Thursday, June 7, 2012
Puffy and Tina
Today I'm writing as a response to a challenge from the Scriptic Collective. Details are at the end of this post.
Tina cracked the blinds about half an inch to let some daylight in, then turned and stood for a moment watching the sleeping woman on the sofa. The snoring was reassuring. At least this morning she wouldn’t have to steal herself against possibilities as she checked for breathing.
She moved closer to the sofa and, on the end table, gently set down the mug of tea she’d been holding. Just above a whisper she said, “Mornin’, Ms. Puffy.”
The woman’s eyelids barely fluttered, but she mumbled, “God dammit, Tina… how many times to I have to tell you not to call me that?”
“I can’t help myself. With your blood count down and those steroids they’ve got you on, your face looks like a big pale, puffy cloud. Therefore, Ma‘am, I have taken it upon myself to change your name to Puffy. Besides, Patty… Puffy… they‘re not so far apart.”
“So, I not only have the joy of battling cancer, but I have to put up with your aspersions too?” Patty opened one eye to a bare squint. “Did you bring me tea?”
“I did. Let me help you sit up a bit.”
Tina bent and scooped Patty into her arms as if she were a small child, and got her up into a sitting position. She pushed pillows behind her back and adjusted blankets, then handed her the mug of tea. She watched as Patty took a tentative sip from the mug, her eyes closed again and her head bowed as if it was too heavy for her neck. Patty took a deep breath and let it out in a heavy sigh.
“How bad is it today, Puffy?”
“Eh… I’ll live,” she answered with a rueful smirk.
“I was surprised to find you on the sofa again. Rough night?”
“Not particularly. I just feel more connected to… I don’t know… to life I guess… when I sleep down here. For some reason I’ve been waking up in that bed with a feeling of being smothered, of being lost. So, I come down here and sleep.”
“You know, I could stay nights if you need me. David won’t mind. Well, even if he does, you know he wouldn’t say shit with a mouthful.”
“I might just lean on you for that if you’re sure it won’t cause problems. I get lonely lately. I don’t know why. I’ve been rattling around this place since Arl died 17 years ago and it’s never bothered me. In fact, I like being by myself. But lately…” Patty trailed off and stared at the book cases lining the wall opposite the sofa. She shook her head at some thought, then said, “I’ve never understood why you’ve stayed with him all these years, Tina. He can‘t be that good in bed!”
Tina laughed. “Oh hell, he’s not any good in bed at all. At least, not from what I remember. It’s been a good six or seven years since we even attempted to twist the sheets. I don’t know why I’ve stayed. I guess… I guess even when something is worn out there’s a certain comfort in it. You’re used to it, y’know? And it’s not like he’s a bad guy.”
“No, but his personality is about as stimulating as plain oatmeal. Wait. Wait just a goddamned minute! No sex for six or seven years?!” Patty looked at Tina as if she was looking at a two-headed oddity in a curiosity shop.
Tina blushed. “Well, no. I mean… I do have the occasional ménage et trios with, um, Mr. Buzz and Miss Friendly.” Tina wiggled the fingers of her left hand in the air. “Turns out there are a whole lot of things in my marriage that I can do better by myself.”
“Godsakes… I did not need that detail.”
“Oh, c’mon, Puffy. You asked for it! But you want to know the best part about it?”
“I’m afraid to ask.” Patty’s eyes twinkled and Tina was glad to see the old spark there. “Oh hell. What?”
Tina replied in a loud whisper, “Mr. Buzz never asks for a blowjob.”
Patty spit the sip of tea she’d been trying to swallow half way across the room. She took the wad of tissues that Tina offered her, both of them laughing too hard to say anything. Eventually their laugher dwindled down to sniffling, throat clearing, and wiping their eyes.
Tina went out to the kitchen to get Patty another cup of tea and to pour herself some coffee. She grabbed Patty’s hairbrush and a wash cloth from the bathroom off the kitchen. She ran the cloth through water as hot as she could stand, wrung it out, and put everything on a tray, and carried it in to the living room.
“Here, Puffy. I brought you a warm cloth for your face, and I’ll brush your hair.”
“There’s hardly any left worth brushing, Tina.”
Tina stood behind her friend and gently brushed the baby-fine hair that had grown back after Patty’s last round of chemo. She felt her lip wobble and immediately bit down on it. There’d be time for that later. All kinds of time. Too much time. Tina set the brush on the end table and went back around the sofa. She sat down at the opposite end from Patty and took a sip of coffee.
“Hey, Puffy. You remember the first time we met?”
“Of course. It was at your wedding. My mother insisted on dragging me into the dressing room, convinced we’d become great friends, which she based on the fact that we both majored in American Lit.”
Tina laughed. “I think I was both floored that she’d do that and relieved that there was something else to focus on other than my pre-nuptial terror. Remember what you said to me?”
Patty pondered for a minute, then, “I don’t.”
“You said, ‘Why would anyone want to leave this room? It’s so quiet and peaceful in here. You know, it’s not over until the guy in the silk bathrobe says man and wife.’ At the time I thought it was awfully presumptuous and audacious of you to suggest that I not marry David. I’ve thought about it so many times over the last twenty five years though. I wish I had listened, but I think the universe - perverse as it is - put my marriage together so that you and I could meet and be friends.”
“I’ve thought the same thing. If you hadn’t married David, we probably never would have met - my parents being his god-parents and all.”
“This is going to sound weird, but I love you more than I’ve ever loved David.” Tina had to gulp back tears.
“I’ve loved you to. That’s why I want you to promise me something.”
“That box with all the inlay on it? That one on the top shelf?” Puffy pointed and Tina nodded. “That’s for you when I die. No. Shush.” Puffy waved away the beginnings of Tina’s protestations. “We both know how this is going to end, and it isn‘t long away now. I’ve been waiting for the right time to say this and it turns out that the right time for shit is the time you just grab the bull by the balls and deal with it. That box with the inlay is for you to have. I want you to take it and my ashes up to Hurricane Ridge. Do it as soon as you can once you get my ashes - rain or shine. Will you do that? Will you promise?” Patty’s eyes were bright with tears, but her jaw held firm.
“Good. Now hand me the damned channel changer and let’s make fun of the lowlifes on court TV.”
Ten weeks later Tina sat by herself on an old Indian blanket, facing the valley of cedars that gave way to the rest of the Olympic mountain range. The urn with Patty’s ashes leaned against her right ankle. She ran her fingers over the inlay on the top of the box that sat next to her and then pushed the button that popped the lid open. In the box she found a folded note upon which Patty had written, “Read Me First“, three sealed business envelopes, a small jewelers envelope, and a bottle of 2009 Coppola Merlot.
Tina unfolded the note and began to read:
Let’s get the uncomfortable shit out of the way, shall we? Scatter my ashes up here on the ridge - don‘t make a big fuss about it - just tell me you love me and let ‘er rip.
There are three big envelopes and one little envelope. In the little envelope you’ll find the key to my cabin out by Roslyn. In one of the other envelopes is the deed to the cabin. It’s all yours. In one of the other envelopes is a cashier’s check for two hundred thousand. Wipe that look off your face - what else was I going to do with my 401k?
Wait. There is a catch. That’s what the third envelope is for. In that one is a gift certificate to The Apple Store. Waiting for you there is a top of the line laptop. I want you to take it and everything else to the cabin. I want you to write the story of our friendship. All of it, including the bit about Mr. Buzz and me spewing tea, and the way you held my head when I had to puke, and changed my catheters and bathed me. Because it’s all there - the good, the bad, the ugly, the pretty damned terrific - all the love and the tears and laughter. Write it.
When you’re done, crack open that Merlot and let‘s get shitfaced.
With much love from this life and whatever life lies beyond,
For the Scriptic.org prompt exchange this week, Grace O'Malley gave me this prompt: Puffy and Tina, and I gave Wendryn this prompt: This isn't the end of the story.