Cross-posted from www.drumrollthenovel.wordpress.com:
“What is it about being in love with someone, and not feeling that we’re good enough to deserve it that makes someone act like a complete idiot? People drink too much, say stupid shit, get too high, too demanding; and the inauthenticity? Disguise and desperation…thick with machinations and manipulations that I can barely stand looking at some people – we must be a source of pure entertainment for the truly enlightened, either that or a real cause for alarm, because surely they’ve already thrown their hands up in the air and called “game over.”
Jack laughed heartily at Margie’s complaint. “Right you are, darling daughter, you have no idea how right you are.”
Years later, Margie travelled to the Hoot-n-Holler Grill where her father worked. Located just off the main drag, a stone or two’s throw southeast of International Falls, it was a hidden, raucous paradise for Northern Minnesotans; as well as those brave enough to endure the 6 hour car ride to the middle of nowhere. She was about to turn 27, and thought it would be a great idea to accept another of her father’s invitations to visit. It was the dead of Summer, and they were having a pig roast, after all, food and spirits would be flowing freely, and as a struggling single mom, she wasn’t about to turn down either. All she needed was gas money and maybe some duck tape to string up her front bumper a bit better – because that’s what she had determined was her car’s issue du jour. The Subaru hatchback had gotten more jiggly the faster she drove, so she taped up the bumper, strapped her kid into the back seat and set out for the wilderness – the North Country. Callum, her very inquisitive five-year old, didn’t seem too concerned with the shimmying vehicle. In fact, they made a game out of it, singing songs and shaking their bodies to the music the whole way up. Well…almost. They broke down on the highway, just outside Blackduck – just shy of their destination.
“Well, hullo there Sunshine. You’re a ways from home.”
The state patrolman, who’d obviously ran her plates while she spent those 10 minutes ramming her head against the steering wheel. She stopped just long enough to catch a glimpse of Patrolman 57, a stout man, tuck-launching out of his vehicle from her rear view mirror. She could tell he was burning the calories to do it. The spitting image of W.C. Fields in a State Patrol Uniform, she expected to smell the alcohol before he actually reached the car window. She was not disappointed.
“Hi. Yes, I’m so glad to see you officer, my car… it just … stopped. I'm on my way to visit my father – he’s the cook at the Hoot-n-Holler. Do you know it?”
“Who’s that,” he inquired thoughtfully, and so slowly, she could barely keep my head from rolling back in dramatic exasperation, “Tony? You Tony’s little girl?”
“Oh. No. I’m Jack’s daughter. Jack Foley. He told me he was the cook up there.” Her voice was becoming terse.
“Jackie! Of course! You’re Jackie’s daughter... just located not too long ago, ya? Well congratulations, I’ve heard all his stories of you finding each other. You musta been so shocked, what a beautiful story!”
He sounded absolutely jubilant, and draped his arms above the car window before leaning in a bit, his gut not 3 inches from the tip of her nose. She didn’t have the heart to tell him that she didn’t “just” meet her father – he did indeed finally locate her after abandoning her and my mother while she was an infant, but it was going on a good 12 years now that they'd been developing a relationship. She smiled at that. Her father, the ultimate story teller, sacrificing timelines in order to entertain the masses. Too bad he couldn’t make money doing it. Although, he really was a fantastic cook. Everyone said so.
“Your dad is up there right now workin' some kinda voodoo with one of the biggest hogs I ever seen. A fantastic cook. You are too, I hear.”
His drawl was almost southern, so slow and predictable. She could tell he was writing something, or looking up something. “I’ll be right back, just sit tight, and don’t worry, we’ll take care of everything.” He tapped on the glass before he walked back, peering in to wave at the boy, before walking back to his car to call in a tow truck. And he made good on his promise, too. Her father had sent one of the kids to come and pick them up, while the patrolman waited for the tow truck and escorted it to a local repair shop – who fixed it. For free. It seemed everyone helped each other out up there. Everyone knew everybody, including Margie. For the first time in a long time, well, in her life maybe, she felt special. A tiny celebrity in a tiny town. Maybe she should stay, she thought, find a simple job and a decent man. Lord knows the men up there outnumbered women two-to-one – maybe more. Yes, she thought, she could do this. At that point in her life, she didn't think she had anything better to do.
By the time they rolled into the parking lot at the Hoot-n-Holler, she had every detail of her move to Blackduck figured out in her head. The chauffeur, Jason, a lanky kid no more than 20, turned around and startled her out of my planning, “We’re here,” he voiced, matter-of-factly. Callum had already bolted out of the car and was running to the front door of the bar. She smiled at Jason and thanked him. “Oh gosh, Miss Foley, it was my pleasure.” He was out the door before she could explain that her name wasn’t Miss Foley, but Miss Brandwick – having had her name changed to her stepfather’s surname when her mother remarried. But who was she to burst his bubble, he could believe what he wanted. And so for the entire time she was up in Blackduck, folks called her Miss Foley.
All of three days. Three strange, life-altering days.
Margie immediately recognized her father's voice as she walked into the Hoot-n-Holler, retelling last night's story about some brewhaha at the bar. He had a captive audience, and Margie was one of them. She didn’t see his truth-stretching or omissions as lies. They were simply his side of the story, his version, his perception – like her stories were hers. They were his truth, and she accepted that about him. And so when he did not miss a beat or a breath to come over and hug his long lost daughter, it was the proudest she'd ever been. She wished she had a picture of it. The enthralled denizens of Hoot-n-Holler, and her dad, Blackduck’s famous cook and story teller. Saviour of lost and abused children, fixer of car problems, wrangler of over-sized hogs; tight with the Law and whatever other kind of hero you can think of existing in the Northwoods of Minnesota. In her mind, that was Margie's dad. That was Jack Foley.
They ate and partied, and Jack introduced her to all the characters in town. She caught her up with the past few years – omitting why he and Mallory (the mother of his youngest child) had divorced, of course. She tried to ask him more about it, tried to describe what Mallory had said to her:
“You need to let your father tell you, it’s no longer my concern. When can you come and get your stuff?” but he wouldn’t hear any of it. So she let it go, and wobbled next door to the rusted-out mobile home he was renting, and made sure Callum fell asleep for the evening before wobbling back. Margie sat shyly at one of the front tables until dad wandered up to introduce her to his new girlfriend. Another red-head, of course, like my mother and Sarah’s mother, Mallory; but much younger. Indeed, I asked where she went to school and she declared she graduated from Aitkin High School in '80. Well, at least that was five full years my senior, and exactly 20 years his junior. It was starting to get uncomfortable, the signs were there, the bells and whistles went off in her head, but she ignored them and ordered another rum and coke, as she tended to do back then.
Margie's father was oblivious as a host, three-sheets to the wind by the time she got back, and Cathy was bugging him to leave. Dad held Cathy on his lap and she was whispering in his hear while he groped her backside. Jack was still quite a handsome bloke, and with his auburn hair and full beard, looked to be more like 40 rather than his 51 years of age. Margie hoped it was genetic.
“I’m taking you home, right now, Jack,” her voice grated on Margie – even in her inebriated state. Think milktoast, soaked in wine, sitting in a used ashtray – and that’s what was going through her head about her. Even so, Margie didn't want to be a creepy third wheel, so she decided to stay and hang out with some of her new friends, giving Jack and Cathy some privacy.
Chemistry can be, at times, quite dangerous. It can turn a normally mild-mannered gent into a jealous chest-thumping baboon; and a mostly straight-n-narrow single mom into a mindless, drooling sexpot. Sometimes the transformation is with such single-minded focus that it can lead to bad decisions, which can lead to even worse consequences – like ruining lives other than your own, or much, much worse, resulting in someone’s demise – yours or otherwise. In hindsight, Margie would have agreed that one does not fuck with sexual chemistry, because once you add alcohol to that formula, there is no turning back - all bets are off, and any amateurs left in the room will be assimilated.
Still, it's information she wish she'd known when Allen and his friend, Wes Shope, walked into the bar that night to a chorus of well-wishers. The drunken crowd actually shouted their names. They were handed beers before they could offload their motorcycle helmets. Wesley nodded at Margie, smiling from the table next to hers, while Allen bellied up to the bar to chat up the cocktail waitress. The ruggedness of Wes’ face and hands revealed he was somewhat older than Allen, but they both seemed to be around her age, with neither spanning the range of the 20-year May-December snog-fest she had witnessed earlier.
Wes meandered to her table and politely introduced himself. He was a tall lanky fellow, with dark curls resting on his shoulders and an aura about him that no doubt made the ladies swoon - probably some men too. He was dressed similarly to Allen, in leather chaps, jacket, and steel-toed workman’s boots, and seemed happy just to sit back and watch the merriment. Both were sinewy, androgenous types – which indubitably fit Margie's taste in men at the time. Suck face with a head-banging heavy-metal band member? Duh…yeah, she grew up with the Northwood Red-Necks, dontcha know. It was 1994, the longer the hair, the better.
By then, Allen had managed to tear himself away from the bar rail with no less than three, count ‘em, three pitchers of beer – dropping them at the center of our table with a splash, and a wicked, wicked smile. "Oh dear. I’m in trouble, Margie thought, "it’s two-to-one, and my tolerance level for alcohol is dangerously low. Amateurishly low." She'd been up every day at 5am, hauling a kid to school, working two jobs, teaching aerobics for extra cash and hooking up with ex-boyfriends for casual entertainment. She knew she was out of her league about the same time she realized she could be sucking the brains out of her own skull with a cocktail straw. She could “see” that there was a tall vodka-soda-lime in front of her, but it “felt” like she had just transformed into a mindless, drooling sexpot. The situation would be no contest for these two, well-established professionals. There was only one thing she could do. Trust them. Trust that her father knew the bar people, and those people knew these people – and so she did. She trusted them. With her life, apparently.
While they danced and drank and sang Journey tunes, she learned that they were both teachers at a middle school on the Iron Range. Wes was an Earth Science instructor for eighth-graders, and Allen taught Poli-Sci for the same grade. He did mention he was going back for a graduate degree in Ed-Psych, which made him all the more attractive, of course.
By the time they left the Hoot-n-Holler, Allen and Margie were toast. But hopping on a motorcycle in the middle of the night to try to find the makeshift camp he had set up, still seemed like a pretty good idea. Bells, whistles, anyone? Nope? Okay, moving forward. After a good forty minutes, Allen found the marker to his and Wes' campsite – they rode another 10 minutes to the site situated next to some kind of body of water. Once they were off the bike, Margie could hear the rush of water, and the breeze – well, it would have been wonderful, she thought, except by then, Margie was starting to listen to those bells and whistles. Asking herself questions: "Who were these guys? Are they really teachers? What teacher would pick up a girl and bring her deep into the woods for a shag? What girl would go? (Fuck!) Shut up, brain!"
Allen and Margie started making out on the cycle, and eventually head toward his tent. She was tired, and could tell he was tired, either that or he was acting suspicious. They were in the tent about 10 minutes, both too tired and too drunk to do anything but kiss; when sheets of cold fear and a sudden sense of responsibility for her sleeping and (basically) unattended son washed over Margie.
Um, do you have the time?” as she tapped him on the shoulder, mid-kiss.
Allen sleepily answered: “Ahh.. Does it really matter?”
“Yah, my kid wakes up pretty early, I should be there,” Margie paused and realized she interrupted the mood, “I’m sorry.” Allen sat up and scratched his head.
“You have a kid? How old are you? You don’t look old enough to have a kid,” as he slowly sat up.
“I’m 27 – old enough,” she chuckled, “how old are you?”
“24,” he said, with a grin so wide and glowing bright, he could put the Cheshire cat to shame, "but, you're not married, I take it?
"Nope, just up here visiting my dad."
"Oh, cool. Who's that?"
"Jack. Jack Foley. He cooks at the Hoot-n-Holler. Do you know him?"
"Oh, yah. I know him," he began to nod as he stared at Margie, then an abrupt, "I think it's time to go," and with that he put his shoes on, exited the tent and started up his bike.
"Is everything okay?" she asked, stumbling out of the tent.
He only nodded. Something was definitely not okay, but Margie got on the back of the bike and held on tight as they rode back to the bar. He kissed her on the cheek, looked into her eyes, nodding again and drove off into the night without a word.
The next morning was an early one for Margie, she had snuck back into the trailer she was staying in, but couldn't sleep because of all the noise coming from her father's bedroom. Callum had gotten up early and was now starving. They were both starving, in fact. Upon inspecting the cupboards, Margie discovered a dozen cans of generic beef stew. "Government subsidies?" Margie queried to herself.
"From the reservation," said Jack, as he walked in from outside. "Just got a couple eggs from the kitchen, I'll make you guys some hash with it." His best friend, Roger, tossed his cigarette outside and walked in behind him. "Hungry Roger?"
"Nah, just had my morning smoke." Roger walked over to the fridge and pulled out a can of Budweiser, "and am about to have my morning grains." He popped the top and took a few sips. Callum and Margie giggled nervously, as Jack glared at Roger.
They all sat together at the table, while Callum and Margie ate their stew. Jack told her that the car was fixed and they could go pick it up after breakfast.
"But Grandpa promised a ride on the three-wheeler first!" shouted Callum. Margie laughed and acquiesced, all while making a conscious decision not to ask her father about Allen - or the noises coming from his bedroom all night.
An hour later, as Margie was packing up her and Callum's things, she felt a tingling in her fingertips. In no time, it moved up her arms and down her limbs. A piercing headache followed, and a sweat that seemed to be pouring from a spring at the top of her skull. She wouldn't make it to the toilet, the projectile vomiting covering a good portion of the walls and the floor halfway to it, falling to her knees in the hallway of the tiny trailer. It was the first time she audibly prayed to God.
Both she and Callum had been struck down with food poisoning. Her father looked just as ill, even though he hadn't eaten any of the stew; he called Margie's mother and drove them halfway back to the cities.
Margie's mother, Suzanne, laughed when she saw them both in the back seat of Jack's car, each holding their own 5 gallon buckets. Margie and Callum were too busy wretching to care.
It wasn't hard saying "Yes." After four years of struggling to make ends meet by herself, not being able to hold down a job with benefits, and dating men that either wanted too much, or too little; Margie happened to see Ben one night at a bar they both used to frequent. She told herself it was kismet, and fate - that they should meet again just as she was running herself ragged. She'd been on welfare for a while, but then had gotten back into apartment management and teaching exercise classes on the side for extra cash. Soon, she landed another administrative assistant position at a local consulting firm, and was later promoted to Office Manager. She was able to move out of the city, and into the suburbs where her now six year-old, Callum received an excellent public education. Renting the loft apartment at the top of the very large house of a lawyer seemed like success to her. That she now considered herself marriage material. Not to mention, she wanted another child - and thought having one before she turned 30 would be a smart thing to do.
Ben and Margie were scheduled to be married at a local VFW, witnessed by a couple of hundred guests. For the first time in her life, Margie felt she was doing the right thing. Everyone seemed happy, and that made her happy. So when Tom called the day before her wedding, pleading for her to move in and raise a family with him, she politely declined.
She had thought that her happiness would have showed up everywhere in her life, but it certainly didn't at work. In fact, things seemed tougher there. Employees started showing up late for work, or not at all. It was especially critical that everyone on her team show up, as they had just landed several new preventive maintenance contracts at some major oil refineries down south. She lost it one morning when she left a voice message on one of her employees' recorder - she was always late, and when she noticed that she'd been adding hours to her timecard after Margie signed it, it became the last straw.
"Amy, you little Bitch, you are so busted. I saw the timecards, if you don't come in today, consider yourself fired!"
Of course it wasn't an hour before she was called into the Vice President's office, with Amy sitting there, her children in tow. Margie admitted she made a mistake, and that she was stressed from not having the support she needed due to all the new contracts, and that it wouldn't happen again. Amy was able to keep her job, despite the time card issues.
There were other strange incidents as well - like being called by the President of the company, who accused her of sabotaging the efforts of their sister company's (who happened to be on the same floor as them) efforts to be purchased by a major software firm. He accused her of being rude to the (very famous and powerful) owner over the phone.
"That was a bold-faced lie," Margie said to herself, "he didn't know I no longer back up the Receptionist when she goes on break." Still, Margie said she would look into it. She had remembered dealing with a difficult caller while she covered during an absence, weeks earlier; but she had years of experience as a Receptionist, and would never be rude back.
It wasn't until one of the senior consultants mentioned that her attitude had changed since she had gotten married, that Margie realized her days were numbered at the firm. He told her that several of the consultants noticed as well, and that sometimes, women's egos get larger than life after they get married.
"You may just want to keep that in check, so as not to stress out the other consultants," he said. Margie sat with her mouth agape, and couldn't even respond before he left her office.
Her exit interview with the President was even more revealing. He asked what she would be doing after she and her husband moved to Portland, and that she should take some time to reflect on her relationships because it didn't seem to him that she liked men very much.
After working her tail off for that company - she couldn't believe how quickly the tide had changed. Perhaps it was an effort to curttail any referral from their company - she couldn't tell. She only knew that she was happy to leave Michigan for Oregon, and certainly happy that her daughter would be born there.