I did not ask Colin about the subject of coming on tour with us again while I was home. It’s not like I needed to know right then. I had much more pressing personnel decisions to make coming up.
Chris decided to drive to New York, which meant there would be plenty of room for me, Bart, and Courtney, as well as all our luggage and gear. Colin would be the only one holding down the fort for the next six weeks. The night before we left we staged everything to go into the van in the living room. We didn’t pack it in advance because you just didn’t risk someone stealing it right out of the driveway in the middle of the night with everything in it. Court had two boxes of stuff going with her in addition to her suitcase, including some cups and plates, a phone, and other stuff to get by in case she got an unfurnished sublet.
We were just consolidating it all onto the rug by the door to make sure it would all fit into the back of the van when the phone rang. I went to answer it, thinking it would be Carynne calling to tell us she’d left her sunglasses there at dinner time or something.
It was not Carynne. A female voice asked, “Is Courtney there?”
A voice out of the past. I didn’t even say “one sec” or something like that. I just handed the phone to Court and then hovered with a feeling of dread.
“Lilibeth?” Court’s face went from surprise to concern in two seconds flat. “Are you sure?”
I couldn’t hear anything of what Lilibeth was saying. She was our next oldest sister; Janine was the oldest. All I knew was Court didn’t look happy.
Court’s side of the conversation went like this:
“You can’t be serious.”
“That doesn’t sound good.”
“No, I mean it, no way.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
Eventually I got tired of standing there in a ball of anxiety and I went back to moving the stuff around, but my brain didn’t work very well, and all I did was undo about as much as I did.
I looked up when I realized she was gesturing to me, though, and went back into the kitchen. This is what I heard: “Lili, that’s not my problem. She’s got a husband who’s supposed to take care of her. She’s supposedly got an entire congregation, am I right? That’s what she always told me. ‘CC, these people are our family now, we’re all family and these folks will take care of you, they love you if you’ll only let that love into your heart.'”
Courtney sounded kind of bitter. No, actually, she sounded extremely bitter. I should try not to downplay it.
“You can’t seriously expect me to pick up and move across the country–” At that point I started making alarmed faces at her and shaking my head no, too. “–just to hold her hand because she’s afraid of doctors. Yeah, I know she did it for me because I was freakin’ five years old and she was my mother. She’s not five and I’m not her mother.”
Tell her you have a job, I mouthed exaggeratedly to her.
“Yes, the school year is over which is why Janine should be free to help. I thought she’d moved down there to be close–oh.” She winced. “Fuck me, like none of us saw that coming. And shut the fuck up Lilibeth! I will use all the profanity I want when my sister’s abusive ex deserves to have his balls shot off. Janine should take the–” She broke off with a strangled grunt and hung up then.
She looked at me. She had Ziggy-style eyeliner on right then but had gotten her hair cut in a neat “young professional” style that day. “Did you get all that?” she asked.
“Um, something happen to Claire?”
“Yeah, she’s going into the hospital in like two weeks, gallbladder surgery, sounds really routine, and now Janine guilted Lilibeth into going to be with her and now Lilibeth is trying to guilt me into it instead.” She pressed her palm to her forehead. “Why now? Why do they do this to me?”
“Because they think they can?” I guessed. “Or was that supposed to be a rhetorical question.”
She sat down in one of the kitchen chairs. “It was, but you’re right.”
“So, say no. You can’t take off for…wherever the hell they are–”
“Tennessee, at the drop of a hat. You’ve got a life.”
She nodded, but I could see she was upset.
“Look,” I said. “If she was on her death bed or something that would be different. But it’s like you said. If this is routine and it’s just she’s scared, she’s a grown-up. Don’t be guilt-tripped into going.”
Court sighed. “I know. And I don’t even think Mom’s afraid of doctors or hospitals, it’s that she can’t let a chance go by to make herself the emotional center of everyone’s lives. But guilt trips aren’t that easy to shrug off. For me, anyway.”
What ensued next was Courtney trying to unload her guilt about our mother in general, which was like an hour-long conversation and which required beer for both of us to get through. I mostly didn’t say much other than “uh huh” and “go on” in between nodding my head. I mean, I felt poisonously negative about my family but I don’t think I felt guilt about anyone but Courtney herself, and so if I could alleviate my own guilt about feeling like I let her down by listening to her try to deal with her own guilt, that seemed reasonable. Right?
Then the phone rang again. “Don’t pick that up,” I said, but she was already reaching for it.
I fled the room the moment she said, “Hi, Mom.”
I went up to my room and got the cigar box. When I came back down she was hanging up.
“What did she tell you?” I asked.
Court still had her hand on the phone. “You were right. I shouldn’t have answered that. I just got to hear about how terrifyingly painful a gallbladder attack is and how she thought she was going to die, and also how terrible it would be if she died without ever getting to see me again.”
“Is she going to die?”
“No. The next thing I got to hear was her complaining about how she has to wait like two weeks for the surgery, because the condition isn’t that life-threatening.” She let go of the phone and looked at me.
I clutched the box. “What did you tell her?”
“That I hoped she was happy that I got a job in the city that I was glad she was getting it taken care of.” She sat down in the kitchen chair next to her empty beer bottle.
“So you’re not going.”
“I’m not going.” She looked up at me.
I handed her the box. “Here. You’ll need it.”
“You don’t have to pay me to stay away from Claire,” Court said.
“I’m not. I’m giving you a gift.”
She took the box and I don’t even know why we both had tears in our eyes. Family shit is complicated shit.
“What is the gallbladder, anyway?” I asked.
“You know,” she said with a flip of her wrist. “The bladder that holds the gall.”
That cracked me up, which was her intent, and soon she was laughing so hard too that neither of us could leave the kitchen. That is until Colin stuck his head in and when I calmed down enough to listen to what he was saying the words were: “Do you want a goodbye fuck?”
I nodded and let him drag me up to his room.
(Site news: The Spanish Nights ebook is on sale for the next 24 hours or so at 99 cents for Kindle! So if you haven’t grabbed it yet but have been meaning to: grab it now! The price will rise to $1.99 on Wednesday and then revert to $2.99 on Friday. Meanwhile, ZOMG you guys are already more than halfway to *another* bonus post this week! I’m writing as fast as I can! Remember we’re launching a Kickstarter in 2 weeks, though, OK? Save some pennies for that. 🙂 -ctan)
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