watching yourself cry (chapter 17, part 2)

(image thanks to M.D.Photos)

The first time they separated was when Eleanor was one, still putting everything in her mouth and needing to be carried. Elle had been a curious child and it took at least two people to make sure she didn’t grab the sharp knife from the cutting board or play with the contents of her diaper or hurl herself out the four-story window or lock herself in the bathroom with a full tub of water.  Once when Rosemary was on the phone she turned around and found Elle grinning as she pulled a razor up and down her little blood-soaked legs.  Lang hadn’t wanted to leave them but she was shooting in Australia and it just didn’t seem practical to drag them so far.  She hired an expensive French au pair and everything seemed fine until the last moment at the airport when Rosemary got out to help with the luggage and everything exploded, with furious words on both sides and tears, horns honking, and Eleanor howling in her carseat.           

They slept in the same bed, all three of them, imprinting one another with arms and feet.  When they walked down the street they walked hand-in-hand, swinging Elle between them like a heavy third leg.  They ate from the same spoon.  How could she just get on a plane and leave? 

But if she wanted to make a film in Australia, how could she stay? 

The thought of going was painful, but leaving when she didn’t know if she had a home to come home to was far worse.  In Australia, all she could think of were the things they’d said, the fact that they did not kiss goodbye, the muttered comment about waiting to see how they feel when she got back to Paris.  The filming was a disaster but it didn’t matter.  The yawning hole of life without them stretched larger and larger until late one night or early one morning when Lang found herself sitting on the edge of the bathtub in her horribly neutral hotel room with the faint smell of bleach in her nose, naked and crying at herself in the mirror.  Of course she knew that it’s never a good idea to watch oneself cry but she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the spectacle of her twisted, screwed-up face against the white plastic shower curtain liner.  One part of her mind, one little whisper urged her to step out of the window—it was seven stories down, probably good enough to do the job, but perhaps she should take some pills first, just to be sure.  Another part of her mind just smirked and rolled its eyes and retreated to the other room to find something to do, anything, even the room service menu would be more entertaining than this schlock.  Lang emptied her medicine bag on the bathroom floor and made an absurd row of little pills lumping along the edge of the tub.  White pills, white tub.  Death by antidepressant.  How ironic.

“I’m sorry, Lang,” Rosemary sighs up to the dining room ceiling.  “I know you want us here with you but I talked to Sal on the phone for two hours today and there were still unresolved issues when we hung up.  It all could’ve been handled in a couple minutes if I’d been there. I just want our space to be right.  It’s a crucial time now and I just wish—I mean it would be so much easier…”  She grabs up her wineglass and drinks, plunks it down.   “It’s our home. Don’t we want it to be perfect?”

Lang chews slowly but all she can taste is the smoke from the candles.  She turns to Eleanor.  “How did you know about the tombs, anyway?”

 “Mr. Brown took me on a cemetery tour.  He’s teaching me all about the south, remember?” 

Lang looks at Rosemary but she’s is too busy studying the ceiling and fanning herself to notice.  “Tell me about him.  What are you learning?  Does he speak fondly of General Lee?  Should I be worried?”

Rosemary stands up from her chair so fast she almost knocks it over. “Really, Lang.  Robin Brown is the best thing about this place so far.  He takes Elle to a new place every day and she comes home chatting and happy so I don’t care who the hell he is.  You don’t get to go off and do your thing then show up weeks later and question the only thing I’ve managed to accomplish here.”

“I was just joking.  Come on, Rosemary.”  Lang tries to touch Rosemary with her eyes but they don’t connect.  The centrifugal force begins to exert itself, their bodies disintegrating into millions of angry ants, crawling to opposite corners, and reforming into the muscular, metallic shapes of archetypal opposites: black and white, good and bad, and it’s very Kurosawa: they’re brandishing rusty weapons and mouthing words scratched in stone.  

Rosemary says, “If you’re not here then you don’t get to vote.”

“You know I’d love to stay home,” says Lang.

“Sure. You’d love it as much as I do.”

“You’ve always painted at home. “  In Paris, they converted the attic to a studio and in New York, they rented the adjoining apartment for Rosemary.  “Why can’t you love it?  Is it really so bad?”

“Why aren’t you here?  We came all this way to be with you and you’re not here.”  The table elongates between them.  Eleanor sits at the epicenter of the expansion, chewing quietly. 

“I’m here now.”  Lang sighs.  “Someone has to earn the money, don’t they?”

 “What are you saying?”  Even from this distance across the lengthening table Lang can see Rosemary’s nostrils flare and her black eyes burn, ringlets rear back to the striking position.  Lang can’t help but see how beautiful she is, how shiny and vivid red and white when her lips pull back to hiss and here it is, she’s going to say the thing they haven’t said before, the dark heart of it all.  “Are you saying I don’t work as hard or that I’m not as talented as you?  Or maybe I don’t deserve to make art that doesn’t make a lot of money?  Is that what you mean?”

Lang stares at her plate.  “Of course that’s not what I mean.   I love what you do and I’m so grateful you’re here for Elle.”

Rosemary’s voice touches the twenty foot ceiling.  “Like the little woman filling my day until you get home and tell me what it’s like out there.  Are we just here to support your system?  Are you my fucking patron or are you my boss?”

She slaps the table with the napkin and slams out the door. 

*

This is chapter 17. To start from the beginning, click here.

*
Question: I’d love to see how this chapter came across. Do you side with either Lang or Rosemary in this argument? Just wondering….

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About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.

6 comments

  1. My daughter’s father (who I never married) went to California after noisily trying to sneak his belongings out of my basement when she was two months old. Once there, he began to send letters saying how difficult it was to be away from us, but he was keeping his chin up while trying to succeed out there. I pointed out that he hadn’t gone off to war, and wasn’t seeking a faraway treatment for an illness, so why was he behaving as if we all had to trudge along and accept something that we had no real control over? This reminds me of that a bit– except for the fact that these two have some money to work with.

    Even so, I’m actually on the fence here, and the only thing that pushes me a millimeter into Rosemary’s territory is Lang’s silence at the end. No answer, even if one is afraid to speak, reads as, “Yes.” And this yes trumps all that’s been said before. Up until then the basic equalness of their sadness and unease at being physically apart so much, is something I feel privy to, as the reader.

    This is a slice of life that I’ve always been fascinated with. When people choose fulfilling work that ‘s mostly done very far from home, but still choose a significent other, and have a family, who can’t come with. Then they want them all to be happy, and for things to be easy, when they come home. Paul and Linda MacCartney seemed to have figured that one out– yet they were still ridiculed for their solution. Go figure… The main thing is that the sadness in this chapter felt gut-wrenchingly real for me. (I hope my answer to your question wasn’t way too much.)

    • Thanks for your comments. I woke up this morning thinking about what you said about Lang’s silence and I reworked the dialogue a little– I think it’s better, thanks to you. I really do want both women to be equally sympathetic here. I’m trying to expose effects of power imbalance rather than take sides. The Awakening is about a woman who feels pulled by her many roles– as a mother, wife, individual, woman, artist– and that’s what I find interesting. So I am so, so grateful for what you said that made me think.

      • Oooh, just read it again! I’m definitely back on the fence, sad for them all (especially young Eleanor taking it all in and, of course as their child, feeling responsible and helpless) but hoping they find a way back to each other. The reworking felt seamless. And reminded me of more of my own history, so I know why Rosemary still got up and left angry!

  2. i didn’t side with either, and recognized the patterns, and wonder about mr. brown. i also tried go go back and read the first part of the chapter and couldn’t find antthing more recent than chapter 12.

    • Try going to the categories and clicking What Would Water Do. That should show all the chapters. Or look on the sidebar under archives– they’re listed there too. I hope that works!

  3. So Rosemary is Lang’s – Life Partner?
    I get it that she paints. These two chapters
    lost me. There seems to be a lot of jumping
    back and fourth from past to present. You do
    seem to have a lot of people here. I do however
    feel that it is not nessary for me to like these
    chapters as my interest in this story lies
    elsewhere, at least right now.

    2&4&12B 9 14B 12A 7&16A&16B 14A 15A&15B
    11 3B 3A 13 6 10 8&17A&17B&5&1 – I’ll just group
    the last ones together, these are getting hard to
    keep track of.

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