|Rowena's Page, Rowena Gets a Life.||Rowena Moves Closer, Part 11|
Rowena set the point of her pen carefully onto the paper. “Dear Grandma,” she wrote. “I hope this finds you well.” She paused; she always felt awkward using such standard phrases, but she didn't know what else to say. “I'm doing fine here.” She paused again, glancing over at the four or five photographs stacked neatly beside her letter; in the top one, taken by Sammy, she stood smiling in her living room, holding up Linus for the camera. Linus had had a bath for the occasion, though he'd managed to get dirty again, as always, as soon as she took him for a walk.
She started a new paragraph. “I'm enclosing some pictures I think you might like. I don't think you've met my dog, Linus. He—”
At this point the phone rang. Rowena set her pen down, pushed back her chair, and managed to answer before the machine picked up. “Hello?”
“Mom? What's wrong?” It could be anything; anything at all. The only thing Rowena could be reasonably sure of was that it would take a long time to sort out.
“In this family!” her mother said. Rowena relaxed the dealing-with-disaster portion of her mind and shifted into dealing-with-Mother.
“What did she do this time?”
“Your sister! Naked in public! Right there in her apartment!”
“Naked? She told me—”
“You knew about it? And you didn't even stop her?”
“Stop Maralynne? How? Anyway, from what she said it wasn't that bad.”
“Not that bad! She had this—lace thing—my daughter!”
Rowena opened her mouth but her mother plunged on. “At least she's supposed to be my daughter. I always suspected the babies had been switched in the hospital. Those doctors—”
“You mean, every time she does something you don't like you want to believe it's not your fault. Mother, in the first place this doesn't sound so bad. In the second place—”
“This is a decent family. Nobody—”
“How'd you find out about this, anyway?”
“Your Aunt Yvette told me. She said Bernie—”
“I should have known. I should have known. Mother, if anybody in the family is depraved, it's Uncle Bernie. I would think you'd know that.”
“He was using his computer and these pictures of Maralynne just popped on his screen.”
“Mother, they did not pop on his screen. He went looking for them. That's how it works.”
“Yvette said she walked into the room and there was Bernie, and this awful picture, and Bernie told her he was just trying to find the population of Brazil and—”
“It amazes me,” Rowena said. “It just amazes me that after all these years either one of you would listen to Uncle Bernie.”
“You keep Bernie out of this! Listen, talk to your sister.”
“Me?” Rowena looked over at her pen, sitting on the table with its cap off. “What makes you think she'd listen to me? Anyway—”
“I should have known,” her mother said. “Go on. Think only of yourself. Abandon your sister in her hour of need.”
“Mother. It's none of my business. None. Not even a little bit. Anyway, I already have talked to her. It did just as much good as it usually does.”
“So you want me to do it?”
“No. I want you to—” But her mother hung up. Rowena looked a moment at the phone, both halves of it, and then put the receiver back where it belonged. She looked at the phone once more, and then got up and went back to her letter.
“I don't think you've met my dog, Linus,” she read. “He—” Rowena stared at the paper, and then off into the distance. What had she been planning to say? She picked up her pen and turned it about in her fingers.
“He came from the animal shelter,” she ended up writing. “Did I tell you about that? My—”
The phone rang. Rowena, with a feeling of dread, went to answer it.
“You fink!” This was Maralynne. “You fink! How could you?”
“How could you? I thought I could trust you. I thought I could tell you—”
“And you went and finked!”
“Maralynne, I did no such thing. She found out from Uncle Bernie.”
“Uncle Bernie? That pervert?”
“That pervert went on your Web site and Aunt Yvette caught him at it and told Mom and Mom called me and I tried to tell her it was none of—”
“Uncle Bernie saw me? Ewwwwwww.”
“Well, that's what I thought. But looking back, I don't know that we should be surprised.”
“It's not for Uncle Bernie.”
“Maralynne, when you make something public . . .”
“What did he see? What picture?”
“Well, the one Aunt Yvette saw involved some kind of ‘lace thing.’”
“What? A teddy? My bustier?”
“I don't know. I was talking to Mom.”
“Great. Just great.”
“Well, at least you had something on,” Rowena said. “Um, at least that time.”
Maralynne was silent for a moment. Then she said, “Stupid Uncle Bernie, that pervert.”
“Well,” said Rowena, “if Mom calls back, I'll tell her—”
“Don't tell her anything!” said Maralynne, and hung up.
Rowena hung up too. Then she went back to her letter.
“He came from the animal shelter,” she read. “Did I tell you that? My—” Rowena sat and stared at the page. Then she stared into space. Eventually she picked up her pen and wrote, “boyfriend Sammy took me to the shelter and I couldn't resist him.” She raised her pen and stared at what she'd written. Couldn't resist whom? Her grandmother, she was sure, would read it the way she'd meant it; that Rowena couldn't resist taking Linus home. On the other hand . . . She went and got a fresh sheet and copied out what she'd written, up to that last sentence. In its place she wrote, “He was so friendly I just couldn't leave him there.” And then she sat again, pen raised, for a second or two until the phone rang.
Rowena trudged over to it. “Hello?”
“Rowena, that sister of yours is impossible!”
“She's blaming everything on your poor Uncle Bernie. ‘How did Uncle Bernie know about it?’ She called him a—well, I can't say it, but it was—it was a ‘p’ word.”
“She even said you called him that! I told her you would never use that kind of language, at least not on your relatives, and—”
“Mother. Please.” Rowena knew she was about to take a chance, but she couldn't stand this. “If the word you're referring to is ‘pervert,’ it's not a—”
“Mother, he could not have known about Maralynne's Web site if he hadn't been looking for things like that. Do you understand me? If Maralynne hadn't mentioned the population of Brazil on her site, which I doubt she did, and by the way I don't for a minute believe that that was what Uncle Bernie was actually looking for, then Uncle Bernie's computer couldn't have found her site on a search for—”
“Are you calling your Uncle Bernie a liar?”
“Mother, have you taken leave of your senses? Didn't you used to tell me he—”
“I don't know what you're talking about.”
Rowena took a deep breath, and let it out. “Of course you don't. And—”
“What do you know about it, anyway?”
“For that matter,” her mother said darkly, “what does Maralynne know about it?”
“Who told Maralynne she could do this sort of thing?”
“She's over 21, Mom.”
“That's not what I mean. Who's helping her?”
“Chester!” her mother yelled. “What does Chester know about it?”
“He's a professional.”
“He's a WHAT!”
Rowena shut her eyes, cringing. “It's a computer thing,” she said. “He's a professional computer guy; he knows all about computers. He knows about Web sites. Clean ones,” she added.
“So it's his fault!”
“Mother, no.” But once again, her mother had hung up. Rowena regarded the phone, sitting there innocently. She considered leaving it off the hook, or at least letting the machine answer for her, but in the end she decided not to prolong the inevitable. She hung up, found Linus, scratched his ears, and then went back to her letter.
“He was so friendly I just couldn't leave him there,” she read. She sighed. She picked up her pen, wiggled it a bit in the air, and wrote, “There are also some pictures of me with my boyfriend, Sammy. You remember Sammy? I thought you might like some pictures of us together. They—”
And again the telephone. Rowena resisted the urge to say “What is it, Maralynne?” instead of “Hello.”
“Why are you trying to break us up?”
“Telling Mom all these horrible things about Chester—that he's a pornographer and—and a bad influence on me and—and I don't know what.”
“I didn't say anything of the kind! You know how Mom is. She wanted to know how you knew how to set up a Web site and I told her Chester knew all about computers and—”
“So you're saying I'm stupid and couldn't do it by myself?”
There was a pause. “No,” Maralynne said, “but I'm not stupid.”
“I didn't say you were,” Rowena said, silently adding, “this time.”
“Chester just did the real technical stuff. And gave me the computer stuff. And told me about cam sites. And that having one might help my Career. That's all.”
“I believe you,” Rowena said.
“So why'd you tell Mom he's a pornographer?”
“You're trying to split us up,” Maralynne said. “Why?”
“I'm not. I like Chester.”
“You're trying to steal him from me?”
“No, I am not! I don't want him and I'm not trying—”
“You just said you like him!”
“I like him for your boyfriend. I think he's better for you than any of your other boyfriends were. I—”
But Maralynne had apparently not heard past the first part of this. “You want him because he's my boyfriend? That is so mean!”
“I'm never going to speak to you again!” This time she slammed the phone down.
Rowena hunted for Linus, found him, and picked him up. She carried him back to the table and set him down in her lap. One thing at a time, she told herself. She felt she couldn't finish the letter unless she had something to distract her from all those phone calls, and she felt that finishing the letter would make it somehow easier to cope. She looked at what she'd written.
“I thought you might like some pictures of us together. They—”
They what? Rowena thought. She ruffled the fur under Linus' chin. And then she remembered. “They were taken by my friend Terese. I don't think you've met Terese”—actually Rowena was sure that she had not—“but she's funny and she makes us—”
This time, with Linus on her lap, Rowena got up carefully. She carried Linus over to the phone, getting there just before the machine was about to pick up.
“Rowena, how could you do such a thing to your sister?”
“Mom, I really—”
“It's not as if you don't have a perfectly good boyfriend of your own. Well, pretty good for the kind of boy who would date a girl who isn't waiting for marriage.”
“I thought we already covered that.”
“And you know Chester is the first boyfriend your sister's had who hasn't cheated on her or stolen from her or—”
“Yeah, I know about all that,” Rowena said. “So, um, you like Chester now? And you're not mad at Maralynne?”
“Maralynne needs me,” said her mother, surprised. Rowena made a mental note to file this away for future reference. “I don't see how you could be so mean—”
“Mother, please. Let me explain. Maralynne won't talk to me, so—”
“I don't want to hear from you until you've apologized to your sister,” her mother said. And that was that.
Rowena sat a while, petting Linus. She thought of calling Sammy, but decided to wait. A cup of tea—and a completed letter—and then she would see what she could do.
She put Linus down and made herself some tea. While it steeped, she went back to the letter.
“I don't think you've met Terese, but she's funny and she makes us—”
Makes us what? Rowena considered. She blew on her tea, still too hot to drink, and not quite dark enough. “She makes us laugh,” she wrote. She picked up the pile of photos and found her favorite. She smiled, looking at it. She left it visible. She looked back at her letter; she was getting close to the bottom of the sheet now. “Nothing much to write about here,” she wrote, and rolled her eyes. She changed the period to a semicolon and added, “everything's pretty quiet right now. Hope you like the pictures. Love, Rowena.”
She got an envelope and her address book with her grandmother's address in it. She addressed the envelope, got a stamp, and stamped it. And then she sat looking at her letter.
“Everything's pretty quiet right now.” She took a sip of her tea and went back to the phone.
“Hello?” Her sister sounded as if she'd been crying. How had all this happened?“
“Hi, Maralynne. I—” Bang! Rowena felt she should have expected that Maralynne would slam the phone down again. She waited a moment, then tried again. She got the answering machine.
“Maralynne, I'm sorry,” she told the machine. “It's all a mistake. I'm not trying to steal Chester. I couldn't anyway,” she went on, inspired at last. “I remember that first day when we met him, how he told me you were a goddess. Did I tell you he said that? He really did. And there's no way I could interfere with that if I tried. Maralynne—”
There was a click and for a moment Rowena was afraid she'd been hung up on again. But Maralynne said, “He said that?”
“He did. It was just about the first thing he said to Sammy and me.” She paused, but Maralynne was silent. “Maralynne,” Rowena said, “when I said I like him I meant I'm glad he makes you happy. And when I said—”
“He said I'm a goddess?”
“Yes, he did,” Rowena said. “You can even ask him. I bet he remembers. I bet he remembers everything that happened that day.”
She waited. And then Maralynne said, “You're not trying to steal him?”
“Do you think I'm stupid?”
“And—but the things you told Mom . . .”
“She got everything all mixed up. Just—” Rowena stopped herself just in time; she'd been about to say something that, repeated to their mother, would only start another fight. “She got all mixed up. I told her he was an expert on Web sites and she took that to mean he's a pornographer. And so on.”
Maralynne giggled a bit and Rowena relaxed. “Listen,” she said. “Why don't you call Chester up—if you don't already have a date tonight—and do something really special? Really romantic. You know? Tell him it's ‘just because.’”
“I'll do that,” Maralynne said, pleased. “And I can put on his favorite outfit and pose for the GlamCam . . .”
Rowena really did not want to hear about this, and especially not now. “So we're okay?”
“Yeah,” Maralynne said. “We're okay.”
“Great. Thanks, Maralynne.” Rowena closed her eyes a moment. She could smell her tea. “And if you could do one thing for me, Maralynne, please? Before you call Chester, if you could call Mom up and tell her we're not fighting any more? Because that way she might believe it. And nothing I've said to her today has come out the way I meant it.”
Maralynne giggled. “Right,” she said.
“Hey,” Rowena told her. “Let's just hope I'm doing better on the letter I'm writing to Grandma.” That got another giggle, and when they rang off Rowena felt much, much better.
She drank her tea. And then she picked up her letter and wrote on the bottom of it, “P.S.—Maralynne says hi.” Not strictly accurate, but it was a thought. She took her teacup to the sink and rinsed it out.
The phone rang. Rowena went to pick it up. “Hello?”
“Rowena, your sister just called. I am so glad you've made it up to her.”
“And you're not going to try to steal her boyfriend?”
“I am so glad!” her mother said. “What was that Maralynne said you were doing? Writing your grandma?”
“How nice! You are such a good daughter.”
That over with, Rowena went back to her letter. She took one more look at it, and then added to the postscript, “Mom says hi, too.” She folded it, set the pictures carefully inside it, put it in the envelope, and sealed it. After she mailed it, she could call Sammy and see if she could set up a romantic date with him.
“But no Web sites,” she told Linus, and he wagged his tail.
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