Two! No More Than Two! (continued)

The Lover lets himself in to my apartment, drops his suitcase and comes to a halt. The air is thick with almost a pack of Virginia Slims and he knows I never smoke unless upset. And it takes a lot to upset me.

“Belle, you went to see her didn’t you? After the last time, I thought you would have come to your senses.”

“I can’t help it. She’s my Mom.”

“Your Mom? She’s probably the most selfish, self-centered human being on the planet.”

“You wouldn’t say that if you saw the condition she was in. How she lives.”

“Belle, she chooses to live the way she does. How many times have you offered to bring her here?”

“Dunno,” I shrug. Many times.

The Lover and I have what some may call a strange arrangement. He lives in another country. Has a life there complete with wife and kids whom he adores. He flies in from time to time for business and has a key to my apartment. We met on assignment. I was lonely. He was drunk. Enough said.

For the most part, we remain detached from each other (other than physically, of course). Emotions are messy. We don’t like mess.

So we call it “having sex” rather than “making love”. I am very particular about signifiers. Better to be specific. Better not to create any expectations.

“Whose expectations?” he once asked.

“Mine. Yours,” I replied.

We kept it like this until one day, he happened to stumble on me when I had just visited Aunt Sis (do you mind if I keep calling her that? I’m sorta used to it by now). I was unable to switch off my misery and so he sat next to me, took my hand, and heard me out. The whole sordid business. Funny how we had been sleeping together for nearly two years without knowing anything about the other.

He learned how Dad left Aunt Sis 10 years ago and how she took to her bed. How the huge settlement she received from the divorce dwindled slowly as she made herself into a career invalid, moving from the swanky side of town, to that little hole in the boondocks she now occupied. How she worked her way through a series of maids until all she could afford was a gully dwarf. And that’s only because a gully dwarf came free (you know, Merowene is quite good, I’ve got her bathing at least once a month, she’s practically a lady).

Aunt Sis never forgave Dad for leaving her. Or for the “Filipina trash” he took up with. A teenage mail order bride. Thing is, he mail ordered her, before he was free to do so.

And she never forgave me, for being half Dad’s. Half pariah blood. She said I looked like him. He said I looked like her. And his young Filipina bride decided she didn’t like having me around. Very subtly she edged me out of his house and then his life. Young wives can do that.

Anyway, I know it’s pathetic to keep trying with two people who no longer want you (I always thought in a divorce they fought over the only child) but I found I couldn’t help it. After a few years without contact, I began to try and mend bridges. It was hopeless with Dad. With a young family and a wife who didn’t want me around.

And as for Mom, I mean Aunt Sis, well, things didn’t go so well, once I lost my temper and told her there was nothing really wrong with her. Some words remain there between you for always. She told me not to come back that time. But still, I manage to sneak past the guards at least once a year to see her. And she always ends up kicking me out.

“I don’t know what to say, Belle. Why do you keep doing this to yourself? They’re not worth it, believe me!”

It’s easy for him to dismiss my family this way. Would he be so quick to dismiss his own? Resentment rises and I choke it down. After all, the last time I lost my temper, I lost my Mom.

The Lover, who doesn’t love me, is all I have left.

“I’m going to bed,” I tell him, killing my cigarette.

He is sitting, hunched over on the sofa, wondering if this time he has gone too far.

Halfway across the room, I turn: