The gift by Joanna Sworn

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Flash Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
An argument about a gift.

Submitted: February 18, 2009

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 18, 2009

A A A

A A A


The Gift
 
“Hi, Gus,” Liz calls out as I come in from outside where I’ve been shovelling her sidewalk. Liz can’t get out to do it with her M.S. the way it is so I’ve taken on the job for the winter. It’s been a hard one, this latest relapse and Liz has needed more of my help. Liz and I are friends from way back, from high school days but now I find myself living on the same street. During her real-estate days Liz found me a home.
I squeeze off my overshoes but keep my jacket on, on a low income, Liz keeps her house cold. I navigate her hulks of furniture to make my way kitchen wise where I find her with her feet up, in a big old armchair, a blanket over her legs. I give her the once over. Slender, elegant as she always is, her hair is pulled back from a face which shows the usual strain but the thick red wool sweater she wears, with the big grey maple leaf set into it adds a cheery if timeworn note. 
“JoBeth’s on her way over.” Liz is quick to tell me. “And she’s on the warpath.” JoBeth is Liz’s daughter. The daughter she had with Lloyd Fairbanks. Fairbanks by name maybe but not so much by nature. His seed spent in a fair number of wombs, one of which has been Liz’s. But this is a daughter to be proud of, a warrior of a girl.
“Oh? What’s it this time?”
“This time “ Liz says heavily, “is the same time. Time to front up to Amelia with yet another breezy thank-you.” Such demands appear to be an ongoing family issue. Amelia is Lloyd’s live-in girlfriend and there’s been a war on between these two and the winsome daughter.
JoBeth bursts in just as Liz is explaining the situation.
“Dad never sees it from my side” she says, levelling as she gets the gist of things from her mother’s words. As a presence in her life I ‘ve been in it long enough for her to be comfortable having me hear these details, this person who is, as is anybody, reluctant otherwise to have intimacies broadcast. Now however she is too incensed for restraint.
I, having had the experience of a Lloyd welcome embrace with some unasked-for intimacies understand well the man’s unreliabilities. This personal incident remains undivulged to Liz, however, happening as it did in the empty confines of my newly acquired residence. Something which could be written off as over-enthusiastic warmth from a man nominally my friend’s husband. Liz had never trusted Lloyd, a distrust which had eaten at her so I had seen it as a relief when reality finally surfaced and he had mosied-off with another single ex-wife house purchaser client of hers. Amelia, in short. A relief for me from having to hear more of Liz’s soul-searching accounts of gut wrenching uncertainties. However other concerns do not take long to surface.
So now Amelia has the man and is ensuring by every means she has he stay true. That he has her in focus at all times, which is how this incident of the knitted neckpieces operates. Lloyd’s sister Blue, who lives across the border has sent gifts to her brother and his daughter who have birthdays following in close succession. Blue has made them a dickie each, in a cashmere knit. These, soft and thickly spun, are a thoughtful addition to the winter wardrobe of hat and scarves, leggings, socks and mitts.
It is this dickie JoBeth rips from her neck right now, a tearing sound issuing from its teflon fastening, her face reddening with the exertion. Or is it from the distress within?
“Dad’s in Baltimore, but he keeps phoning. Call Amelia, call Amelia. Amelia’s phoning him, saying she has not been thanked. Thanked for what?” JoBeth flushes and stalks up her eyebrows in bug-eyed exasperation. Liz interrupts here.
“She wants to be thanked for delivering a parcel here, to me, for JoBeth, from her aunt Blue in Baltimore. Blue sent the two dickies together for their birthdays and eventually JoBeth’s got to her by way of this personal effort on Amelia’s part.”
“Only after Blue told Dad she wondered why I hadn’t thanked her,” JoBeth puts in. “Otherwise, would I ever have got her parcel?” The dickie lies patient and unoffending on the pyre of JoBeth’s outerwear. All a great disappointment for a gift once so bravely entertained. I eye the soft weft of the knitting, sheened rich and lustrous. Sad to think of Blue and her efforts reduced to a litany of resentful animosties.
Had such been Blue’s intention? For this had she thrilled to the idea of renewed affections? For this the likely trek across town to high-end wool store for a suitably costly skein of cashmere/angora knit? Along the way had there been thoughts of the many consignments of cleverly fabricated items wending their way over the years between this brother of hers, his family and hers, even as they were, separated? Did her spirits lift to recall yet again the interest and appreciation on the JoBeth side for such affirming efforts as hers for the things of the family as once it had been? Liz can always be relied on for her enthusiasm for a one of a kind idea
“Do you think it fair? Now I get out made out to be the problem.” JoBeth says with exasperation from her position straddling a chair, her torso leaning towards its back. The kichen area acts as a well, all its series of meals prepared, eaten, cleaned up after, soundings to these moments of talk. A cat has settled on an outside window ledge, its face in soundless grimace. JoBeth goes to let it in.
 “This stuff just goes on and one. It’s always some issue like this and me always in the middle of it.”
I am thinking about the many instances I have had to eat crow. All the times Elizabeth and I fell out, long ago, when she was the high school sweetheart and I, Augusta her shadow companion. Even now she may only tolerate me. And I am thinking about stories read then, those myths and fables, of dresses dipped in poison and sent to a rival. Of impregnated gloves. Rings with poison to be emptied into glasses, and all of it with fatal results. Appropriate perhaps that gift, in German, is the word for poison.
“It’s not about fair” I say placatingly. “It’s a style” I tell JoBeth. “Civility. Which may well come with a feeling like this one of yours. The submission effect. You might as well get used to it. It’s what your father wants. To get Amelia off his back.” 
We are silent for a minute or two, thinking about Amelia.
‘Poor Amelia’ how my thoughts run. All the trying in her so hard for effect. Starving herself skeletal, not enough. Nor the cosmetic surgeries. The woman must wax and wane like a fiery to get the attention she needs. Stringy and colourless the fly-away hair is no halo to gaunt features though the coathanger clavicles dipping below this, jutting bone pathos. She may project herself as goulish trophy surmounting an ascendant wall, but it is not working. Nor is the incessant plaint to consider ‘my ailments’ breathily child squeaked. None of this does it anymore. While JoBeth, her headstart on youth still having her a bombshell blonde. Tall, alert, vital, buoyant, with a look of strength and leanness to her beauty to outlast any downturn. Any downturn. Ever.
Sad how JoBeth fails to see this truth, which could have her rising to the vapid action but pleasing too. Representative as it is of JoBeth’s modest appraisal of herself. This fight unequal no way JoBeth sees.
“Falsity. It’s the reality of civility. Which your father wants of you.” Her look is pained, acknowledging. “What the French call politesse. Meaningless as feelings go. Social duty. Such ideas mean nothing to these new JoBeths of ours, for whom authenticity is everything. Authenticity! JoBeth feels Amelia is winning in a game of cat and mouse, out always to trap and discomfort her, the lover’s daughter. I might like to talk, all school-mistressy, of Les Liaisons Dangereux but does it help?
“Oh Gus.” The girl is almost tearful now. “I hate what they are making me do. It isn’t honest.” She looks at us, her gaze whistful. “I want to be honest.”
“It isn’t about honesty,” Liz says.
“It is, Mom, it is. I am being asked to, what is it? Lie?” She looks towards me.
“Dissemble” I say. “Pretend a courtesy you don’t feel. Obliged rather than given.”
Such does love of a father do. Even this one who has shown so little of such trust. I don’t wonder JoBeth resists the idea of a deceit of which those others, extorting it from her, know no measure. Civility may have a value to it, but of what is that value without truth? I feel a fury surge up in me at the quicksand of manipulation this child is force to wade in.
“Are you going to tell her?” I say to Liz.
“Tell me what?”
“Look, I’m over here because I came to clear the sidewalk.”
“I know, I should have come sooner.”
“That is not the point. But... do you see Lloyd here?”
She shrugs. “His hip” she says. “With his hip...”
“Have you... ever... seen him over here?”
The thread is... of iron roped... They will have her lying the way they do. Pretence? Why not? Display is what they like, and can do spo well.
“He’s like one of those vehicles. They come barreling along, hit of stretch of murky pooled water and send it flying, all over the unwary passerby. Come on, JoBeth. what’s he seen through? Child support, student loans, holidays abroad?”
Liz says nothing. I know she won’t. Something in her stays loyal to Lloyd. If that’s loyalty, let them have it. Collateral damage, this is how we are, I could add, but keep it.
Has he ever committed one cent to your welfare, I want to ask. No, for him you have always been an incidental, a freebie. A lucky score. Something he gets to enjoy without responsibility.
Without responsibility? I can hear her chide. He is always onto me about not being good enough.
Oh is he? Is he indeed? The presumption of the man. And that it succeeds. Oy vey.
So much love. So much love
“You want me to get some coffee?” Liz takes herself over to the sink.
“Or, to use another analogy, we are expected to skitter over the slabs of ice making island barriers of slipperiness between road and sidewalk. Survive that and you deserve to continue. All the surety there is to it.” I laugh but they look at me vacantly. Not being walkers.
Liz stretches, going over to the counters she wipes them over, running the cloth up and down the cupboard doors above her, rustling the contents of shelves, her interest now in the conversation at a zero.
JoBeth is no innocent. She is not naive. The wish for clarity is evident.
“You can escape. You don’t have to do it. There is a con going on. Sometimes we call it ‘irony’. That’s the wryness.. But what is being done here is a number. You are right about fairness. How can it be fair for such reprobates to call the shots. Neither just. Nor handsome.” An allusion bound to escape them. “This is a travesty of civility. Expecting behaviour of you absent in themselves.”
We all roll our eyes, but I know I have lost her. Better a flawed god as father than no god at all. Or is it, better a flawed father than no sense of father at all? For all her writhing she is no closer than Amelia is, to winning this love she wants from a father she felt onc she had. The child who birthed that love long gone. Gone, and with it, any possibility that it be satisfied. JoBeth has had a destiny of long years’ struggle.
‘I love how you love me.’ The song comes to me in a lilt its own. I feel the urge to hum it for Liz and JoBeth. To sing out the words. How I would like to let them out, have the women sing for themselves. ‘I love how I love you.”
This JoBeth love for a father is a wonderful thing.
“Your love for your father, JoBeth, it’s a wonderful thing. You are the shrine of love,” I tell her, laughing at such words.
Isn’t it this which matters? Not whether he is deserving of such a momument, or even a worthy representative for such a construction. The inspiration is in her, tested and honed it will build its power.
The Gift
 
“Hi, Gus,” Liz calls out as I come in from outside where I’ve been shovelling her sidewalk. Liz can’t get out to do it with her M.S. the way it is so I’ve taken on the job for the winter. It’s been a hard one, this latest relapse and Liz has needed more of my help. Liz and I are friends from way back, from high school days but now I find myself living on the same street. During her real-estate days Liz found me a home.
I squeeze off my overshoes but keep my jacket on, on a low income, Liz keeps her house cold. I navigate her hulks of furniture to make my way kitchen wise where I find her with her feet up, in a big old armchair, a blanket over her legs. I give her the once over. Slender, elegant as she always is, her hair is pulled back from a face which shows the usual strain but the thick red wool sweater she wears, with the big grey maple leaf set into it adds a cheery if timeworn note. 
“JoBeth’s on her way over.” Liz is quick to tell me. “And she’s on the warpath.” JoBeth is Liz’s daughter. The daughter she had with Lloyd Fairbanks. Fairbanks by name maybe but not so much by nature. His seed spent in a fair number of wombs, one of which has been Liz’s. But this is a daughter to be proud of, a warrior of a girl.
“Oh? What’s it this time?”
“This time “ Liz says heavily, “is the same time. Time to front up to Amelia with yet another breezy thank-you.” Such demands appear to be an ongoing family issue. Amelia is Lloyd’s live-in girlfriend and there’s been a war on between these two and the winsome daughter.
JoBeth bursts in just as Liz is explaining the situation.
“Dad never sees it from my side” she says, levelling as she gets the gist of things from her mother’s words. As a presence in her life I ‘ve been in it long enough for her to be comfortable having me hear these details, this person who is, as is anybody, reluctant otherwise to have intimacies broadcast. Now however she is too incensed for restraint.
I, having had the experience of a Lloyd welcome embrace with some unasked-for intimacies understand well the man’s unreliabilities. This personal incident remains undivulged to Liz, however, happening as it did in the empty confines of my newly acquired residence. Something which could be written off as over-enthusiastic warmth from a man nominally my friend’s husband. Liz had never trusted Lloyd, a distrust which had eaten at her so I had seen it as a relief when reality finally surfaced and he had mosied-off with another single ex-wife house purchaser client of hers. Amelia, in short. A relief for me from having to hear more of Liz’s soul-searching accounts of gut wrenching uncertainties. However other concerns do not take long to surface.
So now Amelia has the man and is ensuring by every means she has he stay true. That he has her in focus at all times, which is how this incident of the knitted neckpieces operates. Lloyd’s sister Blue, who lives across the border has sent gifts to her brother and his daughter who have birthdays following in close succession. Blue has made them a dickie each, in a cashmere knit. These, soft and thickly spun, are a thoughtful addition to the winter wardrobe of hat and scarves, leggings, socks and mitts.
It is this dickie JoBeth rips from her neck right now, a tearing sound issuing from its teflon fastening, her face reddening with the exertion. Or is it from the distress within?
“Dad’s in Baltimore, but he keeps phoning. Call Amelia, call Amelia. Amelia’s phoning him, saying she has not been thanked. Thanked for what?” JoBeth flushes and stalks up her eyebrows in bug-eyed exasperation. Liz interrupts here.
“She wants to be thanked for delivering a parcel here, to me, for JoBeth, from her aunt Blue in Baltimore. Blue sent the two dickies together for their birthdays and eventually JoBeth’s got to her by way of this personal effort on Amelia’s part.”
“Only after Blue told Dad she wondered why I hadn’t thanked her,” JoBeth puts in. “Otherwise, would I ever have got her parcel?” The dickie lies patient and unoffending on the pyre of JoBeth’s outerwear. All a great disappointment for a gift once so bravely entertained. I eye the soft weft of the knitting, sheened rich and lustrous. Sad to think of Blue and her efforts reduced to a litany of resentful animosties.
Had such been Blue’s intention? For this had she thrilled to the idea of renewed affections? For this the likely trek across town to high-end wool store for a suitably costly skein of cashmere/angora knit? Along the way had there been thoughts of the many consignments of cleverly fabricated items wending their way over the years between this brother of hers, his family and hers, even as they were, separated? Did her spirits lift to recall yet again the interest and appreciation on the JoBeth side for such affirming efforts as hers for the things of the family as once it had been? Liz can always be relied on for her enthusiasm for a one of a kind idea
“Do you think it fair? Now I get out made out to be the problem.” JoBeth says with exasperation from her position straddling a chair, her torso leaning towards its back. The kichen area acts as a well, all its series of meals prepared, eaten, cleaned up after, soundings to these moments of talk. A cat has settled on an outside window ledge, its face in soundless grimace. JoBeth goes to let it in.
 “This stuff just goes on and one. It’s always some issue like this and me always in the middle of it.”
I am thinking about the many instances I have had to eat crow. All the times Elizabeth and I fell out, long ago, when she was the high school sweetheart and I, Augusta her shadow companion. Even now she may only tolerate me. And I am thinking about stories read then, those myths and fables, of dresses dipped in poison and sent to a rival. Of impregnated gloves. Rings with poison to be emptied into glasses, and all of it with fatal results. Appropriate perhaps that gift, in German, is the word for poison.
“It’s not about fair” I say placatingly. “It’s a style” I tell JoBeth. “Civility. Which may well come with a feeling like this one of yours. The submission effect. You might as well get used to it. It’s what your father wants. To get Amelia off his back.” 
We are silent for a minute or two, thinking about Amelia.
‘Poor Amelia’ how my thoughts run. All the trying in her so hard for effect. Starving herself skeletal, not enough. Nor the cosmetic surgeries. The woman must wax and wane like a fiery to get the attention she needs. Stringy and colourless the fly-away hair is no halo to gaunt features though the coathanger clavicles dipping below this, jutting bone pathos. She may project herself as goulish trophy surmounting an ascendant wall, but it is not working. Nor is the incessant plaint to consider ‘my ailments’ breathily child squeaked. None of this does it anymore. While JoBeth, her headstart on youth still having her a bombshell blonde. Tall, alert, vital, buoyant, with a look of strength and leanness to her beauty to outlast any downturn. Any downturn. Ever.
Sad how JoBeth fails to see this truth, which could have her rising to the vapid action but pleasing too. Representative as it is of JoBeth’s modest appraisal of herself. This fight unequal no way JoBeth sees.
“Falsity. It’s the reality of civility. Which your father wants of you.” Her look is pained, acknowledging. “What the French call politesse. Meaningless as feelings go. Social duty. Such ideas mean nothing to these new JoBeths of ours, for whom authenticity is everything. Authenticity! JoBeth feels Amelia is winning in a game of cat and mouse, out always to trap and discomfort her, the lover’s daughter. I might like to talk, all school-mistressy, of Les Liaisons Dangereux but does it help?
“Oh Gus.” The girl is almost tearful now. “I hate what they are making me do. It isn’t honest.” She looks at us, her gaze whistful. “I want to be honest.”
“It isn’t about honesty,” Liz says.
“It is, Mom, it is. I am being asked to, what is it? Lie?” She looks towards me.
“Dissemble” I say. “Pretend a courtesy you don’t feel. Obliged rather than given.”
Such does love of a father do. Even this one who has shown so little of such trust. I don’t wonder JoBeth resists the idea of a deceit of which those others, extorting it from her, know no measure. Civility may have a value to it, but of what is that value without truth? I feel a fury surge up in me at the quicksand of manipulation this child is force to wade in.
“Are you going to tell her?” I say to Liz.
“Tell me what?”
“Look, I’m over here because I came to clear the sidewalk.”
“I know, I should have come sooner.”
“That is not the point. But... do you see Lloyd here?”
She shrugs. “His hip” she says. “With his hip...”
“Have you... ever... seen him over here?”
The thread is... of iron roped... They will have her lying the way they do. Pretence? Why not? Display is what they like, and can do spo well.
“He’s like one of those vehicles. They come barreling along, hit of stretch of murky pooled water and send it flying, all over the unwary passerby. Come on, JoBeth. what’s he seen through? Child support, student loans, holidays abroad?”
Liz says nothing. I know she won’t. Something in her stays loyal to Lloyd. If that’s loyalty, let them have it. Collateral damage, this is how we are, I could add, but keep it.
Has he ever committed one cent to your welfare, I want to ask. No, for him you have always been an incidental, a freebie. A lucky score. Something he gets to enjoy without responsibility.
Without responsibility? I can hear her chide. He is always onto me about not being good enough.
Oh is he? Is he indeed? The presumption of the man. And that it succeeds. Oy vey.
So much love. So much love
“You want me to get some coffee?” Liz takes herself over to the sink.
“Or, to use another analogy, we are expected to skitter over the slabs of ice making island barriers of slipperiness between road and sidewalk. Survive that and you deserve to continue. All the surety there is to it.” I laugh but they look at me vacantly. Not being walkers.
Liz stretches, going over to the counters she wipes them over, running the cloth up and down the cupboard doors above her, rustling the contents of shelves, her interest now in the conversation at a zero.
JoBeth is no innocent. She is not naive. The wish for clarity is evident.
“You can escape. You don’t have to do it. There is a con going on. Sometimes we call it ‘irony’. That’s the wryness.. But what is being done here is a number. You are right about fairness. How can it be fair for such reprobates to call the shots. Neither just. Nor handsome.” An allusion bound to escape them. “This is a travesty of civility. Expecting behaviour of you absent in themselves.”
We all roll our eyes, but I know I have lost her. Better a flawed god as father than no god at all. Or is it, better a flawed father than no sense of father at all? For all her writhing she is no closer than Amelia is, to winning this love she wants from a father she felt onc she had. The child who birthed that love long gone. Gone, and with it, any possibility that it be satisfied. JoBeth has had a destiny of long years’ struggle.
‘I love how you love me.’ The song comes to me in a lilt its own. I feel the urge to hum it for Liz and JoBeth. To sing out the words. How I would like to let them out, have the women sing for themselves. ‘I love how I love you.”
This JoBeth love for a father is a wonderful thing.
“Your love for your father, JoBeth, it’s a wonderful thing. You are the shrine of love,” I tell her, laughing at such words.
Isn’t it this which matters? Not whether he is deserving of such a momument, or even a worthy representative for such a construction. The inspiration is in her, tested and honed it will build its power.
The Gift
 
“Hi, Gus,” Liz calls out as I come in from outside where I’ve been shovelling her sidewalk. Liz can’t get out to do it with her M.S. the way it is so I’ve taken on the job for the winter. It’s been a hard one, this latest relapse and Liz has needed more of my help. Liz and I are friends from way back, from high school days but now I find myself living on the same street. During her real-estate days Liz found me a home.
I squeeze off my overshoes but keep my jacket on, on a low income, Liz keeps her house cold. I navigate her hulks of furniture to make my way kitchen wise where I find her with her feet up, in a big old armchair, a blanket over her legs. I give her the once over. Slender, elegant as she always is, her hair is pulled back from a face which shows the usual strain but the thick red wool sweater she wears, with the big grey maple leaf set into it adds a cheery if timeworn note. 
“JoBeth’s on her way over.” Liz is quick to tell me. “And she’s on the warpath.” JoBeth is Liz’s daughter. The daughter she had with Lloyd Fairbanks. Fairbanks by name maybe but not so much by nature. His seed spent in a fair number of wombs, one of which has been Liz’s. But this is a daughter to be proud of, a warrior of a girl.
“Oh? What’s it this time?”
“This time “ Liz says heavily, “is the same time. Time to front up to Amelia with yet another breezy thank-you.” Such demands appear to be an ongoing family issue. Amelia is Lloyd’s live-in girlfriend and there’s been a war on between these two and the winsome daughter.
JoBeth bursts in just as Liz is explaining the situation.
“Dad never sees it from my side” she says, levelling as she gets the gist of things from her mother’s words. As a presence in her life I ‘ve been in it long enough for her to be comfortable having me hear these details, this person who is, as is anybody, reluctant otherwise to have intimacies broadcast. Now however she is too incensed for restraint.
I, having had the experience of a Lloyd welcome embrace with some unasked-for intimacies understand well the man’s unreliabilities. This personal incident remains undivulged to Liz, however, happening as it did in the empty confines of my newly acquired residence. Something which could be written off as over-enthusiastic warmth from a man nominally my friend’s husband. Liz had never trusted Lloyd, a distrust which had eaten at her so I had seen it as a relief when reality finally surfaced and he had mosied-off with another single ex-wife house purchaser client of hers. Amelia, in short. A relief for me from having to hear more of Liz’s soul-searching accounts of gut wrenching uncertainties. However other concerns do not take long to surface.
So now Amelia has the man and is ensuring by every means she has he stay true. That he has her in focus at all times, which is how this incident of the knitted neckpieces operates. Lloyd’s sister Blue, who lives across the border has sent gifts to her brother and his daughter who have birthdays following in close succession. Blue has made them a dickie each, in a cashmere knit. These, soft and thickly spun, are a thoughtful addition to the winter wardrobe of hat and scarves, leggings, socks and mitts.
It is this dickie JoBeth rips from her neck right now, a tearing sound issuing from its teflon fastening, her face reddening with the exertion. Or is it from the distress within?
“Dad’s in Baltimore, but he keeps phoning. Call Amelia, call Amelia. Amelia’s phoning him, saying she has not been thanked. Thanked for what?” JoBeth flushes and stalks up her eyebrows in bug-eyed exasperation. Liz interrupts here.
“She wants to be thanked for delivering a parcel here, to me, for JoBeth, from her aunt Blue in Baltimore. Blue sent the two dickies together for their birthdays and eventually JoBeth’s got to her by way of this personal effort on Amelia’s part.”
“Only after Blue told Dad she wondered why I hadn’t thanked her,” JoBeth puts in. “Otherwise, would I ever have got her parcel?” The dickie lies patient and unoffending on the pyre of JoBeth’s outerwear. All a great disappointment for a gift once so bravely entertained. I eye the soft weft of the knitting, sheened rich and lustrous. Sad to think of Blue and her efforts reduced to a litany of resentful animosties.
Had such been Blue’s intention? For this had she thrilled to the idea of renewed affections? For this the likely trek across town to high-end wool store for a suitably costly skein of cashmere/angora knit? Along the way had there been thoughts of the many consignments of cleverly fabricated items wending their way over the years between this brother of hers, his family and hers, even as they were, separated? Did her spirits lift to recall yet again the interest and appreciation on the JoBeth side for such affirming efforts as hers for the things of the family as once it had been? Liz can always be relied on for her enthusiasm for a one of a kind idea
“Do you think it fair? Now I get out made out to be the problem.” JoBeth says with exasperation from her position straddling a chair, her torso leaning towards its back. The kichen area acts as a well, all its series of meals prepared, eaten, cleaned up after, soundings to these moments of talk. A cat has settled on an outside window ledge, its face in soundless grimace. JoBeth goes to let it in.
 “This stuff just goes on and one. It’s always some issue like this and me always in the middle of it.”
I am thinking about the many instances I have had to eat crow. All the times Elizabeth and I fell out, long ago, when she was the high school sweetheart and I, Augusta her shadow companion. Even now she may only tolerate me. And I am thinking about stories read then, those myths and fables, of dresses dipped in poison and sent to a rival. Of impregnated gloves. Rings with poison to be emptied into glasses, and all of it with fatal results. Appropriate perhaps that gift, in German, is the word for poison.
“It’s not about fair” I say placatingly. “It’s a style” I tell JoBeth. “Civility. Which may well come with a feeling like this one of yours. The submission effect. You might as well get used to it. It’s what your father wants. To get Amelia off his back.” 
We are silent for a minute or two, thinking about Amelia.
‘Poor Amelia’ how my thoughts run. All the trying in her so hard for effect. Starving herself skeletal, not enough. Nor the cosmetic surgeries. The woman must wax and wane like a fiery to get the attention she needs. Stringy and colourless the fly-away hair is no halo to gaunt features though the coathanger clavicles dipping below this, jutting bone pathos. She may project herself as goulish trophy surmounting an ascendant wall, but it is not working. Nor is the incessant plaint to consider ‘my ailments’ breathily child squeaked. None of this does it anymore. While JoBeth, her headstart on youth still having her a bombshell blonde. Tall, alert, vital, buoyant, with a look of strength and leanness to her beauty to outlast any downturn. Any downturn. Ever.
Sad how JoBeth fails to see this truth, which could have her rising to the vapid action but pleasing too. Representative as it is of JoBeth’s modest appraisal of herself. This fight unequal no way JoBeth sees.
“Falsity. It’s the reality of civility. Which your father wants of you.” Her look is pained, acknowledging. “What the French call politesse. Meaningless as feelings go. Social duty. Such ideas mean nothing to these new JoBeths of ours, for whom authenticity is everything. Authenticity! JoBeth feels Amelia is winning in a game of cat and mouse, out always to trap and discomfort her, the lover’s daughter. I might like to talk, all school-mistressy, of Les Liaisons Dangereux but does it help?
“Oh Gus.” The girl is almost tearful now. “I hate what they are making me do. It isn’t honest.” She looks at us, her gaze whistful. “I want to be honest.”
“It isn’t about honesty,” Liz says.
“It is, Mom, it is. I am being asked to, what is it? Lie?” She looks towards me.
“Dissemble” I say. “Pretend a courtesy you don’t feel. Obliged rather than given.”
Such does love of a father do. Even this one who has shown so little of such trust. I don’t wonder JoBeth resists the idea of a deceit of which those others, extorting it from her, know no measure. Civility may have a value to it, but of what is that value without truth? I feel a fury surge up in me at the quicksand of manipulation this child is force to wade in.
“Are you going to tell her?” I say to Liz.
“Tell me what?”
“Look, I’m over here because I came to clear the sidewalk.”
“I know, I should have come sooner.”
“That is not the point. But... do you see Lloyd here?”
She shrugs. “His hip” she says. “With his hip...”
“Have you... ever... seen him over here?”
The thread is... of iron roped... They will have her lying the way they do. Pretence? Why not? Display is what they like, and can do spo well.
“He’s like one of those vehicles. They come barreling along, hit of stretch of murky pooled water and send it flying, all over the unwary passerby. Come on, JoBeth. what’s he seen through? Child support, student loans, holidays abroad?”
Liz says nothing. I know she won’t. Something in her stays loyal to Lloyd. If that’s loyalty, let them have it. Collateral damage, this is how we are, I could add, but keep it.
Has he ever committed one cent to your welfare, I want to ask. No, for him you have always been an incidental, a freebie. A lucky score. Something he gets to enjoy without responsibility.
Without responsibility? I can hear her chide. He is always onto me about not being good enough.
Oh is he? Is he indeed? The presumption of the man. And that it succeeds. Oy vey.
So much love. So much love
“You want me to get some coffee?” Liz takes herself over to the sink.
“Or, to use another analogy, we are expected to skitter over the slabs of ice making island barriers of slipperiness between road and sidewalk. Survive that and you deserve to continue. All the surety there is to it.” I laugh but they look at me vacantly. Not being walkers.
Liz stretches, going over to the counters she wipes them over, running the cloth up and down the cupboard doors above her, rustling the contents of shelves, her interest now in the conversation at a zero.
JoBeth is no innocent. She is not naive. The wish for clarity is evident.
“You can escape. You don’t have to do it. There is a con going on. Sometimes we call it ‘irony’. That’s the wryness.. But what is being done here is a number. You are right about fairness. How can it be fair for such reprobates to call the shots. Neither just. Nor handsome.” An allusion bound to escape them. “This is a travesty of civility. Expecting behaviour of you absent in themselves.”
We all roll our eyes, but I know I have lost her. Better a flawed god as father than no god at all. Or is it, better a flawed father than no sense of father at all? For all her writhing she is no closer than Amelia is, to winning this love she wants from a father she felt onc she had. The child who birthed that love long gone. Gone, and with it, any possibility that it be satisfied. JoBeth has had a destiny of long years’ struggle.
‘I love how you love me.’ The song comes to me in a lilt its own. I feel the urge to hum it for Liz and JoBeth. To sing out the words. How I would like to let them out, have the women sing for themselves. ‘I love how I love you.”
This JoBeth love for a father is a wonderful thing.
“Your love for your father, JoBeth, it’s a wonderful thing. You are the shrine of love,” I tell her, laughing at such words.
Isn’t it this which matters? Not whether he is deserving of such a momument, or even a worthy representative for such a construction. The inspiration is in her, tested and honed it will build its power.
The Gift
 
“Hi, Gus,” Liz calls out as I come in from outside where I’ve been shovelling her sidewalk. Liz can’t get out to do it with her M.S. the way it is so I’ve taken on the job for the winter. It’s been a hard one, this latest relapse and Liz has needed more of my help. Liz and I are friends from way back, from high school days but now I find myself living on the same street. During her real-estate days Liz found me a home.
I squeeze off my overshoes but keep my jacket on, on a low income, Liz keeps her house cold. I navigate her hulks of furniture to make my way kitchen wise where I find her with her feet up, in a big old armchair, a blanket over her legs. I give her the once over. Slender, elegant as she always is, her hair is pulled back from a face which shows the usual strain but the thick red wool sweater she wears, with the big grey maple leaf set into it adds a cheery if timeworn note. 
“JoBeth’s on her way over.” Liz is quick to tell me. “And she’s on the warpath.” JoBeth is Liz’s daughter. The daughter she had with Lloyd Fairbanks. Fairbanks by name maybe but not so much by nature. His seed spent in a fair number of wombs, one of which has been Liz’s. But this is a daughter to be proud of, a warrior of a girl.
“Oh? What’s it this time?”
“This time “ Liz says heavily, “is the same time. Time to front up to Amelia with yet another breezy thank-you.” Such demands appear to be an ongoing family issue. Amelia is Lloyd’s live-in girlfriend and there’s been a war on between these two and the winsome daughter.
JoBeth bursts in just as Liz is explaining the situation.
“Dad never sees it from my side” she says, levelling as she gets the gist of things from her mother’s words. As a presence in her life I ‘ve been in it long enough for her to be comfortable having me hear these details, this person who is, as is anybody, reluctant otherwise to have intimacies broadcast. Now however she is too incensed for restraint.
I, having had the experience of a Lloyd welcome embrace with some unasked-for intimacies understand well the man’s unreliabilities. This personal incident remains undivulged to Liz, however, happening as it did in the empty confines of my newly acquired residence. Something which could be written off as over-enthusiastic warmth from a man nominally my friend’s husband. Liz had never trusted Lloyd, a distrust which had eaten at her so I had seen it as a relief when reality finally surfaced and he had mosied-off with another single ex-wife house purchaser client of hers. Amelia, in short. A relief for me from having to hear more of Liz’s soul-searching accounts of gut wrenching uncertainties. However other concerns do not take long to surface.
So now Amelia has the man and is ensuring by every means she has he stay true. That he has her in focus at all times, which is how this incident of the knitted neckpieces operates. Lloyd’s sister Blue, who lives across the border has sent gifts to her brother and his daughter who have birthdays following in close succession. Blue has made them a dickie each, in a cashmere knit. These, soft and thickly spun, are a thoughtful addition to the winter wardrobe of hat and scarves, leggings, socks and mitts.
It is this dickie JoBeth rips from her neck right now, a tearing sound issuing from its teflon fastening, her face reddening with the exertion. Or is it from the distress within?
&nb


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