What follows is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of my imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
“Pretzels?” Vabeh shook her head at the flight attendant and went back to staring out the window. Pretzels made her thirsty and she was tired of water. She liked fruity juices with at least two fruits mixed together, but they didn’t have any of those. The sky was turning from dark to light. Vabeh usually saw this change from the balcony she slept on with Night, one of her au pairs, snuggled next to her in the hammock Handyman had installed for her as a birthday present.
Vabeh slept best on Friday nights and not so well on others. She often stayed awake trying to keep track of her ideas. They came quickly and she had trouble slowing down before acting on them.
Letting her parrot MacArthur loose in the airport bathroom was one of those ideas that she probably shouldn’t have acted on. She already missed his squawk and the smell of his coconut oil drenched feathers after a long day of sunbathing. Vabeh was just learning what it meant to miss things and people. The longer she stayed awake, it was harder to feel it. At least it had been Before. That was what she was calling the times before the phone call from Italy that got Day, Night and Afternoon sitting her down in the living room conversation pit.
Vabeh chose the leopard print bean bag chair and the adults faced her from the electric blue section of the rainbow colored squiggly line couch that wrapped around the pit. The living room smelled like peppermint air freshener and clove cigarettes. Her au pairs weren’t supposed to smoke inside, but sometimes when her moms were traveling they broke the rules. Vabeh wasn’t used to seeing all three of them together. Afternoon was crying and blaming it on an allergy to synthetics. Day didn’t cry. She couldn’t. Some sort of rare tear duct blockage that forced her to use eye drops all the time. Night sobbed so hard she had to leave before Day said the words.
Vabeh didn’t remember the words, but she remembered the way her stomach hurt after Day said the words and the way she didn’t cry right away. That night MacArthur squawked as he watched her trying to fall asleep on the hammock with a sedated Night passed out, pinning Vabeh in an embrace that she didn’t try to escape.
The day after, food started arriving from strangers but everything else was the same. Vabeh went to day camp and made an orange and pink lanyard bracelet for Phoebe who was taking a spa day off from camp. No one said anything about the words to her. This made her wonder if maybe Day, Night and Afternoon had gotten it wrong. Just because her moms weren’t back yet didn’t mean they were gone. While they were playing tetherball, Hallie asked Vabeh if she was feeling okay because Vabeh was clearly letting Hallie win. Losing wasn’t Vabeh’s style.
Vabeh started to tell Hallie about everything including the au pairs smoking and crying; how MacArthur was sneaking pieces of food from the trays left on the dining room table and most importantly, how Vabeh wasn’t sure if her moms were really dead. But Hallie had trouble keeping secrets. And if this wasn’t true, then maybe Vabeh’s moms would be upset with her for thinking they would die without her. Vabeh hit the ball back, decided she’d keep Hallie out of it and proceeded to beat her. Phoebe would be back at camp tomorrow and they could figure it out then.
They didn’t have time to figure it out. The next day, the gallery that represented her mom Nadia hosted the funeral. Phoebe and Hallie both came along with their parents and publicists. Vabeh said some words that the family publicist wrote for her, but she didn’t memorize them. If she memorized them, they’d be a part of her and she didn’t want that. Morgan and Devon Gregson Bennett, grown-ups from New York, were also at the funeral and the after-funeral gathering at her house. Vabeh liked that they were an Oreo cookie colored couple like her moms Nadia and Lorraine. Morgan, the cookie colored one, wore glasses and asked a lot of questions while checking her watch. She asked Vabeh to show them her favorite part of the house.
Vabeh took them to the screening room. Even before her moms died, it had been her favorite room because she could watch reruns of her moms walking red carpets and talking to interviewers about who they were wearing and what art they were making. Devon, slightly tanner than the cookie filling and the one without glasses or a watch smiled at her, but left the talking to Morgan. Vabeh appreciated this division of labor. Her moms had both talked a lot. Vabeh sometimes got words scrambled because she had to rush to get them out before one of her moms interrupted.
Morgan asked Vabeh if she would like live in New York as part of their family, which included a cat. Morgan and Devon seemed nice enough to Vabeh. She didn’t have many choices for new families since her grandparents were all too old to take care of her and of her two uncles, one was dead and the other was a deadbeat, according to her mom Nadia. MacArthur might have problems with the cat, but she’d ask him later.
It wouldn’t be Vabeh’s first New York adventure. Last October, she’d visited an old fashioned ice cream parlor in Manhattan with Day where they slurped on chocolate milkshakes while her mom Nadia went shopping with her stylist for winter clothes that wouldn’t make much sense in LA but that she needed for trips to cold places. Vabeh had been a size smaller than she was now, but she still wore the white fur vest that Nadia had picked out for her on that trip around the house. Night kept the air conditioning on full blast, so it came in handy. Vabeh decided she would wear the fur on the plane. It was the only East Coast clothing she had.
Maybe Morgan and Devon would make her take the fur off and change into something from this season. Nadia did that a lot, made Vabeh change clothes. Her mom Lorraine was in charge of hair and taught Vabeh how to finger comb her blond hair tenders. The tenders were softer than the rest of her hair, which was brown. Vabeh wondered which of her new moms would be in charge of answering the question that she was about to ask.
“If I go to New York with you, then my moms won’t come back will they?”
Morgan said a quiet no as Devon reached out her hand to Vabeh’s. Her tears finally caught up with her stomachache.
Phoebe came over for one last playdate at Vabeh’s LA house. As they sat in Vabeh’s room scrolling through their friends’ social media accounts, Phoebe insisted on the Brownstone’s address so that they could zoom in on Vabeh’s new home using Juggle Earth. “It’s not even a skyscraper.” Phoebe exclaimed as they stared at the screen. Vabeh wished Phoebe would stop zooming in and out. The motion was making her dizzy.
“No, it’s not. It’s a brownstone. They have a lot of those in Brooklyn.” Vabeh was collecting as much information about Brooklyn as she could save on her tablet and as a result, felt that she knew something about her new city. In addition to brownstones, there were a lot of pale people wearing drab colors walking with fancy bikes and pushing paler kids in fancier strollers. In LA, people stuck to riding in their fancy cars when they weren’t outside sitting by their fancy pools. No one was pale.
“Will you have your own wing or do you have to share with your new au pairs?”
Vabeh wasn’t sure. Before Morgan and Devon went back to Brooklyn to get her new room ready, they asked her about favorite colors (fuchsia and cornflower) and whether she wanted a hammock or a bed (both), but they hadn’t mentioned a wing or new au pairs. When Vabeh left LA, Day and Night were going to stay in California to continue working on their suntans and audition reels. Afternoon had a new gig driving Hallie’s little sister to her ribbon gymnastics classes.
“Is there any press about their interior decorator or architect?” Phoebe was bored with Juggle Earth and wanted to see the inside of Vabeh’s new home.
“No, I’m thirsty. Let’s go make green drinks,” Vabeh lied as she closed the web browser and Phoebe went to change into her bathing suit. There was plenty of press on 2% Magazine’s blog about Morgan and Devon’s house, which was known simply as the Brownstone. According to 2%, Morgan and Devon had used Maguy Grossman for a gut renovation of their living quarters. Grossman chose to use bold primary colors offset by statement furniture from Stockholm that was designed to look intentionally understated. For Devon’s studio spaces, they had chosen Fried Sentey who specialized in creative spaces for artists who wanted more whimsy than white spaces.
Vabeh memorized every detail of Devon’s parlor floor studio with 14’ ceilings, including the custom walk-in refrigerator with glass doors and humidity control (to keep the rotting produce she painted just so), the powder blue flat files lining the distant grey wall, the miniature resting chaise made of corrugated cardboard (for their cat Altonio) and the wide plank white oak floors that had one small green paint stain in the left corner. It looked like a cozy place to make paintings that were not small but not large.
Nadia’s studio was a big glass cube next to the pool with electronic shades that went up and down using a remote control. Without Nadia or her studio assistant around, it smelled like sour spray paint as the sun streamed in through the glass. Without the air conditioning going full blast and the shades up, the concrete floor warmed Vabeh’s bare feet as she walked around it for the last time, looking closely at the empty walls where paintings used to hang. The paintings were in storage waiting to be shipped off to collectors and the occasional restaurant owned by one of Nadia’s lesbian admirers.
Vabeh wasn’t sure she’d like living in Brooklyn with its four clothing seasons and fancy bike walking pale people. But she didn’t have a choice. Her moms had chosen Morgan and Devon to be her new moms and that was that.
Phoebe tugged on Vabeh’s terry cloth cape as she came back into the bedroom. “I brought you an avocado in a brown paper bag for the plane ride tomorrow. It’s in the kitchen. Can we make red drinks with a splash of orange instead of green with a splash of yellow?”
“Good idea. We’ll need it to for our swim energy later.” Vabeh left her tablet on the hammock and they headed to the kitchen.
The plane started to land. Vabeh’s ears popped. She wanted to be brave, but MacArthur was gone and so were her first moms. Until she got off the plane, she was alone. How could she be sure that Devon and Morgan would really be waiting for her like they’d promised? Her first moms had promised they’d be home soon and that wasn’t going to happen. Vabeh kept her face pressed against the glass, hoping to get a glimpse of her new life before it began.
“I think I see her.” Morgan craned her neck as she scanned the passengers coming down the jetway.
“Oh, good.” Devon said.
“How’s Altonio doing? Sounds like she stopped hissing.”
“She’s sheltering in place. We should have brought one of those baggage carts. I know most of Vabeh’s stuff got shipped to us, but little kids always seem to have lots of stuff with them on the plane, right?” Devon asked.
“I think it’s usually their parents who load them down with distractions so they don’t bug them during the flight.”
“I guess that wasn’t an issue for her, poor thing.”
“Not for this flight at least. Oh, God.”
“What is it?”
“She’s carrying a cage.”
“You don’t think she brought MacArthur do you? I thought we all agreed he’d like it better staying in LA with Day?”
“It’s MacArthur’s cage, though I can’t see MacArthur.” Morgan confirmed.
“What were Nadia and Lorraine thinking teaching a bird to shriek, ‘genius grant?’” Devon wondered.
“Nadia said he was a gift from her creativity guru after that residency in Sao Paulo. Well, maybe we can talk to Altonio about silencing him.”
“Morgan, that’s awful! I hope you’re not serious.”
In the carrier, Altonio’s mouth watered at the prospect of a fresh kill.
“Of course not,” Morgan said unconvincingly. “Here, can you take Altonio’s carrier for a minute. I want to get my phone out so that we can get a picture for our parents. It’s killing my mother that she and my father are on that year-long round the world cruise and won’t be able to meet Vabeh for months.”
The women were in mid jostle when the gate agent walked up to them with Vabeh and an empty birdcage in tow. “Morgan Gregson Bennett? Gonna need you to sign for the unaccompanied minor.”
The gate agent thrust a clipboard at Morgan. While Morgan signed the papers and Devon looked over her shoulder, Vabeh set the empty birdcage down and sat on the carpet where Altonio, still huddling in the darkest corner of her carrier, had ended up.
“Is she dead?” Vabeh asked cheerfully, pointing a fingernail with chipping bright yellow nail polish in Altonio’s direction.
“Oh, no sweetie. She just doesn’t like airports that much.” Devon sat down next to Vabeh who was trying to coax Altonio out of hiding.
“Neither did MacArthur, so I let him out in the bathroom stall when the cruise director wasn’t looking.”
“The lady who did the social work for me when my first moms didn’t come back. MacArthur is probably with them by now, right?” Vabeh asked matter of factly.
Morgan, having signed for one unaccompanied minor, an empty birdcage, and an oversized Louis Vuitton duffel bag, squatted to join them at carpet level. There was no way she was sitting down. The adoption book hadn’t prepared them to have the death and new family talk on a germy carpet in a busy airport terminal.
“I think you’re right about MacArthur,” Morgan began.
“Can I keep his cage?”
“In case he comes back?” Devon asked.
“No, he’s probably getting a ride back to my LA house. I was thinking I could keep my capes rolled up in there. New York closets are like teeny tiny like stamps on postcards. That’s what first mom Nadia always said anyway.” Vabeh stood up suddenly and wiped her nose on the plaid and monogrammed cape she was wearing over her fur vest.
The women stood up less suddenly, neither having been to yoga since they had been feverishly child proofing and shuffling furniture around the house.
“I think Altonio wants us to go home now,” Vabeh said as Altonio made a brief appearance at the front of her carrier to hook her claws on the mesh netting.
“That’s a great idea.”
They stood in an awkward jagged triangle until Vabeh put a small hand in each woman’s larger hand. Morgan stooped down and grabbed Altonio’s carrier. Together, they made their way out of the airport.
All rights reserved. 2018.