Boats Against The Current


Mrs Gatz

The beat hammers everything … including, it would seem, writhing bodies on the dance floor.

But somehow they always bounce back, just when it looks like someone has had way too many drinks and is about to get hammered completely off balance.

For tonight’s PARTY, Adeline has stapled all the furniture, sprayed graffiti on the walls and plundered both the wine cellars in the house. Presto: One football-field-sized-designer-dining-hall transformed into suburban techno garage.

Her parents are going to kill her.

That is, when they get home from the Caribbean or … wherever.

I have to admit that after the first hour or so I got the weird feeling that Adeline’s parents never really lived in this huge lakeside mansion – which, by the way, I never really had any idea was only 10 miles up the shore. It’s still so far away from dirty old Cleveland, though, that it feels like another world in which just Adeline reigns supreme, like some Pippi Longstocking Queen of Goth. She certainly behaves that way tonight.

Most of the teachers went ballistic when she handed out invitations to everyone on our high. ‘What about the annual year-end party on campus?’ they whined. Duh. What about biology lessons vs. an actual roll in the hay? I don’t think the teachers have anything to worry about, though. Most of the guys and girls who came here tonight will probably show up to the traditional event next week, as always. But this all-round warm-up was too tempting to turn down for half the school.

Except if you happen to be me, of course.

In that case, it’s not surprising that someone had to spend two days convincing you to attend; someone like Richard.

(The same Richard, by the way, who should have been here to meet me three hours ago.)

But I don’t want to bore you about me and Richard right now. How can I when there’s still sooo much I could evaluate about our gracious hostess?

Yes, she’s definitely something else: Adeline Christakis, only daughter of Greek IT-superstar Theodoros Christakis and British imported Yale professor, Julia Stephen. And apparently Adeline went to some kind of private super-elite high up in Toledo before she transferred to ours. That much I’ve heard.

I’ve also heard that she badgered her folks every day for about a year until they let her do it. In the beginning I wondered why any sane girl would do this, because you don’t just arrive in our run-of-the-mill high and think you are queen of the hill, even if your allowance is probably more than the principal’s salary.

And now for the third consecutive hour, I sit here in my corner and just watch the 100 or so boys and girls drinking, dancing and generally freaking out all around me like it’s 1999. I mean, how can you compete with all the free booze in the world and lots of exciting exotic rooms to disappear in? You can’t and she knows it – Adeline –frolicking over there, annoyingly relaxed, on a bunch of sofa-sized pillows under the big Gerhard Richter on the wall; relishing all the worship.

No, I don’t wonder anymore. Except about myself, that is. When am I going to get up and snatch some boy and disappear into one of those rooms? If nothing else, then just to get even with Richard?

How about … never?

Maybe that’s why I feel so ‘great’ about skulking here in the farthest corner of the makeshift techno-garage with my slouchy margarita – which I’ve only been nipping at for the last hour. It feels infinitely safer, and I get plenty of time to brood about what Richard Dufraine actually meant when he insisted that he ‘cared’.

I finally decide to finish the margarita. After all, there has to be room for refills.

*

“Penny for your thoughts?”

“- Jesus!”

Adeline – right behind me – drink in each hand; total poker face.

“You’re thinking about Jesus?” she exclaims, looking at me like I was the weird fish I know I am.

“O-och nae – Ye just startled me,‘s’ all … ”

Great. I manage to stammer so much that it gets even more difficult to hide my accent. How on Earth did she sneak up on me?! And more importantly – why? No, don’t say it. How about the little ‘watch-while-I-pick-on-the-most-uncool-girl’-diversion? And it works brilliantly: Her worshipers are already staring in my direction, probably thrilled that Addie decided to throw some peanuts into the monkey cage.

“You want another one?” Adeline nods towards my empty glass.

“No – yes.

Damn.

She hands me one of her drinks; so blue it could be straight out of the Star Wars Cantina. Then she smiles slightly and I can’t help noticing just how black her lipstick is. The Goth look is pro, got to give her that. Pitch black eye-liner, too; and a skirt that’s so skimpy it wouldn’t exist if it was any shorter; and, of course, there’s the black leather bra underneath the see-through black blouse. Looks surprisingly cool on her, even if she doesn’t exactly fill it out. Or maybe it looks cool exactly because she doesn’t fill it out and doesn’t give a damn. Wish it was me.

Adeline slides down on the edge of the small arm-chair I’ve been trying to keep for myself all evening.

“There’s more where it came from,” she confides.

“Thanks… Adeline.”

She winces: “It’s Lin. I positively hate ‘Adeline’. Mother’s idea; she thought it sounded ‘literary’. Anyway, your mum’s American, right?”

“Yes … ”

“And your dad is in Scotland? What happened?”

I do my best imitation of shrugging: “It’s a long story … “

“I’d like to hear it.”

I eye her cautiously. Still that poker face but… it seems the worshipers are losing a bit of interest already. Maybe … I should just not give a damn, either?

“Okay. It’s not a story, actually, more like a ‘fairy tale’ – except in real life they don’t always end as ye’d expect, do they?”

Lin doesn’t blink. Neither do I. I don’t breathe, either, for that matter – when I serve today’s version of my family record, the one that’s best mixed with the ‘don’t-give-a-fuck’ special ingredient:

“Okay … Back in the 70s a young biology student named Deborah Sawyer went to Scotland. It was her first overseas trip. Apparently she did it to study moss fer a project the coming semester. She never came back. She had the misfortune to fall in love with her guide, Calum McDonnell, who was to be me father. Unfortunately, Calum was really an alcoholic hermit who had decided that the best he could do with his time was tending the three or so fir trees that go fer woods out on the West Coast. Deborah didnae know at the beginning  – about the booze. And when she got to know she decided to ‘save him’. Didnae work out. Neither did their marriage.”

Add one well-rehearsed shrug for punctuation mark.

Lin just sips more blue and nods:

“Hm-hm.”

I stare fixedly into the blueness of my Star Wars drink. I don’t really dare to look directly at Lin. I already feel so lame about bursting all that crap out now. What must she be thinking about me … ?

*

From the dance floor someone tries to yodel along with the first 30 seconds of Tanita Tikaram’s new single, and then somebody else breaks it off and flips another techno-disc into the CD-player:

I don’t care ’cause I’m not there
And I don’t care if I’m here tomorrow

“I love that … ” Lin murmurs, while watching the dancing crowd with strange intensity.

“Uh, yeah… it’s good,” I reply meekly, not really sure if she’s talking about the worshipers or the electronica music.

Suddenly she looks straight at me:

“You like New Order?”

“Kind of … ”

She smiles thinly, but not without warmth:

“The ’94 version is not the best version.”

“Right … ”

She finishes her drink:

“Hey – why don’t we go upstairs? I’d like you to hear the original version.”

I feel something tense in my stomach: “Ye know … I think I should just go home. I have … a headache.”

Lin looks at me incredulously. Then disappointed.

“Okay. Nice talking to you, though … Carrie.”

“Thanks for the drink. I’m sorry that – ”

Suddenly the music changes again.

Oh no …

*

”- Hey, Braveheart!”

From the improvised DJ-stage, Eric Markham waves frantically – in my direction. Denise Fulcher and Ann Salcroft beside him, drink in hand, grinning openly.

Because Eric is such a funny guy, you know.

“ – Show us your Riverdance-moves, Carrie!”

I get up, for the door; cheeks on fire, eyes stinging.

I want to smash Eric Markham’s stupid fucking head into that loudspeaker, and I also want to run.

Eric hollers again: “Come on, Carrie – ! Show us!” 

Someone begins to clap, a clumsy drunken imitation of rhythm.

I make my choice.

***

Outside.

My high heels rapidly prick holes in the crispy snow carpet, as I make for the gate, fast as I can. I don’t look back.

I’m not going to look back towards that … gross imitation of some French seaside resort; that tower; that marble swimming pool. And so many acres of lawn and garden all in white … as if it was supposed to be extra fucking beautiful this time of year! For a catalogue or something!

Fuck it! Fuck it all!

*

“Carrie -!”

(What the-? She actually followed me out?)

Lin pants slightly, when she finally reaches me:

“Carrie, don’t go! – Eric’s a total jerk. We both know that.”

I stop and turn towards her, not really wanting to, but I can’t help myself now. In a way I’m even more angry that she can’t just let me brood in the safety of solitude:

“ – It’s nae jus’ Eric, Lin. Since the day I started I was everybody’s punching bag.”

“Really?”

Suddenly there’s a strange defiance in her voice. Out here, in full Goth, against the twilit gray-white snow-carpet, she looks like a tiny black troll that just popped out from under the old oaks.

“Ye know it is so … !”

Lin shakes her head vigorously:

“I don’t ‘know’ anything about anything about you, Carrie. I just transferred to your high – our high – less than 4 weeks ago, remember?”

“Don’ pretend in front o’ me!”

“I’m not pretending! Okay, okay – we don’t have that many classes together. I don’t know you that well – okay, fuck that – I don’t know you at all, Carrie McDonnell – ”

“ – Sawyer.”

“Sawyer – whatever!” She shakes her head again. “Until now you just seemed like … well, one of those quiet girls … And yeah, there was some talking, but everybody’s talking about everybody and for Pete’s sake – it’s not just because you come from over there. Come on with me back inside. Let’s show them that – ”

Suddenly something flares in me; something that’s been smoldering all evening, every time I had to look over at her majesty.

“ – Show them what? That Adeline Christakis has a new pet? ’cause that’s what this is really about, isn’t it? Ye want to show everybody just how Samaritan ye can be to the poor wee – the poor little girl from Scotland – ”

Even out here in the dark, I can see how much that stung.

Good. I want to kick back at somebody. And it’s way over due.

Long seconds …

Then Lin finally answers, with a calm more chilling than the whiteness around us:

“You think you have no friends? That a lot of people backtalk you? Maybe you’re right. But I’ve got news for you: Everybody’s a punching back from time to time. Everybody! Dan B because he came in from a farm and smells like it, Ellen Nga because her skin is gross, and – whatshername – Sharon Carthwright because she’s, well, because she dresses ‘like eight years ago’. We both know none of it is true, but that doesn’t matter – because they – ” she nods angrily towards the house “ –they say it’s true. And that’s just the lousy facts of life: Everyone gets their turn to check out the bottom of the pyramid. In a few months it’s someone else’s. Deal with it.”

And that’s what really pisses me off:

“ – Yeah, I reckon ye must have a lot o’ experience in ‘dealing with it’ when ye are born at the top o’ the food chain yerself!”

“And what exactly do you mean by that?”

“Och! Now ye are pretending!”

“No I am not. Tell me – tell me what you think of me.”

“Ye really want to know?”

“Yes.”

“Ye are nae going to like it one bit. Och, ye are nae going to like it … ”

“Try me.”

“I think ye … ”

(No. Not tears. Not now.)

“I think ye are … ”

“What?!”

“Forget it. I’m going.”

“No,” Lin grabs my arm. “Tell me.”

“Okay – fine.

“Yes. Now tell me! And don’t hold back for my sake!”

I look away. “I think ye are … … shallow.”

“‘Shallow?’”

“Yeah.”

“That’s it? ‘Shallow?’”

I just keep looking away. Something’s completely stuck in me. Lin, however, doesn’t have that problem. She breathes deeply first, though, shaking slightly, like she has to take in a thousand frozen, shattered thorns before she can say it:

“You know what, Carrie … you are right. I am shallow. In fact, I am so shallow that instead of going to counseling I’m just throwing a party for half of Cleveland Heights, when my father got stabbed dead two days ago with a nail file while trying to push his tiny dick too far up a 15-year old hooker’s asshole, the highlight of his business trip to Port-Au-Prince! I am so shallow that I just party on, while my mother flew off to the Keys with her boyfriend. That’s right, Carrie: I’m the fucking definition of shallow!

She turns and marches back. I react the only way I can:

I decide that she is lying.

***

Finally: The night bus. Good. The sooner I get away from here, the better. It was stupid of me to come in the first place. I’m not going to let Richard humiliate me anymore. And I’m definitely not going to let that lying little Queen-of-black-lipstick-bitch get the better of me. It actually makes me feel stronger that she said all that crap, because now I know how shallow she really is. That crap-story about her father was pathetic. So pathetic.

My victory is that I don’t care. I already feel strong enough to not care about Eric either. Or Richard.

The bus stops. A sleepy black driver pushes a button. The door grinds half-way open. Some dirty snow blocks it from opening all the way.

She’s so pathetic.

“You getting in?”

A little pinprick.

Just a tiny little pinprick …

… of doubt.

Damn you, Carrie McDonnell. If you go back there for … this, they’ll slaughter you. Eric will get his Braveheart-girl – right in his lap. And for what … ?! Because you suddenly decided to develop a conscience? What are you going to say? ‘I am sorry’?!

“Miss?”

“Uh, it’s a-all right. Er, I’m waiting fer another bus … ”

The driver looks at me like I was waiting for the ambulance to the cuckoo’s nest.

“There are no other buses on this route at this hour, miss.”

“Really? Well, I … just remembered that I left something inside.”

His eyes narrow. He casts a long look back over his shoulder, towards the mansion:

“That the big drug party by that Christakis-girl up there? Shoulda lived on the moon not to hear about it! You sure you don’t wanna go home?”

I shake my head.

He grins. “Don’t say I didn’t give you no choice. “

The bus veers away from the small stop, amidst the dark trees. It ploughs through a small snow pile. Then it’s just me and the black road again.

And a new choice.

So I beat on …

***

“Well, well – look who’s back.”

“Denise, I need to know where Lin went.”

“Lin who?”

“ – Adeline.”

“Haven’t seen her in a while. Why you looking, Braveheart?”

Denise’s long, artificially whitened hair reflects cold disco lights, as do her gray-green eyes. She watches for my reaction, as if she’d just observed casually that I was a rat following a bride to the alter and maybe I am. 

But tonight I’m a stubborn rat. I turn away from her:

“Ann, hey Ann – have ye seen Adeline?”

“What?”

“Have ye – have you seen Adeline?”

“What?”

Ann Fremont – short, stocky, big tits, capable of snorting out a grin with so much derision I can actually feel it across the room. It’s the only answer I get. I turn away again.

The music is thunder now, all around:

We’ve been spending most our lives
Living in a gangsta’s paradise
We’ve been spending most our lives
Living in a gangsta’s paradise

I feel stinging in my eyes. I look, again and again, but I’m like a piece of flotsam being swirled around and around in some dead-end harbor. I am numb, too.

Maybe good. I have to numb myself in order not to … run.

Hey, Rich – your girlfriend’s here…!”

No …not him … 

Up there beside Eric, beside the enormous B&O – up on the stashed boxes that make for a temporary DJ-scene for everyone to use and abuse:

Richard.

He smiles sheepishly as he looks down on me, simultaneously trying to disentangle himself from some brunette I don’t recall having seen before. But she looks very concerned. Especially about his crotch. She looks down on me, too, but not like I really exist. Just like there was some small ripple in the swirling sea of dancing, drunk teens – temporarily – but not really something significant. Not as significant as whatever she’s looking for in Richard’s jeans. He tries to remove her hand. It comes back like it’s tied to a rubber band.

“ – I thought you wouldn’t be here …” he blurts and tries to smile in a way that signals something I’m not even sure he knows what should be. “I … thought you said that you wouldn’t come tonight … that you hated parties … ”

He still struggles with the brunette’s hand – but not overly much. When I don’t say anything he feels forced to say it for me:

“I went to The Dome with the guys, like I said we would,” he stammers on. “We only really decided to come out here half an hour ago … I thought …”

“It’s okay,” I finally hear myself say. “It’s okay.”

“Yeah,” he says. “Yeah … Look, a little later, perhaps we could – ”

But I ‘can’t’ anything. Not anymore.

***

Upstairs.

Compared to the inferno in the ‘techno garage’ below, there’s an uncanny sacred calm up here. Sure, the floor is bouncing from the bass, but there’s no one around to feel it bounce. No one but me. At least I don’t think there is anyone … but me… curled up here in an endless hallway, back against the wall, my legs crammed up against me. Make-up is probably smeared but I gave up caring long ago. I found some stairs, I think. I don’t remember it clearly. I just had to get away.

I wonder if Lin’s up here – didn’t she hint she had a room or something? Now that I’ve thrown myself for the lions I might as well try to do what I came for. What did I come for? To say … 

‘Gee, I’m really sorry if it’s true that your dad fucked an under-age prostitute in Haiti and got stabbed. It’s just one of those risks travel risks, you know …’

I get up, reeling a bit. But it’s not from the blue stuff, Lin fed me. It’s a kind of … vertigo I think. So I walk, very slowly, down the hallway. I don’t want to pass out up here.

Strange … this big empty second floor of the house reminds me of something …

Yeah: That mansion in The Great Gatsby. About the only thing I loved in English class, the year before we moved from Skye and back to mother’s Cleveland: Her big capitulation. Her –

I get to a certain door.

My, God – so Lin has a room up here!

I thought … Hell, I don’t know what I thought. But this must be it: Big gross poster on the door with some gloomy lady, but where half the lady’s head is cut off and transformed into some kind of freaky monster instead. There is no name plate on the door or anything but who else in the house would have such a poster on their door?

I knock.

“Lin … ?”

No answer.

I knock again.

More silence.

Then I discover it. The door is not locked. Without really knowing how I’m able to make myself do it, I gently push it open.

Oh, my…

I don’t know what I expected. I guess, anything but … this?

The room is the size of my mum’s two-room apartment downtown; (only place Deb could afford as a part time teacher substitute and part time unemployed). And it’s like a library, lined with books – books in all shapes and sizes. Comic books, too – and magazines: A total mess or a daring mosaic of tastes – depending on who you are, I guess. I’m not sure who I am. I’m just sure it’s … overwhelming.

I go to the small bed – single bed – and carefully sit down.

No chairs in the room, no other furniture, not even a cupboard with clothes; just a little night table and then this bed, here in the corner. And – wow! – one of those royally expensive portable computers, I’ve heard about – lying casually on the sheets, black, closed, like an extra pillow or something.

Okay, obviously, she’s not here. I have to do what I came here for and then get out. ASAP.

So I open my small bag, find the calendar, rip out a page. Then I try to find the words. That’s the hard part. I write it three times but each time just feels worse. In the end I give up with this:


—————————————————————————————–

Lin,

I’m really, really sorry. I screwed up. Maybe I’m not strong enough to be a ‘punching bag’ for any longer. I hated Scotland. I wanted to live in a real city – the bigger the better. But now I’m just the odd girl from the country who dresses wrong, talks wrong and does everything wrong. I know it’s nothing compared to what’s happened for you. So for what it’s worth… I’m really sorry about what happened with your father and all. It’s terrible. It’s almost more than I can comprehend. I … don’t have the words. Just that I wish I could take back the stupid things I said about you. But I can’t. So you’ll have to do with this corny note. I know it can never be enough but I wish it was.

 

C

—————————————————————————————–

I leave the little piece of paper on the bed, beside the computer, ever-so carefully as if it’s the petal of some flower that’s almost dead.

In some way I hope she won’t read it; already a part of me is crying out: ‘Take it back – don’t show it to her. She’ll use it against you. It’ll make everything worse.’

I force myself to turn around and walk out, and then … a ridiculous, absurd coincidence that almost makes me laugh out loud. There, on one of the shelves, right in front of me: The treasure beyond treasures:

I slowly take out the original, 1925 first-print edition of The Great Gatsby. It’s in almost perfect condition. Even the dust-jacket only has one or two fine rifts in it.

And – she has more of them! First edition masterpieces – there’s Hemingway, Woolf, Yeats, more Fitzgerald, even a whole collection of Jane Austen. I’m not much of a ‘classic lover’ but these old books… my God, they must have cost a fortune! My old English teach, Mr. Jackman, would’ve fainted just seeing this. Ah, Mr. Jackman, lovable old codger – one of the only good reasons there possibly could have been to have stayed behind on Skye … with dad. I wish I could take a photo or something and send it to him. But that would be stupid. He has probably already forgotten about me. I was just another pupil and not a very good one. And I have to leave. Now. Before I –

“- What are you doing here?”

For the second time tonight Lin manages to almost scare the living daylights out of me. I turn slowly, Gatsby still in my hands, trying not to shake too much. Trying…

“I, uh, uh – I was just looking … for ye.”

Lin quickly walks over from the open door; snaps the book out of my hands, stuffs it back on the shelf.

“Why did you take that book?”

“Why…?”

“Why that one?”

“It’s one o’ me … favourite books. H-honestly. It’s one o’ the most beautiful, and sad, books … I ever read. Ye know, the ending … where Nick Carraway searches for someone to come to Mr. Gatz’ – to Jay Gatsby’s – funeral and no one wants to and he realizes that it’s all about … that we all, ye know, have to ‘beat on, like boats against the current … ’ and … all … that … ”

Lin stares coldly at me, making me feel quite clearly that she never really expected an answer. Especially not some lame attempt at trying to ‘reconnect’ by blurting out about some lame old book that I coincidentally got all mushy about in my last English class in a past life I ought to have buried long ago. Lame, lame, lame.

No, I had my chance at ‘connecting’ – an hour ago.

I look to the floor, then brush past her – downstairs.

Outside the winter is still gray, silent.

*** 

The bus stop again.

For the nth time I’m looking down the empty night-black road. For the nth time I’m wondering how sick I will get from waiting 45 minutes more for the night bus in minus 5 degrees. For the nth time I’m wondering if I should just go home and kill myself.

Because Adeline was trying to … you know … and I just threw it back into her face. I got a chance – one really good chance – to be someone else than ‘Braveheart-girl’ and I …

And I had no idea … that her parents … her father … that she

Fuck.

Wait … What was that? Some car … coming out of the drive way from the mansion?

Big, sleek BMW. Really big. Blocks the entire bus stop as it. Pulls over. A huge man gets out; sixty-ish – looking distinctly like all the stereotypical ideas I ever had about what an old beat-up boxer should look like. 

“You Carrie Sawyer.” he grumbles. It was not a question.

“Y-yes?”

“Mick Driscoll. I work for Mr. Christakis.”

“W-work?”

“Yeah, gardens, driving, stuff like that.”

He eyes me like it was the stupidest question in the world. Being me, of course I can’t help myself before I go with another one:

“He … he really is dead, then, Mr. Christakis, I mean … ?”

Embers of twilight twinkle in the old man’s eyes:

“Not officially. You gettin’ in or what?”

“Getting in?”

“Is there an echo ’round here?”

“But – ”

He holds up a warning hand:

“ – Because the young missus asked! I’ll drive ya home, okay? Now get in before I bloody change my mind and forget why I let myself be persuaded to get out of my warm, cozy bed at this ungodly hour. Ya juvenile monsters got no respect for ol’ Mick!”

I don’t get in. (I mean, what would you do?) This is totally … surreal. And he is –

Mick barks a laugh when he guesses my thoughts: “Ha! – The young missus thought ya might not be stupid enough to get into a car with a lurid old man. Glad to see yer not just blonde. Here!”

He hands me a note out the car window. It’s the one I left on Lin’s bed.

“Now,” he drawls on, the gravel quotient in his voice several notches up, “ – Are ya satisfied that I’m not an old pedophile out cruising the frosty roads in his new BMW?”

I shake my head, but I mean ‘yes’, of course. It’s all about confusion and how to pretend it’s not there. Like it’s been all evening. But finally I begin to feel how exhausted I am. Too exhausted … and cold.

I open the door, slowly; let myself slip in on the backseat. It’s real, crackling leather, and there’s a quirky, but reassuring, smell of pipe tobacco from Mick’s driver’s jacket; soft jazz purrs from a 10,000 dollar-something car audio system. My mind’s already racing to figure out, what Lin’s game is. But somehow – maybe – it doesn’t matter now. I’m cold and I just want to go home.

Mick growls a two-word question about our apartment’s address and I tell him. The car lurches on, skidding a little bit over the icy road. Then we are off, away from the mansion, away from Eric, Denise, Richard – all of them. At least until Monday.

And then I see it: Something written on the backside of my note. Not much, but enough.

In fact, if there was one definition left of the word ‘enough’ it would be this:

—————————————————————————————-
Let’s beat on then, if you still want to …

Hugs,

Ms. Gatz

—————————————————————————————–

 

*

 

Last edited 8 Apr Jan 2015