Granny Elaine died when I was still young. I mean, really young. I was in the second grade. Eisenhower was President. It was 1953. She wasnít sick or even old, not really old, not like some people are old. Granny Elaine was the youngest of us in so many ways. She had spirit and energy. She had life licked. She couldnít be phased. Not really; well, not often, really. And she didnít die, or live, on being Granny Elaine. For most of the people who knew her she was just Elaine. Mr. Compton, though, held on to the version of her when she was Lainie.
Lainie Silver was her name when she knew Mr. Compton. She showed me pictures of when she was Lainie Silver. She was beautiful. She looked like Elizabeth Taylor looked in the year that Granny died. The 1953 Liz was the 1931 Lainie, a version of the Liz from Ivanhoe, from A Place in the Sun, shining and pure and almost too beautiful to look directly at her.
I still have the photo of her in front of the billiard parlor where she hung out with her friend Tooie. They had grown up together and even though Tooie was a lesbian, Lainie hung out with her. Granny Elaine was a faithful friend to those she pledged to love and Tooie was one of the first. I was the last one and she was always faithful to me, too.
But Mr. Compton was a story and a half.
Mr. Compton was the man who ruined Lainie for other men. My grandmotherís words there, not mine. When they met, she told me, the earth moved for her and that had never happened before. Itís not like she was a virgin when they met, not like she hadnít been sleeping with men for money or even for love sometimes. Lainie Silver was a career girl whose career started at the top and stayed there for a long, long time. She was a dominant lover, she told me - saying it was the best position. I didnít get it then. I do now, of course. But Mr. Compton changed her mind, turned her around, flipped her over, let her feel her power ebb as he made her happier than she felt she had any right to feel. She fell in love with Mr. Compton and he loved her just as much as she loved him. Of course, there were things he didnít know about her at that time and when he found out what she was, who she was, it hurt him and that hurt them.
Granny Elaine told me the story of his becoming aware. It went like this:
"We were in bed together, Maxie. Weíd been in bed together for, I donít know, four hours or five maybe and I was thirsty, so I asked him for a drink. When he got up to fetch me water from the sink across the room, he tripped on my handbag. He fell hard on the floor, hitting his head on the Morris Chair in the corner where they kept it in this hotel room. But he laughed. He wasnít hurt, you see, and he laughed. But when he tried to stand back up, he fell again because his foot was caught in the strap on the handbag. Thatís what did it, Maxie. Thatís when the contents spilled out and he saw the photograph."
'What photograph?' I asked her each time she got to this point in the story. She liked to be prompted. She didnít need it, but she liked it.
"It was a picture of your mommy and me. You know the picture," and sheíd turn to the photo album in her lap and open it automatically to the page where that very picture resided, tucked into its four black paper corners that held it fast to the black paper page. Sheíd point to the picture, then thump it with her fingernail. I always liked it when she did that. I liked the sound her fingernail made against the glossy paper. "This picture. The picture I love the best of your mommy and me."
It was a photograph taken when my mother was about ten years old. She was a true miniature of Granny Elaine. The two of them, so blonde, so perky, their faces in identical smiles with their high cheek bones shoved into blushes by the fun they seem to be having. When I asked Granny Elaine who took the picture she just shrugged. "Not someone youíd like to know," was all she said.
"But you look so happy, you both look so happy," Iíd exclaim.
"Itís a look, Maxie. Itís a look that suited us, thatís all."
"But I want to know who...?"
"So, Mr. Compton saw the picture and he knew right away that the woman was me and he could see, from how much alike we were, that we were related and he could also see that I was a lot older than the little girl, so he knew right away that this wasnít my little sister, but my daughter, so he wasnít too happy about that."
When she would finish this speech about Mr. Comptonís distress she would sometimes start to cry a little, but she could pull back from that quickly and she would and sheíd go on with the story without needing a prompting.
"He never got me the water, Maxie. Instead he came back to the bed and he sat down and he held my hand in silence for a long time and then he looked up at me and there were tears in his eyes. Thatís when he asked me the hard question, that is hard for him to ask and not for me to answer. ĎLainie, tell me,í he said looking me straight in the face, Ďthis little girl...sheís your daughter, so you werenít a virgin with me?í Well, Maxie, I wanted to laugh but he was so sincere and looking me in the face when he said it, so I told him Ďno, Iím not a virgin, not now, not when we met, not for years already.í"
"Did that make him mad?" I asked her.
"Mad? Mr. Compton? No, he was never mad. He was never mean, not like some could be mean. He wasnít even so upset, really. He was just disappointed in me."
"What happened then?" I was back to prompting her, even though I knew what came next.
"So he got up from the bed and came around to stand in front of me. He was naked, you know. I sat up in the bed and looked at him, he was a magnificent specimen, and he was getting aroused a little bit. I let my breasts show on top of the sheet I was holding close to me and he said, ĎLainie, would you kiss it?í And I said, ĎMr. Compton, what do you think of me? Iím no whore.í And he cried and he knelt by the bed and he hugged me and he kissed my breasts and he swore he would always love me, always be true to me in his heart. It was so beautiful, but I knew what it meant. It meant the ecstasy that was Mr. Compton was over for me."
"Why was mommy a secret, Granny Elaine?"
"I wasnít such a youngster anymore, Maxie. For a man like Mr. Compton who wanted a virgin, a young and unspoiled woman, a mother wasnít in the cards."
"But he loved you, right?"
"He loved me, yes. But he loved the woman who was Lainie Silver, and not the mother who was Elaine Silverman."
"But you were both of them!" I always shouted at that point throwing my little arms in the air. Granny Elaine loved it when I did that. She would grab me high across the chest and hug me and my little arms would fall on her shoulders and Iíd laugh because she was tickling me.
"And he was always true to you? Always faithful?"
"He never really married. All his life he was never truly married."
"And you were right not to kiss his peepee," I said, "because you werenít a whore."
"I wasnít a whore. I was a prostitute, but never with Mr. Compton. Itís very possible, Maxie, that I loved Mr. Compton for more reasons than how he made me feel when he was on top. I think I loved him for his gentle ways and his polite manners. The first time we were in bed together and he made love to me he cried because he believed he had taken my youth from me. That last time, with the photograph," and here she would tap the picture once again, "I think he cried because he knew it must the final time."
"But why? If he loved you, why?"
"He was a little bit disgraced, Maxie. He was ashamed he hadnít had the sense to know a woman from a girl. He was upset because now he understood that I knew he had beent he virgin when we met. He was disgraced with himself."
"Did you ever see him again, Granny Elaine?"
"Did I ever see him again? Naturally. He married my girlfriend, Tooie, the lesbian. That way he could stay close to me and stay faithful to me as well because itís a well known fact that lesbians donít do sex with men. Thatís how he showed me how faithful he could be to me. But he ruined me for other men, Maxie. I could never love again either, so if it wasnít for money it wasnít happening."
Granny Elaine told me this story about twenty-five times in the years before she died. Each time the story was exactly the same as it had been the time before and the time before that time. She never varied in it. But it wasnít until she died that I ever met Mr. Compton or even saw him.
He came to the funeral. My mother pointed him out to me, because she knew that Granny Elaine had told me this particular story. He was across the room and when he saw us he nodded solemnly. My mother nodded back to him and beckoned him over. He put his hat on a chair and then walked over to where we were standing.
"You look a little like her," he said, but I wasnít sure if he meant my mother or me when he said it.
"Mr. Compton, this is my son, Maxwell, Elaineís grandchild."
I held out my hand, very manly, and he took it and gave it a perfect single shake.
"Iíll miss your grandmother very much," he said. "Very much."
"She said you were always faithful," I told him.
"So she mentioned me?" He nodded a few times. "Iím very pleased to hear it."
"She loved you too," I whispered to him. He nodded again and then he put his hand over his eyes, his head still nodding slightly. When he stopped nodding and he removed his hand I could see the remains of his tears in the palm of his hand, but his face was dry. He looked up at my mother and he spoke.
"I made a mistake with Lainie. I should have asked her to marry me right then, right there."
"She wasnít the marrying kind," my mother said gently.
"So true," he said. Then he stood up very straight and looked at me again. "You remind me of her, Maxwell. You have her eyes." I blushed. "And you have her color, too," he said.
"They were very close," my mother added.
"Itís a pleasure to finally meet you both," he said and he was turning away, about to return to his hat.
"Howís Tooie?" I asked suddenly in a voice a bit too loud perhaps. He stopped and turned back to me and looked very hard at me. Then he smiled and I could see right away why Granny Elaine had loved him.
"Thatís a sweet question to ask. Would you care to meet her?"
"Is she here?" I asked him, a bit too eagerly.
"Here? No. She couldnít come here. But someday I could take you to her if you donít mind the trip. She would love to see you."
"Could I, Mommy?" I asked. My mother closed her eyes and bit her lower lip before answering. "Weíll see, darling," was all she said to me.
Mr. Compton nodded again and went back to his seat being held by his hat. And then we buried Granny Elaine and what we left, we lost.