Rebecca, Too: Oakhurst


After spending her afternoon with Alyssa and receiving her charge, so to speak, Leah heads out the next morning to visit Steven Asher in Oakhurst. She calls first to introduce herself and to make sure Steven is willing to talk to her. At the house, she notes that the home at 466 East Lake Drive, is not far from a house she owned in Kirkwood several years ago, before she moved to her condo in Midtown. The house is two stories with a full porch, and looks like it was built mid-century. The exterior could use a coat of paint, but otherwise, it’s well-maintained and in excellent shape. Leah estimates its value at well over $300K, no doubt considerably more than what Steven’s parents had paid for it. She steps up onto the porch and rings the bell.

“I appreciate you taking the time to see me, Steven,” she tells him, once she’s inside. “I imagine this is all pretty weird for you.”

“Weird?” he replies. “Anywhere from six to twelve times an hour I get a call from this woman who sounds nothing like my sister but with all her attitude and mannerisms. I had to turn the phone off.”

“I’m hoping, if we put our heads together, we can figure out why the Princess is acting like this,” Leah says.

“Princess?” Steven asks.

“It’s what I call Alyssa,” Leah says.

“Then you don’t think this is about Becky,” Steven says.

“Rebecca figures into it, somehow,” Leah says. “What has me stumped is why Alyssa chose to take on her personality. Obviously, they know one another, but how well is anyone’s guess.”

“I’ll tell you what I can about Becky,” he says, “but before Alyssa left that message for me, I’d never even heard her name.”

Leah wanders around and surveys the living room and surroundings. “I’ve been reading a lot of Rebecca’s work the past couple of days. I find I rarely agree with her opinions, but I like her prose style — very direct and in-your-face.”

“That’s Becky,” Steven says, sitting on the arm of the couch. “A publisher was interested in doing something with her blog, but she died before she’d compiled very much. I’ve thought about shopping her work around to a small publisher, or self-publishing — if I ever have time to work on it, that is.”

“Let’s hope you do,” Leah says. “Her feminist critique of the work of Bette Davis was a little lacking in details, but she definitely brought a fresh perspective.”

“Yeah, she really liked Bette Davis,” Steven says. “What would you like to know about my sister?”

Leah stops pacing near the couch and sits. “I need to know the real Rebecca. Maybe then I can sort out what she represents to the Princess. Everything I know comes from what I’ve read by or about her. How does Alyssa’s version compare?”

“She knows enough to convince me she spent quite a bit of time with Becky,” Steven says. “If I had to guess, though, she probably spent more time with her when Becky was younger. Becky changed a lot after she went away to college.”

“Funny you should mention that.” Leah hands him the photo of Alyssa and Rebecca in Florida. “Ever see this?”

Steven takes the photo, looks it over, and nods. “I remember the trip. Aunt Rachel — our guardian at the time — didn’t think Becky was old enough to go on her own.” He hands the photo back.

“Obviously Rebecca didn’t agree,” she says as she returns the photo to her pocket.

“Becky never got along with Rachel, even before she went to college,” Steven says. “After she left school, things just got worse.”

“Left school?” Leah says. “She didn’t graduate?”

“No, Becky dropped out her junior year,” he says. “She never said why.”

He relates a story to Leah. As he tells it, she visualizes the encounter. Leah imagines a much less idealized version of Rebecca than the one Alyssa has portrayed but still generally keeping with the image she’s formed from Alyssa’s depiction.

Rebecca backs into the room from the kitchen, very angry, yelling at someone.

“You fucking slut, don’t you dare tell me when I can come and go. You don’t control me, you bitch.”

Steven goes to her. “Becky, calm down.”

Rebecca pivots toward him.

“Stay out of this, Stevie. It’s between me and that fucking bitch in there.”

“She’s just trying to help. You staggered in at three a.m. last night and woke everyone up.”

“I am a fucking adult. I’ll do whatever I goddamn please.”

Rebecca storms out the front door.

“How tall was Rebecca?” Leah says.

“How tall?” he says.

“It helps me picture her,” she says. “In the photo, Alyssa’s leaning beside her, so it’s hard to gauge.”

Steven nods. “Top of her head didn’t quite come up to my shoulder.”

“You’re six feet?”

“Six, two,” he says.

Leah rewinds the scene. Rebecca returns from the front door and assumes her stance just before confronting Steven. She’s now shorter than she was initially.

“Small, medium, or large frame?” Leah says.

“Large,” he says. “Definitely.”

“Stocky?” she says.

He nods.

Leah adds twenty pounds to her image of Rebecca.

“On a scale of one to ten,” Leah says, “one being Meryl Streep and ten being Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch, how annoying was her voice?”

Steven considers it, then nods. “Seven. And, she was always trying to imitate Bette Davis’ inflections.”

Leah nods. “Got it.”

Rebecca pivots toward Steven. In a voice reminiscent of Bette Davis from All About Eve, she says, “Stay out of this, Stevie. It’s between me and that fucking bitch in there.”

“She’s just trying to help. You staggered in at three a.m. last night and woke everyone up.”

“I am a fucking adult. I’ll do whatever I goddamn please.”

Rebecca storms out the front door.

“That’s better,” Leah says. “Please continue.”

“Her feud with Rachel got so bad Rachel locked her out of the house,” he says.

Leah hears Rebecca’s voice coming from outside the door. Rebecca pounds angrily on the door, and rings the bell over and over. She sounds drunk.

“Open this god-damned door, you bitch! Stevie, please, let me in. Don’t let her do this.”

Steven moves toward the door. A woman’s voice is heard. “Steven.” He stops and addresses someone else.

“I’m not letting her in.” To the door, he says, “Sorry, Becky.”

“I know Rebecca became your legal guardian,” Leah says. “Was your aunt doing a bad job?”

“No. Rachel and I get along great,” Steven says. “We always have. That didn’t stop Becky from kicking Rachel out of the house, once she became my guardian.”

“I called your aunt as you suggested,” Leah says. “She gave me her schedule and told me to drop by some evening. I’m thinking of doing so tonight. What does she do for a living?”

“She’s a nurse who specializes in terminal patients,” Steve tells her.

“High stress work,” Leah says. “She ever bring any of that home?”

Steven shakes his head. “I’ve never known her to be anything but patient and tolerant. She needed it with Becky.”

“Whatever Rebecca thought about your aunt,” Leah says, “she’s not on Alyssa’s radar. I haven’t heard Rachel’s name once from the Princess — not even when she talks about being your guardian.” Leah looks around at the house. “This is a nice place. I can see you’ve done some work recently.”

“My parents bought it before I was born,” he says. “Back in the 80s when it was really cheap. I’m trying to convince my girlfriend to move in.”

“Full basement?” she asks, to which he nods.

“Partially finished with a separate entrance,” he replies. “I’d like to rent it out if I can get it in shape and find something to do with the the pool table that’s down there now.”

“Awful lot of room for one or two people,” Leah says, more to herself than Steven. “I bet a young, upwardly mobile family would pay a fortune for a place like this. I’ve been known to flip a few houses in my time, if you’re interested.”

“No thanks,” he says. “I plan to have an upwardly mobile family myself one day.”

“Then let’s talk sisters,” she says, sliding to the edge of the couch. “On the day before her accident, Alyssa spent an extraordinary amount of time reading up on Rebecca. She appears to have read everything Rebecca wrote, and just about everything written about her, warts and all.”

Steven slips from the arm down onto the couch, at the opposite end from Leah. He crosses his legs and leans on one hand. “You found all this on her computer?”

“I’m an Internet security consultant,” she says. This gives her a thought. “Hey. Want to cover your tracks on the Web? I can show you how to be invisible.” Leah hands Steven her business card. “I teach an extension course at Georgia Perimeter from time to time. I’ll get you a discount if you want to sit in on a session.” He examines the card, nods, and puts in his pocket.

Leah leans forward and focuses ahead of her, like she’s picturing something. “Let’s break this down. Assume Alyssa learned about Rebecca’s death a day or so before her accident. She spends hours reading up on Rebecca, then tries to contact you just minutes before she’s in a car accident herself. And the first thing she does when she wakes up—”

Steven picks up the thought. “Is contact me — just like Becky would have.”

“So, what was life like with Rebecca in charge?” Leah asks.

“More like I was in charge,” he says. “Becky wasn’t very responsible.”

Steven relates some stories. During one, Leah imagines the phone ringing, which Steven answers. She hears Rebecca’s voice.

“Hey, Goonie, where’s the pizza that was in the fridge?” she says.

“You mean the pizza that was in the refrigerator for three weeks?” Steven replies. “I threw it out.”

Rebecca comes out of the kitchen, still talking on the phone as though Steven isn’t there. “Why’d you throw it out? I was going to eat that.”

Steven starts to answer on the phone, then stops himself, hangs up and speaks to Rebecca. She continues to hold the phone to her ear, though she’s addressing Steven directly.

“Becky, there was stuff growing on it,” he tells her.

“So?” she says. “Just zap it in the god-damned microwave. That kills just about anything.”

“I can’t believe you ever lived on your own” he says. “Did your roommates in New York take care of you?”

“What am I supposed to have for dinner now?” she says.

“Why don’t you use one of the numbers on the refrigerator?” he says indicating the kitchen. “There are at least five pizza places.”

“My fucking credit card’s not working again.”

“What’s wrong with your card?” Steven says.

“I don’t know. It just keeps getting declined,” she says.

“You paid them, right?” he says. “You’re supposed to do that every month, you know.”

“Oops!” she says, covering her mouth.

He sighs. “Order something. I’ll pay for it.”

Rebecca gives him thumbs up. “Yes! Yea, Stevie!”

“If Alyssa spent any time with my sister, she’d have seen how obsessive Becky was about staying in touch,” Steven says. “Half the time she was calling me. The other half, it was Claire.”

“Yes. Clarabella,” Leah says. “The only person from Rebecca’s past other than you or your father that Alyssa has mentioned by name.”

Steven lowers his head. “On the day she died, when Becky suddenly went silent, I was sure something bad had happened.”

“Tim said you identified her body,” Leah says.

He nods. “Rachel offered to take care of all that, but I insisted. I just wanted to see, to know for sure.”

Leah pats his shoulder. “It’s tough being the responsible one.” She takes out a slip of paper and hands it to him. “That reminds me. Do you recognize the top number? I know the bottom one is yours.”

“Becky’s cell phone,” he says.

“Interesting,” Leah says. “Alyssa called the cell number and when I looked it up, I found both numbers linked and flagged in my contacts log from 2005.”

“Flagged?” Steven asks. “What do you mean?”

“I had a land line I used for private calls,” Leah says. “I only give out the number to family and close associates, and I screen my calls. Rebecca must have called me from one or both of those numbers, or she made an unsolicited call from one, and I called back on the other.”

“Why would she have called you?” Steven wonders.

Leah shakes her head. “No idea. The call was in mid-2005, and I was on my first big project for NSA back then. All my files are archived, but I rang up the number and reached a guy from Moscow named Sergei.”

“Sergei?”

“Nice guy,” Leah says. “Sells shoes at Lenox. Promised me a sweet deal on some suede boots next time I’m in the area. When he found out I speak Russian, he talked my ear off. Tried to set me up with his brother-in-law. “

Steven finds this amusing. “Okay.”

“Said he used to get calls all the time for Rebecca Asher but only one in the past few weeks,” Leah says.

“Alyssa,” Steven says. “She must have tried to call before she did the research on the Internet. Becky’s information is pretty easy to find.”

“Yes, it is, and the things Alyssa looked up online contained a lot of background about Rebecca,” Leah says. “Stories, reviews, her blog.”

“The sort of information she wouldn’t need if she knew her well,” Steven says.

“Exactly,” Leah says, pointing at Steven. “I have Alyssa’s diary from high school and other than the time they spent in Florida, I can’t find any evidence they interacted at all back then.”

“Whatever means Alyssa came by the information,” Steven says. “she definitely knows a lot about Becky.”

Leah rises. “Yes. Tim told me about your initial meeting.” She goes to the credenza and picks up the photo of Rebecca. “What about Clarabella? From the way the Princess talks about her, it sounds like Rebecca’s relationship with Claire was rather stormy.”

“That’s one thing I’m confused about,” Steven says. “Alyssa seems to believe Claire and Becky were dating.”

“They weren’t?”

“Not at all,” Steven says. “Knowing the types of women my sister typically associated with, I was surprised she and Claire were even as close friends as they were.”

Leah puts down the photo of Rebecca and leans against the credenza. “Really? To hear Alyssa describe her, Claire was the love of Rebecca’s life.”

“Maybe Becky thought so, but Claire certainly didn’t,” Steven says. “Claire doesn’t even identify as a lesbian. She’s always claimed to be celibate. As far as them being friends, I usually got along with Claire about as well as she got along with Becky. Probably better, in fact. It’s why we’ve stayed in touch. They did spend a lot of time together — and Becky had her pet name for her, ‘Clarabella’, which was unusual — but by the time she died, they were majorly on the outs with one another.”

“Do you know why?”

“Take your pick,” Steven says. “Claire hated most of Becky’s friends. They were always making fun of her when she wasn’t around, which was usually if Becky had others over. I think they were intimidated by her and lashed out behind her back. If Becky and Claire had been involved, Becky would have given her a lot of reasons to feel insecure.”

“Like what?”

“Look, I love my sister,” Steven says, “but emotionally, she was a train wreck. She couldn’t sustain a relationship beyond a few times in bed with someone. She usually got bored with the other person after a few days. She was always making videos of herself with other women.” He raises a finger. “Speaking of which, do your computing skills include data recovery?”

Leah shrugs. “It’s not my specialty but I’ve done it before when I contracted for NSA. Plus, I know people. Why do you ask?”

“Hang on.” Steven goes into another room and returns with a small box which he hands to Leah. “That’s the hard drive from Becky’s laptop. The computer was destroyed in the accident but I managed to salvage the drive. No idea what kind of shape it’s in but if you can access it, there might be something you can use. I’ve wanted to see what was on it, but didn’t want Becky’s private affairs showing up on YouTube.”

“Not to worry,” she says. “I’ll be the soul of discretion.”

Leah recalls something. ‘Did Rebecca have a special talent, other than writing?”

“Like what?”

“During a moment of lucidity, Alyssa said Rebecca has something Alyssa doesn’t — her super power,” Leah says. “Did she have an ability someone like Alyssa might envy?”

“I can’t think of many people who envied Becky,” Steven says. “Most who knew her well just steered clear of her.”

Leah turns back to the photos, and picks up the one of Owen. “This must be Owen the pilot.” She looks at Steven. “I see the resemblance. Are you in contact with him now?”

“Yeah, he showed up at Becky’s funeral,” Steven says. “One of the few times I saw my aunt almost lose it. Since then, we’ve managed to rebuild our relationship. He drops in whenever he’s in town and I visit him on the West Coast when I can.”

Leah stares at the photo. “Who does he fly for?”

“Delta,” Steven says. “He was with Northwest and went to Delta when they merged.”

Leah nods. “My roommate from college works for Delta. I’ve tried, but couldn’t get much out of the Princess about your Dad. When she mentions him, she tends to focus on the loss — a countenance more in sorrow than in anger.”

“Becky was much angrier than sad,” Steven says.

Leah puts the photo back and turns to Steven. “There are a lot of inconsistencies in how Alyssa has chosen to recreate Rebecca, aside from how she depicts Rebecca’s relationship with Claire. She doesn’t recognize your father. She doesn’t talk about your aunt. It’s like she’s hiding behind her image of Rebecca rather than being her — very confusing.”

The doorbell rings. Steven heads to the window that looks out onto the porch.

“That’s not your father, is it?” Leah asks.

“No, he has his own key,” Steven says.

Steven glances out the window. “What’s she doing here?”

“Who is it?” Leah asks.

“Claire.”

“That’s convenient,” Leah says.

Steven opens the door, for Claire. The first thing Leah notes is that Claire is very tall, taller than Steven, though that appears to be due to the platform boots she’s wearing, which over-emphasize her height. Her hair is a buzz cut on the left side but well below her shoulders on the right, and braided into a pigtail. She’s wearing a leather biker’s jacket, despite the temperature outside, and white, shorty jeans with fishnet stockings underneath. Under her jacket is a black sweat shirt with its sleeves and collar ripped off, and a V cut at the neck. She’s wearing aviator shades, but removes them when Steven opens the door and drops them into the inside pocket of her jacket. Leah notes that Claire appears very intimidating and unapproachable, but Leah imagines it’s a front. Claire greets Steven with a pleasant smile. She hasn’t yet noticed Leah.

“Claire. This is a surprise,” Steven says as she gives him a quick hug.

“You surprised me with your call so I thought I’d return the favor,” she says.

Claire enters the living room but pauses when she sees Leah, and puts up a cool front. “I didn’t realize you had company. Hello.”

Steven indicates Leah. “Ah yes. CC Belmonte, this is—”

“LJ Walker,” Leah says as she moves toward Claire, right hand extended.

They shake hands. Claire asks, “How do you know Steven?”

Steven starts to speak, but Leah cuts him off, “Oh, I’m an old friend of the family.”

Steven looks at Leah and shakes his head, but doesn’t contradict her description.

“Really? Did you know Becky?” Claire asks.

“In a manner of speaking,” Leah says, somewhat mysteriously.

“What does that mean?” Claire says, looking between Leah and Steven.

Steven steps between them. “What can I do for you, Claire?”

She gives Leah a quick, second glance, then says, “I wanted to see if you’ve given any thought to next Friday?”

He nods. “Yes. I’m free and can attend your graduation show.”

“Great,” Claire says. “Rachel said she’s free. It should be a lot of fun.”

“Graduation show?” Leah says. “Acting? Singing?”

“I’m talking an improv class at The Comedy Factory,” Claire explains. “I run the sound board for them, so they give me comps all the time.”

“The Comedy Factory,” Leah says, “in Midtown? Dan Barton performs there, doesn’t he?”

Claire relaxes a bit. “Yes. He’s my instructor.”

“He’s excellent,” Leah says. “Haven’t checked in with him for a while. I need to look him up.”

Claire acknowledges this and turns again to Steven. “I also wanted to see if you’ve heard anything more from that crazy lady who called pretending to be Rebecca.”

“Who would do something like that?” Leah says, sounding very shocked.

Steven looks from Leah back to Claire. “It’s kind of complicated.”

“Don’t tell me that,” Claire says, walking away from him. “I hate complications.”

While Claire’s occupied with Steven, Leah takes out her phone and snaps a picture of her. Claire stares angrily at Leah.

“Did you just take my picture?” she says.

“Yeah,” Leah says.

“Well delete it,” Claire says. “I didn’t give you permission for that.”

Leah puts the phone in her pocket. “I don’t need permission to take your picture, just to publish it, which I’m not intending to do.”

“Then why did you take it?” Claire demands.

“For personal reference,” Leah says.

“What does that even mean?” Claire says.

Leah thinks quickly. “It’s just a quirk I have. I like to document the little moments in my life. I meet so many people, it’s hard to keep track of them all. What’s the problem?”

Claire looks away from Leah. “It’s not polite to take someone’s photo without asking, for whatever reason you do it.”

Leah takes out the phone and pulls up the photo. “Sorry, but I think your appearance is very unconventional and it caught my interest. See?” Leah holds up her phone to show Claire the picture but Claire won’t look at it. Leah approaches Claire with the phone. “Take a look. It’s a good shot.”

Claire finally looks at the photo. She’s pleasantly surprised. “Oh. Well that’s not so bad. Are you a photographer?”

Leah puts away her phone. “Occasionally. I mainly take photos and video of properties I’m listing. Free advice, if you’re planning on being on stage, you better get used to having your photo taken. You have a really distinctive look.”

Claire gives her a genuine smile. “Thank you for saying so.”

Steven steps toward Claire, saying, “So, Claire, have you heard from anyone?”

She shakes her head. “I haven’t spoken to anyone, but yesterday, I had nine or ten calls from a number I didn’t recognize. My curiosity got the better of me last night, so I called back and got the voice mail for some security firm.”

“Security firm?” Leah takes out a different phone. Steven takes note of this.

“How many phones do you have?” Steven asks her.

“One for home, one for business,” Leah says. “Oh, and a Blackberry. I still contract for the government sometimes.” Leah calls up a number. “So, that’s why I couldn’t find my phone yesterday.” She chuckles. “I underestimated you Princess.”

“Excuse me?” Claire says.

Leah glances at Claire. “Did you call that number around eleven?”

“Something like that,” Claire said. “Why?”

Leah hits redial and fixes her eyes on Claire, as her phone starts to ring. Claire takes it out, looks at it, then stares at Leah with a slightly panicked look. “Why do you have my number?”

Leah considers it and shakes her head. “You’ve got it posted on Facebook, haven’t you?”

“Well,” Claire says then pauses. “Yes.”

Leah throws up her hands. “You might as well just rent a damn billboard. When are you people going to learn?”

Steven interjects, “Wait a minute. Becky wasn’t on Facebook. It wasn’t even around back then.”

“No,” Leah says. “But Alyssa is.”

Claire looks totally confused. She goes to Steven. “Steven, what is going on here and who is this woman?”

Steven looks between her and Leah. “Like I said, it’s complicated.”

“Well simplify it!” Claire says.

Leah moves toward them. “Oh, what the hell. Let’s flip all the cards and I’ll tell you the crazy lady who called here is my baby sister, Alyssa.”

“Your sister?” Claire says.

“Yep,” Leah replies. “She was in a car crash and woke up thinking she’s Rebecca.”

“Then you lied about being an old family friend,” Claire says, glancing at Steven when she says it.

“I may have stretched the truth a little.” Leah indicates Steven. “We’re friendly.”

“You be quiet,” Claire says to Leah, then, swats Steven’s arm. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“What was I supposed to say?” he says. “It’s not the sort of situation that can be summed up in fifty words or less.”

“Is she telling the truth?” Claire says.

“I’m afraid so,” Steven says. “The crazy lady didn’t just phone. She sort of stopped by as well.”

“Kind of left out that detail, eh, Steven?” Claire says, circling him.

He turns to keep her in his field of vision. “It was after we talked. She was the one who was beating the door down. Remember?”

Leah approaches Claire. “How would you like to meet her, Claire?”

Claire stops and stares at Leah. “Her being—”

“The crazy lady who thinks she’s Rebecca,” Leah says as though it should be obvious.

Claire closes her eyes, takes in a deep breath, then lets it out slowly, then faces Leah. “Let me see if I understand this. I’ve known you for less than five minutes during which time you’ve lied to me about who you are, and, apparently, you’ve been stalking me.”

“That was not me,” Leah says, “that was the Princess.”

“Princess?” Claire yells. “What Princess?”

“It’s what I call my sister,” Leah says. “She’s not really a princess.”

Claire becomes more unnerved. “No, she’s obviously a very disturbed woman who thinks she’s a dead friend of mine — and you’re asking me to meet her?” She turns to Steven. “Are you sure Ashton Kutcher isn’t hiding somewhere in the house with a camera crew, because I feel like I’m being Punk’d right now.”

“I apologize, Claire,” Steven says. “We’re trying to sort this whole thing out and getting the two of you together was mentioned as a possible option. I am not asking you to do it.”

Claire considers this, then focuses on Steven. “She really thinks she’s Becky?”

“It’s what she says,” Steven says.

Claire puts her hand on his chest. “You believed her?”

Steven touches her hand. “She called me Goonie. Yes. She’s very convincing.”

“We thought getting you together might shock her back into reality,” Leah says.

Claire pivots and puts her hands on her hips. “It would certainly shock the hell out of me.” She turns again toward Steven. “How could you possibly think that would be a good idea?”

He throws up his hands to try to calm her. “Like I say, I’m not asking you to do it.”

“Well I’m glad because I don’t need any more complications in my life. The original Becky was complicated enough.” Clare shakes her head, then starts toward the door. “I need to get out of here.”

Leah realizes she’s pushed Claire too far. She tries to think of a carrot she can use as she goes to intercept her. “No, don’t leave, Claire. I admit I can be a little assertive.”

“Assertive?” Claire says, trying to get past Leah. “I guess that’s one word for it.”

Something Claire said comes back to Leah. “You say you’re taking improv classes with Dan, right?

“That’s right,” Claire says, pausing.

“Does he ever talk about his days in Boston?” Leah says.

“Boston?” Claire considers this. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, he has talked about it. What does that have to do with anything?”

“I knew him then. We were a team for a few months on the road,” Leah says quickly. “We called ourselves The Backwoods Impresarios. It was just after I got out of Wellesley in the early 90s.”

Claire puts her index finger up to her lips and thinks this over. She shakes her finger at Leah. “Yeah, he’s talked about that in class.” A thought hits her. “Were you Leander? As in Dander and Leander?”

“Yes!” Leah says. “Those are the names we performed under. My forte was group think. Dan was better at characters.”

Claire laughs slightly. “He speaks very fondly of you, actually.”

“He should,” Leah says. “We were practically joined at the hip before he moved to Chicago to work for Second City. You cannot sleep in a car with someone on the road for six months without establishing a strong bond — or strangling one another.”

“I’d imagine,” Claire says. “Why didn’t you go with him to Chicago?”

“Dan wrangled an invitation for me but I wasn’t who they wanted,” Leah says. “I’d been deferring my admission to MIT and decided I’d have a better future with them. Plus, I once had a nasty run-in with Del Close at a workshop in San Francisco and did not want to risk a repeat of that.”

Claire takes in all that Leah has said. “Wow. Leander. I’d love to pick your brain sometime. Dan says I’ve got the character basics down, but miss a lot of offers.”

“Why don’t I buy you lunch?” Leah offers. “I still remember a few exercises that can help your concentration.” She smiles. “It would also give me the perfect opportunity to tell you all about the Princess.”

Steven comes over to them. “I don’t remember Claire agreeing on that.”

“No, no, Steven, that’s okay,” Claire says. Turning back to Leah, she concludes, “We can talk but I’m not making any promises.”

Leah extends her hand. “Deal.”

They shake on it.

Rebecca, Too: Snapshot McCall


Nurse Lana Turner moves down the hall of the emergency ward at Grady Hospital in Atlanta where she’s worked for more than twelve years. In that time, she’s seen the job move from patient charts on clipboards hung on the foots of beds to sophisticated, hand-held devices that automatically update the central database, showing up in the patient care system where doctors can chart the course of treatment on a given patient and make recommendations on restorative procedures. Despite the technological advances, the one aspect that remains the same is the human element. Patients and their loved ones still want a friendly face and a reassuring voice to help them through a medical emergency, and Lana always strives to be just that.

She pauses outside the room of Alyssa Ruth Caine, a young woman in her late-twenties, brought in late-Wednesday with head trauma following a car accident in Peachtree Corners. The reports say she lost control of her car trying to avoid another accident and crashed into a wall. Her seat belt and airbag saved her life, but the impact shook up her brain, causing swelling. Lana feels for Alyssa, who has recently lost her father per Alyssa’s husband, Tim. Whenever she’s there alone with Alyssa, said to be a schoolteacher with a sweet and loving disposition, Lana always gives her extra words of encouragement.

Earlier, Alyssa’s sister, Leah, was here, a difficult woman, who initially struck Lana as the typical, pushy, well-to-do white woman, thinking everyone’s supposed to stop and take notice when she speaks. Average in height, with a medium build, and reddish-brown hair, she has piercing, steel-blue eyes which she often focuses on someone for a long moment before uttering, “Perfect!” — her favorite phrase, Lana has concluded — often with more than a hint of sarcasm. From the start, she’s insisted everyone on staff call her Doctor Walker, even though she’s not a medical doctor. Lana is certain that’s liable to cause some confusion in the hospital, but honors the request. Most of the staff prefers dealing with Tim, who’s been a sweetheart the entire time. Doctor Walker asks too many questions, though they are relevant to her sister’s treatment.

The night before, while Lana was looking in on Alyssa, Leah, who was sitting with her sister, explained that she’s a facts and figures type of person and needs information to allow her to wrap her head around what’s happening. While not apologetic, Leah did sound a bit friendlier and less insistent than normal. Nurse Turner has concluded Leah does care for Alyssa, albeit in her own way, and Lana admires that. Among the nurses, opinions about Leah are mixed — Angelique, the nurse from the Ivory Coast, who studied in Haiti, enjoys Leah’s company, as Leah always converses with her in French when she’s on duty.

Nurse Turner makes a quick notation on her pad to close out the previous patient, switches to Alyssa’s record, then enters the room. Tim is seated at Alyssa’s side, holding her hand. He’s medium-toned, with a trim, athletic build, and a few days’ growth of beard, in his early-thirties. His facial features put Lana in mind of Nigerians she met on her trip to Africa a few years ago, particularly those of the Yoruba tribe, but, perhaps with some European and Native American mixed in. He’s originally from the West Coast and decided to stay in Atlanta after finishing school at Mercer. From talking to him, Lana has learned that he and Alyssa met through an outdoors group that sponsors hiking and camping trips for busy singles with a love of nature. One thing is for sure, he is totally devoted to his wife and rarely leaves her side. Lana asked him about Leah, but he assured her, “Don’t read too much into her act. That’s how she is with everyone.”

Lana examines Alyssa. While she’s never seen Alyssa on her feet, Lana can see she’s well above average in height and slender in build. Tim has mentioned she’s a distance runner, who also enjoys cycling and swimming. Fortunately, the accident did not necessitate cutting her hair, which is long and very blonde.

Tim stirs. “Morning, Lana. How’s she looking?”

“Morning, Tim,” she replies. “Not much has changed. Dr. Leonard says she could come out of it any time. I take it Alyssa’s sister went home.”

“Yeah, Leah headed home to get some rest,” he says. Tim rises and stretches. “Is the cafeteria open?”

“Yes, open and serving breakfast until 10:30,” Lana says.

“Great. I’m going to get some coffee. Maybe a bite to eat.” He rubs his chin. “I could probably use a shave, too.”

Tim exits.

Nurse Turner concludes her examination of Alyssa, then steps away from the bed and makes notations on her electronic device. Suddenly, Alyssa groans. Lana turns to see Alyssa’s eyelids fluttering, and her head moves back and forth on the pillow. She groans again, then raises her right hand to her head. She opens her eyes.

“Oh — my — god. What happened? Where am I?” Alyssa says.

Lana puts away the electronic device and hurries to the bedside and begins examining Alyssa again.

“Ms. Caine,” she says, “can you hear me? Alyssa?”

“Of course, I can hear you,” Alyssa says in a very agitated voice. She puts her hands up to shoo Lana away. “I’m right here. Who’s Alyssa?”

“You are,” Lana says. “How are you feeling?”

“Like JFK in the Zapruder film,” Alyssa says.

“That’s to be expected — I suppose — after what you’ve been through.”

The first notion to come to Lana is that this does not sound like the Alyssa Tim has described. She almost sounds like her sister who Tim says she’s nothing like.

Nurse Turner raises the bed and as she does, Alyssa glances at Lana’s name badge. She chuckles.

“Lana Turner?” she says. “Is that the name you were born with?”

 “It sure is.”

“Your parents had a sense of humor,” Alyssa says.

Lana finds this amusing. “Actually, I was named after my aunt. Her parents had the sense of humor.

Alyssa looks again at the name tag. She looks confused. “Wait, does that say Grady? Why’d they bring me back to Atlanta?”

“It was the closest available trauma center to where the accident occurred,” Lana says. “You were just a few miles away and in pretty bad shape.”

“I’d hardly call Braselton a few miles away.” Alyssa places her hand to her head again. “Oh, my head! Listen, is my brother Steven here?”

Lana gives Alyssa a curious look. “I don’t know your brother. Your husband Tim is here. He just went to the cafeteria.”

“Husband?” Alyssa says. “Hello! Not married, Lana!”

Nurse Turner steps away from the bed. “I’m going to get the doctor.”

“Oh yeah? Who’s he? Clark Gable?”

Nurse Turner shakes her head, then exits.

Once in the hallway, she sees Tim exit the men’s room and head for the elevator. She hurries toward him and calls out, “Tim? Tim!”

He turns.

“Alyssa’s awake,” she says. “I’m going to get Dr. Leonard.”

“Thank god,” Tim says as he jogs toward the room.

Leah and Dottie

Ballet Olympia, SunTrust Plaza, Atlanta, GA.

Leah Walker enters her dorm room at Wellesley College and sets her backpack onto a chair. It’s her freshman year, and her roommate, Heather, is visiting family for several days, so Leah’s looking forward to having the room to herself for a long weekend. Leah’s average height, with shoulder-length auburn hair, and steel-blue eyes. She’s wearing her usual attire of baggie warmup shorts, New Balance sneakers, and an oversized MIT sweatshirt. Her hair is pulled back into a ponytail. She drops her keys onto the nightstand and takes a package of red Solo cups from the top drawer, removes one cup, and replaces the rest. From behind the nightstand, she takes out a bottle of Merlot she bought at a package store in Boston which never checks ID, unscrews the top, and pours half a cup.

Leah’s from Atlanta, and Wellesley is her first time living away from her family. She continued to live in her family’s home in Buckhead after the family moved to Lawrenceville just before the start of her senior year at Pace Academy, but Leah doesn’t count that, since her father, Paxton, was there off and on throughout the week. Leah had objected to the long commute, and both her parents deemed her responsible enough to go it alone for the remaining time before graduation. Since Paxton still had business in town during the week, he would stay at the house evenings when he needed to be at the office early. Leah viewed it as an opportunity to get closer to her father, with whom she’d always had a tense and distant relationship. Unfortunately, the best they managed was a sort of détente, where they’d exchange a few words going or coming, or, a bit of conversation if Paxton happened to be around in the living room while Leah was working on a school assignment.

She sits on her bed, takes a sip of wine, and picks up a copy of The Handmaid’s Tale, a gift from Marla Prentice, an instructor in one of Leah’s core Humanities classes, and with whom Leah’s been spending a lot of time lately. Starting her second week at school, Leah found herself involved in a rather passionate relationship with Marla, which started nearly the moment she entered class, and fell under Marla’s scrutiny. After class, Marla made a point of striking up a conversation with Leah. Marla’s a few inches taller than Leah, and several years older, with a trim, athletic build, and jet black hair, that’s very long, and which she wears in dreads. She always wears short, dark dresses, over tights in various colors, with clogs. Her complexion gives Leah the impression that Marla’s of mixed race, though Leah can’t tell which races went into the mix. Marla’s very economical in the facts she shares about herself. She speaks and moves with a frenetic energy, which Leah finds infectious. They ran into one another a short while later, on a smoke break before lunch, and Marla invited Leah to join her for a bite. They ended up back at Marla’s apartment, just off campus, where things got very heated very quickly. Over the next week, their afternoon dalliances progressed into an intense physical relationship, which surprised Leah, as she’s never before entertained ideas of being involved with another woman.

The situation excites and troubles Leah, who finds the intimacy thrilling, but wonders what it all means. Throughout high school, she had the usual teen relationships, occasional dates with guys she knew from math class or science club, who’d take her out after school, or sometimes evenings, often with other computer geeks like her, and she had a number of girls she spent time with in school and out, or with whom she played on the lacrosse or softball teams, but she’d never entertained the thought of having a sexual relationship with any of them, male or female, nor could she recall ever having crushes on any of her female teachers, regardless of how attractive they’d been. It worries her that she could be so unaware of such an important aspect of her personality, and wonders what else she might have missed. A few days into the relationship, Leah decided she needed advice from someone more worldly.

She has a great relationship with her mother, Melinda, but she’s not sure how her mother will react to Leah potentially being a lesbian, so, for advice, she decided to sound out her aunt Margaret on the matter. Since childhood, Margaret has been an important influence on Leah, second only to Melinda, with whom Margaret’s been friends since college. Like Leah, Margaret is a first-born daughter, who’s two years older than Paxton, and it was Margaret who introduced Paxton to Melinda when Leah’s mother was still in college. Melinda had traveled to Atlanta from Charleston, South Carolina, to attend Agnes Scott, with the intention of being a teacher, but instead met and married Paxton Walker. As she was getting started back at school, she discovered she was pregnant with Leah, and put her dreams of teaching on hold. Leah has always harbored a bit of guilt, knowing that she prevented her mother from finishing school, but Melinda’s always maintained a cheerful and upbeat attitude about it, telling Leah she’ll head back to school once Alyssa, Leah’s baby sister, who’s twelve years younger, is out of the house.

Leah phoned Margaret and wasted little time in getting to the point.

“Margaret, have you ever been with another woman?” Leah asked.

“In what sense do you mean that?” Margaret said, a bit of discomfort evident in her voice.

“Seriously?” Leah said. “What sense do you think?”

“Oh,” Margaret said. “Well, if that’s what you mean, then no.”

“Have you thought about it?” Leah said.

“Hmm, let me guess,” Margaret said, “you’re asking because you’ve either thought about it, or—”

“No, I’m way beyond thinking about it, at this point,” Leah said.

“I see. Well. Did you enjoy it?”

“Yes,” Leah said.

“Then what’s the problem?” Margaret asked. “If you had a good time, where’s the harm?”

“But what does it mean?” Leah said.

“Why does it have to mean something?” Margaret said.

“I guess it doesn’t have to,” Leah said. “It just usually does.”

“Look, you didn’t go blind and you weren’t struck by lightning were you?” Margaret asked

“Not yet.”

“Then, we can assume the universe is okay with it,” Margaret said.

“I don’t know if I’m okay with it,” Leah said, “I mean, I like her, but I don’t think either of us is interested in a real relationship.”

“Is it ongoing?” Margaret asked.

“As of right now, it is,” Leah said.

“Then go with it,” Margaret said. “See where it leads. I’ve never found myself in this situation, so I don’t know how I’d respond. You went away to college to learn, right?”

“Right.”

“Well, part of that is learning about yourself,” Margaret said. “You have an excellent opportunity to explore who you are without the glare of your family judging your every move. Take advantage of that.”

“Perfect. Thanks, Margaret.”

“Anytime, sweetie,” Margaret said. “Let me know how things turn out.”

Leah leans back on her bed and resumes reading the book. She manages about five pages when her reading is interrupted by the sound of someone pounding insistently on the door. An unfamiliar voice follows the first round of pounding. “Open this door, you bitch!”

The pounding resumes.

Leah puts down the book and cautiously approaches the door.

“Who is it?” she says.

“I said open this door,” the voice says, “I’m going to kick your ass, you slut.”

Whoever’s outside sounds drunk.

Leah looks at Heather’s bed, then says, “Are you here to kick the ass of a brunette or a redhead? Cause the brunette isn’t here.”

There’s a long pause, before, “Kind of reddish brown. Not a brunette.”

“Perfect,” Leah says to herself.

She considers calling campus security, but decides against it. As the next round of pounding begins, she quickly pulls open the door. A young woman, about Leah’s age and height, with curly, dirty blonde hair, and wearing a short, polka dotted dress and slip-on sneakers, comes tumbling into the room. She falls to her hands and knees and seems somewhat confused. Leah takes the opportunity to grab her roommate’s umbrella, which she brandishes as a weapon.

“Who the hell are you and what do you want?” Leah says to the woman. “Apart from what you’ve already stated.”

“I said I’m going to kick your ass, you bitch,” the woman says as she struggles to get her footing and rise. She looks up at Leah, then says, “Yeah. You.” She looks around for something to hold onto. At last, she pulls herself up on a table and stands up straight, but swaying, as she confronts Leah. She’s wearing a slight amount of makeup, but it’s gotten splotchy from crying. Leah holds the umbrella in front of her as she speaks.

“Okay, I gather that you’re pissed about something,” Leah says. “Why don’t we start with your name. Who are you?”

“I’m Dottie,” the woman says. “Dorothy, actually, but most people call me Dottie.”

“Okay — ah — Dottie,” Leah says, still brandishing the umbrella. “I’m Leah — or do you already know that?”

“How the hell should I know what your name is?” Dottie says.

“You showed up at my door wanting to beat me up,” Leah says, “I assume you’d know my name. What’s this about?”

“It’s about Marla,” Dottie says.

“Marla Prentice? What about her?”

Dottie begins to reply, but suddenly throws her hand over her mouth and starts to heave. Leah hurriedly points to the bathroom. Dottie quickly stumbles in and kicks the door closed. Leah can hear her vomiting. She puts down the umbrella and sits on her bed until she hears the sounds subside. At last, the toilet flushes, followed by the sound of water running in the sink. This goes on for several minutes before Dottie returns to the room, far more subdued than when she left. Leah motions to Heather’s bed and Dottie sits.

“Let’s start over, shall we?” Leah says. “You want to kick my ass and it has something to do with Marla.”

“You stole her from me,” Dottie says. “She won’t return my calls. Then I saw you with her at our coffee shop.”

“Coffee shop?” Leah says. “You mean Sandusky’s? I took her there.”

“You did?” Dottie says. “She said it was our special place.”

“Yeah, she sort of told me the same thing after our first visit,” Leah says. “When did you start seeing her?”

“Right after classes started,” Dottie says. “About a month after I got here.”

“So did I,” Leah says. An idea occurs to her. “Did she take you to The Jewel of the Nile?”

Dottie nods. “The night we first—”

Leah holds up her hand. “Same here.”

“Why aren’t you upset?” Dottie says. “I just confirmed I’ve been sleeping with Marla. That doesn’t bother you?”

“Not really,” Leah says. “I haven’t figured out exactly what our relationship is yet. I take it you feel a bit more committed?”

“I haven’t felt this way before,” Dottie says. “I was all ready to tell my family I’m gay and she ditches me. Told me I’m getting too serious. I figured there was someone else, so I followed her. That’s where I saw you.”

“Meaning you must have followed me here,” Leah says.

“Yesterday,” Dottie says. “It took me all afternoon to get up the courage to come over.”

“Speaking of which,” Leah says. “How much did you drink?”

“Bottle, bottle and a half,” Dottie says. She notices the book and points to it. “I suppose she gave you that.”

“She did.”

“I gave it to her,” Dottie says.

Leah picks it up and looks at the spine. “You’re DG? She said it was on the book when she bought it.”

Dottie nods. “Dorothy Gage.”

“Isn’t that the person in The Wizard of Oz?” Leah says.

“Oh, that’s original,” Dottie says. “Her name is Dorothy Gale. Don’t change the subject.”

“What makes you think I stole Marla from you?” Leah says. “Sounds to me like she’s been leading us both on.”

“Yeah, it’s starting to look that way,” Dottie says. “There’s this girl in my English Lit class who said she had an affair with Marla last year. I didn’t want to believe her, but then I saw the two of you together.”

“Why didn’t you confront Marla?” Leah says.

“I tried, but she’s not at her apartment,” Dottie says.

Leah shakes her head. “She’s never there on the weekend. Hmm. This makes me wonder where she goes.”

Dottie looks down. “Would you mind if I just lie down for a minute or two?”

“You’re not going to throw up again are you? I doubt Heather would like that, and I don’t feel like cleaning up after you.”

“God, I hope not,” Dottie replies. She lies on her side, and pulls her knees up, crossing her arms in front of her.

“I suppose you can kick my ass when you wake up,” Leah says.

“Maybe,” Dottie says as she drifts off.

Leah continues reading while Dottie sleeps. She’s still asleep when Leah goes to bed. The following morning, Dottie is awake and very embarrassed by her behavior. Leah treats Dottie to breakfast at the nearest cafe, and they have a long talk, where they discover a lot of common interests. Leah is fluent in most of the European languages, owing to her family’s many visits to the continent as she was growing up, and she’s pleased to learn Dottie is as well. They switch to speaking German to keep people from eavesdropping on them as they decide what to do about Marla. By the time they part ways, they’ve developed a plan of action.

A few days later, Leah is sitting with Marla at the coffee shop. They’re discussing The Handmaid’s Tale.

“Take that lesson to heart,” Marla tells her. “Men are not to be trusted.”

“They certainly didn’t come off very well in the book,” Leah says.

“Have you read any of Dworkin’s work?” Marla says.

“Andrea Dworkin? I’ve heard of her.”

Marla suddenly focuses on something over Leah’s shoulder and shakes her head. “I don’t believe this.”

“What is it?” Leah says. She looks to see Dottie seated at the lunch counter, wearing dark glasses, situated where she has a good view of Leah and Marla.

“Nothing,” Marla says. “Just this student who’s been giving me a hard time over a grade.” Marla rises. “Excuse me just a minute.”

She goes over and confronts Dottie in low tones. While she’s gone, Leah slides over and picks up Marla’s bag. She checks to be sure Marla isn’t looking, then she pulls out Marla’s wallet and checks her driver’s license and credit cards. Finished, she replaces the wallet, and puts the bag back where it was. She moves back to her chair, and makes an okay sign to Dottie, who abruptly breaks off her argument with Marla, gathers her things, and storms out.

“I’m really sorry about that,” Marla says when she returns to the table. “I failed her on a test and she’s been stalking me ever since.”

“Not a problem,” Leah says. “Say, where do you disappear to on the weekends?”

“Where did this come from all of a sudden?” Marla says.

“I’m just curious,” Leah says. “I figured you must be sneaking off to some cozy little bed and breakfast to write and might want some company.”

Marla laughs. “Trust me, if I was, you’d be the first one I’d call.” She reaches over and places her hand on Leah’s. “I’m free for the next hour. Want to swing by my place?”

“I’d love to,” Leah says, “but I have a midterm in chemistry coming up. I’ll take a rain check, though.”

“You’re on,” Marla says. They talk for a few minutes before Leah insists she needs to go. Marla walks her to the door and they part with a hug and a kiss on the cheek, then head off in different directions. Leah walks about half a block, then checks to be sure Marla is far enough away, then ducks down a side street and circles back to the rear of the coffee shop, where she finds Dottie seated on the back deck. Leah sits with her.

“Anything?” Dottie says.

Leah shakes her head. “Her license has her campus address. But it did have a different name, Marla Rogan.”

“Rogan?” Dottie says. “That kind of takes some of the luster off.”

Leah leans forward and says confidentially, “Know anyone who works for the university? If I can get on the computer network, I can probably hack into payroll and find out where they’re mailing her checks.”

“Actually, I do,” Dottie says, “and she spends a lot of time away from her desk.” She rises. “Come on.”

Several hours later, they’re back at Leah’s dorm room with new information.

“Shrewsbury,” Dottie says. “Figures she’d live someplace called Shrewsbury.”

“She’s also listed as Mrs. Marla Rogan in payroll,” Leah says.

“I can’t believe you got in so easily,” Dottie says. “How’d you know Barb’s password?”

“I didn’t,” Leah says. “I took the chance she used ‘password’ and it worked.”

“So, what next?”

Leah grins. “Marla has classes all morning. How about a trip to Shrewsbury?”

Dottie laughs. “So, I wonder what the husband of the ultimate feminist looks like?”

“Only one way to find out,” Leah says.

The following morning they hop into Leah’s Karmann Ghia, which Margaret loaned her as she headed off to college, and drove to the address in Shrewsbury, where Marla’s paychecks are being sent. Parked out in front of the brownstone, Dottie says, “You think this is a good idea?”

“Probably not, but I don’t see a lot of options,” Leah replies. “If we just ignore her, she’ll keep doing this.”

“I mean, rather than the dumping part, I did have a good time,” Dottie says.

“Same here,” Leah says. “But she’s taking advantage of impressionable girls when they’re least equipped to handle it.”

“Right,” Dottie says. “We’re just taking a stand. That’s all.”

“Right,” Leah says. She holds up her hand and Dottie grips it and nods.

“Let’s do this,” Dottie says.

They get out and walk up to the door. Dottie rings the bell. A few moments later, a child can be heard yelling, followed by the locks being unlocked. A thin man, probably just under six feet tall, with short blonde hair and tanned, leathery skin, opens the door.

“Yes?” he says. “How may I help you?”

He speaks with the precise phrasing that’s reminiscent of someone who’s first language isn’t English, but Leah cannot detect any recognizable accent.

“Hi,” she says, “are you Mr. Rogan?”

“I’m Lance Rogan, yes,” the man says.

“I’m Dorothy,” Dottie says, “this is Leah. We’re — ah — friends of Marla’s.”

“Ah, yes,” Lance says. “Marla’s not here currently. I believe she’s teaching today.”

“We know,” Leah says. “We’re not here to speak with her.”

“More to speak about her,” Dottie adds.

“I don’t understand,” Lance says. He opens the outer security door. “Please come in.”

As they enter, Leah notes a black woman, wearing a uniform and holding the hand of a small boy.

“Nina, would you take Alexander to the play room?” Lance says to her.

“Of course, Mr. Rogan,” Nina says in what sounds, to Leah, like a Jamaican accent.

“Please have a seat in here,” Lance says, directing the women to the living room. “Can I offer you something to drink?”

“Water would be great,” Dottie says, to which Leah nods.

Leah and Dottie sit on the couch. A moment later, Lance returns with a pitcher and two glasses on a tray which he sets on the coffee table in front of them. He takes a seat in a leather chair facing them.

“Now, how may I help you ladies?” he says. “You say this is about Marla?”

Leah and Dottie look at one another and Leah says, “Mr. Rogan, there’s probably no easy way to say this, but Dorothy and I have been — involved with Marla.”

Lance continues to look at them displaying no emotion. “I see. Why have you brought this information to me? Are you here for money?”

“Oh, no. No. Nothing like that,” Dottie says.

Leah slides to the edge of the couch. “She’s right. We’re here because we feel we’ve been taken advantage of and we wanted to let you know.”

“Please, tell me your stories,” Lance says.

First Dottie, then Leah tells Lance about their relationships with Marla. Throughout both stories, his expression does not change, nor does he display any reaction, other than to occasionally nod. When Leah finishes her story, they sit for a long moment in silence.

Finally, Lance says, “What is it you wish me to do about this? That is, if you are certain you’re not here for money.”

“We don’t exactly know,” Leah says. “To be honest, we didn’t really think this part through very well before coming here.”

“I see,” Lance says with the hint of a smile. “Well, I do not wish to share intimate details of my marriage, since I know nothing about either of you. However I will say that I am aware Marla has certain needs that I’m not able to address. If you have been harmed in any way I apologize.” He rises. “I’ll have a talk with her when she gets in this evening, and we’ll decide together how best to handle this situation.”

He motions toward the door. Leah and Dottie rise and follow him back to the front door.

“I trust you will be making no further trips to visit us?” he says.

Leah and Dottie look at one another.

“Definitely not,” Dottie says. Leah concurs.

“Very good,” Lance says. “I will appreciate your continued discretion on this matter, if you don’t mind.”

“Of course,” Leah says.

“You ladies have an nice afternoon,” Lance says as he lets them out.

Back in the car, Dottie says, “What just happened in there?”

“I have no idea,” Leah says. “Let’s get lunch somewhere.”

“You’re on.”

The following day, when Leah shows up for her Humanities class, Marla isn’t there. The instructor filling in for her explains that Marla has taken a leave of absence for “family reasons”. Neither Leah, nor Dottie, see or hear from her again.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” Dottie says as she and Leah are lying on the bed in her dorm room. “You think she’s okay?”

“Hard to tell,” Leah says. “That’s an odd family.”

“We make a pretty good team,” Dottie says. “I have this feeling you and I are going to get into lots of trouble together.”

“I think you’re right,” Leah says. “Still planning on telling your family you’re gay?”

“Nah, I’ve gone back to questioning,” Dottie says. “Why limit myself? My family can figure it out on their own.”

“Sounds like a plan,” Leah says.

“Hey,” Dottie says, sitting up. “What do you think about getting an apartment?”

“Now?”

“No,” Dottie says, “over the summer. You know, just stick around Boston instead of going home.”

“Summer’s a long way off,” Leah says.

“I know. But it doesn’t hurt to plan,” Dottie says. “If we strike at the right time, we could get a great deal.”

“Oh, trust me, I know real estate,” Leah says. “My father’s the man who gave Atlanta its suburban sprawl.”

“Good to know,” Dottie says.

From that point on, not a day goes by that they don’t spend time together. As summer comes along, they move off campus into a nice apartment.

Atlanta Stories Available August 1


Coming soon! Atlanta Stories: Fables of the New South. Eight stories about people coming to Atlanta to reinvent themselves. Stories include:

  1. Mockingbird 
  2. Journey From Night
  3. A Debt to Pay
  4. Dead Man’s Hat
  5. Remains 
  6. Bare-Assed Messiah 
  7. Atomic Punk
  8. Phoenix 

Release date: August 1.

Available at online bookstores and direct from the author. 

Fixing the System

prisons_meme_01-03-17

To win, one must be willing to lose, to sacrifice the very prize one is willing to gain, leave behind the comfort of certainty and face defeat time and again until the goal is attained. Along the way, one must remain focused on the ultimate goal, and not let minor setbacks get in the way. Some of the greatest individuals in history faced defeat time and again. Lincoln was not highly regarded by politicians of his time even as president, and faced almost certain defeat in the election of 1864, had Sherman not taken Atlanta, giving the president the boost he needed. With the support of his generals in the field, Lincoln went on to save the Union, after the initial two years of defeats made the outcome of the Civil War anything but certain. Throughout it all, Lincoln remained focused on the overall goal of preserving the Union even when common sense may have dictated that he cut his losses and propose a truce.

If the Democrats want to be a viable party again, they need to start focusing on the big picture, the ultimate goal. That’s how the Republicans won the overwhelming majorities they now enjoy. Democratic voters need to emulate the Tea Party. Vote for progressive candidates even if it results in splitting the vote and losing. Force the party left. Of course, this means running more progressive Democrats in races. Stop trying to build consensus with the Republicans and fight. Trust me, the Republicans don’t care about bi-partisanship. Not that they have to anymore. My biggest disappointment with the Democrats has always been that they try to please everyone and end up pleasing no one. I believe in building consensus, too, but when one’s opponents prove to be intractable, it’s time to change tactics.

Perhaps the solution is to let the Democrats fix their own party if they can, and instead focus on forming a new party focused on Progressive ideals, that’s not corrupted by corporate money. One could argue, for instance, that the Green Party is, at least, the ideal of a new Democratic party. But just like the Libertarians are sort of the bargan basement version of Republicans, the Greens currently seem more like the K-Mart version of the Democrats. True, they support a lot of progressive causes, but they’re also overrun by anti-vaccine advocates and other fringe believers. Plus the Greens don’t seem to have much of a local strategy, only showing up during national races, and not bothering with trying to make gains in the House, the Senate, or the statehouse.

Perhaps it’s time to completely abandon the two-party tyranny that’s ruined our democracy and instead find candidates free from party idealogy to represent us at the state and national level. Politics thrives on local action. Find good people, convince them to run and hold them accountable to the constituents who elected them. They don’t have to make decisions with which the voters always agree, but they always need to be able to explain to the voters why they made the decisions they made. The current crop of corporate candidates don’t know or care what the constituents want and the constituents have made it easy for them by not holding them accountable for ignoring us. Over the past four years, Congress has had its worse approval ratings in decades, yet the voters keep rewarding them by sending them back to do more damage. This has to end. As long as elections are decided by the extremist base of each party, the politicians have no incentive to work for the people. We need to take away the certainty career politicians have of retaining their positions and once again make them work for our votes, not just campaign for them.

Our political system is badly broken and the 2016 campaign only showed how broken it is. Now we have a president-elect only a small fraction of the public wants, and a Congress totally divorced from the will of the people. We no longer need to fear the worst possible scenario, because that’s exactly what we have. The time to act is now, to shake off complacency and start planning for a better future. We need to stop acting like politics is something that happens to someone else and start being responsible for our political system. We may not get many more chances.

Electing the Boogieman

 

Politics in the US thrives on political theater to keep the population confused and away from the voting booth and no theatrical act is more worn and overworked than erecting a boogieman to scare the electorate. We’ve all seen it time and again, both parties run candidates for whom the voters have no enthusiasm, then pit their bases against one another with the admonition, “We can’t let him/her win!” Nowhere was this more evident than the 2016 presidential race, which cast as it’s villain Donald Trump, and presented case after case that citizens had a civic duty to keep him away from the White House. In the end, however, this sad trope from business-as-usual politicians failed, and now Trump is the president-elect.

Trump, himself the son of a wealthy real estate magnate, is a billionaire real estate developer, who’s lived and worked in New York City his entire life, and who resides in the gilded penthouse suite of a building that bears his name. During the election, he promoted himself as a tough leader who understands the struggles of the working class, and his supporters, most of whom cannot even imagine the type of wealth he routinely takes for granted, enthusiastically followed his every word. They packed his rallies; they waved his banners; they beat up protesters and threatened the press; they shelled out much of their ever-dwindling resources buying his merchandise, all in the belief they’d found their true champion. We can only imagine what their reactions will be when they wake up to the reality of the massive bill of goods they’ve been sold. At best, Trump may attempt to carry out some of the promises that brought his rabid supporters out to rallies, but since many violate the Constitution he’ll be sworn to uphold as president, it’s highly unlikely that most will get more than lip service as his administration rushes to make his wealthy cronies more so, all at the expense of working families he exploited for votes.

Electing Trump has, so far, managed to keep a lid on the violent backlash he was inciting among his supporters in the waning days of the campaign in the event he did not prevail, but it has opened up a strain of hostility among certain members of society, who now feel untethered in expressing their rage at segments of the population they mistakenly blame for their troubles. Ironically, they have traditionally supported the very forces most responsible for the problems at the root of their distress, unregulated corporations, corrupt politicians looking to curry favor with them, and greedy corporate moguls out to pick the resources of this country clean for their sole benefit. The greatest symbol of this just happens to be the same man who’ll be sworn in as our 45th president in January.

Those who regard the President-elect as a self-made man disregard the large fortune he inherited from his family, when he took over his father’s business. While other members of his generation were just starting to suffer the effects of PTSD and other ailments as a result of the war in Vietnam, he was partying at Studio 54 with the likes of Andy Warhol and Liza Minelli. His first major challenge as a journeyman real estate executive under his father was fighting a discrimination claim by residents of his family’s properties. His business practices throughout have been extremely cutthroat — workers and small business owners who so enthusiastically supported him for president are just the sort of workers and partners most likely to be stiffed when one of his business ventures goes belly up and he has to declare bankruptcy.

One thing has always been consistent about elections and that is that once someone has been chosen as president, that person begins acting presidential, raising himself to a higher level of decorum and going about the business of putting together a government. In the age of incessant media scrutiny, we may hear rumors about potential candidates for various cabinet posts, but very little from the president-elect himself as he prepares to take over the highest office in the land. Trump has taken a different route, obsessively posting rants to Twitter, about vote counts, the press, and popular Broadway shows. He continues to berate Saturday Night Live, a show he hosted in 2015, during the early stages of the 2016 campaign a year ago — which sparked cries of favoritism among his opponents. If media reports are to be believed, he routinely skips security and intelligence briefings choosing instead to decide for himself how to judge the international situation, or to rely on his cadre of far-right advisors with their own agendas and axes to grind. Those who voted for him wanted someone who shoots from the hip. Let’s see how they’ll react when some other country starts shooting back.

There’s a lot of blame to go around in analyzing why Trump became president. The national news media glad-handed him, never taking his candidacy seriously, even after he secured the Republican nomination. The Republicans couldn’t decide if he was their best hope or a pariah from whom they had to distance themselves. Democrats were their usual smug and delusional selves, believing the election was in the bag from the moment Trump started doing well in the primary and rarely tried to convince the voters that Clinton was the better candidate — essentially relying on Trump to defeat himself, which he did seem to be trying hard to do. Most of all it was the electorate, who once again couldn’t be bothered to take responsibility for judging the candidates or reading the messages the politicians were sending. Just like the hapless voters in Kentucky a year ago, they listened to a candidate threatening to take away many programs and benefits they rely upon, and voted for him anyway. Even people who claimed to not personally like Trump or his message may have voted for him, believing he’d “shake things up” but not stopping to consider the things that would be broken as a result.

I firmly believe the Trump administration will be very short. He doesn’t want to be president anymore than many in the country want him to be president. Congress will most likely use some legal means to remove Trump or force him to resign, or simply do all they can to stall or question legislation or to block other goals he has to goad him into resigning, or elements of his own administration may invoke provisions in the 25th Amendment to remove his authority, and force him out. He’s a volatile individual used to getting his way with no concept of how to compromise or negotiate with others, even those with whom he’s supposed to be cooperating. One need only look at how he’s conducted his business to see how he’ll attempt to run the country, and we’re already seeing evidence of this, cutting shady back room deals with corporations and world leaders before he’s even sworn in as president. If he’s determined to try to stay in office, there may be some sort of Gulf of Tonkin type incident internationally that gets misreported by the administration and overblown by the press that distracts Congress and the public away from the President and gives him cover to enact more laws restricting freedom. In any event, the United States may well be done on the world stage. I said in another essay (see related links below) that had Clinton been elected, not much would change. The US is in for an enormous amount of change, and I can’t imagine they’ll be happy with what comes next.

 

Why the Democrats Lost

Hillary Clinton, Campaign Stop, Tempe, AZ, Gage Skidmore


Hillary Clinton at Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, 2 November 2016. Photo by Gage Skidmore. https://www.flickr.com/photos/gageskidmore/

Not everyone was surprised by the outcome of the election as the news media claims. Since the election began back in mid-2015, one name has clearly dominated the headlines and the commentary and the debates over candidates. To turn around now and act surprised is the height of hypocrisy for the national press, since they’ve been large contributors to this candidate’s success given all the attention and free advertising they’ve given him over the course of the election. Given the level of visibility this candidate already enjoyed as a celebrity, the excessive coverage only sealed his chances.

Since election night, many disgruntled voters have been blaming people who failed to vote, or so-called “uninformed” voters, or, especially, voters who supported alternate party candidates including the Green party and the Libertarians. They’re reacting as though these people are traitors to the cause of liberty and blaming them for the current president-elect. This is nothing but sour grapes and speaks to just what’s wrong with the two-party tyranny that has a stranglehold on our democracy — the belief that we’re only allotted two choices and no more. If more people supported alternate parties and candidates, they would no longer be viewed as a liability during election cycles. Don’t blame people who exercised their right to vote for a candidate of their choosing for the outcome of this election. It’s the system that’s broken, not the voters. In particular, the Democratic party, with their business as usual stance, bears the lion’s share of the blame. In November, 2015, I predicted how they would botch the election, and they pretty much performed as I expected (see “Related” links below).

To find out what works for the Democrats, it’s helpful to look back at Democratic candidates who have succeeded in becoming president and the circumstances of their victories. John F. Kennedy was considered an upstart and an outsider, given his Catholic background, who gained the presidency in one of the closest races in history. Jimmy Carter was a Washington outsider who benefited from the national disgust over Watergate and the fact that his opponent had gained the White House without being elected. He never enjoyed the full support of the party leading to Ted Kennedy opposing him in the 1980 primaries, despite his being a sitting president. Bill Clinton was another outsider who ran an energetic race against a man perceived as the ultimate insider, George H. W. Bush, who had held just about every government position available, including CIA director. Clinton was aided in his quest by Ross Perot, who ran as a third-party candidate, siphoning votes away from the Republicans. Barack Obama was in his first term as a senator and seen by voters as untainted by the corruption which had plunged the US into the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression and racked up the worst deficit in history. Party insiders reluctantly supported him once it became obvious that he was the choice of voters. Contrast these candidates with Hubert Humphrey, George McGovern, Walter Mondale, and Michael Dukakis, who met with their party’s approval, but failed in their bids for the highest office. Now Hillary Clinton joins their ranks, taking a spot once occupied by Ted Kennedy, a candidate Democratic stalwarts loved, but for whom the rest of the country couldn’t garner much enthusiasm.

People hate Washington insiders and Clinton is seen as the epitome of that and never did anything during the campaign to change that perception. For all her qualifications, Hillary Clinton did not resonate with the voters and the Democratic party knew this from the start. If there were lingering doubts, they had only to look back at 2008 for proof. They knew it and they either didn’t care, or were so inundated by Clinton loyalists that they were unable to do anything about it. They rigged the nomination to weed out any spoilers among their party. When Bernie Sanders entered the fray, they scheduled the Democratic debates during times when no one was watching, and didn’t call attention to them thus making it clear they weren’t going to tolerate any opposition to their anointed candidate. The mere fact that Sanders even ran should have been a wake up call for the Democrats and it wasn’t. If they had been able to convince someone more progressive and charismatic like Elizabeth Warren or Al Franken to run, or fielded a lineup of younger, more progressive candidates, things might be much different now. The fact that Sanders did as well as he did among Democratic voters, though having no credentials as a registered Democrat, should have clued everyone in on what the party wanted in a candidate, but instead fell on deaf ears in the rush to make Clinton president, hoping only to “push her left” on certain issues.

Throughout the campaign, Democrats acted like beating her opponent was a slam dunk. The only rallying cry was, “We can’t let him become president!” Some even suggested voting in the Republican primary in open ballot states for candidates considered fringe or kookie to make Clinton’s victory more certain. This had the effect of making their message less about supporting Clinton and more about denying her opponent. It was very rare, even during the debates that I heard many arguments in favor of Clinton. She highlighted her public service, particularly on behalf of families, but failed to convince people that she was the one who could change the grim economic circumstances many people in the US face. She seemed to be hiding from the cameras, while her opponent was on every possible news show every other day. Part of what made Bill Clinton’s campaign in 1992 so effective was the “rapid response” team set up to counter any misinformation about him. I saw no evidence of that during this campaign. It was largely left to friendly journalists to counter negative or politically inflammatory rhetoric from the right. Outrageous charges by her opponent went unanswered by her campaign or were brushed off as fiction as many, in fact, were. The problem is, people believed them, or at least questioned why she didn’t more vigorously defend herself.

Admittedly, the national press was much harsher on Clinton than her opponent, trumpeting every minor negative news release as though it was the smoking gun sure to derail her candidacy, while letting him make frequently untrue or unsubstantiated statements almost totally unchecked. One can understand that if someone is asked to explain situations which have already been explained over and over for years and years, it can become tiring but the fact that such questions were still coming up should have alerted the candidate and party that people were grasping for any reason not to vote for Clinton. The problem is that they gave voters no reason to vote for her.

The animosity toward Clinton is not rational but it’s very real and the Democrats failed to appreciate that. It doesn’t matter if the way people view Clinton is undeserved, or unfair, or unjustified; people don’t like her. They don’t care that most of the charges against her are baseless and politically motivated. They don’t care that’s she’s not responsible for her husband’s moral failings, or the fact that people who work for her can’t manage an email server. They just don’t like her. The one place where she’s been successful in an independent run for office, New York, is often friendly to Democrats, largely due to the influence of New York City where she lives.

Ironically, by losing this election the Democrats will have their revenge on Obama for not being the president they wanted him to be. After four years of a hard right-wing administration, it’s doubtful much of his legacy will survive, whether healthcare or civil rights. Any chance of him being on the Supreme Court is gone as well. Who knows what further indignities await him at the hands of the next administration and Congress. It’s doubtful Congress will allocate funds for a presidential library, given that their stated mission all along has been to make him look bad. In all likelihood, the next administration will do all they can to erase him from history and may largely succeed, at least, in the short term. The crucifixion has already started, with the national press spinning the election results as a refutation of President Obama rather than rejection of a particular candidate. The status quo has officially been overturned and I suspect Obama’s legacy isn’t all that will suffer.