I don’t know what year it was I started working for her. Linda Bornholm neè Swanson. Like a lot of ongoing clients, hers was a call for some renno. It was a bathroom. I was, I don’t know, 25. Still working for my Uncle. Not a bad gig if you have a high tolerance for delayed onset hypocrisy, being talked to in a way that you’d be justified in treating with a well-aimed throat-punch and the occasional bad smell. I didn’t do much talking those days.
And those were the days.
First time I met her she was a careerist. Stuffed into her her little boss lady pants and blazer, all 90lbs of her, soaking wet, with her tomboy hair all combed nice and straight. She had a glint in her eye that was supposed to communicate pride of place, but I knew better. She was faking it. Yes, you can fake pride. I faked pride at my graduation. Going to college had been more about my parents than me. I didn’t give a shit about degrees. Look where it got me? Not Faketown. She’d learn.
First time we met we had both just got married. I didn’t have to do much small talk. She wasn’t interested. Suited me fine. I’d learned the reason I was there was to help clear her plumbing. Her wife had clogged the drain a few times to many, and the straw had broke the camel’s back. Of course – we weren’t admitting anything. The Missus Bornholm was sensitive. At least it wasn’t carpet. I hated explaining to people that ripping carpet for lesbians is almost never what you’d expect. There’s no way to come out clean other side of that conversation, just like talking about caulking.
What she did talk about, of all things, was how proud she was of her new fridge. As she hammered out painfully specific details about operating cost savings, I looked at the photos. Her friends, or the Missus Bornholm’s friends. Somebody’s friends. Couples, to a t. All smiling their little pinstagram smiles.
Two years when I came back to do another job, things had changed. The photos on the fridge had changed. Now the friends had real smiles and babies in their arms. I couldn’t help but notice there wasn’t a single photo of the married women in their house. I chalked it up to: they know where they live. This time I was there to help renovate the kitchen. The Missus Bornholm was changing careers, and going to work at home. She’d be spending a lot of time in the kitchen, I was told, and she needed it just right. There was a snide edge in Linda’s voice. And it dawned on me she looked a little tough around the edges. Her pantsuit of unmitigated feminine authority seemed loose, and her cheeks hollow. When I started clearing the pantry I could see on the top shelf a menagerie of booze bottles. Quite a selection.
My inner former college kid was jealous. But not that jealous. It was clear to see what was happening. Linda was working a very public, very frenetic legal job as an advocate for some kind of predatory sexual liberation… thing. I’d overhead calls. They were always loud, condescending and intimidatingly fast-paced. I seemed to recall that all of Linda’s ideas were browbeaten. Who would have thought the alternative lifestyle crowd had such a sophisticated hierarchy and pecking order? What with all the tolerance. Linda was not an extrovert, it’s why she took the name Bornholm. She was obviously the Betty. I hadn’t met the Missus Bornholm yet, but all hints indicated she was a Bull. Struck me funny. I’d worked for enough lesbians to suss out a pattern, and I suspected this one headed south. I think the liquor cabinet did too.
Nevertheless. There’s not much you can do about certain things. I could have warned her about the Trainwreck but I knew she was ignoring the headlight at the end of the tunnel. So I did my job and got my pay. She told me she was sure they’d see me again. I didn’t say the quiet part out loud which was “I’ll be waiting with bated breath.”
I was 28 when they called again. I was in as about a good a place as I remembered Linda being- but with less booze. Not none, mind you, just less. But not by much. Maybe I was just as bad. Under normal circumstances four years of marriage is an achievement to celebrate. Especially where, what, half the marriages ending in divorce do so in the first two years? There were no divorces. For anyone. But the quiet part that didn’t get said out loud was that nothing was what anybody thought it would be.
The first job I’d done them, every single picture was held up by a rainbow magnet. Most of them rainbow bridges. I remember this because after three years of frustrating lack of pregnancy, my wife has her first miscarriage. She’d blamed it on me.
One day driving us to work some uppity Boomer in his stupid corvette cut me off in the rotary and jerked on the brakes immediately to keep from ramming the guy in front of him. My reflexes were slow because I’d been a week without sleep, and so I ended up giving his bumper a kiss with our shitty Mazda. She had her period later that day. Well, that’s what I told myself.
After the several weeks of bitter silence she told me that the baby would come back. Some mother’s knew, just knew, when a foetus they’d lost before comes back. Rainbow Babies they’re called, because they cross the rainbow bridge. It was her awkward way of making peace. She knew I’d think of Asatru, even though I knew she was thinking about that asshole Noah. Whatever. A fine peace offering, but it didn’t change the fact I’d thought about driving headlong into traffick every other morning since.
Traffick looked like it’d driven into Linda headlong, twice. She wasn’t thin as a rail now. That pleasure belonged to me. She wasn’t fat. Not fit, not nothing. But she was wearing dingy sweatpants and their matching sweater, emblazoned across the chest with what I assumed was her Alma Mater logo. Huffenpuff U, I believe. She was standing there in front of the fridge, obscuring my view of the family photos neither one of us was enjoying. I could hear the unpleasantly husky voice of the Missus Bornholm from the other room, browbeating her submissive wife. I was beginning to understand how 75% of lesbian weddings reportedly end in domestic abuse. I wonder what her advocates would have made of seeing her like this, not being harangued by me, the fascist dayworker, but almost exclusively by larger, stronger lesbians?
Anyway. I could see through the living ghost of Linda to know that the rainbow paraphernalia was all gone. Chip clips and kitschy things all held the photos now. I didn’t look at the couples and their children. I didn’t want to see. Instead I listened to the ghost of Linda be loudly, publicly corrected by the ghost of the Missus Bornholm who didn’t dignify us with her presence. I would learn later that the reason for this was that the Missus Bornholm suffered from chronic knee pain which made standing for long periods intolerable. She collected benefits for this, and as such, rarely left home. Among other things I was to remodel their kitchen again. This time to make it more accessible to someone intending to use it sitting down. Linda hadn’t made eye contact, not once.
I wondered occasionally if she made eye contact with anyone over the next few years. My son was 2-1/2 the next call I got. My son had crossed the Rainbow Bridge. And nothing was going to have crossed theirs, this I knew. Before even crossing the threshold there was the smell. Cat. I could have seen that coming. There’s always cats. What an overrated animal. And there was Linda. It dawned on me she had either quit or lost her job. She was wearing the same damned sweats. Except now they rode up a little. Old girl had spent some time in the kitchen. She had the haggard look of a caregiver. I remember the look from a stint I worked at a nursing home. Can’t miss it.
There had been a time the house smelt of incense and peppermints- and other fine songs. I recall that always there was a pack of matches accessible next to every toilet and by every window set, that way if anyone had the gall to pass gas, they could discharge the methane and go on pretending everything was unicorn dust. Well, there were no cutesy pretences about any such thing. If anyone ever trafficked in cheese, you’d never know it because the stench of too many cats was making my eyes water.
Linda was either oblivious or by now so numb that she passed everything off as meaningless. She led me back toward the kitchen, where I spied the family photos. There were six year olds holding their own. Their own photos, their own. I had a moment of fear. Someday my son would be six, and he’d be right squirming to break out of every hug. Already did- and I was proud as hell.
Course. Linda wouldn’t know anything about that. I could see the damage it did. I wondered then, if she was even really gay. Something that rarely gets discussed is that confused people get sucked into those crowds. Peer pressure keeps them. Then you have your Lindas. They get married. I would imagine it would be next to impossible to find a way to come out on top, realising you’d fucked up that badly. When she asked me how I’d been, I briefly considered lying, but I didn’t.
She cried when I told her William was halfway to three. I felt bad, but not bad enough to pull the punch. She’d made her bed. Lying to her would do no good. What I was there to do, I learned after Linda regained her quick composure, was to floor the attic and add an accessible pulley hatch. The cats, she explained as if I would be shocked, had taken to pissing in places that weren’t their box. As if I couldn’t smell the toxxo leaking through the drywall. Drywall I hung.
Sometimes time flies. William turned 10 at around the same time Linda called for work. Again I saw my future on her fridge. When asked, I didn’t offer that William now had a 4 year old brother, Harold, a three year old brother Henry and a 1 year old sister Guinevere. I didn’t need to. My time of feeling self conscious about the infertility and miscarriages of the past was just that, past. Linda was scrawny as a bone again. And her hair was turning grey. It was also long, which was a shock. They would be adding a storage room on the side of the building, the attic being full. She also hinted that they were thinking of investing in rental property. Neither of them worked. And the disability cheques weren’t enough to put food on the table. Well. Not the kind of food I suspected that the Missus Bornholm liked. I’d seen the takeaway trays. Indian. Sushi. Things I can’t pronounce. Linda? I knew her type. She was a ramen girl. But her life wasn’t about her. Never had been. That’s easy to understand. I lost myself in my family, but that’s its own reward. When you have children you find those pieces of you that you gave away. You become whole in a different way.
She knew I knew she knew what she was missing. We both knew it was killing her. And maybe the both of them. She hovered, this time. Every other job she left me be. I knew the type. Some women, they smell the kid on you and start to thinking about the lives they could be having. Not a very advocable position, but I maintain its truth. They don’t mean anything by it, and they’re never consciously looking for anything. Still. Enough to make me uncomfortable. That, compounded by the raspy voice of the Missus Bornholm from the other room. Nagging. By the end of the job I fantasised about smothering her with a pillow.
Linda did call me later. Huge remodel. Enough job to last for months. I was in heaven. Evidently, she’d bought an apartment from another lesbian couple getting out of the business. Cats. Cats happened. The building had narrowly avoided being condemned and I quietly added a building to the tally of properties I’d seen git rekt by cats. Of course, half the job was carpet ripping. And for once, I didn’t mind explaining that by all accounts this would be the first carpet the lesbian owned to get ripped in a decade. Of course I didn’t say the quiet part out loud. My son was working for me now, and I was going to let him keep his innocence.
That was part of the deal. I’d do the work, get the building code-ready. She’d knock a substantial portion off William’s rent. There would have been a time I’d have never let any child of mine traffick with the gays, in any way, for any reason, but seeing as how utterly broken these ones were, I knew they could corrupt nothing. And, frankly, their less than shining example may have saved more than a handful from tasting the rainbow. Angry women on welfare with cats isn’t exactly the primetime television dream.
When Linda came I was shocked. She was fat. Remarkably so. I would learn also, the Missus Bornholm had passed. Linda had dealt with this by eating her feelings. She was, at least, sober now. And, despite her brokenness I could see, morbidly enough, a flicker of what might be hope. Or perhaps it was a lessening of despair. I sighed. Losing a wife would no doubt he a horrible thing. But for Linda there could come nothing across the Rainbow Bridge. If my wife died, she would live on for me in our children. Linda had nothing but refrigerator magnets and some god-awful, stinking cats. Then, I knew Linda knew the trade-off. She had a chance at a life she didn’t have before. Maybe. Depending. Not for children, no. Christ, I was pushing forty-five. And if she wasn’t more than five older than me, her liver was. Still. What was gone was a cloud of repression. She could start over. And she seemed like she wanted to. For the time she had left, until it came her time to cross the rainbow bridge to nowhere, fast.