Saturday, November 5, 2011

Petals on the Wind, Part Two: Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree

So . . . where were we?

I seem to have covered most of Part One, which is basically establishing the kids with Dr. Paul.  Other than that, nothing of dire importance happened in that section.  I mean, there was a shopping montage, and it was pretty great, and Chris tried to bone his sister, which happens roughly seven hundred times in this book, and Cathy flits around in skimpy underwear a lot, which also happens about seven hundred times.

Part One, thank goodness, is fairly short.  Part Two is where we finally get our pot a-boiling.  Once more into the breech, dear friends!

It was Christmas, begins Chatty Cathy in the first chapter of Part Two (aptly titled "Visions of Sugarplums")--the kids' first real Christmas in almost five years, and for a moment, all is calm and all is bright indeed.  The kids have spent the last of their stolen money to buy presents for their new family: a red velvet robe for Dr. Paul, and a ruby-red church dress for his housekeeper Henny--size fifty-eight!  With an exclamation point!  Thanks for including that detail, Cathy; I'm a better person for knowing her precise dimensions.  Because Henny is fat, y'all.  The story will never miss an opportunity to tell us just how very, very fat she is.  She's a fat, sexless Mammy-figure, therefore Cathy doesn't have to worry about competing with her for male affection.   

(Also, is anyone here old enough to remember when size fifty-eight was a real thing?)

Dr. Paul wows Cathy with his gift for them all: tickets to see The Nutcracker performed by the Rosencoff School of Ballet, one of the most acclaimed schools of ballet in all of, um, South Carolina.  Look, I'm not knocking South Carolina.  It's just that it is not the first place my mind goes when I think "professional ballet."  Paul is interested in seeing Cathy enrolled in the school, if they accept her, and wants to know if she is a beginner, intermediate, or advanced.  Chris responds that Cathy is, in fact, possessed by the spirit of Anna Pavlova, who taught Cathy to go en pointe by herself.  There is nothing to indicate that Chris is exaggerating or teasing in this claim.

At the ballet, Cathy is enthralled by the handsome male lead, Julian Marquet.  Dr. Paul takes her backstage to meet the head of the troupe, Madame, who is impressed by Cathy's looks but snubs her lack of professional training until Chris--again!--blurts out that his sister is the bestest dancer in the whole widest world and that Madame is just a big dumb dummy if she lets Cathy slip away.  This argument is apparently convincing enough that Madame invites Cathy to audition for the troupe.  Not the school, mind you--she's letting this girl have a chance to go on stage.  And this is why your troupe will never leave South Carolina, lady.

Back home, Cathy is in tears, afraid she will ruin her one big chance to chase her dream professionally.  Unable to sleep, she goes downstairs to find Chris lying with his head under the Christmas tree, staring through the branches at the lights the way they did when they were little--those happier days when Daddy was alive and Mommy wasn't trying to murder them and Chris didn't want to bone his sister.  So far as we know.

Cathy joins him on the floor, where he immediately starts talking about how beautiful her breasts are in her lacy nightie.  We get some more of the deathless Andrews dialogue, as simultaneously gooey and cheesy as a pot of fondue:

"Cathy--look at me! [Chris said]  "Don't turn your head and pretend you don't know what I'm doing, what I'm saying!  Look and see the torment you've put me in!  How can I find anyone else, when you've been bred into my bones--and are part of my flesh!  Your blood runs fast when mine does!  Your eyes burn when mine do--don't deny it!"

...Somewhere above I hovered, watching him tenderly kiss my breasts, and somewhere deep inside me I shivered.  Why was I letting him do this?..."No--it would be sinful!"

"Then let us sin!"

Seriously, it's turning into a telenovela in here.

The two of them get pretty hot and heavy beneath the Christmas tree--one can only hope that Santa Claus isn't watching them, or there will be no presents for anyone this year--when Chris suggests they go up to his room so that Cathy can unwrap his package, if you know what I mean and I think that you do.  Cathy responses with this piece of brilliant logic: "No!  I'm your sister--and your room is too near Paul's.  He'll hear us."  So they decide to go to Cathy's room instead.  You know!  The room Cathy shares with Carrie!  What the hell, they might as well, the way this family goes, she's probably going to be joining in as soon as she hits puberty.

Cathy finally recovers some sort of sense and tries to escape Chris, who is more than prepared to ignore her refusal.  Both of them fall off the bed and onto the floor, where Chris is only stopped when he suddenly notices that Cathy has been hoarding food under her bed--a pretty common psychological response in neglected children.  It's enough to drive some sort of reality into both of them and end the scene before Chris can sniff Cathy's breasts some more, and besides, the audition is the next morning.

At the audition, Cathy is puke-up nervous, wishing she'd spent more time practicing the night before and less time making out half-naked with her brother in the same room as her sleeping eight-year-old sister and you know what?  I WISH THAT TOO.  But Cathy's performance wows the judges!

To top it off, the handsome star dancer, Julian, appears on stage with her in the final few minutes, just like Cathy's dark-haired dream-lover in the attic.  Just as she is about to complete her routine by rushing into his arms . . .

. . . this happens:

 Except from her vagina.


As a side note, this is very frequently the only thing that some people remember about this book.  With Flowers in the Attic, there's are details people recall with stunning clarity: the swan bed, the grandmother, the whipping, the omg-that-bitch-went-to-Europe-while-her-children-starved scene, the iconic poisoned doughnuts that are the very reason I will not eat powdered-sugar doughnuts to this day.  This book?  It's "that time Cathy had a miscarriage/breakthrough period on stage."  You gotta hand it to Andrews.  Rarely has vaginal bleeding been used to such effect.

I complained a lot during the Flowers recap about the seeming obsession with bathrooms and biological functions, but there is something refreshingly scatological about some of this stuff.  It's like all those fart jokes in The Canterbury Tales, or the pee-joke in Twelfth Night.  As thoroughly associated with female audiences as these books are, Andrews showed an unladylike glee about delving into potty humor, be it Bart waxing poetic on the pleasures of squishing his fingers through fresh dog-shit in If There Be Thorns or Heaven dropping a shopping bag of her own diarrhea down a laundry chute in Dark Angel.*  But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

Cathy wakes up in a hospital bed with Chris at her side and, lemme tell you, Internets, creepy!rapist!brother is the last person I want to see looming over me after an extended bout of unconsciousness.  He explains she had to have a D&C because of squeamish icky medical details related to all her missed periods.  I'm not sure if this is medically feasible and frankly, I'm not going to Google it because I have steak defrosting in the kitchen and I would like to be able to eat it later.  Chris, your intense interest in the condition of your sister's vagina is unseemly.  Please stop. 

On the bright side, she passed the audition!  I guess Madame thought she'd be perfect for their upcoming production of "The Red Shoes."  HAHAHAHAHA I AM SO DELIGHTFULLY GRUESOME.

Meanwhile the kids get to go back to school.  Carrie is being sent to a private girl's school out of town.  Chris, too, is going away to prep-school, from which he will only return on weekends.  And Cathy?  Cathy's staying right here in town.  Alone.  With Dr. Paul.  He of the bedroom eyes and sexy mustache.  Ahem.  This ain't cool.  This may not even be legal.

I do love how Carrie is always conveniently shoved off to one side in this novel so as not to interrupt her big sister's sexy funtimes.  She's always a margin note.  Occasionally someone affords her a pitying glance and mentions how beautiful she would be if it wasn't for the whole big-honking-lollipop head thing, and then she vanishes for literally pages at a time.  In due time she will get a chapter of her very own.

Carrie asks Cathy where their mother is.  Cathy reminds her that they live with Dr. Paul now and that they must tell everyone their mother is dead, because if anyone ever found out that their mother was still alive, they would be taken away from Dr. Paul to live in the attic again.  Aw, way to psychologically abuse your already deeply traumatized younger sister.

In what parallel dimension would these kids ever be sent back to their mother again?   YOU HAVE MEDICAL PROOF THAT YOU WERE POISONED.  YOUR SISTER IS PERMANENTLY STUNTED FROM VITAMIN-D DEFICIENCY.  WHY ISN'T SOMEONE SUING SOMEONE HERE?  Yeah, I know, they told Dr. Paul originally that they didn't want to come forward with their story for fear they would be separated, but they have a legal guardian now--a legal guardian who should be acting in their best interest, since as far as I know, they're all minors.

Except we the readers know why this is.  Cathy doesn't want it to happen because she wants revenge on her mother in her own way, in her own time.  Once more, everyone suffers because Cathy's feelings are paramount over her siblings' needs.

To continue: Carrie is unceremoniously dumped at her boarding school in the course of a single spare paragraph, whereas we are treated to nearly two pages of Cathy and Chris's tearful goodbyes on the verge of him boarding the train for prep-school.  Chris manages not to rape Cathy goodbye this time, but he does ask her to try not to be a whore while he's away.  Normally, this would be kind of a sleazy thing to say to anyone . . . except that in this case, it's kind of prophetic.

Next chapter opens--and hand to God, I am not making this up--with Cathy describing the see-through turquoise lingerie that Paul bought her for Christmas:  "a soft, turquoise peignoir of airy fabric that floated over a gown of the same color."  Of course, it's still the 60s, so it probably looked more like this:

Dressed in this, erm, fetching garb, Cathy wafts downstairs to where Paul sits alone, drinking.  On her way down, she notes his art books, his many objets d'arte.  "Everywhere I looked," she says, "was something to remind me that what he needed most was beauty."  Man, did girlfriend just put herself on the same level as the knickknacks?  For one thing, talk about objectification.  For another . . . have you seen what passed for home decor in the 60s?

Paul, inexplicably, starts drilling Cathy . . . excuse me, grilling Cathy, on exactly what sort of relationship she had with her brother when they were back in the attic.  Cathy panics, then turns it back around on him, accusing him of "undressing [her] with his eyes, taking [her] to bed with his eyes"--his eyes do a lot of heavy lifting--and expecting her to go to bed with him to repay him for saving their lives.  Did I mention that she's having this argument while draped across the man's lap?  Because she so is.  Sigh.

Cathy spends precisely one paragraph describing her new high school before jumping straight to the more interesting subject in her life: that dark-haired hottie, Julian Marquet, who keeps turning up at the Rosencoff school to watch Cathy strut around in skintight leotards, even though he is supposed to be dancing in New York City.  Julian is a pale Byronic moody sensual type who sweats pure sex, and he is obsessed with Cathy--or, more to the point, Cathy's virginity, as he is absolutely positive she is an untouched tantalizing virgin even though the first time he met her was five minute pre-miscarriage.  Sexy ain't smart, y'all.

Julian spends months begging Cathy for a date, even though she refuses him, stating that he scares her.  "Why?" he asks in return.  "I won't rape you."  See, the fact that your mind turned instantly to rape--that is why you scare her, dude.  But finally--mostly to shut him up, and mostly because she thinks she might need to start seeing people who aren't close relatives or legal guardians--Cathy agrees to give him a chance.

Up next: the Boarding School from Hell!  The Sad Sad Tale of Poor Damn Julia!  The Most Hilarious Pillow Talk in the History of Sex!  And much, much more.

*Some of you who haven't read that far along are probably like "What? That happened?"  I assure you, it did.


  1. He explains she had to have a D&C because of squeamish icky medical details related to all her missed periods.

    Apparently a miscarriage can involve loss of lots of pieces of placenta, which resemble large blood clots and/or pieces of liver. And yes, the presence of those placenta clots pretty much means that there needs to be a D&C, because if the entire placenta isn't removed from the uterus, the woman is going to bleed HEAVILY. Possibly for 24 hours or more.

    So yes, Cathy needed a D&C. And it probably saved her from bleeding to death.

    Interesting that Chris the Aspiring Doctor didn't know any of this. (Then again, it IS the Sixties.)

    Isn't it amazing that turquoise was once considered a sexy color?

    Oh, and any reputable ballet school should know that the dancer is not the one to determine when to go en pointe; left to her own devices, the dancer will probably start going en pointe too early, which can severely damage her feet. Clearly this is the BEST SCHOOL EVAH.

    Your sporking, though, is a real pleasure. You make this entire story better. (Is it all right if I still want to smack the characters?)

  2. So glad you're back! You are saving my sanity because I, for some odd reason, got this urge to re-read all the VCA books. Reading your snarky recaps is so much better.

  3. I am on this book now and noticed something that Cathy said to Paul on the night of the turquoise peignoir. She said her 'maternal grandmother' married a man of 55 when she was only 16. Surely she meant paternal?