to try and find quiet, meditative space—it doesn’t exist in my life right now. The baby is up late and frequently at night. Twila is up early in the morning. I cannot bring myself to sacrifice sleep to make time to be alone in the quiet of the morning even though I know when I do make that space I am rewarded with a greater inner strength and peace all day long. But if I get up too early I need more coffee and coffee makes me agitated.
It is hard right now to see the light at the end of this tunnel of night-nursing and child-entertaining. I know there will come a day when I can focus better, longer and will again be driven; passionately pursuing my goals. But that day feels far off and right now it is hard to see the good in continuing to create.
Writing feels a bit forced and maybe there are seasons like that for every writer. I hope that is the truth. If I cannot pursue a specific career goal at the moment, I will pursue the truth hotly, because that’s all writing is anyway: its seeing, capturing, comprehending and conveying the truth.
My birthdaughter came over for a big family dinner this past weekend. She hasn’t been over since the beginning of summer and it is amazing to see how much she has grown and matured in just the passing of one season. Nicole will be eleven this fall and she is almost as tall as me. When I hug her, her blond hair tickles my nose.
Twila adores her and glows for hours after she goes, reminding me over and over again how much she loves Nicole—her birthsister. The other day Twila was telling my dear friend Kate that she had a birthsister and asked her if she knew Nicole. Kate said that she did—that she’s known Nicole since she was in my tummy.
Twila gave her a very stern look and told her, “Nicole wasn’t in my mom’s tummy.”
I realized then that there has been a lapse in our conversations about Nicole’s adoption. When I was pregnant with Jada, I told Twila that I placed Nicole with her parents and she seemed to think that was the most natural thing in the world but we didn’t discuss my actual pregnancy with her. I know it is time for another conversation but I am unsure how to broach the topic.
I have always wanted Twila to feel like my first. But I suppose that what she feels, about my pregnancy and placement before she was born, belongs to her. My job is just to convey the truth. Convey the truth and provide support. Motherhood in a nutshell.
Monday, August 23, 2010
Friday, August 20, 2010
Vivian’s head snapped up “What do you mean 'that’s not what happened'; are you implying that I’m lying about my sister’s death?” she asked, her eyes wide.
Jackie looked at Vivian, measuring her, “Isn’t it true that you, not your sister, were supposed to work tonight?”
Vivian’s eyes widened but she said nothing.
Susan, set her tea down for a second and looked at Jackie, then at Vivian, then back to Jackie.
Jackie pressed on. “You were supposed to work tonight but you asked McKenzie to work for you. You said you were sick, or tired or…what? Whatever you said, she was willing to work a double, wearing your uniform so you wouldn’t get in trouble, wasn’t she?”
Vivian looked horrified. “I…I, I didn’t know she would be killed, you have to believe me!” Vivian was leaning forward now, her palms pressed flat to the table, fingers stretched tensely out on the distressed wood.
Jackie opened her mouth and then closed it again, pressing her lips together; her eyebrows were furrowed as if trying to figure something out. She considered Vivian for a moment and then said, “Vivian, why were you in Wayne’s room?”
Vivian closed her mouth tightly, sitting back in her chair.
“Are you in a relationship with Wayne?” Jackie pressed.
Vivian deflated with a laugh, “No, oh no, not at all,” she shook her head as if this was a ridiculous notion.
“Then what were you doing in his room?”
“He wasn’t in there,” Vivian assured her.
Jackie raised her eyebrows as if asking the same question again.
Vivian’s eyes shot back and forth as if looking for the answer in one of her cupboards. “We’re neighbors,” she smiled simply, “I had borrowed his iron and was just returning it. We’ve been friends for nearly a decade, you know. Wayne’s been working up here since he was a kid too.”
“Yeah,” Jackie said, slightly deflated, “yeah, he mentioned that.”
There was silence as each of them sipped their tea, tensely.
“Well,” Susan broke the silence, “we still don’t have any theories about who killed the mai—your sister,” Susan corrected. Then Susan snorted. It’s kind of like Clue isn’t it?” Jackie and Vivian looked at Susan in silence. “You know, the game from when we were kids? ‘I think it was the wine sommelier with the rope, in the dining room…’” Susan said in a mock tone of seriousness, chuckling into her mug.
“Susan,” Jackie raised her eyebrows at her in disbelief, “could you be more insensitive?” She muttered through closed teeth.
Vivian got up. “I’m going to change out of these wet clothes. Would you guys like something to change into?”
“That would be great,” they both nodded.
Vivian stepped into a bedroom and swung the door shut.
Susan leaned forward quickly whispering towards Jackie, “She doesn’t seem too broken up about her sis, does she?”
“What?” Jackie mouthed.
Susan made a dramatic gesture towards the bedroom with her thumb, “she’s not as upset as she should be—someone just killed her sister thinking it was her and she’s getting a change of clothes?—there’s no panic. What’s wrong with this picture?” Susan finished her whispered and signed soliloquy with wide eyes.
Jackie sat for a moment in silence realizing that Susan was right. Something wasn’t adding up.
Jackie got to her feet and circled to the other side of the table so that her back wasn’t to the bedroom door. She suddenly felt an unsettling nervousness. She heard a rustling in the bedroom. Suddenly, something on the counter caught her eye. Jackie moved an old newspaper to reveal a half-written letter on the edge of the counter.
Just then, the bedroom door swung open and out stepped Vivian wearing jeans and a long sleeve tee-shirt. In her arms she held an assortment of clothing. She looked around at their faces and realized something wasn’t right, “what is it?” she asked.
“You aren’t telling us everything,” Jackie stated with more conviction than she felt.
Vivian just stared, stone-faced.
“Why didn’t you tell us that Mrs. Carson was having an affair too?” Jackie pushed.
Vivian opened and closed her mouth a few times, “I didn’t know, I…”
Jackie lifted the letter in the air, “You knew about both of their affairs. You were blackmailing them.”
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
I have a cough and my daughters are crabby. It was a difficult week. Ryan has been swamped at work and I have this terrible cough which I seem to be passing on to my daughters. Last week the nights were rough, the days, long and exhausting. The only time during a twenty-four hour period that I wasn’t tired seemed to be from nine to eleven pm, an inconvenient time to have energy. I think those were my most wakeful hours because they are, right now, the only two hours all day long that both my girls are out of my sight, my arms, my care. By nine, usually both girls are asleep and will remain so until at least eleven-usually. About thirty minutes after I fall into deep and restful slumber is when Jada wakes for the first time.
But Saturday came at last and Ryan didn't have to work. Just in time, too, because I was really thinking of taking a job at Caribou or Starbucks or just anywhere where I could go and work and be around grown-ups and not have to explain why I wasn’t able to play doll house, hide-and-seek or Toy Story. Usually Ryan and I understand that the other has a difficult job and our own job has many benefits and many challenges; so we can support each other, empathize with each others' struggles and appreciate our own roles in the family. But this last week, his job was looking pretty appealing to me. Even if he was swamped, at least he had the quiet and privacy to sort out each chore and execute it. I had so much noise and chaos in my life, I couldn't even see the first good thing to do. I slipped away from appreciation and into that "the-grass-is-always-greener" place that is so destructive.
Don’t misunderstand me; I love that I can stay at home with my kids. They are great girls and I love breastfeeding the baby and reading books to T, taking her to The Zoo or The Children’s Museum or out to coffee or off to the craft store to buy paints and start a project together—anytime we want! It is a blessing beyond words to get to be a part of this time in their lives. It’s just...I need time away from them too. I need breaks and there are some weeks, especially in the summer, when breaks are hard to come by.
But Saturday came and despite my hacking cough, Ryan and I dropped the girls at my parents' house and went to see Inception at the Imax. Yes, I was that person, suppressing wet coughs in the movie theater. I didn’t feel good about it, but it was s a matter of survival. I needed to get out.
When we went back to get the girls, I actually missed them. I couldn’t wait to pick them up. Just three hours away, that was all it took. But Twila wanted to sleepover and my parents said she could, so the date continued all the way home and into the evening and it was much needed time together for me and Ryan. Jada mostly cooperated and slept and Ryan and I bonded.
We wanted to sit out on the deck but a torrential downpour came out of nowhere and soaked the deck chairs and cushions. Lightning flashed and thunder rolled, and that was romantic too. In the morning, we had coffee and tried to decide what the best thing to do with our morning would be, not having Twila there to interrupt: paint a room, go shopping, do a project, talk about something meaningful? In the end we walked around the house, mostly talking about what we should do, which is something we can’t do very easily when Twila is around too. Twila came home and absorbed all the attention and energy in the room for the rest of the day--just what three, almost four-year-olds must do--and it was okay with us because we had rested our parenting muscles.
Last night Ryan's mom took Twila out to the park and to dinner. As soon as they were out of the house, I was in jeans and cute shoes and was out of there. I raced down town and got Ryan. We had Happy Hour at one of our favorite places then walked to the new Twin's Stadium. We tried a new Asian Restaurant opened by the chef who owned one of our old favorite Asian restaurants. We ate sushi and drank wine and took our time coming home. It was heavenly. I came home floating; feeling like I could not only go on in this arduous journey called motherhood, but that I might even be able to do it, happily, do it better.
It’s good to get breaks. Breaks, peace, quiet, privacy, time away, time alone. Virginia Woolf said, "a woman should have 500 pounds per year and a room with a lock on the door." Doors and locks: representations of privacy and solitude: what a mother needs to stay sane. We all need privacy. I don't believe that it is more vital to a girl of sixteen who is often granted her very own room, than to a grown woman, a mother of two. Don’t we need privacy and solitude all the more?
Monday, August 16, 2010
Friday, August 13, 2010
The doorknob turned; Jackie froze. For a moment, nothing moved but the sheeting rain and the pounding of Jackie’s heart. Jackie, Trevor and Susan remained motionless in a half tumbledown heap, two patios away from Wayne’s door.
Wayne’s front door began to open slowly. Jackie could barely breathe. There was no way for the three to conceal themselves from Wayne once he stepped out his door. They sat helplessly on the wet pavers of his neighbor’s patio, just a few feet away, waiting to be discovered at his feet.
The door cracked open an inch further, then into the sheeting rain stepped a small, raincoat-covered figure. The concealed head looked first to the left, then to the right. Jackie gasped as the hooded figure’s face was revealed. “McKenzie!” Jackie whispered into the pouring rain. Her voice was lost in the howling wind.
The maid’s eyes became as round as saucers. Jackie could see the color draining from her cheeks even in the near pitch blackness of the storm. She stumbled backwards, groping for something to hold on to. Then she turned, black clogs slipping on the wet bricks, and made to escape.
“Wait!” Jackie called, getting to her feet, “wait, we want to help!” Jackie caught hold of the maid’s trench coat as she was about to launch into the darkness.
Jackie managed to wrap her arms around the maid’s waist, causing her to double over. Jackie yelled through the swirling wind. “We’re trying to help! The people who killed your sister are after me.”
The woman stopped struggling and turned to Jackie. “Who are they?” She demanded, pointing to Trevor and Susan who were still huddled next to the planter box, looking as if they had gotten themselves into something that they did not intend to. Their faces were matching, un-amused scowls. Each held one arm over their heads as a kind of giant visor, blocking the downpour of rain.
The maid looked again to Jackie and, apparently assessing that they were not a threat, waved them to stand up. Susan and Trevor got up from their huddled position.
“Come, on,” the woman whispered loudly, “you can come in my room.”
Trevor and Susan turned to McKenzie’s door, waiting anxiously to step out of the rain. Jackie began making her way past Vivian’s door. Just as she reached McKenzie’s patio, she realized that McKenzie wasn’t next to her.
She turned from McKenzie’s doorstep, wiping water out of her eyes, pushing her soaked hair off her drenched forehead to see that the women who had just come out of Wayne’s apartment was now inserting a key into Vivian’s door.
When Jackie caught her eye, the woman waved the three of them over vigorously as she looked suspiciously around her. Jackie grabbed Susan by the slicker and pulled her along.
“Why are we going in Vivian’s room?” Jackie asked though the rain when she approached the woman’s shoulder.
“It’s my room,” the woman said before she turned and walked through the open door.
Jackie stood, dumbfounded, mouth open in the rain before stepping in to the dry room, Susan and Trevor tripping in behind her.
Vivian shut the door behind them, taking one last furtive glance into the sheeting rain. Then she bolted and chained the door, drew the curtains more tightly closed and began removing her wet rain coat. Jackie and Susan did the same, looking for a place to hang them up. Trevor had already removed his with a wide flourish, given it a few large flaps in the direction of the door but spraying the three women with a splattering of drops anyway before draping the wet coat over the back of a chair, and yawning dramatically. By the time he noticed that he had an audience, Jackie, Vivian and Susan were staring open-mouthed at him.
“What?” he asked sincerely, “I’m exhausted!”
The women shook their heads, “would you like some tea?” Vivian asked all of them softly.
Trevor opted out and sat instead on a small, leather sofa, picking up an old Time magazine as if he might flip through it. But he was, in a moment, snoring with his head hanging back on the couch.
As Vivian poured hot water from a kettle, over three tea bags, Susan and Jackie toweled off their bare arms with small dish towels. The booming thunder sounded much gentler now that they were safely inside. A flash of lightning lit up the small kitchen illuminated only by a dim neon light above the hotplate.
“I suppose you want to know what’s going on,” Vivian offered as she sat down cradling her own mug of tea.
Jackie and Susan both nodded. Susan tried to sip her tea but burnt her lips and grimaced. Jackie tapped the edge of her mug with one finger trying to figure out what to ask first. “So, you’re McKenzie’s sister?” Jackie asked rhetorically, “And it’s McKenzie who’s been killed…”
Vivian looked at the table, scrunching her eyebrows together. “We took this job together eight summers ago when we were seniors in high school. We’ve both come up for summer work ever since. This fall we were going to start our last year of law school.” Vivian broke off and covered her eyes, breathed for a moment and looked up again. “I didn’t know about her relationship with Max until the end of last summer.”
“Her relationship?” Jackie and Susan both looked at Vivian stunned. Susan burnt her lips again and cursed. “Your sister was sleeping with Mr. Carson?” Before Vivian could answer, Jackie thought back to that morning when she had seen Mr. Carson in the kitchen with the maid.
“They tried hard to keep it a secret,” Vivian went on, “I mean, especially with Mrs. Carson always around. McKenzie didn’t even tell me, I had to figure it out on my own.” Jackie noted that there was a tone of bitterness in Vivian’s voice.
“Have you guys always been close?” Susan asked trying for a third time to sip her tea. This time she succeeded without burning her mouth and sighed happily.
“Always,” Vivian sniffed.
“She probably just didn’t want to get Mr. Carson into trouble with his wife,” Susan said nonchalantly.
“I suppose,” Vivian said slowly, looking past Jackie’s shoulder as if remembering something.
“But who would have killed her for having an affair?” Jackie asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” Susan responded, “Mrs. Carson. She must have found out about the affair and gotten so jealous…”
“It’s not a movie, Susan,” Jackie chastised.
“Well, there was a murdered maid hanging from a chandelier,” Susan rolled her eyes, “it doesn’t get much more dramatic than that! Oh, sorry,” Susan shrunk as she saw the look of sadness on Vivian’s face. “I meant, housekeeper…cleaning associate?”
Jackie cut her off, “Vivian, who do you think might have wanted to hurt your sister?”
“I’ve always thought that Mr. Carson was trouble.” She answered without hesitation. “There’s something about him I don’t trust. I’ve wanted McKenzie to break up with him since I found out about them. I mean he is married! What kind of man stays with his wife and sleeps with someone who works for him?”
“But could he kill her?” Jackie pressed.
“I don’t know,” Vivian shook her head, looking at her cooling tea.
“What about,” Jackie hesitated, “what about Wayne?”
Vivian’s eyes shot up to meet Jackie’s, “Why? Why would you think of Wayne?”
Jackie felt that she had hit a chord. “Well, I had the opportunity to spend some time with him this evening and he strikes me as…a little off,” Jackie answered slowly.
“I don’t think Wayne could do something like that,” Vivian shook her head, “ I mean, I know he’s a little nuts, but he’s harmless.”
“You know he thinks you’re dead, don’t you?” Jackie asked as delicately as possible, “she had your nametag on, Vivian.”
Vivian looked at the table again, “I know,” Jackie said overcome with emotion again, “I know, McKenzie came by my place this afternoon to borrow my uniform—she had gotten something on hers and was supposed to work a double. I said she could. She didn’t bother to switch our name tags. She thought it wouldn’t matter since most people can’t tell us apart anyway.” Vivian covered her face with her hands, sobbing.
Jackie rested one hand on Vivian’s shoulder comfortingly, while Susan sipped her tea, looking somewhat bored. “Vivian,” Jackie asked gently, “that’s not exactly what happened is it?”