Part IV - Stasis
Charlene drained her glass. She looked to Thomas to refill it. He was engrossed with the wall. She looked to the others. No one was available to help her. She hefted herself up, stumbled to the table and emptied the last of the brandy into her snifter. Winded, she rested a moment. She would have to consider some form of exercise routine when they returned. She silently toasted Raul and took another pull on her glass. Others might be nervous that they needed this much alcohol to feel.
Raul made a good confidante for Charlene, as she had no confidantes. Her family didn’t bother with such things; the only people you disclosed your feelings to were paid. But Charlene found that when you don’t talk about yourself, people jump to all sorts of conclusions and that suited her. It saved her the trouble of having to make up a persona.
“OK, one more time. Bonjour. Je m’appelle Brittany. Comment allez vous?” Thomas slurred.
“Bon-jurrr. Je called Brit. Commo are you?” Brittany giggled. “Oh! I can’t get it. Alan, you talk for me, okay?” She rested her head on his shoulder with no response from him.
Janie smiled, “Don’t you worry. Paul is fluent.” She had been trying to reengage Paul, but with little success. Jinny Mathis hung in the room as much as the mystery wind.
“OK, Paul… do your best!” Brittany said with her head lolling to one side. Her eyes were only half open. “All I know is voulez-vous… “ she drifted off with a seductive grin.
Thomas playfully tossed a pillow at Brittany. She giggled and nuzzled Alan’s arm. Charlene rolled her eyes; the giggling was getting to her. She took another belt of brandy and ventured into the kitchen to possibly find something to eat.
Generally, Thomas’ flirtations didn’t get to her this much; having been a constant throughout their lives. Maybe it was Alan who was bothering her. Given Brittany’s beauty, his lack of interest in her was confusing. All of his girlfriends had an expiration date, but he usually lavished attention on them while they were fresh.
“Brit? You keep knocking my arm. Is there something you need?” Alan asked slightly testy.
“Just you.” She purred.
Alan released himself from her grip and handed her glass to her. “Surely this will tide you over.”
Whoever had gotten a stranglehold on his heart all those years ago was tightening their grip, Charlene suspected. Thomas dismissed any notion of Alan having a love lost. They all did. Janie would discuss it with her but ultimately she, too, could never see Alan cast in the rejected lover role.
Charlene envied Alan. Even apathy was an emotion. She married Thomas without hesitation. He was handsome, clever and adored her money. Even with his philandering, it wasn’t as if they didn’t like each other. They held mutual interests and appreciated the many aspects of life.
“Hey Char, remember that cab driver we had when we came here in ‘88?” Thomas asked her excitedly.
Showtime, Charlene reminded herself. She threw her head back with a boisterous laugh and called out, “Oh, tell it, Tommy. I love this story.” She returned to her chair feeling dizzy and needing air.
“So Char and I get in a cab with this guy. He speaks no English – fresh out of the countryside. Char and I had been throwing it back pretty good at this point, so she thinks she speaks perfect French.” He laughs and points to Charlene. “Char tries to get us to this bar someone mentioned. Supposedly had homemade booze and food. I knew a lot less French than I know now… which ain’t much,” he said. “Anyway, they keep going back and forth. Char is confident and this guy is getting passionate. We start going down progressively more residential streets. Next thing I know, the guy stops, gets out and walks us to the door… of his house! This is what he thought Char was asking him – to drink at his own house!”
Everyone laughed, though Brittany was the only one hearing this for the first time. Even Paul joined in to add, “And they stayed!” Thomas could diffuse any situation. Charlene liked to fan the flames. Thomas reined things in. They were the yin to the other’s yang. She often wished she could love him.
It was not a matter of her sexual preference; she had explored all options trying to get a foothold on her emotional state. Various doctors had tried to get to the root of her problem. They blamed her mother for withholding love, they blamed her father for questionable affection, they blamed her older brother for jumping out the attic window, they blamed her physiology, her brain, her heart, her libido – it was all accountable but not curable. So when she found someone willing to marry her as is, she rushed off to do so.
Thomas assumed she would always allow his dalliances. She, as a rational woman, should understand his physical desires. But she became as possessive of Thomas as anything else she had bought. They hurled insults and objects back and forth. Empty threats followed searing criticisms.
In the end, Thomas capitulated and groveled for her forgiveness, which she gave. They were pyrrhic victories, though; she knew it wasn’t her who kept him there.
In all their years, only one affair had posed a real threat. Thomas fell deeply for a secretary at his firm when Charlene got pregnant. At that point, they still shared a bedroom and occasionally Charlene would acquiesce to Thomas in the false hope that it would matter to him. Thomas was delighted by the news, something that surprised Charlene. It almost made her want the baby. But the baby got sick and made Charlene sick.
Thomas stuck by her bed the entire time, focusing mostly on her belly. One night, in a fevered haze, she heard Thomas praying, something she’d not heard before. She mustered all her strength and placed a hand on his head. Thomas kissed it tenderly and for a moment, they were actually husband and wife. Charlene regained strength as did the baby. They were back on the road to healthy gestation with endless possibilities.
Then Thomas stayed late at the office one night. And the next day the baby died.
Charlene never mentioned to Thomas that the baby had a bad valve early on and the chances of the child surviving were slim. She had never told Thomas it wasn’t his fault.
Charlene only loved one person completely and that was Janie. It was not a romantic love, or maybe it was. She did not want to sleep with Janie; she did not want to possess Janie. Charlene had long ago given up searching for definitions for her feelings about Janie – the definitions did not matter. Charlene felt for another person; that was all she knew.
The first day Janie and Charlene met was in the library. Charlene was avoiding an Ancient Architecture class and Janie was doing her work study hours. Charlene tried to check out a reference book. Janie calmly told Charlene why that was not possible. Charlene, who no more wanted the book than she wanted to learn how the Sphinx was built, did not understand what Janie was telling her.
“But it’s a book. This is the library. Isn’t that what libraries are for? To check out books?”
Janie patiently reiterated, “Yes. But this is a reference book. They need to be accessible to everyone at all times.”
“So they are the sorority girls of the library.” Charlene said dryly.
Janie said politely, “No.”
Charlene suspected Polly Perfect in front of her was probably a Gamma Gamma Bite Me, or some such. And then Janie added “The books serve a purpose,” with a sly smile.
Charlene and Janie continued: Charlene, incredulous that she would be denied the lease of this book and Janie, shocked at how much of the real world Charlene’s money had kept her from. They called a truce and went to lunch. Janie cared about everything around her. Her good nature was ingrained and not a façade used to curry Charlene’s favor, a first in Charlene’s relationships. Janie’s passion for virtually everything gave Charlene purpose. She ran off on ghost hunts with Janie in the middle of the night. She stood on street corners pretending to ask people to sign a petition to save some ugly vermin disappearing from some remote forest. She found Thomas so she could double date with Janie and Paul. Janie gave Charlene life.
Paul rose to extend his cramped limps. Janie extended her leg to him and ran her toes down his thigh. Paul, put off by her drunken advance, backed up against the stairway wall to stretch his back. Surveying the group depressed him. He rested his head against the wall. “Jesus!” He said jerking his body from the wall and rubbing the back of his head.
“What?” Janie and Charlene asked in unison.
Paul looked at the wall, “Something… it felt like…” He turned to the two of them. “There’s a bump—something bit me?”
Janie retracted all limbs, and it was Charlene who responded.
“Perhaps something did.”