I don’t know what Janine was hoping would happen. It wasn’t like Claire wasn’t going to notice that my oldest sister wasn’t there. I guess maybe she thought if she could wait for the right moment to tell her, she could minimize the damage?
Doesn’t that sound like the kind of thing I would do?
Claire maintained her overly sweet tone. “Oh Jan, has there been some news? Something I should know about?”
Janine stood in front of the couch and her shoulders moved in a spasm like she was swallowing a whole lemon. “Lilibeth isn’t coming.”
“What do you mean, isn’t coming? You mean she can’t come?”
“I mean she’s not.” Janine looked around at the rest of us and I don’t know what she was hoping to see. She set herself. “She said she’s not.”
Both Claire’s voice and her eyebrows rose. “Well, whatever on Earth could be the matter? It isn’t too far to come, is it? If she needs plane fare–”
“It’s not the distance. She’s–” Janine’s fists were balled tight at her sides. “She doesn’t want to see us. She doesn’t want to talk to us. She wants to forget us.”
Claire let a long breath out through her nose, like a dragon breathing smoke. “And how long have you known this was her plan?”
“I just found out,” Janine said, but it really sounded like she was lying.
“And when were you planning to let me know?” Claire pressed.
“I told you I just found out! Like… a week ago. Or two.” If she’d been in junior high again she couldn’t have done a worse job of lying. Maybe because she knew that Claire would be angry, and when Claire was angry she would attack. And since the person she wanted to attack wasn’t there, she’d attack whoever was convenient. Shooting the messenger was definitely Claire’s M.O.
After the interrogation, though. “When did you talk to her? Did you call her or did she call you? Why didn’t you let me talk to her? Did you try to get her to see sense? Did you tell her about my condition? Are you sure you told her about the true gravity of my illness?”
And on and on. I don’t even remember what Janine tried to say in her defense. Maybe there were no right answers.
Maybe there is no maybe about it. And the rest of us just sat there, like witnesses to a beating, unable to step in and deflect her ire without getting the brunt of it ourselves.
In other words, we were being cowards. I decided I didn’t want to be a coward, but I had to think of something to say. Sometimes Claire was big on pretending things weren’t going wrong, on acting like everything was just fine.
I wondered if it would work. I pretended they weren’t in the middle of a cutthroat argument and acted like it was a normal family conversation. “So where is Lilibeth now, anyway?” I asked.
Court took the ball and ran with it. “Last I heard she was getting ready to move to… Dallas, was it?”
“Houston,” Janine said, and I could see by the look on Claire’s face that this was news, too.
“Houston?” my mother asked. “She moved? With her family?”
Janine sighed. “To be with her new family. Look, I’ll be honest. I think it’s better that she’s not here.”
“Jan!” Claire was outraged. “How can you say that!”
“Because I think it’s true! Or are you really prepared to deal with the fact that she cheated on her first husband and is now number two’s trophy wife?”
“I think you don’t want her here.” Claire went for the low-hanging fruit. “Your older sister who kept her figure and her looks. You don’t want to be compared to her now.”
“I’ve got news for you, Mother!” Janine’s voice cracked as she shouted. “I never wanted to be compared to her!” And on that note, recognizing that was the best line she was likely to get in, my sister fled to her room at that point.
Claire wasn’t done with the rest of us, though. “Well? When was someone going to tell me the rest of it? Courtney, you must’ve known.”
“All I knew was Janine had dropped some hints to me a couple of months ago,” Court said, shaking her head. “I had no idea she got divorced. Though I can’t say I blame her. I never liked that stiff she married.”
“What do you know about this new husband? Houston? Is he oil money?”
“I don’t know anything,” Courtney said.
“Well, we had better find out,” Claire said, and turned as if she were about to follow Janine, but Remo intercepted her.
“Why don’t we let Jan cool down a little,” he suggested.
Claire relented, allowing him to draw her into the kitchen for a snack.
Ziggy and me and Court retreated to the rec room.
“Has she been like this the whole time?” she asked.
“Which one, Claire or Janine?” I asked back. “Though the answer’s the same for both of them. Yes.”
“Man, cancer’s really turned Mom into a bitch.”
Ziggy held in a surprised noise, but not his facial expression. I had to agree. “Mom’s always been like this, Court.”
“Well, kind of, but it’s like the cancer gives her license to be more… extreme.” She looked at Ziggy. “I swear she didn’t used to be ninety-nine-percent bitch.”
“Really…?” I started to argue. “Because–”
“Nah. She was only about eighty-three percent bitch,” Courtney said in mock seriousness, and we started to laugh a little. “Maybe eighty-four. So you want to know the whole story on Lilibeth?”
“Oooh, you know more than you let on?” Ziggy asked.
“Of course.” Courtney checked to make sure no one was listening from the hall. “That’s the only way to survive in this family.”
(Yeah, Grunge was huge and important. But I kinda think the bigger sea change was the large number of women & female-fronted bands who stormed the charts. And I think it really started with Sarah McLachlan. -d)