Bellwether Vance

Hounds to the Left of me/Jokers to the Right

Bellwether Vance

Bellwether Vance
December 31
You'd like me. People like me.


MAY 25, 2012 8:47AM

All Will be Made Clear

Rate: 74 Flag
There were so many words we were not allowed to say (not just the obvious ones) and gestures that were considered too vulgar for our body parts to participate in communicating them. We couldn't point, or stick our tongues out. We couldn't say "shut up" or call someone a "liar."  A lie was a "story," and that suited me just fine. I had a whole book of Bible Stories that were too fantastic to be true, and I came to understand that liars make good storytellers, and are forgiven.

My mother was the arbiter of these rules, our Emily Post and our Khrushchev. Lots of people, maybe most people, never shed the skin of childhood. It just stretches with age and if you scratch down through the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis you'll hit the tender skin of their youth. With my mother, the sequence is reversed. Her childhood layer is on top. She bruises easily and is always wearing some  fresh shade of hurt or healing. I can see why she'd want to spare us her condition, to raise children above reproach.

She had it rough though, raising twins, children born to operate as a team, and Ben and I were usually in it together, unless I was in it for myself. Although he had been born first, by four minutes, it was because I shoved him out. I was, from the beginning, the boss of Ben. Which is why, when he made the mistake of saying "hell" – within some innocuous or mildly rebellious context – I held it over his head for weeks. His allowance was mine. My chores were done.  Until it was time to tell.

I rushed into the master bedroom, tattle on my tongue. Ben right behind me, pleading. Our mother was lying on her back with a Merle Norman glossy, hot-pink mask on her face. It made her look like a burn victim, and she couldn't talk without cracking open. When I informed her of Ben's grievous sin, she nodded and flicked her wrist for us to go.  Ben, poor soul, rather than being angry with me for tormenting him, was so relieved he threw himself into my arms and sobbed. I had saved him by wisely choosing this very moment when our mother had been rendered impotent by cosmetics to reveal his crime. 

Ben never did toughen up, or wise up, but he was rescued. Just before second grade, Mama found a new best friend. Sally Sheldon, a grade-school teacher from Anniston, moved into the classroom next door to hers. Sally had two sons and one of them – Cal – was our age, a chubby, sandy-haired, blue-eyed boy with the kind of lashes you see on an expensive baby doll. He had a drum kit, an arsenal of pellet guns and a dog. I couldn't compete with that, and pretty soon Cal was the new boss of Ben.

As our parents socialized we were often thrown together, a gang of three. Only, within human relationships, there is never an equilateral triangle; someone is always at the narrowing end. I became the tagalong, the tolerated, the pest, watching Ben and Cal bond over their shared love of KISS, motorcycles and hunting. I turned inward, to books, and one of my strongest memories of that time is reading Island of the Blue Dolphins on the Sheldon's couch, feeling marooned, while Ben and Cal listened to Black Diamond a thousand times, trying to work out the guitar parts. There would be an upcoming concert in the Sheldon garage. I would be the ticket taker. 

By high school, Ben was in trouble, troubled. He was emotionally unpredictable, using alcohol and drugs to mute unspeakable urges and voices. Cal was right by his side, along for the ride, just like everyone who loved him. Ben was now the boss of us all.  And Cal – Cal had shed his baby fat, grown tall, broad-shouldered. He came into his inheritance, the suave grin that made his philandering daddy famous in three states. I couldn't look at either Ben or Cal without longing to see them as they once were: Ben, when he was normal and full of promise. Cal, before I desired him.

Early one morning, during the summer after high school, I came home after a night out with my girlfriends and found the house trashed. Our parents – Ben's and mine and Cal's – were off somewhere for the weekend, and we'd all made the most of it. I'd partied at a nightclub and they had partied at our house. "Holy hell, guys!" I yelled down the hall, where I knew Ben and Cal were sleeping. "You'd better get out here and clean up before Mom and Dad get back." 

I heard the shower turn on, and I grabbed a trash bag and filled it with red Solo cups and pizza boxes. I gathered pieces of a broken bird figurine and thought up a lie, a story, about how it got broken. It would have to be my fault. Too many things were Ben's fault. I went to the sink, filled it with sudsy water, and I was washing plates when Cal padded up behind me. He smelled like soap. He set his hands on my shoulders, his chin on the top of my head. "Sorry about the mess," he said. Then he delivered a brotherly kiss to my cheek. After that, a lingering, not-so-brotherly kiss to the back of my neck. Another between my shoulder blades, along the spine.

I was already packed for college; my boxes were in the hall. I had worked out the person I would be, away from here, away from Ben and our parents, the people who knew me too well, trapped me into being someone they knew. I would dress differently, talk differently and be different. That was the plan and I knew that if I leaned into Cal my life would be different in some other way, a way I could not control.  I said, "Cal. No."

He dropped his hands and stepped away.  "It's too late, I guess. I'm too late." 

I left for school. Cal and I didn't speak for seven years.

Ben's wedding was a complicated blur, but I have the photos. All of us lined up along the brick facade of the church, as if for a firing squad, wearing our best clothes and bottom-heavy smiles. Smiles that need neck muscles for support. Except for the bride. She's effortlessly beaming, oblivious. 

By then the list of things we weren't allowed to say included things we weren't allowed to think. A thoughtless synapse could crack us open. So we all agreed that the bride was beautiful and the weather was unseasonably warm. I discretely scratched at the waistline of my pantyhose, where a belt of sweat was drawing tight. My mother patted my arm in warning. Stop. Then we lined up for the procession into the church, where we would perform as a gracious, above-reproach  family, and when the shit hit the fan, we could claim to be surprised.

At the reception, hope came in the form of champagne and an open bar. Maybe this really would be just the thing Ben needed. A wife. A future. My mother danced with her mother. Nanny's knee-highs slipped below the hem of her dress. My father danced with me and then the bride. I danced with Ben, cheek-to-cheek, pausing to pose for a photo that would one day be the prize in my collection. 

As Ben went to reclaim his bride, I was spun into the arms of the best man, Cal. He tensed as our hands met, and I did too. A gap of seven years, bridged in an instant. He grinned, that infamous, meaningless grin  –  perfected  –  and I was no longer the girl he might have loved like a sister and could have loved more. I was just a girl, any girl. He called me that when he grabbed me tight about the waist and pulled me close. "Girl, let's just dance." 

And that's what we did, until our faces shone like mirrors. 

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Holy shit, Bell. Smiling here bottom and top, all over. Tears, too. Shit, girl, this is your best yet.
You have a way of pulling me in and making me feel/see every word and you have done it so well here yet again.
Beautifully done.

P.S. I'm pretty sure the lyric is, "Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right..."
This is a fine piece of writing indeed. If your lies were even half as intricately constructed as this story I can't imagine you'd ever been caught telling one.
What a fabulous, magnificent story.

The triangle became more than equal.

What happened to Cal?
I love how you describe yourself as pushing Ben out of the womb first. So many things in this ring so true to life, your impatience to leave for college, to become someone you choose to be, the wedding where hope for a new start for Ben tries to outweigh your family's concerns, the dancing where you're just any girl and Cal becomes...just another guy?
What is made clear here Bell, is your over the top writing skills..

You rock, sister in my mind...
When I grow up, I want to write just like Bellwether Vance.
It's amazing how the hurts and pains of childhood stay with us all our lives. I hope this all has a happy ending, but I have my misgivings. Very well written. R
This is fantastic Bell - leaves me speechless this am.
Exquisitely written, BV.
I assume Ben's marriage did not end well.

I hope I'm wrong about that.

And please, like Mary, I'm dying to know what became of Cal?
Your very best, Matt is so right.

I always want to cry after I read your writing. Whether it's happy or sad, it fills me with more emotion than I can hold. ~r
Some mighty fine writing!
Ah, yes, the innocence of youth and the feigned innocence of "manners". One of my favorite of my own songs is entitled "How I Lost My Innocence". But as that other song says of innocence, "once you've passed it boundaries, you may ne'er return again."

I would be remiss if despite my jealousy, I didn't convey my deepest appreciation for your storytelling (or liaring as you might have it). I could compare you to the Southern greats, William Faulkner ... Flannery O'Connor ... Harper Lee ... but that would be and injustice to them and you. You have a voice all your own, and it sings so bittersweetly.
Great story , I could see and hear each and every one of you.
Arrestinly well written, with memories and feelings silhouetting what's honest and lasting. This is great writing, Bell.

This was so, so beautifully put and sad and wonderful all at once. Thank you for sharing these memories, and I'm sorry you had to experience the sad parts.
if i were your editor, i might change a comma but not a word, not one, in this almost-perfect story. brava, woman.
Brilliant, Bellwether. Dancing right along the very edge.
jeezzzzus this is good writing. wonderful.
Great writing, Bell. The details are delish. I can feel the emotions through the synecdoche of the kisses. (Look that one up, non-English majors.)
Beautiful, Bell, just perfect! R
Beautiful, Bell, just perfect! R
Oh hell, BV. You've left me in contemplative silence wishing to be sitting outside, sipping a beer and watching the night sky. Even among the many jewels of your writings, this one sparkles especially bright.
Really lovely. I enjoy reading you because it cracks me up how alike the verbal language of our relatives is. Even though I am much further north. And stories is such a nicer word than lies.
"By then the list of things we weren't allowed to say included things we weren't allowed to think."...ahhh my dear... you have said a mouthful.
I could sit for a lifetime reading your captivating words. My God, this was superb.
I agree. Your best yet, and that is saying a lot. Wow. Get thee to a big publisher, and come visit me using the advance!
Why isn't this an EP!?
"when the shit hit the fan, we could claim to be surprised" says it all. bell, you sure can write. i think i need a hug now.
This is excellent. I feel like it's the beginning, the ending, or the middle of something bigger--and I want to read it all.
I loved it! & I want more (please)
Holy hell, this was good. I was there, saw it all. My, my. You sure do have a way with words, girl. Just write. Just write. And dance, too, of course ...
Have you ever wondered what it might be like if our thoughts were projected on the ceiling for all to see? Your brother’s wedding would have been like the Cannes film festival, and every attendee's film would have won a prize.
Matt -- You're so sweet.

Lunchlady -- I'm glad the story pulled you in. That's what I hoped it would do.

Brunhilde -- I'm pretty sure it's "hounds" not "clowns" ;)

Brad -- Rarely. But when I did...

Mary -- Sally is still my mom's best friend, so I hear about Cal regularly, although I don't see him often. He's married and has a son who will be a Senior in HS next year. He struggled with alcohol for a while and then entered rehab and has been sober for at least ten years.

ccdarling -- Your first love is never just another guy. But we both moved on.

Seer -- I've always been willing to let the lines between family and friends blur. I was adopted, so the term "blood ties" means nothing to me.

Mission -- Awww...I've always wanted to rock. But I usually fall short.

Jeanette -- Can I suggest that you set your ambitions higher? Still, I thank you for the compliment!

Gerald -- Not a happy ending. Just a real one, with some happiness mixed in there.

Lamm -- Speechless is good...right?

Boanerges1 -- I always love seeing your name pop up. Glad you enjoyed it.

Freethinker -- Ben's marriage did not end well, and Ben himself did not end well. (Cal did marry, have a son, and is doing well. I haven't seen him in several years.)

Jon -- Thank you!

Linda -- Lifetime movie? Score! Although I'm too old to play myself...What a drag.

Joan -- That's quite a compliment. Thank you.

Larry -- Fine writing is what I always hope to provide, and only occasionally achieve. Even now, when I read through, I'd change a dozen things.
Tom -- Manners were big in our house, and they couldn't, for long, disguise dysfunction. I hope one day I'll develop a voice as strong and distinctive as those authors you cite...but I'm not there yet, and probably never will be...but I like having OS and its support system that allows me, encourages me to keep trying.

jmac -- I do have the photos, and I wish you could see them in reality. I don't post them because of privacy concerns.

Fusun -- Honesty is hard when you're writing about things close to the heart, so I'm happy that you felt it.

Alysa -- Not all sad, and happy endings, even briefly happy endings, are still happy for a time.

femme -- YES! I do need a comma editor. I try,,,, and try,,, and try,,,Editors are awesome and they save us from the worst of ourselves.

Julie -- Love you too.

Kim -- I thought this might have toppled over the edge, toward self-indulgence.

lorainne -- That means a lot. Truly.

Lea -- I will have to look it up. And when I do, I will use it in my next post!! Seriously....

Wendo -- Your comment is perfectly wonderful.
Why haven't I found you cursor cannot move up to "Add as Favorite" fast enough.

beautiful, beautiful prose...
Stim -- Come sit beside me. We'll sip and stare together.

Midwest -- We're a smaller country than we think we are. There's a lot of crosstalk between the regions, and yeah, I still had a hard time with the word "lie." And shut up. And I don't point. Ever.

Brazen -- Are you another refugee from the land of Unthinkable?

Unbreakable -- Thanks so much. (I know I keep saying that...but I think fellow writers know that every positive comment means SOOOO much, especially when you're working within the space of your head, which is 7/8 negative and then there's that little negligible space tucked into the hypothalamus that's a cheerleader.)

Fernsy -- I'm trying to imagine how far I'd get on my imaginary advance. Atlanta? One day I'll get out your way...

Anna -- I think they're focusing on Memorial Day stories for the weekend (as they should), and this piece might be too long and too personal for most readers anyway. But your vote and everyone else's feedback means a lot to me.

Dianaani -- Well, we did claim to be surprised, and we were convincing.

jlsathre -- It's a piece, and my other posts are pieces. I wish I could post it as a linear memoir -- because I like reading other memoirs in that format -- but mine come to me in patchwork. With recipes!

Trilogy -- Yes Ma'am! I'll get on it.

Deborah -- I'm not a good dancer. I hope you know that.

Greenheron -- I love the possibilities of your comment. I do wonder what the bride would say. I'd love to see or read her story.
Bell(e), Yes, one way or another, "all will be made clear" just like the clarity here in your writing. True, "there is never an equilateral triangle" but you certainly show all the angles here. Superb story telling.
You really have a way of spinning a story Bell. It's a marvel how you can cover so much so concisely without any apparent sacrifice of the telling detail or the adroit characterization. Hat's off.
This is a magnificent piece of writing, Bell; beautifully done. R
Every comment here contains emotions I felt, words of well-deserved praise for your talent. You have an amazing gift and we are fortunate to open each new piece. This is beyond anything you've given us, and that says it all.
All your pieces leave me wanting more.
Let's just say I'm really looking forward to your book.
Blew me away, Bell. Bowing down to you....
Lovely . . . a great read to start a long weekend! Thanks!
This is so beautiful, Bellwether, I don't know what to say.
Where is your novel? You're ready.
Your description of Cal made me think of the kind of guy I've only ever known in the South -- the inherited grin especially.
Those worlds suppressed. They have away of ending up on top somehow. I do wish more parents who tend toward authoritarianism realized this...
Excellent writing about this slice of your life.
Pensive -- I'm glad we found one another. As small as OS is, it's vast.

Scarlett -- I've been at the narrowing end and the wide-angled end, within the same day, within the same relationship!

Abrawang -- It's a story I've been waiting to tell. The time seemed right, though I don't know why.

Thoth -- Thanks, dear.

Sally -- That means so much. It's a story close to my heart.

DiBi -- You made me smile. I'm working on it (or two) and there's always the thought (doubt) -- Who's going to want to read this?

Firechick -- Get up, girl!

Elizabeth -- Thank you, for reading, and taking the time to comment.

Clay -- Just seeing your cute avatar there is enough.

Luminous -- I hope I am. You give me hope.
You are soaring, you know that, right? Just keep going. "Cal. No." His loss is the world's gain. With mucho respect and admiration!
"Lots of people, maybe most people, never shed the skin of childhood. It just stretches with age and if you scratch down through the epidermis, dermis and hypodermis you'll hit the tender skin of their youth." So true, and so gorgeously conveyed. Thank you.
An intricate portrait of a family. You never mention your father until the wedding. You leave me with a poignant feeling for what might have been.
Ben just about breaks my heart, Bell. Love the details like the Merle Norman facial mask and Nanny's knee-hi's. Another worthy chapter in the Book of Bell.
Bell: One of the many pleasures of reading your posts is the freshness that emenates from them.
I seriously doubt that you've "studied" writing in academia. There's no more unstudied work at OS than yours. Reading your stories isn't "like" being there. It's being there. Floating effortlessly above the action, no matter how intimate or public. A bedroom or a ballroom. People you know. A smile you can see, a storm whose presence you can feel coming. It's all in the telling, and you tell it good.
I'm pretty late here but want to say that this was magnificent./r
Bell, I missed this when it came out. This is nothing short of fabulous. Well done!
Beautiful. Thank you.
So lovely and heartbreaking, Bellwether. I was hoping (and yet knowing it wouldn't be the case) that you would wrap up the ending with some pithy aside about how your brother and his wife lived happily ever after despite the family's reservations. I saw from your comments that it was indeed not the case. I'm so sorry.
This is so beautifully--every word is just right.
"I rushed into the master bedroom, tattle on my tongue", it's your talent for stringing words together like this that seasons all of your stories with lip-smacking flavor. (That Jeremiah really loves you; nice comment there.)
But I want to know more! As always with your writing, I am unfulfilled only in that I want more of it.
What they all said. Also, I couldn't help but remember I think the first piece of yours I read - that silver fish and the bear.
I'm sorry I missed this when it first came out, but so glad I saw it tonight. What strong writing! You convey so much emotion but it is subtle and just under awareness.
I used to stick out my tongue all the time until FusunAs Cat got it.
This installment is dated May. When do I get the sequel? Gotta know what happened to you and Cal! And your brother's wedding. You've built up the characters and the conflicts -- into a real soap opera -- which is what life is.
Geezer -- The story gets complicated. I went away to college, got knocked up by Mr. Vance. Cal knocked up his own gal and is still married. Ben...He...died. That's all I can type. Sometimes the word for what he did, I can't. The good news is that Cal and I are survivors, and siblings, of a sort, and we love one another.

I remember that horrid smelling Merle Norman mask. How about the pure acid creme rinse. And they had their OWN stores!! What ever happened to them?

I feel a bit clue less, is this an on-going story?
you make me wish I were a better writer. that said, I enjoyed this piece so much. there's something so sad in this that's expressed perfectly. yet it's unsaid. and yet it touches me quite precisely. this is why I keep coming back.
I hope to see that photo one day.
Wow, I thought your were back, Bell. Well, in a sense, you are! But...