“What on God’s green earth were you thinking?” Kay asked while spinning the tip of her cigarette along the inside contour of the ashtray.
“I have no idea. I swear, none.” was the answer she received.
“Communal living, Corinne? What about your VO5? I can’t imagine you without your tube of VO5!” she burst out, laughing, chuckling away.
“Alright, K, I get it. Okay, that’s very funny. I’m glad you find this so amusing but I didn’t know what he had in mind. I thought we were going to visit his family’s cabin in the mountains. His story changed on the way up there. It got weird, kind of scary. There was something familiar about the idea I couldn’t shake. It’s hard to put a finger on.”
“Well, Jesus Christ, don’t let Hollis find out. Whatever you do, C. Don’t let him know. He hates that little shit already. If it ever gets out that Ocean is trying to relocate you, and in with a bunch of hippies, it’s over. As in a doornail.” she then paused briefly and continued in a throwaway manner. “The old man just might drown him before the big day anyhow.”
They’d already had this discussion. So why hit on it all over again? Just because of the anomaly in the woods? Corinne was only gone one week and came back no worse for wear. Not much, considering. The sisters weren’t likely to agree on this matter anytime soon.
Kay switched ears while waiting for C’s response, despite the odds of getting one. It took a few moments to untangle the curly cord by candlelight. She arranged a few items on the table before her.
“K, I need your support on this.” Corinne said after the break. She picked up her coffee cup only to set it back down in earnest anticipation.
“I think you’re really honestly nuts, but … okay.”
“Do you? Do you, K?”
There was silence. An itsy crinkle came from Corinne who removed the cellophane wrapper from her pack of cigarettes. She fished one out, got it going and exhaled.
“And never breathe a single word to Mom!” Corinne chimed in, knowing this would give her big sister another start.
Kay jumped right on with a reply because she did indeed know what Corinne was getting at. It’d remained somewhat unresolved even though more than 18 months had passed, making it an ongoing irritation between them.
“I promise! I won’t! How was I to know those weren’t tomato plants growing in your backyard? How was I supposed to know THAT?”
“Gosh-all, K. Couldn’t you have come to me first? Remember, ‘Mums to Mom’.”
“How was I to know? I thought they were the biggest goddamn tomato plants in the whole world. I was excited! I pictured you winning the agricultural prize at County Fair ‘68!”
“Well, they sure as hell weren’t tomato plants and Mom couldn’t wait to ask ‘Harrowing Hollis’ what Gerald had going on back there. She just couldn’t WAIT.”
“HaHa! Oh, god! I imagined she might die that day. I really did, C.”
“I know. And that’s what finally broke Gerry and me. There wasn’t any way he could handle Mom’s disapproval of him.” Corinne then dreamt back to a different time, wondering why Stepfather always needed to go so far. “You know, when I think about it? I kind of died a little that day, too.”
“Hollis had to do it. Right, C? You know he did. Gerry couldn’t be around the kids, not while smoking that stuff.”
“I used to believe that too, K. I’d been convinced of it. But it doesn’t seem to be the real problem. Not at all.”
She followed with a drag off her cigarette and continued.
“I could always tell, you know? When he’d come in from the garage with that skunk all around him, he had a look. He went a little cross-eyed. His one eye drifted around. Zany!”
“Oooh! How he made me laugh, C, and Mom, too! She loves Gerry. She really does love him.”
“I know she does. What’s not to love? That guy. He almost won over the old man. He’s the only one who’s even come close.”
“Yeah, C. I think you might be right.”
“It would be nice to be right about something.”
There was another long pause and then a sound of rattling and muffled curses came to Corinne through the receiver. She heard something drop and make a noise like it was being dragged across the floor. Corinne pulled the phone away from her ear and looked into the end of it as if she could see right through it into what was happening.
“Phew, I’m okay! I thought I locked myself in the closet again.” said K.
“K, are you hiding in the closet, again? Corinne asked.
“I have to! Well, I guess I do? It never does any good. Never did. David knows I’m in here. I don’t know why I do it!”
“Just out of harm’s way?”
“A delay at best … old habits.”
Corinne took a moment as an image slipped beyond reach.
“Tell me you don’t have the card table set up in there?”
“Well, yes. Of course, I do. That’s where I put all of my stuff while I talk to you.”
“I can’t believe they think I’m the crazy one.”
“You know what? David caught me smoking in here again the other day, but he didn’t just catch me, he heard me scratching at the door and pressed his ear right against it. I could see the shadow of his feet at the bottom crack and he was sniffing all around. He knew I had locked myself in even though I went completely still and pretended I wasn’t there. Then he just left me in here for a full hour before opening up! He says he’s going to divorce me over it! Can you believe that? He’s trying to get me into juicing carrots and says he knows a manicurist who can start a yogic trance to cure me. I honestly don’t know what to say about THAT?”
“Maybe we should introduce him to Gerry’s prize winning tomato plants?”
“Ha! He could use a stiff drink!”
“… and then leave HIM scratching at the closet door!”
There was a new pause, one without a whit of tension.
“Hey listen, C. Maybe we’ll go out later? Just us.”
“Call me back in awhile. And listen, seriously, never a word to Mom.”
“Not even if Jesus commanded it, C.”
“What’s with all this Jesus talk?”
“I don’t know. It’s suppose to help, right?
“Never. It never once helped.” Corinne released as the shards of memory assembled into their childhood mantra.
Never-Never – never a word
“C, what is it? You okay?”
“It’s just. I suddenly recall why I’m frightened. We had our trips to the woods. Am I wrong, K?”
“The old man always did for his girls.”
“Only we would know.”
“Hey. At least you escaped the commune.”
“K, were you born this hysterical?”
“Of course not, every bit of it was earned.”
“Yeah, every lousy bit.”
“Hang on, sister.”
“You, too. Hang on, sister.”