"Mothers: ĎEvery beatle is a gazelle in the eyes of its mother.í"
When Tooie became more involved with herself and her own interests than she was with me, I knew it was time to consider the direction my life was taking. This was after Max moved on to his own life, you see. I had my work with the boys and Tooie had hers at the store. We were both busy, all the time. Iíd make appointments with her for meals and sometimes she wouldnít show up for them. That made no sense to me. I mean dinner is dinner. What woman doesnít want to join her husband for dinner, especially when heís buying and sheís not slaving over a hot stove after a long day at work.
I suspected she had another girl-friend, of course. So I asked her, point blank, about it. She denied it and I had to believe her. Thatís what a good man does. He believes his wife when she says she has no lovers, but is just working far too hard. I learned later that what she wasnít saying was just as important, and just as big a part of the truth, as what she was saying. She was working too hard. That was true. She was putting in extra hours. She was designing a whole new gift wrap item, one that was going to revolutionize that whole entire industry, not that it was an industry, but it was a business. Tooie was inventing the stick-on, pre-made bow.
But that wasnít the whole story. No. She had a secret again and this time it was one I really couldnít guess. Tooie, it seemed, had developed a mother fixation.
Hereís what I learned. And how I discovered it.
We were in bed one Sunday morning, just snuggling like we liked to do. I had made us coffee and we each had a mug of it. I was balancing mine on my knees which Iíd pulled up close to my chest. It sat there, rocking just a little bit as I tried not to move. I could smell the brew, dark and strong, made from fresh-ground beans that I mixed from three different kinds of coffee: mocha-java, Vienna Roast Columbian and Jamaican Blue Mountain. Tooie was holding hers in both her hands, her palms pressed hard against the porcelain. Sheíd been having trouble with one of her hands. It stiffened up on her and it hurt.
"You doing okay?" I asked her, sweetly.
"Iím aces," she said.
"You donít look it," I told her. "Your lips may say Ďokayí but thereís Ďouch-ouchí in your eyes."
"Donít get so cute," she snarled at me.
"Whatís going on, Tooie, my love?"
"Mr. C,. thereís a saying that goes like this," she replied, ĎMan comes and tills the field and lies beneath//And after many a summer dies the swan.í" She paused and looked at me. "What the hell does that mean?"
"Why does it bother you?"
"Because itís a stupid quote, thatís why."
"The first part I get. Man works the land, then gets buried beneath it, right?"
"But whatís that second part got to do with anything? It takes a number of summers, Mr. Compton, to live your life and then you die! Bingo! So this swan dies eventually, what does that have to do with anything?"
"Itís a reflection, my dear Tooie, on relationships. Youíre missing the point."
"Enlighten me, already."
"Man represents a man, do you understand that?"
"And man, this particular man, works hard and when he dies they lay him down where he worked."
"I knew that. I told you that." She snarled at me. "But whatís this swan thing?"
"Well, you wonít like this very much, Tooie."
"I can take it. Dish it out."
"The swan is a reference to his mate, lovely, useless, decorative. She lives on after him, but without him to serve and delight she ultimately goes the same way."
"You mean she dies."
"Thatís what the poem says."
"You mean she has no life after heís gone, and she finally gives in and gives up?"
"Is that what you think will happen with us?"
"Tooie, I doubt it very much. Youíre an independent soul, always was and always will be I guess. Youíll go on a long time after Iíve given up the ghost."
"You bet I will!"
I took my coffee mug off my knees and leaned over to give her a little kiss on the cheek. She smiled, but she still gave me a tap on the chin to show she didnít really want me kissing her like that.
"I only want you to know I care about you, Tooie. Nothing more or less."
She looked at me a while, sipping her coffee as she did it. I could feel a blush rising from the middle of my chest up my neck, heading for my face. But before I could completely embarrass myself with it, Tooie spoke again.
"I know you been wondering about me," she said.
"What do you mean?"
"You know very well, Mister, what I mean. You been wondering whatís up with me, who the woman is in my life. Hell, you even asked me once."
"You have been distant lately," I said to her.
"Yeah, well, I have my reasons."
"More than one reason?"
"Yeah, yeah, more than one."
"Can you talk about it, Tooie? Can you give me a hint, at least?"
"I miss the kid."
"We never had a kid." I wasnít thinking, I suppose, when I said that.
"Sure we had a kid, Lainieís grand-kid. Whatever happened to that kid?"
I had never told her about the kiss in the cab or about my very unnatural feelings for Max. I had told her that Max was growing up and didnít seem to have the same interest in us any longer. That was true, of course. Max was no longer a teenager, no longer a child. He was a young man starting a life away from the life heíd known. He was living with an opera singer and working as his valet. It wasnít my choice of a career for him, but he was going to school, his mother told me, and she wasnít too unhappy about the situation.
"You know he has his own life, now, Tooie,"
"I want to see him, Mr. C." She sounded petulant, like a child of four or five. "Vinnie, go get him for me. Please."
"I donít think heíd come around if I asked him," I said, regretting it instantly.
"Why? What did you do, Mr. Compton? What did you say to him?"
"Nothing. Really, nothing."
"You canít lie to me and get away with it, you know," she snapped at me.
"Tooie, please, thereís nothing, really nothing. A kiss, a harmless kiss."
"You did what to that boy?"
"Nothing. I swear it."
"Donít you come swearing your swears at me. If you harmed that child, I will have to deal with you."
"Tooie, it was a little kiss. I was... drunk and he looked so very much like Lainie. I kissed him. There was never anything else again. Truth!"
"Well, you go get him and bring him here to me. I need to see him."
She was shouting at me and jumping up and down in a seated position, spilling the coffee all over the bedspread and behaving like an infant. Iíd never seen her like that before, so I promised her Iíd fetch Max and bring him back home with me for her to talk to if sheíd only stop making such a fuss. It calmed her down right away. I left the room to fetch my clothes and when I was dressed I took that long delayed walk over to where Max worked, to see if I could persuade him to accompany me home. It didnít seem too likely. Except for a polite word at his high school graduation he had never spoken to me again after the cab ride home on his birthday.
To my surprise Max answered the door when I identified myself. He opened it wide and gestured me inside. I took the step and entered a world like none Iíd ever seen outside of a Jeanette MacDonald movie. The reception room was grand and decorated in all white. The floor was white marble and the walls were white flocked paper. There were white velvet drapes and three chairs upholstered in the same white fabric. A small white carpet served as the central point for them, creating a pure white conversation area. A white Chippendale table rested delicately on the white carpet. The lamps and shades were white and a curved white staircase dominated, or would have if it had been any color other than white, the far wall as it reached up past the white bordered, pale, pale blue ceiling to the next level up. That blue, so pale it was almost white, gave them room a grounding it would have never had without that touch of blue.
"Quite a room," I said. Max said nothing. "Thanks for seeing me, Max."
"Itís been a quite while," he said.
"It has. I wasnít sure youíd want to let me in."
"Why wouldnít I? You didnít do anything wrong. It was a moment, Mr. Compton. Just a moment."
"Thatís very generous of you, Maxie."
"Itís nothing. Howíve you been? Howís Tooie, the Lesbian?"
"Thatís the thing, Maxie," I said, coming right to the point. "Sheís pining for you. I donít know whatís up with her. She made me come here to fetch you home for her."
Well, he stood there and he smiled, just broke into a grin and let it grow into a smile.
"Thatís so sweet," he said. Then he laughed. "Iím sorry, Mr. Compton. I didnít mean to laugh like that."
"Itís okay with me."
"You just donít know how funny this is for me. Just this week two people Iíd lost track of showed up here and tried to change my life for me, and now you with your strange request for your wife. There must be something in the stars, I guess. Itís like everyone I used to know is coming out of the woodwork. Must be a full moon or something."
"I donít get you," I said.
"Itís not important."
"Still, Maxie, they say things come in threes. Like this."
"They do say that, donít they?" he asked and then he laughed again.
"You wait a minute. I think I will take the plunge this time," he said and he disappeared into a room that seemed to have green, brown and blue colors in it from where I stood. I was going to follow him, even though heíd said to wait, but then he came back into the room clutching a hat and coat. "Letís go," he said, and he bustled me right out the door into the hallway.
Tooie was still in bed when I got back to the apartment with Max. She didnít look too good. Something had gone wrong while I was out doing her errand.
"You feeling okay?" I asked her quietly.
"Nah, itís nothing. Just that swan kicking up in me, I guess."
"Swan? What swan, Tooie?"
"You got the memory of a dead elephant, Mr. C.?" she asked.
"My memory is fine."
"No shit!" she said. She was looking over my shoulder and she spotted Maxie.
"Max! Honey. Come over here. Let me see you, let me feel your arm and your warmth."
Max came over and sat down next to her, right there on the bed. He leaned in and kissed her gently on the mouth and she giggled like a child might.
"You look terrific, Tooie," he said and I knew it was a lie, but I watched her believe it.
"So do you, kiddo," she said. "God your grandma would be proud of you."
"You think so?"
"Do I? I just said so, didnít I?"
"You did. You surely did." Max laughed that really engaging laugh of his again and I laughed along with him.
"Mr. C, we got some coffee for this young man? Go see, and fetch me some fresh, too, please."
"You sure, Tooie? That last cup I gave you got you kind of hot and bothered."
"I can handle it. I can take it." She gave me a little nod and I went to do what she asked me to do. Like always.
I was out of the room for maybe ten minutes and I could hear the sound of their voices talking, laughing, carrying on. After a while they got quieter and when I came back with the coffee what I saw sent chills right through me and weakened my spine and my legs right down to the knees. Max was still sitting there, where Iíd left him, but Tooie wasnít leaning against the pillows any more. Max was holding her, her head on his shoulder, her arms kind of limp, one at her side and one around his back. They werenít talking. They werenít moving. They were just sitting there like that.
I made noise in my throat, so I wouldnít frighten them or upset them. Max turned to look at me, but Tooie never budged. Max gave me a look, moved his eyes up to heaven and then back to Tooie. He didnít say a word, didnít have to, because I knew exactly what he was telling me. I knew that thereís be no more coffee drunk in that room that day. I knew that Tooie wasnít interested in coffee. Tooie wasnít interested in much of anything anymore.
You want to cry when you lose the person you spent your life with. You want to, but sometimes you just canít do it. That was who I was right then. I wanted to say something, sob something, but nothing would come. I just stayed there looking at her and Max and wanted to say or do or need or feel something special, but all I could do was stand there and look at them.
It was as though they had robbed me of an important possession, a moment in time that meant more than jewels or rewards or anything like that. I wanted back what was mine, but I didnít know what it was I wanted. Itís a terrible feeling not to know what you want when all you feel is the need of something lost.
Finally, Max spoke up.
"It was how she wanted to go, Vin," he said.
"She didnít want you to be hurt. She told me she was holding on for you, but you couldnít be holding on to her or you might go first."
"How could she...? Thatís a terrible...."
"Vin, she really loved you, I think."
"I loved her, Max." There. Iíd said it out loud. Iíd finally had the chance to declare something Iíd known for years and never said aloud. "She was the best thing to ever come my way."
"Her mother died, did you know that, Vin? Had she told you that?"
"Her mother died years ago."
"No. Her mother died two weeks ago, she told me."
"Her mother died before she married me."
"Nope. Two weeks ago. Thatís what took the heart out of her, Vin. She kept her in a home all these years and when she died, she lost more of herself than she ever imagined."
"Youíre telling me she never told me the truth about her mother?"
"Iím sorry Vin, but thatís what she told me just before she...before she let go."
"She never told me." I was feeling like my chest had been crushed in. I couldnít get my breath. Max was laying her back down on the bed, now. He was letting loose his tender hold on the woman I loved. I was alone with a corpse of someone who had hidden big, very big secrets from me for years and a man who was once a boy I almost ruined myself over.
What I did then, was what I had wanted to do before. I cried. But I didnít know what I was crying over just then. I didnít know that until much later.