Yoharie: Give and Take (part one)
Give and Take
Earliest on a Harbor City morning, L.A. large could be heard on the move. Smelled on the move…Savannah’s same daily observations, that the environs were trafficky, that car exhaust, multiplied, was stinky. That excitement, chance, sat around someone else’s corner, not hers.
But she was negotiating.
“I’m handing you over to Mom. Are you ready?” The way Rae had sprung it on her, a few days ago. A day before that, she’d said, “Okay, I’m manning the breach. Is that an expression?”
“I wouldn’t know. What’s it mean?”
“It means, Mom knows where you are, but she’s holding off. She’s holding off because I said I’d break it to you, and get you started.”
“Break what, for Christ’s sake? Rae, I’ve got a couple minutes.”
“Creepo Todwillow found out for Dad you were in those people’s house. And Mom told Dad he’d better fucking let her handle it. Serious!”
“I know. Sometimes she talks to him that way.”
“Well, forget it. I said to Mom, why wouldn’t she ditch the phone? Buy another one. Cut us all off…I mean, she has a job, Hanbo’s set up. She’s an adult, you can’t do anything.”
“And Mom said, Lil Rae, I completely rely on you.” Singsong. “Why gracious, young’un, what would I ever do…”
Rae said, “Shit, you giving me attitude? I am your lifeline here.”
She had told Rae about the job. But her lawyer advised she disclose no weakness prior to settled terms.
Jeff, pulling into his drive, had introduced her to Sheena. His wife.
“Oh, that’s a pretty name.” Savannah reached to pat the little dog.
“No,” Sheena said.
Oh well… For curiosity, because it struck her really an unwieldy name, a weird one for a mother to give her daughter, she had tried the elicitation. Sheena’s haircut was short, her color looked mocha and monochrome…as Dylan would say, she could do with a rinse and highlights. She had a somewhat pocky face under tan makeup. Fake lashes and thick black liner.
Not that she wasn’t nice. Enough. Her thank you for the compliment had a rise and fall to it, hard to interpret, and came after her explanation that Savannah was not to teach the dog bad habits.
The bad habit was friendliness to strangers.
Jeff, saying, “Okay, Sheen, I’m in my workroom”, had left them alone together.
“The deal is,” Sheena said, “I can use help in the house, so I’ll let you have a room. I don’t have to charge you rent, you can take that for wages. You’ll get plenty free time to go out and do your thing. Meals on the house, long as you cook.” A laugh.
“Come on, I’ll show you the kennel.”
For a second, Savannah had thought the kennel was where Sheena meant her to live.
Her days, as Sheena’s house help, were long. All the things she’d been not supposed to be bothered with, had grown over two weeks into duties. Savannah wasn’t cooking for herself, she was cooking for everyone…guests, too. The circle walked in, casual; sometimes Jeff barbecued, sometimes his brostie, called Meck, brought huge steaks, would hold them up grinning, one in each hand. She laughed for him because it was her he teased, but Meck had shown himself handsy in a lot of ways. She had to serve at Jeff and Sheena’s get-togethers, fry the Tater Tots and toss the salad (it had started with Sheena’s saying, “Savannah, bring ice”, and escalated to, “Ask the girl, that’s what she’s here for”). Meck would catch her wrist and hold her while he finished talking or eating, an arm sliding around her waist.
Jeff and Sheena’s owning ways were worrisome, though worst so far for time-encroachment. Savannah couldn’t think of looking for a job…she couldn’t think of anything, since Sheena worked from home and few minutes passed without her needing Savannah.
She put it that way.
I need you to drive so I can handle Coqui. To the groomer’s, the vet’s.
I need you to check if that load is done and get it in the dryer. Coqs like her blanket when it’s fresh warm.
I need you to call these people and find out what the hell. A tax underpayment overdue. Sheena had written on the check, I am never voting for anyone in city government again.
I need you to walk this down to the box.
The friends all got stoned at a certain point of the evening, and Savannah could slip into her room and wedge the door. At this rate she was averaging about six hours of sleep.
And when she walked Coqui, the pregnant Papillon, a breed on the verge, in Sheena’s estimation, of a huge comeback, she had to stay on the phone the whole time. If she had errands, she had to drop the dog at a neighbor’s, a Mrs. Mees, whose breeding project was angora guinea pigs, whose kitchen was full of cages, and who would like to pay Savannah “a little money” to come by for an hour and clean them.
She had to film herself stopping at Starbuck’s for coffees and rolls, mailing that check, or Sheena’s Puppy Prospectuses, picking up Jeff’s Nyquil. It was hard to say if this paranoia was justified—when pups “good to type” could go, Sheena said, for a couple thousand per…
But walking by herself at sunrise was the only hope Savannah had for a private talk with Rae and Mom. It made her think about a girl, unknown but out there, who had no family at all.
Give and Take
(2020, Stephanie Foster)