Chapter Thirteen — Misogyny
Talking Trevor into a mall trip was not difficult. Craig and Mina would be tied up reading the famous letter and thinking up reasons it shouldn’t come in. Besides, we needed clothes and haircuts; Trevor wanted to buy me a laptop. Jake, Shelley and I love the mall. Trevor hates it. At the mall, I’m ashamed to admit I made Trevor cry. Some people wouldn’t have been able to tell, but I saw the telltale moisture stain his eyes. In a life of embarrassing things to wake you panting at two a.m., I rate that the worst.
I was already feeling sort of emotional, what with the trial and everything. And then there was that terrible thing Oz said, niggling at me. I wanted to yell at Trevor because I felt I’d been played, but how could I really? I still needed him so much. And what, exactly, is Oz’s excuse?
I know Oz’s raison d’être in life used to be go ing around shocking people, and you could certainly argue that all men suffer from such a serious case of womb envy almost as bad as their penis envy, but I still couldn’t get rid of it. Couldn’t put it out of my mind.
Partly I was angry at myself. It’s the old story; why hadn’t I said anything right then? I pride myself on never being at a loss for words, but I guess I’m still shockable. He really got me that time.
Me! Having a baby as a high school graduation present, like someone in a trailer park! So not gonna happen. It wasn’t a question of Trevor or anybody. Trevor would probably be an OK father someday; I mean clearly he needs to loosen up; he’s just a mass of rules at present. Let’s finish this murder trial, OK, one way or the other, and then allow poor Trevor to at least have adolescence and then we’ll see.
Trevor plans on marriage someday but it can’t be to me. Duh. And single parenthood? No, merci! I don’t think I ever want to be a parent; it’s that “hostage to fortune” thing. I’ve been a hostage; it’s loaded with problems, some of which we heard about today in court.
Partly I was mad at Trevor; if he hadn’t needed to brag to his father that he’d got the unattainable we could have kept this whole thing quiet and personal, where it belongs. Men! Mostly I was mad at Oz. Hadn’t he learned his freakin’ lesson for freaks sake? Brought up on charges. They were trying to execute his bony ass.
I’m eighteen freakin’ years old with my whole life ahead of me and he wants me to get pregnant with his freakin’ son’s freakin’ child? The more I think about it the madder I get. The cat would really be out of the bag then, wouldn’t it? I know we’re not really brother and sister but you can see how the world would look at it; just one more outrageous insult from the hedonism cesspit.
Why couldn’t he just leave us alone and concentrate on his own freakin’ problems? How could he even think of bringing a baby into the mess we already had going? This trial might be over in nine months but Trevor and Craig were already talking about the “appeal phase”; it could turn into a lifelong project, like a family business. Craig says it takes over a decade to put someone to death. Didn’t this make nonsense of how supportive he’d been about my writing for all those years? Did he think I’d get a nanny, or give the baby to the Shortalls?
It really upset me. Trevor could tell, but he thought it was the trial. The letter and all that. He kept trying to hold my hand in between steering and downshifting.
That was the other thing that pissed me off. How could I tell Trevor? Trevor would be shocked. He might decide to deny me sex and I needed it too much. He’s the suffering-builds-character-spokesperson. I could see him smacking his forehead expostulating, “What were we thinking?!” Trevor’s always looking for something to nobly renounce. He might make do on self-abuse, self-mutilation and Haydn but it’s too late for me. I’ve got to have my fix or I can’t get through this trial.
Goddamit. I could never share it with him, so I would be forced to bear it alone forever. Document and file. Is it possible that Oz, with his obsessions about having a “Plan B” and playing the long game, intended this all along? Believe me, he’s capable of it. Didn’t he realize he risked ruining it by seeming to promote it, if you know what I mean?
The mall was almost empty. It would pullulate with foetogs except security won’t let them in. “No solicitation, assholes.” Second good thing, at least we split from Shelley and Jake so I could focus on just one relationship instead of three cubed. Although isn’t a relationship between four people four to the fourth power? I don’t even know how many it is, that’s how bad I am at math.
“Don’t let them shave you bald this time,” I suggested to Trevor my subtle way. “You don’t have to go through life looking like a concentration camp victim. Why don’t you get a fade? Have my initials put over your ear.”
“Ha ha,” said Trevor. “That would be funnier if I wasn’t so worried that Jake and Shelley are getting tattoos right at this second.”
“Are they?” I gasped. Riveted. Oh how I wanted a tattoo! Virginia malls have tattoo parlors – there’s another cool thing about living in the country. Why was I always where the party wasn’t? How could Brontë be an artistic free spirit when she’s locked in perpetual mourning?
“Oh let’s get tattoos! Come on! I’ll put your name right here,” gesturing to my appendicitis scar. “And you could cover up the scars on your back.”
“Yeah, your husband would really thank me for that,” said Trevor as we settled into barber chairs. “Tattoos! What kind of a world are we living in where cosmetics are permanent and relationships ephemeral?”
So we each got what we always get, a little off the top. So exciting. Then we went to Brooks Brothers like a pair of pathetic job applicants where he bought each of us a suit. I admit mine wasn’t as bad as I’d feared; it had a line of charmingly colorful embroidery around the hems of both jacket and skirt. If you looked closely enough, they looked like those irises, Colleen’s favorite flower. It wasn’t even black, but it was dark navy. I contemplated my future. Mourning, mourning, mourning.
Trevor began to see I was smoldering, so at the jewelry store he tried to buy me pearls. He never got over the fact that Colleen gave me cultured for graduation while Skylar got real. Who the fuck cares? I adamantly rejected the pearls; setting my heart on a cloisonné box but he wouldn’t buy me that.
I threw a tantrum right in front of the salesman. A shit fit. I admit it. I hate writing it down, but if I start lying now, where am I? Misremembering, forgetting, deceiving. Never going to be good enough for me. My only excuse is, shit happens. I screamed at him in the jewelry store, just like Fayette.
“You are such a blight!” I shouted at him. “You never want me to have any fun! I don’t love you at all! I hate you!”
It was the worst thing I could possibly say, and I knew it. He put his face in his hands right there in the middle of the Cross Country Mall and sobbed. People stared, but thank God they didn’t seem to know who we were. A mall is a wonderfully leveling sort of place. This trial has really helped me to understand the gift of anonymity. I never want to be recognized again.
Heartsick, I put my arms around him and got him out of there. How can couples think of having children when they have to take care of the baby within each other?
“God I’m sorry,” I said. “I lost it. I didn’t mean it. Forget it.”
He was still quivering.
“I’m the sorry one,” he said. “Everything’s been such a bitch lately.” Did he mean I had become, for him, the bitch everyone said I was? Trevor went on, “Nothing has gone right, but I thought at least I had you. I’m sorry. Get whatever you want.”
Of course I didn’t want the goddam chintzy little thing. I didn’t want to go back to that store ever. I wanted a tattoo, but I didn’t even want that if I had Trevor staring at me all moisty-eyed. I was struck with that horrible cold fear – if I continue to act like a jackass I’m going to lose my supply. I’ve got to stop pushing it, get control of myself. The truth is I never imagined I’d have this kind of power. It’s not like I had never seen Trevor cry – he was a crier when we were growing up – more than me actually. It was because of Trevor that Oz posted the “No Sniveling” sign on his study door. The only times I can recall Oz hitting him were for crying, whereas with Jake it was for trying to blow things up. But I had never been the one to make him cry. And I hadn’t seen a tear in ten long years.
No more shopping for us; I didn’t even want a laptop, so we were the first to get to Starbucks. We waited half an hour for Shelley and Jake.
“Please forgive me,” I apologized, trying to hold his hand while we sipped our lattes. “I just snapped. It was like I was possessed by a demon or something.”
He had recovered himself, but he seemed kind of distant. “I know what that’s like,” he said.
I looked around, envying the ordinary people going about their business. I used to be so happy to be me, felt so proud and lucky all the time, but now I envied everybody, even the waitress with such severe overbite she looked like a harelip. Wouldn’t it be great not to be wanted by anybody?
“Maybe I should just take the first job I can get,” I suggested dispiritedly. “Let the rest of you go to court.” As if Trevor would ever let me!
“Great,” said Trevor, putting a hand over the pulsing vein in his head, “We’re in such desperate need of your pathetic four cents an hour. No fucking way.”
This is why couples argue all the time. They just can’t stop insulting each other.
“ Don’t be so controlling,” I snapped.
“As if anyone could control you,” said Trevor.
Maybe it was true. Could I even control myself? On top of it all Jake and Shelley were late, all happy and burdened with packages. Trevor groaned as he collected credit card receipts, and he punished them by making them get their coffees to go.
“Did you get a tattoo?” I whispered to Shelley.
“Yes,” she hissed back, “It’s on my butt. I can’t show you until we get home. Love your hair.”
My hair was nothing special; in fact it looked exactly the same, just a bit tidier. Shelley is so loyal. I can be so mean to her sometimes too. I despise myself.
In the Lexus I let Jake sit up front and I collapsed in the back from all the emotion of the day. I was starting to see why people want sex without feeling.
We’re not like Russians, after all, I thought sleepily. More like Egyptians. Didn’t the Egyptians have to marry their sisters because no one else was sufficiently royal? No one else understood the in-jokes. When I was eight I entertained company by reciting from The Book of the Dead and I still remembered some of it. Out loud I murmured,
“My flesh is gold; my bones are lapis lazuli…”
Interior music is so sustaining.
“We need to pick something up for dinner,” Jake said to Trevor. See? Eat, eat, eat. Buy, buy, buy. It never stops. Any way off the carousel of carnage? Yes. When I’m at college and I’m hungry I’ll go to the dining room and eat something. Maybe standing up at the salad bar. And then I’ll go away.
“Get a ham,” said Shelley. Colleen always had a ham. A spare country ham “wintering” in the wine cellar. Looking like hell and covered with newspapers.
I opened one eye. Country ham is delicious. Didn’t Tutankhamen die hunting wild boar? It was worth it. Also he very young and we all know what that’s like. Trevor was driving a little too fast right now.
“You have to order those weeks in advance,” said Trevor, Mr. Buzz-kill, but Jake, suddenly all thrifty and helpful, said, “You can get an regular spiral ham at Costco.”
Made me wonder if his tattoo said, “Buy in bulk.”
Back at the house Mina was cleaning up from the night before. And me thinking she was playing lawyer on our dollar! Feeling guilty I rushed to help. As always when labor threatened, everyone else melted away.
“You don’t have to do that,” I said falsely. I’m telling you now, it’s impossible to get through life without lying.
“I come from a big family, so I’m used to it.”
She already had the dishwasher humming, and she was working on the big pots. Soon we had a rhythm, she washing, me drying.
“Trevor got us a ham for dinner,” I offered. Just making conversation, the way Colleen had taught me.
“You can do anything with that man,” said Mina admiringly.
Not something I cared to discuss. I changed the subject. “So what got you into law?”
She gave the question such intense consideration she stopped washing. Memories flickered over her eyes like shadows and I saw the reason for the off-putting little glasses with their heavy black frames. Not for her looking out, but for us looking in. Whatever she thought of, she rejected it, attacking a Dutch oven with ferocity.
“Can I plead insanity?” she said lightly.
Sounds like an interesting story.
“No, really,” I begged.
“I grew up in a family with a lot of violence.”
“You got hit?”
“I was the youngest. Actually I was the only one who didn’t get hit. Sometimes I think just watching the violence is worse. You know the blow is coming and it keeps you up late, stiffened up and waiting.”
I knew just what she meant. Oz was never harsh with me, but when he yelled at Trevor it hurt worse than if he had attacked me directly.
“I would have expected you’d be more attracted to law enforcement,” I said. “Some place where you get to carry a gun.”
“The way it started was I wanted to stay in school forever. I was such a good little student and it seemed a safe place. I think I’m allergic to brutality. Call it sin-aesthesia.”
“I think I have that allergy too,” I said. It occurred to me that Craig yells a lot. I wondered how she could stand him? I like silence, myself.
“Then once I discovered what the law is about, I was hooked.”
“So what’s it really about?” I asked her. Punishing people, I would have said on a quiz.
“Our whole legal system is built around the issue of intent. There couldn’t be a more interesting puzzle, if you like puzzles. Intent – that’s kind of like motive. Intent is character. Think how interesting that is. What did the defendant think would happen and what were they capable of imagining would happen? It’s pretty fascinating.”
“Some defendants are so dumb,” I objected. “Like one-celled organisms.”
She looked at me shrewdly over misted glasses.
“And some of them are pretty smart.” She turned away, holding her shoulders rigidly, so I knew she was thinking of the case at hand. I wondered how much I could get her to tell me.
She shrugged, dodging neatly.
“We don’t have to deal with the dumb ones if we don’t want to. That’s the fun of working for the defense.”
“So what’s it like working for Craig?”
She shrugged. “I’m learning a lot.”
“Why doesn’t he ever let you stand up in court? Fawna gets to stand up.”
“He says women aren’t intimidating enough on cross. He says we lack the killer instinct. Anyway, I’m not sure I want to be a litigator. He says he might let me do the character witnesses.”
She seemed unexcited about the idea.
Time for some girl talk.
“He ever proposition you?”
Mina sighed. “Only when he’s desperate. I think he secretly likes it that I’m not gaga over him. Every other one of his assistants was scheming to be the next Mrs. Axelrod. This way, we can actually get some work done.”
“He doesn’t attract you?”
She peered at me over her little glasses.
“Craig? He’s too married.”
“I thought he was divorced.”
“As if that mattered. He has four wives for Pete’s sake, and they all call him practically every day, wanting something. He maintains four homes, yet he sleeps in a studio apartment over his office and lives mostly in hotels and airplanes. He has eight kids.”
“Eight kids!” Talk about a trailer park!
“That’s what you get when you have four wives. Finally he got wise and went for The Big Cut.” Mina made snipping gestures.
“The Big Cut?” Seeking elucidation. Or just gossip.
“That’s what he called it. No more little Axelrods, ever.” She sighed. “You can’t imagine the rivers of cash running through that man’s life.” (Sounds like Oz!) “And he can’t hang on to any of it.”
“So he needed this job?”
“He needs six of these jobs.”
I tried catching her off guard.
“So do you think Oz did it?”
But there is no “off guard” with Mina. Remember? She’s the one who stays up late. Stiffened and waiting.
“We learn not to think like that,” she answered smoothly. “He says he didn’t do it, and he tells a perfectly plausible story. He’s entitled to the best defense he can get.” She could change a subject a lot more adroitly than I.
“So Craig can’t have kids. Not that I dream of that. I just think I should want them. I mean, if you don’t have kids, you end up alone. Maybe I don’t have a biological clock. Sometimes I wonder if I’ve been playing for the wrong team. Maybe it’s just that brutality thing. All men suffer from testosterone poisoning. And I can’t get over it.”
Trevor doesn’t, I thought smugly. He yells, all right. He can get angry. He’d even smash something, if it isn’t too valuable. But he prides himself on being civilized. Being a Christian. Being a gentleman. Trevor wouldn’t hit.
“So I find myself thinking,” Mina went on, “What it would be like with a girl. Mirror images, right? Both of you slow and sensitive? Waiting for the other to come?”
Am I slow on the uptake, or what! She caught me completely by surprise. I just stared. Then, because work was at a standstill and the water wasn’t even running and she obviously expected me to say something, I ventured,
“I’ve never been with a girl. So I don’t know. Actually.”
“Oh.” She looked away. Work started up again. “I just thought — you being so adventuresome and free and all.”
“No,” I repeated awkwardly. Had I just been propositioned? Did she not know about Trevor? Was she looking for a threesome?
“It’s not that I’m not attracted to men,” She elucidated. “I just don’t like the level they take things to.”
I was grappling mentally. “Pass,” I said finally. Just to make sure Trevor and I didn’t experience Late Night Visitations.
She smiled, pushing up her glasses with a soapy finger. “Don’t worry. I passed “Don’t Fuck the Clients” in law school.” Under her breath she added, “Although a whole lot of people were sick that day.”
Trevor and Craig appeared at exactly the same moment, so I assumed they’d been together. Trevor looked like a man who had paid and Craig like a man who’d been paid. The inflated one smiled at us and commented approvingly, “How, I love watching women plying the domestic arts.”
Mina threatened him with a soapy barbecue fork.
“We’re having ham for dinner,” I said, easing the moment. I was starting to think there was no telling what Mina might do.
Craig sniffed the air with excitement. “Shouldn’t it be cooking?”
“It’s a spiral ham.” Trevor warned disparagingly. “Those things only need to be heated up.”
Good enough for the help, apparently.
“Then I’ll make my famous red-eye gravy!”
Behind his back Mina made throat-slitting motions. I found out later the “red-eye” part comes from coffee. Maybe Trevor is right. He’s abstemious about sauces, ordering everything “on the side.”
That was the night we drank the Montagna Magica and the Hungarian port. I went down with Trevor to help him choose. Since Oz had been gone we had used up an entire wall in the wine cellar. Of course, we had three walls to go. I struggled with the necessary mathematical calculations.
“Think this trial will last till spring?” I asked Trevor as he made his selections. Worst case scenario.
“No,” said Trevor. “Craig says it’s going fast because it’s the most expensive trial the county has ever had, and if he can just get a mistrial, the state will have to move the second trial somewhere else.”
“If we have a mistrial, we’ll run out of wine for sure,” I decided.
“We’ll never run out of wine,” Trevor told me with comfortable certainty.
“Because the world will never run out of wine. Better to go without food than wine, Brontë. There are some things a gentleman can’t compromise.”
He sounded so exactly like Oz when he said that. Why argue? Who needs sauce when you have The Sauce?
There were more memories of Oz at dinner. Craig was almost as entertaining with his bizarre legal stories. He told us about how they used to embalm corpses with arsenic and it leaked into the groundwater and poisoned an entire New England village. He told us about another case where churchgoers were poisoned by the nickel in the chalice while taking communion and they all started having the same hallucinations. Thought it was the Second Coming.
“Odd they would all react in the same way,” said Trevor.
“Apparently it’s so common in Europe there’s a word for it. “The madness of crowds.” Everyone knows it was ergot poisoning from bread that caused the whole witch frenzy. Ergot is a fungus similar to LSD!”
“Bread and wine,” said Jake, “Who’d believe it?” He nudged Trevor. “You Christian devils!”
“Fascinating to see a medical problem express itself culturally,” said Mina. “The mind-body dilemma writ large. Different expressions of mass consciousness.”
“There is no “mass consciousness”, said Trevor. “That really is the madness of crowds. Educated people have their own consciousness. They rise above it.”
“Except if you’re inside it, you don’t see it,” said Mina. “Aren’t we all victims of our programming?”
“Ah yes,” quoted Craig, pausing in stuffing himself. “As Shakespeare said, what nourished us, consumes us.”
“I’m not,” said Trevor. “A victim of “programming”.”
We looked at him skeptically. Had Oz succeeded in raising one free child? I know I’m not free, or why aren’t I in college? Why do I go to this friggin’ trial day after day?
I guess Trevor was so threatened by our scene he bought not only the ham but also my favorite Moo-lage bars. Even though he disapproves not just of artificial sweetener but anything eaten off a stick.
He passed, and went upstairs. So I ate his.
After dinner Mina and I tried to talk Craig and Shelley into doing the dishes. Jake had already vanished. No sale. Craig is above that sort of thing. We’re just another three-star hotel as far as he’s concerned. So I had to do the dishes again with only Shelley to help.
I could hear the shouting a hundred feet away. When I topped the stairs Trevor and Jake were shouting at each other. Trevor’s face was twisted with red rage.
In our boudoir I asked him.
“What the heck happened?”
“Oh, Jake suggested a foursome,” he snorted angrily as he flung himself out of his suit. “That asshole. He’s so out of his gourd!”
Creepy! “So what did you say?”
“Told him not to be a fetal pig.”
He came over to help me undress. I wasn’t going fast enough for him. I was his stress medicine like he was mine.
“It is kind of disgusting thinking of us all naked in bed together,” I said.
“Oh, we’ve done that before,” said Trevor. “Don’t you remember? That little experiment of Oz’s? Of course, you were little.” He laughed at the memory. “You didn’t like it at all. You said you wanted to sleep with only me.”
I didn’t recall any of it. I wish we hadn’t talked about programming at dinner.
“Sounds like I got my wish.”
“We got our wish,” echoed Trevor.
Once again I was bothered. I pride myself on my good memory. It’s the most important attribute of a writer, but some things are just gone. I made a note to ask Trevor exactly how old I had actually been. Ask him someday when he wasn’t wearing my hips for a hat, telling me if there was reincarnation he wanted to come back as my jeans.
Craig has taken cases based on the falsity of “recovered memory”. People remember things that didn’t happen. He says it’s been scientifically demonstrated that there’s also implanted memory, and not only that, people have been confessing to things they didn’t do for hundreds of years.
So what even is “programming?” What is memory? What can you trust? I was starting to think maybe art is the only thing that tells the truth. I should stop writing this diary right now and venture on a novel. But how?
Afterwards as we lay there exhausted I thought of so many things I wanted to know.
I mean on the face of it, Jake’s question to Trevor was the most ridiculous thing. Unless…
“You’ve had fourgies with Jake before?” I asked as lightly as I could manage. Otherwise I didn’t think he would tell me.
“Drunk people will do anything. I’m living it down, aren’t I? We’ve all made enough degrading mistakes.”
What was my degrading mistake? I didn’t even want to think like that.
He hauled me to my feet, his face settled mulishly.
“Shower time. Come on, I’ll soap you.”
The great thing about taking a shower late at night is that the water is finally hot. I closed my eyes and held the handrails, feeling like a blissful horse after a particularly challenging steeplechase, while he pounded me. A horse that needs to rest up, because it’s going to get another big run soon. He pounded hard enough to raise bruises, and yet I liked it. I guess I just can’t write that novel. There’s still too much I don’t understand.
This water was surely hot enough to wash degrading mistakes away – along with several layers of skin. Wouldn’t we emerge pristine again, like infants? There was just that one last thing to get off my chest.
“You know, Jake came on to me once.”
Wicked of me to tell?
The water pouring off over his brows and chin made him look like an angry sea god.
“Jake comes on to anything that slows down long enough,” growled Trevor. “He needs shock shorts. He’s going to get every STD that’s out there.”
“Oh, poor Shelley,” I worried.
“You said no, of course?” He separated my legs, the better to get up and into all the nooks and crannies.
“I said no.”
I didn’t tell him how I’d been tempted by all those miles of shiny muscle.
He pulled my naked body to his chest and let the water cascade over both of us.
He grunted while he worked.
“You saved a life.”
But he didn’t say whose.