In which Lyssa learns something she would rather not know.




When Lyssa got home, Hannah was on her knees on the floor, decorating a small Christmas tree, Hades sitting next to her, watching intently. Hannah had set the tree up in the corner next to the fireplace, partially obstructing the view of yet more trees out the front window. There was a fire in the fireplace and the smell of pine needles in the air. It was unavoidably, festively, blatantly Christmas. As soon as Lyssa entered the room, Hannah set about defending her tree and herself. "Now, Mom, don't get mad. I just thought you could forget your principles for once and have a tree with me. To celebrate the family truce. I always missed having a tree as a kid. It's pretty wimpy anyway. Tell yourself it probably wouldn't have made it through the winter, even if it hadn't been cut down for Christmas."

Lyssa smiled. She felt a twinge of guilt at Hannah's little speech. It was quite true--Lyssa had sacrificed family ritual to politics. You couldn't be a Friend of the Trees and then cut them down and set them up in your living room.

"It looks nice, Hannah," she said. "It's nice to have you here." Hannah looked different, older somehow, and the change had come about in the last couple of months. She had lost weight, discarding a lot of the baby fat, and her features were sharper, more well-defined. Her hair, cut and permed in a frizzy, impudent style, emphasized the new thinness of her face, and she had gradually conformed to a colorful, alternative Eugene uniform, a sort of deliberately sloppy chic. The long, oversized flowered shirt and purplish-black man's vest had Goodwill written all over them, and even the tight black jeans looked ratty, although Hannah couldn't possibly have had them long--they wouldn't have fit her two months ago. When Hannah first started losing weight she had seemed drawn and drained, but since she had moved she had completed the transformation from cute to attractive.

"Everything going well in Eugene?" Lyssa asked as she took off her coat and draped it over a chair in the dining room.

"Fine, Mom. Kate is good for me, so energetic and determined. Maybe it will rub off on me."

Lyssa sat down on the floor next to Hannah. "And your other roommate?"

"Randy? He's sweet. A little complicated at times, but I get along fine with him. I just hope he and Kate don't get into each other's hair--she doesn't approve of his morals."

"What are his morals?"

Hannah laughed. "If it feels good, do it," she said. "You see, Mom, he's a philosopher. He's got the same books in his shelves as you do."

"How am I supposed to take that?" Lyssa asked, eyebrows raised.

"Any way you want. After all, I did say he was sweet."

"But I don't know if I care for the implication of my lack of morals."

"Oh, Mom, you're about the most moral person I know," Hannah said, scratching Hades absently behind the ear.

Lyssa was silent for a moment, trying to digest that one. She helped herself to the tinsel and began to assist in trimming the tree. "You know, Hannah, you still haven't told me what made you change your mind so suddenly about going there and studying after all."

Hannah shrugged. "I know. I didn't want to."

"Why not?"

"I couldn't."

"You couldn't?"

"It was all too weird."

"Weird." Lyssa had the journalist's abhorrence of all- purpose words, and Hannah could hear it in her voice.

"Yeah, weird," Hannah insisted, sounding younger again. "I couldn't deal with it. I wanted to get out."

Hannah's voice contained a note of anxiety which Lyssa responded to immediately. She might be rather blind to other people's emotional states, but Hannah was her daughter. A small lump of fear made an abrupt entrance through a side door in the pit of Lyssa's stomach. "What couldn't you deal with? What was the matter?"

Hannah stared intensely at the tinsel in her hand. "I still don't know if I want to talk about it, Mom. It's kinda hard."

"Well, you can't get me much more worried than I am already," Lyssa said. "If you were kind, you'd put me out of my misery."

Hannah put both arms around Hades, almost pulling him into her lap, one hand still full of tinsel. "Well, if you insist," she said in a joking tone.

"I don't insist."

"I know." She was silent for a moment, her cheek on Hades's unresisting head. "Do you remember Jesse, Mom?" she asked, looking up again.

"Certainly. He was the one we had the disagreement over."

"Right. You see, I had sort of a fight with him..."

"What sort of a fight?" Lyssa asked quickly, too quickly. The lump of fear had travelled from her stomach to her vocal chords, and her voice was beginning to squeak.

"That doesn't matter," Hannah said, making a dismissive gesture with a hand full of tinsel. She let go of Hades and returned her attention to the tree. "After that I didn't want to see him anymore, but he just wouldn't listen to me. He kept pestering me."

"Pestering you?" Lyssa felt like a parrot.

"Calling all the time, coming around, insisting I was still his girl. When I told him I wasn't, he didn't seem able to understand. It was like talking to a stone wall. When I went to visit Kate and told her about it, she said I could move in with her."

"Was it that bad?" Lyssa asked, thinking, why didn't you come to me?

"Yeah, well, I guess I was scared of him."

"Why were you scared?" Lyssa asked as calmly as she could.

"He got a little violent during the fight we had," Hannah confessed. Her mother was watching her intently, but she refused to meet Lyssa's gaze.

"Violent?" Lyssa asked, her resemblance to a parrot growing more pronounced. She made a pretense of switching her attention back to the tinsel.

"Well, not knock-down, drag-out violent, but bad enough for me." Hannah gave a laugh which demonstrated about as much conviction as the sun in the middle of an Oregon winter.

"So what happened?"

"It was Halloween," Hannah began, and proceeded to give her mother an expurgated version of events which had transpired almost two months earlier. From the way she told it, it was obvious that she wasn't exactly sure what had happened. But Lyssa was. Lyssa had no problem finding a name for it, even if it was Hannah's boyfriend, even if it was stupid of Hannah to head up to the bedroom rather than straight out the front door, jacket or no jacket. Of course, Hannah should have screamed bloody murder or put a fist in his face, but her pacifist eduction had probably prevented such a practical reaction. Usually Lyssa's imagination did not trouble her with excessive vividness, but at Hannah's narrative she was confronted with images much too graphic for her taste. When Hannah finished, Lyssa felt like strangling someone, preferably this Alice Cooper impersonator, but if he weren't handy, another generic male would have done fine. Even the non- violent of the breed were in possession of the right weapons, and could do the same thing if they wanted to.

Lyssa surprised herself. She had always thought she would be able to react to violence with superior tranquility, a true child of the flower-power revolution.

"So, you were right about him, Mom," Hannah concluded, shrugging and smiling weakly. "You won."

"I hope you're joking," Lyssa replied. She felt nauseatingly sick and fighting mad. She had long given up the pretense of hanging tinsel, kneeling motionless in front of the tree with her hands on her knees.

Hannah finally noticed that something was wrong; the intensity in Lyssa's voice was totally out of character. Hannah leaned over and put her arm around her mother. "Hey, Mom, it's okay. It's all over now."

Youth may be resilient, but Lyssa was feeling very old. She lifted one hand to her forehead and gave her head an abbreviated shake. "I'd like to kill the bastard."

The tone of Lyssa's voice was calm and reasonable, but the words were so unusual that Hannah gave an involuntary start. She sat back on her heels and looked at her mother as if she were a stranger. Lyssa was a specialist in political outrage, but she never demonstrated much of the personal kind. Hannah was used to her mother being an embodiment of composure, even when she was marching for one of her inevitable causes, and she had certainly never heard Lyssa use the word "bastard" before. Hannah regularly used it herself, but on her mother's lips it sounded dreadfully indecent. She was flabbergasted. Parents have no right to change suddenly on their offspring and display unusual behavior, it screws up their children's world view. Continuity is destroyed and perception altered, because if a parent isn't the rock a child expects her to be, then what is what it seems in this life?

Hannah was immensely relieved when the telephone rang. "I'll get it," she volunteered and headed for the kitchen.

"Hi, Hannah," Marty said in his deep, humorous voice. "It's Marty. Is Lyssa home yet?"

"Hi. Yeah. Just a sec." Hannah went back to the living room where her mother was still kneeling in front of the Christmas tree. "Mom, telephone."

"I can't talk to anyone now," Lyssa replied.

"But Mom, it's Marty," Hannah urged. She was not unaware of the way in which relations had changed in the last few weeks. And she liked Marty.

Lyssa shook her head. "I don't care."

Hannah returned to the phone without her mother. "She can't come right now," she told Marty. "But don't worry about it, okay? We were just having a pretty heavy discussion."

"I thought you two were getting along better these days," Marty said.

"We are," Hannah replied. "It's not that."

"Then what is it?"

"Oh, I don't know. I don't understand why she's reacting like this."

"I see," Marty said. "Well then, bye, Hannah."

"Hey, Marty, wait," Hannah started to say as she heard the click. She feared Marty had misunderstood her, and she didn't want to put a damper on her mother's budding romance. She returned to the living room, helped herself to more tinsel, and began decorating the top branches of the wimpy pine tree. "Maybe you could invite Marty over while I'm here," she said. "I like him; he's funny."

"I wish I didn't have to see anyone for a couple of days," Lyssa replied. She shook her head.

Hannah had a disorienting sensation of tables turning on her. "Mom, listen," she said, patting her mother on the shoulder. "I told you, it's okay now. I had problems dealing with it at first, but I got away from Jesse. I'm fine."

Lyssa looked up at Hannah, who was doing her best to be unconcerned for her, and slowly realized it wasn't even that much of a facade. Hannah really was fine. She was probably better off if she avoided facing exactly what she'd been through and continued to practice a healthy repression, at least for a while. It gave her the opportunity to recover. Philosopher Lyssa might once have been, but she was never much of a supporter of the "know yourself" school of popular psychology. Hannah would face it when she was good and ready and not before. And Lyssa wouldn't force her to.

But Lyssa had a gut anger that felt like it would never go away. She wanted revenge. As long as Hannah wouldn't admit what had happened, though, it was out of the question. "Maybe he can't bother you anymore," Lyssa said, trying to hold her unfamiliar emotions in check, "but I still wish I could slug him." Hades licked her hand with the unfailing empathy of the devoted domestic animal.

Hannah looked down at her mother, something inside her squirming slightly. The word for the experience she had repressed almost surfaced briefly from the depths to which it had been banished. "I--Mom, what's the matter with you? Don't you think you're overreacting a little?"

Lyssa laughed shortly and humorously, yet another instance of her falling out of character. "Just wait until you have children of your own, Hannah. What is done to your child is ten times worse than what is done to you."