The Visit

by Adelaide B. Shaw

Nodding a thanks, Janet accepted the scotch and soda Marcie handed her, but refused the cheese puffs.  They were on the minuscule patio behind the cottage where Marcie lived.  Janet withheld the disapproving words that rushed to her mind like a torrent, like a raging river. She sand-bagged them and greedily took a gulp of her drink. 

She was a youthful 54, and mother and daughter could have been mistaken for sisters.  Both were slender and fair; the difference was more noticeable in their styles rather than in their ages.

"Try to understand," Marcie said.  At 30, in spite of her long flowing blond hair, pale complexion and full cotton skirts, she no longer resembled a young girl.  Her face and manner had changed.  She was more settled, calmer.

"Perhaps I should have told you before you left Los Angeles," Marcie said.  Her voice was composed, matter-of-fact.  Her younger defiant tone had disappeared.  "But I doubted you would have come."

Probably not, Janet thought.  It had been years since she and Marcie had really talked to each other.  Their phone conversations, a few times a year, were brief recitations about the weather, their jobs, her sister Liz and her children. 

"What do you think of the cottage?" Marcie asked.  "And the view?" 

The sudden change of subject–was it to allow Janet to catch her breath?   Marcie looked so comfortable, so certain, so nonchalant.  She hadn't said, "By the way", but she might as well have said it.

"Charming," Janet answered, loath to say more, lest her appreciation of the cottage imply an acceptance of Marcie's life.  

The cottage was delightful, an example of an English country cottage-four snug rooms, two up and two down, with a small garden in front and another in back and a view of the Hudson River.  On a quiet road running parallel to the river in the tiny village of Tivoli nearly 100 miles north of New York City, it had a storybook quality about it. Weekend sailors on the river, gracefully jibing and tacking, enhanced the sensation that Janet was not viewing real life.

"And you're painting again?" Janet asked, still looking at the river.

"Yes. It took a long time to figure out what I wanted," Marcie said.  "There was only one other before Carla, and that lasted just a few months."

Janet sucked in her breath.  Here it comes now.  The full details of Marcie's life, kept secret for years, now to be revealed in a burst of ... what?  Pride?  Self-realization?  "I don't want to know."

 "All right.  I won't tell you, but you do know that Carla and I have been roommates for over two years.  Weren't you the least bit suspicious about our arrangement?  I was a coward to tell you before."

Carla.  Aged 36, a PhD in economics.  Janet had met a number of Marcie's friends a few years back.  Carla had stood out.  She was tall and sturdy and favored classic suits to frilly dresses.    Janet’s reaction to Carla and Marcie becoming roommates had been one of relief.  Carla appeared to be sensible, a beneficial influence on Marcie who was given to frivolous ideas, impulsive spending and to acquiring friends who sported pink hair and body piercing.

At four in the afternoon, it was still warm for mid-October.  Janet was perspiring in her heavy sweater. "I forgot about Indian summers and balmy autumn afternoons," Janet said. The image of her daughter and Carla sleeping together in the double bed upstairs wouldn't go away no matter how often either of them changed the subject.

"This bedroom I use as my studio," Marcie had said.  "The couch opens up to a bed."   She had set down Janet's bags and taken her by the arm to the other bedroom.  "This is where Carla and I sleep.  Together.  In the double bed.  We’re lovers."

"What did you say?"  Janet took a deep breath. “No. Don’t say it again.  I heard you.”

"You're not going to faint, are you?  You look white."

Janet had pulled away from Marcie's outstretched hand and had headed downstairs for the patio. Marcie had always gone her own way.  A non-conformist.  Janet realized that this was something more.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” Marcie asked.

“It’s a free country,” Janet said turning away from her daughter towards the view.

“Is that is?”

“Yes.  You’re free to make your own choices.”

“And mistakes? Don’t you want to add that?”

Yes, one more mistake, one more attempt for Marcie to find herself.  Janet had to leave.

"I didn't realize how small the cottage is.  I'll go to a hotel." 

"All the places are probably full this weekend.  It's a busy time for tourists."

"Does your sister know?" Janet asked.   She took another long swallow from her drink and emptied the glass.

”Yes.  I told Liz five years ago when I shared an apartment in New York with someone else. But Diedre was ...too flighty, too unsettled."

And so were you Janet wanted to say, but held back the words and followed Marcie inside.  She   fixed herself another drink from the bottle of scotch found on the sideboard.  Single malt.  Marcie's taste in alcohol had grown up, along with the rest of her. 

"Sorry to be so long," Carla called from the kitchen.  "I've got shrimp and pasta."

There was no avoiding seeing Carla, but Janet would do it outside, in the bright sunlight, with the clean breathable air, with the river flowing endlessly, with its certain current and definite direction.  A constant, a known.

“Hello."  Carla appeared in the doorway to the patio, filling it with her presence.  She carried a drink in one hand and a tray of hors d'oeuvres.  She had slimmed down, but her clothes–white slacks and a blue shirt–were still classic.  "We've met before."  She held out her hand and gave Janet a firm shake.  Prepared, Janet's grip was equally firm and quick.

"I understand Marcie told you about us."  Carla said, apparently  not disposed to small talk. 

Janet swallowed another large gulp of her drink "I expect my daughter wishes I were more liberal," Janet said.  She tried to control her speech which was beginning to slur. "I tolerated her other fads, but I don't think I can tolerate this one, let along condone it.  Marcie used to do things just to aggravate me.  She pushed my buttons.  Isn't that what recalcitrant children do?" 

"This is not a fad, Mrs. Nelson.  "We're serious.  We love each other." 

Carla's voice had authority and firmness. There was no defensive anger at Janet's brittleness, only conviction. Janet swayed and held out a hand to the patio wall.  "Spare me the details."

The day had begun to change.  Clouds moved in; the sailors on the river had all but disappeared.  Only one boat remained in view, a sloop.  It looked to be at anchor with no one on deck. Fat drops of rain fell, leaving spots on the stone patio the size of nickels.  Carla held the door open and motioned Janet inside.  Marcie was in the kitchen speaking on the phone.  Janet replenished her drink and took another swallow.

"I can't stay.  Marcie is trying to arrange a room.

Aware of Marcie's shadowy form in the kitchen doorway, Janet unsteadily climbed the stairs to the studio.   "No vacant room yet, but I'll keep trying," Marcie called up.

Janet fell on the couch like a sack of laundry.  Her stomach was queasy, and her head swam.  She closed her eyes and dropped one foot on the floor to stop the room from spinning.


She awoke to darkness and the slap, slap of a branch banging against the cottage.  Wind-swept rain pelted the windows. Someone had covered her with a comforter.  Had to be Marcie, now showing concern  when she had shown none during the years of Jed’s drinking and the divorce. 

At age 13, Marcie had sided with Jed.  After a few months of retreating within herself, she had suddenly burst out of her cocoon, flitting through interests, jobs, friends, a pattern that had continued until now. None of Janet’s objections had mattered. Marcie had done as she pleased, and, if it didn't please Janet, she did it longer.

No longer dizzy or queasy, she was now hungry and got up slowly. The bedside clock said eight p.m. Opening the door, Janet heard nothing. Perhaps they’d gone out.  She had to leave.

When she came out of the bathroom, freshly combed and lip-sticked, she examined Marcie's paintings.  There were a few oils, heavy studies of the Hudson River, long vistas from a cliff, distant sailboats, an attempt to master the Hudson River School of painting.  Janet preferred the watercolors, light renderings of parts of houses, a corner with a gate, a bay window with flowers.  They were, perhaps, not great art, but these would sell.  Tacked on a cork board was a list of commissions; three were completed; four remained.  It was a measure of success, although, perhaps, not the kind of success Marcie had longed for living in Greenwich Village.  These sweet watercolors would not shake the art world, but they represented a more stable Marcie.

Perhaps that was Carla's influence.  The house smelled fresh-no lingering odors of marijuana, not even cigarettes.  She should be grateful for the small mercies.  She was grateful.  She could admit that much, but nothing more.

Marcie met her at the bottom of the stairs.  Some of her composure had gone.  She bit her lower lip and pulled on her hair, twisting some strands around her index finger.

"Did you find me a room?"

"Yes.  Near Rhinebeck, a motel, about 30 minutes south of here."

"It's a bit isolated," Carla added.  "And basic.  Won't you reconsider spending the night?"

Janet swung around to return upstairs.  "I'll get my bags."  She wobbled up a few steps, but righted herself.

"For God's sake, Mom.  Don't be so stubborn and proud."  Marcie stood on the bottom step, poised like a catcher, both arms extended.  "You've just had some shocking news; you're weak from lack of food, and probably have a bit of a hangover.  You're in no condition to drive.  You must feel like hell.  Have some dinner and stay the night.  In the morning, you can either change your ticket and fly back to Los Angeles or return to New York and spend the week there.  You're acting just the way you did with Daddy."

Janet descended the stairs.  “What are you talking about?”

"You always acted so superior with Daddy.  Your way or no way.  You've always been like that  with me, too.  Half the time I did what I did because I knew it annoyed you.  It was to pay you back for divorcing Daddy."

"I figured that out all by myself a long time ago, Marcie.  I think you're still doing it."

"You wanted me to be like Liz.  Good, dependable Liz.  You didn't want me to do anything that Daddy would have done or that he said I could do when I visited him."

"Your father was drunk or stoned so much of the time he didn't know what was best for you girls or himself.  He saw no problem with drinking or smoking pot in moderation he said. Except he didn’t practice what he preached.”

Janet sat down.  If she didn't eat soon, she would faint.

"Daddy liked all my friends. You barely tolerated them."

Janet looked from Marcie to Carla.  "Are you going to drag it all out?"

"Carla knows everything–Daddy's drinking, all the shouting, how you would change the locks so he couldn't come back.  No mercy or compassion.  Ever."

"He was a goddamn drunk."  Janet put her head in her hands.  "May I have a sandwich, please?  If I don't get some food I'm going to pass out."  She rested her head against the back of the chair and closed her eyes.  She heard Marcie and Carla hurry to the kitchen and dishes clattering.

Marcie returned from the kitchen alone.  "It's only peanut butter and jelly and a glass of milk.  I remember you would fix this for yourself whenever you made it for me."

Janet hastily ate the sandwich and drank the milk.  She heard Carla's footsteps overhead. Marcie went to the kitchen and returned with coffee and an apple. “To finish off the meal. Like you did when I was little.”

"Not quite the same now, is it?  Your memory is rather selective, Marcie.  Your father's drinking lost him too many jobs.  He wanted things but didn't expect to work too hard for them.  He looked for the easy way, and when it proved not to be easy, he drank away his disappointments."

Marcie continued to defend Jed, blaming his drinking on Janet's frequent refusal to go along with his ideas. "He wanted to fix up antique cars and resell them.  He wanted to buy property which was later developed.  You'd be rich now if you'd agreed."

"You can't buy property if there's no money to buy shoes to get there.  Your father didn't grow up.  I didn't think you would, either."

But Marcie had grown up.  As a teenager, she had displayed a wide range of histrionics.  Tonight she remained calm, although her defense of Jed had the remnants of an adolescent argument.

Marcie had been with Carla for more than two years.  Sticking two years with anything was unprecedented for her.  Her wild days appeared to be over.  Marcie had become a daughter Janet could like.

"Why are you smiling?" Marcie asked.

"I wasn't aware that I was.  I was just thinking that you've grown up.  The irony is that the reason for your maturity is the reason for my agony."


Janet nodded.

"Can't you be happy that I'm happy, that I've changed for the better?  I don't drink the way I did; I don't smoke anything; I don't sleep around like I did with guys when I was younger trying to find something I couldn't find.  I found it with Carla.  And not just sex. First came friendship, then love, then sex.  Isn't that the best way?  The way you would approve?  The only difference is that the object of my affection is Carla, not a man."

"This union is not something I can approve.  And I'm not being stubborn and proud.  Or superior.  I don’t understand it. I'm glad your life is more settled and that the painting is going well.  That's all I can be now." A painful realization swept over Janet, drenching her like the rain outside.  Further anger was futile, as was further argument.   Marcie had chosen her life.  She would not defend it with screams and shouts as she had defended so many other choices.  Conviction and determination, were not just in Marcie's words, but were evident in the doing.

Janet checked her watch and stood up.  "Maybe later, when I get used to this news, I'll accept it with some equanimity."  She turned to go upstairs. "What's the name of that motel and the address?   I just can't stay here tonight.  I can't go upstairs and say good-night as if all were normal and pleasant."

The rain had settled into a fine drizzle, saturating the air that smelled of rotting leaves and damp earth.  They stood in front of Janet’s rental car under Marcie's umbrella, close enough to touch, but each remained unmoving.

"I'm sorry if you're disappointed about my reaction," Janet said.  "We're both disappointed about a lot of things." 

"When will you return to Los Angeles?"  Marcie remained with both hands clutching the umbrella.

"I don't know.  I won't leave without calling you first.  I'll call in the morning."

"I'm still not an early riser.  That much hasn't changed."

"Is ten o'clock late enough?"

Marcie nodded.

"Perhaps we can have breakfast together," Janet said.  We'll talk some more."

"With Carla," Marcie said.  "We'll have breakfast with Carla."

Janet reached across to Marcie, placed a hand on her arm and gave it a squeeze.  She then got into the car and pulled away in the direction of the motel.

BIO: Adelaide B. Shaw lives in a small rural community in New York State.  Her stories have been published in several literary journals, including The Toronto Star and The Writer's Journal, both contest winners, American Literary Review, Green's Magazine, Sunscripts, The Villager, Reader's Break, Dogwood Tales, Housewife Writers' Forum, New England Writers' Network, Emrys Journal, The MacGuffin, Griffin,  The Country and Abroad and in Loch Raven Review  In addition to writing fiction, Adelaide writes haiku and other Japanese poetic forms, such as tanka and haibun.  Her collection of haiku, An Unknown Road is available at www.modernenglishtankapress.com