Those were hot days! Yes! Hot days when it all began!
Dinah owned a fixer-upper in the center of town, only two blocks away from my house, only five blocks away from the methadone clinic! Five blocks; count: My thumb is one, my pointer finger is two. Saint Street is three which is my middle finger. My ring finger is ... FOUR! That is Diamond Road. Then there is that one ... that damn trafficy street that runs westerly. Juniper! And the clinic is on a cross street there! That's why I'm wiggling my pinky, see. Because this is where it is!
Do you like my fingernails? Ha! This color is called, "Rouge Vibration". Doesn't that name just make you wanna go out and SHAKE IT?! And this here is my wedding band from my second husband, Jerald. He passed away six years ago when he was sixty-four. I've outlived him by three years so far, and I love every day of it.
Pretty little ring, isn't it? It's fourteen-Karat gold it is.
So, to continue, this house was the first one that Dinah ever owned! She was not a rich girl prior to inheriting a handsome sum when her father passed away unexpectedly due to a doctor's negligent! prescription of two drugs that became lethal when mixed! Yikes!
Shhh ... I should lower my voice because it upsets Dinah to hear people talking about her dad.
It's a damn pity, though.
Then, there had been the lawsuit against the BAD doctor who prescribed those LETHAL drugs! That suit went on through the winter and ended when the sun came out in May. Oh my. That's how it happened, yesserie. And it's a gosh DARN SHAME.
Dinah's mother Vivian said that since Dinah handled the whole lawsuit, they would split the settlement earnings in half. Why, Vivian wanted her daughter to have money to finish her schooling! Dinah wanted to be an accountant, she did. But instead, she took that money straight on down to sixth street and bought her the first pile of bricks she could find!
Her mother Viv and I both told her that she could afford a better house than that nasty, leaning, chipping heap of cinder on sixth street! It was A TERRIBLE MESS! Without a husband she could never fix that crumbling plaster, those rotting studs!
(Dinah would never be able to stop the growth of star thistle. Those nasty weeds! I had them in my garden and they just wouldn't go away. Pull 'em by the roots, whatever. They are always there.)
I said, "Dinah, you spend your money on a decent home for yourself!"
I'm sorry that I get a little teary eyed, but this just really upsets me. I've never been one to tolerate drugs! Or drug related issues!
Believe me! Shhh. And if I woulda known about what was going on I woulda tried to help her! So, to continue, when I told Dinah she should buy a nicer house she said, "Aunt Grettie," see, she is not really my niece, but we pretend. She said, "I'm saving my money!"
Nah! She was not.
(She was buying illegal A-m-p-h-e-t-a-m-i-n-e-s you see).
I guess, that-um, what eventually happened was that I finally wealized that Dinah was on dwugs. All sorts a ... dwugs.
I found this out by going to her home. Her, uhn, place of residence, I did. I saw her doin' em, pills mostwy. An' I didn't want to tell her mother ... her mother because Vivian had alweady lost her hubby. So, I confwonted Dinah and she said, "Gwettie, dear, dear ... dear, Aunt Gwettie. I only use them to get going on this house. Look Gwettie. Look. Look at all the things I need to do here."
So ... I still begs Dinah to stop taking Am-phe-tamines. Etamines.
I spented, spent the night with her for a week in July or August and help-ed her clean hew house. Her, ahem ... home.
But, you could hawdly talk to her.
She was so hi-gh one minute, about to paint herself into the wall, dancin' to Bethoven's fifth on her boom box, twirling and a' twitchin ... uhn ... then she'd turn awound and take a few barb-it-it-uates to balance out herself.
Sorry to keep dwifting off, but talking about his makes me weal try-ered.
Real tired. I'll tell you, there is nothing ... sadder ... than a pretty young girl laying on the carpet, her blond hair all tucked kinda beneath her. Cause she fell asleep real quick like, without energy to grab a pillow. Uhn ... then the whole day would go passin' by 'er. An' she could hardly move a limb, she slept so deepwy.
I was weal concerned, debating to tell her mother.
Can ... you hand me that pillow behind you?
Did you know that coffee was discovered when some farmers goat started eating this mysterious bean off of the tree, and then the goat just started getting all fidgety and buck feverish and he started mating like crazy with all the lady goats about a hundred times a day? Then the guy picked some for himself and noticed the rejuvenating and stimulating effect.
That's how it went!
The guy at the coffee counter told me so when I asked.
I was at this cafe waiting for Dinah's mother Vivian to meet me. I was going to tell Vivian once and for all about Dinah's habits, in the dearest hope that we could help her somehow. But those twenty-six minutes that I had to wait for Vivian to show just accumulated and made me one huge nervous wreck, besides having two mochas! Wait. No, three. Or maybe one tall and two short. I still have the receipts in my purse, I could check on these and make for certain ... yes, two tall and one short. Well, with those I felt kinda jumpY, slightly jitterY! Zow!
I wasn't an avid coffee drinker, so it hit me harder than it may hit most and my mind was VIBraTinG so furiously that I felt it would shake me right out of the seat, but it didn't!
Thank God it didn't. Save me a terrible embarrassment, all those people in the shop starring at me and pointing and laughing! My legs even trembled worse to think about it. I felt frantic, paranoid even ... like those nightmares where you go to the grocery store naked! I hate those! So I was shaking and ShaKinG and I had to use the little girls room! But I didn't want to leave the table because I thought Vivian would come in and not see me and think I left her.
Sorry that my hands are so jittery ... terrible, but I hate thinking back on this, and what's more, I hated to be the bringer of bad news! Oh, how I hate that role.
Vivian showed up late. She was all brightly dressed and she smiled so pretty, I felt even twice as bad to say anything to her when she looked so cheery. But after the waiter brought her an Earl Grey, I took her hand and told her.
Jeez that was hard. Heaven knows it was!
She even cried. Said she had suspected it.
Now, where did I set my damn coaster? Is it over there by you?
Vivian needed all sorts of help when she found out about the situation. She decided to go to her church and call upon an "intervention team". This consisted of three women who were Vivian's friends. I met with the four of them at a diner on Saturday, so we could decide what to do with Dinah. I dressed up nicely and made sure I was on my best behavior etcetera, so that the ladies wouldn't convince Vivian that I allowed Dinah to keep her habit. I was afraid for awhile that they would say it was my fault. Since I kept it a secret for so long. I felt bad about that part.
I really did.
One of the ladies, Deirdre, put her hand on my shoulder. She was the real ringleader of the whole issue. She was the real Dr. Laura of the situation, giving all of us at the dinner table teaspoon doses of morality; syrupy sort of advice.
"It's such an opprobrium. Dinah is so young. So pretty. She was going to school to become an accountant." Deidre said this as if none of us knew. And she was always using these big, fancy words. I hated that. But I guessed she was a nice person, trying to help Dinah and all.
Vivian shook her head, wiped her lips clean of salad dressing. "She quit school because of the law suit."
"Never went back?" Deidre asked.
"No," Viv said.
There was a ring of shaking heads, then sporadic tisking.
"What ever happened to her beau? Dick. Shaffer?" Deb asked.
"Oh, Dick. She broke it off when he stood her up a few times." Vivian shrugged. "I thought he was a bit trollish looking. No loss I told Dinah."
"Maybe that could have been what threw her off though," Deb said.
"Mmhmm!" Donna and Deirdre nodded their heads.
"Pre-marital sex. Gets them every time," Deirdre said, then sipped conservatively at her coffee. She blotted both sides of her mouth. Dab, dab. Dab, dab. Then she looked at me, and I sat up straighter so she wouldn't see me slouching. "Gretta, how did you find out she was using these ... narcotics?" she asked.
I shrugged a bit. "Why, she did it right in front of me."
"A cry for help!" Deb offered.
"Sickening!" Vivian said. "My poor baby."
"The Lord knows that I don't condone drug use," Deirdre added.
"I know." I said. "I feel bad that I didn't blow the whistle sooner. I just want to believe in the best in everyone. I thought she had the good sense to stop on her own."
"It's the devil who tells us to keep our secrets Gretta," Deirdre advised.
Vivian wiped at the corner of her eyes. Tears I suspect. "Damn drugs. Damn that creation to Heck," she sniffs.
"Amen, sister. Amen."
"Let's pray," Vivian says.
Everyone takes hands.
You will find these words in your dictionary if you've got one. These are two words I heard from the mouth of Deirdre herself. I didn't know what they meant until I looked em' up, but now that I am informed, they are what I have come up with to describe the church group that is supposed to be helping Dinah.
It was Tuesday, three days after the intervention meeting at the diner, and still no one had spoken to Dinah.
Vivian met with the ladies again. Each time joined by more and more members of our church. I was invited, and I went. But I quit that because it seemed to me that they just formed one large gossip circle. Dinah was no longer the only offender, but she had joined in with cheating husbands, failing students, suspected beastialitists and badly dressed women.
"... then her husband was picking up on Susan. And you had to see that Susan K Hudson was wearing a black mini-skirt on Sundays Last Supper picnic."
"Was it leather?" Vivian gasped.
"I don't know. I didn't get too close. Did you see it Gretta?"
I shrugged. "Polyester maybe."
Vivian asked me to take of my coat and join the recreation room table.
"No thanks," I said. "Can I speak with you?"
Vivian motioned for me to come to her. I did, leaning closer to catch her ear.
"Just come here and say your piece round robin," she smiled.
I hesitated, seeing all the pairs of eyeballs, you know, stuck on me. "I was over at Dinah's house last night." I whispered. "We were putting in shelf paper. I went into her drawer and ... Well. I found a hypodermic needle."
"Wha-what?! Did you take it away?"
"There were a few, actually."
"My Lord ..." Vivian paused. Deirdre scooted her chair closer. She took Viv's hand.
"What is it, hon?" she asked.
"Seems like my daughter is on the other side now, she is taking injections." Vivian made a sound, I swear to gosh, like 'boo hoo hoo'.
"Oh!" Deirdre exclaimed.
I stepped in closer. "Well we don't know what the needles are for. I mean, they were in the tool drawer," I said.
Deirdre gouged me with her eyes. "Sure Gretta. Right. I'm just sure she's using the needles to ... to water her plants," she said.
Vivian's head perked up. "She's growing plants now, too?" She asked.
Deidre sighed. "Maybe. Maybe so dear," she said.
And then they hung their heads.
Ding dong ...
When I drove over to Dinah's house on Sunday she wouldn't answer the door. I was there to pick her up for church. I knew I was there twenty minutes early, but I wanted to make certain that she was dressed nicely in case the intervention team finally decided to talk to her. I figure, a person needs some self-esteem. You know? Maybe I would curl her hair, or offer to let her borrow my aquamarine earrings.
I rang the bell for about ten minutes. I knocked until my knuckles were pink; about three dozen times. Finally, I went through a hole in the screen door near the back.
I called out her name. No answer. I found her under the ceiling fan, laying on the ground beneath, her pupils covering even the color of her eyes.
"G r e t t i e," she said, her letters all spaced out on her tongue. Her voice sounded different, a sort of muted tone.
"Lordy Lord, Dinah Christine! Get your pumps on. Put your hat on. We have fifteen minutes to service!"
"Look, G r e t t i e. If you lay like this and watch it spin, pretty soon the fan wings seem like they are still instead of moving at all. Still instead of moving 'attal. Oh, G r e t t i e. I love this feiling can. There is a rhythm it makes. BrrrbrrrBRrr. You can only hear it if you lay here. A humming sort of thump."
"Dinah Christine. What-did-you-do?" I asked.
She grinned. A far away smile that was not Dinah's. "I took a chance G r e t t i e. Took a chance that I would see something new." Dinah was in her white Sunday dress; the one with tiny rose buds all folded against the alabaster cotton. It was as though she had put it on and then just given up.
I crawled under the fan, worried that my hair spray wouldn't hold with the breeze and all. Then that thought kinda faded when I touched Dinah and she was so cold, and her arms were sort of marked up real strange like. "Oh, honey," I said.
Dinah let her eyes flicker shut, then roll awake again. "I know them ladies have been talking about me. Mom and everyone. I heard they dirty gossip, all smeared on the walls of the church. Dirty and filth."
"Perhaps they care." I said.
"You know what it's like. Grettie? Right? To hate something, but need it, too? To wanna be away from it, but then bring it into your own home?"
I looked at her face, her pretty little face. Her features so tiny and lovely, not quite like a little doll, but all American, you know. Sort of sweet. Her eyes started darting back and forth, almost a circular movement.
I looked up at the ceiling fan. She was right.
I laid back onto the rug and let my eyes follow the wings.
Psst ... can you hear it too?
Ganoobies from Ganja
Ah haaaa ...
You know what? I always hated that smarmy sort of laugh that silly people get. S-ma-rmy.
I love that word. That word makes me hungry for marshmallows. But, you know? That laugh that goes like this:
He he he. Te he.
But it didn't really sound so bad when it came out of ... Ha-ha! ... when it came out of Dinah's mouth. It sounded cute really. Cute.
So, I goes over to Viv's place of residence after that Sunday. She says, "Grettie ..." I forget. Ha! I forget exactly what she said, but it was along the lines of why wasn't I in church?
I tell her I was with Dinah. I make up some little bit about how Dinah had some flu. What kinda flu Viv wants to know. The Norwegian flu I say. Ha-haa!
She believes this and says some thing like, "Oh, golly." Then Viv asks me if I know what types of drugs Dinah is doing. I say, "well, only pills. Maybe more."
Viv's face turns all concerned like and I feel guilty down to the bone because I think to myself that she hasn't really looked happy since her hubby died. I can't relate to this.
"Grettie, can you go over and find out? I think we should tell the police. Oh, Grettie, what else can we do?"
I don't know why I agreed to do it.
When I went to Dinah's house she looked sober. She was in the back yard pulling those star thistle weeds. I told her she might as well start building a stairway to heaven. She says, or an escalator to Hell. I tell her not to say such things, but we share a brief snicker.
Dinah reaches over into her garden tool box and grabs out a pipe. She holds the lighter over the top and puffs out a bunch of smoke. I ask her, does she like tobacco now too? I tell her that it's better than the other stuff, and maybe she should just stick to cigarettes and maybe pipes. "After all, cigarettes are easy to quit once you decide you've had enough," I say.
Ha! He-he, the little child says this to me:
"Aunt Grettie, this is not tabaccie. This is Ganja."
"Jan-ha-ha? What is it?" I ask.
She tells me to smell some and puts it in my face. "Smells like skunk road kill," I tell her as I'm wavin' it outta my face.
She laughs and laughs like she's gonna lose her head. "You wanna get high?" she asks.
"I wouldn't dream of it!" I tell her this like I'm insulted she asked.
"You might as well not waste this chance, Gretta. You walk around all crazy anyhow, you and all those rubber necked little tittle-tattles. You all act like you have a case of ganoobies anyhow."
"Ganoobies?" I ask.
"Yes," she says. "It means your craaazy ..." When she says this she wiggles her fingers in front of my nose.
I notice how pink her eyes are.
... Oh, my, look how rude I'm being, going on and on about his with my mouth full. Would you like some of these Cheetos? If you don't like Cheetos I have Frosted Flakes in a jar of chunky peanut butter.
Breath in. Breath out. You feel that? That there is just pure relaxation. You like it?
You like it.
So, I went back and told Vivian not to worry about her daughter. Don't worry about a thing. Worry is for worriers, and the loving truth is that nobody wants to be worried. Purple. So let it hang down, feel this tranquility. You can't win for losing. So-why-try?
The truth also is that I felt genuinely that Dinah could stop on her own. Everything is going to work out, you know. I can feel it. A little jan-ha-ha and a couple pills never required getting the police and making a scene and maybe ruining someone's life ...
Yellow. I like this.
Vivian said, "Oh Grettie. I just don't know what to do. I feel like I'm loosing her."
It's hard to talk with Vivian sometimes because she makes no cents. No cents at all, because she doesn't feel the color queens. She goes on and on. She continues, "I can't go to her house because it's against God's will for me to be seeing that kind of thing. And that God awful house, it is such a mess. I haven't even talked to her about her problem yet because I can't go in there. And the intervention team, well, we think it's all in the church's interest to let the family deal with this."
Blue. Light blue. Feels good.
I tell Vivian to cool out. To lie inside the covers and let the warmth (yellow) wrap her up, all cozy like. Feel like a baby on the blue breast. Float free, fall free. It's whatever, I tell her. "Whatever."
She asks me where I learn slang like 'whatever'. That it sounds uncouth. "Is it Dinah? Has she picked a bad crowd? And is she rubbing off on you?"
I don't tell Vivian that Dinah has no friends. That Dinah is into the tolerant zone and that she doesn't need folks around to pit her pipe. To snake her free bird. To rack her realism. Except for me. I'm the only person there for her who is friend. Friend is pink.
The next day I went over to Dinah's house.
(Day is infinity related to a lifetime of hourless minutes and ticking wrist-band watches headed south).
I went over to Dinah's to bring her a delicious casserole that the preachers wifey asked Vivian to give to her. Vivian left it with me and so I brought it along on this pretty road to Dinah's house. Dinah was all alone there. But when I turned on the lights I noticed the house was coming along nicely. The walls were mostly pretty. Everything was tapestried in velvet. It looked like a castle for a pretty princess. There were murals of cats and reindeer. Special things. The carpet had been cleaned (gold). Everything was sort of shiny and perfect, the way I wanted it to be for her.
Dinah was in the corner scratching gently at the wall and just smiling. Smiling like she was a Quaker feeling sang froid.
White. Bright. White.
Quakers are peaceful people who wear little bonnets and not any colors. And those cute little dolls they make that my own grandmammy used to collect, well, they have no faces. Can you imagine this? Beautiful.
When I sit down by her, Dinah says to me, "Grettie. You were always my hero."
I say, "No Dinah. Your mama is the one. I'm just Old Grettie. No more, no less. I'm just here to help out, you know. But really, I'm just a mell of a hess Dinah. This old gray mare just aint what she used to be. I want to help you, but don't know how. Alzheimer's I think."
She shook her head, then asked me did I want to shoot some? I am so thrilled to be her hero, that I hardly hear her ask me this. I just say, "nah".
But still I felt it. Yellow and warmth. Dinah slides down the wall and her smile grows all over her face. We both kinda take hands and feel amused, and let ourselves rejoice.
You know? She thinks I'm her hero. Grey haired old lady. I wear control panel, skin-tone hose on Sunday afternoons. I soak my bottom false teeth in a Dixie cup.
I'm someone's hero.
Inhaling Versus Breathing In
There is a difference you know. A very LARGE difference.
I go back to Vivian the next day, and I meet her at the same coffee shop. I tell her this:
"Vivian, I cannot allow you to call the police on Dinah until the church has intervened. I really think it's best, and it's the way our Lord wants us to work things out."
She breaks down crying and then asks, "Well, is she or isn't she? Growing plants?"
"Maybe," I shrug. "I haven't been into the cellar, so I don't know."
Vivian is silent for awhile and just let's her tears fall onto the empty table. Finally she says, "If you go to Dinah's and go into the cellar, then tell me what's down there, I will bring the church to her."
I think about this for awhile. I think someone's basement is a personal thing. Vulgar often nude-type posters, and sometimes other private things. But I agree, because after all I am Dinah's hero, and what kind of hero would I be if I didn't save her?
The man at the coffee shop comes up to our table and tells us we have to buy something or else we can't sit there. It's the same man who told me about the horny goat. He doesn't recognize me.
Vivian looks him in the eye and says, "Go to Hell."
He walks away silently, but I happen to know he's going in the wrong direction.
And I realize I should resolve this whole thing soon before Hell gets involved.
Any who ... the difference between inhaling and breathing in is substantial. Dinah explains this to me as we walk down to her cellar. I didn't ask to see the cellar, really, I swear! But when I got to her house she was going on about inhaling. She wanted to show me something, "Down here," she says.
We go down. She reaches up and grabs at a dangling cord, the light comes on and I am unimpressed. All she has in her cellar is three bottles of wine from her father's old collection, each on its side and corked. A few cans of paint, some spray laqures and house cleaning supplies stacked on a wooden bench. A few face masks and rubber gloves. It is cold.
"Well I'll be," I say. "It's small down here."
Dinah doesn't hear me. I think maybe she had already had a pill that day. She grabs a blue face mask and puts it over her mouth. She says, "First you breath in. This is when you don't have anything on the mask." She breathed in and out real quick, like a little birdy in a cats mouth, puffing and panting. Then, when she must have felt a little brainsick, she sprayed some lacquer onto the face of the mask. She is quiet as she does this.
"This is inhaling." Her voice is muffled. She sets the can down, but it falls at her feet and she stumbles back a little. Her breath becomes deep and shallow, like the pace of church music. I think she is smiling, but I can't tell. I only see thin grin-lines run from her temple into the mask. She plops onto her butt, right in the red dirt of her cellar. She lays her head down, and I worry about her hair. I pull it out from under her. She is still.
When a few minutes pass and she doesn't move, I get worried. I begin to fidget, kneel by her, touch her face and feel a warm, milky breath when I take away the mask. Then I finger her golden cross necklace, tie her shoelaces. I think about calling Viv, but then I know Viv would call the police and maybe they would take away Dinah. Well, I think since Dinah has done this before she is probably okay. Then, all of a sudden, for some reason, a scene from that kids book, you know, Alice in Wonderland comes to my mind. Lewis Carroll made this picture in my head. You know, where Alice wants to follow the white rabbit into the hole, but she is too big. I think then, that I want to follow Dinah and see where she went, but my mind won't let me shrink that low.
But finally I am itching with worry and filled up with curiosity. I grab a mask. I breath in and out quick like. That was almost enough to make me fall on the floor. I put the mask on and pick up the spray and press down the knob. It is chilly on my nose because not all of it sticks on the mask. Some of it comes through, tiny little particles of cold liquid and it clings around my mouth.
There is no Dinah here.
Just something hard which is followin' me. It has finally caught up and smacked the air out of my pipes. Then it's gone.
I feel relaxed. Scattered and re-l-axed ...
The thing I like the best about this place is the way that it never stops moving. I wonder, how will I get to Vivian's to tell her about this cellar if the walls and the sidewalks and the lawns keep moving? I finally find Vivian crawling up a stop sign. I can see her panties. She tells me she is going to church. I tell her to go to Hell.
Somewhere I hear Dinah laughing.
J is the shape that the frosty blue paint makes around each corner of my mouth. It fills in the wrinkles around my lips, and when I pull of the mask Dinah and I j-ust laugh!
I only do this with her on Saturday. I don't condone this other drug use, but this is only harmless fun, not hardly a narcotic 'attal. It is like relaxation time for me, and Dinah says if you only do it each now and then, it's fine. I only do it on Saturday. Because on Sunday I make sure I wipe of my face with a warm cloth, so that I am presentable, and so I don't go into the pews with my face looking like a molded apple half.
Do I have anything on my face? Here? Right here? Did I get it? Thanks.
"You two are keeping secrets," Vivian accuses me.
"Now just you wait one second," I say. "You ask me to go down, see her darn stinking basement. I'm telling you I don't see nothing down there. Bit of paint, bit of dust. Nothing."
"Keeping Secrets!" she insists.
I have a feeling then like Vivian has no business shaming me at all. Instead of feeling guilty like I maybe should, I feel like I have a bee in my bonnet. She has not been to see her daughter for thirty-six days she says. Because she can't stand the mess, and how the house looks the same as it did when Dinah bought it months ago.
I shake my head. "No," I say.
"It is the devil who asks us to keep our secrets Gretta," she says. Somehow I feel like I've heard this before.
"Go to Hell." I tell her.
Somehow I think I've heard that before, too.
And it's too late, I decide, to leave Hell behind now.
I don't want to do it. Not really, anyhow. But Dinah says it is the same as inhalants, but more, you know, pleasing. "Just this once," I tell her. I'm already laughing when she turns on the tank.
I put the plastic mask over my nose and mouth, and I breath in an out. The tank rattles beside me and it's like the world is coming loose of nuts and bolts. Shaking and then untying my old bones. It is hysterical. Quite a gas, really. Better than Carson, better than Leno.
"Better than Letterman," Dinah laughs. She has moved a chair behind me so that she can help me collapse. The chair has wheels like a locomotive, and it rolls back when I fall into it. "Choo-choo," I tell her.
She leans forward and whispers to me, "All aboard?"
We laugh hysterically when the phone rings and rings.
Rings and rings.
"Here kitty-kittty," I call to it.
Machination As It Relates To Macrocosm
I failed the spelling bee, let's see, when I was in the fifth grade? Oh, my mom was so distressed, she'd wanted me to win that brass trophy so badly. Dear old thing, and bless her heart.
So really, I don't know all these big words because I'm not, you know, intelligent or bright. But, I learned the word machinate, ma-chin-ate, three syllables, from Vivian, and the word Ma-cro-co-sm, four syllables, from Dinah. Do you see then how they have grown apart? Let me explain, dear.
I left Dinah's house the next morning after the laughing gas had worn away a bit. It was about eight o'clock in the morning, and all I wanted to do was go home and have some shredded wheat and watch Regis. I was feeling a bit guilty anyhow about the whole inhaling thing and I was debating stopping all together.
When I got to my house I see Vivian in my driveway, leaning up against her car, my tabby cat tangled between her legs. I felt more angry about my cat enjoying her than I was that she has the nerve to come to my house after she told me to go to Hell.
I kissed to my cat. "Phobe, come to mum."
Vivian says, "Your cat is hungry. I called you. You spend the nights where now?"
It is a funny thing, the way the brain works. I've heard that we have little flashes of electricity that our brain makes, and waves. This is what happens to my brain when Vivian is talking to me. It is throbbing, because on one hand I am angry with her, for a reason I don't quite recall, you know. Alzheimer's maybe.
On the other hand I am happy to see my friend and I feel guilty that I have lied to her and such. It is six in one, half dozen in the other. So I hug her.
"I've been at the store. I don't answer my telephone any more because of the outrageous prices that the phone companies charge!"
Vivian relaxes her shoulders, I feel a softening in her. "Has someone been calling you collect?"
"Absolutely," I say.
Vivian nods, almost suspiciously. She looks at my empty hands. This makes me nervous. "What did you buy at the store?"
I shrug, then focus on her clip-on earrings. Pearl. I like them.
"Clip-ons. And cat ... food." I say.
She doesn't blink. "You look terrible. You have this white stuff around your mouth, like paste. Your lips look a little dry." She mimics wiping on her own face so that I know where the dirt is. I lick my thumb and pick away at it.
"How's Dinah?" Viv wants to know.
"I really haven't seen her much. Why don't you call her?" I say.
Vivian breathes in the air real deep, looks up with her eyes, up high, high, like at the telephone wires. Catching tears. "I tried!" She blinks furiously.
"Visit her then."
"I just can't. I just can not! All the machination, the evil and ... yes, the secrets. Her immoral and illegal ends to problems she should solve with God." Vivian looked flushed. Exasperated. "Tough love, Gretta. Right?"
"Okay." I shrug.
I could tell by Viv's face that she was looking to be consoled. But, ah, you get what you pay for. See?
Vivian hugs me, a little distant, a bit strange. She smells like a brand new kind of fancy shmancy toilet water. "I know I will see you on Sunday." She says. I notice her taking me in, looking at me like a Picasso, all rearranged and inhuman. She gets into her car and pulls away.
I watch her leave.
I then feel a sense of macrocosm. Dinah feels it all the time now. She says this is when you feel the totality of all existing things. The life of everything in the world! It could be a residual from the inhalants. But probably not.
Vivian's eau de Cologne pulses in the air, and suddenly the feeling of my cat purring against my leg opens up new doors into heaven.
I used to be afraid to be naked. So afraid. In front of my husband Jerald especially. I was taught it wasn't right. Sinful even ...
I didn't see Dinah for three days. Then I waited until Saturday to visit her. She says, when I walk into her house, that she wants me to try something new. She is under the ceiling fan again.
I resisted for awhile. Saying that I felt badly about the drugs. So sorry about Vivian in Hell. But Dinah reaches up for me, and so I lay beside her. She's so sleepy looking, but peaceful, her pupils pulled far, far inside of her, visiting somewhere distant. Dinah touched my hair, wrapped it all around her tiny fingers.
"I will make you young again. And we will give you a new name." I looked at her, cute little body, tucked nicely into a pair of tan slacks, bare feet, toes painted some shade of pink. I could stand to be young again. Can't say I blame me for that.
She offered me a small piece of paper. "It is for your mouth," she explains. Dinah held my hair up and braided the silver pieces against my neck as I let the paper dissolve on my tongue.
I used to be afraid to be naked. So afraid. In front of my husband especially. But now that I am young again I take off all my clothes. Dinah takes hers off too, and together we look in a vanity mirror. I am smooth like milk. Curved like sand in a Chinese garden, you know those funny little rakes that smooth the sand and rock beds? I look like one of those so that I do have lines, but my wrinkles are prints of serenity.
"Oh, yes. Serenity is my new name," Dinah says.
My feet are small like a China doll. Dinah is a Dutch doll, with wooden shoes and blond braids. She sells cheese. When she offers me some I see that the blue lines that had once marked up her arms have become geometric figures.
"Nudity is math-a-matical," I say. "Beauty is an equation."
"Then your new name shall be Algorithm." She decides.
We like it, so we nod.
I love it ...
What do you want your new name to be?
I think I missed church today. Yesterday maybe, maybe it was yesterday. So, I am going to just lay here beside Serenity and look at the only part of her I can see without moving, which is her mouth. Pretty little sallow lips, the bottom twice as large as the top. Void of lipstick and shaped like this: 0
I never had children of my own. I don't know what it is like to have their little 0 shaped mouths stick to my breast. Every time that I have seen a picture of Jesus and Mary, she is never nursing him. Why? Maybe he was bottle fed. On the stained glass at church she is holding him, but not with a breast showing, or with a bottle. And babies are always hungry, so I can't understand this.
I think I missed church today. Or yesterday.
I mean, when was the last time you went to church?
After the acid, this is what Dinah calls it, I felt a little different. Like the inside of my head was sealed in Tupperware. I don't know. Does that sound too weird?
I was embarrassed to wake up, you know ... nude. Dinah was gone. I put my clothes on and drove home. I find out when I turn on the television that it is still Sunday, five thirty P.M. I call Dinah's house twice, but her answering machine has never been unpacked. I give up.
Another funny thing about the brain, as I was saying before, is that it has an incredible way of remembering things. Like, take for instance my brain. She is spinning around, turning over and over like a cold engine, trying to find out why she feels so strange. Then she remembers the drugs. I think I am going through a very, very mild form of withdrawal. Hardly withdrawal even, maybe just a tiny sadness. You know, I was playing around a bit with these things, and I did it perhaps too often. Now I am trying to find a way an' calm her down. I try watching the Wheel of Fortune. I can't focus on the letters, and the words, and pretty soon I am lead back to thinking about the geometric figures.
Another neat thing is that people say to control your thoughts. To direct your mind. But isn't it true that our mind and nothing else actually controls us? Unless you want to consider God, which I don't because I'm angry at Him ...
So, my brain leads me to my bathroom cabinet where I look at all the yellow prescription bottles. I don't want to do this, but she tells me it is okay, and that if I don't take these old pills of Jerald's, that she will feel like she is inside of tup-tup- Tupperware forever.
I take a few pills that I know used to make Jerald sleep. I lay out on my couch and listen to Pat Sajak lead me into dreams of Vanah White making love to the consonant F while the vowel A sits jealously in the shadows.
When I look at myself in the mirror, it is not so scary anymore. It used to be like standing on the edge of a cliff, just to take a peek and straighten my hair. But now?
When I was younger, I was real beautiful. Everyone said I was a looker. A real eighty-nine! I was a red head, never over or under a hundred and fifteen pounds. Five foot six.
People look at us different, senior citizens. It is a hard time when you wake up and realize, (this will happen to you, too), that not only are you no longer looked at as a sexually active person, but also when your beauty has been replaced by a newer, more stripped down and flesh revealing generation. Expired. Out of date.
Now I look in this mirror, and I am dazed, nothing matters, everything is beautiful. Every moment untouched by the ones before it. I want to share this feeling with Dinah, but she won't call me. She won't answer her telephone.
Vivian calls me up one afternoon, right when I am about to put my nose in my breakfast cereal because I am a little tired.
"Well, I talked to Dinah, you'll be glad to hear," she says. "She has agreed to go into rehabilitation!"
"She why?" I realize my tongue feels numb. I want to ask questions, but the glob in my mouth won't wake up.
"Oh, Gretta, I never knew how bad it was. None of us did, and it's not your fault either. You couldn't tell me because you didn't know. No secrets. I'm so sorry."
"Okay," I manage to tell her. "Good."
"She will be receiving assistance from the methadone clinic. The church is so happy. Deirdre brought her Mums! A whole bouquet! And even Dick Shaffer came by."
"No one is allowed to see her yet, but they are all leaving cards and gifts. It's heart warming. Really. I'm thankful I didn't have to loose her this way."
"Okay." I try to smile, because I really am happy. In a way, I wanted this connection with Dinah, this world we called our own. But she knew it was quitting time, and that is good. "Good," I say.
"No, It's great," Vivian corrects me. "Just simply divine."
When I sit alone in my house and stroke my cat, my mind doesn't stay still anymore. It sort of glides on the surface, never going too deep. Like a skipping stone. I used to skip stones in the Five Mile Lake when I lived in Chico. I was better than any of the boy's even.
Today I am thinking about people. It takes me a while to come to a conclusion about Dinah and Vivian. They had problems, uh huh. An' they couldn't face each other, sure. But when it comes down to brass tacks, I feel like I was really just a stand in for the whole mess, like I've been used by both of them, a bridge type structure, you know? A way of c-o-n-n-e-c-t-i-o-n.
When I get a little upset about this, I decide to watch my program, I don't remember the name ... old come on down, Barker Bob ... etcetera. Well, this show makes me even more angry, because nobody knows the price of Alka Seltzer and they all scream: "Three! Three!"
(I don't where you shop but I would never pay three for a box of that stuff that only works half the time.)
So, finally I phone Dinah, since she is allowed to have people visit and receive outside calls now. She answers sounding like a different girl. A debutante and a valedictorian. A girl I used to know, but forgot. Alzheimer's, I think.
"Hello Gretta!" Her voice is happy when she hears me.
"Dinah, are you tip top yet?"
"Much better. I've begun a transformation. A restitution of my soul, if you will."
"Okay. Good." I like these two words as they go well together and also they sound professional.
"Grettie, you sound strange. Sick perhaps. Are you well?"
I smile, and when I do this, my lips feel dry and the white stuff is still sticking in the corners. I don't wipe at them because I am too busy thinking hard about what I will say to my niece. I am glad that my tongue was working again. I had things to tell her. "Dinah, I tried something new, and I like it. I took a chance. You gave me a gift. You're my hero."
There is a silence, and there is no back ground noise, so I worry my phone shut off. But finally she says, "Oh Grettie. I was not true to you. I tried to bring you down with me, and I feel sorry about that. Please. Drink some coffee and come down to see me. I miss you. We need to talk."
SherryDid -syou ever rea-lize how many ... words! there are for being drunk? I say, there is sot, toper, tippler! I like dat one. Bibber, winebibber; hard drinker, gin drinker, dram drinker. Those are alcoho-lics! Add there's soaker, sponge, tun, love pot, toss pot, thirsty soul, reveler, carouser.
When I drink I like to share. I pass it down and say, "does anybody wan a lil' NIP?"
Sad shame is no one's here to share this with. No ones HERE! Here. 'Cept you now. An' I like you.
I like you 'cause you don't talk back!
An I'm all alone as it turns out, my family is in a distant way. I can't go see Dinah cause my brain gets to me every time. My brain, oh yes, she sais, "Gwetta! You have to pour a little more. Pour a LITTLE more, lookie prettie bottle hugger, good rum, sherry ... plenty of it!" Then I sip it with those yellow pills, and look. You see what happens?
I miss church.
A huck a lucka sermon, preacher man says Christ turns water into spirits. I prefer daqueri over wine, but it's really up to you, I think.
Wine you say? Suit yourself.
Here's a glass for you, don't spill it on my floor, and don't put it on the TABLE without! a coaster. Thanks.
Tea for Three
Dinah won't come by to see me. She thinks it's a bad idea for her rehabilitation. Instead she calls to tell me that Deirdre, Vivian and Deb are going to call an intervention team to help me. Sunday night they're meeting at the diner for evening tea, to discuss my soul. Dinah is concerned.
"I'm going to meet with them tonight, for Bible study. Is there anything you want me to tell them?" I feel like she is asking me if I have any last words before she hangs me out to dry.
"Yes," I say. "Tell them to go to Hell."
Dinah does not laugh this time. She gasps a little and quietly says, "Don't bring Hell into this."
I hang up the phone. Dinah doesn't know a thing.
For about three weeks I do not leave my house, so I have to feed my cat frozen TV dinners and powdered mashed potatoes. I am in Utopia.
I don't have to use drugs now because my mind is on a permanent high, buzzing like a bee in June, like a wasp on a slab of meat, eating things alive, taking in the sounds an sights like I never have before. The sights sting me over an over. Wow. Beautiful.
When I do take pills, I don't remember. I know a bottle will be full, then empty, and I move on to the next. One memory just fades into another.
I have watercolors on my wall. I don't know who gave them to me, but they are a special gift, pictures of special things mostly.
When I am in my sacred space, I picture that I am inside of a Vick's VapoRub jar. Everything is cobalt, and slimy, and warm. Smelling of Eucalyptus trees. Sometimes someone will screw off the lid, and dump me out into the middle of a conversation, somewhere I don't want to be.
I am in church, and all the pews are facing each other instead of the preacher. I hear the conversations reverberate like a tuning fork, droning in my ear lobes.
"The Lord knows that I don't condone drug use," Deirdre says.
"Me either. But did you hear the rest? Then her husband was picking up on Gretta. And you had to see that Gretta L Donaldson was wearing a black mini-skirt on Sundays Last Supper picnic."
"Was it leather?" Vivian asked.
"I don't know. I didn't get too close. Did you see it Dinah?"
"It was Polyester!"
"Seems like Gretta is on the other side now. She is taking injections," Dinah says.
"Oh!" Deirdre exclaimed.
"And she told me last week to go to H-E double hockey stick! Of all things!" Vivian says.
"Desperate times call for desperate measures. I say we knock down her door with a log, drag her to the castle and hold her there for being a witch!"
"Yes! A wicked, WICKED witch!" The rest of the congregation hisses. They have come out of nowhere.
"What? I'm no witch. I'm a Protestant! You've lost your minds! This is my world. My Utopia. Don't unterrupt my paradise. With gibberish!"
They don't hear me. They all take hands. Deirdre says, "First, let's pray."
Dinah finally came to get me. She promised to take me to the Vick's VapoRub jar. I say, "are you sure you know the way?" She assures me. I tell her it has been hard for me to stay there lately because someone keeps opening the damn lid and rubbing me all over the hacking chests of those church people. She says it will all be fine.
She picks me up in her arms, she and some other tall, fuzzy, Jewish looking man lift me up and carry me outside. I think I should struggle but then Dinah says, "How else will you get to the VapoRub jar, Grettie?"
I tell her I will only go with her if she calls me by my secret name. My math-a-matical name. Neither of us can think of it, and so I agree to be put into her car. She talks and talks to me as she carries me out. She says she sold the house and moved in with Dick. She bought a Porsche with the money, a blue one, and this is what she puts me in. She buckles the seat belt.
Can you give her directions to the jar? I have completely forgotten.
Alzheimer's I think.
"I'm sorry," the lady says. "We tried to get you a room with cobalt walls, but there were none. Just baby-blue, and those are occupied. I'm sorry."
"There is a place, it smells like uka-limipt-uous trees. You rub it on. It's greatly warm, as long as air doesn't get in when the lid opens."
"Yes, I know. It sounds fantastic. Meanwhile, I'm going to need you to scoot down just a smidge. That's a girl."
"I was a girl. A girl once. I was a looker too. Now I am pretty also, but in a new way. Especially when Utopia comes. And when we were naked she gave me a new name."
"Oh, I don't know. I like your name. This isn't going to hurt a bit, but you need to be still, okay?"
When I look around the walls are white. I don't like this.
(Hey. If you could do me just one more favor, please bring to me the water color paintings hanging in my living room. I want to put them up here, because I think maybe it feels like I will be here for a long while.)
For X-mas I had my first visitor, which would be Dinah. For X-mas she brought me a ceramic angel holding a bell. I dropped in on accident and it broke into shrewd little pieces. This is when the nurse had to rush in and explain to her that I had no control over some muscle functions. Dinah nods in understanding, but the truth is that she doesn't. She is scared of me. And jealous because she gave up her paradise for a blue car and a fiance named Penis.
I notice that her hair is long and there are raindrops on her skin. She says, "Grettie, next month is my wedding. The twenty-forth. I wish you would get well so that you could come."
I shake my head and then try to look back up at her, but my neck is stuck and the only thing I can see is the spider plant that hangs from a hook in the corner of the very white room.
"You promised you could find me utopia," I say.
Dinah kissed me on the head and left. That X-mas was the last time I ever saw her.
Yes And No
For rehabilitation purposes I have to practice using common phrases like yes and no.
The therapist is frustrated today when she brings me into the lobby to practice. Her face is tense. She is new here.
"No," she says. "I didn't ask you to say okay, good. I asked you to answer my questions yes or no. Will you try again with me?"
"Alright. Is your name Gretta?"
"Do you go by a nick name?"
She sighs, desperately. "Then what is your name?"
When I say this, I feel like a layer of snow has just melted off my brain, even though there is no snow in this town or in Utopia for that matter.
Even though the nurse puts me back into the white room for being uncooperative, I look at the colorless walls and smile.
They say that I am doing well now. They have moved me into a room that looks like a real house, with a table and a few chairs and a couch and a basket of fruit.
It is March, my birthday, but no one comes to visit me except Nurse Chubby who brings me a muffin from the staff room.
"You are at the zenith of your recovery. We are so proud of you. I think you are ready to move on to the next step."
The next step is an outreach program, where they begin to recycle us back out to the community. I get to decide if I want to work at a Laundromat counting coins, take a class on the hazards of drug use, or write a children's book for a group of second graders at a local school on why narcotics are bad.
I choose the book. I think the most important thing a child should know is her A B C's. It's mathematics first, I think. But then the alphabet. The alphabet is the root of education. But I'm still open to new suggestions on this topic.
What do you think?