Friday, June 15, 2007

Chapter Twenty-One: Falling Apart at the Seems

After the phone call with Ethan, Compass rallied her troops. Both of them.

Todd and Mark were edgily OK with each other – Mark had the straight boy’s discomfort of hanging out with a gay man who he suspected of being attracted to him; Todd was simultaneously annoyed and amused by this, and he kept subtly flirting with Mark until Compass told him to stop it.

She provided tea and shortbread cookies. Todd brought margarita mix and a blender. The tea slowly grew cold, swaddled as it was in the hideous, knitted scarf a former student had made for her and which served as a cozy. It was fairly late when they met up, all had work to go to tomorrow, but they drank margaritas and small-talked until it was very late and they were drunk enough to big-talk.

Compass gave them a quick and rather less polished version of Amelia Hines and her cursed emerald (in her head, Compass couldn’t stop pronouncing it curse-ed), rounding the story off with the Big Truth: “My dad stayed with my mom because she was his insurance policy against the curse of the emerald. I was born because I was her insurance against him. My father’s mother died when he was just a kid, and I guess it devastated his family – he wouldn’t leave his own child motherless. Particularly as he wasn’t about to take over raising me himself. As long as there was a me, he wouldn’t go after her.”

“So what’s different now?” Mark slouched on the couch, his head lolling on the back. Todd dangled a shortbread cookie over Mark’s mouth which Mark gracelessly swatted away.

“Well, lots of things seem to be colliding, as far as I can figure,” said Compass. “I can’t quite figure out what was the tipping point here. First, Todd figures out that I’m not my father’s daughter after all. He has since confessed to accidentally tipping mom off to my new information and indignation,” and here she reached over to swat at Todd herself. “Mom hightails it to points European, where she finds Ethan and communicates to him that I am hot on the trail of the other half of my DNA. Which I’m not, actually; I just have some questions that Mina would rather not answer.”

“So we’re in mortal danger, and it’s all my fault. Gosh, I’m powerful.” Todd stretched out on the floor, rolled over onto his stomach. “I can’t believe she didn’t just lie to you. It’s not like she’s never lied before. Why not just tell you she went to a sperm bank or something?”

“Right. Because she was so desperate to be a mother? Please. Gerbils who eat their young show more maternal compassion. And what do you mean she’s lied to me before?”

“Well, there’s the whole ‘you know that guy under the garbage truck? Yeah, that was your dad.’ Pretty convenient, him getting squished.”

“Todd, come on. He may not have been her father, but he was an actual person,” Mark said.

“We have only Mina’s word for it. And Mina’s word is usually ‘shit,’ if you catch my clever double meaning there.” He gave Mark a long, slow wink, but by this point, Mark was tequila- and exposure-innoculated against Todd’s attempts to unsettle him.

“He has a point, Compass,” said Mark. “Was there ever actually a Jeremy Jones? Is there a gravestone? Pictures? Paperwork?”

Compass thought back, as far as her tequila-addled brain would allow. “Nooooooo . . . I mean, I was told there was, but I never actually saw any of that. In those boxes, there was one picture of a man identified as ‘Jeremy,’ and in that letter to my mom, my dad refers to a ‘baboon’ – or was it ‘buffoon’? – my mother married. But she could have lied to him too, I guess. There were sympathy cards, but no personal messages. Just signatures, on every one. I thought that was a little weird.”

“No grandparents, no aunts or uncles, nobody showing up claiming kinship?” Mark asked.

“Not on that side of the family, anyway.”

“Speaking of family, have you heard from Granny and Gramps?” Todd poured himself the dregs of the last pitcher of margaritas.

“I called and left a message that Mom was home and I’d moved out. They haven’t called back.” Compass shuffled into the kitchen and retrieved an almost-full bottle of cheap white wine and the last of the tequila.

“Wow. Seriously, that’s impressive. She invented an entire history and managed to get everyone to believe it,” said Mark.

“Until now,” Todd said. “Now it’s unraveling like an ugly knitted scarf doubling as a tea cozy.”

“Well, Ethan did say mom spent her time at the Museum making up stories to tell her tour groups.”

Lettuce and Lovage.”


Todd chuckled a little. “Sorry, my gay is showing. It’s a play by Peter Shaffer about a woman tour guide who makes up stuff. Or she tells the ruder stuff they’re not supposed to tell, I can’t remember.”

“Do you suppose any of this is real?” Compass lay flat on the floor, an invitation to her two cats to come pile on top of her, which they promptly did. When she next spoke, she risked a hairball, but spoke, muffled, anyway. “Is my mom a character in a play, and all of this is an elaborate ruse to make me nuts?”

“Sweetie, tangled hangers make you nuts. If making you nuts is the goal, there are much cheaper, easier ways of going about it.”

Compass stopped petting a cat to flip Todd off, an act which annoyed the cat far more than it annoyed Todd.

“Could we please continue with the schedule of events here? Your mom takes off for Europe, why does she contact Ethan? Maybe she thought he would know where Oliver is?” Mark closed his eyes. “I just don’t get why she would tip her hand that way. You have no way of finding your father without her help, she has no intention of helping you, end of story. There was no reason to drag in the Euro-contingent, was there?”

“Well, there’s still the question of the emerald,” said Todd.

“Right, but as far as we know, he hasn’t been asking for it,” said Compass. “And is it odd that, after 39 years, suddenly my grandparents appear on the scene? I mean, us finding out about each other looked coincidental and good-timingy, but might it have been according to someone’s Grand Design?”

“Whose? Not Mina’s, surely,” said Mark.

“Maybe she’s tired of keeping secrets?” said Compass. Both men gave her looks before all three of them started barking with laughter. Tequila- and sleeplack-fueled, the laughter took some time to moderate to chuckles, then to sporadic snorts. “Sorry,” Compass said, when her lungs had re-inflated. “I knew how stupid that was, but I couldn’t stop it.”

“Do you suppose only straight men can’t own it?” Todd was musing. Chin on hand, elbow on floor, a position ripe for late-night musing. “Or does the curse apply to anything with a penis? Or formerly with a penis? How LBGT-friendly is this emerald?”

“Why would anyone want it? It’s not like you could sell it. I mean, wouldn’t it be identified pretty easily?” asked Compass.

“There are a lot of shady collectors out there,” said Mark. “People who covet rare objects just to own them, even if they can’t display them. The thrill of possessing something that’s one-of-a-kind, I suppose. Lots of people own paintings they know were stolen by the Nazis, but they just quietly keep them. Beautiful, valuable things can make people really stupid.”

“And therein lies the secret to Mina’s success,” said Compass.

“To Mina’s success!” said Mark, and they all raised their glasses.

“So these elderly folk seemed grandparenty?” asked Todd.

“They did,” Compass confirmed, nodding as best she could with a cat on her face.

“And the British chap seemed on-the-level?”

“He did, indeed,” said Compass.

“The story of the gem-laden dragonflies, seems, crazy as it is, to have a ring of truth?”

“So it seems,” said Compass.

“That there, little lady, is a lot of ‘seems’,” said Todd.

“I know,” Compass sighed. “My life is falling apart at the seems.”

Mark had been holding his liquor pretty well up to the last toast, but suddenly he seemed all-over sloppy drunk. “You know,” he mumbled at Todd, “you don’t seem gay. I mean gay in the ster- steroi- stereotypish sense.”

“Too butch?”

“No, just not . . . frilly.”

“It’s all the rage now,” said Todd, “this manliness shtick we’re on.” He sighed. “Whatever happened to fey ways?”

That set them all off giggling again, and Compass had to admit that they were too punch-drunk (and actual-drunk) to get any further tonight. She managed to cobble together enough extra pillows and blankets for her guests, and she bedded them down in the living room – Todd on the couch, Mark on the floor. Compass was still pretty wired, so she booted up her computer and wrote more notes until she unwound enough to fall asleep. When she checked in on the boys, each was asleep and snoring, each with a cat draped somewhere across them.

Count your blessings, she told herself, though she didn’t believe in blessings so much as in blind luck. Still, it didn’t hurt to remember to be grateful for the good stuff once in awhile. “One, two, three, four.” She pointed to all the living things in her living room, then shut off the light and went to bed.


Ash said...

Yay! A new post! Way to make my Friday even better! I love the line about the gerbil. :) More please!

NuclearToast said...

Oooh, I'd forgotten about the grandparents. I got so caught up in the dragonflies and the emerald...

Ash said...

Remember - you promised another chapter next week! :)

Ash said...

I am not going to forget your promise!

Ash said...

P.S. I feel like a blog stalker.