12 January 2009

Twit the Third

Monday 12 January 2009

One of us (who should probably stay unnamed, except that she lives with us and is 5 years old) was having a bath across the side gallery from my room's back door whilst I was doing homework at my table. The door was open-- we never really close or lock doors round here. I don't know any family that really should. The little one had not closed the bathroom door all the way and I could hear her in there, singing and playing with a menagerie of floating toys. She must have been pouring a bucket over them or something for there was a repetitive sound of water cascading, accompanied by that pert little voice, 'Allllll done! Allllll done!'

Jessy was in her room too, listening her iPod I guess (we've both had them for Christmas) because she didn't hear it first. The singing abruptly stopped. Water moved. There was splashing and then the sound of a worried groan. I waited and heard nothing better. 'Lisa?' I called, to carry my voice out the door and across the gallery. 'Are you all right?'

'Hello?' she called, anxiously.

I got up at once. 'What is it?'

'Janine!' she called, recognising who would come. 'Help!'

I swung the door in to the room and peered round at the bath behind it. The water had run out and little Lisa was sitting cross-legged in the bottom, bent over the drain as though she'd dropt something down there. 'What did you put down there?' I wondered, almost ready to smile as though this was all the trouble there was.

'My hand,' she said, her voice quivering with anxiety.

I smiled then. 'No, I mean what did you reach down there for?'

'Nothing!' she insisted. 'My hand is stuck.'

My eyes went wide; no smile now. 'Your hand is stuck?'

She nodded, her eyes teary, and demonstrated by tugging on her hand now. There was a very final jerk on her shoulder-- her hand was halfway down the drain and not coming loose. 'Don't move!' I said firmly.

'I can't,' she said.

'Don't. Don't do anything.' I bent over, got half my body in front of hers and took her little arm in my hand. Gently I twisted it. Lisa complained. I could not see a thing past her wrist and I certainly wasn't going to snap it off. 'Do you have anything in your hand? Are you holding anything?'

'No,' she said, her voice cracking now.

'All right, relax your hand. Take a deep breath and then let it all out.'

'What are you going to do?'

'I will help you. Take a deep breath and then let it all out. Let whole your body relax.'

She did, somewhat theatrically. Again I tried to dislodge her hand. It swivelled till she cried out and I would not go further.

'All right, we'll run cold water on it. Hand me that soap.'

So we tried that too, though the soapy water did not make it easier to grasp her. The problem was that the corner of her thumb was caught below the rim of the drain pipe-- her little fingers must have been past the 'x' inside the drain. I reached down past where she was stuck and with my fingers I could squeeze her hand a little narrower. By this time she was shivering from the cold water running and splashing everywhere.

'This isn't working,' I fretted-- not the best thing to do in front of a child. I lifted my head up and yelled round the door. 'JESSY!'

She came in ten seconds. 'What is it?'

'Go get Daddy. She's got her hand stuck in the drain.'

Lisa whined then. 'Are we going to have to cut my hand off?'

I shook my head, probably too seriously, and shut off the water. 'I think we'd sooner cut up the bath with a chain saw.'

'A chain saw!' she wailed, and began to cry.

Jessy ran back down the gallery, followed by Daddy and Mother. 'What's happened?' Mother worried.

'Mummy!' she cried. 'I'm stuck in here and Janine says we have to cut it with a chain saw!'

I made a face. Daddy winced and displaced me without a word, leaning all the way down in front of her as I had been. I swear he was performing telekinesis with his eyes down there. 'Sit still,' he said softly, and closed his whole hand round hers. He didn't even put any more soap on it. With ten seconds of gentle squeezing he had freed her.

Lisa wailed, now out of relief, and Mother scooped her up, loud, naked, wet, and shivering, and I wrapped a towel round her. Daddy held up Lisa's wrist to examine it a few moments and then looked at me. 'Chain saw?' he asked wryly. 'Really?'

I shook my head, feeling like an idiot. 'I didn't know how to help her.'

Then he put a hand on my shoulder. 'You called me,' he said, and then kissed my head and went out.

Standing on the potty seat whilst Mother dried her, Lisa looked over at me. 'Thank you,' she said.

'Thank Daddy. He got you out.'

'Thank you, Daddy,' she called, that little voice surprisingly shrill for someone so small.

I kissed her head too. 'Try not to do anything like that again.'

Mother laughed. I suppose we all ought to have been laughing by then but some of us were still pretty disturbed by the whole notion. Bring chain saws into the discussion and it really seems serious. 'I'm pretty sure that of all the things you can think of to tell children not to do,' Mother said, 'sticking your hand down the drain isn't very high on the list.'

'Or licking a light bulb,' I said, recalling a true story someone had told me once.

'Or putting a wet rabbit in the dryer,' Mother said. I'd heard that story before too.

Lisa giggled at both of those and we all contributed a few more stupid examples, most of which I am sure we all made up. Not so cold now, Lisa ran naked round to her room and before Mother and I had stepped out of the bathroom she dashed back down the gallery to Jessy's room where Jessy was sitting back in her bed against the pillows with a book in her lap and her iPod going again. Mother chastised her for risking a cold and I only shook my head. The stamina of a little kid never ceases to amaze me.


Five dollars

Friday afternoon, 9 January 2009

We arrived at the Rehoboth Outlets just before lunch, time enough to visit the Timberland shop and a few others along that way before making our way round to the so-called food court, 'the land of the five-dollar pizza slice' as we call it. (Really they are like 3.25, but still....) Roger met us shortly after and drove us across Route One to the other side, where we picked up stockings, socks, underwear and scarves at the Hanes outlet which is my favourite shop in the whole place (except sometimes the Bali place... depending on my mood). We got Dr Pepper at the burger place and actually sat at the tables outside sipping it. By the time we were done it was nigh onto 4.00 pm and nasty little snow flurries were flecking the sky. On our way back to the car I saw him.

He was shuffling along in pants that were too long and a long ugly grey overcoat, not speaking to or looking at anyone at all, as though his pride would not allow him to look needy. But he was in need. Even as people shied away from him he found a comfortable place to lean outside the rest rooms, which was enough out of the weather for the moment. And we wondered where he would go. The snow built and the sky went darker and there was an ominous sort of portent to the whole afternoon, as though someone somewhere was waiting for something to happen somehow. And then both of us looked at each other.

Jessy drew herself up to her own courage and I would support it. 'Wait,' I said, and dug in my purse. But, the embarrassing thing is... we don't carry cash. Thank God for debit accounts-- yes, maybe 95 percent of the time. Daddy never wants us going away loaded with green money-- he thinks if we're seen using cards we've got nothing worth robbing us for. So as I looked all I had was a five-dollar note and a one-dollar note. Six dollars, to offer someone who had nothing at all.

Daddy told us a funny story once-- a story which does not seem so funny now and did not as Jessy and I stood in the snowfall regarding a poorer, older man who did not want to be an example or a spectacle or a reason for anything. In the Eighties, in the days of his second band, the one which, whilst much more successful, was not the one he enjoyed more (though it did lead him to Mommy), Daddy was in Manhattan for a recording date and it was evening and people got hungry. Daddy and one of his mates braved the 52nd-Street madness at rush hour in the face of an impending snowfall and went looking for anything that would serve the whole studio full. As it turned out they ended up separating for the liquor store, and to wait for his mate Daddy took out his own box of KFC and leaned back against a store front to nibble on it whilst all the people passed. And it was all gone and he happened to drop the last piece, and being basically frugal and having come from nothing he actually leaned down to pick up the dropt piece of fried chicken, as though in New York it could ever have had any value to a human being again (really just so it wasn't litter, you know). And the woman stopped in front of him.

Now my daddy has always had longish hair. He likes to say it's 1968 original equipment (although he was not born in 1968 that's when his hair first got long). And in his performing days it was usually very well kept, long and lush and actually very pretty, although I have seen him sweaty and messy after a show as often as I'd like to and also in the studio so many gentilities go lacking, you know. He was probably looking a shambles leaning against a building on crowded 52nd Street in the face of a snowfall, in need of a shave, with sweaty hair, in a well-abused Army jacket, ripped jeans, torn sneakers, matted sweatshirt, probably no gloves-- this is my dad on a day off, you know. And he had bent over to pick up a dropt piece of KFC chicken. And the woman in a nice wool coat and stockings stopped in front of him and said, 'Here, you poor soul, take this. I'm sorry it's all I have.'

And he looked up, stunned really, and she left it in his surprised hand and went off.

When his mate stepped out with the bottles they both had a really good laugh at it. Daddy waved the five-dollar note round and round like a flag. 'I'm a bum, I'm a derelict!' he announced to the whole street, much too inappropriately, but it must have seemed a riot to him. After all, in spite of that lady's good clothes-- and good heart-- he was probably considerably richer than she had been, even then. At the studio they all had a good laugh at it, and then went on recording and that was that. The good thing about Daddy is that he never forgot that story, went on to donate some pretty good money to one of New York's homeless shelters, and raised his children to have compassionate hearts.

I have asked him whatever became of the very five-dollar note the woman gave him, because I might have liked to seen it framed somewhere, like a reminder to us to be generous. He told me nothing special became of it, that it was just money. Mommy told me once that he had told her he had given it to the very next homeless person on 52nd Street... which I believe.

The homeless man leaned back against the wall outside the rest rooms and wrapped his coat round himself more. It was freezing by now and nearly fully dark. I folded the five-dollar note from my purse round my fingers and practically lunged after him. Behind me, Roger pulled up at the kerb. Jessy waved at him to wait and came with me.

The man looked up as though I were about to rob him. (Why do they always think that?) Drawing a long breath I said gently, 'Here, you poor soul. Please take this. It's all I have.'

'What--?' he scowled at me.

'Please,' I said, extending my arm. I would not look like I would not get too close and stepped right up to him. 'Please.... get some hot tea or something.'

He looked at me, looked at Jessy, swiped the note from my hand, and disappeared into the rest room lobby. Through the window we saw him shuffling away, looking mistrustfully over his shoulder at us, till he had gone into the men's room.

We did not speak to each other as we turned and went back across the covered pavement to the idling car. Roger stood up straight, opened the back door for us, and saw us into the back seat. People stared at us as though we were Mary-Kate and Ashley. I felt like Mary Magdalene.

There is a line from a Sting song that Daddy has often played for us that goes:

'Hide my face in my hands; shame wells in my throat
'A comfortable existence reduced to a shallow shameless party'.

From now on I shall carry more cash in my purse... just because I don't really need it.


Visit with Mommy

Friday, 9 January 2009

I arose, happy with my resolve to go visit Mommy. I have not been up there since well before Thanksgiving and I have missed the quiet peace of that house and the view of the Bay. Daddy caught me however, at about 9.30 as I was descending in my jeans and leather patchwork jacket, and he saw I had my keys out. 'Where are you off to?' he asked, not to be nosy, you know.

'I,' I announced happily, 'am going up to see Mommy.'

He nodded, looking down then, and for a moment seemed to have no words. Well-- that was understandable. 'All right,' he said. 'But let Roger take you.'

I stamped my foot, still standing on the bottom step. 'Daddy! Jessy and I had a whole day planned!'

'All right, but just let him drive you. I have some stuff at the house he can check on for me anyway.' When I was ready to protest he said, 'Can you be sure you'll be back by dark? That's three-thirty today.'

My licence doesn't allow me to drive after dark for another few months yet. 'Sure,' I said-- and then I said a stupid thing. 'We won't have any trouble if we are, you know--'

'That is not the point,' he said. 'It's the law. You don't make excuses to avoid the law. And... it's going to snow.'

I think that must have been the settling factor.

I slumped down in the back of the Cadillac, not even glancing out at the passing landscape. It's dull here anyway. 'Well,' Jessy said, trying to cheer me up, 'it's at least safer, and we don't have to worry about running out of gas.'

I glared at her. Still I felt a little better by the time we had come into Delaware. Our old house is up on the Bay shore, at the very bottom of Delaware Bay, with an unimpeded view of all the shipping traffic and especially the Cape May Ferry route. How I loved hearing that familiar whistle again! The electric gates slid apart and Roger steered the long green Cadillac in to our old yard. The grass in the 'wilderness', the area we always left raw, is high but dormant, and the row of fruit trees to either side look dead and done, but all this will be in superior bloom by Easter again... and Mommy's birthday.

Roger reviewed the alarm codes with us and left Jessy and me to open up the house whilst he went round to the car yard. Inside, the air was stiff and cool-- the heating is set on 55 and we could just see our breath-- and dark, since all the storm shutters have been closed. As soon at the alarm was off we put on lights and ran up to look at our old bedrooms. Of course the bedclothes are off, packed away in plastic containers in the cedar cupboards up stairs, but we both bounced onto our unmade beds and giggled like little girls.

I know Jessy loves this place and sometimes she wishes, even more than I do, that we had never left. However we both understand, far more than Lisa and J.J. ever will be able to, why Daddy did not want to stay here with his new wife and his new children. This house is part of the loss of our mother, and like everything about her Daddy will keep it close to his heart forever. His new wife does not replace her-- they have a pact whereby they insist they will never try, for they both loved her in profound, life-altering ways. I have often said that their being married and beginning a new family is the best way to pay homage to what Mommy always wanted for all of us. But I know it must be different for Daddy.

We descended to the main floor again and slipped out the back doors into the brittle wind. Mommy's small but well-organised flower garden has seen better days-- everything here is dead and cold, but that is owing much more to the season than to any neglect. I know Roger visits this place regularly, just to keep in touch with it. He and Daddy rebuilt the small Buick here that eventually became the car for the girl who became our nanny and, eventually, stepmother, after she came to live with us and then went off to university. For a while she and her best friend stayed in the guest cottage, at the other end of the pool. Then she moved into what we always, so stiffly, called the maid's room, though we have never had a maid here. It was just a small room in front, behind the fireplace in the kitchen. The whole house was designed by Daddy to be an authentic 1740s country farm house, neither large nor fancy but so proper and elegant in its clean lines, slate-blue clapboards, bright white trim and accurate mullioned windows that more than one season the local Colonial society had asked us to let them include it on their old-house tour-- and it was built 250 years after even those architectural experts believed it was!

Mommy's ashes lie in a heavy stainless-steel canister inside a concrete tube in the midst of the tiger-lily beds along the northern side of the garden, under her bedroom window. From here she greets the morning sun as it comes over the beach grass. Some trash and leaves now clogged the ground cover and we both knelt there and cleared it, just the typical winter stuff that tosses up here from somewhere far up the Bay. Whilst kneeling we took each other's hand and said our prayers. Jessy wept. She always does. She was only seven when Mommy left and for a long time she believed it was because of something she'd done. Little kids often think that. But there was nothing she had ever done-- she was always a very good little girl and knew everyone thought so. It's only that when something like that happens when you are that young, you grow up away from that event with only that connection to it.

As we got up Jessy, still holding my hand, turned back to the little tablet in the garden and said, 'I promise to be good, Mommy.' It's what she has always said when she has visited this place ever since we moved away, because it's what Mommy asked her to promise when she lay in that hospital just hours from when she would leave us for good and every time we had visited up till then.

'You have to be good for your daddy and your sister,' she would say. 'They need you to be good.'

'I promise I will be,' she said then. And she always has been.

We went up stairs again and collected a few things from our childhood mementoes-- a collage I made for third grade, the big pink paper dinosaur Jessy made in second, the same year, early-reader books to lend to Lisa, and the big yellow-and-red tipper truck Daddy bought for me when I was J.J.'s age, like all our things lovingly cherished and preserved from then till now with sentimental gentleness by both our parents. This was to be our lifelong heritage home, the place we would always come back to, with our children and grandchildren, for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Easter and Mother's Day and Father's Day and everyone's birthday. This whole estate-- if I may call it that, all eleven acres of it-- was planned by two young parents as an ideal getaway from public life and a perpetual home in which they would raise their two sweet, innocent girls. All that was lost one October evening eight years ago. Now it is, in some respects, just a house (sadly in need of new paint!) surrounded by fruit trees and tall grass. Secretly Jessy and I have discussed which one of us shall ask for it when the first of us is married. I have never thought Daddy would consider that either inappropriate or expensive. Indeed I believe that is the real reason he hangs onto both this one and the one up in Surf City.

If it comes down to that I would rather have the beach house and leave this place to Jessy. The beach house suits my attitude towards life better anyway. It is small, crowded sensibly but snugly on a small patch of land on which the dunes encroach year after year. There is one garage, no basement, a small parlour and a small square dining room that barely seats six of us to table. It is at the ocean, but this place is at the Bay and a two-mile walk through open beach park will lead to the ocean from here too. I will sit up in what used to be Daddy's library and write my novels, feed my cats, and take long walks on the beach in the off-season. And Jessy will marry someone young-at-heart like Daddy, and take good care of Mommy's gardens and Mommy's tablet in the tiger-lilies. It is what she thinks of when she promises to be a good child. And she will make sure all three or four of her cheerful children promise to be good too.


08 January 2009

I have created a monster

Thursday 8 January 2009

This morning whilst I was putting on makeup round here a knock came at the back door of my room. I called, 'Come in!' We never lock doors round here, you know.

Little Lisa padded in, in her powder-blue footsie pyjamas. 'Jessy's still in there!' she said, not really complaining, and got herself onto the potty behind me. Certainly I don't mind. Now I have never been one for too much shared intimacy, even between sisters, but little Lisa has no idea of any of that and considers every part of her life to be simple innocence, never thinking she has anything to hide at all. 'Are you all better?' she asked.

I opened my eye wide, drawing on liner. 'Yes,' I said-- really sort of groaned in that position. I was sick yesterday and stayed home. A lot of sleep helped.

'Am I going to catch it?'

'No,' I said. Before going to the other eye I added, 'Not unless you lick the inside of my juice glass or something.'

'Ewww....' She flushed and got off. Next I knew she was standing beside me. 'Why do you put so much coloury stuff on your face?'

I made a smirk at her. 'I didn't know I did,' I said wryly. Really, I don't.

'It's pretty,' she said after a moment.

I nodded. 'Don't you have breakfast or something to eat?'

She giggled. 'Am I in your way?'

'No....' I reached down and cuddled her against my side for a moment. 'I just have to get ready, that's all.'

She took a step back as a gesture. 'How many boys like you?'

I laughed. 'Who said any of them do?'

Now she made the smirk. (It's Daddy's trait. Mommy would never have.) 'Just that you're so pretty. I bet a lot of them do.'

I got a little red. (Should I have?) 'There's more to being liked than what you look like.'

She sighed, theatrically. 'I know. Like at school all the boys like video games. And Wii.'

I smiled at her, in the mirror. 'And since when do you care what boys like?'

'I don't,' she said. 'I just know that that's what they like.'

'Boys my age aren't much different,' I said.

'Are they more like Daddy?'

I laughed out loud. 'Hah! I wish!' Then I thought better of that and just said, 'I just don't think I need to attract boys just because they're there. If I meet the right one, fine. If I don't, I don't care. I'm not going to change what I want because of them.'

'Then why are you putting on makeup?'

I went red then. Grrr! 'I don't know,' I said. 'I just think I should look a little presentable. It's not just for the boys. It's for teachers and other girls and anyone I happen to meet. I don't want to make my eyes look like I just woke up.'

Lisa giggled out loud. 'But you did just wake up!'

'Since when did you start recognising hypocrisy?'

She giggled again, having no idea of what I just said. 'Well,' she said after a moment, 'I'm not going to attract boys either.'

'Good girl,' I said.

She smiled, shyly now. 'I think Richard likes me,' she said.

I smiled back at her, in the mirror. 'How do you know?'

She shrugged, hooking her fingers together in front of herself and turning on her heels, back and forth, like she does. 'I don't know....'

'Things he says? The way he looks at you? The way he tries not to look like he's looking at you?'

'I guess....'

'Stay away from him,' I said, and capped the mascara.

She giggled. 'Then how can I get him to like me?'

'You just said you didn't want to attract boys,' I pointed out.

She shrugged again, still standing there twirling back and forth on her heels. 'I guess I don't.'

I turned round and kissed her head. 'They'll come after you soon enough,' I said. 'Don't change yourself. No reason to be impatient.' And I went out to my room to finish getting dressed.

She-- of course-- followed me. I put on the skirt first and then pulled up the tights; it was tidier. Lisa watched me and then said, 'Why do you wear high heels?'

'Oh,' I said, 'these aren't so high.' They're about 2-1/4"-- I actually measured them once.

'Mummy wears them because she's so short,' Lisa said. 'But you're not short.'

I shrugged. 'I'm about average.' Then I looked at her, leaning on the side of my bed with one arm gazing up at me. 'Most girls are about the same height as me.'

'If they're all the same, how come you have to wear high heels?'

Where does she get this? I smiled a little, though it was almost uncomfortable being grilled on stupid feminine-wiles stuff by a 5-year-old. 'I always feel better in heels,' I said. 'So does your mummy. I feel serious, like I have important stuff to do. Also they help your legs. They actually keep them lean and tight and make you look better.'

Lisa was nodding. She had got that-- a little too well. 'So you want to look nice for the boys?'

I laughed. 'Will you stop about the boys?'

She giggled. Then she got suddenly shy again. 'Mummy says I can't wear them till I'm bigger.'

'I should hope not,' I said.

'She says I can't have toe shoes either.'

'No, not till your feet are grown more.'

'I want to learn pointe,' she said.

I smiled at her. 'You will.'

She smiled at me too. 'You did,' she said. 'Mummy says you were really good.'

'Hey! Maybe I still am.'

'Maybe you should dance more now,' Lisa said, 'so I can see you.'

I looked at myself in the mirror-- hair in place, sweater even all round, skirt patted down, tights smooth. 'You would like that?' She nodded eagerly. 'Well,' I said, 'maybe I just will.'

Lisa beamed at me and then I collected my purse and we went out. Down in the front hall Mother scooped up Lisa for a hug and then kissed me too. Jessy descended, nearly late as usual. 'About time, princess,' I teased.

Lisa laughed, and Mother put her down. 'When can I get a ride to school with you guys?' Lisa asked.

'Some day when you have school and we don't,' I said. 'We have to leave earlier.'

Jessy bent and kissed Lisa's head too. 'We have standardised tests at some point, and the schedule goes all wack. Maybe then.'

I nodded. 'Maybe then.' I opened the door. It was brittle outside, dry-- for the moment-- and slightly overcast, with a good wind blowing right at us. This house really is on the property backwards, as Daddy has said.

'Bye,' Lisa called, and that made us each turn round and give her a hug and a kiss.

'Bye-bye, sweetheart,' I said closely to her. 'You are a good little sister.'

She beamed at that, as she does, smiling up shyly at me as though to say, 'What? --little old me?' She really is a charmer like that.

'Did she invade you?' Jessy asked as we stepped down to the car. 'I wasn't exactly able to let her in.'

I nodded. 'I don't mind her.'

'No... and she adores you.'

'She adores you too.'

Jessy smiled. We got in and seated ourselves. 'But you're her role model,' she said. 'I'm just a playmate. I indulge her. But she watches everything you do, you know. She absolutely worships you.'

I started the motor. 'Well I don't know about that. She did interrogate me pretty well about makeup and high heels.'

Jessy laughed. 'She would! What did she say?'

'Only that for someone who says she's not trying to attract boys, I'm a hypocrite for trying to make myself look good for them.'

We both laughed then. 'Well, it's true!'

'I know. But it's like too far beyond her. She doesn't get that from Mother. Mother doesn't talk to her about boys. And she sure hasn't taught her to recognise hypocrisy. I just can't imagine where she gets it from.'

'Can't you?'

I looked at her as I reversed out of the yard, and Jessy only smiled sweetly at me.


07 January 2009

I am sick

Wednesday 7 January 2009

This is a poem my stepmother wrote when she was 15 and staying with us as an exchange student. She had been sick for about three days-- blaming it on this weird American climate, I am sure! --and being the genius that she is she was able to depict the mad delirium of a high fever with a such wonder and compassion that anyone can feel her sense of utter helplessness... 'an intelligent being laid low in infirmity'.

I was of course by no means as sick as this yesterday (just had a tummy-ache and sleeping most of the day helped) but I think of this poem often and thought I might share it in my blog.


Lewes, Delaware
24-26 September 1997

I am sick.

Deprived of energy, devoid of strength, depraved of will,
enveloped in the strange world of the fever
where temperature
and density
and thirst
and aches throughout my body
are all my sensation.

Eyes water,
with a stinging sadness;
I weep for pain, or to relieve pain, I know not;
so I shut them:
I see not.

Ears rumble,
thick and loud like thunder upon my head;
and so I ignore everything:
I hear not.

Mouth burns,
with a hot anxious constriction,
every swallow a briar down my throat;
and so I dare not part my lips:
I speak not.

I know nothing, feel nothing, want nothing,
but from within.

I rest.

Stretched upon this couch with hands crossed above my chest,
like a Queen in state,
dead to the world behind the rosecoloured glasses
of my mad mind's eye.

My head spins,
slow, dull spirals downward, ever downward,
with no end in sight.

Unworldly thoughts drift by,
like vagrants from the city street
with nowhere to call home
but the vague recesses of my mind
where they beck and call to me,
nagging, nagging, nagging,
for answers I cannot provide
like strange alien torture
to an intelligent being
unused to grave weakness
laid low in involuntary infirmity.

When I am strong enough to reply
they will be gone,
unanswered, eternally a mystery
why they ever appeared and posed a question.

That they would be gone,
I try to imagine things of my own will
as if to show my waylaid mind
that I still have control.

But my will is but a page
against the army of my sickness.

Little girls run hand-in-hand to the beach:
their vivid colours searing in my sight,
their bright voices piercing in my ears,
their happiness incomprehensible.

What girls?
What beach? What colours? What words?

Boys hang a swing in a tree,
dangling daringly above the ground
like dauntless acrobats,
dizzying to me,
frightening to me.

What boys? What tree? What swing?
Is it sunny? Cloudy? Cold? Warm?
Day? Night? Dream? Reality?

Angry, I demand an image
of the swells of the sea
rising and falling with animate regularity,
that it might be a lovely vision of contentment.

But not for me.

What sea? What colour?
What weather-- sunny, hot, cold, wind, calm, rain, day, night?
Am I afraid or at ease?
Am I happy or sad?
Do I swim or sail?
Would I drown? Would I care?

Can I ever know rest with these questions in my head?

For the first time in my life
I take sleeping-tablets
and worry that I have taken too much
and that the last tenants of my mind
are these wild tortured contrivances of my madness.

I sleep.

Still they will not leave me,
haunting my repose
like pins and needles upon the receptors of my brain
nagging me, nagging me, nagging me
that they have required my soul
at a cost too dear
to make Death itself look awful to me.

Eternal sleep:
would that it might overwhelm me!
like a kind dream
in which I know no sickness, no weakness, no madness,
only sleep, beautiful sleep,
floating upon some buoyant bright cloud
while all the saints smile and whisper,
'Isn't she content?'

There I might know no weakness or infirmity,
no sensations,
not even my own mind,
only peace.

I wake.

Joyful sunlight bounces in the windows;
I hear the cheers of the sea-birds
and the gay whistle of the kettle
and I embrace the loving scent of soup on the cooker.

I am warm-- nay, hot,
and toss back the coffin of my blanket,
drained, but refreshed
despite the soilies so vile upon my body
and the knots of my hair resisting my hand's tenuous rake.

Sweat clings like some horrid vine about my skin
but I can sense it
and dislike it
and know it for what it is,
the last vestige of my illness,
that mad mindless state
in which I lay for three days' fast
like a forgotten doll upon the couch.

I wonder what I have missed of the world
and then, care not
for I have survived,
and can face anything now
that I have my mind again.


How Daddy got his boat back

Tuesday 6 January 2009

This afternoon Roger, our driver, pulled in to the yard with his classic Chevy Suburban towing a trailer with a faded blue-and-white speedboat on it. It was one of the few times I have ever heard my father scream spontaneously. I had been feeling under the weather and had said I would lie down but I ended up reading and so I heard him cry out down stairs. And naturally I-- as well as everyone else-- ran down to see what had excited him.

The boat is a 1976 Sidewinder fibreglass speedboat, 18 feet long, metallic silver blue (same colour as my car) with a white flame design on the front, with bucket seats in the middle and a bench seat across the back in white upholstery and a big engine in the back with a water-jet drive behind it. My dad got it in about 1979 after they had made a few hit records and the previous owner had blown up the motor (it happens). At that time he had a big convertible Buick and decided to put a Buick engine into the boat. He used it often on Barnegat Bay till that fateful year... and after his fiancee died and he left the country for a while the boat sat forlorn and forgotten on a trailer at the band's beach house till the band was dissolved and so many important things were being considered that really made the boat seem unimportant. By the time he got back from London the beach house had been sold with a lot of other stuff, including the boat and its trailer. Daddy went on with his life, met Mommy, got married, had a custom 34-foot sailboat built for Delaware Bay, and the speedboat only remained in his memories, along with his fiancee with whom he had enjoyed the boat and all the hopes and dreams they had for a future that never happened. Knowing Daddy he has been hanging onto those memories, maybe only for himself, because he is the only one alive for whom they still even exist at all.

As it turns out the boat was bought by someone who actually took care of it, an older man in the military who eventually died, or went to Southeast Asia (there are two versions of the story). This next owner let the boat sit for another long period, unused, till a much younger guy bought it and used it for a short while up in New York State. I do not remember how the boat came to be up there. It sat in a shed or a garage for another half-dozen years and finally someone's mother, or wife, offered it up for sale at an antiques auction up there. And someone from northern New Jersey bought and brought it back to its home state. (I am sure none of these people were aware of who once owned it.) This last owner is a friend of one of Roger's friends and Roger happened to hear that he might want to sell it. On a chance that it might turn out to be the very boat it actually turned out to be, Roger drove all the way up to Bergen County this past weekend and brought it home for Daddy.

Now Roger has been in the classic-cars business for longer than he has worked for Daddy, going back to about the same time as when Daddy bought the speedboat to begin with. So Roger knew the boat long ago, and he recognised it at first glance this past weekend. I do not know how much he paid for it, but the boat seems to be in surprisingly good condition. It has never been repainted. The upholstery on the front seats has been mended but the back seat is original (to when Daddy got it). It is even still on the original trailer (the tyres are much newer however). Best of all the engine still runs. The big Buick v-8 is one of Daddy's favourite engines-- he has several in his collection now-- and part of the reason is its durability and longevity.

Once he got over his initial shock (though he and Roger are very close I have never seen Daddy actually HUG him before!) the two of them-- and Jessy, who was feeling better than I was-- rolled the boat on its trailer into the long garage and hooked up a hose for cooling water and a newer battery for starting and got it running straight away. In spite of the light, somewhat nasty little drizzle, they left the roll-up door open and all through the house you could hear the musical blare of those wide-open exhaust pipes like a military fanfare. I stood in the kitchen leaning over the sink to see out the window, watching water run all over the tarmac and the occasional puff of smoke float out the doorway. Daddy was like a little kid with a new set of trains (and yes, he does have trains too) and didn't seem to want to shut it down. It was fully dark and fully raining by the time they brought down the door and came up for supper.

'Well?' I asked at the table. 'What's the verdict?'

He smiled. 'Well, it's still holding pretty good compression and the top end doesn't make too much noise.'

I frowned at that and Jessy laughed. 'Is it bad enough to rebuild it first?' she asked him.

I frowned again. 'Nah,' he said. 'A can of Marvel Mystery Oil should give it a few more seasons.'

(I still don't know what's so special about Marvel Mystery Oil, but I have heard him say that so many times I probably should.)

Though I am still typing this I got ready for bed about an hour ago, just after I came back up stairs. At 11.00 I had been in the kitchen getting a glass of cranberry juice when I saw the light on down in the back garage. No, I did not have to ask-- I know my daddy well enough. Even as I stood there he stepped backwards out the open garage door, stood there in the rain staring back at it, and then finally said some gentle comment at his fibreglass prodigal child before bringing down the door.


Strange blog quiz

Monday 5 January 2009

I was browsing other people on Blogger and found this bizarre quiz posted on someone's blog. I don't know her yet but I will contact her soon-- as soon as I post my answers to it! (Thanks, Jill!)

Here goes--


Q: If you were stranded on an island, name 4 friends you would bring--
A: Why would I want to bring my friends along to suffer with me? Oh, but if there was a lot of food, cold drink, and room to play games there, I would bring Becky, Rita, Catherine, and does my sister Jessy count?

Q:If you only had 3 days left to live, what would you do?
A: I would visit everyone I know to tell them all how much I love them. Then, I would thank God.

Q:If you could beat the snot out of anyone on earth, who would it be?
A: Pedro

Q:If you could increase one of your senses, which one would it be?
A: Sight-- I hate wearing glasses.

Q:If you could meet anyone alive today, who would it be?
A: The Dalai Lama... really.

Q:If you were forced to either have sex with a squirrel or have sex with a turkey, which would you pick?
A: This is a really dumb question. I don't think either one of them would actually do anything but annoy me. (Does anyone have a real answer to this one?)

Q:Do you believe in God?
A: Absolutely.

Q:Do you know a girl who has sex so much, she is infamous for it?
A: No, not really, but I know a few boys that (claim that they) do.

Q:Do you know anyone that looks like a celebrity?
A: We have a neighbour who looks like actor James Cromwell, the farmer from 'Babe'. I have met a guy who looks a lot like Ringo Starr. And then of course my dad looks like my dad.


02 January 2009


Friday 2 January 2009

I was online this morning... this after being online late last night... after having been up late the night before which was New Year's Eve... and so I have got completely off my schedule. I ate breakfast in my room and then decided to have a bath and get out of this house, go somewhere, do something, even just have a ride down the coast or across to the bayside or anything. So I had a nice warm bath in my bathroom here, soaking in hot water and staring out at the greying sky till when I got out I noticed it was snowing. Yes-- there out on the bay, between us and the barrier island, light white flakes are blowing round in the air.

I wrapped in a towel and went out to the gallery where I could look westwards-- and yes, there I saw even more of it, nearly obscuring the road from my view. 'Grrr!' I said to myself.

Jessy came round the corner then, in her long navy-blue robe, and high-heeled slippers-- and probably nothing else! --and heard me. 'What are you "grrr'ing" about?'

I pointed, still clinging to the towel. 'Look at it.'

She looked out the window with me and nodded. 'Janine, this was forecast for today.'

I stamped my foot. 'I wanted to go out!'

'And do what? Look, Daddy's back, and Josie's coming over, and we're going to play Apples. That is, if you are.'

I nodded, reluctantly. Oh, I love playing Apples to Apples. It's always fun. And Mother will make hot cocoa and we will all sit in the kitchen with a fire, we elders playing Apples to Apples and the little ones playing whatever else on the floor. It's what we're best at as a family. But I have been in this house since we went to the movie last week and it gets a little stifling.

Oh, I don't really mean that. Back 250 years ago, playing something like Apples to Apples was typical. I would have been staying inside most of a winter, doing laundry (by hand), baking (all day), sewing (for charity), and reading (when permitted to). I would have been wearing much more clothing than I usually do here and taking it off much less often and having a nice warm bath maybe once a month-- if it was warm enough-- and not once a day. And all my other prospects-- like about dating, which was only for the purpose of finding a husband-- would depend on the weather and my father's inclinations and the available guys in the neighbourhood or at church. A girl my age lived for a dance once or twice a year-- it was the only other social life any of us would have had. Everything else revolved round the family.

And so I really can't complain about having to stay in with my family. They accept me for everything that I am and never judge me. And they are interesting and amusing and intelligent and supportive. I mean, I could have much worse company. And so I guess I will go down stairs and play Apples to Apples with them all. Or... now that Jessy's friend Josie is here taking refuge from the snow too, maybe I will stay up here online. Hmmm.


01 January 2009

Welcome 2009

For New Year's Eve we had intended to be in New Jersey at the house on the beach there but two things intervened. The first was that my nieces and nephews have got sick and we were asked to postpone our visit till this weekend. The second was that Daddy would not be allowed to set off firecrackers-- at least not legally. So, we would be here.

Jessy was on her phone all day Wednesday hoping to find a party to go to. In the end Daddy decided he would not drive her home too late at night and would only let her accept invitations to a party at a female friend's house where there would be parents home all night and she could stay over. None was forthcoming. We would be staying here. Normally this is not a problem as we have had New Year's Eves in the past in which we just sat round looking at old home videos of us or of Lisa or of Daddy's oldest family movies on DVD or even some of Mommy. Of course there are also videos of his band-- well, either of his bands-- and plenty of other things including the 18th-century-style wedding he and Mother had, and so on. For some reason New Year's always makes us all sort of pull back and stay close. I don't think that's a bad thing at all, and it sure beats a party full of drunk people whom you can't trust two minutes past midnight.

We ended up each inviting a friend. I invited Becky whom I met on the first day or two of school here. We have always got on well and she is not dating anyone either. She's not the most sociable person in school, meaning that she doesn't go out much at al unless she's invited, which rarely if ever happens. I feel sorry for her sometimes, but as I have got to know her I respect and love her more and more. It's just a shame that a pleasant-looking, morally decent, intelligent girl is so unpopular. In that way we both have something on common. Neither of us will yield on our principles and so we each end up on our own most of the time. So she was a natural choice for me to invite and I am happy she was able to come over.

Jessy invited Rita-- yes, pretty, uberpopular Rita who was somewhat wary of the parties she had got invited to. I don't like to admit it but this is probably the influence Jessy, and even I, have had on her. Last year Rita would have gone to any party and braved the 'elements', if you will, for the sake of cultivating a reputation of being admired and desired. This year she is more selective. An invitation from Jessy to just come to our house, hang out, and stay over till after pancakes for brunch was exactly what she had hoped for. And so it was settled.

Becky got here first because she has her own car. I put her bag in my room-- that would be the easiest solution. Mother and Lisa and J.J. were all in the small parlour reading and Daddy was sitting in the kitchen beating the dickens out of a new set of strings, as he says playing hard is the only way to break them in. When Becky and I came in he put down the guitar and was all politeness... as usual. He really does like to make a good impression on our friends. Becky knows enough about him as my dad that she is no longer awed by who he is, or, I might say, who her parents know he was. He got us each a glass of (low-alcoholic) eggnog and we talked about how our Christmases have been. We never get that much for Christmas-- not like new cars or computers or diamond jewelry, you know, just whatever we happen to need and at least some of the stuff on our Christmas lists. I know people like Becky often assume we are these hyper-rich people who jet all over the world. The reality is that Daddy pays himself a very modest 'allowance' from his investments and we live within those means. That means we girls get the same speeches about money that anyone else would. As for myself I am glad of it. I would NOT want to have an unlimited budget for all the world (I guess that is an ironic or stupid figure of speech to use for it! --but there it is).

Rita's mother dropped her off at about 9.30 and we watched 'Ten Things I Hate About You' (Jessy's choice) in the TV theatre down stairs. Daddy came down with us and Mother did too after tucking in J.J. Lisa tried staying up but fell asleep in Daddy's lap and he carried her up stairs. Meanwhile through all this a storm was blowing through. Our uncle in New Jersey had phoned earlier reporting that they had had snow. The wind built through the night till it was howling and pretty scary. By 11.45 we were all convinced that we would NOT go outside and set off fireworks. Other people did, though-- we could hear them all over the place. We watched the ball drop on Times Square and the stupid comments of Hilary Clinton and the Jonas Brothers. I said it was pretty banal. Becky asked if we had ever been to Time Square for New Year's. I said, 'No.'

Daddy laughed. 'I have,' he said.'

'But that's ancient history,' I teased him.

'London was better,' he said, and then smiled at me.

'London?' she wondered.

'Yes,' I said. 'We were there for the Millennium.'

'Really! That big party they had there?'

I nodded. So she had us tell her all about that. I was only little then, of course, but I remember Daddy being on TV and people like Elton John and Richard Branson speaking there. There was also a concert one night which we also attended. Daddy got out some old photos on DVD and we watched them on the big screen. After that we watched 'She's The Man' (Jessy's choice again, getting us ready to act in 'Twelfth Night' by choosing all the Shakespeare adaptations she can find).

So it was nearly 3.00 by the time we all tromped up stairs. Rita was to stay with Jessy and Becky would stay with me. I've had other people in my bed before-- always friends, you know, or sisters-- hah!-- and although it always sounds like it'd be awkward it really never is. Becky wore sweats to bed, same as I do when it's cold, and we faced each other over the gap between the pillows talking till we both fell asleep. Actually I was grateful for her being under the same covers. It was a brittle cold night that was passed most comfortably and warmly because she was there.

In the morning none of us got up before 11.00. I suppose this is typical. Perhaps not surprisingly, Rita was the latest sleeper. I suppose she would have had to be the only one of us more pampered and self-indulgent than Jessy! Mother made pancakes as promised and one-by-one we excused ourselves to shower. I know some people find it awkward to shower at someone else's house, but I rather insisted that both girls have showers here, just out of being a good hostess. I know how it feels to forego it. So they both did (not at the same time). Becky had hers in my bathroom, which she already likes because it has a view of the bay and the islands and the ocean beyond. She says I am the only one she knows with a bathroom with a view!

I actually napped this afternoon before writing this. Daddy was watching the Concert for George down stairs and I sat down there and watched that for a bit-- till of course he got out the guitar again to play along with it and then I came back up stairs and got ready for bed.

So, there were no wild parties, no excessive drinking (just our eggnog and the usual glasses of champagne at midnight), no making out on couches or strange boys' beds and no driving home amidst all the drunk drivers. And no firecrackers... though there might have been. Not very exciting I am sure-- but pleasant all round, with a nice chance to further cement friendships.