The next thing on my to-do list for that day, other than obsessing about Ziggy or my career, was tell Claire about the rental.
Now, she knew I was looking at the listings; she had looked through them with me. And she had known I was going to look at a place. Obviously I was going to tell her that I signed a rental agreement. What was trickier was how I was going to tell her about going to Janine’s without her. I was predicting that to be a point of contention.
While driving back, I tried to strategize. I could lie and say I was… what? going out? Yeah, no. Stupid idea and I’d hate myself for doing it. Could I tell her part of the truth? That I was going there to get her stuff but not tell her that I was bringing dinner to her grandchild or that her daughter had forbidden her to come along? The thing was, if I did that to avoid a fight or a scene, was it just going to blow up in my face worse if she sussed out what was going on or if I said something wrong?
Janine had told me the thing she learned from me was that it was best to just blurt out the truth. Say it like it is. At the same time, though, I didn’t want to inflict unnecessary pain.
I decided to just tell Claire I was going over there to get her stuff and then if she tried to insist on coming, I’d get deeper into it. Maybe Claire knew perfectly well not to push those boundaries and it would be up to her to decide whether she wanted to turn it into a scene or not. Maybe it depended on how much energy she had.
I found her sitting by the unlit fireplace, sipping tea and reading a magazine. Whoever was working the front desk was nowhere to be seen.
I sat down in the chair beside her. “We got it.”
“Got what? The cottage?”
“Cottage! That’s the word I was trying to think of before. I knew cabin didn’t sound quite right.” I shrugged off my coat. “They call it a bungalow around here.”
“That always sounds vulgar to me,” she said with a sniff.
“We can move tomorrow. I’m going to go over to Janine’s tonight to get the rest of your stuff, all right?” There it was. The “all right” was my entire plea for her to just go along with it.
She pursed her lips. She’d heard the tone of my voice. She kind of looked me up and down like she was deciding whether to make me spill my guts literally. She started to draw a breath.
I spoke before she could. “You must be hungry after your nap. Want to grab an early dinner?”
“I… well… what did you have in mind?”
“Your choice. We could go to that sort of nice steakhouse to celebrate our imminent escape from here?”
“Oh, that would be nice.” She stood up. “I’ll put on something nicer, then.”
My plan had been to have a very early dinner with her–it was almost five–and then still get to Janine’s on time. This was contingent on us moving quickly, though. “You look perfectly lovely,” I said.
It was too obviously a lie, I guess. That wasn’t the kind of thing I could say convincingly. She glared at me. “If you think I’m going anywhere without my face on, mister, you are mistaken.”
In that split second I decided to make a terrible, terrible joke. “All right. At least I know it won’t take you forever to do your hair.”
Her mouth popped open in shock and then she started whapping me with the magazine. “You terrible child! What an awful thing to say!” But you could tell she was kidding around with me because she wasn’t hitting me hard at all and sounded like she was on the verge of laughing. “I never! Of all the things. Devil child.”
I defended myself only a little and eventually she tucked the magazine under her arm with a “Harrumph” and walked away with her nose in the air.
“Fifteen minutes, okay?” I called after her. “I’ll come by your room?”
She waved a hand behind her which I suppose was an agreement.
I felt I’d dodged a bullet, but of course sometimes it’s not a bullet, it’s a boomerang.
She was ready to go in about twenty minutes, which wasn’t bad all told, and we went together toward the rental which I had parked close to the lobby entrance. She tried to steer me around the edge of the lot the long way around, grabbing me by the arm. “It’s safer to walk around this way.”
“What? No, it’s not. Claire, what is going on?”
“If you think I’m going to walk past Mr. Richardson after that scene with you this morning, you are quite wrong. I don’t dare show my face.”
Scene? “Oh, you mean–”
“Honestly, Daron, it’s one thing to have a musician for a son and it’s quite another to have to worry that you’ve overdosed yourself into oblivion.”
Aw, mom, I didn’t know you cared. “What does that have to do with me being a mu–”
“I mean, seriously, can you see how that looked from my perspective? I was utterly mortified. To have a total stranger come to my door and pry into our private business? For your beau to have to call him and to insist on it? I wasn’t dressed–”
“Well, neither was I.” So that was what had upset her the most? That she was embarrassed, not that I might have croaked? Maybe for Claire any kind of upset had to be folded back into her self-centered issues. “I’m sure hotel managers have seen a lot worse.” Although you’d think the man had never seen another man’s knees. It wasn’t like my dick was hanging out.
“With people of your lifestyle I’m sure, but this is not that kind of establishment.”
I decided to let that comment go and maybe she’d take my silence for agreement. She got somewhat stiffly into the passenger seat and I closed the door for her before going around to the drivers side. But as we pulled out onto the highway I realized what she said couldn’t be right. “Wait. You wanted to avoid the lobby… but that’s where I found you sitting earlier.”
“Well, I wasn’t with you earlier.”
“Oh, so it was only embarrassing if I was there?”
“Don’t be naïve, Daron.”
She’d just used my name twice in the space of five minutes. It was notable because my name simply didn’t come out of her mouth very much in my life, except when she was scolding me. Well, okay, right then she was scolding me, but it didn’t sound as much like scolding as it had when I was a kid. You know what I mean. When my name had basically sounded like a curse word.
“What do you mean, don’t be naïve? I am naïve. I’d hate to think I’m jaded when I’m only twenty-three.”
“What? No. You’re older than that.”
“Hate to break it to you, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.”
“What’s the date? My twenty-fourth birthday is coming up. I think. Assuming we’re not past the 21st yet.”
“We’re not past Valentine’s Day, so, no.” She seemed rather disgruntled about this whole line of reasoning and didn’t say anything else for the rest of the ride.
The steak was fine, if a bit slow. She ate very slowly, but that was because she didn’t have a lot of appetite. I’m not sure why I let myself get anxious about it. I guess because I knew Janine would be angry if I was late and I would have hated to be the hungry child waiting for my uncle to bring me a pizza.
Claire didn’t finish her steak but we got it wrapped up to go. She did have chocolate mousse and lingered over every tiny bite of it. I went to the restroom and called in my pizza order from the payphone while I was there, then called Janine to leave an answering machine message that I was on the way… I was just waiting for the pizza. It was uncomfortably close to a lie and yet it being a voice mail I wasn’t about to try to go into detail or anything.
In the car on the way to the motel, though, Claire started. “You’re going the wrong way. Jan’s is the other direction.”
“I’m dropping you off before I go over there,” I said.
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Claire. Janine was very clear that she doesn’t want to see you or speak to you until she’s ready.”
“I’m her mother!”
“And she’s an adult and gets to set the rules for her own house.”
“She’s acting like a child is what she’s doing, throwing a tantrum, quote-unquote getting me back for ‘my house, my rules,’ is she?”
I decided I was better off not trying to argue Janine’s position and I just kept driving. As we pulled into the motel lot, she started up again. “You’re really taking her side in this?”
“I’m not taking anyone’s side,” I said. I pulled the car around near our rooms. “She said I could come get your things. Be glad she didn’t just throw them in the yard and build a bonfire, all right?”
“No, I wouldn’t. But I don’t know what lengths she’d go to.”
“You’re in on it with her, aren’t you! You take me over there right now so I can find out what she’s done!”
“Claire. I’m doing no such thing. I’m going over there to get your stuff and then I’m coming back here and in the morning we’ll move to the bungalow. That’s it. That’s what’s happening.” I put the car in park and went around to open her door.
She locked the doors from the inside. I’m not kidding. She sat there like a toddler, with her arms crossed, in the car with the engine running. Then she started to cry.
I sighed. “Okay, you know what’s embarrassing? This. Don’t make me go get Mr. Richardson to jimmy this door open.”
“I would. Claire, seriously. If there’s something wrong that I can fix, just tell me. But I’m not taking you to Janine’s.”
Her voice was muted by the window between us, but I could hear her perfectly well. “You just want me to die. You don’t really want to be here. You don’t really want to help me.”
“You’re right! I don’t want to be here! But I don’t want you to die and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t take out your frustrations with cancer and Janine and whoever else on me! All right?”
She cried so hard then that she couldn’t speak for a minute and she hid her face in her hands. She utterly wrecked her makeup.
I had some napkins crammed in my jacket pocket. “Claire, unlock the door and I’ll give you a tissue.”
She got herself together enough to do as I asked, then let me open the door. I handed her a tissue (well, a napkin) and then helped her to her room. I left the engine running but I didn’t think I was in much danger of someone stealing the car.
“I’ll be back later,” I assured her.
“Call me if you have any questions,” she said, trying to restore her dignity with a sniff. “You know. About what might be mine.”
“Did you have very much?”
“No. Not really. I think most of the clothes I already have. There’s a pair of boots that might be in the closet there, though, that I’d like. They won’t fit Jan.”
“I’ll look for them,” I promised her, and then I got out of there before anything else could happen.
I had just pulled onto the highway again when my pager buzzed. I snuck a look at it. Ziggy. Of course.
(A strangely literal video for this February 1992 hit… -d)