The Gargoyle Queen – Chaz

Calvin stood in the open doorway rubbing at the back of his neck where the small hairs stood up and made him itch like he had shaved it.  The apartment was wrecked and Rain stood in the middle of it, her arms stretched over her head running a duster across the ceiling while her foot dragged the running, canister vacuum along behind her, it’s cleaning attachments strewn about like they had been vomited up.  She had braided her long, nearly black hair and it lashed the air behind her like a thick tail.  A large, black trash bag, half-filled, lay under the dining room table, its top edges rolled down to hold it open.  He could see last month’s cell phone bill, considerately mailed to him despite his repeated requests for paperless billing, laying on the top of the heap.  

His eyes tracked her movements like an unseen feline tracked a dog.  Should he just back out and close the door?  Come back later?  He still had a few bucks in his wallet.  He could just wander over to the gas station and get one of those overly sweet concoctions they called a cappuccino and wait this out.  His conscious prickled uncomfortably and he looked toward the small hallway, trying to spot his cat.  It wouldn’t be fair to leave Hobbes by himself with Rain right now.  The small, gray tabby was nowhere to be seen which probably meant he was huddled inside the box spring of the bed, thinking hatefully of the vacuum.  Thoughts of the torn fabric under the bed brought to mind the promise he had made to Rain about removing it.  Hobbes had made quite a furry, nest in there.  A smile tugged at his lips as he remembered the look on Rain’s face when he had explained the hole as being the cat’s only real place where he could get naked and be himself.

The vacuum turned off, aided by a swift kick from Rain’s work-booted foot.  Calvin locked his eyes on her face and closed the door carefully behind him.  He had lost his chance.  Keeping his voice carefully neutral he greeted his beloved.

“What’s going on Rain?”

“Your mother called.”  Rainbow rolled her shoulders backward then forward, her long, usually friendly face tightening with pain.  The dust sweeper hung down from her hand, its asbestos-like covering nearly black with dirt and cobwebs and cat hair.

“Huh?”  Calvin felt in his jacket pocket for his cellphone.  It was there.  “How?”  He squinted slightly, suspicion dragging his eyebrows a little downward.  “What do you mean?”

After a final stretch with both arms in front of her Rain poked the duster at the computer in the corner of the living room.  It looked innocent on its chipboard desk.  Calvin stared at the screensaver, a green and black simulation of The Matrix.  He loved it.

“She emailed?”

Rain gave him a withering look and extended the duster to prod the mouse, sending the screensaver away.  A vaguely familiar window was open on the monitor, it’s short list of contacts running downward on the left.  Calvin stared blankly for a second as he processed what he was seeing.

“She Skyped you.”  Stabbing the duster down onto the carpet Rain leaned on it like it was a cane and gouged him with her eyes, her braid rolling ominously over her shoulder.  Calvin blinked.  Did her braid just twitch on its own?  “She fucking Skyped you!”

“I didn’t know she would do that.”  His voice was soft and apologetic while his heartbeat picked up.  “She never seemed to like the program.”  If The Queen had Skyped Rain then she had seen the apartment.  That explained why Rain was cleaning but, why was she so mad?

“She invited us to dinner.  Sean is coming home.”  Rain’s eyes flashed lightning bolts.

“Sean’s coming home?  When?”  Carelessly Calvin forgot about everything in front of him as excitement over his brother’s homecoming blossomed in his stomach.  “How long?”  A huge smile spread over his face.

Rainbow seemed to relax a little, her anger diffusing just a bit.  She smiled back at him.

“He’ll be here Wednesday and he’s staying for a week.”

“Wednesday is the start of my weekend!”  Calvin smiled even bigger.  He would have two full days to spend with his brother and hear all about the Army’s boot camp.  His mind filled with visions of what Sean might look like now that he was well fed and exercised.  His little brother had always been a bit stringy.  Muscle would probably look good on him.  Calvin tried to picture Sean with a military haircut and fatigues and couldn’t do it.

“Yes.”  Rain nodded.  “And dinner will be at six o’clock sharp.”

Dinner.  Calvin’s smile saggged a bit.  Dinner with The Queen and her golden son.  

“Ugh.”  He stepped fully into the living room and sat down on the orange recliner.  “God, we have to go to her house.”

“Now you’re getting it.”  Rain chuckled.

“Is that why you’re so mad?”  Calvin looked up at her and nodded toward the mess that was Rainbow’s cleaning project.

“Oh that?”  Rain lifted the duster and began twisting the handle between her hands like she was actually wringing out a wet cloth.  She looked a little guilty but still managed to send off a sheet of anger like a solar flare.  “That’s just because of what she said.”

“Huh?  What did she say?”  Calvin tensed.  His mother had a gift for saying exactly the right things to get under someone’s skin.  It was like she had no social-buffer or, deliberately ignored it.

“Just the thing about me having two mothers.”  The duster handle creaked faintly, the plastic straining in her hands.

“What?  Did she say it again?”  Calvin remembered the first time his mother had met Rainbow.  It hadn’t gone well.  Rain was Native American and had grown up on the Rez.  Her parents were Mr and Mrs Starshine.

“No.  I just got to thinking about it after we hung up and got mad all over again.”  She looked around her as if just then noticing the destruction.  Every piece of furniture was a bit off from the indents in the carpet and the drawers of both the computer desk and the endstand were ajar and lacking the normal view of their heaped contents.  Calvin suspected his small collection of Harry Potter trading cards had found a new home in the trash bag.  It probably didn’t matter, he never really did anything with them anyway.  

“I guess I got a little over-zealous.”  Rain laughed and propped the duster against the table before sitting down in the golden overstuffed chair that was normally covered in Hobbes’ hair.

Calvin grinned and thought she looked more beautiful than ever when she was angry.  Her life-force shimmered off her like a heat mirage when her emotions were jacked up.  Was that his t-shirt she was wearing under her button-down?  He thought it might be his favorite blue one.  A warm, happy feeling spread out in his stomach.

“She said that months ago.  I thought you were over it now?”

“Yeah, well… I don’t actually get over things.”  Rain looked at the television, it’s black screen off and not looking back.  “It’s how I am.  Five years from now I’ll be watching something on tv and somebody will say something or do something and it will remind me of what your mother said and – BAM! – I’ll be pissed off all over again and yanking the stove out to clean behind it.”  She grinned back at him, all teeth and honesty.

Calvin felt his heart leap into his throat.

“You plan on still being with me in five years?”  In spite of The Queen?  Was she saying she loved him unconditionally.  He wanted to wriggle like a puppy but forced himself to hold still like an adult, setting for letting his feet arc upwards onto the toes a couple times.

“I don’t have any other plans at the moment.”  Rain pulled her face into an overly serious expression.  “Where have you been anyway?”

“Talking with Chaz.”  Calvin snorted.

“Chaz?  Who’s Chaz?”

“You know, my good buddy, Chaz.  The guy I have been friends with since he was a little girl?  The guy who normally tells me everything?”  Calvin felt a little of his happy feeling going away as he snipped out the words.

“Chaz?”  Rain stared uncomprehendingly, reminding Calvin of himself only a few moments ago.

“Yeah, Chaz.  That’s what he wants to be called now.”

“What?  Why?”  Rain eyed the duster across the room and leaned forward in the chair, shifting her weight toward her knees.  “He hasn’t even spoken to you in a month.  Did he say where he’d been?”

“Well, when you get a new life I guess you get a new name too – and he explained his absence.”  This was going to be the biggest bomb of the day, even bigger than the news about Sean coming home.  Rainbow waited expectantly, looking ready to launch back into a cleaning frenzy.  Calvin felt his neck hairs stand up again as he made his lips form the words.

“Charles is a werewolf.”

Battle of the Goulash

The corn chips were innocent, simply a bystander in the wrong place at the wrong time. Calvin stood at the outer edge of the serving window, a long, rectangular cut-away and stared curiously into the church kitchen, his eyes flicking between his mother and Rain’s as they stared each other down in front of a pot of bubbling pasta, a bag of corn chips unopened on the counter between them.

“It’s a stand-off,” Rainbow said softly, her voice a beacon inside the racket of the church’s Summer Luncheon, the big event held at the culmination of Vacation Bible School week. The Gargoyle Queen had volunteered to make a pot of goulash for the luncheon and, out of nowhere, the Cave Troll had volunteered to help. Calvin and Rain had looked at each other in horror, the idea of their mothers working together at anything giving them both daytime nightmares. Calvin risked a glance at her, a devious grin squirming its way out of the corner of his mouth.

“Want to bet on who will win?”

Rainbow chuckled and reached for her pocket.

“I’ve got five dollars on the Cave Troll.”

“Of course you do,” Calvin snorted. “You actually like your mom.” He reached for his own pocket and thumbed a bill out of his money clip. “I guess that means I’ll have to bet on the Queen or it won’t be any fun.” Rainbow snatched the money from his hand and shoved it into her opposite pocket with her own bill, her authority in the matter very clear.

“Okay, the bet is whether or not the corn chips will make it into the pot.”  She raised a finger of importance here, punctuating her next words with it. “Declaring it the Cave Troll’s very own Texas Style Skillet or…” Rain opened her eyes wide, innocence oozing out. “That bottle of sweet barbecue sauce your mom is hiding in her purse goes in and it is called Gargoyle Goulash.” Calvin’s mouth rounded into a surprised O.

“How can you possibly know about the barbecue sauce?”

“You don’t worry about that.” Rainbow’s eyes skirted away from him. Calvin narrowed his own in suspicion. “It’s not important right now.”

“I have doubts,” Cal whispered.

“Shhhh, let’s see who will win this?” Rain fixed her eyes on the pair in the kitchen. Calvin followed suit, anticipation tightening his spine. The winner didn’t really matter, it was all about the drama. He smiled and waited.

* * * * *

“I can manage this just fine,” Margaret Thompson purred. “I’ve been making goulash for the church for more years than I can count.” She fixed Madison Starshine with a slightly haughty look. Her horseradish colored hair looked very much like a helmet in the harsh kitchen lights. “As a visitor you shouldn’t worry yourself with this stuff. Go enjoy the luncheon.” Margaret jerked her head toward the serving window with its open view of the rows of paper-covered banquet tables waiting patiently for the dinning to begin. Her subtle accent on the word visitor made it clear that she considered Madison an outsider.

“Oh pffft,” Madison, red-framed glasses perched high on the bridge of her nose, waved a hand at Margaret, her red and black, floral patterned sleeve drawing the eye like a stray bonfire flame. “No need to worry about me. I can find my way around. Take a break dear. I can get this finished up in no time. You go sit with the kids and rest.” Maddy’s tactical wave brought her close to the bag of corn chips. Margaret wasn’t having it though. Quick as a mongoose she snatched the chips from the counter top and turned to open the cupboard that held the church’s serving bowls.

“Here, let me set these out for you. I’m sure the children will love them.” Turning back to the counter with her faded green plastic bowl Margaret nearly collided with Madison who had stepped forward to save her chips.

“No, no, those are for the skillet.” Maddy grabbed protectively at the bag, managing to lock her pincer like grasp on the top. She pulled. Meg pulled back gently, demonstrating the strength of her own grip and letting her four inch height advantage speak for itself.

“What skillet?” Margaret looked suspiciously the small red-haired woman.

“The Texas Style Skillet.” Madison pointed with her chin at the pasta on the stove and the cooling fry pan of hamburger beside it. She gave a strong yank and the bag came flying at her as Margaret released it abruptly. Slightly off balance now she grabbed for the counter to steady herself, a deep flush rising in her face.

“Whoa there! Steady now.” Mr Tuuts, a church regular and notorious elderly bachelor came bustling through the back door of the kitchen just in time to scoop Madison up by the elbow. He stood smiling into her face, his droopy gray mustache quivering excitedly on his upper lip while exhaling fresh cigarette breath into her face. Madison struggled to keep herself from falling, her eyes darting to Margaret in alarm. Meg reached for the corn chips again, her lips curling into a seuss-like smile of glee. Maddy was using her forearm to brace herself against the ancient, Formica counter top, despite Mr. Tuuts grip on her arm, which left her grasp weakened. Meg plucked the bag easily from her grasp and, popping it open, upended it into the green bowl and shoved it out toward the edge of the serving window. Mr. Tuuts pulled firmly on Maddy’s elbow, forcing her to balance herself or wind up pressed against his boxy chest. “Got it?”

“Yes, yes.” Meg pressed forward and managed to nudge a surprised Maddy away from the stove. “You go sit down now. Mr. Tuuts is quite an interesting fellow to talk with. I’m sure you two will have lots of things in common.” The pasta was boiling with ferocity now. Meg turned the burner dial off and, using her backside to make more space for herself shoved Maddy further away. She opened the drawer where the hot mitts were kept. “Mr. Tuuts, why don’t you tell Madsion about getting lost in the woods when you were looking for the source of the mysterious lights?”

“Oooo, that’s a great idea!” The mustache increased its quivering rate. “I never found the ultimate source but I had an experience I’ll never forget.” Maddy glanced helplessly at the back of Meg’s head as Mr. Tuuts led her out of the kitchen door toward the nearest banquet table. The smell of cooked pasta followed her as Meg emptied the boiling pot into the colander in the sink.

* * * * *

Sitting beside Rain, his Styrofoam plate nearly licked clean, Calvin munched corn chips and smiled. Rain pushed her plate away with an empty expression. Calvin could see the bits of uneaten, sweet goulash hidden beneath pieces of ice burg lettuce from the salad bowl. Children of varying ages jostled around, squealing and laughing.

“I believe you have something of mine,” he whispered. Rainbow nodded in defeat and dug the two five dollar bills out of her pocket.

“Just to be clear,” she said, holding the bills away from him. “The Gargoyle Queen cheated. She nearly killed my mother with that letting-go-of-the-bag stunt.”

“I know,” Calving chuckled. “It would have been awful if your new dad hadn’t showed up and saved her.”

“Stop that! I have a dad and you know it.” Rainbow’s dark eyes glowered at him.

“Not for long,” he joked. “Mr. Tuuts is sweeping the Cave Troll off her feet.” He pointed with his head at the pair seated together at the end of a mostly empty banquet table. Madsion’s face was blank and shell-shocked, the look of someone who has given up and simply trying to survive. Mr. Tuuts, chest expanded importantly, pressed his hands down along his tweed vest for the hundredth time as he talked. “Pretty soon you’ll be a latch-key adult too.”

“Go to hell!” Rain hissed.

The sound of judgmental breathing right behind them brought Calvin’s laughter to a halt. He turned his head to see his mother standing over him, her face pursed in annoyance.

“Swearing in church,” she admonished. “And gambling too I see.” She reached out and plucked the two bills from Rain’s hand and shoved them into the pocket of her sweater. “I believe these are mine,” she stated. “I am, after all, the winner.” Calvin’s face drooped in surprise. Margaret smiled garishly at him.“Be careful where you place your bets children, that open serving window has a neat habit of amplifying sound.” She placed a hand on Rain’s shoulder and gave her an inquiring look. “I’m curious though, how did you know about the bottle of barbecue sauce?” Rainbow met her eyes and smirked.

“Give me my five dollars back and I’ll tell you.” Margaret pursed her lips and shook her head very slightly.

“Shifty,” she commented. “Cal, I think I’m starting to like this girl.” She laid a hand on Rainbow’s shoulder and squeezed gently.

 

(The Gargoyle Queen here)

The Gargoyle Queen

So Rainbow, do both of your mothers work?” Mrs. Thompson took a drag off her cigarette, a long, brown Saratoga that smelled like an old, well-worn sock. Calvin felt his palms instantly break into a sweat as his mom’s blue eyes raked over his and Rain’s joined hands. He could see the tip of her tail twitching beneath the kitchen table, a sure sign that she was about to perform a train wreck.  They hadn’t been there for even five minutes.

Rainbow’s eyes drew down into slits and she stiffened, the casual smile she had been wearing when Cal had introduced her dropping off like a heavy slice of pizza from a flimsy paper plate.

I’m sorry?” Rain cocked her head slightly. “I don’t have two mothers Mrs. Thompson.”

Calvin watched his mom lay her cigarette in the plastic, yellow ashtray and reach for the bag of cheese puffs. Her tail curled smoothly around the scratched, rusty metal table leg, coppery scales shimmering in the smoke-laced sunbeam coming through the window above the sink. Rain wouldn’t see it.  She couldn’t.  Calvin had accepted long ago that spotting tails and horns was his own special way of being different.  He lived with it because he had no other option.  To the right of the bag was a ramekin filled with what looked and smelled like horseradish, the color a near-perfect match to his mother’s home-dyed hair. Not taking her eyes from Rain she moved her hand unerringly to the ramekin and dipped an orange puff, twisting it slightly to get a thick coating on the submerged end.

No? I thought names like Rainbow and Starshine were used only by lesbians.” The puff disappeared into her mouth and her narrow jaw closed in a perfect imitation of a cow chewing grass, side to side, grinding the food down to a pulp. The smell of the horseradish blossomed outward, mixing horribly with the smell of fresh tobacco smoke and stale ashtray.

I’m afraid not,” Rainbow said shortly. “My mother is Ojibwa and my dad is an engineer.” Her eyes followed the cheese puff, tracking it all the way into Mrs. Thompson’s mouth. “You know, the guy who drives the train?”  Rainbow didn’t back down from much.  It was one of things that Calvin really liked about her.  Still, he eyed the old green refrigerator that was humming grumpily next to the hallway and wished he were ten years old and could still hide behind it.

That’s too bad,” Mrs. Thompson said licking at the cheesy, orange dust on her fingers. “I would have loved to ask a few questions about the living habits of lesbians.” She reached for another cheese puff. “So what is oh-jib-wha? Some kind of indian?” Rain’s left eyebrow popped upward and she froze, her hand clamping tightly onto Calvin’s.

Native American!” she snapped. “You know what? I have something else I need to do today. I wish I could say it has been a pleasure but, it hasn’t.” Rainbow wrenched her hand from Calvin’s grasp and stormed out the kitchen door letting the screen slam shut behind her. Calvin stared after her, his mouth hanging open in shock.

Oh dear,” his mother said with a soft laugh. “You better go after her Cal, I think she may have misunderstood.”  Clipping his jaw closed Calvin looked at his mother in outrage.

Jesus Christ, mom! Why do you have to say every little thing that pops into your head?”

What?” Another well-coated cheese puff made its way toward the maw. “What are you talking about?” Crunch, crunch.

AAHHHHHhhhhh!” He threw up his hands in frustration and stalked out the door after Rain.

Rainbow was already at the bus stop by the time he caught up with her. She was standing like a statue with her head down, apparently trying to burn the sidewalk with her anger. Panting from the run he stopped in front her, searching for some kind of explanation to offer. He didn’t know what to say and actually expected to hear the worst from her. She was the first girl he had ever taken home to meet his mother. Not that he had a colorful history with women but more often than not had found himself pushed quickly into the friend zone. Rainbow had been a first in many ways for him and, judging by the look on her face just then, she could very well be the last. He said the only thing that came to mind.

Rain, I’m sorry.”

Rainbow lifted her head to look at him and Calvin was struck by the particular shade of green in her eyes, the result of merging so perfectly with the chestnut-like brown. He wasn’t sure if anyone had ever felt weak in the knees before by hazel eyes but he certainly did. Her face was still flushed with anger, those beautiful eyes snapping off sparks. Long wisps of her black hair fluttered in the cool winter breeze, making him think of strands of cotton candy in the machine at the county fair. Calvin’s stomach tightened painfully in pre-grief. He missed her already.

Rainbow took a deep breath and the emotion visibly drained out of her, almost like a valve had been opened to release the enormous pressure within. Surprising him completely she reached for his hand and smiled.

Does she have a tail?”

Calvin felt his shoulders drop from their painful position around his ears and his stomach stopped eating itself as their fingers entwined. He exhaled, unaware he had been holding his breath.

The largest one you’ll never see,” he said and gave her a shaky smile. “She is the Gargoyle Queen.”

(Battle of the Goulash here)