Dramatis Personae 2

 

More characters:

Nola Rodgers the banker. Nola is happiest when things match. She finds mismatches, and then fixes them. For her, fixing them can mean nagging new people, or it can mean throwing out old files and forms. Fixing things can involve phone calls – she’s always loved the telephone, falling so nicely between the impersonal email and the personal speech. Loves phone calls. She’s torn though about whether she can figure out the problems to be fixed best in person, or over a computerized form. How lovely it is to decipher the meaning of someone’s handwriting, to understand their very selves through an external sign! So if Manda and Juan-Carlos and Maybelle had just brought her a beautifully filled in, correctly filled in, perfect form she’d have been delighted.
It hasn’t ever been her job (or her desire) to fill in the meaning behind the forms. The pristine paper, or pixels, now painted with clear facts, soothes, quiets, fulfills. The rage she has felt at people who harm her paper -crossing out letters, blotting the sides, dripping coffee: our villains do none of this. They are nothing if not neat. Nola would have happily let there papers through, giving them a new loan, permitting them any money at all, just so long as her papers were clear.

LouLou the husky. Despite the name, LouLou is male. He’s about 7, with clear dark eyes, bright white teeth, pointed ears. His eye-mask: gray, the rest of his face: creamy. Dorsal – black; ventral – cream. He saw the children and the misery of losing Grace began to recede. They weren’t Grace, no one would ever be his grace again; but they were lovely. They smelled just right. Grace ran him, Grace fed him. He was hungry and tired, and the girls needed him. He knew that. Once their mother appeared, he relaxed completely. She’d guard him, he’d guard her, the children would be fed.

Tricia the QA demon. Mother of two. Tired. Did I say tired? Did she? Oh so tired. And now, just when she’d hoped everything had been organized, called from the office. Accused of some sort of misery? The girls should’ve stayed home. Of course why had she ever expected that! Deep snow, easy access to the island. Oh of course, and now a dog. Tricia had gotten pregnant and aborted. She’d been very young. The father much older. The father, her teacher. The father long since gone.

Then, twenty years later, pregnant again, a daughter. And two years after, again. Another daughter. (Jonella and Makayla) How perfect. QA: organizing tests. What could be better? Deriving order from chaos. Just like at home. Organizing the insanity of dolls and stuffies and models and clothes.

And in the office, she carved out her niche, and led the developers gently to test themselves. She prided herself on agility. The pun brought out a smile. As always. Her jokes were tiny quivers that cleared corners, and then whole rooms. Once each room was clear, with open windows, she’d fill it with the furnishings of working software, of peaceful children. Her rooms, her jokes, her clarity.

And what had the girls found? A dog? A body?

What would the dog do in her clean rooms, her ordered home? How could a dog mess things up?

She had wanted a dog since before the girls were born. She’d wanted a dog since she’d been a girl herself. She’d dreamed of Lad. She’d imagined Flush as hers. Never wanted Robert Browning, but oh that spaniel Flush.

Here was a large dog, black, fierce, and yet, curled around her daughters. She’d never seen such a grin before. Apparently he’d adopted them. Her too. She saw the tail wag. The pink tongue emerged and licked a foot and then her daughter.


So much for some main characters. Back to an outline.

The landlords, having lost quite a lot (Madeoff? something different) losing their own home, have decided that the very best solution will be to turn their other building into a co-op and to renovate it. But Grace Stroud was stabilized. So they decided to kill her. They looked up murder in books. Manda decided that Maybelle would lure Grace somewhere, and Juan-Carlos would hit her with a stick And then they’d drop her off on Randall’s Island.

The way they’d manage the dog? Grace walked to a yoga class every day. She’d be away from the dog. Then, once they’d dumped her, they’d open the door to the apartment, the dog would be lost, they’d have no more trouble.

Well that might work. It might.

If not that: Grace took the dog for runs often. Maybe they could trip her and she’d fall.

If not that: surely Grace would drink a sample coffee?

 

Jonelle and Makayla. I’m renaming them, Right now. When I can think of something I like better than Pamela and Irene.

Ok, they’re 12 and 10. They’re smart. They love dogs. That’s why they’re going to adopt Lou-Lou. They have mostly gone to the same school, but won’t go to the same high schools. Jonelle who is now Irene, or even Reeny, is going to go to the Manhattan Center for Science and Technology. Pamela, who used to be Makayla, and may still be, is going to go to the High School For American Studies at Lehman College. Unless she goes to a different high school entirely. Maybe at NY Harbor School. I like that idea, marine biology.

So Jonelle is Reeny. She’s about to attend the Manhattan Center for Science and Technology, because she skipped a grade. Pam also skipped. In both cases this leaves them quite a bit younger than the other kids in their classes – Pam is in 6th grade, she’ll be 11 in July. Reeny is in 8th grade, she’ll be 13 in September. Right after she starts high school.

Nope got this wrong. Reeny is already at Hunter, where she’ll stay. Pam will end up at Harbor School. Leaving early early early in the morning. Begging her ma for a down town home.

That won’t happen.

Meanwhile our Lydia Stroud. Here’s the first part of the investigation.

Cop 1 She wasn’t a driver and she wasn’t even that old. Cop 2 Huh – how do you know? Cop 1: The non-driver’s license. She’s eighty-five. Cop 2: That’s old! Cop 1: No, it’s not. My grandmother is 85 and she’s no where like old. But have you looked her up yet? Cop 2: What’s the name again? Cop 1: Lydia Stroud. Cop 2: McCann! Look up Lydia Stroud Cop 1, who is now and forever Celli: Wilson, I asked you – not McCann.
Cop 2, who I suppose we are now calling Wilson: Yeah Yeah. McCann, found anything?

McCann lumbers back to the first two cops wearing a funny smile

“She has one arrest. June 28 1969. You’ll love this. Also some press on it. ” Wilson said “Why will I love this?

McCann laughed. “Because. Just, because. It’s really funny.” “McCann, Please just tell me. I haven’t got all day” Wilson sighed.

McCann: “I’ll give you hint. June 28, 1969. C’mon, parade duty! Don’t you remember? Last year?” Wilson: What the? She was arrested at Stonewall? McCann: Yeah. Apparently she was “The Littlest Lesbo” in the Post. Pretty girl.
Celli: Anything else McCann? You done leering at the corpse’s baby pictures? McCann sighed. “C’mon Celli, I’m not leering. This is legit, she wasn’t a babe, but she was kind of cute. No, she doesn’t have a record except this one drunk and disorderly. Interesting that she gave her real name though.”

“Yeah. Whatever. Anything else? Like an address?” Celli, looked down at the id. “Because I don’t trust this.”

Wilson: “You should. I did a lookup on the building on the id. 116th and Pleasant”

“Nice”

The cops eventually got to 116th and Pleasant. The building was in lousy shape, and looked abandoned. The lights were out in the hallway. One pane in the front door was shattered. Lydia Stroud’s apartment was a small two bedroom on the ground floor. One bedroom was a study, the other clearly a sanctuary of sorts.

There was a dog bowl in the kitchen, and a crate in the larger bedroom. There were dog beds in the living room and the smaller bedroom.

The walls varied. In living room, pale green with white trim. In the kitchen a golden yellow. One bedroom was lavender (“What’d’ya expect from the littlest lesbo?!”), the other blue. The bathroom had a bamboo wallpaper and a bowl of potpourri.

There was a file cabinet right by the desk. It was unlocked, there wasn’t much in it either.

One file: “landlords” Another: “Joanna” A third: “Lou-lou” The fourth: “Stuff”

“Stuff” contained a will, with a cover letter of sorts.

The letter: If you read this, I’m dead.
My executor, as named in the will is Jimmy Calletti. He’s a lawyer. The address is on the will. I don’t have much, my concern is Lou-lou.
Please don’t kill him. If you can’t find an adopter, give him to a no-kill shelter. The little I’ve got is for whoever gets him.

I don’t have parents or siblings. Joanna and I didn’t have children.

There’s just Lou-lou. Please don’t let him get hurt.

 

Dramatis Personae

So, now for character write ups aka dramatis personae

Grace Stroud – the dead woman. She had been a math teacher at the Manhattan center for science and mathematics, and that’s one reason she’d lived in Spanish Harlem for oh so many years.

She was born in Brooklyn, and had gone to Cooper Union and then got her PhD at Caltech. She’d decided – for no obvious reason- she was a fairly creative numerical analyst, and presumably could have taught in college – that was what some of her fellow grad students had said. She herself had decided as a child that the numerical analysis could happen at home. She was (she felt) intrinsically a loner. Later, in her thirties, it occurred to her that she was not so much a loner, as nervous about her sexuality. She was gay.

She’d continued a pleasant life however. She loathed teenagers, loathed teaching, and somehow loved teaching teenagers. At least they hadn’t yet given up on life (well many had but that didn’t occur to her until her late forties).

She didn’t like the boys, and no, not because she was a lesbian, but rather because so many of the boys were what she’d experienced from adult men as a child. She wasn’t pleased that they espoused violence and anger towards women. When they took too much of her time she could have cried.

She didn’t like the girls either – too many of them had bought into ideas of femininity that disgusted and frightened her. Yet maybe it was she who was wrong? Maybe it was the use of language? Because her girls – hundreds of them by the time she retired – her girls hadn’t had children at 15 (well one of them had, and she turned out to be brilliant), or rather her girls had become complete happy people.

Very few of the children she’d taught had been creative. Brilliant yes, successful, probably. Creative – Lavonda – she was a doozy of an theorem generator Makayla – she was an astro-physicist with interesting insights in planet formation There might have been others…

And then there were her lovers. Her wife had died young. She hadn’t remarried. She hadn’t had a lover in ten years by the time she was killed.

She wasn’t solitary, no, she had LouLou, and she had friends at the center at Isaacs (that was her favorite, even though it was more than a mile away) and she had the computations she’d loved through out her life.

The landlords: Manda, Juan-Carlos, and Maybelle. They were old now. They looked it, while displaying few of the obvious signs of aging. They were still beautiful. Odd, but beautiful. Because the eyes were now clouded, both by cataracts (and their removal) and by macular degeneration (well, that was only Maybelle), you couldn’t tell the original color. Probably brown, maybe hazel? blue? green? No, you couldn’t really tell.
The hair?
Manda wears wigs you know. Most of her wigs were interesting shades of purple and burgundy. She’d always told herself that she looked best in henna, and she flattered herself that no one knew the difference. Perhaps if she’d bought new wigs as her hair thinned that would’ve been true. Juan-Carlos and Maybelle had hair that thinned and grayed. It still covered their skulls but was it combed over? was it treated? who knew? That’s how Juan-Carlos thought (when he thought at all). He tied himself to Maybelle, never noticing that now, as in their childhood, their youth, their prime — throughout their lives — Maybelle had a springy, wavy, mane. It hadn’t thinned, it was gray.

All three were unwrinkled. They’d shrunk with age, never having been tall to begin with, and now they were under 5 feet. Slim, slow moving, with opaque taupe skin. Again almost gray. Darker than their hair (paler than Manda’s wigs), but somehow, fuzzy – unclear.

Was the color the remains of endless seasons of tanning? – They had been wealthy Was it a gradual fading of darker melanin? – Was it an alien process that had taken over? – They were “gray”! Was it giant age spots covering them entirely?

Who knew? All that an observer could tell is that the three of them were slender, brownish, grayish, always together. Speaking in piping sopranos or rumbling bass. Not memorable. You couldn’t call the tones of any of their voices to mind. You’d hear them as a chorus, you’d see them as a unit. When you’d try to grasp a concrete detail it would fade away. What would be left was three cliched old people who somehow wouldn’t come into focus.

And as for character! Nasty. Grasping. Angry. Even at each other. With outsiders – that’s us – cold.
Again, it’s difficult for an outsider to tell them apart. The hazelish, brownish, almond eyes: Manda’s are slightly more narrow, Maybelle’s have a slight epicanthic fold. Maybe all three do? Tiny. Grumbling. Tight skin. Tight fists. Also tiny,

Sad Sad Sad

Oh dear. Oh dear. Oh dear.

Reading into Penelope Trunk is like reading into Delia Day. Penelope Trunk, in case I ever reread today’s work and wonder, is a blogger and advice columnist. Her blog reads as though it’s a copy edited (and possibly, but not certainly, content edited) diary of her learning how to be in the world.

Reading bits and pieces of Penelope Trunk I want to shout “Contrarian is fine, but you are not acting in a productive way!” If the end result of a life is fabulous creation – well, she hasn’t done that. If it’s happiness, well she’s destroying her own. But that’s blaming her for her abuse.

What happens next in reading her, in noting the way she has bought into her own abuse, is that you remember Delia Day. Or I do.

Delia Day, again, in case I’ve forgotten, was the pseudonym of Susan Anton who blogged (under that name) about her life as a sex-slave. And then, one day, she shot and killed her husband and master.

The blog had been part of a pay-site where photos of her body modifications and the stuff she and her husband did sexually were available for sale. Also, if you subscribed you could read her entries about the modifications and her life.

And then she shot her husband, and, I believe (but I could be misremembering) she wasn’t even indicted. Because the happy sex-slave blog was written by him. Because her life, as she later re-constructed it was one of abuse and fear.

Penelope Trunk is the blog name of a woman whose husband periodically hits her, who home schools her children, so they’re learning that violence is acceptable, and who maybe, some day, will reclaim her birth name.

Maybe in a few years we’ll read of a second divorce, and the public bits of it will include a lot about fear or attempts to leave.

Because I want to believe that the personal aspects of her blog were written for her husband (if not by him). Because I want to believe that Adrienne wants to live a life with agency and joy. A life that doesn’t include beatings. A life that permits her children physical access to the world.

And then I remember the Keri Hulme book The Bone People, in which the boy’s father beat him horribly but really did love him. Well, in the magical thinking of the novel, really loved him. (And the narrator.)

You know novels aren’t reality, and often aren’t true. The wonderful artistic fabulous man who beats the boy might never beat the narrator, but after all, he doesn’t recognize that it just isn’t ok to hit people.

That’s what the character that Penelope Trunk writes about doesn’t know. Maybe some day Adrienne will be able to grow past cool chill girl-friend and wife Penelope. Adrienne would be happier if she weren’t trying to be Penelope.

Maybe she isn’t trying, that’s what is triggering myanxieties. Maybe she’s captive of the relationship she bought into and her sons held hostage.

Maybe it’s completely abuse and she knows it, but her “brave” public face is Penelope, who has rewritten the narrative of her life to embrace her own “responsibility” for abuse. To accept her own accountability.

Please understand: she isn’t responsible for her abuse. She’s responsible, sort of, for staying.  But maybe not for that either.

But I keep thinking: what if she’s Hedda Nussbaum, what if she’s Susan Anton. That’s frightening and upsetting. Because then we, I, anyone reading her, we’ve all allowed ourselves to be lulled into voyeurism.

Somewhere, I hope that she is really Adrienne, and Penelope is her guise until she can spread her wings and get away.

Delia Day’s diary or blog detailed her circumcision (actual circumcision – removal of her clitoral hood), her labia rings, her tattoos.

I came on the site and the pictures through BME, where the pictures were kind of happy. I found them immensely erotic. I found her words disturbing. Even if she was a volunteer they read as disturbing.

I read and saw all this after the fact. Then I found out (through a “What happened to?” search) that her life wasn’t so happy after all. That she was abused.

Or maybe not. Maybe Travis’s family were correct and she was really an evil woman plotting all along to kill him cold bloodedly.

But maybe Penelope Trunk is Delia Day.