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issue 36: may - june 2003 

 | author bio

novel extract
Bee’s Tree
Greg Chandler
       

Bee felt uneasy looking up at the portrait she’d done of Charlie when he was twenty-one, and she couldn’t sleep for the life of her. Wearing only her late husband’s baby blue terry cloth robe, she walked around her spacious bedroom looking for something, some secret clue in her paintings to help her understand her life.
      Each 3’ x 2’ gilt-framed painting was signed Bee Nurble in the lower-left corner. Charlie’s portrait, over the mantel, was the first one she had done (after reading manuals from the library and watching How-to shows on TV). Next to Charlie, a portrait of Miss Doxum, Bee’s only friend. In fact, Miss Doxum would be phoning in the morning, as she did every Monday. Miss Doxum’s loyalty reminded Bee that she must be doing something right despite the problems with her son.
      The other paintings in the room depicted Bigfoot, as Bee remembered him, along with two other versions copied from books. For many years, unexplained phenomena had been Bee’s subject of choice. Besides Bigfoot, there were paintings of the Loch Ness monster, ghosts, space aliens, UFO’s, Mokele-Mbembes, leprechauns, goblins, brownies, and nine-headed Hydras.
      For the past six months Bee hadn’t painted anything. For some reason she’d been preoccupied, unsure of her life’s purpose, and Charlie’s increasingly frequent tantrums certainly didn’t help. Also, the walls were crowded, she couldn’t decide which paintings to take down, and furthermore she’d run out of subjects.
      Books, potted palms and peace lilies, boxes of news clippings, old magazines, and Oriental-style furniture cluttered her room.
      A brown and pink Aubusson rug stretched from wall to wall. Amber light bulbs gave off a warm magical glow. Her room, cozy and hermetic, was where she spent most of her time. Not that she was a hermit; on the contrary, she ran errands once a week and liked to take walks around the block at dusk. To the right of her bed was the door to her private bathroom. To the left was the door to the hallway. And along the far wall was a sliding glass door that opened onto her new garden at the side of the house. She pressed her palm against the glass door. Where the hell was Charlie? Why wasn’t he home yet? And where, at that exact moment, was Dez? Was he thinking about her? She thought of calling-- they’d yet to speak on the phone--but knew she’d see him in the morning. How perfect it would be, she thought, to wait for Dez to come home for dinner instead of Charlie.
      She went out to the kitchen and filled her glass with ice. At the bar trolley in the living room she mixed a Prince Edward, a woozy concoction of Drambuie, Lillet, and Scotch with a slice of orange-in-syrup, a Nurble family favorite, and returned to her room. She sipped her cocktail, sweet and strong, looking at her reflection in the sliding glass door. Over the years she’d affixed thirty-one decals to the glass, each one a different Indian totem pole. In the middle was her favorite, an intricate Aleutian. She got down on her knees, crunching a piece of ice in her mouth, her free hand nuzzled in the warm pocket of her robe. The Aleutian was significant; like Bee, it had been through the wringer.
      During Charlie’s difficult teen years the two of them often took Sunday drives to an Indian trading post. Halfway up Mount Susanna, beside a fast-moving stream deep in the forest, a trip to the White Eyes Trading Post & Totem Garden was always a treat. Under giant redwood trees, at picnic benches scattered among ferns and toadstools, they ate Cherokee Chili Dogs, Navaho potatoes, and ice cream sandwiches in the cool mountain air. Once the treats were eaten, and Bee had taken the trash to the dumpster, they sat very still, very quiet, their heads tilted back looking up into the great trees, as sad extended birdcalls echoed off the mountain. After a while she always excused herself to go to the rest room, a cinder-block hut behind the teepee concession stand. While the other young mothers chatted between stalls, she sat quietly on the bowl emptying her flask down her throat (vodka back then).
      The two of them strolled the grounds pausing to look at every teepee and totem pole. It was the same every trip. Charlie was precocious and knew a lot about Indian customs. Inside White Eyes they slowly made their way up and down the aisles packed with tom-tom drums, kachina dolls, fireworks, assorted gewgaws, trinkets, Indian headdresses, beads, blankets, and rugs. She sometimes bought a pair of beaded moccasins to wear around the house. The last stop was always the decal and sticker counter where she chose a new totem pole.

***


She opened the sliding glass door and slipped into her garden and the woozy scents of nighttime. Citrus blossoms. Jasmine. Eucalyptus. Mahonia. Gardenia. The secret garden was Dez’s idea. She agreed to it, and then a few days later there it was outside her bedroom at the side of the house. Even though she knew he’d been working on it, she was speechless when she saw how exotic and beautiful it turned out.
      Cut off from the world by a tall hedge bordered on the inside with pumpkin dahlias, the new garden was just large enough for a chaise lounge along the sliding glass door, a gardenia bush, snapdragons, a dwarf loquat tree, and a few other specimens, all selected by Dez. Outside the garden he’d planted more trees and flowers, all distinctively scented.
      Bee reclined on the lounge with her cocktail and crossed her legs. She watched the silvery clouds drift across the dark sky. It seemed lower, closer to earth than usual. She held up her glass; through it she saw stars and jets, and they too looked nearer than usual. The garden made everything peculiar, including her thoughts. Before she knew it, she was riding along on the wing of a jet headed for the North Pole. She tapped a window. Dez peered out. When he saw her he licked the glass. Overcome with love, he shattered the window with a hammer and pulled her inside.
      Thirst nudged Bee out of dreamland. She sat up, sniffed the air, and wiggled her toes into a mound of Irish moss on the ground as if it was Dez’s downy bum cheeks. She stirred her drink with her finger. Knowing a man had recently been inside her body, a man she couldn’t get out of her mind, a man thirty years younger and half-Chinese, made her realize that for years, maybe even her entire life, she had allowed herself to be unnie, as she called it, not particularly unhappy, not particularly sad, just unnie.
      A few minutes later she found herself staring at the back of the Aleutian totem pole decal, and the memories of that day returned. To celebrate Charlie’s fourteenth birthday they’d taken a Sunday drive to the trading post for lunch, shopping, and the usual nature walk. Sitting at their favorite picnic table, having just finished Anasazi butterscotch-walnut sundaes, Bee presented her son with a gift. Charlie tore off the gift-wrap in uniform strips. She proudly noted to herself that his mannerisms had become so methodical and precise he’d probably turn out to be a surgeon. The pattern on the paper, topless hula girls harpooning sharks, made him roll his eyes and blush. (Occasionally, she left her late husband’s old nudie-cutie magazines lying around for him to find. An ideal introduction to the secrets of procreation, she believed, as the thought of discussing sexual matters with her son frightened her to such a degree she agonized over it in bed at night.) Charlie removed the expensive microscope from its box, took a quick look, and then shoved it back in the box.
      “This isn’t a real microscope,” he said, “it’s a toy. It’s junk.” A minute later Bee dropped it on a bed of crumpled gift-wrap in the trunk.
       This was two years after Stan’s death, and up until then he’d been so good, so considerate, a real buddy to her. But he’d started hanging around with Hal Pope, Flogger Heights’s golden son, and almost overnight everything about him changed for the worse.
      She could see him now, stretching his legs across the back seat, pillows propped behind his back. At the time she drove a newish Cadillac, a four-door emerald green sedan (one of the few pricey items she’d bought with Stan’s life insurance money; it was stolen a few years later). On the steep road descending Mount Susanna, soaring around a narrow curve, Charlie reached over the seat, grabbed her purse, and calmly flung it out the window.
      After an initial moment of disbelief, she warbled a strange, timid scream. In the rear-view mirror she could see her leather purse--big, shabby, orange--lying in the road, and then a split second later she saw the van that had been tailgating her further back run over it. In a panic, she hesitated as she flipped on her emergency flashers, started to brake, and then skidded around another curve where she finally pulled onto the shoulder.
      “How could you do such a thing? Run back there right now and get my purse!”
      “No, you get it. I toss, you fetch.”
      She no longer knew her son. In retrospect, she wondered if an evil spirit had taken over his body. Gingerly, she dislodged the ashtray from the dash, turned around, and hit him across the forehead. Cigarette butts tumbled down Charlie’s shirt into his lap. Blood ran down his face and dripped off his jaw.
      “I hate you!” he sobbed, squeezing his head between his knees. “Daddy’s ghost said I can be mean to you anytime I want.”
      “Are you hurt? I’m sorry, baby, I’m so sorry! Just tell me if you’re really hurt or just making a stink for attention. Tell me, are you hurt?” She tried to dab the blood with a tissue, but he cringed and sank to the floor.
      “You bashed my head in! If you hit me ever again I’ll bash your head in with a bowling pin.”
      “Oh please, don’t talk to me that way, Charlie. I did a terrible thing, please forgive me.”
      He looked up, his face dusted with gray ash and smeared blood. “Well, you better go get it.”
      “Damn you, Charlie, I’m waiting for the cars to go by.”
      She slipped on her moccasins, sprang out the car door, and ran up the steep mountain road. A hundred yards up, at the apex of the curve, she saw her purse flattened in the middle of the road, dead in a puddle of its own liquids and lotions.
      She felt sick, disturbed, like she might faint, or worse, wet her pants. Her legs wobbled. The poor purse. It had always been a dear friend to her, with its pockets, pouches, and flaps tucked inside the supple persimmon-orange leather.
      Bee checked for cars coming around the curve. The coast was clear. Hesitant and weak she dashed out to the middle of the road. The edge of the steep cliff was only a few feet away. She nudged the purse with her toe. Tire tracks had scarred it, the shoulder strap was ripped. She picked it up and examined it closely. How sad, she thought, what a pathetic transformation. She held the wounded, pitiful thing out in front of her. Only minutes before it had been sitting on the seat right beside her, spotless and perky, innocently doing the job of holding her important things. Now it was squashed and unfamiliar. A hairless orange mammal, some exotic road kill.
      Surprisingly, the zipper still worked. She looked inside. It was disgusting in there. Her wallet, the bills she was supposed to have taken to the post office, and a letter she’d received that morning from Miss Doxum had been thrown into a blender with her lipstick, foundation, rouge, hot English mustard (brought from home for their Cherokee Chili Dogs), hairspray, anti-bug lotion, anti-itch cream, shards of a hand mirror, a five-inch magnifying glass, and a fifth of vodka. A library book, ESP For The Masses, was soaked and shredded. The only thing that survived unharmed was her new Aleutian decal sealed in plastic.
      She didn’t know what caused it, but as she stood there with her purse in her hands, a minor avalanche, mostly dust and gravel, started cascading down the side of the mountain and out onto the road. Some of the rocks knocked Bee in the ankles. She looked down and saw pink and yellow liquid leaking from her purse, splattering her new moccasins.
      She dug deeper into the muck till she found her beloved silver flask, a Nurble family relic, flattened as thin as a quarter. Originally, the flask belonged to Charlie’s grandfather, a former warden at Freelock Penitentiary.
      In the distance, many feet out from the cliff, a swarm of wasps caught Bee’s attention. At first she thought it was a lost rain cloud, off-course, drifting away from the fold. Quickly, radically, it changed size and shape, from a wave of black hair, to a swollen kidney, the Loch Ness monster, and a figure eight.

***

Bee slurped her Prince Edward, nostalgic for that long ago afternoon when she first left her body, a moment of truth in her life right up there with seeing Bigfoot. Not to say she enjoyed leaving her body, she didn’t, certainly not in any normal sense, but she did come away from it with her mind and vision more in tune with the unseen.

***

Bee was concentrating on the wasps when a great wind enveloped her, lifting her daffodil-print dress over her head. The truck’s horn was immense. It slammed on its brakes as it skidded toward her. Bee knew she didn’t have time to run to the side of the road. She collapsed face first on the asphalt, scratching and clawing as if she could dig her way to safety.
      The truck, weighed down with a dozen massive redwoods, sailed overhead, inches from her body. She felt its heat and weight suck her down a vacuum into total darkness, into death, or so she thought. From the depths of the vacuum she looked out and saw herself lying on the road, splayed out like a plucked chicken. Beyond that she saw the truck roaring on by.
      Not sure if she was dead of alive, she opened her eyes and viewed her limp, unharmed arm sprawled on the road like a hollow plaster cast. Her adrenaline was pumping. Cars were going to hit her. She jumped to her feet, arms flailing , and ran to the edge of the road..
      A car full of teenagers pulled alongside, following at her speed. One girl poked her head out the window. “Hey moron lady, you could have caused a major deadly accident!”
      “Light! Light! Let there be light!” she cried, her eyes fixed on the back of Charlie’s head inside the car. The kids sped off honking.
      Bee staggered, tripping over soda bottles and clumps of wild sage
      Charlie sat in the back of the sun-filled Cadillac reading a book he’d checked out from the adult section of the library on the subject of animal anatomy. He lingered long on the color photos of dissected dogs and cows’ udders sliced in two.
      Bee’s fingers wrapped around the door handle, it was hot. She got into the car, tossed her mangled purse on the floor, and collapsed across the seat. Panting, she squeezed her shaky hands between her legs. After a few minutes she couldn’t take it any longer. Was Charlie going to apologize or not? She sat up and looked in the rear-view mirror. Behind her, Charlie smirked as he smeared the blood from his wound over his face.
      Here they were, mother and son, both with bloodied, filthy faces, staring each other down in a mirror.
      Fumes rose up from her purse into her nostrils, scouring her sinuses. She whinnied. The sound was so unusual it scared her. For a moment she thought she might jump up and run back to the spot in the road where the truck had gone over her.
      Vodka, vodka, vodka rang through her mind as she broke into a cold sweat.
      Charlie ignored his mother. He sighed, flipping through his book. He was always trying to get to her through humiliation or any act of meanness, small or large, his mind could conceive. She never put up much of a fight, but cried privately, furious at herself for letting him control her. She was afraid of her son; Charlie knew it and had been using it to his advantage since he was little.
      But for some unknown reason, the purse incident landed Charlie on the straight and narrow for a few months. He spent more time reading in the tree house or over at Hal Pope’s, and when he was around, he kept out of her hair and even made an effort to show her a minimum of respect and courtesy.

***

Curled up in the lounge chair, a warm breeze puffed under her robe, tickling her body. She slurped her drink, imagining a rainy day and Dez sitting at her kitchen table eating a piece of cake. Not just any cake, but a three-layer red cake with fudge filling, decorated with his favorite trees: coral, sequoia, and yucca.
      One day soon, she promised herself as she rubbed her collarbone, she’d make it, although she wasn’t sure she could render in frosting the trees she saw in her mind. She would present it to Dez in the tree house as a gift of appreciation for the garden she loved so much, a gift for having appeared in her life. (Not to mention the thrill a sugar rush would lend to their boozy lovemaking.)
      A rustling in the snapdragons startled her, a mouse sniffing the freshly tilled soil. Then, through the thin hedge, she saw a shadow pass.
      “Hey baby,” Dez whispered, squeezing through the narrow space where the hedge met the house.
      “Holy smokes, you spooked the bejesus out of me.”
      “Sorry, I didn’t mean to. I missed you and I wanted to make sure you were okay.” He stood at the foot of the lounge proudly inspecting the garden he’d created. His gaze landed on a gardenia flower with wide-open white petals that reflected the moonlight. Staring at the flower, he realized he felt kind of awkward. Up until then, all of the time they’d spent together was during work hours, time he was paid for by Charlie to build his bomb shelter. Now things were different.
      From the corners of their eyes they looked at each other shyly, trying to determine if the slightest change of heart had occurred in the last fifty-two hours. The tension didn’t last long, though, as the love they had for each other was real and couldn’t be suppressed.
      “So I guess you like your little garden,” he said, sitting at her feet.
      “I love it. I feel like I’m on vacation in another country. It’s the most beautiful place I know. And it’s so removed.” She laughed. “It’s hard to believe I’m sitting at the side of the same house I’ve lived in all these years . . . and with you.
      He rested his feet in her lap. She rubbed his toes through his damp socks.
      “I know how you like magic stuff. Secret gardens are one of the most magic things of all,” he said, combing his fingers through his long hair, feeling tranquil despite the methamphetamine coursing through in his body.
      Bee nodded in agreement. “Oh yes, this is a magic spot, that’s for sure. You lose track of time. I couldn’t tell you how long I’ve been out here.” She paused for a moment. “I was remembering some things from the past, from Charlie’s terrible teens,” she said forlornly.
      “What things?” he asked.
      “Oh . . . never mind, it’s complicated,” she said. “Anyway, now that you’re here I feel great. Do you know the song ‘Never on a Sunday’? It’s been in my head and that’s how I feel, like that song.”
      “Don’t know it. But I do know ‘Where Have All the Flowers Gone?’ in Cantonese.”
      She nibbled his feet and tickled his legs as they both giggled. “I love that song,” she said. “Sing it!”
      He sang a few bars of the Peter, Paul & Mary song in the foreign tongue.
      Hearing the familiar tune translated into Chinese was a bit shocking at first, but then she immediately fell under the spell of his singing. “What a harmonious voice you have . . . you’re taking me back to ancient times, you really are.”
      A grim look washed over Dez’s face.
      “What’s wrong? I’ve never seen you look so scrunched up before.”
      “I didn’t want to tell you, but--”
      “Tell me what.”
      “Charlie.”
      “Oh,” Bee said, looking up to the stars.
      “Yeah, well, I just came from Bagshaw’s . . . um, he went bonkers or something.”
      “Bonkers? You mean he was drunk as a skunk?”
      “He threw a glass, Bee, the heavy kind you drink whisky in, he threw it at a lady. Hit her right in the head. Blood, everything.”
      “No, that’s ridiculous. Charlie takes his anger out on himself, Dr. Marrs said so.”
      “Bee, I’m telling you, it happened and it looks serious.”
      “Who? What lady?”
      “Beats me. Some foxy Chinese broad. The mayor was sitting next to her.”
      “Oh good God.” Bee’s eyes filled with tears. “Doesn’t he know he’ll get in trouble if he acts out?” she said more to herself than to Dez. “Charlie can’t go to jail, he needs me, I need him. He’s too smart for jail. Anyway, he’s the Controller. The city needs him.
      “Gee, Bee, I was in jail. What, you think I’m stupid?”
      “Oh, no, you’re different, you burglarized for your son.”
      “Yeah, you’re right,” he said caressing her wrist. “Come on, baby, it’s okay. Maybe the lady’s not really hurt, you know, maybe it just looked bad; it was pretty dark.
      “Where is he? Do you know?”
      “Beats me. He ran out of Bagshaw’s, some guys chased him.”
      “Oh good lord, what’ll I do?”
      “Here, baby, watch my fingers, relax, think about clouds, ancient China, magic, me.” He waved his index finger back and forth in front of her face. A few minutes later she calmed down. He wiped her tears away and kissed her, passionately.
      “How do you feel now?” he asked.
      “Better. Much better, thank you. When Charlie comes home . . . I don’t know--”
      “It’s his problem, Bee, Jesus. Let him figure out his own fucking mistakes. I did.”
      They cuddled in silence for a little while looking up at the clouds in the night sky. The longer she sat with him the better she felt. Dez had powers and they were changing her life for the better.
      Dez rested the side of his head against the sliding glass door. “I think I like this better than the tree house. Come on, I wanna mount you, open up.”
      She liked that sex was constantly on his mind. “Not now, I mean, I’d like to, I’m in the mood, but what with, you know, Charlie might come home,” she said, “it’s not right.”
      He touched her nose. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen you at night.”
      “I usually wear clothes, a nightgown, under my robe.”
      He took hold of her feet and gradually spread her legs. “In the moonlight you’re a vision.”
      “But in the sunlight I’m a mess.”
      “Don’t say that. In sunlight you’re a wisp of smoke, pale golden smoke.”
      “Smoke? You know I’m not smoky, I’m more the self-conscious clumsy type.”
      “Self-conscious a little, sexy a lot. The two go together, they’re pretty much the same if you think about it.” He brushed his fingertips over her wiry pubic hair.
      “I’m none of that, I’m a clumsy girl, always have been. At the age of ten I broke my leg, this leg,” she said, clutching her left kneecap. “Then five years later I broke this one in four places when my dad ran me over with his ambulance. Oh goodness, tug the flaps again, the lips, Dez, more inside. That was utter clumsiness on my part, entirely my own fault. I was walking around in a daze and then look what happened. The pain was horrific. Thinking about it makes me laugh.”
      Bee handed him her drink. He finished what was left. “When I was young I never paid attention,” she said, pulling off his socks, folding them in half, and tossing them on the gardenia bush. “ I never looked both ways when I crossed the street. There were many near misses. I was spacey, you could say. But I was lucky to be the daughter of the only ambulance driver in Hinshaw City. He always told me, right up until his death two months after Charlie’s birth, he told me that if he hadn’t run me over, someone else would’ve owing to my clumsiness and being out to lunch, and it wouldn’t have been an ambulance since he had the only one.”
      “So, you’re a little clumsy, that’s okay, baby. Are you going to fix another drink? I only had one beer at Bagshaw’s.
      “I’ve never been in Bagshaw’s before. I hear they have gambling in the back room, and hookers, too.”
      “Maybe they do.” Dez shrugged. “I just go there for the beer.”
      “Dez, I’m sorry to bring it up, but did you talk to Charlie?”
      “Nope. I don’t think he saw me.
      “But--”
      “Come on, Bee, change the subject. Who cares what Charlie did? Don’t let him ruin our fun.”
      “I wish I could put him out of my mind but at my age . . . I’m just used to it.”
      “That’s why big daddy Buddha sent me to change your life.”
      Charlie pounded on Bee’s bedroom door. They jumped. “Mother, let me in, goddamnit, open this door!”
      “Oh shoot!” she whispered. “Go on, go on, I’ll see you tomorrow.”
      Dez yanked his pants up from around his ankles, stuffed his socks in his pockets, grabbed his shoes, and slipped through the hedge into the night.
      Bee tightened her robe and ducked inside.
      “Come on goddamnit, open the door. My door! My house! Now!
      “I’m coming. Hold on, I’m asleep.” She unlocked the door and Charlie thrust himself inside.
      Towering above her with his bloodshot eyes and empty face wet with sweat, he looked liked a scarecrow. His work clothes and always-perfect hair were a mess. He smelled sour and drunk. His skin was pale and his hands were quivering.
      Bee sat stiffly in the Chinese-style chair beside her bed. Charlie paced the room. “What’s wrong now, what is it?” she begged.
      Charlie slowly collapsed in a heap on the Aubusson rug.
      “Oh my Godfathers,” Bee said, moving to help him.
      “I’m fine, get your hands off me.”
      Bee returned to the chair. Of course she knew what he’d done, but chose to pretend otherwise; she could only handle so much confrontation at one time.
      “You said you were sleeping but your bed’s made.”
      “I was reading and fell asleep on the bed. You go drink some milk and go to sleep. Your behavior is atrocious. I’m your mother.”
      Charlie stood up and walked the perimeter of the room, bumping into everything, moaning and groaning. He stopped under the portrait of himself. “You silly old hen. I’ve had about as hard a day I think I can stomach trying to make enough money to support you. If it weren’t for you I’d be home on Sunday enjoying myself, not working. I’d be out in the garage taking inventory, getting ready for war.”
      “That’s nice . . . I hope you know I don’t hear any of that junk that comes out of you. I don’t care. My mind’s been pondering other things since you came in. Things that interest me.
      Charlie found a bottle of Drambuie on the credenza in the far corner of the bedroom, and poured some in a teacup. He darted around, pausing before each painting for the thousandth time, as he slurped the liquor like hot broth. The Bigfoot paintings made him nauseous; he imagined the hideous creature violently raping his mother.
      “Will you please let me go back to sleep?”
      Charlie sat on the edge of Bee’s bed with his legs crossed. “Not till you guess who I met today.”
      Bee wondered if he was going to reveal what happened. “I don’t know, honey, I’m tired.”
      “Try, come on,” Charlie whined like a ten year old, “just guess.”
      “I need a hint.”
      “Okay. This someone is related to someone very close to me.”
      “One of your father’s nephews from Hinshaw City? Was it little Gordon?”
      Charlie shook his head in disgust. “Of course not. I wouldn’t waste my time if it was. This someone was born eons after dad dropped dead. In fact, anyone who knew dad is probably long dead or living off the government in one of those sandnigger motels.”
      “I bet you’re right about that. Not many people around here know us from when we were a young family starting out. It’s a shame, but we can’t be stuck in the past all the time. I welcome new friends and so should you. So who was it? Someone interesting? A cheerful lady? A strange man from Paraguay?”
      Charlie shook the empty teacup at his mother. “I’m trying to have a conversation, stupid old cluck.”
      Bee covered her ears. “Paraguay has lots of strange men and they all think they’re Casanova. Some poll gave them an ego complex, and for good reason, it said they’re the number one lovers south of the border.”
      Charlie paused, glaring into his mother’s eyes. “‘Come on sweetie, let’s be friends,’ you keep saying. ‘Let’s talk about current events,’ you keep saying. Well, I am. I’m trying. But you never listen. You don’t talk to me, you talk to some imaginary pile of nothing in your head. I might as well be dead, hanging from the chandelier, wrists slit, neck broken, my skin all blue . . . you’d just walk on by, la-de-dada-dum.
      “Calm down right now, I’ve had enough for one evening.”
      “I wish I could be like you, off in daisyland, but I can’t, I’m stuck here, stuck in a place that shuns me. I’m a foreigner in Flogger Heights and I hate it. Where have all the white people gone? Everyone here, every goddamned person at City Hall is fucking Chinese.
      Charlie stood up and stamped his feet.
      “If sometimes I don’t listen it’s because everything you say is mean and cruel. I work my fingers to the bone taking care of you and all I get in return is a bad case of sinusitis.”
      Charlie’s face turned red, the veins in his forehead swelled, tears streamed down his cheeks.
      “Come now,” Bee said, holding out her hand.
      “You don’t do shit around here. You didn’t even wash my socks and underwear today like I told you.”
      “If you aren’t happy with me, Charlie, then I suppose I should move away. Miss Doxum says I can come live with her anytime I want.”
      “Do it, fine. And the next time you see me’ll be at the funeral home.” Charlie’s bawling grew louder, more out of control. “Or maybe it’ll be you. Maybe I’ll see you at the funeral home strangled to death like a chicken too old to eat.”
      “Charlie, don’t cry. I’m sorry.” Bee got up and put her arms around her son. He pushed her away.
      Charlie looked at her, his eyes bugged out with fear. “Or I could run you over and no one would blame me. No one would even know. People here can’t live without me. I’m responsible for 23,599 citizens. This city runs because of me. No one would even know if you were dead, no one would give a damn.”
      “Sit down and stop this nonsense. You’re the most high-strung young man in the world. Sit here on the bed and relax. Tell me who you met today. Please, Charlie, tell me..”
      Charlie wiped his tears and sat on the bed next to his mother. She poured Drambuie in his teacup and dropped a Nat King Cole tape in the player. The booze and romantic music helped to calm them.
      “Isn’t that better? You know, I’m so relaxed tonight every awful thing you say bounces right off me, blammo, like a trampoline.” Bee folded down the sheets, got into bed, and pulled the covers up to her chin. With her cheek on the pillow, she stared at the sliding glass door thinking of Dez, and how wonderful life had been only thirty minutes earlier. “Who’d you meet, honey?”
      Charlie lay on his back across the foot of the bed. “I met Hal Pope, Jr.”
      “From high school?”
      “His son.”
      “He was a terrible boy. I hope his son has a more gentle soul.”
      “How should I know anything about the kid’s soul?” He thought of the sharp-tongued boy sitting on his bike. “I met him at the barber shop.” He lied, believing it best to keep her in the dark about his excursions down into the wash. “I was getting my shoes shined and in he walked.”
      “How did you know it was him?”
      “When he came in off the street the barber called him Mr. Pope in a joking way, he’s just in his early teens or around there. Then when he was getting the down shaved off the back of his neck, the barber called him Hal. That’s when I realized it was Hal Pope’s boy.”
      “And what about Hal Pope, Sr.? He was a real boob, always giving you such a miserable time.”
      “I deserved it, following him around all the time like a stupid puppy. But we were close, he was my best friend, mother.”
      “That’s not what my memory tells me. I remember those black eyes you had and the clumps of hair you brought home in your pocket. What sort of friend is that?”
      “What the hell do you know about friends, you’ve never had one.”
      Bee turned up the music. The song “Slow Down” was one of her favorites. “But you hated Hal, I remember. And I remember when Hal’s parents died in that terrible car wreck. What a tragedy that was. Still . . . don’t forget, Lander Pope treated your father in a bad way down at the plant. When daddy died, we almost didn’t get his pension because Lander Pope was so greedy, despite what all the boobs in this town think.”
      Charlie stood beside the bed. “Mother!”
      Bee looked up.
      Charlie stuck his tongue out, and kept it there as he pointed at her.
      She focused on her son’s foolish tongue. In the past, she would have taken a swing at him, burst into tears, threatened to call Dr. Marrs’ clinic, but she had started to feel an indifference to her son that both scared and excited her.
      Drenched in sweat, Charlie withdrew his tongue and left the room.

***

Bee ducked into her walk-in closet and burrowed through the drawers searching for that pack of cigarettes Miss Doxum had left behind when she last visited two years before. “What is it with me?” she said again and again. “Oh, sweet sunshine, here they are.” The cigarettes were in the cup of a bra she hadn’t worn in twenty years, a pink padded bra with perspiration stains. She touched the padding and made a mental note to wear it for Dez. Right there in the closet she lit up a stale cigarette, not caring that her pantsuits and culottes would stink. She smoked to the filter then dropped the butt into an almost empty bottle of violet toilet water.
      When she walked out of the closet and found Dez standing in the middle of her room she practically jumped through the ceiling. They both laughed.
      “Be very quiet.”
      He nodded. “I went out to the truck and fell asleep. In my dream I crawled inside your purse and you carried me around.”
      “You’re so funny. I’ve never heard such an oddball dream.”
      “You been smoking?”
      “I was, yes. My dear friend Miss Doxum, that’s her in the painting over there,” she said, pointing, “they’re hers. Would you like one?”
      “Yeah, love one.”
      Bee got two more stale cigarettes from the pack and they stepped out to the garden.
      “Did asshole lose his temper?”
      “Yeah, but I don’t care. I was thinking about you the whole time.”
      “Did he tell you what happened?”
      “No, not a word.”
      “He better never lay a hand on you, I’ll kill him.”
      “And right back to prison you go. Charlie has emotional and mental problems, that’s all. He gets upset, but I can handle it. Remember, we’re very close.”
      “Well you should have seen him at Bagshaw’s.”
      “I’m glad I didn’t, thank you very much.”
      He leaned over, stuck his tongue in her ear.
      She shivered head to toe. “It couldn’t have been too bad. The girl’s probably all right, don’t you think?”
      “I don’t know. She might need a stitch or two. Head wounds are funny. Small things can turn out to be big,” he said, guiding her hand to the erection in his pants.
      “You are so naughty,” she said, squeezing his penis. “I just hope it doesn’t all blow up out of proportion and Charlie gets into trouble.”
      “It all depends, baby, on how the law looks at things. When the old lady next door to me slapped a kid on Halloween, I called the cops. They talked to her, but it was no big deal.”
      She shuddered. “At least he didn’t expose himself.”
      “Not his family jewels, if that’s what you mean.”
      “Thank goodness.”
      “Bee, I just want you to know that the son you’re so rah-rah about is a nut. And that nut is keeping me from having you.”
      “Easy does it. You’ve got me, you do, just not full-time. You don’t have enough money for both of us, not to say you would have to support me, that’s outrageous, it’s just that I don’t know the first thing about jobs, and anyway Charlie would fall to pieces if I left.”
      “Listen, I saw everything tonight. His eyes were huge, insane, all spinning around.”
      “Come now. You said not to talk about it.”
      “I know, but shit, Bee, I just don’t want him hurting you.”
      “He’s troubled, that’s for sure. But he hasn’t laid a hand on me before . . . Maybe I should send some flowers to this injured person and sign Charlie’s name. He’d be just crushed if he lost his job.”
      “Don’t get involved, baby. Please, come live with me. I’m tired of trouble, it’s all I’ve even known.” Dez opened Bee’s robe, kissed her neck, slipped his tongue in her mouth. “Lie down,” he whispered. “Come on, no more Charlie, no more bullshit problems, just us, please baby, just us.”
      Bee’s robe dropped to the ground as she sank back on the lounge chair. Dez got naked and climbed on top of her. Speed had rendered his dick limp, but his drive was at an all -time high. For close to an hour he pumped and pumped. Bee didn’t mention it, so neither did he.
      

Greg Chandler, 2003

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author bio

chandler
       

Greg Chandler recently completed his first novel, Bee's Tree. He is a graduate of the University of Southern California and holds an MFA from Columbia University. His stories have been published in The Barcelona Review [The Ghost of Sharon Tate], The WAG, Christopher Street, and Southern Ocean Review, among others. He also wrote Soda Pop, a film that's been screened at over fifty film festivals on five continents. He lives in Pasadena, California.
e-mail: g.chandler@sbcglobal.net

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 tbr 36           May - June 2003 

 
Short Fiction

  Iain Bahlaj
     Sugar

     Tilt (novel extract)
  Ron Butlin
  
   Vivaldi, The Jumping Cardinal, God, Clint and The Number Three

  Greg Chandler
     Bee’s Tree

  Abelardo Castillo
     Ernesto’s Mother

     Girl from Somewhere Else

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     Burning Luv

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Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
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