A quick glance around the room and I take in all changes I made trying to make this place home. Painted walls, inexpensive furniture and area rugs. A good attempt, but . . .
Well. There’s nothing I want to take.
Even the clothes I bought belonged to another persona; one made by Mom. Yes, she can have it all, I concede on the staircase headed down.
“Darn it,” I groan, hearing movement about; she’s still up, my back stiffening. I don’t need this, not another confrontation, on a slow descent down.
I open the door to, “Going somewhere?” in slurred speech from the kitchen. What happened to going into the bedroom and closing the door till a new day? I had hoped we were done and could make a smooth exit.
“Yes,” I answer before glancing around the dining-room doorframe. How did she know?
She waits leaning against the door-jam.
“Home,” I finish headed towards the front door. That’s sounds pathetic; I look pathetic … just slipping out like this, but…
“Fine. But first we talk,” she says from the stove, pouring tea; probably for a totty. Instead of the yellow on the kitchen walls, I begin to see red. A fighting color, because she wanted a battle. Yeah, I’ve wanted to talk. But my questions she’d avoid like a skilled matador. No amateur here. Yes, I wanted to know, what’s this between you and Cowen? Stalking? Restraining order? . . . What’s that all about? Didn’t I deserve some answers?
But, I am too tired for this game; and that—the answers—would be too much to contemplate right now.
So I wait until Mom begins.
If it weren’t for her conduct yesterday I’d find a way to relax and enjoy this moment, long overdue. It would be nice for me to go home with some semblance of kinship. To tell Madame it was a success. That Mom and I bonded. That her words, “she causes death to everything” weren’t true. But I doubt that this is the direction of this conversation.
Obviously she needs help beginning.
“Mom. Why didn’t you tell me you knew Cowen Riley?
If we could just put that at rest. All those times I’ve asked Mom if she were dating anyone. True, it was her business, but when she had an inkling about me, why didn’t she say anything? She could’ve told me that she loved him; and from what I saw this morning I believe she does.
Mom says, “Well, if you must know, I didn’t think it necessary. How was I to know that you would meet? But you did. And I’m sorry, but I had no inkling that you would fall for him. When Vie said you were I didn’t believe her. Not that you couldn’t, I just thought you wouldn’t. He was married. But when you did I just didn’t want to believe it.”
“But why didn’t you say something?” I ask.
“I wanted to make sure it was him, so I called the agency when I knew you wouldn’t be there—just to see if I recognized his voice. When I heard him I hung up. But why should I say anything? He was still married,” she said, sounding defensive. “I never thought you would fall in love with him.”
She seem to manage that clearly!
“But you did, Mom! At least I held back my emotions until his wife died. I had some principles. Madame taught me that much.”
“What are you saying, Diamond? That I didn’t live by those principles? Remember that the last three years with Steve were ‘no picnic’ Diamond. During that time I met Cowen at another agency. He reviewed Steve’s insurance policy for me. His wife had also just become ill.”
“We sympathized with each other, started going to lunch to talk and eventually fell in love. It happens. We both knew that it was wrong, so we broke it off. I’ve thought about him often, and wondered what he was doing; but I didn’t pursue it—even after Steve died.”
Because he didn’t reciprocate—that much I’ve gathered from rethinking Vie’s insinuations.
“Then one day you spoke of him. Now, here we are.”
“Why didn’t you say something, Diamond?”
Is Mom for real? How many times did I try talking about him before I even started to have feelings for him?
“Thought that maybe you would say something to me, so I waited. But when you didn’t I thought everything was okay. That maybe you didn’t love him.”
But what about that day on the phone with Vie? Did she hear that?
“Diamond, I needed to see Cowen face-to-face, so I saw an opportunity and took it,” she continues explaining.
Mom doesn’t sit at the table with me. I notice she failed to pour herself a cup of tea. She stands, leaning against the sink, arms folded, looking at me intently. The stare lasts for a few seconds. It becomes frightening; I become antsy. This reminds me of the night of her sleepwalking.
Is this side the one Madame spoke about? … Why is she looking like this; what’s it all about? What’s the matter with her?
I don’t have long to wait for the answer.
“Diamond, you know what I’ve come to realize; you want everybody. You don’t share. It was the same thing with Steve.”
What does she mean? What’s the same with Steve?
“Mom, what are you talking about? Who is everybody?”
“Seneca, Steve, now Cowen.”
“What do you mean ya didn’t know; of course you knew. I told you myself.”
What’s she talking about? She never said any such thing.
“Don’t look so stupid. I told you when you left me with Madame. You pouted and said something about wishing Steve were your father as you got into the car.”
I remember that; I’ve said that enough, with his kind concern for my well-being. “But wishing doesn’t make it so,” Madame said that often enough.
“Well, what? . . . Yes, I’ve said that. So?”
“Well, what did I say after that?”
I don’t know!
But, I try to recall.
What first comes to mind is the screaming, so loud, right above my head. I can almost hear that piercing voice now. I tried to cover my ears, but it wasn’t enough; she stood right there blocking my exit. Suddenly, I don’t know how she did it, but my head flew back with force; like a fan sucking my hair. But it wasn’t a fan. Mom dragged me across this same floor, yelling, “Heifer, don’t you ever cover over your ears when I’m talking to you.”
I didn’t want to cry; Madame always said, “Don’t cry. If you cry you give them more power.” But it hurt; it hurt so badly that the tears were squeezing out, because I closed my eyes, tight. Honestly, what really hurt was not her pulling out my hair, though, mind you I felt that too, but this was “Mommy.”
I shouted, “Why are doing this? I didn’t do anything,” but she kept pulling me till I was at his feet—Steve’s, right by the piano.
Mom said, “Say, good-bye, Diamond,” yet I couldn’t say it. I didn’t want to say it.
How could she be so mean; and how could he love her?
I didn’t want to think about it anymore, though I remember; “You called me a tramp.”
“You were a tramp.”
“But what did I do? I was only twelve.”
“You knew what you were doing. Always in his face, then his lap. You were a nasty little girl.”
“No I wasn’t. He would talk to me. No one ever talked to me. We didn’t do anything.”
I was again twelve; answering for her insecurities. Her voice even held the same hatred, somehow back in time.
“You tried to seduce him away from me. I saw right through you, you little slut. Madame taught you well, but she counted on me keeping her little secret. You didn’t know that Steve was your father. You didn’t figure it out, did you? I told you; you’re dumber than I thought.”
“Steve? . . . Steve’s not my father. You never said that. When did you say that?”
“Oh I told you alright. Remember when you went to get in the car with Madame, I heard you say you wished Steve were your father. Well, I told you then. I whispered, ‘Sometimes wishes do come true.”
She’s crazy! . . . That’s her telling me? . . . A girl of twelve? . . . “Sometimes wishes do come true?”
Suddenly I want to laugh; really I do, at the absolute stupidity of it all.
Wait a minute!
“Did Steve know?”
What did it matter now? … But I had to know, since he just let me walk right out of this door. . . Did he know?
“You really are stupid. Why would I tell him that? So he could go running after you? That’s what you would’ve liked, wouldn’t you? But it didn’t happen that way, did it, Diamond, dear. He chose me. He chose me over you fair and square.”
I again start to breathe, knowing that if he had known, things would have gone differently.
My eyes start to burn. All those wasted years. Who benefitted from them? Mom?
It doesn’t seem so.
I repeat; so Steve was my father.
Why didn’t I know? . . . Though in some ways I felt it, sitting down on the piano bench with my head in my hands.
Somethings not adding up.
“Diamond, Seneca is mine. Understand?”
I look at her, trying to read her eyes, certain she means Cowen.
“You have no ties with him,” she finishes.
I keep looking at her to determine the extent of her drink, but she no longer sounds drunk.
Where is this coming from? I thought things were going well. Didn’t she just say in the most pleasant tone that she wished Cowen and me well?
This is like a thick fog. How do I get out of this mess? And how did Seneca get into this? I continue staring at her, thinking, maybe she’s going to say, “I’m just kidding.” I wait, my tongue thick, heavy, and dry making it hard to swallow, wanting to speak. Watching her lips, I wait wishing for them to curve into a smile and form loving words.
My eyes fill with anger and pain, well up with tears.
In a voice low, but hard, Mom asks, “Diamond . . . just how stupid are you? Don’t you know by now that I’m not your mother?”
This keeps getting worst and worst. Then how was Steve my father--?
Finally, my world explodes into fine dust particles right before my eyes as she pauses for effect. My mind tries to grasp the pieces; try to gather them back together; but it’s like grabbing air.
I reconsider; maybe I heard her wrong. . . What exactly did she say?
“Mom, what did you say?”
“My gawd, you’ve lost your hearing too? . . . I said, ‘I am not your Mom.’” She emphasized each word deliberately. Coldly.
Somehow, I couldn’t comprehend. All my life I’ve been told that she was Mother. Why is she saying this? Why is she being so spiteful? What have I done?
My mind races. . . Is Madame your mother? Then what is she to me?
“Yes. I see the pieces starting to fit in that slow brain of yours.”
Her words hurt like bites from a vicious dog loose from a chain. Funny, at a time like this I remember a dog we once owned, a dog I forgot all about, because we had him such a short time. I loved that dog, but we had to put him to sleep.
I begin to cry.
“Ah. . .How do you feel? . . . Foolish? . . . Used? Like you were chasing a rainbow?”
She laughs. “You were. Now you can stop.”
And yes, the reason for her anger fell into place. Crystal still loved Seneca and she’s jealous. Of course, those were merely speculations, but I had to know for sure before I could understand and excuse this hatred.
“Then who is he, Mom, Crystal? Who is he to me?”
Those words hurt worst than anything she’s said thus far.
“Who are you to me?”
“Does it matter?”
She waits before she answers, still propped against the sink. And in this little span of time I watch the steel rod of contempt bend—a bit. Not much.
“I’m your sister, silly. . . Surprised?”
Actually, now that it’s out—No. She never felt like a real Mom to me, but I didn’t really have anything to compare it with, except a few of my friend’s moms. And Madame did say that she didn’t have a motherly attachment to me. That would explain that. But I didn’t say a word.
I just allow a numbness to wash though me. Allow myself a void. I became completely vacant inside like a tube, a hollow hole. Oh, the tears are still present, stinging behind my eyes, but only requesting release. This deep pit of nothing but darkness, spirals me softly downwards. Not knowing how long or how far I’ll fall doesn’t even scare me.
Madame once told me that I didn’t know what it was like to be alone. I did. I was alone often, even in her presence. She said she didn’t want me to be alone, but she left me. However . . . at this moment . . . I am completely alone. Future prospects don’t count or appeal to me now. There’s only me.
I’m intrigued. Can I actually continue to exist in this emotionless state? And if so, for how long?
My silence seemed to bother Crystal.
Did she have a touch of conscience?
“Diamond, what happened in New York? Why did he come all the way here to see you and not me? You can’t be in love with him, because you didn’t know . . . right?”
I don’t utter a sound. No, she doesn’t have a conscience. She has curiosity.
Her eyes take on a glint that I noticed before, but ignored because I felt I had imagined it—a look of hatred.
“Did you know, Diamond? Are you playing with me? Did Madame tell you and you’re trying to get back at me? . . . That’s it, isn’t it? . . . You came here for revenge, didn’t you? I don’t know why I even let that Octavia Hunter talk me into sending you for. I should’ve let well enough alone.”
So that proves it? Vie was responsible for Mom, Crystal, sending for me.
And who is Madame to us? If she is Crystal’s mother, does that make her my mother too? And if that is the case, could it be that she really doesn’t love me either? That she just wishes that I go on and live my life and let her live hers without me? Am I that big of a problem?
My muteness antagonized her further.
This is too much to consider all at once. I’m confused. If Steve is my father and she is my sister, who is out mother? Is she saying that I’m adopted; that I’m only a half-sister? Because surely she isn’t saying that Madame and Steve are both my parents.
She’s playing with me. None of this makes any sense!
Now anger fills the void. Until a moment ago I fought to gain the love and attention of a woman who I knew to be my mother; happily battled for the relationship. I even thought I had jeopardized the love of Madame to find out that she had sent me on a wild goose chase.
For what? For this?
I am here under totally false pretenses, had been threatening a mental collapse, for what? For who? Who’s really who?
“Mom . . . or whoever you are. Right now you’ve told me more than I need or want to know,” I say, while the tears stream down my face.
Funny. I came here searching for a connection; love of family and found foes. Vicious blood enemies, I assume. I gained new battle scars and yet I am still empty-handed; heavy hearted.
I look at this woman as I get up to leave the kitchen.
I seethe inside, for a hatred against everyone, Madame, Crystal, Vie, but mainly for myself. Towards Madame for initiating this mess. Towards Crystal for being my mirror me. Towards myself for the person I’ve become.
You can’t handle loneliness and I pity you. Pity the time you will have ahead.
To think, she maneuvered me into a job I didn’t want and had me live a life for her, when she had no right.
Reaching the front door I seem to feel rather than hear the words, “Don’t leave me,” barely a whisper. I turn around and see her a broken heap near the piano bench. In the darkness of the room she’s not be quite distinguishable as a human. Her spirit crumbled, she’s now a broken mast on the dining room floor.
I stop, my hand on the doorknob.
“She lied, Diamond. It was all a big lie. The marriage, the baby, everything. . . Then they all left me, Diamond. Everyone. I don’t have anyone,” she said in almost a whisper. “Please don’t leave. . . I’m afraid.”
I knew her fear and pain, know it, because it was my fear and pain. My reoccurring nightmare; the one I’ve avoided like death by a speeding train, except the train keeps hitting me over and over. But I still live through every sneaky moment it creeps in; though at times it has me praying for death.
I walk back over to my sister, trying to lift her without success. She stayed a dead mass, so I slide down the piano leg now supporting my back. My arms encircle her as I rock back and forth as she once occasionally rocked me.
Rejection is horrible. Humiliating. Rips you of all pride.
Sitting here, the smell of alcohol escaping through Crystal’s pores, I wonder; is this the way I will end up? hating the idea, but totally lacking any energy to fight it anymore.
Gazing into the fireplace, logs long cold, I repeat Seneca’s words, “You’re no different. You’re just like them,” his strong face stronger in anger, as he swore to never see me again.
I didn’t mean it, I believe, holding Mom, amazed at the enormity of her love for him. How was I to know that it would turn out that way?
My intent was revenge. I always loved him; hated myself for betraying him.
Mom’s limp body in my arms and light snoring leaves me alone again.