HO SPRINGS
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Archive for the ‘George’ Category

2. GEORGE: Kisses Like Marshmallows

eorge’s first thought on opening his eyes in his dark bedroom was: Taryn.

That was always George’s first thought when he woke up: Taryn.

Then he heard the phone ring, realized why he was awake to begin with, and thought again: Taryn. A ringing phone always made him think of Taryn too.

Shit: Taryn. Breath caught short, he lurched out of bed and fumbled for the phone. It was so black out tonight, barely a sliver of a new moon in the sky, and no street lights out here on the lake, only the lap of the water against the varnished wood of the houseboat and, from up in the hills, the hoot of an owl.

Something had happened to her this time, he could feel it. An overdose. Beaten up in the parking lot by some yahoo frustrated that all he could do was watch. Raped by some monster more than frustrated.

“Hello,” he said, grabbing the receiver. “Hello.”

He heard a woman’s voice, yelling, pleading, not making sense.

“Wait,” he said, the outlines of the houseboat’s only room taking shape through the darkness. “Taryn? Has something happened to Taryn?”

There was a pause at the other end and then the woman said, “Who’s Taryn?”

“Who are you?”

“This is Cora McAdams. I’m Senior McAdams daughter, from down at the MAL….”

He knew who Cora McAdams was. How could he forget, after what happened between them? Dark hair. Slender, bordering on scrawny, back in high school. Lips plump and mouth always open, just a little bit, An air of being perennially pissed off, which she probably had been, considering she’d hightailed it to London, Paris, one of those places, and never come back.

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8. GEORGE: So Hard To Do Nothing

ho was there?

George hesitated, listening, in the entrance to the houseboat, Beth sound asleep in his arms.

He might have forgotten to lock the door when he left for the McAdams’ place in such a hurry, but he knew that was a justification: He often left the door open, had some deep sense that if he filled his life with enough pure trust, nothing bad would happen to him.

That was certainly foolish, with the mushrooming of the meth cabins throughout the hills that surrounded him, with the belief that, because he was some kind of doctor and worked at the track, he was both rich and possessed a store of narcotics, and also with his connection to Taryn.

He heard nothing, but then, relaxing enough to take a breath, he smelled her, that unmistakable mix of lilies of the valley and smoke, of sweat and the Sour Patch Kids that were her dietary staple. He wanted to call out her name and throw on the lights, but he didn’t want to disturb Beth, and who knew, after all, what he’d really find? The only thing he was sure of was that she’d been there.

He tiptoed in, setting Beth gently on her bed and smoothing the comforter over her, straightening up slowly and looking around. Taryn might be here with someone else, Jamie maybe, or one of her other cranked up friends. They would have seen his headlights, heard his car door; they might be hiding, waiting to spring.

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11. GEORGE: The Heart Wants

eorge, on his knees, watched as Taryn slid down into the water, legs bent, to rinse her long blonde hair. Her eyes were squeezed shut and her face was scrunched up, layered over with a veil of bubbles.

She stayed underwater so long he nearly reached down to rescue her, but then suddenly she bolted upright, water cascading off her hair and down her lovely back.

“You’ve still got shampoo in it,” he said, running a hand over her sleek, soapy head.

“Can you wash it again?” she said, twisting around to look at him, beads of water suspended like dew from her eyelashes. “Like in the beauty parlor.”

He laughed. Beth, who had been playing with her plastic horses on the floor, scrambled to her feet and rushed over to them.

“I want to play beauty parlor,” she said, stationing herself behind Taryn’s back. “Please, Mommy.”

“Okay, baby,” said Taryn. “You can do my hair and Daddy will do my back.”

Taryn leaned forward against her bent knees in the old white porcelain tub, deeper than it was long, rescued from one of the bath houses that was being torn down. The tub was perfect for the houseboat, where space was at a premium. George had built this place himself one long summer, when he and Taryn were first together. She had lain on the dock in the sun in a bikini, reading magazines, while he hammered and sawed and drove nails into the log siding, the cedar-shingled roof. He wanted to create a fairy tale cottage, floating like a magical place on the enchanted lake. At the end of the afternoon, Taryn would join him on a blanket under a tall yellowwood, where they drank beers icy from the cooler. Then, if there was no one in sight, they made love, after which they ran laughing and naked down the dock and jumped into the lake.

George took up the long handled brush now that he used to wash his own back and prepared to scrub Taryn’s.

“No,” she said, pushing it away. “With your hands.”

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27. GEORGE: The Sleeping Game

eorge drew the Queen Frostine card, and immediately tried to shove it back in the pile before Beth could see. But too late: The little girl’s eyes caught the vision of the lavender-bedecked fairy queen and her face started to crumple.

“I wanted to get the queen,” she said, a whimper at the edge of her voice.

“I drew this card by mistake!” George cried, trying to put it in her hand. “Look, did you see that? It was supposed to be your card which means you would….”

He swooped her pink playing piece up into the air, bouncing onto the queen’s space and then hopping ahead. “…..jump all the way to the end which means you are the big winner!”

Beth broke down in giggles. “Oh, Daddy,” she said.

“Enough Candy Land? What do you say we go out for a walk? See if we can pick some flowers for Mommy?”

It was his day off and Taryn had taken the opportunity to go into town to get her hair done. He’d offered to drive her, figured that he and Beth could get an ice cream, take a stroll down Bath House Row and see what stores were starting to open up for the season.

But Taryn had said no, she could get there perfectly fine on her own, and she had other things to do besides: buy clothes to replace everything she’d left behind when she’d moved back in, look for something for his upcoming birthday. When he hesitated, she said, “Don’t you trust me, George? How can you be married to me, if you don’t trust me?”

She was right, of course she was right. So he’d smiled and kissed her and let her go.

Now Beth was shaking her head no, she didn’t want to go for a walk.

“How about we feed the fish? I bet they’re hungry after a long winter with no bugs on the water.”

Again, Beth shook her head.

“Well, what do you want to do? Play tea party with Bunny and your dolls?” Please God, he thought: anything but another round of Candy Land.

“Let’s play the sleeping game.”

“The sleeping game? How do you play that?”

“You lie here on the floor,” Beth said, “on your tummy. Then you close your eyes and I play with your hair and tickle your back.”

George did as he was told. It wasn’t until he was fully stretched out, lulled by the rock of the boat, his daughter’s delicate fingers drumming on his shoulders, that it occurred to him to wonder what was happening.
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30. GEORGE: The End

hen it came right down to it, there wasn’t that much to take. His medical bag, of course. A few clothes, his favorite old ones he’d never be able to duplicate. Beth’s toys. Family pictures, the ones that didn’t break his heart. HIs passport.

“Where’s Mommy?” Beth asked, wide-eyed.

“Mommy had to go away again,” George said, packing the little girl’s stuffed animals in a laundry bag. “She’s not going to live with us anymore.”

“She said she was going to live with us now forever and ever,” said Beth, tears pooling in her eyes.

“It’s better if it’s just you and me,” he said. “Mommy’s too sick to stay with us.”

“She’s not sick,” said Beth. “She said she was all better.”

“Just be quiet now and find everything you want to take with you,” snapped George, instantly sorry. He put a hand on his daughter’s shoulder and squeezed by way of apology, but there wasn’t any time to stop and spend time soothing her. Taryn had texted him that she’d be late, her hairdressing appointment, if that had ever existed at all, stretching to fill the whole day. Where had she really been? Up at one of the meth cabins in the hills, smoking her brains out? Selling the pills she’d stolen from him, or fucking some lowlife in exchange for more?

He shivered at the thought of it. Never again. This was it. The end.

“Come on,” he said to Beth. “Time to go.”

The wind had whipped up outside, which was what gave him the idea. At first, he’d imagined waylaying Taryn outside, telling her it was over, he didn’t want her back in.

But she would fight that, he knew, yell and scream, and Beth would hear, and it would be an even worse nightmare than it already was.

Then he got the idea to pack everything up and take Beth into town, stay at the Barstow or wherever, until he was able to find another place for them to live. Let Taryn have the houseboat. Let her cook meth in its kitchen, blow the whole fucking thing to smithereens. As long as she never tried to be part of his life again, she could have everything he owned, everything he cared about — everything except Beth, that was — and do whatever the hell she wanted with it. He’d built this place after falling in love with her, as a home for their happiness. Now he never wanted to set foot in it again.

But then, when the wind started howling in advance of another spring front moving in from the plains, when he heard the creaking of the ropes straining against the old wooden pillars of the dock and felt the lurch of the boat on the waves, he had another idea.

Outside, a horn sounded. Taryn had taken the car, LaTonya was a work, he hadn’t been sure who to call.

Then he remembered Cora. He should look in on Senior anyway, and George guessed Cora owed him a favor, though he felt much more comfortable on the giving than the receiving end of those. But he knew he had to act now or he’d lose his nerve once again, find himself falling back as he’d done so many times before into Taryn’s arms. Believing her lies, giving her just one more chance, letting himself love her when he knew he’d be safer drinking lighter fluid.

He hoisted his daughter into his arms. “Let’s go, sweetheart,” he said, into her sweet-smelling hair.

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39. GEORGE: Dumping Out the Boxes

eorge was bent over a horse’s hoof, trying to dig out whatever was making the animal limp, when Jamie McAdams collapsed into the mud right in front of him.

He might have heard Jamie stagger into the barn if it weren’t for the general din of the racetrack all around him. But instead his focus had narrowed to a few square inches of equine flesh and bone, the way he needed to keep things these days. He thought of his life as a smooth plain with a series of boxes on it. In the first most important box was Beth, in another box their room at the Barstow, in another his extended family, in another the track and the horses under his care. He stayed calm by dealing with the contents of only one box at a time.

There was a large, torn, dirty, messy, crammed-full box that was Taryn, but that one he’d sealed up with extra-strong tape and put into storage.

If Jamie McAdams fit in any of the boxes, it was deep in one shadowy corner of the Taryn box. Not somewhere George wanted to go.

“God, man, what’s going on?” George said, feeling not all that alarmed, moving not all that quickly.

Jamie was drunk, was his first guess. High, second. Generally messed up, next.

It wasn’t until he bent over Jamie, touched his skin, looked in his eyes, saw the condition of his clothes — in particular, his jeans — that he grew alarmed.

“Jamie,” he said, shaking the man, the doctor in him taking over from the devastated husband, the helping-sick-people box taking precedence over the hating-guys-who-fucked-my-wife box. “Jamie, what happened to you?”

Jamie seemed to rouse. “Annie,” he croaked. He brought one filthy trembling hand slowly to his thigh. “Eating my ball.”

His jeans were ripped there, no torn, no eaten away, it looked like. Suddenly George understood. There’d been some kind of accident involving anhydrous ammonia — Annie, some of the meth makers called it — and it had seared through Jamie’s clothes and was undoubtedly burning into the skin beneath.

“All right,” George said, trying not to panic. The treatment, short of a hospital burn unit, was water, lots of water, but it was supposed to be administered immediately after contact with the highly caustic chemical, one drop of which could melt a man’s testicles, turn his eye to jelly, render him unable to speak. George ran and got the hose, big enough to put out a fire in the barn or to spray down a couple dozen horses. He didn’t want to drown Jamie, just wash away what he could of the poison before he even attempted to do anything else. Then George turned on the water, hard enough to wash off the powerful ammonia, gentle enough not to flush away Jamie’s genitals with it.

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50. GEORGE: Square One

t was a little yellow house, just four rooms and a wreck and a half, but it was close to the center of town and enormous compared with the houseboat. He and Beth didn’t need much space anyway; from living on the boat, she tended to stay within three feet of him no matter where they were. Right now, in fact, she was where she’d been spending a lot of her time since Taryn had left: clamped to his leg.

“Honey, maybe you want to go play with your horses so Daddy can set up your bed,” he said.

But she just clung to him more tightly and shook her head no.

He sighed. “Well, maybe you can help me? You can hold the pillow here, while I connect the pieces of your new big girl bed.”

This at least she agreed to, but still stood right beside him, bending when he bent, stepping when he stepped. At this rate, it was going to take him till Christmas to set up the house.

Was this normal? He was worried that it wasn’t, but he told himself it was, that the child was naturally sensitive, that she’d been through a lot with Taryn’s comings and goings, with her breaks with sobriety, even with sanity. Any child would take that hard, but Beth was particularly tender.

But she had one parent who was completely there for her, loving and present, and surely, in a pinch, that was enough? It had been enough for George and for his siblings, their mother warm and loving enough to make up for their father’s benders. And then, when their mother died at 58 from breast cancer, George himself had tried to fill her role, shepherding his sisters and brothers through high school and off to college. One was a doctor now, one a lawyer, one a teacher, all gone to live far from this sorry place. George was proud of the part he’d played in their success.

Or had he? Maybe he’d had little to do with it, maybe they would have done just fine on their own. He barely heard from any of them now from one month to the next, would scarcely recognize their spouses or children on the street. What he would give to have his mother alive now, for her to know Beth and to sit with them, not even having to say or do anything, really, on a Sunday afternoon.

His phone, jammed into his jeans pocket, buzzed.

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58. GEORGE: The Festival

h no.

The festival.

He forgot about the festival.  Or he blocked it out.  Or he told them he needed the day off and they forgot, or he forgot, or….

Oh no.

He hated the festival, the major event of the racing season, where the horses were a sidelight to the bands and the food and the beauty queens, to the girls in wet tee shirts and muddy bikinis, to the rapping contests and the tractor pulls spilled out from the track to venues all around.

And he hated himself for hating the festival, when it was just supposed to be fun.  But the horses got spooked by the noise and the crowds.  And somebody always got hurt, a drunk toppling off the stands or some stupid kid blowing off his thumb with a firecracker.  And who had to patch things up till the real doctors got there?  He did, of course.

Jesus, he was starting to sound like his father, cranky and disapproving of everything in the world, especially if it involved laughter or frivolity.  Better to sit alone in a dark room with the TV on silent and a glass of whiskey in your hand.  Better to leave your children all alone so you could sit by yourself in a trailer parked in an empty field.

“Beth.”  He shook his daughter awake.  “Come on, honey.  Time to get up.”

On an ordinary non-school day, he’d take Beth to work with him.  She’d sit obediently on a stool and color while he tended to the horses.

But during the festival, it was just too crazy out there, too unpredictable.  People swarming in and out of the barn, emergencies popping up all over the place.  There was no way he’d be able to reliably take care of her.

He thought, inevitably, of Taryn, who seemed to have vanished into the hills.  He might have worried that she’d drowned in the lake, or overdosed, but reports had reached him that she’d been sighted so he knew she was alive, and functioning.  It was odd that she hadn’t tried to get in touch, if only to hit on him for money, or to call high in the middle of the night, ranting about Beth.

But he should be happy.  Beth hadn’t said anything about her for a few days, and the best thing would be for Taryn and all memories of her to fade away.
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66. GEORGE: Didn’t We Almost Have It All?

he last thing he saw before the horse kicked him in the head was Cora, catching sight of him across the crowd of people, her face breaking into a smile so big and dazzling that she looked, in that instant, exactly like her teenage self.

And then he felt the horse erupt and before he could do anything to contain it, there was a blinding flash — not pain so much as an explosion, like a firecracker going off in his brain — and then, just like that, his old life was over.

His new life started with him lying on his back on the ground, perfectly calm except for the massive pain in his head, gazing up at Cora’s face framed by the most beautiful blue sky. She was not smiling now but looking worried, her brow knit, her mouth open.

“Oh my God,” she said. “Are you all right? Don’t move. Medhi’s gone to meet the ambulance.”

What was she talking about? Who needed an ambulance? She should lie down next to him. Put her arms around him and draw the curtain on that brilliant sky so they could be together where no one could see.

“Your kisses,” he said.

“What?”

“Your kisses. They taste exactly like marshmallows.”

“Sssssh,” she said. “The ambulance will be here any minute.”

“Do they still taste like that?” he asked her.

“I don’t know, George.” She looked more uncomfortable. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

He lifted his hand, beckoned her closer with his finger. “Kiss me,” he whispered. “Please, just kiss me one time.”
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